A pretty bold statement, isn’t it?
Well, I’m not going to tell you how to build the “ultimate home network”, but, rather, suggest some things that you may want to consider to build your own, personal, “ultimate” home network. Everyone needs something different from a home or small office network. Some of us have side jobs that require a fair amount of data transfer or storage, like, for instance photographers. For some of us in the IT business, having a home “test” network is almost assumed, though, perhaps not as much as it used to be in the boom days of the Internet.
I’ve been thinking about it this past week because my old BorderManager firewall finally has died. I’m using a backup firewall at the moment, which is “good enough”, but I’ll be taking this crash as an opportunity to start rebuilding my home network from the ground up, using mainly free, open source software, starting with a Linux firewall. In fact, I have three that I’ll be looking at and, yes, writing reviews of, in the coming weeks. This will be an on going series of posts, too, as I evaluate software and, piece by piece, integrate it into my working, live network. My needs will probably be different than yours, but all home networks will have some similar items and considerations.
So, what should go into your own personal, “ultimate” home network? It depends on what you do, but here are some ideas.
The Actual Network.
Obviously, the first thing is setting up the actual, physical network. And, in this case, by physical, I’m including wifi routers and the like. Back in the old days, having a home network meant running cable. That’s not as true as it used to be, but don’t just go wireless without considering at least some wired connections. If you’re concerned about security, for instance, especially, regarding financial transactions, nothing is as secure as a wired connection. Keep in mind, though, that at some point you still connect to an outside source to get to your bank. Also, since most laptops have built-in wifi and have gotten so inexpensive, if you don’t already have one, consider getting a laptop. For most people, laptops can inexpensively do everything we need to do and have the advantage of portability, so if you need to leave, say in case of a hurricane, you can take at least part of your home network with you.
There are a wide range of network switches and routers out there to choose from, but I suggest sticking with a name brand that is relatively well known and established. It’s no guarantee that you won’t have problems, but it’s a good start. I personally like Linksys and DLink brands, but there are many others that will work well, too.
Don’t forget that you need to have at least some security on that home network. At a bare minimum, you need a firewall and some kind of antivirus. If you’re connecting to broadband internet, either cable or DSL, most often the router they give you from the service you use has a firewall on it. If you’re using wifi, the wifi router almost certainly has a firewall on it. Use them! Most importantly, actually set them up and change the default password to something else that you’ll remember but that strangers won’t guess. If you’re not sure if you have a firewall on your network equipment, then at least use the built-in Windows firewall, but use something!
If you don’t want to spend big money on either McAfee or Norton for antivirus, good news! You don’t have to spend anything! Yes, that’s right, you can download AVGFree and run it for nothing at all. So, now, what excuse do you have to not be running some kind of antivirus again?
And, please, for your own sake, use passwords. Use hard to guess passwords, not your kids names or your birthday or even your license plate number. In fact, try not to use dictionary words at all, or, if you do, substitute other characters for letters, like $ for S or @ for A, to make it more difficult to guess. Also, use numbers with the letters, for the same reason.
Just having storage isn’t enough, really. On a home network now, you may have a laptop, or two, a desktop, a DVR or any number of different networked devices that share data. They all need to store it somewhere. And, even if they store the data locally, they need to be backed up somewhere. The answer is network based storage. There are a lot of options out there, and Rick Vanover at TechRepublic has a good article on several. I know one solution that’s popular with photographers is the Data Robotics Drobo series of devices. I don’t have any direct experience with these, so I have no opinion on them specifically, but these days, decent network attached storage is so cheap, it would be foolish to ignore that as an option.
Virtual Server Environment.
Now, obviously, this isn’t for everyone. Back in the day, I used to run a small, two server Novell network in my house just to keep everything fresh in my mind. Novell isn’t always the most popular networking environment, even for hard-core network geeks like me, so I always wanted to make sure I knew how to do some of the more “interesting” and challenging things in that environment and ran a test network at home for that reason.
Now, you can do all that through virtualization. In fact, that may be the newest buzzword that’s already worn thin on me! But, buzzword or not, setting up a virtual test network is something that’s been talked to death in the industry, but I’ve only seen one article recently on setting up a home virtual test network. You can read more about it in an article by Brad Bird over at TechRepublic, but, again, for those of us who work in a lot of different environments, it’s not a bad idea to make a series of virtual machines to experiment on. There are still some hardware costs involved, of course, but there is the advantage of being able to roll back to an earlier state if something gets too screwed up. Try that on your old-fashioned home network!
Even Fancier Stuff!
Of course, there’s almost no limit to what you can do on a home network these days. Many inexpensive printers come with network interfaces built in, some even have wifi networking built in. Of course, I’ve mentioned things like Windows Home Server and Linux servers here before, too. It is, after all, what I do. Though, with the low prices on network attached storage, I’m not sure I’d recommend that option for the average user.
And, this post hasn’t even touched on integrating any audio visual equipment into your network, or a home security system, or some of the fancier bells and whistles that are out there. The sky, literally, is the limit.
So, the thing is, everyone will have a different idea of what the “ultimate” home network is, but these are some things to consider, and a few you don’t want to forget.