So I have had a ton of requests over the years to give a tour of my home network. Honestly, I never gave the tour because I just didn’t think people would be that interested in what I had. Well I have had enough requests to get the idea that some of you really do want to see it.  So in this article and video I will be giving that tour!

Some of you may not be aware, but not only are computers and technology my day job – but their are also a big part of my hobbyist adventures in addition to making things in workshop. And that means my home network is pretty advanced compared to the average home user. I am sure there will be some things in my setup that many of you disagree with. There’s always a different way to do something and there is always someone in the peanut gallery that thinks they can do it better (but of course they have not!).  So enough of that, let’s get on with my home network tour!

Watch the Network Tour Video

My Internet Connection

Let’s start outside at the demarcation point. I get my Internet service from Frontier Communications. They recently bought out Verizon FiOS in Texas so this is basically the same service as Verizon offers in other states. My ONT or Optical Network Terminal is connected using the copper port via Gigabit Ethernet. I currently have my service provisioned as 150 megabit symmetrical, though they do offer up to 500 megabit symmetrical. I am just not willing to pay their outrageous prices for it. As of this writing they are charging about $250 a month for 500 megabit.   It’s a shame because just two streets away AT&T is offering Gigabit services for less than I pay these guys for 150 megabit. Frontier is the only provider of Internet service in my neighborhood. If you want Internet, you have to get it from them.

Some of you are going to assume that box on the outside of my house is my router.  That would be an incorrect assumption.  That box is called an Optical Network Terminal, or ONT for short. The ONT is owned and controlled by Frontier.  The gigabit port on the outside of it is connected directly the WAN port on my firewall.  Which means if you hack this device or plug into the cables on the outside of my home, you have no more access to my home network than you would over the internet.

My Network and A/V Closet

When we built our home, we had the builder create a dedicated closet for the theater room’s AV gear and my home network gear. I’ve never been really happy with this panel they put in the house, and at some point I will probably eliminate it and put in a real patch panel, but for now this has to suffice.

Over hear on the right is my main network gear. It’s just a little wall mount rack I got from Amazon. In fact, I will put a link in the description and on my website where to buy all of this gear if you are interested.

The firewall I am using is a six port unit that I personally imported from China. It’s something I am actually considering importing in bulk and selling on my website. It has six gigabit ports and I am currently running pfSense on it. You can’t get the one I bought yet, but this one is great for home use.

Below that is a 26 port managed switch that I used as my main distribution switch. Under that is a a 50 port managed switch that supports PoE or Power over Ethernet. This switch runs all of the cameras for my NVR which is a little Synology NVR216 that just sits on top of the rack. I have a whole video on installing this rack.

Down below that I have two Trip-Lite UPSes. These maintain power to everything during a power failure. With my load, they will run everything in my network closet for a little over an hour.

I suspect many of you will critique my cable management.  Go for it.  I change things in here far too often to worry about that. Do I know how to do it better? Of course I do, its just not important in my setup. As I always tell the naysayers… “If you’re so much better than me, go make a YouTube video and show me how its done.”

The Server Equipment

Over to the left is where I keep my server equipment. I have a Synology RS2416+ running ten 3 terabyte Western Digital 7200 RPM drives, and fronted by two mirrored 250 gigabyte Samsung EVO 850 SSDs for caching. These cache drives make an incredible difference in performance since my servers are running ESXi and the operating systems live on the NAS.

Speaking of servers, these other two boxes are my servers. They are the 1U servers from a pervious video, but I moved them to 2U cases because I needed more PCIe slots for another project I was doing. In fact, I still have the 1U cases here in storage which I’ll probably build a lab box with at some point. These have servers VMs that run lots of different things in my home. I’m running Homeseer for home automation, PLEX for video serving and live-TV distribution, Observium for network monitoring, and several other things. And yes, I am legally licensed for all of this stuff.

Back over here on top of the network rack is one more device. This is an HD Homerun Extend. You plug an aerial antenna into it and then plug it into your ethernet network. Then using a number of different software packages, you can distribute broadcast TV around your home without the need to run antenna cables to all of your TVs. There are apps for almost any device, such as Apple TV, XBOX, or Smartphones. However, I simply have my PLEX media server distribute the video over the PLEX app. It’s simple and it works flawlessly.

Up here on above the servers is a Z-Net from Homeseer. This device broadcasts the Z-Wave protocol throughout my home which controls my Z-Wave switches and other devices for home automation. I really like this device because it allows me to run HomeSeer in virtual machine and move it between servers without the need to move a physical USB stick to the other physical box.

The last thing I’ll point out about my network closet is that it has a dedicated exhaust fan connected to the return side of my home air conditioning unit. This fan is always exhausting air from the room, even when the AC is not running. This keeps the room at comfortable temperature. I have a lot of info on this setup on my website at TheGeekPub.com.

Items from this part of the tour:

My Office

This is my office where I work on most of my videos and stuff. I’m running a Mac Pro I got on Craigslist that I run Final Cut Pro X for video editing. Although I have to say I am seriously considering switching back to a Windows PC with Adobe Premiere since Apple seems to be going a different direction with pro stuff. Connected to my Mac Pro is a Drobo 5D that i use mainly for holding backups of my older video footage. It’s connected via Thunderbolt. On top of my Drobo is an external DVD drive and a USB3 Samsung T3 SSD drive which I use as my scratch disk for video editing. It’s connected to a Samsung 28” 4K monitor.

Behind my desk is a test PC, and a Gigabyte Brix running Chrome in full screen. This shows stats from Observium for my servers, networks, and Internet usage. You can see it also shows the temperature.

Over to the left of that I have the Pacade that I built in a previous video that is powered by a Raspberry Pi 3. This gets a lot of use and is something I tremendously enjoy having in my office.

Down here on the floor is my little lab rack. This was sent to me by Rosewill. I have plans for this little guy in an upcoming video. For now I am just running my lab switch in it which is powering a PoE camera that is watching our pool be built. Now that’s a project I can’t wait to be complete.

Of course, these aren’t really on my network, but this is where I am starting the buildout of my 8-Bit computer museum. If someone wants to send me an Altair 8800, feel free!

Items from this part of the tour:

The Game Room

The Game Room is where I keep the full-size arcade cabinet I built in a previous video. This thing is always a huge hit when we have parties or guests stay with us.

In the middle of the room is our Gaming rig. I built this rig with my son a year or so ago. It’s running an ASUS Z170 pro-gaming motherboard, an Intel Skylake i7-6700K processor, 16 gigabytes of RAM, and a GeForce GTX-1080 video card. Some of you have probably already noticed that we’re also rocking an Oculus Rift. I am huge fan of virtual reality. For those of you who think its a fad like 3D TV was, I challenge you to try the Oculus or the HTC Vive. That stuff that you put your smartphone in isn’t even close to this experience.

Lastly, this is where have our console gaming area setup. We only have the XBOX ONE running right now, but at some point I do hope to add the next-generation PlayStation to the mix. This is the XBOX ONE Day One Edition.

Items from this part of the tour:

Wireless Networking

So let’s move this tour of my home network onto the wireless portion! Placed strategically throughout the house in various locations I keep Apple Airport Extremes. I like these because they can be picked up really cheap used and they just work. They never crash and the performance is excellent. In addition they support a feature called guest networking which works over VLAN 1003. This allows me to offer internet access to all of my guests without giving them access to my home network. I have a whole article on my website on how to make this work without using an Apple Router for your internet connection.

I also love these awesome Airport Extreme wall mounts.

Items from this part of the tour:

Security and Surveillance

I’m a big believed in security and surveillance and while I won’t show you everything in this video, I will show you a little of it. Strategically placed around the house you will find a myriad of surveillance cameras. My favorite cameras are the AXIS cameras. The picture is phenomenal and they never have problems, but they are not cheap! These cameras are all connected via ethernet back the PoE switch in my network closet, meaning they are hardwired and powered by ethernet. For security reasons all of these cameras are on a private VLAN than has no access to my home network. This prevents an intruder from accessing my home network by jacking in externally. My Synology is connected to Amazon Drive and syncs all video footage to Amazon in the case of fire or robbery where they actually steal the Synology Recorder.

Lastly, in addition to these regular alarm pads on the walls, we have electronic keypads on the exterior doors. These keypads interface with the home automation system and alarm for granting access to the home. This allows us to do some really neat stuff like restrict a maids access to a certain day and set of hours. This helps prevent a burglary by service company personnel when we are out of town or on a day they wouldn’t normally be here.

Items from this part of the tour:

Home Automation

The last thing I’ll show you is our home automation setup. I won’t spend a lot of time on this because I already have a video on how I set this up. Using HomeSeer, I have various bridge software in place that bridge HomeSeer into other devices. Anything in the home can be controlled by Siri on an Apple device or by Alexa. Speaking of Alexa, I have a few of them around the house at strategic locations. In the kitchen which is sort of central to the house, but also on the nightstand in the master bedroom.

For controlling my theater room and living room devices I used Harmony Hubs. These devices are so simple to setup and make it a breeze to connect to Alexa, Siri, and HomeSeer. Just saying “Alexa, Turn on Movie Night” and all of the gear turns on, the lights dim, etc. Want to change the volume? Just ask Alexa or Siri. Want to change the channel or play a certain song? Just ask Alexa or Siri.

Final Thoughts and FAQ

I hope you enjoyed this tour of my home network! It’s been highly requested for over a year now!  The first time someone asked for tour of my home network I thought they were insane, but apparently people really did want one.  I am sure there will be a lot of questions on this tour, so as they pop along in the comments I will update this FAQ below:

Tour of my Home Network FAQ

Q. Do you wish you had done anything different?
A. Not really. I guess the one thing I wish I had done was to make my network closet about two feet wider so I could fit a larger rack.  I also don’t like that it is connected to the theater room because it can get noisy sometimes. I like my theater room to be very quiet.  Honestly the noisiest item in the closet is the 50 port PoE switch. There is a fan mod you can do to shut them up. Maybe I might do that.

Q. Why aren’t the wires in your closet a little neater?
A. Because I am constantly changing stuff, testing something new, or trying out a different configuration. It’s a hobby and I like to tinker.  At first, I kept it immaculate. But it just got far too annoying to keep it that way.

Q. Are you related to The 8-bit Guy?
A. I am offended that you think so, but check the about me section for the answer to this one.

Q. Where can I get that awesome firewall you showed off?
A. You can’t currently.  I imported several of them from China for myself and some friends. I might buy a few more to sell on my website at some point. I’ll update this if I do.

Q. Where do you live?
A. The Dallas/Fort Worth area. I won’t give more specifics.

Q. Are you licensed for ESXi? That’s expensive!  You’re a pirate!
A. ESXi first of all is free.  However, I am licensed for the add-ons. You can get a VMUG subscription for home use, testing, and development work. It costs about $150 a year.

Q. Why not go with a Dell PowerEdge rather than those home brew servers?
A. Because part of my hobby is building and tinkering. But most importantly because those PowerEdge boxes are far too noisy and power hungry for my liking.

6 Responses

  1. Colon Zamora

    hey, loved the video and the article. got some great ideas for my home network.

    my main question is how you run the network to your office and game room? do you have ethernet wiring throughout the house? or are you using some sort of wifi bridge?

    Reply
  2. Lennart

    Hi mike, luckily YouTube suggested your video, they finally did a good thing!
    Where did you get your actual router hardware?

    Is it a secret or just difficult?

    At my Ham-radio club and at home I’d like to use affordable low energy hardware instead of the current small servers for pfsense, but there will be quite some traffic in the months to come.

    Hope to hear from you! Thnx for the tour, inspiring!
    Thegeekpub at uberia dot NL

    Reply
  3. Travis

    Mike, Love the videos!! I am currently looking to setup a central access point in my house for a server/media room only problem is the house is not wired for ethernet so I have to hire someone to come install them in every room. Would you suggest going comepletly wireless? If I do go hardwired Cat 6 or Cat7? Where would you suggest the best place for a access point be? Any advice would be great. Keep putting videos out, I am really enjoying them 🙂

    Thanks,
    Travis

    Reply
    • Mike Murray
      Mike Murray

      Cat 5e should be plenty for everything, unless you plan on running 10Gb at some point. Cat 7 is incredibly expensive.

      Reply
      • Wheeze_NL

        Can I ask you, where did you get your actual router hardware?
        I’d really like to know.

        Thanks, Lennart

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