Monday, January 23, 2017

What the Router?!

As a present to myself, last month I jumped off a cliff and into the deep ocean that is Ubiquiti networking appliances.  Specifically, the EdgeRouter Lite and the UniFi AP AC Pro.  These are members of the family of networking gear that is the overwhelming recommendation on /r/HomeNetworking, so like a good, apocryphal lemming I jumped.

Reason?  We don't need no stinkin' Reason!

Truth be told, these are a step up from the basic recommendation and are significantly more than I need, but they were only a few Hamiltons more than the base models, so I figured what the fu-izzle?  The software that all of the Ubiquiti routers run (EdgeMAX) is the same, as is the Access Point front end (UniFi Controller).  The extra cash gets me a faster processor with more memory for the router and a full 3x3 antenna array on the Wireless Access Point.  Because I need tons of power to flip light switches on and off with my phone (#idowhatiwant).

Truth be told, a good smart home may not need a router and supplementary equipment with a ton of power, but it does need reliability.  My old Asus RT-AC68U was a good router, but after two years was beginning to show signs of failing.  Specifically, the power button would no longer stay clicked in and it would only run if I taped a bunch of pennies over the button to hold it down.  And its range was not great.  And I'm not sure how well it was handling the bandwidth load from all of the streaming devices that myself and the Middle School Daughter tend to run, often simultaneously.  And the closet audiophile in me was saying that "separates are better" and that something that routes should not also be in charge of wireless signals.  And I wanted new gear because... NEW GEAR!!!

Deep Waters

Overall, I feel that I'm above average when it comes to maintaining a home network.  I can SSH into a Raspberry Pi on command.  I can upgrade firmwares and identify a device's IP addresses fairly well.  I've had experience installing and using DD-WRT on a wide variety of Linksys/Cisco products over the years.  I've bridged wireless systems and cloned MAC addresses, mostly in hotels that feel the need to charge access per device.  So, unboxing these two new 'toys' did not daunt me.  Then I turned them on and learned the difference (again) between 'consumer friendly' and 'professional'.

Both of these products have web interfaces, however, reading through the various setup tutorials and community support pages, those appear to be recent developments.  Instead, Ubiquiti really wants people using the Command Line Interface (CLI).  It seems that they use this much the same way that medical schools use Organic Chemistry; as a way of weeding people out who aren't serious enough (like, maybe, me).

I'm used to logging into a router's web interface, updating the username and password (always!), configuring the wireless SSIDs and security and being pretty much done.  Not here.  With these products, I have to assign which port will be connected to my cable modem and then which other port will be handling DHCP.  And DHCP is listed as a "service" which is a bit like saying that water is a chemical.  Of course it is a service, but such a fundamental one that I'm not used to thinking about it in that way.

Head Up and Breathe

All of this is not to say that I'm complaining, just that it took me some time to learn to swim in these deeper waters.  One month in and I feel that my home network is much more robust.  I have better information about what device is doing what when.  My streaming services see less drop out.  I can see how much time the MSD is spending watching YouTube and not doing her homework.

There are also a lot of things that I can do, that I want to do, but am a bit scared to actually do.  For instance, I want to create a Firewall rule, or maybe it is a QOS rule, that limits how much YouTube time the Daughter Unit gets on her phone.  But there is no easy way to do that in the web interface, and I don't have the patience to learn all of the CLI commands to do it that way.

I guess I'll just have to parent IRL instead of using a router to do it for me.  #boring

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