Home Network Design

On a daily basis I use Windows Vista Business on a part dynamic, part static TCP/IP based network with DHCP controlled by a Netgear Router on a 5Mbit WAN cable connection, which offers the LAN (up to) a gigabit Ethernet connection and IEEE 802.11n (Wireless-N) connections. There are 2 x 2TB (Terabyte) Buffalo TeraStations (Linux Samba based) NAS storage for backup and media sharing/streaming using a RAID5 configuration. Cabling infrastructure (CAT5e/CAT6) is not available therefore the network relies on wireless and 200Mbps (max) connections using the building’s electrical cable infrastructure for individual demanding network devices or groups of devices on gigabit network switches.

The tasks that these need to perform are to allow a small business and personal users (13 devices) to work on a fast reliable connection on a day to day basis, share files, handle VoIP calls and to stream media to four media centres and users’ machines on demand. However the timing of the tasks is quite different. During working hours the primary task of the network is to focus on business use; file sharing, VoIP and online access, and outside these hours on entertainment; media streaming and online access. There are no timing restrictions in place on these uses so it does occasionally occur that all of these tasks are demanded concurrently.

Given that this is essentially a home office and home entertainment mixed network and is built on consumer products due to budgetary and environmental constraints (i.e. it is prohibited to damage the property with a proper cabling infrastructure), two networks that, for data transfer reasons, should normally be isolated, have essentially been brought together.

Subject to uncontrollable external factors (e.g. WAN connection or power outage) and the disadvantages inherited from the use of some of the propriety hardware and software, the business use aspects of the system perform more than adequately. However media streaming and personal online access does occasionally bring system performance to a grinding halt if not properly managed due to the available WAN and LAN bandwidths, something that given the constraints is not possible to control under the circumstances.

Operating System:
Advantages – well known, well supported/documented by user groups, pleasing GUI and industry standard.
Disadvantages – demanding on memory and processing capability, can have unsolvable problems with older hardware drivers.

Network:
Advantages – flexible, low cost (in business terms), best of breed given budgetary and time constraints.
Disadvantages – unbalanced data traffic, subject to external environmental factors that can be detrimental.

Security is handled at router level by NAT and SPI firewalls and by software on devices depending on their operating system, LAN access and user priority. All major devices are protected by auto-power down Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) with surge protection for additional security. Given the type of users and the nature of security requirements, they are deemed to be sufficient in the circumstances but could always be improved with a higher budget for firewall hardware, increased management time to identify risks and prevent them at firewall level and by user risks training.

The advantages of the system outweigh the disadvantages as the system still provides a workable solution to all of the demands placed on it. The main modification that could be made to the system to address the issues discussed would be to introduce a data balancing system physically by installing a patchable cabling infrastructure to isolate the networks (i.e. create two distinct LANs and bandwidths) or by installing a business level traffic balancing device with time restrictions on particular types of use; priority to business tasks during working hours and shared use at other times.

References

Glenn, J. (2009) Computer Science: An Overview. 10th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

Netgear: WNR854T Specifications [Online]. Available at: http://www.netgear.com/Products/RoutersandGateways/RangeMaxWirelessNRoutersandGateways/WNR854T.aspx (Accessed 15 November 2009).

Wikipedia: Windows Vista [Online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Vista (Accessed 14 November 2009).