Home Network is all set

Cat6 Outlet Wiring
Wiring up the kitchen

It cost a little over $1,000 to have 17 Cat6 outlets connected and cable run from one end of the house to another by a professional.  With the exception of the garage and bathrooms we now have a wired connection in every room of the house!  It is overkill.  And I love it.

Benefits:

The benefits to us are getting our full 150MBPS of bandwidth all around the house through WiFi along with the ability to fully take advantage of the home server and remote storage drives.  I have over 10 years of media ranging from music to photos that are now useable throughout the house.  Streaming 4K content is now happening in the rooms where we don’t have a cable box.  And I love being able to access any of the 50,000+ RAW images I’ve taken in the last decade on any machine anywhere in the house.  I don’t have to be a recluse, in the office, when editing photos and the family can join in with opinions too.  Speaking of the family, our oldest boy is loving being able to stream Netflix on the iPad while watching Disney Jr. in bed over his summer break.  We’re growing him into a technology geek too.  Our security system is functioning way better as well.  We’ve been able to upgrade to HD cameras and the live stream delay is maybe 2 seconds.

Running cables through the house
Running cables through the house

Why:

Prior to wiring the house I was constantly fighting the unique architecture of the house that limited the WiFi signal.  Because we were dependent upon WiFi extenders it took a while to diagnose where things fell short when they did.  In the Spring and Summer squirrels go crazy on the power lines causing flickers; forcing me to have to reset routers as much as 3 times a week.  After two years of complaining to the power company my bitching wasn’t proving enough for them to bury the lines, so I fixed things myself.  A combination of wiring the Internet and strategically using battery backup power supplies has given me a trouble-free summer this year.

Network hardware heart
Home network hardware heart

Network Equipment:

We have a full router from Comcast (no details for security purposes) that accepts an intentionally split line (also not detailed for security purposes) as the initial point for the home network.  I would bet this is where most Comcast customer’s home networks begin and end.  Ours does for the home phone system, solar panel monitoring, and thermostats, but not for the computers.  The connection moves into two routers where one is a security network and the other is a user network.  We’ll skip the details on the security system (not seen in images either) to dive into the 24 port TP-Link ethernet switch that connects 17 two foot long Cat6 cables through a 2U fingerport to a patch panel and out to the ports around the house.  Power goes directly to the hardware from a 15a rackmount surge protector that gets its power from a 900w battery backup.  It is all housed in an open-frame wall-mount rack held to the studs with 4 lag bolts.

The switch helps to distribute the Internet as devices are calling for it.  It delivers the most bandwidth to the most demanding thing at any given time.  Other items are mostly aesthetic with the battery backup being the exception.  Battery power takes over when the power goes out, so the Internet, phones, and security systems stay up for hours during a power outage.  Fortunately we have not experienced a long power outage, but the bigger bonus is that I have not had to reset things after squirrels cause power flickering.  In essence this network is quite simple and reliable.  With the right list of parts to buy it doesn’t take a technological genius to assemble.  The hard part was researching what to get.

Wifi:

I was able to reuse every router we had for extending the network.  That consists of 2 larger Apple Airports and 3 smaller Apple Airport Extremes.  The Comcast router pushes a wifi signal in the office while one of the Airport Extremes handles the kids’ playroom.  Our most used area of the house is a very open area that the newest generation Airport handles to the height of my expectations.  I recently moved an older Airport into the master bedroom where a current generation Airport Extreme was not doing so hot.  So far so good on the switch.  Even though it shouldn’t technically be true that switching essentially the same hardwares make a dramatic difference, but sometimes it does.  All in all we experience the full bandwidth we pay for throughout the whole house and even a good distance into the yard!  Before doing this we were lucky if we say 1/4 of that bandwidth in 75% of the house.

Our Home Server is powered by a Mac Mini
Our Home Server is powered by a Mac Mini

Server:

Last but not least is the home server I got to fire back up and beef up.  In my old 1 bedroom apartment I had a home server that kicked ass, supplying everything I needed.  Now we are a family of 4 who all have different interests in what’s on the screen.  With brand new Cat6 ethernet and gigabit hardware we can now stream to multiple devices simultaneously while running backups and all sorts of other things.  I have yet to hit a cap in the network other than when writing to my ancient Firewire 800 Drobo with 5,400 RPM hard drives in it.

An Apple Mac Mini with an i7 processor and 16GB of RAM powers the media server with two 6TB USB3 drives attached and a Drobo formatted to handle another 6TBs connected by Firewire.  The external drives house media we stream in the house while the Drobo is a photo backup vault.  I would love to add more backup for the photos, but there is already a RAID 10 backup sitting in a Mac Pro in my office while the Drobo is a backup to that backup.  So, things are fairly backed up.  Alas, I would like a little more peace of mind one day.

Final thoughts:

My first run with a home server was probably in high school.  Back then it was more for fun and learning.  A good ten years ago I cut the cord on Cox Cable in Virginia Beach with a Mac Mini home server (finally wrote about it at that link in 2010).  I’m happy to say things have evolved to make this easier in 2016 (a good 20 years after my first attempt in high school).  Apple is absolutely the easier way to go, but a PC or Linux server will give you more flexibility.  With my desire to keep the malicious out of the house and the fact that I don’t want to continuously mess with settings I prefer Apple.  This is why the configurable parts of our home network are all made by Apple too.  And things really have been quite seamless!  I’m not trying to turn this into an Apple advertisement; I’m just saying this is what I prefer.

Is a home network worth it?  I’ve probably got $3 to $5,000 invested in ours when you think about all the computers, network hardware, routers, and other things I’m not thinking of and I have to say it is only worth it if you’re a nut like me.  Wiring the house was totally worth it though!  We are HEAVY Internet users munching around 600 to 800 GBs of bandwidth each month in Netflix, Apple Store movies, online gaming, large downloads, video conferencing, photo/video uploading, and whatever else two technologists with two kids do.  “Worth it” is always personal.