In this post I would like to share some of my initial thoughts of the Netgate Hamakua. We were looking for a 1U half depth rack mount system to run pfSense 1.2.3 on. Although we haven’t mentioned it much here on the blog, we love working with pfSense. PfSense is a fork of the m0n0wall project and is based on FreeBSD. I have pfSense running on everything from discard eMachine workstations to multi-thousand dollar rack mount servers, and everything in between.
We have pfSense embedded running on a number of ALIX based Netgate m1n1wall 2D3′s and it is an excellent combination of lower power and stable performance. When it came time to migrate from a VM based install to hardware in our rack we looked to Netgate. We went with the rack-mount version of the Hamakua and purchased the optional VGA break-out cable. The Hamakua has room for a 2.5″ HDD drive which is an excellent option if you need that sort of thing. It is important to note that the embedded installation of pfSense does not output any data to the VGA port. So if you are running embedded you will see the initial POST / BIOS phase of the boot and then thats it. This is due to the fact that the embedded install is targeted mainly for lower power devices that use serial for display output.
From what I have been able to gather from books, forums, and #pfsense on Freenode, it is obvious that key developers of the pfSense project test on this hardware extensively. And for good reason, its a great platform: 1U, 16W power consumption, 1GHz CPU, and 5 NIC’s/interfaces. You can find great documentation on the pfSense site regarding embedded and full installations for this unit. Long story short, they use it and develop on it, it will be around for awhile.
We are anticipating an upgrade from our current DS3 connectivity to 1Gbps and wanted to have something that make at least some use of the new line. For this reason we did some basic performance testing using our 2900 ZFS test box and another similarly spec’d server. While running large data transfers between two individual 1Gbps interfaces we were able to max the system at roughly 250Mbps throughput. This is right inline with the sizing guide in the pfSense book. The appears to be a limitation of the 1Ghz processor. Be sure to take a look at the pfSense book for sizing and throughput requirements, it is quite helpful in this regard in addition to others.
One thing that is worth mentioning is the heat that this thing generates. During heavy testing and average daily use, a large amount of heat was being displaced. The top of the unit is basically a heatsink and it does its job well. Because of this, it will certainly be going on the top of our rack due to ventilation concerns. I beleive that this design is pretty solid and it would most likely take the abuse without batting an eye, but I didn’t want to risk burning this one out.
To conclude, if you need a rack mount system that will run pfSense, is well supported by the community, and you don’t need to cross the 250Mbps barrier, this may be the unit for you. This is the second model of device that we have purchased from Netgate, and as always we weren’t disappointed. If you need something a bit less performant and easier on the budget, be sure to check out the Netgate m1n1wall 2D3/2D13. It has 3x100Mbps ports and gets the job done well.