Can you imagine that blog you read is running on tiny router box, size of average book, consuming only 8 watt of energy per hour? Next to advanced network management tasks, the same box is NAS, source code reporitory storage, MySQL database server, printer server, download manager and many others? At the same time it does not get hot and does not make any sound? Pretty interesting, isn’t it?
How did I manage to make this happen?
Couple months ago my old website permanently broke down. For a long time I was a guest on the system, where friend of mine was an IT administrator. He does not work there any longer so when the company migrated web content to other hosting company cutting of web access I was left holding the bag. Free hosting research did not match well own domain parking. Either you accept subdomain of commercial provider URL, or, if you want your own domain, they inject annoying ads using their DNS redirection. No, thank you!
I turned my research into looking for replacement of my home network router/gateway that would have the USB port. Equipped with pendrive and website content on it, I could setup webserver on it and redirect my domain to IP of the gateway. Of course you could not do that with original firmware, but there is plenty of open projects with embedded linux you can have on tiny box.
I have chosen TP-Link WR1043ND, device with best performance to price ratio. For 40 Euro you can get a box with 300Mbit N-band wireless, gigabit ethernet, 8MB flash, 32MB RAM and USB2.0 port. My vision was that linux-driven box would be tiny central linux server running 24×7, still being router/gateway. I considered different open projects. I started with DD-WRT but it has limited support for easy installation of additional packages for TP-Link hardware platform (Atheros MIPSEL processor). Considering all pros and cons I decided to go harder way with OpenWRT. Harder, because it is the least user (lame) friendly environment, requiring a lot of learning before administering is efficient. I presumed however, mastering it will open up another level of central service possibilities.
I started simple, learning first how to replace firmware and not to brick the router, how to connect pendrive, externalize file system onto it, and get familiar with OpenWRT environment enough to make it stable. Now the router hosts many service and will do more. Experiments with this box inspired me so deeply that after many years of pause I jumped into microelectronics again, starting with hardware modifications of router – I have replaced 32MB memory with 64MB, and built USB hub into the box. I will share any further experiment as they go.