Saturday, December 13, 2008

New network topology

Annoyed by the constraints of the old setup, and wishing to make use of the Draft-N cards in so many of my computers, I bought a Linksys WRT310N, which has both GigE and 802.11n.

The GigE is valuable because the WHS can't support N, but does support GigE as well, so a cable between them gives me fast access to the server over WiFi.

This means I can sever the wire between the WHS and the MCE, and the desktop can also be wireless.

The new topology is generally simple: each computer is connected only to power & its peripherals. The exception is the TELCO -> Actiontec -> Linksys -> WHS -> external HD.  (The interconnects are Cat 1 telephone -> Cat 5 100Mb/s Ethernet -> Cat5 1000Mb/s -> USB 2.0.)

Because the only wires coming out of that section are power and telephone, I have a little more flexibility about where they should live.  I pulled the old stereo cabinet out of the garage to hold it all, and it looks decent.  The other equipment in my "rack" is a UPS and the printer/scanner. (The last has WiF, so it could be anywhere, but this is the best spot.)

There are a few other benefits of this change:

- The Actiontec Wi-Fi is outside the firewall, so I turned off security. Anyone who needs internet can use it without hassle.

- Ripping DVDs to the server can be done at any computer, transferred over 802.11n (not just at the MCE over Ethernet).  

- Since the MCE doesn't have to write to the server any more (and it always authenticates as Guest), I can restrict Guest on the server to improve security.

- A lightning strike on the phone line can't reach the rest of the network.

Now that it's all done, and my mind has relaxed, I find myself wondering how to improve things. Imagine if the laptop supported 802.11n, and SATA. I could put 2x 500GB drives in it, and a second Wi-Fi in the PCMCIA slot. It could replace the linksys, working as a wireless access point, NAT for the home, firewall to the outside world. It wouldn't have to be wired to the Actiontec, since it could uplink over wifi. It wouldn't need to set on the UPS, since it has battery backup built-in. The only wire would be power.

The drives would cost $230; the laptop could be a Dell D630 for about $500 on E-Bay.  After other items, shipping, etc., it'd be $1000, which is way to much. But I can imagine for free.

EDIT: One of the things I dig about this setup is that almost every item was under $100.  (The laptop was $300, a couple years ago, so its value is close to $100 now).  If someone breaks in to my home & steals equipment, it won't be that difficult to replace, and I have good backups.  

Old network topology

I recently purchased a new router, which triggered a set of cascading changes in my home network.  First, the old setup:

Actiontec GT704-WG.  Qwest DSL used to require you to have an Actiontec GT701-WG, which has a DSL modem, a 100 Mb/s Ethernet port, USB, and 802.11b/g.  I managed to fry mine with a sloppy firmware upgrade, and bought the 704 at Best Buy to replace it, with the assurance that it would be well-supported, since it's almost the same thing.  Unfortunately, they're both junk. Neither Qwest nor Actiontec provides firmware updates, and their feature sets are somewhat limiting.  There aren't any open source firmwares for them, like Tomato or DD-WRT.

Windows Media Center on an old Dell 400SC.  This was marketed as an entry-level server, but really it's just a desktop PC like any other.  I've added a WiFi-N card.

Windows Home Server on an old Dell D600.  This is a laptop, which seemed like a great idea for a WHS.  I love that it has a built-in keyboard, monitor, mouse, WiFi, and battery backup.  Unfortunately it only supports IDE drives, so I'm limited to 250GB, and they're expensive.  When I ran out of storage, I added an external drive, and eventually replaced that enclosure with:

A 2-bay external SATA enclosure.  This contains a 1TB drive and a 300GB drive. 

Also: A desktop with a Wifi-N card, a D600 (used as a laptop, gasp!) with 802.11g, and a new Lenovo T61, with WiFi-N builtin (sweet, sweet laptop).

Constraints: The only phone line is in the kitchen, which isn't a good place for electronics.  The video collection lives on the server, but is played on the media center, and 802.11g isn't fast enough for DVD playback.  Pushing data between the desktop and the server over WiFi was really, really slow.  The WiFi in the Actiontec unit is really bad at doing in- and out-going traffic at the same time.


- server sits right next to the media center, with an ethernet cable between them.  It doesn't need to be a crossover, because everything is autosensing these days.  It doesn't have any DHCP; both devices complain that there's "limited connectivity", but they can still see each other just fine.

- A long phone cord runs over the door from the kitchen to the main desk.  It plugs in to the Actiontec, which has Ethernet to the desktop (making desktop<->server links much faster).

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.