Ethernet Update: Network Switching

This past weekend, I put a new network switch into my home network. It is the backbone of the entire system.

Rather than take a commercial, off-the-shelf solution; I purchased an enterprise switch that offers additional configuration for the future. The switch can route up to 1-million packets per second, more than we’ll ever run through the network.

Then again, Bill Gates said all we need is 640 Kb of RAM.

I found the router’s operating system easy to navigate and use. The set up was a bit of a learning curve, only because I don’t have extensive network experience.

None-the-less, the router is up and serving up data quite nicely.

The Firewall passed several War Game simulations with flying colors. At least no one is in the system through the front door for now.

I have been granted a subnet of the address block, so I need to configure the Virtual LAN interface for network segmentation. But that is a project for later.

Up next is tweaking the wireless access points.

My Home Computer Network Diagram

When I was a young broadcast engineer, I asked my mentor why he never sketched his wiring diagram.  “Job security,” he said.  Well, I’m not that worried about losing my job as IT Director at the house.  So here is a block diagram of where I want to go.

If any IT professional wants to make a suggestion, I’m all ears.

Network Diagram

Ethernet Upgrade: Ubuntu Operating System

Before I configure the network gateway, I needed to re-purpose an older computer.

My network gateway requires a management station running the gateway’s controller software. I can put the software either on-site and connected to the same Layer-2 network, or off-site in a cloud.

I opted to load the software on an on-site computer.

The machine is decommissioned Dell, standing independent of the Internet.

The computer uses a Linux operating system rather than Microsoft Windows. Specifically, I’ve selected Ubuntu, a Debian-based Linux operating system.

Ubuntu is an open source development designed to be secure “out-of-the-box.” Most network ports are closed by default to prevent hacking. A built-in software firewall allows end-users who install network servers to control access. It also limits root access which helps prevent inexperienced users from inadvertently making a catastrophic system change.

Later on, I may install Ubuntu Server as part of the Wireless Mesh Network.

For now, all I need is the desktop operating environment.

Ethernet Upgrade: Network Cable Runs

The first part of my network upgrade is underway after I ran Category 5e cable into new sections of the house. These new runs will connect Wi-Fi access points in the attic to the network infrastructure in the basement.

Before my home builder hung Sheetrock a decade ago, I had the foresight to install conduit runs between the basement and the two, non-connected attics. I expected to run coax from the basement to antennas located above the house one day.

The conduit to the upper attic has two 90-degree turns that I have never navigated successfully with conduit snake.

Taking patients with me, I decided to take another stab. Having those access points at the top of the house would maximize coverage.

Yet poet Robert Burns was right once again.

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

I couldn’t get past Turn Number 2 no matter how much I tried.

Falling to Plan B, I did what I have done before. I ran cable to the lower attic because that conduit has only one turn.

The only run that isn’t finished is re-running the cable between the basement and the family room. The drywall installation team accidentally pinched the cable between the stud, rendering the cable useless. I’ll finish that run in a few days because that will be an access point for my son’s Raspberry Pi.

Snaking Cable to Support Gigabit Ethernet at Home

I should be sleeping after having friends over last night for New Year’s Eve. Instead, I will be crawling through our attic and basement for the next several days. I have to pull new runs of network cable to support an upgrade to wireless Ethernet.

When we built our home in 2001, my wife and I wired the house with Category 5e cable. At the time, Gigabit Ethernet had come into use. We expected residential homes in the future would have wire networks. We wanted to be ready for the resale market.

The only problem was that we didn’t expect the Wi-Fi revolution.

A decade on, our home computer network struggles to feed a host of digital devices with a 100 Mbit/s access point.

Our neighborhood is saturated with Wi-Fi access points, all trying to deliver wide-band digital communication using the 802.11g protocol.

Something has to give, so we’re investing in a scalable, reliable, high-performance network.

I expect the project to take about a month to complete.

Phase I: WAN Security Gateway

Once I pull new cable, I’ll begin work with the gateway. The gateway has a firewall to protect network data. I can create virtual network segments for security and traffic management, which will be important later in the upgrade.

The gateway also has space for voice and video traffic, something we will need once we ditch Comcast Phone.

Phase II: Network Switching

High network speeds require fast, intelligent network switching. The new switch routes up to 1-million packets per second. This is a massive upgrade over consumer-grade devices, bordering on carrier-class networking.

The switch also supports Power Over Ethernet so I can power other devices on the network such as the Wi-Fi access point.

Phase III: High Performance Wi-Fi

The backbone of the network will be an indoor 802.11ac access point. The hardware supports simultaneous dual-band operation. An ideal deployment would allow network speeds up to 1,300 Mbps in the 5 GHz band and 450 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band.

The access point has 3×3 MIMO configuration. This means the device has 3 antennas and 3 radios capable of transmitting and receiving over three streams. All three streams afford the device more bandwidth capacity when downloading and uploading data to and from the network.

Phase IV: Wireless Mesh Network

A Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) is a communication network designed to provide a cost effective, high bandwidth over a specific coverage area. Mesh infrastructure carries data over large distances by splitting the distance into a series of short hops.

The amateur radio community has a WMN called Broadband-Hamnet. This network uses commercial off-the-shelf hardware such as a Wi-Fi access point under the amateur radio rules. This enables amateur operators to use higher output power for longer-range communication.

Broadband-Hamnet supports most of the traffic already found on the Internet such as video chat, voice, instant messaging, email, web, file transfers, and forums.

Phase V: Voice Over IP

The last phase of the upgrade is VoIP, voice over the Internet.

Later in the year, we will ditch Comcast Phone for another provider. With it, we will install smart-phone technology to a scalable PBX system. The system uses the Android platform to provide video conferencing, high-fidelity voice, and a variety of software applications.