Expanding the Network: Tenuous Decision

So I have come to a tenuous decision on how the network expansion is going to go. Here are the three stages:

One: Modem Moving

I’m going to move the Motorola SB6120 (Amazon link) cable modem closer to where Comcast’s cable enters the house. For now, that will also require me to move my Airport Extreme closer as well. I will run a long ethernet cable to my officer where I will use my cheap-n-tiny TopLink gigabit switch to dole out the goods to my printer, Windows desktop, MacBook Pro, and bench.

Inelegant, but needed to try and eliminate the terrible degradation of signal over the coaxial cable that is currently running to my office.

Two: FreeNAS Storage Box

The second stage will be to add a FreeNAS box into the mix, fill it with disks, and then run it as a general file server plus as the host for over-the-air Time Machine backups. I’m looking forward to getting this running.

At first it will be in a rather generic desktop box, running under my bench or near my desk, but ultimately it will be mounted in a rack.

Three: pfSense Firewall

Now we’re getting to the theoretical part of this entire exercise, which is the addition of an actual firewall to the mix. I would probably put this into a rack mount case, powered by a little Intel Atom board and make it as quiet and unassuming as possible as to not try and overcomplicate things. This would also allow me to move my DHCP assignment from my Airport Extreme to another box (the pfSense box) and free my wireless networking from having to also handle the assignment of leases.

The other option is to try and hack together a firewall from an old Watchguard x1250e firewall. Possible.

Four: Rack It Up!

Finally I would get a server rack in, along with a gigabit switch to tie everything together a little more neatly.


Everything is tenuous because I could change my mind. A simplified version of this is to move my current Airport Extreme and cable modem but then pick up a Time Capsule and just tie the Airport Extreme and Time Capsule together to provide what I need for now.

Not as tacky, but simpler.

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.