I could go on and on about my home network. I have a server (converted from an old computer) running Windows Server 2003 Enterprise.
I've come up with a basic list of the network's components:
- Active Directory
- File Sharing (with NTFS permissions and security groups)
- Group Policy (with links to multiple OUs)
- Logon scripts assigned to each user (maps drives, copies shortcuts, connects to printers, etc.)
- VNC (with port forwards)
- FTP (with port forwards)
- All assets connected using CAT5e (running at GigE speeds)
All this is configured for a three-computer network.
The big question is - Why?
Personally, I take pride in knowing that my network is the biggest and baddest on the street. And that it could take almost anything I wanted to throw at it.
So after all that, I think I've earned the right to throw out a Top 5 list on how you can put the juice back in your network.
1. Get A Server. Many new doors can be opened when a server enters the picture. Services such as file and printer sharing will no longer have to be dependent on a workstation, as would be in a P2P setup. This will substantially reduce the network traffic on said workstation, and therefore result in a faster connection. Backups are also less of a hassle with a server. Since everyone's data is in the same place, one backup of your main storage folder will take care of everything - instead of having data scattered across machines.
2. Get Wired. Wiring your home (or small office) with either CAT5e or CAT6 will greatly enhance network speed system-wide. Although wireless technologies are definitely improving, wired networking is still much faster and is almost a fail-safe guarantee for a connection. As it can be quite difficult to explain how to wire your network using words, I plan on doing a future post/video exclusively on the topic of CAT5e/CAT6.
3. Go GigE. Gigabit Ethernet, in theory, is capable of producing speeds of up to 1000 Mpbs. While real-world output is more around 500 Mbps, GigE is still a major improvement from 10/100 Fast Ethernet. To make the switch (no pun intended), all of your network hardware will need to be gigabit capable. This includes routers, switches, and NICs. On your routers/switches, the device should read either "Gigabit" or "10/100/1000" to indicate GigE capability. As far as NICs go, the best way to tell is to look in Device Manager (Windows) or Apple System Profiler (Mac). In Windows, the description of the adapter will usually tell you what you need to know (e.g. "NETGEAR GA311 Gigabit Ethernet Adapter"). In OS X's System Profiler, the "Media Subtype" parameter under the adapter properties should tell you either 100baseT (NOT gigabit) or 1000baseT (Gigabit). Once all the hardware is in place, the network should then be running at full GigE speeds.
4. Flash Your Router. Most routers come out of the box with manufacturer-supplied firmware. While this can be effective for many users, a Linux based alternative, called DD-WRT, yields MUCH more options and configurations than anyone could ever dream of. Limitless port forwards, a PPTP server, an SSH server, and many more features are possible with DD-WRT. To install the firmware, simply go to the page on your router's configuration where you would usually do a firmware update. When asked for the new file (a .bin, I believe), provide it, and wait. If all goes well, the router should reboot into DD-WRT when the update is complete. However, before you do this, make sure your router is compatible! Go to <http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Supported_Devices> for a list of supported routers. If yours is not on the list, and you proceed with the flash, you could potentially brick the router.
5. Upgrade Your Connection. If you're a power user like me, then you need the Internet like you need water. And what good is an incredible network setup if you're on 768 DSL? Check out the ISPs in your area, and see what they have to offer (I've heard Verizon FiOS is paradise). Traditionally, cable has been faster than DSL, but this can depend on where you are located. Or, if you're content with your current service provider, sometimes an upgrade within the same company can spell a big difference as well.
If computers are people, then networks are telephones. In today's world, communication is essential, and upgrading your network could be just the boost you were looking for.