My home network explained

IMG_4460A number of people have asked me about my tech setup at home. So I thought I’d post about it. A lot of the hardware I use is legacy kit, acquired over the years. However, recently the kit I have bought is deliberate and in support of the design aims of my setup.

Design principles: My aim, when pulling it all together was to build it around my reality of limited and, relatively slow, internet connectivity. Where I currently live, I don’t have the luxury of a fast internet connection. It’s getting better – and I now have a decent connection peaking at around 11mbp/s. However, it’s capped (depending on what tariff I use). So I have tried to make my setup as bandwidth efficient as possible – no bad thing anyway.

Router – ASUS N66U

At the heart of the network sits the ASUS N66U DSL router. I choose this router primarily because it has VPN support, so I am able to directly connect my VPN service to the router. Another reason I choose the router is because ASUS are all in on OpenWRT, an open source firmware alternative to vanilla router firmware. I’m running the latest build of MerlinWRT and I choose it because it gives you some neat additional features, whilst closely replicating the UI of the standard ASUS firmware. There are newer models out there now but for my needs the basic prerequisite for any router is VPN support and good coverage.

Netgear ReadyNas 214

With limited internet bandwidth and data-caps I wanted to limit (if not completely stop) media streaming. This powerful, pro-sumer grade NAS really fits the bill. I love it. Because this sits at the heart of my network and serves all my media, I wanted to invest in a decent bit of kit. It’s running a 4-bay SATA drive RAID 5 array (each 2TB) and has a particularly powerful processor and fully loaded with enough RAM for my needs. I use it for a number of reasons:

  • Plex Media/file server: It’s recommended by the Plex folk and is more than capable of doing all the complex trans-coding and streaming of media across my numerous devices. I mostly use Plex via my LG Smart TV or via my 4th gen AppleTV . It’s also more than capable of quickly trans-coding and syncing my Plex media to my devices (such as my iPad Pro and iPhone), useful for when I travel. I wanted to highlight Plex because I believe it’s one of the most capable and brilliant services/apps I have ever used. In a nutshell – I love it and demonstrated my loyalty by buying the lifetime plan.
  • iTunes my library: I have close to 8000 tunes (around 40GB) and really value my collection. I deliberately like to run my devices with light SSD’s so didn’t want to waste drive space on any given Macbook. So I transferred my library over to my readyNAS, pointed my iTunes app to the directory – and it just works. I tend to purchase most of my music from Amazon and so point the downloads directly to the NAS directory too. That way it all stays in sync. I also maintain iTunes match and cloud storage too – that way I’ve always got access to my music on the go. Essentially, my NAS acts as a backup and as close to a‘physical’ home for my collection as possible. But it also has one more vital function; I point my Sonos system to the NAS iTunes library. Doing so ensures that a) I don’t have to have my iTunes library permanently connected/open and b) I can avoid having to stream my cloud music collection ( I also sync the library on Google Music) over the internet.
  • Apple Time Machine backups: There are three Macs in my household and at the very least; I always ensure they are backed up using Time Machine. (Plus I use SuperDuper clones on external drives). Rather than using individual hard drives connected to each Mac, the ReadyNas 214 supports multiple instances of Time Machine. Again, it all just works, and I’ve run a few restores just to check that they are all working – and they are.
  • File server: Obviously. In the few instances where I have documents to store locally I use the NAS for all my needs. I also run an automated backup for my camera photos – just as a fail-safe.
  • WordPress testing/backup server: I run a few websites so I have an instance of WordPress installed on the NAS and use it for testing purposes.

Sonos

I made a decision a few years ago to invest in Sonos. And in my opinion haven’t regretted it at all. I’ve played around with Apple’s Airplay and am not a fan. I need more granularity in my music system – and Sonos delivers. Perhaps the biggest reason for investing in Sonos is because of their superb underlying technology. They operate a mesh network which sits on top of your existing network. It’s incredibly robust and has never dropped out for me. Sonos support multiple media streaming services such as Spotify, Tune In Radio, Google music etc. Whilst the app is a bit clunky, the sound is incredible and I’m able to either play all the speakers together in ‘party mode’ or independently. I also like the flexibilty to configure the speakers for multiple setups. At the moment I have:

Lounge

  • 1 X PlayBar (hooked up to my TV via an optical link)
  • 2 X Play 1’s as surround speakers

Studio 

  • 1 x Play 3

Upstairs lounge 
  • 1 x Play 1
Ideally, I’d be running a Sonos Sub on the lounge setup. But it’s a big piece of kit and would be a challenge to have it delivered. So for now I can live perfectly without one.
I’m a big fan of the Hue lighting system. And recently they launched an Apple HomeKit hub which has opened up Siri voice commands to the system. I upgraded to the new hub about 4 months ago – and its great. I’m able to command the lights by voice and by extension via calling out ‘hey Siri’ to my Apple Watch. The ability to say ‘turn all the lights purple’ or ‘turn all the lights off’ is an incredible feeling.
I also combine the hue lighting with IFTTT, so thanks to the IFTTT supported APIs I’m able to have the lights turn on automatically at dusk and off automatically at midnight. IFTTT is an incredible service and the list of hacks are endless. For example, I can have the Hue lights flash a particular colour when I hit my 10,000 steps target on Fitbit, or flash a colour when I get a new Twitter follower. The possibilities are endless.
I currently have 3 hue lights at my overseas home. And a few back in the the UK.

WeMoo switches

Unfortunately these are not HomeKit supported yet. But I’m running a couple to remotely control a couple of lamps. Useful and again, the ability to have the automatically turn on a dusk is handy.

iOS devices

Just two at the moment (soon to be a third if I get my way and buy the gorgeous iPhone SE).

My new iPad Pro 12.9″ is incredible. I’ve already posted about how much finally able to produce my weekly podcast on it. But additionally it’s now become my primary computer. I recently bough the outstanding Logi keyboard cover for it. It’s essentially a full blown keyboard that takes its charge from the new smart connector on the iPad (so no need to rely on Bluetooth). Sure, it adds bulk and is actually bigger and heavier than my MacBook Air. However, I can all the advantages of having an iPad. I absolutely love the thing.

iPhone 6plus: an iPhone obviously. Great device still, but I’m actually getting a bit tired of the form factor. Hence the reason I may ‘minigrade’ to the iconic design of the iPhone SE. I’m taking a punt that the next iPhone 7 will be too similar in design to the iPhone 6/plus (which I’ve never really liked). So my plan is to get an SE (gaining a better camera and form factor) and hold out for the radically new iPhone 8 in 2017.

Macbooks: Until recently when I bought my iPad Pro, my 2010 MacBook Air was my production computer. It’s aged exceptionally well and is still rock solid. But I’m just finding the display a bit too small these days and the lack of retina really shows. So I’ve essentially retired it from use now. My MacBook Pro Retina 2014 is now my main computer at home. It’s gorgeous, and that Retina display is incredible. Plus it’s sporting 8GB of ram and they i5 processor flies. Lastly, is the classic original 2008 MacBook (aliminum). I’ve recently put in a new battery, 8gb of ram and a 480 ssd. This has literally given it a new lease of life and it performs surprisingly well for an 8 year old machine.

Less interesting but worthy of a mention is the neat little ‘Transporter’ hardware I have connected to a spare USB drive I have. This turns my harddrive into a ‘personal’ cloud, accessible via my local network or on the web.

Oh and I should mention – I still love to hack Linux occasionally, and use my Raspberry Pii 2 for that.

Well there you have it. That’s my current network/setup.