Recovering bricked Cisco WLC 4400

Getting back to my bricked WLC. Well, ex-bricked WLC.ย If you missed that post – check it out here.

I have spent few months trying to find a fix to this. I tried different ways, including unofficial talks with Cisco TAC engineers. Although they tried to be polite, no one wanted to go deep into my problem. No one cares about End of life device without hardware support. Well, no one except myself. Simply because I didn’t want to spend few more hundreds to buy one extra working controller for my lab. And, I managed to reanimate it. Cure is soooo simple… You’ll be surprised.

Before throwing my WLC away, I decided to take it apart and keep some spares (i.e. power adapter, RAM, fans). I noticed there’s a compact flash card inside (slightly glued to the adapter). I couldn’t believe it is there… I checked the contents and found few files on it of an unknown type. Luckily, I had another WLC 4402 around. So, I removed the CF card from there and noticed both have identical structure and files, even though one was formatted from WLC’s recovery menu. I performed a BINARY copy of CF card from the working WLC to the CF card of the bricked WLC. Installed it back, got my fingers crossed and …. Booom… magic trick did the work!

I have my Cisco WLC 4402 back alive.

All you need is 1) working WLC of the same type (as you need its CF card for a binary copy) and 2) software to perform a BINARY copy (in my case it was – HDD Raw Copy Tool)

Good luck with it!

P.S. There’s a more sophisticated method to do it by performing a file copy under Linux (you will have to mount partitions on CF card to do it). I am lazy, so I went straight to a full binary CF card replication. If you’re interested in that geeky method, check it here. Although author discusses a way to resurrect NM-AIR-WLC6, I believe it will work for Cisco WLC 4402 as well.

26 thoughts on “Recovering bricked Cisco WLC 4400

  1. Pingback: How to literally kill Cisco WLC 4402 « Network Experts Blog

  2. Evgeniy

    Nice post about achieving skills!;)
    P.s. I think vWLC the best for the home lab.

    1. Yakuza

      vWLC is nice… but Cisco 4400 are widely deployed across our company and it is good to have one or two in a lab to play around and do proof of concept, if we need to apply some major changes. vWLC supports only FlexConnect APs and only 7.3 LWAPP software and above… making it not the best choice for “home lab” ๐Ÿ™‚ Cisco 2600/3600 are kind of expensive APs at the moment.

  3. Ron Alexander

    I had exactly the same problem. Followed your instructions and used HDD Raw Copy Tool. Worked perfectly. Thank you for your post. I had almost written-off 2 Cisco 4404’s that are not on service contracts. Have spent lots of time looking for a solution other than returning the units to Cisco, and your post is the only one that gave me a solution. Thanks very much! We use lots of 4400’s and love them. They allow us to deploy very robust controller-based WiFi networks for a fraction of the cost of new systems from Cisco or Ruckus Wireless.

    1. Tim Dmitrenko Post author

      Ron, glad it helped and thanks for the feedback. I agree, they are robust devices and still can do a good job. I recently deployed a CUWN for my friend using a pair of 4400…

  4. Jay

    Hi Tim, I have the same problem with one of my WLC 4400, just wondering if your’s was still booting up before you actually binary copied the CF card? cause mine does not boot at all. Ihave even tried to use the working CF card and plug it in directly to the bricked WLC with no luck. One thing i noticed with the brocked WLC is that the D8-D11 on the board are lit up while on the working WLCC, its not.

    1. Tim Dmitrenko Post author

      Jay, mine was booting to some point. I believe BIOS was ok (or whatever they call it). It was unable to boot AirOS from CF though… In my original post it is described in detail – check the link in the first paragraph above.

  5. Naret Wangtangmee

    sorry sir, can you provide WLC4404 image for us ?
    now i have problem Cisco 4404 model and don’t have secondary CF Card for copy

    1. David

      Hi, I also lost my WLC4402 and only 2 small files are on the Compact Flash, so it’s normal that it doesn’t boot. Do you have the files to get my WLC4402 back in production? I don’t have a spare WLC4402… Thanks!


      1. Tim Dmitrenko Post author

        Hi! I am not sure if this can be a legal issue, or not (having that WLC 4400 is end of life). I will take a look if I still have the file – if not, it might be a bit difficult to get as all my WLCs are in a rack now.

  6. scwifi

    You are correct in assuming that this recovery process should work for any CF based WLC platform such as the 2000, 2100, 4000, 4400, and NM models. The current generation of controllers (5508 and later) are not CF based and cannot be restored in this fashion. You can however call TAC and get a binary only recovery image for those platforms in the event you accidentally format their flash.

    1. Tim Dmitrenko Post author

      Thank you very much for your input, Sam! Lack of Cisco/TAC support for my WLC actually forced me to look for this method and get my device apart ๐Ÿ™‚ I wouldn’t bother if that device was covered with support contract. Anyway, thank you.

  7. raj

    firstly thanks for this post its fantastic!
    I wonder if you can help. I have my 2 controllers 1 working 1 faulty. when using the HDD software do you need both compact flash attached on the computer? I only have 1 slot for the compact flash and i tired to copy the files to a folder first and then on to the compact flash but this keeps failing.

  8. Socialite

    maybe use an 2nd? external CF reader.
    and then use to binary copy, like stated in this post.
    or if its possible, make an image of the good CF and ‘recover’ the bad CF with the software.

  9. Volodymyr Sutulov

    Here is another good use of this recovery method.
    As you may know you can not download firmware from WLC.
    I recently had a problem: it is impossible to find software version which i needed on the internet and i have no access to TAC. But i have a controller with needed firmware version and it was very easy to take out the CF card and make a copy to another controller =). Now i just need to change its config properly.

  10. Jim

    Does anyone have an image for a 2504 controller? No access to TAC and I’d like to see it fixed.


    Similar to Jim, I have a WLC2504 that I would really like to get a binary image for. Does it matter if your original WLC was a 5 license, 15 license or 25 license unit?

  12. fenrus

    Thanks for a great article that gives some hope ๐Ÿ™‚

    Sorry to bother you with the same question everyone have been asking,
    is there a way to get hold of this raw image?,
    My one (and only) 4400 wlc is bricked after a power surge, and it looks like the internal CF is broken.

    i’ll gladly help have it hosted somewhere if needed too.

  13. Tarun Vyas

    Can you tell me where is Image and config file is stored in 4402 WLC,

    My one of the 4402 device having some issue, so I got another RMA device with same model number.
    my issue is I do not have any old backup, so can I get backup from my old device from Flash or any other way.
    I am looking in flash is not showing either Boot Image or Config file.

  14. Dave

    Looking for the AIR-WLC4400-K9-7-0-252-0-ER.aes image. 10 years old, no support, stil working but having the cert issue.

    1. Tim Dmitrenko Post author

      Yes, I have covered certificate issue in a separate post ๐Ÿ™‚ Cisco has released a fix, but to download that software you need TAC support for a device. Unfortunately we’ve got rid of support for legacy 4400, so I can’t download it even though we still have few in production ๐Ÿ™‚ We just disable NTP and move time back for a year!


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