For longtime readers, it should come as no surprise the robustness of our internal network at the PC Perspective offices isn't necessarily our primary focus. We spend a lot of time here dealing with misbehaving hardware and software, so when something works, we tend to stick with it—especially when our day-to-day workflow depends on it.
However, I have recently taken it upon myself to make some changes. The main impetus for this project was our desire to move to a mostly 10 Gigabit-enabled network. With the release of lower cost NICs such as the ASUS XG-C100C, it finally started to seem like the right time to
upgrade our network.
Previously—and try not to laugh too hard—the backbone of our production network was the Zyxel Gateway included with our Gigabit fiber service from our ISP. Honestly, this piece of hardware worked surprisingly well. We were able to get full Gigabit download speeds (our upload speed is restricted at the ISP level to about 300Mbps), and it worked without much of a fuss. The router interface was fairly awful, and confusing at times, but it worked. Additionally, we were using an ASUS RT-AC66U as an access point, not the built-in wireless from the Zyxel.
In the past few months, we started to see some odd performance issues with our network and streaming video. While we could do standard file transfers and HTTP traffic at the full 300Mbps upload speed, video streaming from applications like Plex seemed to stop working at about 4 or 5 Mbps. After diagnosing our internal network performance, we started to place blame on the ISP-provided Zyxel gateway.
After talking to a few friends who are invested into the HomeLab communities and doing some additional research, I decided that while roll-your-own solutions like pfSense are compelling and have come a long way, they weren't quite right for us. We were looking for more of a turnkey solution that remained flexible, but would also require less initial setup.