Our internal network using Apple Products

Our Apple home network – Prologue

Our internal network using Apple Products –  If you have read our first blog, you will know about our plight with getting connected to the external world of the internet, its time to write about our kick ass internal network (well I think it’s kick ass anyway). We are currently running 5 wireless access points 4 of which are AC spec and one N450 Spec connecting all this together is a 1Gig backbone, with a pretty unique setup and reasons for having such coverage. Want to know more read on…

History

When I moved to Lincoln, we had a “good enough” network running, that had been set up by multiple people from multiple companies over the years, the wired connection was at 10/100 megabits per second speed, 1 router/access point was acting as a sole modem the other just the wifi, with single connection to the CCTV system and a connection to the card machine. This was setup centrally near the phone line and it did its job the connection to the kennel office was slow as it was at the far reaches of its’ performance and the wireless printer didn’t quite make it or just barely depending on the weather. Then I came along with my equipment one of which was a managed gigabit 8 port switch, a 32Tb NAS drive, a macbook pro and various other connected and smart equipment so overnight the networking infrastructure grew by 200% and the poor little network that could, became the little network that couldn’t. I tried for the first half of the year to make what we had work, I stripped out the old routers and installed a consumer grade Linksys X1000, this was quickly replaced with a XAC1900 and a couple of range extenders again from Linksys (EA6700’s) but this was only a sticking plaster, as Sarah wanted the extra range to add a wireless “KenCam” to the network but it would not reach to the furthest reaches of the kennel block, adding further extenders was not an option  as we had no reach to that area to be able to extend further on the wifi, and we were still having issues with signal into the kennel office.

So queue A-Team music, September this year I finally snapped, the network devices had increased further (new bed and smart TV and various Apple devices) the network was becoming burdened and suffered a lot of crashes, on the plus side of this Sarah learnt the value of “turning it off and on again” but this wasn’t a long term solution. As we are all Apple devices in terms of computers and mobile devices. I hit on the idea of basing the network around this and checked that what I was going to buy would suit our needs, after days and weeks of agonising over the specs and design thinking of the backhaul on the network itself and the processing power to move the data about, I was sure what I was about to buy was not only good enough to setup how others had setup to satisfy my needs but if I set it up my way it would provide enterprise class connectivity on a budget.

I had at this point considered going whole hog and installing Meraki AC access points and a controller at £500 per access point and around £1600 for the controller, but this is not only overkill, its expensive for what I wanted to achieve. It would also be a full time job keeping on top of the maintenance of the network. The final design is simplicity itself, is stable and extremely fast.

Networking Equipment

Again I know this is overkill for most but it suits our needs. Below is what is currently installed herGhouletech Home Network

4x Airport Extreme AC

1x Airport Express N450 Gen 2

We are currently on the ADSL Broadband and so the current configuration looks like this, when we swap over to the Satellite internet main and kitchen swap places as do the connected devices.

So now you know what we have for the network, yes its all Apple for the core and an 8 port managed switch from Cisco.

I know you are all thinking how much did this little lot set you back, and that’s a good question especially if you are wanting to do this yourself, firstly this is probably not the setup for you and I would strongly advise you to contact Ghouletech Ltd for a wireless survey and quote based on your individual needs and secondly, this is after I had snapped, lost the plot and decided that I just wanted something that worked and worked in the extreme sense of the word.

The Costs of the network

All the wireless routers were bought from Apple direct online as no Apple Store held more than 2 in stock due to the high cost. The Cat 6a cables were bought from Cable Monkey as well as the wall boxes and shielded Cat 6a connectors. The Cisco switch is what I already had but these can be bought for £145 from broadbandbuyer.co.uk.

  • Airport Express – £79
  • Airport Extreme x4 – £679
  • 100Mt External Shielded Cat 6A – £187
  • 305Mt Solid cable Cat 6a – £108
  • bits and bobs £100

So in total £1153 will get you this network, add this to the total range of around half an acre even through thick walls and you are on to a winner, furthest reaches of the car park and my iPhone connects at 800Mbs, to the far reaches of the small paddock I’m still connected at the same speed, even with my Macbook pro. The links are stable and fast, so it was a success.

But WHY?

This is what I am hearing you all gasp and say, well here are my reasons for having this network and why it is setup the way in which it is.

  • Its Simple
  • It passes the Girlfriend Acceptability Test (GAT) this is important!
  • It passes the Girlfriend Usability Test (GUT) Apple are awesome for this J
  • It’s very, very quick
  • It can handle 50+ internal devices
  • It fits my needs and then some
  • I’m a geek, I like shiny things
  • Finally, the old setup didn’t pass the GAT and I had snapped and just wanted the best.

The setup was pretty straight forward, a couple of hours drilling holes, routing cable out to the kennel office and fitting a wall box at either end for the external cable and an Airport Extreme placed in the kennel office, all custom cables connect wall box to Airport Extreme and the 3 devices in the kennel block. Another several hours pulling up carpet, drilling holes, terminating connections we had the upstairs Airport Extreme, and the Airport Express in place as well as the living room Airport Extreme were in place. Testing the connections took another couple of hours making sure I was getting the full 1,000Mbs throughput as well as stress testing and a final wireless survey all was up and running. I used everything that the Airport Extreme app had to offer for provisioning the internal network but this wasn’t enough control, remember I am a geek and a system administrator, I like control, I wanted more control.

In the next blog post as this is getting a bit long and I am assuming boring, I will discuss how I got the control over the network that I wanted, and further setup up the access points to work how they currently work as well as add what I want to add to the network in future projects.