It’s Getting Meta in My Router

Virtualisation has really taken over the world of IT. In the day job, I don’t buy new servers, I ask for a VM to be provisioned on an existing VM cluster.

Even in the local radio station, you don’t tend to put in too many physical servers nowadays. High Availability (HA) and Fault Tolerant (FT) technologies mean your services can keep going, even if the hardware goes *pop*.

The network stack can also see virtualisation be used. Why pay for an expensive firewall appliance when a VM can do the same job (in some circumstances)?

VRF (virtual routing and forwarding) allows you to have multiple separate routing tables. This enables traffic to be segregated, even without a firewall. It’s a feature you don’t tend to see in the small FM station but does exist.

However, it appears Mikrotik have taken it one further. They let run a router inside a router. No, really. They call it the Meta Router feature and it’s surprisingly useful.

The idea behind it is that a small wireless ISP can use one bit of equipment to connect to their network and act as the customer’s home router. The WISP stuff gets locked out from the end user, meaning they can’t break anything.

Rather neat, but the really useful bit is that you can also run OpenWRT. Which is exactly what I did. I gave the VM 10Mb of disk space and 10Mb of RAM.

While the virtual router will run, it appears there’s not quite enough grunt in the physical router to do what I needed. The biggest issue was the lack of RAM. It was impossible to run opkg (the package manager) on the hardware I was using.

The lack of resources is an unfortunate feature of embedded systems. While systems will get faster and more powerful, there’s only so much you can fit in a small box at low power consumption.

Don’t get me wrong, the Mikrotik routers do make for rather good home routers. That’s despite not supporting tagged and untagged traffic on the same port. Oh, and me going to Ubiquiti for better WiFi management.

That said, it does get me wondering. What other (MIPS) VM could you run on there? Is the instruction set compatible enough to run some old operating system on the router?

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