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Buy or Build a Router/Server/Switch/NAS?

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November 12, 2006 12:21:22 AM

I am looking to: 1) retire an older (okay ancient) workstation, 2) build a home/business network, and 3) learn a lot about networks.

I know I can go out and buy a router, switch and NAS (or just network the old work station as a NAS and audio server), but I wonder if it makes any sense to at add a cable modem and several NICs to the work station and turn it into a Router/Server/Switch/NAS?

I have a SuperMicro P6DGU with (2) P3 1000 MHZ processors, 1.5 GB of RAM, and four 146 GB ultra 320 SCSI hard drives (a smoking deal).

I want to network five computers (office work station, wife’s laptop, 2 kids computers and either a PS 3 or media PC). All have 100/1000 onboard NICs, so I want a gigabit network. I want to stream audio to the kitchen, dining room and master bedroom. I also want a firewall and QoS.

Thoughts? Observations?
November 12, 2006 1:24:06 AM

I would build it yourself using the computer you have. I did the samething. Only I did not off load DHCP to a server........YET. I'm still kicking around my only router. The only reason I chose to leave that seperate is that in case something goes down, I can at least access that and get a workaround going. Everything elese I have off loaded to 2 servers.

Have you gven any thought to the type of OS you want to be running and what extra features you want?
November 12, 2006 1:38:08 PM

I'd keep the router/firewall as simple as possible, and not put any services on it such as file sharing, etc., because of the additional risk that this device has being at the front line to the Internet. Simpler = fewer points of failure = more secure = better.

If you want to make a router computer, you should be able to easily locate a very cheap very old / slow computer which could do that job well. The router would only need a couple of 10/100 NICs.

Single streaming is not very bandwidth-intensive, but for other uses including file centralization, transfers and backups, it would make sense to go gigabit where possible. It should be possible to buy a gigabit switch for not much absolutely more than an obsolete 10/100 switch. PCI GbE NICs can also be inexpensive. You don't have to upgrade everything at once here; I'd recommend at minimum getting a GbE switch if you're getting a new switch, and upgrading the NICs as desired over time. New computers should come with gigabit built-in unless you're buying very bottom-end stuff for some reason.

Converting an older computer to a NAS using a Linux distribution will probably teach you more than buying such a device off the shelf, and can also give you better performance.
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November 12, 2006 5:28:33 PM

Thanks Madwand and Gunlance.

The I will certainly go gigabit since all the machines have gigbit implemented on the motherboards, and the media pc and work station should have it too.
December 27, 2006 4:05:17 AM

My only concern for you would be on the streaming end, as if you'd stream video on multiple pc's, it could be quite a task. Audio is quite easy and fast to process, so your setup is quite fine.

As for NAS/router/switching purposes, it could wipe out any dedicated box you could buy off-the-shelf. Good luck
December 29, 2006 5:41:39 PM

Unless you are going to be streaming HD content I don't think that rig would have much problem.

@ the OP.

My thoughts are that I personally prefer separation of tasks. Have you thought about running virtual machines on that box to provide each logical function?

Give your server a deicated NIC to the outside world and give a VM direct access to this. Use that to provide services to your real server. Then share out the VM to the internal network via your gigabit connection and a gigabit switch.
December 29, 2006 6:31:26 PM

Quote:
My thoughts are that I personally prefer separation of tasks.


The opinion of several IT techs echoed this so I I bought a Zyxel zywall for use as my router and a linksys switch.

This gave all of the machines access to the internet, but has not provided network back up cabability or audio streaming. I still have the server and NAS bit to figure out in order to implement this (not to mention really getting my hands around the security features of my router). I am using media MediaMonkey as my audio library organizer, and would like to set it up for use in my network.

Quote:
Have you thought about running virtual machines on that box to provide each logical function?


I have not thought of this and am only vaguely familiar with how it might be implemented, and what advantages, trade offs etc to consider.
December 30, 2006 11:29:03 AM

I've only dabbled with it myself.. I'd try and explain it but as I was out on the ale last night I think it might be more useful if I gave you some links:


Virtualization Overview

wiki on VMware - You want to use the VMWare Server product really. Best you get for free.

VMWare Technical overview

VMWare free software download

And finally why not have a look at all the free virtual appliances you can download and just run..

Appliance Marketplace

It's well worth half an hours reading to understand the things you can do with it. I used to work in hands on IT and if I was doing that type of work now I would be using this.
December 31, 2006 8:18:01 PM

Quote:
I've only dabbled with it myself.. I'd try and explain it but as I was out on the ale last night I think it might be more useful if I gave you some links:


Thank you. The links will hopefully let me absorb the material at my own pace. BTW, I hope you enjoyed the ale, you deserve it :o 
!