Home Networking - The Nerve Center of Your Home

 
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The home network is rapidly becoming the nerve center of your home. While its primary function in the past was to bring access to the Internet from your service provider to your computers, it is now used for internal communication between devices, to link your television and audio components to your music and video connection, to view video from security cameras, to connect printers and disks to computers, and much more.

On these pages we discuss both the technology for carrying communication throughout your home, including wireless internet, and wired technologies, hubs, routers, and bridges. We also discuss some of the supporting devices that will be deployed on your home network in the coming years, including network attached storage (disks).

Connecting all your devices

If you have multiple computers using the network at the same time, if you want wireless access when using your laptop in your house, or if you have other network devices to connect (such as a network printer, storage, or media components), you will need to set up a more elaborate local network. Such a network can be used to allow the sharing of printers, disks, scanners, among the systems on your local network. This interconnection also makes these resources more vulnerable to compromise if any of the systems on your network become infected by viruses or worms, or if someone manages to break into your system through the wireless connection or your router, which is why it is important to set up firewalls and other defense measures described elsewhere.

Two important pieces of hardware for connecting your network are network hubs, and routers. Today, most routers come combined with wireless access points, enabling wireless internet access to many of the devices in your home, including your laptop computers, and many televisions. These devices will usually also support wired connections to your router, but for those devices in other rooms, wireless access avoids the need to run separate network cables. Wireless routers tend to be inexpensive, but still vary significantly in price and performance. I have been quite happy with my NetGear Nighthawk router, which is on the high end. One can get less expensive wireless routers, but this router provides better range and performance than some of the lower end routers.

Most routers, including wireless routers, include a network hub allowing four wired connections to the router. If you have more devices requiring wired connections, you will want a network hub. The most common network hubs come in a size of 4 and 8 (though the 4 hubs will sometimes provide a fifth, "input" port). A hub, by itself, will not allow you to connect multiple computers to a typical cable or DSL modem - you still require a router with a built in NAT (Network Address Translation) function to do so. Almost all wireless routers do provide such functionality, so you would use the wireless router, and up to its 4 wired ports, and if you need additional wired ports, the network hub provides that capability - still depending on the wireless router to assign addresses (using DHCP) and providing the network address translation. I used a D-Link DGS-2208 network switch as my 8 port Gigabit network hub, and find it to work well. This particular hub will adjust the power based on line length, and disable ports that are not connected, as an energy saving feature.

Shared Devices on Your Home Network

As your home network becomes more than just the interconnection to the outside world, it is time to discuss the supporting devices that it will interconnect. It is becoming more and more common to set up network attached storage, in particular a shared disk on your network that can be used by all of your computers. This alleviates the need to move files from one computer to another, it can support automatic backup of files on you different computers, and more and more frequently, the network disk can be used as a media center for storage of your music, photos, videos, and other digital content. Many new televisions, audio centers, and set top boxes such as those supporting Google TV can directly play content from such a device.

When selecting a network disk you will be concerned with capacity, cost, protocols and file system types supported, reliability, security, and accompanying management tools, especially for organizing media content that might be displayed through your entertainment center. Some of the higher end routers discussed above include USB ports for attaching disks, and the router itself can serve as Network Attached Storage (NAS). You can also get independent network devices with added features, capable of serving files to your network devices. One device that you might consider is the My Cloud series of drives from Western Digital.