Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Home Network

I often get asked by other people: "How many computers do you have at home?". Because I'm an IT professional, the question is sometimes asked along with a rhetorical answer of: "Probably 10", and other times it is asked with genuine interest. I typically begin by laying out the purposes of my technology use at home to help people understand my setup.

I've maintained a home network since my early days of college. 386 and 486 linux based computers running file shares for roommates as well as dial on demand modem and subsequent dsl Internet connections. There has always been a dual purpose of legitimate utility as well as the learning / hobby aspect. This really hasn't changed much today - just the requirements.

Technology changes, life changes, requirements change. Today I have a family, limited spare time, a home, and demanding professional career. And so my requirements have naturally evolved. Low maintenance is a must due to time constraints. Space needs are high due to volumes of pictures and video of family, images of virtual machines for testing Mobility and connectivity around the home for the work and recreational needs of my family. Backup of all those precious digital memories and information. Of course efficient use of electricity and space.

Low maintenance to me at home comes from a few things. Largely this involves controlling the sprawl devices that I need to do upkeep on - consolidation. At one point I had several older computers doing various tasks, each consuming power and requiring periodic attention - those are gone, replaced by one central modern workstation. I've also recently replaced a "sensitive" MythTV based computer with a DVR from the cable company - a huge win on all fronts. Sensibly configured DHCP, DNS and file shares make connecting and sharing easy and reliable.

So what makes up my home network? At the computing center is a home built workstation. An overclocked Intel Quad core based system currently running 4GB of RAM, Windows 7, VMware Workstation with two 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM Sata drives in a RAID 1 configuration. The ASUS motherboard was not well supported by a Linux distribution that would reliably run VMWare Server 2.0, so the Windows 7 x64 route was taken. The Windows 7 x64 install is minimal and is really only there to run VMware Workstation. Inside VMWare Workstation I run at times a multitude of virtual machines. One always on instance is a CentOS guest that is my file server. For "portability" sake this is great as I can move it across hardware without issue and my file shares and Amazon Jungle Disk backup setup never changes. I maintain a Microsoft Technet subscription so I often boot up several other instances for testing various configurations. I also build up test VMware vSphere environments. In the near future I'll be adding 8GB of RAM to this system since 4GB really limits my testing capabilities. A few years ago, I 'finished' the basement of my home. During the project I installed several network drops that run back to a 10/100 switch that lives in an old rack in my storage room. Also in that rack is my cable modem and Linksys wireless G router. There are two systems in retirement there as well - a SGI Indigo2 (R6000) and a SGI Indy system. I spent a good number of years in an SGI equipment based engineering department and love the hardware. At the time it was light years ahead of anything available. I have a very inexpensive Samsung color laser printer attached to a wireless print server for printing from anywhere in the house. My wife and I have two fairly old Dell laptops that are almost nothing more than thin clients and serve their purposes well since all heaving lifting is done on the workstation via RDP, ssh, etc.

So it comes down to: Only 1 primary system(on a UPS) that is always on to do the heavy lifting and run virtualization to contain / isolate the "complicated" parts, along with a few peripheral devices for mobile access and output. This configuration suits my family's and my needs both for personal and work use - how about yours?

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AJ said...

Without getting to in depth about my home network it consists of one Windows server box that is in my Mamae cabinet. I use it to 1) Play my mame games 2) As a file server 3) To host my playon server for the PS3, XBox360, and Wii.

I have another older machine as a backup file server plus the occasional web browsing.

Then I've got my wife's new laptop which is a quad core whatever.

When it comes to home use I don't even have my own laptop or desktop really. I use my work laptop quite a bit and VPN back in to the office to do most of my tinkering.

Just don't have the time like I used to...

John M. said...

My home network consists of a old Compaq DL380 Gen1 with 4 GB of ram as my VM server, and old P4 running as a file server (RAID1 75GB x2 drives), a Pentium 3 pulling firewall duties, everyone else uses laptops to connect wirelessly to the DSL drop.

I have a old AMD machine serving as a DMS server that I have been testing.

All the servers run Linux, which cuts down on the maintenance, and the family laptops run Windows XP and Win7.

Pub said...

Nice post! I just got my wife a new laptop with an i3 core for only $499! I am currently shopping for a new desktop with a i7 core but I can't decide to build or buy since the prices are dropping down so low, it's really a wash. I'm also going for my Windows Server Certification in Indianapolis next month. Wish me luck!

John M. said...


I understand what you mean about prices for hardware these days. It seems that when I purchase something, the price seems to magically drop the next week!

Good luck on your exam!

JeffHengesbach said...

Thanks for the feedback all. Everyone definitely has their unique needs and budgets to fit them into!

Vincent said...

Technology has made great strides in improving our gadgets. The computers that we have now are a lot better compared to the old ones and these continue to get better. Your central modern workstation is a really big help! Your tools have made your work much easier. Cheers!

>Vincent Mesecher

Mac Pherson said...

I agree that all things need to be updated. Since this is posted a year ago, I guess you've already upgraded your home network by now, right? What have you upgraded it to?

Mac Pherson

JeffHengesbach said...

I haven't updated that much. I increased the RAM in my primary Desktop to a total of 12GB, I added a SSD as well to help with IOPs, and finally I setup a small desktop (I got for pennies) running openfiler for some additional VM storage / IO performance.

prolix said...

Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!
Home Network Setup