Every year over the holiday season there are usually changes to the Stein Home Network. This is because I have extra time with vacation and the like to work on projects. Usually those changes are limited to one or two modifications such as installing some new equipment, switching an existing service to a new technology, upgrading operating systems, or expanding a capability. However, for 2021 the Stein Home Network will undergo a major overhaul by moving some services to a third-party or appliance. The downsides of these changes are a reduction in capabilities such as fail-over of certain services, loss of control over some data, and additional financial costs due to third-party subscription costs. The benefits include simplification of the network, a reduction in hardware and energy consumption, and less regular needs to perform various maintenance tasks.

The main goal for this iteration is to simplify the network by reducing the number of servers and amount of software to maintain. To meet this goal, the following things are planned to be addressed:

  • Move email hosting, (including SPAM filtering and virus detection), to a third-party
  • Redesign offsite backups
  • Reduce the number of virtual machines maintained
  • Retire one physical server from full-time use
  • Expand home automation functions

While I was hoping to start implementing some 2.5G and 10G networking, move network video recording capabilities to an appliance, and move web site hosting to a third-party, the current equipment and subscription costs did not justify the benefits.

Moving some services from the home to the cloud was an uncharacteristic decision for me. For over 20 years the Stein Home Network has hosted a wide variety of services such as DNS, DHCP, email, web, LDAP, backups, monitoring, DVR, and much more; it has basically been a small, self-contained data center. By hosting these services on the local network, tight control could be maintained over the services and more importantly the data those services store and provide. Using third-parties and cloud environments were always something historically avoided, (and are still heavily avoided for things such as home automation). The main concern with cloud services was privacy although security and loss of control of the services were close behind. In short, I do not like to have to rely on a third-party for something that they may cancel or change at any point. Nor am I interested in sharing things like my contacts, emails, documents and other things with third-parties who may use that data in ways I do not fully understand. Finally, larger companies are much bigger targets than my home network for people with malicious intent, and a data breach may expose my data to bad actors.

There are, however, many costs to maintaining a small data center such as:

  • Regular maintenance to make sure software is kept up-to-date
  • Investigation of security alerts
  • Researching and fixing issues as they occur
  • Power usage of the equipment, (according to monthly reports from my utility provider, my house consistently uses well over 100% more energy than nearby houses)
  • Secure synchronization and offsite storage of data

By using well-established third-party providers for certain services the Stein Home Network may be simplified greatly and concerns about security and redundancy of data moved to rest with people who handle those things as part of their job instead of just a hobby. While I enjoy working on the Stein Home Network and making things work exactly how I want them, the more mundane care-and-feeding tasks can be time consuming. And at times when I am trying new things certain services may not be available for a period of time. Therefore for 2021 I am putting aside my aversion to using cloud-based services and the loss of control that entails. This is just an experiment and things may change next year, but for now I am giving the cloud a shot to win me over--for some things anyway.

As changes are made the new designs of specific things such as backups and email will be documented and shared.

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