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Streamlining a home office network

Reducing electricity, heat and noise and saving space

by James George, Doubleview WA

Home office orange ALIX 2-3

The “orange box” that now manages James’ home network

I work for a large, multi-national IT infrastructure company (and have done for many years) in the IT systems architecture space.

Over time, I have found that I have often had requirements for my home network to provide features and facilities beyond that of your average garden-variety Wi-Fi ADSL modem/router/internet-in-a-box home networking solution.

Some of these requirements have included the segregation of my home “family” network from my home “work” network, creation of clustered services, secure remote access and considerable amounts of self-education.

Originally, the expansion of my home network started with an old dual PII 500MHz PC running Linux, controlling an ADSL modem and routing to the internal network; an unmanaged Linksys Gigabit switch. This evolved over time into a bigger PC with more network interfaces also providing on-line storage, network, services (DHCP, DNS, NTP etc) and eventually grew to include a layer 2/3 managed switch.

Then we had children.

Space, noise and heat became an issue. The big-box PC had to go. The WATF (Wife Appreciation/Tolerance Factor) had started to fall. The electricity bill kept going up. I needed to start making changes.

I still wanted (and needed) the network and services to be up at all times, but that meant cohabitation with the big-box PC for someone. That wasn’t going to be baby, and it really wasn’t going to be my wife.

Home office communications cabinet

James’ newly streamlined communications cabinet

During the time that I was pondering this quandary, a friend mentioned the pfSense® system as a lightweight routing and firewall solution. I took a look. The pfSense® website recommended a number of hardware solutions, which eventually led me to Yawarra where I started to consider an ALIX board.

The cost was good and features seemed suitable, so after a few more weeks of research and deliberation, I sprang for a neat little ALIX 2-3 with a 2GB CF card in a tasteful orange box. Yawarra had the box in my hands in no time at all.

After a few evenings tinkering with a directly connected laptop, I had the embedded pfSense® software configured as I wanted and dropped it in to replace the routing and the network services provided by the PC. However the “drop in replacement” also meant that I could relocate the “router” to the communications cabinet in our walk-in robe as it didn’t make any noise.

I got a hug from my wife when the PC went quiet; the few extra lights in the walk-in robe were forgiven. A little bit of re-cabling later and the ADSL modem was relocated to the communications cabinet too.

My orange box (as it is now affectionately known) provides:

  • Firewall
  • Local DNS and DNS forwarding services
  • DHCP
  • PPTP VPN (until pfSense® 2 is available)
  • OpenVPN server (for when playing the Road Warrior)
  • Routing between VLANs (family, work and management)
  • Captive Portal for a guest Wi-Fi network
  • WAN (ASDL) management and
  • A much lower noise, electricity and heat profile

There is still an interface free on the ALIX 2-3, which is earmarked for the DMZ. A DMZ for when my wife gets her on-line business up and running.

Looking to the future, I can see some additional requirements for better management of my home network through implementation of Quality of Service rules, some more restrictive routing and firewall policy and possibly additional security; basically, the kids will grow up.

There will also be a bit more hardware consolidation when the pfSense® system supports 802.11n; the guest Wi-Fi network will get an overhaul and current external access point will be moved internal to the ALIX orange box.

However, for the foreseeable future, the ALIX 2-3 will provide more than sufficient throughput and capability to cater for my, sometimes, unusual home networking requirements.

– James George, Doubleview WA

Mobile: 0415 755 734

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