Thursday, November 23, 2017

First Look and Hands On With Ubiquiti Unifi Cloud Key

ubiquiti_networks_uc_ck_unifi_cloud_key_1195607

I have been running a cloud based version of the Ubiquiti Unifi Controller for just about a year now.  I decided to run it this way because I happen to manage my home office gear as well as a small setup for my church and a local RV park.  The cloud based controller version was a perfect solution do have all the sites under one roof.  However, it does cost money to host it every month, and there is some management of the virtual server, but all in all it’s been flawless.  It also gives every device the same place to call home and has always stayed online.  Last week I also blogged about how the Unifi iOS app can connect to that controller and I also have access to all those sites on a mobile device.  What some people don’t know yet is Ubiquiti also fired up a cloud aggregation portal that they host and you can register multiple controllers with.  That got me thinking, should I break the sites out into individual controllers using the new Unifi Cloud Key?  Well first I needed to see what this little device was all about.

Unifi Cloud Key Architecture

Right off the bat when you plug this it and power it up with PoE, it will try to use DHCP to get online.  Once you know the IP address and connect to it one thing jumps right out.  There is TWO management interfaces on the single IP address.  The first is to the Unifi Controller installation, the other is to manage the Unifi Cloud Key firmware itself.

Cloud_Key_Start_Screen

What you will find is that both interfaces are on HTTPS and they are separated in the following manner:

  • https://<Cloud_Key_IP>/ = Start Screen
  • https://<Cloud_Key_IP>/Login = Unifi Cloud Key Login
  • https://<Cloud_Key_IP>:8443/ = Unifi Controller Login

This means that most likely you cannot change the controller’s startup to use port 443 like many people do with a cloud based controller since 443 is already in use for the Key management.  That’s okay for the most part if you ask me.  My public cloud controller I did switch to 443 on the port to make it easier to remember.  The point here on the architecture is that it’s two web services on the same device using different ports.  It also appears that non SSL is forced to SSL for the login pages.

There is a microSD that comes with it that the manual says is used for backup, but so far I have not found any way to utilize it.  The forums indicate it’s for future use while the setup doc says “To back up the Unifi Controller database and configuration, use the included microSD Card

Configuring the Unifi Cloud Key

This is pretty straight forward and only a few things to look at.  Once you click “Configure” under Configure Your Cloud Key on the start page you will get the key login.

Cloud_Key_Login

Once logged in the first thing it’s smart enough to make you do is change the default password.

Cloud_Key_PW_Change

Once you get connected you are presented with a dashboard and a few links.  You can see there is on;y 1.45 GB available showing…so again not sure where the MicroSD is accounted for and how you access it for backups.

Cloud_Key_dashboard

Under Configuration you can set the device name, time zone,  and IP address of the device itself.  It’s by default set to DHCP and also has a fallback IP address if no DHCP can be reached.

Cloud_Key_Config

Lastly under Maintenance you can change the password, default username, reboot, shutdown, reset to defaults, and check for updates for the Key Firmware and the Unifi Controller software

Cloud_Key_Maint

NOTE:  I have found that if you update the Unifi Controller version then reset the device back to factory settings, the Unifi version goes back to whatever was loaded on it when you obtained it.  I have posted this on the Ubiquiti Forums to see why that is.

UPDATED 5/11/16:  This is the expected behavior with a major Cloud Key firmware upgrade.  That will always ship with a new “lowest” default version so in this case 4.8.14 is the lowest it will always revert back to on reset to defaults.

Once you’ve completed this setup you can access the Unifi Controller and configure it same as you do any other version of the controller software.  For the sake of brevity I will not cover that process as it’s very simple.

Initial Unifi Cloud Key Pros

All in all the Unifi Cloud Key out of the box is pretty sweet.

  • Easy to set up
  • Great price point for a 1:1 site:key setup on small installations
  • Form factor and PoE connectivity is great
  • iOS app can reach it as long as on local LAN
  • Federated cloud access using the Ubiquiti Cloud (Future blog post)

Initial Unifi Cloud Key Cons

There are a few things I started to wonder as I was playing with it, at least specific to my environment compared to the cloud based controller

  • Access via IP not DNS (I don’t have a local DNS server….YET until the USG support static DNS entries via UI without JSON files)
  • Have to keep the ports pre-configured due to split web services
  • Can only manage via WebRTC currently from Android not iOS via UBNT Cloud

About Chris Colotti

Chris is currently a Field CTO for Tintri. In his role he spends the majority of his time talking to customers and partners alike helping develop use case architectures for the Tintri platform and software. He also acts as an active interface between the field and engineering/product management. Chris is active on the VMUG and event speaking circuit and is available for many events if you want to reach out and ask. Previously to this he spent close to a decade working for VMware as a Principal Architect. Previous to his nine plus years at VMware, Chris was a System Administrator that evolved his career into a data center architect. Chris spends a lot of time mentoring co-workers and friends on the benefits of personal growth and professional development. Chris is also amongst the first VMware Certified Design Experts (VCDX#37), and author of multiple white papers. In his spare time he helps his wife Julie run her promotional products as the accountant, book keeper, and IT Support. Chris also believes in both a healthy body and healthy mind, and has become heavily involved with fitness as a Diamond Team Beachbody Coach using P90X and other Beachbody Programs. Although Technology is his day job, Chris is passionate about fitness after losing 60 pounds himself in the last few years. Now he spreads both the word of technology and fitness along with the Team Beachbody Business through his blogs.

3 comments

  1. Nice review. I am wondering if it’s a good idea to buy a cloud key for a site where there is no computer to use for the “standard” contoller software. I am interested in a solution that can simply replace a local computer with the controller software on it. I am not interested in cloud (remote) management, and to be honest I really DON’T want to depend on a cloud service to run my network. I want a solution that works completely by itself. Can you please tell me if this cloud key can run by itself, without any cloud service?

    Thanks

    Fabio Muzzi

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