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Linux: An Interesting VPN/Remote Project (1)

This is the first article of at least two articles about this project. The next article will follow once we are further into this project. A possible third article may follow at the end of this project.

The first day of September 2010 I received a web-form e-mail from a long-time client who lives and works in Alaska. My client's name is Wayne, so that is how I will refer to him for the rest of this article. Wayne bought one of the first AMD dual-CPU systems with eComStation my company built back in 2001. That system has been running ever since and is now ready to be retired. Wayne is going to be getting a new PC from my company, but first he has a project for which he asked me to provide assistance.

Wayne and his sister have pooled their resources and bought a vacation property in New Mexico. They are having a vacation home built there that will be shared between them. The home will be finished this month, October 2010. Wayne is an avid stargazer and has contracted for a small observatory to be built on the property about 200 feet from the home. This observatory will have a computer controlled, motorized retractable dome and computer controlled telescope. Unfortunately the software to control the dome and the telescope is apparently only developed for Microsoft systems [1] (Can you say vendor lock-in? I knew you could! Does anyone have hints on doing this with FOSS on Linux?). Wayne is also looking at Axis PTZ outdoor video surveillance cameras for the property.

How does this involve Linux, VPN and remote access?

Wayne wants to be able to do the following:

  • Have remote access from Alaska to New Mexico for running the telescope system over the internet.
  • Have remote access to video surveillance at the observatory and vacation house during the months that no one will be occupying the vacation home.
  • Be able to remotely power cycle all devices on the remote LAN.
  • Have a support person who can access these systems remotely to set it all up once connected.
  • Do all this on a budget that he can afford.

This is where I come in and Linux enters the picture. Wayne has already ordered one of our Tiny PC (Mini-ITX) systems that will be his router and VPN host for the vacation home. This Tiny PC will be running CentOS Linux with OpenVPN and sshd accessible over the internet. Wayne will be ordering a second Tiny PC for his Alaska home to set up a persistent VPN between the locations over the internet.

The New Mexico home and the observatory will be connected with 8-port or 16-port ethernet switches that connect with fiber-optic cable. There will be a single Category 6 cable run between the buildings as well. The fiber-optic cable will handle the data stream between the obeservatory and the home. The Category 6 cable will be used as a jumper between a base power management switch at the house and a client power management switch at the observatory.

The power management switches can be controlled over the phone using touch-tones to cycle power on individual devices connected to one of the 8 power ports on each device. The Category 6 cable that will connect these will extend the ability to cycle power in the observatory with the client power management switch. Wayne has already ordered these power switches and a UPS for the base unit from my company as well.

While this project is not cheap, it is going to be done within a budget that Wayne can afford. Part of the reason for that is CentOS Linux, the powerful, enterprise class software used to host his VPN and ssh remote access, is free of charge. So far, this is all vaporware in the design and configuration phase. Sometime in the next few weeks this will be put together and be a working system. Check back later for the next chapter, Linux: An Interesting VPN/Remote Project (2).

[1] The software mentioned here is TheSky/X Professional. It is actually for Microsoft and Apple systems. There will supposedly be a Linux version available … sometime. Of course the software is not free as in libre, nor free as in cost. Neither is it inexpensive in the opinion of the author. (Go back.)

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