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My current home network design

With six people using our home network, and heavy requirements to move data and stream media, my home network has evolved over the last twenty years. I have just made some substantial changes – things now look different from my last update, so this attempts to document those changes. Why change? The last iteration used…

With six people using our home network, and heavy requirements to move data and stream media, my home network has evolved over the last twenty years. I have just made some substantial changes – things now look different from my last update, so this attempts to document those changes.

Why change?

The last iteration used a 5GHz 802.11n Wireless LAN as the high-bandwidth backbone for media streaming. In Spring 2011, relatively few devices supported this configuration. There were three main drivers for this change:

  • Backup strategy – I now want to shift gigabytes at a time of backup data out to my garage. Wireless coverage there is poor, and even inside, it was contending with media streaming traffic.
  • Wireless channel contention – there were no other 5GHz networks visible from my house when I set things up – now there are several.
  • Device support – all of the latest client devices support 5GHz and one of my existing routers died of old age.

Requirements

There are three locations with clusters of wired network devices:

  • The front of the house: Cable Modem, Mac Mini running Plex for media sharing, Apple TV to stream movies to the main TV.
    Media Server, Router, Cable Modem
  • The study in the middle of the house: fixed monitors, home for my laptop connected to external hard drives for photo editing, a networked printer and an XBox 360.
    Study LAN
  • The garage: a laptop running Ubuntu with 4TB external storage as a backup target.
    Backup Server

I also needed to support 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz wireless devices as before, albeit with a much reduced requirement for guaranteed quality of service.

The Backbone

The network is now built around a Powerline Ethernet backbone. This made Rob Chipperfield (blog|twitter) cry when I discussed it with him as apparently they play havoc with ham radio frequencies but by his own admission, he has inflicted problems on other people, too.

There are a number of different specs and speeds of Powerline, and I needed three end points, so I ended up with:

Total cost £44. I am very impressed with this gadgets. Out of the box, paired and up and running within a few minutes, they work very well – which is fortunate, as the management software only runs on Windows, for which I’d need to borrow a laptop from work…

Powerline Ethernet

Wireless

Following various hardware failures, I now use two Cisco Linksys WRT320N routers – these are attractive because they can be flashed to happily run the aging-but-reliable dd-wrt, they’re dual-band, and they have a four-port gigabit switch.  They’re available for around £40 each second-hand.  One is the network gateway, handling DHCP, DNS, bridging to the 5GHz 802.11n WLAN and gigabit switching near the TV/media server. The other is in the study, bridging to the 2.4GHz 802.11b/g network and providing gigabit wired ethernet to the study. In my experience, wireless routers tend to last for around five years and when these die, I’ll probably replace them with a simultaneous dual-band switch.

Fitting it all together

(click to embiggen) Network Layout

Next steps

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