It was time to take managing my home office network seriously. This is what i did

Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent time using Netgear’s Insight Network Management Platform with Wi-Fi 6 hardware. complex) to a network that gives me the tools to apply a lot more discipline.

Insight is perhaps best viewed as Netgear’s competitor to the popular Ubiquiti platform, providing tools for web and application-based management of Insight-enabled hardware. Like Ubiquiti, that means investing in an ecosystem, as you’ll need the right mix of switches and wireless access points to get the most out of the platform. You will need to pay an annual subscription per device, with most Insight-enabled hardware shipped with one free year of service access.

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The Insight Platform gives you a lot of information about your network in one place. You can see what’s connected to an access point, with graphs showing changes over time, as well as monitor the overall health of the network. Network topology tools show which devices are connected to which switch or access point, giving you a quick overview of the complexity of your network. Support for an SSID filter view makes it easy to separate wired devices from wireless devices, making it easy to determine what is connected to what and where.

Other tools display detailed information about wired and wireless devices on your network, displaying device diagnostics as well as graphs of network traffic. Wired devices can be verified for using PoE. While I only use Insight to manage network devices, there is also support for Netgear’s storage hardware, with tools to manage the NAS.

Using Insight to monitor devices connected to WiFi SSIDs.

Using Insight to monitor devices connected to Wi-Fi SSIDs.

Image: Simon Bisson

Other tools in the Insight platform support remote device management for network hardware. You can trigger firmware updates from your browser. In addition to manual updates, you can set an update window outside of normal working hours. This allows the platform to automatically update devices, starting at the edge with access points, then moving on to switches and routers. This minimizes the risk of downtime, ensuring devices have access to the firmware updates they need.

Having a single pane of glass for management makes a lot of sense, for a SOHO like mine to a midsize business with multiple switches and hundreds of wireless access points. There’s a lot to like about Insight as a platform, but it’s at its best when offloading busy (and often multitasking) IT teams. Small businesses often have only one administrator (or even fewer, if IT tasks have been passed on to other staff).

Tools like Insight are going to become more important as we work from home. The devices we use for remote work need to be kept separate from our personal devices and our growing armada of IoT devices. We need to be able to isolate hardware in trusted and unreliable networks, keep IoT devices separate over a 2.4GHz wireless connection, and monitor that everything is doing what we need.

This is going to require the right material. My existing Orbi mesh network was not suitable for this new world, offering a basic access point option or a wireless router. I had chosen to use it as an access point pair because my routing needs were handled by the broadband connections in the house. Enabling additional W-iFi 6 hardware was not a problem and the Netgear WAX610 access points performed well with the old hardware.

Since the WAX610 was part of an Insight managed network, I had much more control over it and could add segmented wireless VLANs. I kept one segment on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands for general use, with a second one limited to 2.4GHz just for IoT hardware. There was no point in keeping light bulbs, outlets and thermostats on the same network as the rest of the house. The limitation of the IoT VLAN to 2.4 GHz also meant that it was easier to configure hardware built around wireless chipsets at a lower cost.

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Two devices, one at the front of the house and one at the back, provided full coverage for a three-story Victorian brick patio in a London suburb and may have coped well with a specter congested in a densely populated area. The WAX610 and the outdoor WAX610Y were on the same SSIDs, which made the transfer a bit tricky on some devices where the AP affinity was higher than on others. However, manually turning Wi-Fi on and off quickly pair devices with the nearest hotspot.

Both were Power over Ethernet (PoE) hardware. I hadn’t used PoE in my network before, but luckily I had used CAT5e and CAT6 cables, which meant I could use a pair of PoE switches to drive the access points. Swapping out an aging D-Link switch for a gigabit Netgear GS110TUP added PoE support to the core of my network, using the Insight cloud portal to manage the various ports. With nine ports available, I had to spend some time consolidating my network cabling, inserting a secondary switch under my desk to handle local hardware.

Configuring POE Ports on a Managed Switch

Configure POE ports on a managed GS110TUP switch.

Image: Simon Bisson

The GS110TUP is a good high performance device. It works well with a heterogeneous mix of Windows, macOS, and Linux hardware, while providing a hub for the home’s wireless network. Perhaps the biggest change in the decade-plus leap of network hardware was how quieter it was than the retired Switch, going for a fanless design while still supporting PoE delivery over a significant length of Ethernet.

As part of the network upgrade, I replaced the first generation Orbi Mesh wireless hardware with the latest Orbi Pro 6 Mini hardware. The new SXR30 devices are much smaller than the original routers but operate exactly the same as familiar consumer hardware. Support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard helps them provide better bandwidth for devices in a crowded wireless environment, which is very useful in the high density suburbs of London.

Orbi Pro 6 Mini discreet access points.

Orbi Pro 6 Mini discreet access points.

Image: Simon Bisson

If you have used Orbi in the past then you know what you are getting. There is little difference between the Pro experience and consumer devices. The initial setup is done via the web. I then chose to log into Insight, allowing the Insight service to back up and store configurations, as well as manage device updates.

Managing Orbi Wireless Mesh from Insight

Managing an Orbi wireless mesh from Insight.

Image: Simon Bisson

There are a few differences between the Orbi Pro and other Insight access points that I have tested. Where you can still set up and configure separate VLANs for different operations, you cannot lock them down to specific frequency bands. Despite this, the ability to configure, manage and run different wireless VLANs in a mesh is very useful, allowing you to improve the security of your network, for example by isolating VLANs from each other and even by isolating client devices. one another. This last option is especially useful if you are using Insight and Orbi to run a guest network.

Insight is a plug-and-play network management environment. You can add new client licenses and then search for devices on your network, quickly bringing them into a single management environment. You also don’t need to use the web tools, as there are mobile apps that allow you to work with your network anywhere and anytime.

Having everything in one place makes it easy to check what’s going on and see what needs to be fixed when. With Insight, fast tune-up no longer means switching from the device UI to the device UI. Instead, everything you want is in one browser view, and just a few clicks away. Insight, and Insight-aware hardware, is certainly one of those tools that takes the mundane away, giving you time to focus on the work that really matters.

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