Home network expansion/reconfiguration, plus file server & data backup questions.

I’m needing to redesign my home network, since the last few months have brought a bunch of new toys into my life and my poor router is getting a smidge over-crowded.

Home network consists of:
2 voip boxes (wired) (one’s for work and one’s my landline, and there is currently no simple way to combine the two into one box)
1 ubuntu desktop (wired)
1 vista laptop (wireless) (work-related, again)
1 XP laptop (wireless)
1 xbox (wired) (also a media centre)

+1 file server (not built yet) (wired)

1 4 port wireless router

Now, for those of you playing along at home, you’ll notice this means five devices need to be wired (with possible room for expansion if I ever buy that PS3). The VoIP sets do not need access to the file server, obviously, so there go ports 1 and 2 on the router. The Xbox does not need access to the internet (thought that would be a nice bonus, making patching the software easier), but since it’s also a media centre, will need access to the file server. Port 3 will be the switch that I’m going to have to buy unless I want to blow 500 bucks on an enterprise level router, which seems like it would be excessive.

So, questions:

  1. There are a lot of B/G networks in my building, and I’m considering upgrading to a wireless N router to avoid interference from everybody else’s networks (my router is 4~ years old anyway, so the upgrade is due). Is this a stupid idea based on my misunderstanding of the fundamentals of wireless access? Any recommendations on routers? I have no particular brand loyalty in this case.

  2. I know almost jack and shit about switches. Is it possible to give access to the file server on the switch to devices that are connected to the router (I’m thinking of the two wireless laptops)? Would this be possible only with a managed switch or some other specific configuration, or should I look for a switch that’s also a wireless access point or something (does that even exist)?

  3. What software is recommended for the file server? Hardware speccing I can do myself but I’ve never built a file server before and have no idea what OS and/or applications would make things easiest.

  4. What’s recommended for data backups these days? The amount of storage in my apartment is increasing steadily and I’d hate to lose it all during the summer brownouts. I could probably build a RAID 5 but something that’s not actively plugged in all the time seems like it would be a smarter idea.

Suggestions, vetos, recommendations, observations on something incredibly obvious that I’ve missed? I could hand this entire issue over to my sysadmin boyfriend, but he has a tendency not to explain stuff and get very grouchy when he’s working, so it’d work, but I wouldn’t learn a whole lot from the experience. :slight_smile:

Just get yourself a cheap 8-port gigabit switch and plug everything except the router in to it. Then connect it to the wireless router.

I’ll leave the rest of your questions to someone more knowledgeable than I, but by plugging the switch into the router you essentially split that one port on the router into 4/5/8/x ports. The end result is that each device plugged into the switch will function individually in exactly the manner as if it where plugged directly into the router.

With a small home network you don’t really have to worry much about packet collision and stuff like that, so any inexpensive switch should work fine. What you might do is hook up those applications that will communicate with each other, but not really need to access the internet to the switch. So your XBOX and File Server (I’d suggest looking into unRAID as an option, I’ve heard good things about it on the AppleTV forum) should both be on the switch along with the one wired desktop. The wireless can handle everything else. Note that upgrading to 802.11n won’t do any good unless you have n capabilities in your hardware. Which unless you’ve specifically put in a card or bought an adapter it doesn’t look like you have. While it’s true that most n routers can also support the 802.11g standard, you won’t really be reaping any benifit from it.

I currently have a Drobo, which is sort of a bastardized RAID system with 4 1TB drives in it which gives me a little less than 3TB of storage. That’s 10000 songs, several thousand pictures, and around 900 movies/tv shows. Note that a DROBO or any other RAID device is a means of data fault protection, not data backup. If a serious enough glitch happens, you should still have a backup of your most important data someplace else.

Good Luck!

Nitpick: traffic between two devices on the switch will not go via the router. So Daerlyn could be blatting data between the server and his Linux box at 1 Gbps or streaming from the server to his XBox and wireless access to the internet from the laptop would not be affected at all.

In addition to the Network Attached Storage OS option, like unRAID mentioned above, you can stick with a Windows OS if you want something more familiar. I’ve heard good things about Windows Home Server.

I’ve never actually used either, so I won’t try to offer a recommendation. Personally, I just use an old copy of XP Pro for my file server. It’s stable enough and works for my relatively simple needs.

This doesn’t really contradict anything, since even if the two things were both plugged into the router, the traffic isn’t being “routed”: a router with multiple “LAN” ports is really just a router with a switch attached internally.

I’ll be pleased to answer any questions you may have on that.

There’s SME Server. It’s pretty easy to set up. You can have it as a Server/Gateway, so it you use it’s firewall and proxy, or just use it as a Server.

I don’t know what I’m doing and it worked for me straight up. With upto 3 drives it operates as RAID1 (3rd drive is a hot spare), with 4 or more RAID5 or 6.

I’d go with SME Server - a free, simple and quick linux distribution designed for file serving, email, firewall/router and web server. I have run it on all sorts of systems, and a cheap intel Atom motherboard would be ideal, or an old 600MHz-1gHz CPU system (with 512Mb-1Gb ram, mirrored disks, preferably two ethernet ports).

My personal network has an ADSL modem (with disabled WiFi) connecting to the external side of my server. All internet traffic goes via the server (for web caching, firewall and logging purposes). Some simple rules forward external traffic to the XBox360 and other internal devices. On the internal network, I have an 8 port hub connecting everything together, and a wifi access point. I could also use the 8 port switch on the access point, but cabling and location wise it would not work very well.

From a functionality point of view, SME server has everything you generally use, and with a small amount of work can be extended to do lots of cool stuff. I run our business web pages off it (Joomla), and have enabled media sharing to the XBox360 (and other network media players) for photos, video and music. I can check my email via the web, access the full network via VPN, and it runs and runs for months at a time. The only thing I want to do is set up a VOIP phone network solution that integrates our landline and VOIP - the systems are available but pretty pricey, and our current international call rates are really low, so the financial justification is not there yet.


Both of the laptops do have wireless N cards, so that’s not a problem, at least.

This Drobo thing looks interesting - I think I would still not use it as a primary storage medium but it looks like it could happily run alongside the file server as a backup server.

If I’m understanding correctly everything you all have told me about the switch, anything which is on the switch will have access to anything else on the switch, no extra work required. Devices with are connected directly to the router and not the switch will not have access to the devices on the switch by default, but I could get around that with a little finagling on the ports?

Two votes for SME Server, so I’ll be having a look at that. I’m trying to avoid adding more microsoft software to my computers, hence the desktop’s move to ubuntu, but I’ll definitely keep the Windows Home Server in mind if whatever I do go with ends up giving me too much trouble.

A friend also suggested FreeNAS to me. Anyone used that before?

Thanks so much for your input, guys. :slight_smile:

As long as your switch is correctly connected to the router (via an uplink port or crossover cable or autodetection), all devices will be able to communicate with all other devices, no matter where they are plugged in. All a switch does is remember what devices are available on a particular port (using the unique MAC address), and ensures that packets for a particular device are only sent to that port. Even if multiple devices are visible on a port, the switch will learn this and use it.

The value of a switch is that two devices on different switch ports can communicate without other switch ports seeing (and generating collisions with) the traffic.


Aha, understood.