Robert F.P. Ludwick

My home on the Internet for technology, leadership, and other silliness.

Home Lab & Network Evolution, Part 1

Post - November 5, 2021 - network, infrastructure, home lab, smart home

Prologue

My home network and infrastructure (and by extension, my home lab) has had quite an evolution from whenever my first WiFi network was installed. I don’t quite remember the details all the way back that far, but when I first left my father’s home would be when I setup my first WiFi home network. It was a 1-bedroom apartment, and I was entering my final semester of undergraduate college study.

I’ve been doing substantial work lately on my home network and infrastructure, what I will henceforth refer to as my home lab for convenience. What began so long ago as simply renting a modem from my local ISP and connecting it to a WiFi router of some kind has progressed into a “pro-sumer” setup complete with implementations of tools seen in professional DevOps teams. That all makes a bit of sense for me, as I’m a technologist and also work currently as a DevOps software engineering manager.

I thought it might be time to, well, take the time and document my journey from that first WiFi network all the way to where I am now, and to also explore some of the things I’m doing lately with my home lab. Some of this follows my career progression in terms of technologies used; some follows my increasing desire to control some of my own privacy; some others are simply because it was cool and neat to try something new in technology for home use.

So buckle in and hang on tight. As we get closer to modern day, I’ll have more details and information on my setup at hand, because I’ll have either documented it or it will be fresher in my memory.

First Setup

Honestly, I have no idea what my first network really looked like, aside from the router. I’d have had the following:

It’s entirely possible I had a small switch running at the time as well, because I know my rig didn’t have a WiFi adapter in it; if I had a switch it was probably also D-Link. Other than that, the only other devices on the network would have been the smartphones of my roommates. This was generally my network approach and setup for years, in fact. With minor variances to account for changing roommates and homes over the next few years, the connected devices on the network didn’t deviate much at all. My roommates all had the same categories of devices I did, and I typically ran the network with my hardware.

Just Getting Started

In 2008 I moved into a single-family home, and here’s where I start to expand my technological tendrils as far as a home lab goes. It was a two-story home and my gaming area was in the second-floor loft. The main entertainment center, which is where the video game consoles lived, was in the living room on the first floor. Thus, my first networking dilemma presented itself.

I knew I didn’t want to run ethernet cable just out and around the whole home to bridge this networking gap. The home was also not pre-networked (seriously, home builders, start to do this as standard please). So my options came down to a WiFi bridge or to powerline adapters. I opted to go with a WiFi bridge from D-Link. The primary device was connected in the loft, where what constituted the core of the home lab lived. The receiver was downstairs.

The WiFi bridge didn’t really work out for my needs, unfortunately. The throughput worked well enough most of the time, but I had problems finding good placement of the receiver. It didn’t seem to matter where I positioned the two devices and I was never able to get the receiver to have a strong enough connection. Unreliability with the bridge didn’t work well for online gaming. I ultimately ditched the WiFi bridge in favor of powerline adapters. The secure network they were able to create alleviated any fears I had of exploitation of the devices by someone else connecting similar devices to power in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I don’t know what adapters I ultimately used at the time.

I also acquired a D-Link WiFi USB print server during this time. I got sick of having to make sure that my gaming rig was online and had the printer connected and shared on the network. It worked well enough, though I had occasional problems getting it to stick to a static IP.

One last thing to note is that I had a Western Digital external storage device as well. I’ve scoured my online orders to try to find more information on this device, but I cannot find anything. I must have bought it at Fry’s Electronics (rip!) back in the day. I shared this storage on the network as well during the time I was sharing the directly-connected printer. Once I installed the USB print server, I took the external storage off of the network (i.e. I shut down my computer when not in use) because I was the only one in the home using the device.

Finally, in 2009, I also acquired an Amazon Kindle. Until 2011, this was now my most complex home lab ever:

Then… 2011 happened. We’ll get to that in my next post.