Robert F.P. Ludwick

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

Home Lab & Network Evolution, Part 2

Post - November 12, 2021 - network, infrastructure, home lab, smart home

As Seen Previously On This Blog

Make sure to read Part 1!

Downsizing & Reboot

In early 2011 my life changed drastically. I moved from one metropolitan area to another and left behind a substantial amount of belongings and technology… including my cat (never fear, she’s back with me today, and is still the sweetest cat you’d ever meet - that’s not hyperbole). I rented a single bedroom from a homeowner. The only networked devices I took with me were the following:

Note the lack of a laptop. I didn’t own a laptop from 2011 through 2016. I just used my gaming rig for any general computing needs I had.

I didn’t have to setup a network at all because the homeowner had one. So I was back to the kind of lifestyle from when I lived with my father during college - someone else’s network. It was standard-fare stuff, really. I never really knew what they were running, aside from my having gotten the WiFi password when I moved in. I did, however, get a WiFi adapter for the gaming rig. They didn’t have any wired networking in the home and I had to adjust and make-do.

In the late summer of 2011 I returned to being a “head of household” as it were; I moved out of the single bedroom and rented an apartment again. Thus, I needed to again have an ISP provide an Internet connection and I had to again setup a network. My new home lab was fast approaching.

The Real Buildup Begins

I acquired a new D-Link WiFi router and rented a modem from my ISP, per the norm. I reacquired another small D-Link switch, because I also replaced my entertainment center’s A/V receiver with a new one which had Ethernet connectivity, a Yamaha RX-V671. This really marks the beginning of time where I start to accumulate more and more Internet-connected devices.

I ran this setup for about a year and a half:

“Raspberry Pi 1 B” Arcade Cabinet

In early 2013, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at a Raspberry Pi-powered project. I’m not really a “maker,” but I’ve been playing video games my entire life. So I settled on building a MAME arcade cabinet. I outfitted it with some X-Arcade equipment and bought a Raspberry Pi 1B to run the whole setup. I ran a long ethernet cable through my apartment to connect it to the network.

Unfortunately, the Raspberry Pi (please note this was the original model Pi) was just a bit too underpowered to run my MAME cabinet properly. So I ended up putting together a cheap gaming PC from Fry’s Electronics (RIP Fry’s) and replaced the Raspberry Pi. Once I got that installed, everything worked just fine. I installed multiple emulators on the machine and got some ROMs running on it. I was so happy to get to play arcade TMNT again.

I didn’t want to have to continue running a long ethernet cable through my apartment, so I once again dove into the realm of WiFi bridges. Since I was renting an apartment, I wasn’t about to even approach the idea of powerline adapters. I got a D-Link DAP-1522 WiFi bridge to connect to the arcade cabinet, and all was set. I even had some friends over to play some games on it.

So what happened to the Raspberry Pi? I kept it, but didn’t really use it for much of anything for a a solid 4 years.

Proper Network Attached Storage

Soon after I setup my arcade cabinet, my WD external storage started to fail on me. Thankfully I didn’t lose any data, but I knew I had to replace the hardware. I decided to make my first foray into network attached storage, rather than get another external storage device directly connected to my gaming rig. I didn’t have a laptop at the time, but I figured I’d eventually get one again. Additionally, video game consoles were getting the ability to display photos and play videos stored on network devices.

I purchased a Synology NAS DS212j (the link is its successor; I couldn’t find a good link on the model I actually had), and loaded it up with 4TB of drive space configured in RAID1. At the time, it was a dream come true. Real network storage without having to have my PC powered on. On top of that, a RAID1 configuration to protect against HDD failure. I didn’t run much on it, though I did try to run Photo Station. I couldn’t have it generate thumbnails because it was too underpowered for how many photos I threw on the thing. This information will become important by the end of 2018…

The Rise of Streaming Video

In the second half of 2013 (not coincidentally when my wife and I started dating), I substantially upgraded my apartment’s streaming video options, and started to take more control of the connected hardware within my apartment. I acquired both a 1st Generation Chromecast and a 3rd Generation Apple TV. My TV at the time didn’t have any built-in Chromecast functionality, and I wanted to try out streaming video to my TV from my phone. The price point of the Chromecast was pretty appealing at the time as well. The Apple TV was acquired almost entirely because I owned some content licenses on the iTunes Store and couldn’t watch those titles on my TV without an Apple device.

Truth be told, I rarely used the Chromecast. It wasn’t as reliable as I wanted it to be. The Apple TV wasn’t used heavily outside of iTunes content because… a month after the Apple TV acquisition, I decided I wanted to pay my local cable company less money for their hardware rentals. I bought both a TiVo Roamio (and switched to using a CableCard as a result) as well as a Motorola Surfboard SB6141 modem.

The Roamio was great in that it had built-in support for Netflix. Sure, the Apple TV did too, but since the broadcast cable was connected into the Roamio, we generally got to use just one device for all of our entertainment needs (minus that iTunes content). And buying the modem also meant I was avoiding even more rental fees and got to control my device just a little bit more (not as much as I’d like, but it was better than having no control at all).

As of the time of this post, I actually still have the Roamio. It’s held on for a long time now. The last purchase in my burst to add in streaming video and to own more of the connected hardware in my home was a second D-Link DAP-1522 WiFi bridge. The entertainment center was closer to my network core than the arcade cabinet was, but I still didn’t want to have ethernet cables snaking all over my apartment.

I’ll dive into how I started getting into smart home equipment in my next post.