Homestead Network Upgrades

October 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Despite coming from the networking side of IT, I tend to use regular consumer grade equipment at home. It typically just works, and I’m not looking for extreme reliability or features. I’ve been using hardware from Linksys, Netgear, and the other consumer network vendors for at least the last 10 years. Sometimes, though, things happen that make you reevaluate your previous life choices…

For me, that thing was an email that I received from Verizon saying my router was infected with malware. Since I always take basic precautions like changing the default password and locking down external ports, I was a bit surprised. Turns out, there was a vulnerability in the firmware that had gone unpatched for months… In hindsight, I should not have been that surprised. At all. I thought I had purchased a flagship router that would be supported for at least a few years, but it didn’t look like any more patches were coming. Ever. I looked into trusty old DD-WRT figuring that I could flash the router and at least get another year out of it, but apparently the R7000 has some performance issues with DD-WRT.

After having issues like this a few times with generic consumer grade stuff over the years, no matter the vendor, I decided enough was enough. I researched available options in the enterprise hardware space (way too expensive and time consuming to set up), looked at open source alternatives (cheap, but time consuming, and not well integrated), and even looked at the more pro-level offerings from consumer manufacturers (underwhelming). After a few days, I decided on and purchased some Ubiquiti hardware based on the many good reviews and a few personal recommendations from networking folks I respect.

Ubiquiti’s hardware is solid stuff, performance wise, and they have a very good reputation. The hardware is what I would call “Enterprise Lite”, meaning it’s not Cisco, but its perfect for small to medium businesses who just want things to work. Additionally, the Unifi configuration system and dashboard is excellent, taking a significant configuration and support burden off of me.

The initial hardware purchase was:

  • Unifi Secuirty Gateway Pro (Amazon)- I definitely went overkill here. The entry model USG is capable of routing gigabit at near wirespeed. However, I decided that I likes the extra ports for a few future projects, like the barn office.
  • Unifi Switch 8, 60 Watt (Amazon)- Since the new network was not an all-in-one setup, I needed something to power the other devices around the house. This managed switch provided a lot more than just that, though. The VLANs will come in handy when we set up the home office.
  • Unifi AP AC Pro (Amazon)- Another bit of overkill for home use, but this one was easier to justify than the firewall. Simply put, it has more power, and I need that given the 2′ thick stone walls in the farmhouse.
  • Unifi Cloud Key (Amazon)- Though not strictly necessary, the Cloud Key allows you to run your network controller app on dedicated hardware. It can also be linked to the Unifi cloud portal allowing for a very convenient and secure hybrid cloud management platform.

Simple Network DiagramThe hardware wasn’t cheap, but surprisingly, it wasn’t much more than I paid for the R7000 two years ago. If I had chosen the regular USG, the price difference would have been negligible.

As for the setup, it was easier than I thought. I racked the USG Pro, plugged in the switch, then the cloud key. Thankfully I had already run the line to the wireless AP so that was easy. I also threw in a Raspberry Pi server for fun. It took about 10 minutes to patch everything together. But what about the configuration?

Well, thanks to the Unifi software on the Cloud Key, I was able to “adopt” the other devices and have them configured in no time at all. My basic single vlan setup was ready to go out of the box. All totaled, I had the network up and running in 20 minutes. Time vs the R7000? Maybe an extra 10 minutes.

Unifi Dashboard

What has it been like living with “Enterprise Lite” hardware at home? Fantastic. Having a useful dashboard that I can glance at to see the status of the home network is a perk I didn’t think I would care about, but I’ve used it several times already. The speed is true gigabit on wired, the wireless coverage is solid, and we don’t have random drops in connectivity anymore. And as for patches… I’ve already had two patches come through for stack. It’s a simple matter of hitting the upgrade button for the device, or setting up auto-upgrade. As far as I’m concerned, I’m never going back to consumer gear again.