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Home/Small Office – Network

In Environments, Hardware, System Administration & Devops by Željko JaguštLeave a Comment

My girlfriend and I are both working from home, so we require several devices to be on the network along with the server to satisfy our business needs. And since it is our home, and sometimes we have people coming over, there is also a separate network segment for our guests. So, in this second article of our "Home/Small Office" series, we will talk about network devices and topology.

Network cabling

Several options are at your disposal when planning cabling for your home or small office network. Yes, you can be a lazy bastard and connect everything you have to your provider's wireless router, but that option is not something we will discuss here. The options you have at your disposal depend on whether you are maybe, like me, building a new house/office or moving into or renting an existing one.

Raised floor

Most modern offices have raised floors, with power and network cables running under them. While I consider this the best solution, it is also the most expensive one, and we will not consider it for our home/small office environment.
Home/Small Office Network - Raised Floor
Raised Floor
Yet if you do have an option of raising the floors, go for it. The space to run cables through and cable management options are virtually endless.

Wall cabling

According to standards here in Croatia, every new building has to have power outlets on three walls in each room, with optional RJ45 and coaxial outlets. Based on that fact, I have network cables running through the walls of my house and at least two RJ45 outlets in each room.

Here you have the option of running the cables inside walls (like me) or on the walls. If you are building a new office or house and opt for in-wall cabling, you need to arrange that with your architect. When planning, you must know precisely how many network outlets you require in each room. Adding more later is possible, but it will require some "digging" in the wall so that you can make extra space for an additional wall network outlet(s). If digging the wall is out of the question, you always have the option of connecting a small, cheap unmanaged switch to one of the existing wall outlets, which will allow you to extend the network for the room you need it in. For an in-wall build, I recommend large models of modular outlets.

Home/Small Office Network - Modular Wall Outlet
Modular Wall Outlet
If you don't have the option of running cables inside your wall, you can use plastic or aluminum cable conduit channels (parapet channels) or wall-mounting wire clips and run cables on the surface of your walls. Cable conduit channels are a more expensive solution, but you will have the option of terminating your cables with standard outlets. You can use the same modular outlets you would use for in-wall cabling.
Home/Small Office Network - Conduit Channel
On-Wall Cable Conduits
Using wall-mounting wire clips is the cheapest and simplest method of "running" cables through your home or small office.
Home/Small Office Network - Cable Clips
Wire Clips
While being cheap, this method gives you a great deal of flexibility, and you can also be very creative with your cabling.
Home/Small Office Network - Creative Cabling
Creative Cabling
For whichever option you decide, ensure you know how many devices and where you want to connect. Based on that, you will know how many outlets you need, where do you need them, and how much network cable is required to connect everything.

Network devices

Along with the server, a few other devices are required for home or small office. You will need a router provided by your ISP (internet service provider), a switch, and one or more wireless access points/range extenders.

ISP router

Some ISPs will provide you with a pretty powerful router, which you can then use as a central hub for your network. And that is only under the assumption that all the configuration options on that router are unlocked, and that is usually not the case.

In our home/small office environment scenario, the router is used only as a "gateway" to the internet. In other words, you should turn off all options (wireless, DHCP, etc.) except the link to the internet. Once you receive your router from ISP, you should also receive login credentials (username and password) and an administrative URL (usually an IP address in the RFC 1918 range). So once you log in to your router, turn off DHCP and wireless (usually only that is required).

With only the internet link left active on the ISP router, the router is ready to be included in the home/small office network. It will be connected directly to the server.

Home server

The server is the focal point in our home or small office environment. It is the "bridge" between the ISP router (internet) and the switch (home/small office network). We will use it to manage and control the complete network, along with the storage and additional services (if required). You can check our home/small office server build recommendations on the following link:

Network switch

When opting for a switch, scalability is the first thing you should pay attention to. Trust me; you don't want to find yourself in a situation where no more ports are available on your switch. Aim for at least 8-16 ports switch, and if your business doesn't expand rapidly, you should be fine for a couple of years.

A simple unmanaged switch should satisfy all of the requirements of a home or small office environment. They require minimal technical aptitude to set up, have little or no configuration options, and just work. As for recommendations, I'd go with a very simple and cheap NETGEAR GS108 or Zyxel MG-108, which is a bit more expensive and supports 2.5GbE.


Zyxel MG-108

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On the other hand, if you are tech-savvy and understand a bit more about networks, you might opt for smart or managed switches. Those switches are considerably more expensive and probably an overkill when talking about home or small business environments. However, you will get access to a command line interface or a management GUI and all the fancy, advanced configuration options like VLANs, link aggregation (LACP), etc. After doing some research, I plan to get a Zyxel XS1930-12HP model. It is a really nice piece of network gear featuring 8 x 10GbE POE++ RJ-45 (copper) ports, two 10GbE RJ-45 ports without POE (server connection), and two SPF+ ports.
Home/Small Office Network - Zxyel XS1930-12HP
Zyxel XS1930-12HP
Whether you opt for managed or unmanaged switch, be sure to plan ahead and make sure you have enough ports for any future expansions.

Wireless access point

Having a wireless access point and, if required, wireless range extenders is a good idea for both home and small office environments. In the office, you can use WiFi to configure a separate network segment for visitors allowing them only access to the internet. You can do the same at your home for your guests and connect all your non-essential devices to WiFi.

If you are considering getting one, go for a WiFi 6 device with at least one PoE port, a 5GHz frequency band, and the option to add multiple SSID networks. You can aim for vendors like Netgear, TP-Link, Zyxel, Ubiquiti, etc. As for recommendations, I'd like to point out Netgear WAX214 as the best budget model and Ubiquiti U6-LR as the best value model.


Ubiquiti L6-LR

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Prioritize devices

Once you have your home/small office network all hooked up and running, there may be a lot of devices you would like to connect to it. I suggest you connect all your business-related devices to a physical wired network and all your non-essential devices to a WiFi. Best case scenario would be to split the network into three separate segments:

  • Business network (wired network)
    • Server(s)
    • Workstations
    • Notebooks
    • Printers
    • Wireless AP
  • Home network (WiFi)
    • TV(s)
    • Gaming consoles
    • Phones
    • Tablets
    • Video surveillance
    • Smart home devices
  • Guest network (WiFi)
    • Usually, your guest's phones
Home/Small Office Network - Simple Network Diagram
Home/Small Office - Simple Network Diagram
With a setup like this, you will have enough throughput to satisfy all your business and non-business needs. Just make sure you plan a few years ahead when designing your network and don't run out of free switch ports. Happy networking, and thank you for reading.

Share if you like. Thank you in advance!

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