Expanding the Network

With the winter winds blowing in quickly here in Minnesota (we had 80s and now we wake up to 30s … what a difference a week makes), the regular winter drop in my wifi signal has come and decided to stay. This has forced me to think about expanding the network at home a little bit in order to better cover the entire house with wifi (and provide more gigabit ethernet ports) for the winter.

I also need an automatic, network-based way to keep my wife’s MacBook backed-up as she continues to add more and more photos to her machine (which includes some professional ones as well). There are some other minor “needs” (like network storage for client files during data recovery operations), but those are tertiary and not really that important for now.

Here is what I am looking at right now to accomplish these goals:

Apple Time Capsule

This is the most direct and simplest solution to my needs. Basically I would add a Time Capsule to the mix, which would take the place of my current Airport Extreme as the central router for the house and the Extreme would be delegated to the far wall in the basement to provide wireless to the other end of the house.

The Time Capsule would also automatically (and wirelessly) backup my wife’s MacBook and provide some simple file storage when there is a need (I would get the smaller, 2 TB version). Another benefit would be that a Time Capsule would be a lot more power-friendly than the other option I am looking at right now.


This is the hacker option, and sounds really exciting … depending on the time of day and what I am working on. To tell you the truth, going this route would probably also lead me down a very dangerous path of adding a rack (or two) to my basement Cave and starting to spend A LOT of money on other things that I might want … like:

  • rack mount server(s)
  • rack mount UPS
  • rack mount switch
  • rack mount patch panel
  • rack mount …

Yeah, that’s a very dangerous (and expensive) list. Once I start going down that path, I will not return until I have a mini datacenter up and running in my basement. Scary, if exciting, thought.

The cool thing is the flexibility (and storage capacity) that a FreeNAS 8 box would allow me to have. It would fill the Time Machine backup need along with the network file storage needs as well, and be able to grow as I need it.

However, it would suck up power like there is no tomorrow. I would also need to still purchase something to extend the wireless network, but I would most likely go with a small Airport Express instead and hope it can cover everything I need it to.

This is most definitely the most expensive, power-hungry, and hackish option.

It would also be a ton of fun.


Since there is a question-mark at the end, obviously I don’t know where I am going to go with this. Regardless of the decision, I will also be picking up a few USB external hard drives as well as cloning drives for my wife’s MacBook and my MacBook Pro.

I will have a followup post in the future once I have made a decision.

5 replies on “Expanding the Network”

I think the FreeNAS is the better way to go because of the flexibility. You can use that storage for much more than just backups. Don’t forget you can get a lot of the rack stuff lightly used so its not all that much more expensive than stand-alone retail stuff.

What is your comfort level with ZFS underneath FreeNAS? That scares some people away. Have you looked into OpenFiler at all? Seems a more flexible product in some ways.

I think what I’ll end up doing this weekend is throwing some disks into an old box I have and seeing if I really like what FreeNAS will do for me before making a decision. I have a 5-port gigabit switch coming today so that I can plug in some more stuff and I’ll be able to do some testing then.

We shall see.

I agree that FreeNAS would give you a more robust system. If the Time Capsule weren’t $300 for 2TB, it might be a better option, but since you’d be downing the same amount for Apple’s 2TB (max) as you would for a 3TB-4TB machine that could later be expanded… I think the big thing to look at is what your original goals were (sans the datacenter stuff – which technically, could wait ;)): 1) backup 2) extended wireless and 3) “future” needs (minor now, but may become major as time goes on). Time for some Pros/Cons:

Apple Time Capsule
very easy to use and install (as are most Apple products)
would itself extend wireless coverage
provides all your major needs in 1 package

limited to 2TB
limited use as more than backup
not very “future-proof” in that in order to expand, you’d have to buy a whole new Time Capsule.

easily expandable
more than just a backup drive

a little harder to use
need another wireless device to extend range
sucks more power

You raise valid points. Another issue is price between the two, at least for now.

Is inflexibility, but a solution I need now, worth it for $300? Not sure yet. Must do some more shopping and thinking.

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