Posts tagged utm

Battling a sophos cluster and on appliances in general

posted on 2015-08-09 11:56:27

An anectdote on appliances...

Recently a sophos UTM cluster of a client died, consisting of two of these. Simply the web interface stopped working, and nothing was reachable anymore. Of course he only had clustered systems, to prevent exactly this scenario. The cause?

A NIC on one of the boxes died. Sadly the one for clustering both devices, the direct connection. The symptoms?

  • Downtime.
  • No accessible web interface.
  • Looks like both appliances play ping-pong and have a split-brain situation where they cannot settle who gets to be the master.

Getting a single application to boot and run, an all works in order again. But in the post-mortem analysis of the device nothing could be found in the web interface. All NIC's were present.

In the shell (accessed with SSH) an interface, eth3 to be exact, can be seen missing... What could that just mean?

So the vendor told 'to flash the device with current firmware release'. This did work. Rebuilding the cluster did work, too. When trying to set up link aggregation (bonding 2 NIC's, so one port can die) for future prevention, the cluster did not work reliably again.

Removed the second box again. Flashing it did not work.

RMA again, exchange it with a new box from the vendor, it works.

Usually this hardware system ist set up for the most convenient use, configuring these is a breeze (setup the first box, connect clusterconnection on eth3, wait until sync is finished, plug the other ethernet cables on), but link aggregation has to be configured by hand from scratch, which is where you will need your own solid knowledge again.

This has nothing to do with especially sophos appliances, the problems are the same for everything else, in different grades. Standards work, rest often doesn't.

And as sophisticated these things are, as inexperienced is sometimes the support technician you have on the other end of the phone. Be it from the vendor directly or from a so-called 'gold partner'. All this does not help you anything at all.

The problems come with core firewalls (F5), vpn appliances (I am looking at you, Cisco ASA cluster!!!), switches (Hi, Juniper!).

Often you have no real symptoms besides the to hardest issues to ever debug:

  • it does not work reliably
  • it is slow

The problems and the root causes for them are all understandable and fine, easily so.

But as I said, it does not help you at all with your day to day work.

And it makes you question the use and return of investment of some of these purchases, especially when you are told to wait for the next hotfix, as 'we are working on your problem' and your network goes down sporadically until then.

Whitebox hardware is the latest craze, why not build the smaller stuff yourself?

NAS boxes or firewalls are often just linux based, junipers run on a FreeBSD variant. Ponder a little on these facts, and stop pulling your hair out when things break.

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