My Computers

This page is about the computers I own and my own home network. My network is a simulation of a business network, most of the technologies I use you would only expect to find in a business environment.

Some History:
Back in 1999 while studying towards a Diploma in Business Computing our networking class setup a small network lab consisting of a couple of workstations and a server running Windows NT Server 4.0. In class we set up the server ourselves and performed different tasks such as managing users, setting up Group Policies and installing software over the network just to name a few tasks. Anyhow I really enjoyed this class and working with such a network and thought it would be great to run such a network at home as it would give me a chance to learn more about server networking and to play network administrator.
My original setup was my desktop computer and an old computer I had setup to be a server, the server ran Windows NT Server 4.0. The connection between both computers was a coaxial cable and Internet was originally only available on my desktop via a 56k Modem. This was back in the year 2000, since then my network has grown considerably. My first upgrade to the network was in 2000 when I purchased a 5 port 10/100 switch which cost over $200 back then. My server setup has progressed from a single server running Windows NT 4.0 to a server running Windows Server 2003 and Active Directory in 2004 and to a multi server setup running VMWare ESX and a mixture of Windows and Linux virtual servers from 2013 onwards.

Has building this network been worth it?
When I first built this network I received a lot of criticism for do so saying it was a waste of time and how I should just stick to the one machine, one flatmate criticised how my server uses power and others have gone on how I should just use Linux to achieve this result. In 2009 I returned to study and this time did a Bachelor of Information Technology. I was however disappointed that this course didn't teach anything about Active Directory instead we were taught how to setup networks using Cisco Routers and Switches. While learning Cisco was beneficial I quickly realised when I started my new job how essential knowledge of Active Directory is if the business you are working for uses Windows Servers. I am really glad that I spent many hours over the past 20+ years experimenting with Windows based servers, in my own time, as I what I taught myself I use all the time in my current job. So without a doubt building my own home network has been worth it.

When I first started building my home network in the year 2000 the network looked something like this:
My original network layout

Today my home network looks a lot more like this:
Current network layout

My network equipment is located in two places inside my house. The servers, main switch, patch panel, NAS and POE injectors for the wireless access points are all located in a cupboard I created inside the walk in pantry in my house. I decided to use space in the walk in pantry when I moved into the house as that was a room I could ban the kids from entering and touching anything. The Fibre ONT, Firewall/Router is located in the dining area of my house as the previous owners had the Fibre ONT installed here when they had fibre installed. I would have chosen to have this installed in the pantry with the servers if I was getting Fibre installed.
Devices on my network either connect through ethernet cable or through the WiFi, I have network cabling running underneath the house with wall sockets located around the house, these cables connect to a 16 port patch panel located with the rest of my network equipment.

The servers are located in a cupboard I built inside my pantry.

My servers and NAS located on the shelf. The switch and patch panel on the floor.

Firewall and Internet Router

My firewall and Internet router is the Unifi Security Gateway. This is a low cost firewall used more commonly in small businesses. This firewall allows me to split my network into 3 separate VLANs. My desktops and servers sit on the main untagged network. I have a separate VLAN for legacy computers and operating systems this VLAN has no internet access and I have a guest VLAN for mobile devices that only require internet access.

ONT and USG

Internet Router and Firewall (top square box), Fritzbox (left), Chorus ONT (right).

Switch and Patch Panel

I have a 16 port gigabit unmanaged switch which all wired LAN devices connect to. I would like to upgrade this to a managed switch in the future.

The patch panel and switch located at the bottom of the cupboard.

Wireless Access Points:

I have two Unifi AC Lite Wireless access points installed in my house, one is located in the living area and the other installed in the hallway giving Wi-Fi coverage in the bedrooms and the front deck of the house. Two Power Over Ethernet (POE) injectors are located in the pantry with the rest of my network equipment, these provide power through the network cable to each access point.

Ubiquiti UniFi ACLite wireless access point mounted on the ceiling of the living room.

The Unifi Security Gateway and UniFi Access Points are managed through a webpage.

I currently have 3 physical PCs setup to run as servers, 2 of these servers run VMWare ESXi and run several virtual servers. These two machines are HP MicroServer servers which is a type of server intended for small business or those running a home lab like myself. The third server is an old desktop PC repurposed as a server and is using to run the media server application Plex.

My servers, NAS and UPS.

Main Server hnet-esx.howden.net.nz:

My main server is a HPE MicroServer Gen 10 which runs VMWare ESXi 6.5 and is used to run 4 separate virtual servers. This server has been part of my network since January 2019. I chose the HP MicroServer as this is a great server for a small network, it is not a noisy server like those you would find in your typical server room so works well in a home or small office environment.

Server Hardware:
Model: HPE Proliant MicroServer Gen 10
CPU: AMD Opteron(tm) X3421 APU
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 2x 500GB SATA Drives RAID 1 mirrored. 2x 1TB SATA Drives RAID 1 mirrored (used for file server)

Main Server VMWare ESXi web console.

Virtual Servers:

Main Domain Controller hnet-dc1.howden.net.nz:

OS: Windows Server 2012 R2
Role: Primary Domain Controller.
Since I built my first server in 2000 I have always had a domain controller on my network for user logins. This server is the main domain controller, this server is also a DHCP and DNS server. This server is also a radius server which allows devices to connect to the WiFi using a username and password. The Azure AD Connect tool is also installed on this server to sync to Office 365 and Azure Active Directory.

The desktop for the main domain controller.

File and Print Server hnet-fs.howden.net.nz:

OS: Windows Server 2012 R2
Role: File and Print Server
In the past I have always had my file server and main domain controller on a physical server, as of 2019 the file server now resides on a separate virtual server. 1TB of storage is allocated to this server. User home directories and shared storage for photos, movies, music, documents are stored on this server. I use a Distributed File System (DFS) to split files on the shared drive between the file server and the Plex Media server and also additional storage locations. File Server Resource Manager is used to set quotas on certain folders and also prevents file names and extensions associated with the Cryptolocker virus.

The desktop for the file server.

Desktop Central Server hnet-manage.howden.net.nz:

OS: Windows Server 2012 R2
Role: Desktop Central and PRTG Server
Manage Engine Desktop Central is a platform used to manage workstations, servers and mobile devices on my network. Desktop Central is a web based application and runs from a dedicated virtual machine I have setup. Desktop Central can be used to bulk deploy software to computers, patch workstations and servers and manage mobile devices such as Apple and Android phones and tablets. Compared to other products I have used to deploy software (such as Microsoft System Centre, Altiris, Symantec Management Console) I have never seen any other product make software installation so simple. With Desktop Central for common applications like Adobe Reader, Google Chrome, Java, Flash, VLC Media Player it is possible to create the deployment script within seconds. You can simply search from a list of applications, choose the application and Desktop Central will go away download the app to your server and then you can push this out to your desktops straight away.

The second product installed on this server is PRTG Network Monitor. PRTG is used to monitor devices on my network and report their status such as whether the device is online. PRTG can monitor workstations and servers from whether a service is running to disk space. The company I previously worked for use PRTG to monitor various customer servers and network equipment such as switches and firewalls.

Desktop Central Webpage deploying applications.

Desktop Central Webpage Mobile Device Management

Web Server hnet-web.howden.net.nz:

OS: OpenSuse Linux Leap 15
Role: Linux Web Server
This website howden.nz runs from this server, I also use this server to host other sites I have built.

Secondary Server hnet-esx2.howden.net.nz

My secondary server runs VMWare ESXi 6.5 and is used to run 2 separate virtual servers and holds some older decommisioned servers and test servers. This server has been part of my network since November 2013 and originally ran some of the virtual machines on the main server.

Server Hardware: Model:HP Proliant MicroServer NL40
CPU: AMD Turion(tm) II Neo N40L Dual-Core Processor
RAM: 8GB Storage: 1x 300GB SATA Drive, 1x 700GB SATA Drive

Secondary Server VMWare ESXi web console.

Virtual Servers:

Secondary Domain Controller hnet-dc2.howden.net.nz:

OS: Windows Server 2012 R2
Role: Secondary Domain Controller
I have setup a secondary domain controller in case the main server stops working and cannot be recovered. I first decided to setup a secondary domain controller back in 2011 after having issues with my then one and only server, the server hardware was unreliable and I had concerns if this server stopped working I would have to rebuild my Active Directory and everything else again (this had happened in the past) so as a quick fix I built a virtual machine and set this up as a domain controller. The original secondary Domain Controller was very lightweight with just 256MB RAM and ran Windows Server 2003 and was the first virtual server on my network. My original secondary domain controller was replaced with this server in 2014.

The desktop for the secondary domain controller.

Sophos UTM Server hnet-utm.howden.net.nz:

OS:Linux
Role: Sophos UTM 9.5 Home Edition server
I setup this server back in 2015 originally as a solution to provide free antivirus to all my servers using Sophos EndPoint Protection. Sophos UTM Home Edition is free and can be used as a firewall and proxy. I use this server to provide basic web filtering to block out dangerous sites for computers on my main network.

Plex Server hnet-media.howden.net.nz

A third physical server exists on my network as a dedicated server to run Plex which is a media server. The PC used to run this server started out as my main desktop PC back in 2011, I used this machine as a physical domain controller and file server between 2015 and 2019 and finally today this server has been repurposed as a Plex server. The server runs Windows Server 2012 R2.

Server Hardware: Model: ACER AM3400 Desktop PC
CPU: AMD Athlon II X4 605e 2.3GHz
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 1x 1TB SATA Drive, 1x 2TB SATA Drive
OS: Windows Server 2012 R2

Server Roles:
This servers main role is a media server, this server also acts as the controller for the UniFi Security Gateway and UniFi Wifi Access points.

The Plex Server webpage.

Server Backups

My solution for backing up my files has changed over the years from making copies of invidual files to floppy discs in the early days to later backing up to Zip Disc and then CD-RW discs and DVDs. This has progressed over the years, since 2011 I have had nightly backups run to a removable drive. Today I use a combination of Veeam Community Edition and Veeam Agent to backup the contents of all my servers. The backups are stored on a NAS with files copied to removable drives which are swapped out regularly and stored offsite.

My data is backed up to a WD MyCloud NAS box.

At the end of 2014 I decided to move to a cloud based mail service, previosuly I ran my own interal mail server. The main reason for this move was so I could have an Exchange based email mailbox. I now use Office 365 for my emails and even have this syncced to my Active Directory environment. Office 365 does have a lot of benefits such as spam filtering, an in place archive and a 50GB mailbox for each user.

The Office 365 Exchange Admin Console.

Believe it or not I still have a landline phone but the number of calls I make and receive on that phone these days is very few. I only have a landline because it doesn't cost a lot to have since I moved to a Voice Over IP (VOIP) setup back in 2014. My phone service is provided by my ISP 2Degrees. I still use the FritzBox provided by my ISP as my VOIP server however the FritzBox is no longer used as an Internet router. My telephone handset is a FritzFon which is a handset designed for the FritzBox router, the phone connects to the FritzBox using DECT. I can also plug analogue phones into the FritzBox and the past I have utilised the existing jackpoints in my house (issolating the old copper line) to provide analogue phones throughout the house.

The FritzFon DECT phone integrates nicely with the FritzBox

I also have a softphone application on my desktop computer and the FrtizFon app installed on my mobile so I can use my mobile as a landline phone when I am at home. I can also connect my mobile phone to my home VPN and then make calls on my home line from anywhere in the world and pay local rates.
The phone service offered by my ISP is also much better than what I had when I had a traditional Telecom landline. I now get features such as voicemail messages sent to my email and I can control the toll bar to allow others in the house to make national calls anywhere in NZ but no calls to mobiles or international calls. Our phone plans includes unlimited national calls.

The Fritzfon app on my Android Phone, can be downloaded from the app store.

I have two computers setup as desktop computers, one is my main desktop and another is a spare I have setup for my partner to use. I also have a laptop and a tablet and my mobile phone.

Main Machine:

HP Pavillion Desktop, Intel i7 ( 3.4GHz), 16GB RAM, 120GB Solid State drive and 2TB SATA drive.
Operating System: Windows 10 Professional 64bit

My main desktop PC with dual monitors.

Spare Machine:

HP Pro Desktop, Intel i3 (3.1GHz), 4GB RAM, 320GB Hard drive.
Operating System: Windows 10 Professional 64bit

Laptop:

HP Elitebook 8560p, Intel i7 (2.2GHz), 12GB RAM, 500GB Hard Drive
Operating System: Windows 10 Professional 64bit

My laptop is an ex lease laptop I purchased from my previous employer when the lease expired, I have had this laptop since 2014 and it still runs well. The laptop came with a docking station so can be used as a desktop or laptop. The docking station came in handy when I was in my last job as I could put my work laptop into the same docking station when I was on call.

My laptop booting up.

My laptop on the docking station.

Tablet:

Microsoft Surface Go 64GB, Intel Pentium 1.6GHz Dual Core processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage
Operating System: Windows 10 Professional 64bit

I purchased this tablet in 2019 as a replacement for another tablet I had. The tablet is great for watching movies or TV OnDemand from the deck or in bed, also works well as a light machine to take places with me.

Phone:

Samsung Galaxy S9
My phone is a Samsung Galaxy S9. I use my phone mostly away from home but my phone is also used to launch shows to the ChromeCast. Most of the time my phone is connected to the guest VLAN which means my phone can access the ChromeCast and the Internet but not any of my computers or servers.

BluRay Recorder:

Panasonic DMR-BWT700
Used mostly for recording and watching shows on traditional TV through Freeview HD, shows are stored on a 500GB hard drive and can be saved to a BluRay disc. As my TV is not a Smart TV and does not even contain built in Freeview the Panasonic BluRay recorder fills the gap, it can be used as a DLNA media centre and to view online content. Unfortunately some apps like the YouTube app no longer work. Can also be used to watch recorded shows from a PC on my network.

My Panasonic BluRay recorder used to watch and record traditional TV.

Recorded TV Shows can be watched from any PC on my network.

PlayStation 3:

Not really used that much these days my PlayStation 3 in the past has served me well for gaming, and watching online content such as TVNZ OnDemand (until they discontinued it). Haven't considered upgrading to a PlayStation 4 as the new console is not backwards compatible and I hardly play games these days to justify the upgrade. If I want to play games I will play them on my PC.

Chromecast:

We have two ChromeCast's, one connected to the lounge TV and the other connected to the bedroom TV. Both are used for watching content on my Plex Server and other content such as YouTube, Netflix and TVNZ OnDemand can be streamed to my Chromecast from my phone, tablet or computers through the Google Chrome browser. The Chromecast sits on the guest VLAN which meaans guests can stream content to my TV.

The ChromeCast attached to an HDMI port on my TV.

Streaming content from my tablet to my ChromeCast.