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Will the SmartLink brokered connection be available for my other Remote Station needs?

Steve K9ZW
Steve K9ZW Member ✭✭✭
edited August 2020 in Remote Operation (SmartLink)
As I understand SmartLink the FRS involvement is limited to "brokering" the initial connection and presumably keeping track of resource locations to make the selector list valid.

Will I be able to use the final brokered connection for my other Remote Station connectively needs or will that connect once established be SmartSDR client limited (or restricted to a set of approved tools, or??)?

What I would like to be able to do is use SmartLink to first establish a local to remote SmartSDR link from a Maestro, then piggy-back down the same SmartLink established VPN my local-to-remote control programs from my local Laptop, up to & including a remote session to the PCs in the shack if need be.

Thank you and 73,

Steve
K9ZW

Answers

  • Mike va3mw
    Mike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited November 2019
    Steve

    Informally, this was discussed, however I do not believe that doing this was part of the FRS roadmap as there are many other ways  and utilities to do this.  

    I don't know enough about credential management, but I suspect that it would open up some security concerns that FRS does not want to be responsible for.

    Plan B is to use SoftEther as it will do a similar connection with their VPNAzure component.  I use that all the time.

    YMMV

    Mike va3mw
  • Tim - W4TME
    Tim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited June 2020
    The short answer is no.

    First off, SmartLink is not a VPN.  It uses direct TCP (control and status) and UDP (audio, display, and metering) connections between the client and the radio.  The "broker" is used to locate your radio in the ever-changing world of public IPs and to only allow for secure session initiation.

    Once connected to SmartLink, the traffic over the Internet is point-to-point between the client (Maestro, SSDR-iOS or SSDR-Win) and the radio.

    If you need to control devices or systems in your home LAN, a separate VPN will be required.

    Now, I am going to make a very broad forward-looking statement in that we may consider supporting peripheral devices from a SmartLink connection.  We have only given this some preliminary thought and we are not prepared to share any other details of how this might work.  And there is no firm commitment to do this or a possible timeframe if we do decide to add this type of functionality.
  • Steve K9ZW
    Steve K9ZW Member ✭✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Will there be any difference for co-branded hardware control, like the 4o3a Genius products?

    Perhaps controlled "through" SmartSDR?

    I don't know if I am even asking the right question, as I am far from VPN/Network savvy - will establishing a SmartLink connection use up the VPN provision my shack router has available?

    Or could FRS make all this happen, even if I need to cover a fee (monthly, one-off - whatever)?

    73

    Steve
    K9ZW
  • Mike va3mw
    Mike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited February 2018
    Who knows, there might be a business model for someone else outside of FRS to pick this up and charge accordingly.    Lots of retired software guys out there.

    Hams have lots of $$, so I'm sure it could make them millions in no time!  LOL

    Seriously, while all this sounds simple on the dinner napkin, the prototype may only take a few days.  It is the hardening of the solution so that it works and no one breaks it can take an incredible amount of time.   The idea is easy.  Getting it to market is all the work.

    If you have never worked in a product software house, you are not aware of the thousands of hours that are involved to make a software  product work well and goof proof.  

    Mike 
  • Steve K9ZW
    Steve K9ZW Member ✭✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Appreciate the edification and clearer understanding how I can be prepared to configure operating remote when SmartLink launches.  Thank you!

    An advantage could be how the SmartLink connection is direct keeping my control VPN's foibles from affecting the actual radio usage.  

    Very cool!

    73

    Steve
    K9ZW
  • Ria
    Ria Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    PowerGenius XL will be controlled through SmartSDR. The antenna genius and tuner genius will be controllable through SmartSDR in the future. That's how it will work. Ria
  • James Whiteway
    edited June 2017
    So, once the connection between client and radio is established, Smartlink is out of the picture till the next session? What happens if the Smartlink server becomes unavailable? Will that prevent remote sessions from happening? That could be a problem for some. James WD5GWY
  • Mike va3mw
    Mike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    The infrastructure behind SmartLink is pretty extensive at the software enterprise level.  If it goes down, the loss of SmartLink will be the least of our problems.  :)  

    Should it happen, then yes, SmartLink would not function.  While not impossible, it is very very slim.  

    The SmartLink design is focused for success on the plug and play world.   Those that have the technical ability will have their plan B (vpn's) in place as they do now.  

    Mike va3mw
  • Martin AA6E
    Martin AA6E Member ✭✭
    edited January 2020
    If I have it right, the "broker" is something like a private dynamic DNS service that hands the client the radio's IP address. So, yes, that could be useful for non-SSDR links too. I.e. SSH or whatever. It would be helpful if Flex documented the facility for general use.
  • Steve K9ZW
    Steve K9ZW Member ✭✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Presumably as a direct local GUI to remote Flex-6x00 hardware (SmartSDR Client to SmartSDR Server) connection there wouldn't be any utility in directing other traffic to share the direct connection. There are other DDNS services for other station needs already available. Secondary Direct Connections, VPN and and/or Remote Sessions are likely more flexibly and better handled outside of the dedicated and streamlined SmartLink for now. 73 Steve K9ZW
  • Ria
    Ria Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    I am not going to sugar coat it - yes, Smartlink can go down. Would it be the biggest problem in the world? No, not really. You just lose access to your radio until it comes back. This is the Internet, and stuff goes down.

    SmartLink uses or will use a cloud service (I believe it's Azure). They are quite robust. So the servers themselves are unlikely to go down. 

    You can also still use a VPN if you wish. 
  • Ria
    Ria Member ✭✭
    edited November 2019
    The biggest advantage is if you have a maestro you can use it remotely without any additional hardware.
  • Mike va3mw
    Mike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Paul, if you are happy with your VPN connection, then at the moment, SmartLink provides just an easier convience to operating.   

    This is all about making it simple.  Some hams will like it, some, like you have already worked around it.   Maybe that is because we love the technical challenge.

    Mike 
  • philip.theis
    philip.theis Member
    edited June 2017
    SmartLink takes care of the radio; that's most of the battle. For me, there are two remaining challenges: Turning things on/off and moving the rotator. Both are easily handled with my inexpensive TP-Link router by setting up a virtual server (TPLInk terminology) which forwards the port necessary to offer a service.
    First service for rotator is provided by Codrut, YO3DMU's excellent program PstRotator. He has a built in web server in the app. By providing that service port through the router I now have an excellent rotator control on either my remote laptop where SmartLink is running, or on my cell phone. 
    Next, to turn things on and off, I use a small BeagleBone Black (you can also use the less capable but more popular Pi) running Apache server as the web service to access several PHP webpages to control my power supplies, radio and any other feedback (like knowing what voltage the power supply is supplying) requested. All of these functions are detailed in Derek Malloy's excellent work on the BBB in "Exploring BeagleBone".
    In terms of security, TPLink provides a single button to disable all forwarding, so I only have the ports tunneled through the router when I am going to use the remote radio. However, the worst thing that can happen is to lose an image on the BeagleBone which is a cinch to repair. The rotator service may be pulled into Flex SmartLink at some point which will eliminate half of what I am doing externally now. 
    When operating remote, I can to everything from my laptop, which with a cool Plantronics headset is quite the setup. Or I can use Maestro and turn things on and off as well as rotate the tower with my cell phone. 
    2.0 is Fabulous.
  • Gary, KE8O
    Gary, KE8O Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    With Smartlink will port forwarding in your router be required? A local agency was kind enough to give us space for a club / ARES HF station. We have access to internet as well but they will not approve any network changes for port forwarding . So we cannot use Softether as our remote access solution now and stuck with Teamview . I wonder if Smartlink will address this problem? BTW: We also looked into having our own ISP connection installed but the address is considered a "business" and residential rates our not available. ...Gary
  • Ria
    Ria Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Not required. It's all automatic. You can do it manually if you wish.
  • James Whiteway
    edited June 2017
    Thank you Ria for the info. Looking at Microsoft's Azure website, it would appear that FRS or someone, will have to pay a monthly.fee for using the cloud service. I wonder at what point that could effect SSDR remote users. I would think FRS's costs for this service could be substantial with enough remote users being routed thru.Azure's Cloud servers. Then again, if it's not a full time link (just enough to establish IP connections between client and radio) ,then maybe not such a huge expense. James WD5GWY
  • Steve K9ZW
    Steve K9ZW Member ✭✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Perhaps but more likely they are using one of the IoT products.

    After "brokering" there is no participation, correct? 

    Worse a network outage would cause is not an interruption of the brokerage, by far....

    73

    Steve
    K9ZW
  • Ken - NM9P
    Ken - NM9P Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    While Smartlink will have many advantages, as Ria said, anything can fail.

    Many of us, myself included, will probably leave the VPN (Softether or OpenVPN) backbone available at our stations as a back-up in case something happens to the SmartLink Authorization server.  If it fails, or something gets "glitched" in our sign in on the rig, we can always go back to VPN and keep running.  Though there may be a bandwidth disadvantage.  

    And it is also handy to VPN into the station to restart/reboot our internet modems & routers or perform other functions.

    Ken - NM9P
  • Ken - NM9P
    Ken - NM9P Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Steve - Yes, the way I have understood the official posts on the Community, the Authentication Server only handles the authorization and handshaking, but once a connection is made, it is all rig-to-remote.  The authentication server does a complete hand-off.   

    What I don't know yet is what happens after a short-term interruption i.e. going through a tunnel or into a valley and losing cell coverage for a minute.... Does the rig & remote computer remember the connection details, or do they need to check permissions via the authentication server again?

    I'm sure that these details will be explained when V.2.0 is released to the masses.
    So I will not have any heartburn about it at the moment.  I am sure it will be stable enough when it is released.

    Ken - NM9P
  • Mike va3mw
    Mike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited November 2019
    Somewhere in this thread there is a discussion on Azure that SmartLink is using.  

    However, you can also do the same thing with Softether.  

    You can read about it here, but essentially it does exactly the same thing.  I have tested it in a few places and it works well.

    http://www.vpnazure.net/en/

    Mike va3mw
    image

  • Steve K9ZW
    Steve K9ZW Member ✭✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Isn't Azure actually over 60-70 different products, with a VPN/Cloud being just one of the them?

    SmartLink since a direct non-VPN link is established would seem to be one of the IoT products in the Azure Family.

    Brandnames vs products - typical confusing, eh?  And maybe it is just me confused....

    73

    Steve
    K9ZW
  • Doug Hall
    Doug Hall Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    I don't think this is what SmartLink is using. My understanding is that SmartLink offers no encryption and is not a VPN. The use of Azure is more for authentication and a service similar to STUN https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STUN

    Somebody correct me if I'm mistaken.
    73,
    Doug K4DSP

  • Mike va3mw
    Mike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    VPN's can either be encrypted or not-encrypted.  

    You are correct, SmartLink is currently not-encrypted.  

    Most of the audience today would really not be concerned if it is or isn't, they just want it to work when they turn it on.   In this case, it is security by obscurity.  :) 

    For those that truly require/want their system hardened, there are ways to make it happen.  However, it is hard to have both unless you truly understand what happens under the covers.  Ria knows more about this world than I do, so maybe she may be able to comment more.  I only know what I don't know.  LOL

    Mike va3mw
  • Ria
    Ria Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    So now the $199 fee doesn't seem so unreasonable if there are ongoing costs. It's their software, their vision and roadmap, I am just a user. I disagree with some things but if you want a plug and play remote this is what you'll have to do. 
  • Ria
    Ria Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    First, they are not using Softether VPN Azure. That is hosted by SoftEther in Japan and is independent of Azure cloud. 

    There are bits of smartlink in the cloud. I don't know what they are using as a cloud service to host the smartlink application but I saw Azure cloud mentioned somewhere. Azure is basically microsoft cloud and may not even be what they're using. 

    The authentication service is handled by someone else. I do know who their authentication provider is, but I'm not sure if that has been publicly mentioned. But it's a SaaS provider of authentication services and it's used by other companies as well. Fairly robust. 

    The authentication is definitely encrypted, meaning your credentials are. 

  • Mike va3mw
    Mike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Correct. I was referencing SoftEther.

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