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I work from home and all my communication and all my home entertainment is done over IP via my home network. I'd like to take my consumer-grade home network to the next level but I'm unsure where to start.

If I wanted to move from say, consumer grade wired and wireless, to small office grade wired and wireless where would I look? Can I build a better performing, more secure and more reliable home network without going way over the top?

Currently I run a D-Link DIR-655 and it's fed in to an SMC cable modem accessing the top tier service that's available in my area from my cable company.

On my wired network I have:

  • An older Vonage Linksys router (currently set to the DMZ), serves up two VOIP lines (home and office)
  • HTPC running Windows XP SP3 connected via GBit ethernet, used mainly for streaming high definition Netflix and cable company on-demand services
  • iMac connected via GBit ethernet
  • Xbox 360 (latest generation so I think it's Gbit) via ethernet, used mainly for gaming and the occasional high definition Netflix stream

And for wireless use I have:

  • 2 x 2010 MacBook Pros running OS X 10.6.7 using the N band
  • 2 x iPhone 3GS (not sure what the use)
  • Playstation 3 using the N band, used mainly for standard definition Netflix streaming
  • HP OfficeJet 6500 E709N

On the internal network there's a fair bit of traffic to the iMac as it serves as a TimeMachine hub for the MBPros. All the Apple machines in the house stream a fairly heavy amount of outbound data at night as they do another level of back to the cloud via CrashPlan.

During the day time network traffic is typically work-related stuff, which tends to be a lot of VoIP via Vonage and Skype and TTY type stuff, but there's also standard definition Netflix streaming happening as my kids watch the occasional Sponge Bob or Backyardigans episode.

At night there is usually at least a standard definition video stream happening, plus VoIP, plus traffic from the XBox for game data.

I'm definitely running the DIR-655 hot with all this traffic now. And a bi-daily reboot because it's locked up is not uncommon any more. It's as well vented as can be, I just don't think it can keep up with the demands.

So how do I scale up to the next level? I don't mind spending some money since having consistent network is a requirement for my business. On my wish list is:

  • More Gbit wired ports (there's a NAS in my near future and I'd wire more if I had more ports)
  • The ability to put more machines in the DMZ (I'd hang my 360, PS3 and Vonage router in the DMZ if I could -- right now it's just the Vonage router)
  • The ability to extend my wireless network (right now coverage is lousy on the top floor of my house and the signal doesn't exist in my back or front yard which means I can't work outside in the nice weather; something I'd like to be able to do)
  • Good traffic shaping and traffic prioritization so I can balance Netflix streaming during the day with business traffic, and the different types of entertainment and communication streams after hours

Should I be looking for separate pieces (wired router, wireless bridge) to make this a more small-office grade network? Are their wireless components that will let me better extend my wireless network to the outside of my house? Without asking for shopping recommendations, I'd like to keep my budget in the

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2  
Kudos on asking more about the method rather than just asking for a shopping recommendation - this is a hardware information request done well! –  nhinkle Apr 25 '11 at 4:20
    
@nhinkle: Thanks. I do have a budget of ~$750 max. But I'm more interested in understanding how I put together a better network that meets my needs versus any specific h/w recommendations. –  Ian C. Apr 25 '11 at 4:50
    
And that's why this is a great question - precisely because you're looking for an understanding of how to put it together, not what to buy. :) –  nhinkle Apr 25 '11 at 4:52
    
agreed. I like this question, it makes for a good read, very educational, +1! :) –  studiohack Apr 25 '11 at 4:54
1  
Smallnetbuilder's throughput charts can give some indications of general horsepower if you're thinking of upgrading. –  hyperslug Apr 30 '11 at 20:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I've been doing my homework and I'm going to answer my own question.

The key seems to be separating my network infrastructure in to separate pieces: a router/firewall to connect to my cable modem, a gigabit switch to drive my wired home network, and wireless access points off the gigabit switch for the wireless access on my network.

In doing my research I think my DIR-655 is falling down because of the wireless -- that seems to be the high-demand piece of what's it doing. The gateway/NAT duties, DHCP and DNS stuff it's doing seem reasonably undemanding. If I can switch off the wireless radio on it, it should be stable. It seems like it's a rare thing in the SoHo space to find a firewall/router box with 4 GBit ports on it like the DIR-655 has. I'll try and make it last a little longer because of that.

So the next step is to get a gigabit switch. Something with ~24 ports and with a least a few of the ports offering power-over-ethernet. I'll wire as much of the house as I possibly can. Which, when I look at it, is a pretty decent amount of stuff that's using the network. Except for the phones and the laptops, everything else could get wired without too much difficulty.

Shortly thereafter I plan to buy a high power, dual-band wireless access point that can be powered over ethernet. The PoE is key because it'll let me situate the one wireless access point under my stairs between my first and second floors, where running standard power would be difficult, which is the optimal place for whole-house wireless coverage. This gets the WAP above ground (my DIR-655 is in my basement, along a concrete wall, hence the zero coverage outside my house) so I should be able to enjoy a little signal and the front and back of my house.

The DIR-655 can remain, serving as the DHCP and the gateway/firewall/NAT box to my cable modem. Though I may look to replace it with a consumer-grade router I can run Tomato on as this would give me the multiple-machines-in-the-DMZ feature I'm after, so I could hang both my Vonage modem and my XBox in the DMZ, in front of any firewalls.

Ultimately something like a UTM should replace the consumer-grade router. If not for the security, than for the VPN pass-through capabilities that would allow me to get at my home machines from my laptop when travelling. But that's out of my budget right now and can wait.

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It would be a learning curve but you should setup a UTM there are many available but I really like Astaro you can buy a hardware appliance or use a PC with multiple NICs to install it on. It would be fully functional and free for a network of your size if you decide to set it up on a computer your self, not sure how the hardware appliance subscription works.

After that I would suggest you get more routers 1 for DMZ and a couple for wireless repeating if you need to repeat both networks.

So you have have it something like

MODEM ---> ASTARO ---> DMZ ROUTER & NON-DMZ ROUTER ---> REPEATERS

So the modem and the routers would be connected into the Astaro Box and you would need repeaters to extend the signal. Then configure Astaro for priority, antivirus scanning etc etc it has a lot of features so you should look at the manual.

You can use a different UTM just do some research on it Smoothwall & Monowall are a couple that come to mind.

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With something like an Astaro 110 running would I need to provide a separate DHCP and DNS server in my internal network? I'm currently using the DIR-655's DNS and DHCP services to configure the devices on my network. –  Ian C. Apr 25 '11 at 5:04
    
DHCP can be controlled by the routers themselves for each sub network and DNS can be configured on them as well or you could configure it on the hosts... are you running your own DNS server? –  Arctor Apr 25 '11 at 13:09
    
I am not. The DIR-655 does everything for me right now. Thanks. –  Ian C. Apr 25 '11 at 13:17
    
I'm passing on OpenDNS settings via the router now. –  Ian C. Apr 25 '11 at 13:29
    
If you did not setup the DNS settings your router is grabbing the information from your ISP and giving it to your client computers via DHCP to use... you should change that to something more reliable.. ISP DNS is usually not that great check out OpenDNS, Google DNS etc. If you get an Astaro gateway you could set it up in that so your routers grab DNS automatically from it and distribute those DNS addresses.. not sure what it has for DHCP... read the manual thoroughly –  Arctor Apr 26 '11 at 1:26

I second the recommendation that you hardcode reliable dns servers rather than using the ones your ISP specifies in dhcp replies.

It will save you a few minutes of confusion the first time ISP dns outright fails.

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