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To fully automate a house, reliable networking is essential. Every component of your system needs to be able to talk with each other. One of the first steps I took toward home automation was installing a solid home network. Thankfully it was pretty easy in my case. Our house used CAT5e wiring for the telephone system, and we only use our cell phones (we've never had a land line) so those wires were just begging to be repurposed. All of the CAT5 runs were home-run to a wiring panel in the garage. Actually the "panel" was just a hole in the drywall with a plastic cover, so I replace it with a proper panel from OnQ:

The enclosure gave me a lot more room for expansion and also gave me something to attach the components to. Next I terminated the CAT5 wires in the panel with RJ45 connectors. This required a special crimping tool and some practice, but otherwise was fairly straightforward. The outlets throughout the house needed to be replaced, so I decided on a modular keystone style connector also from OnQ:
I chose CAT6 connectors since they were only a little bit more expensive and I wanted it to be future proof. The final step was to install a switch in the cabinet to connect everything. Originally I put my old Linksys WRT54G in there and since there wasn't AC power in the cabinet I powered it using a PoE injector. This transfered the power over the CAT5 wiring from another room in the house that had power closeby, but it limited my transfer speeds to 100Mbps. This wasn't a problem at the time because all my machines had 100Mbps NIC's, but eventually I upgraded to 1Gbps and it became a bottleneck. To fix the bottleneck I replaced the WRT54G with a DLink DGS-2208:

This allowed me to give connectivity to all the rooms in my house and run at 1Gbps speeds, but it required my to run AC power to the panel. It was a big deal at the time to run the AC wiring, but since then I've added many more powered devices to the panel that also require AC power.

At that point I had switched 1Gbps ethernet throughout the house. A single CAT6 connection went to another DGS-2208 in the basement where all the servers and other networking components were. One of those networking components was a wireless router (DIR-655) that provided 802.11n wireless for the house. The wireless router is located in the center of the house and provides decent coverage throughout. The cable modem is plugged directly into the router. The end result is a combination of high speed wired and wireless networking with broadband internet access. This provided a great backbone to build the rest of the home automation system.

Virtual Machines

With all the networking in place, the next step was creating a server that could control all the future devices. Initially I created a low power ITX based machine that was just powerful enough to run basic functions, but eventually I outgrew it. I had used virtual machines extensively with my work, so it seemed like a perfect fit. I built a VMWare ESXi server using some old parts