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As your home network becomes larger, with the right equipment, you can set up what is known as VLANs (Virtual Local Area Network). These do come with a host of benefits, but are they really worth setting up in the first place?
VLANs can be worth setting up in a home network environment to isolate certain devices, improve network security, and make for a more organized and easier to manage home network setup. They are relatively easy to setup and only require a network switch that supports VLAN tagging.
In this article, we’ll look at what a VLAN is, whether it is worth your time and effort in getting them setup, what you will actually need to set up a VLAN, and some of the ways in which you can use them within your own home network setup.
What is a VLAN?
A VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network) is a subnetwork that is used to group together a collection of devices despite them sitting on separate local area networks.
The idea is that the devices that frequently communicate with each other are grouped together in their own VLAN.
In a corporate network environment where VLANs are much more commonly used when compared with a basic home network setup, the IT departments could organize their VLANs based on user groups, departments, security policies that are applied, or the type of network traffic as just a few examples.
One of the biggest benefits of having VLANs in place is that it allows you to partition a single switch-based network without requiring any physical changes to be made to the equipment and infrastructure.
Without knowing about VLANs, you may assume that the group of devices need to sit on their own dedicated switch, meaning you could have several different switches all with just a few devices connected to them.
Thanks to VLANs, that is certainly not the case. With the right equipment in place, you could have all of your devices connected to the same physical network switch but still isolated in their own separate VLANs.
There are three different types of VLANs, all of which work slightly differently.
- Protocol VLANs handle the network traffic based on the protocol that is used to communicate between the devices
- Static VLANs rely on a network administrator manually assigning each individual port on a network switch to a particular VLAN
- Dynamic VLANs allows the network administrator to organise each device into the appropriate VLAN based on the device characteristics
Is It Worth Setting up VLANs on a Home Network?
Setting up separate VLANs for your different devices does come with several benefits including improved traffic management for particularly busy networks and improved security by only allowing certain devices to communicate with each other, but some people will argue that it is not worth the time and effort to get it all set up.
In my opinion, setting up VLANs on a home network can be worth it, but it really does depend on the type of network setup you have, or are planning on implementing in the future.
If you only have a few devices and aren’t particularly interested in anything other than getting these devices online, talking to each and being able to access the Internet, setting up VLANs probably isn’t worth it for you.
However, if you are more of an enthusiast and take a genuine interest into how all of this works, value home network security, want to maximize performance across your entire network, or perhaps want to do a bit of experimenting for learning purposes, setting up VLANs can absolutely be worth it.
In addition to some of the benefits I just described, VLANs can also help to reduce broadcast traffic and improve the overall performance of the entire network, which I think everyone will see some value in.
If you are anything like me and like everything to be neat and organized, even when it comes to the devices on your home network, VLANs certainly make for a more organized and easier to manage network setup.
It is much easier to see and manage all of your devices when they are organized into VLANs. As an example, you could have separate VLANs to group together your wireless devices, your servers, and the devices you only want to have access to the Internet and not the other devices in your network.
VLANs are also a fantastic way of being able to scratch your own itch when you’re wanting to test and tinker with your home network, but without irritating the rest of the family.
If your family are anything like mine, you’ll appreciate how frustrated they can get when you are in the middle of making a change to test something only to hear an angry voice coming from another room complaining that they have lost access to the Internet.
Having all of your test devices isolated in their own VLAN, kept completely separate from all of the devices that belong to the rest of the family means you can test away to your heart’s content whilst also keeping everyone else online and happy.
Speaking of testing, VLANs are fantastic at allowing you to set up your own lab environment which you can use to learn more about different things and get familiar with how they work before you apply the changes to the rest of your network.
So to wrap up on whether setting up VLANs is really worth it for you; if you like the idea of isolating network traffic for better performance, security, and overall management, they can definitely be worth it.
But if you aren’t too worried about any of this and just want to get your devices connected with an adequate level of security in place, you may want to forgo setting them up.
What Do You Need to Set up a VLAN?
You’ll be pleased to hear that the requirements in terms of gear to get started with setting up your own VLANs is relatively low.
When shopping for a network switch, if it is labelled as a managed switch or a smart switch, it is likely to support VLANs, but do remember to check the product description just to be sure.
If you aren’t familiar with managed or smart switches, those that are managed come with all the bells and whistles but with a higher price tag. Smart switches sit somewhere in between your basic unmanaged switch that comes with a fixed configuration and a fully managed switch.
They offer the features that you and I are more likely to actually make use of in a home network environment, but without the higher cost to buy that comes with the fully managed switches.
Something else to keep in mind is that if you want the ability to route network traffic between your different VLANs, you need something that is able to do this.
Your typical home router won’t usually be capable of this, nor will a layer 2 switch, so you’ll need to make sure you have a layer 3 switch in place that can.
For us and our home network setups, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to be routing traffic between the VLANs, so you can probably get away with just using a switch that does support VLAN tagging.
An affordable 8-port gigabit switch that supports basic VLANs is the GS308E by NETGEAR. If you are looking for more ports to future-proof yourself, you might want to consider the 50-port GS750E, again from NETGEAR.
Uses of VLANs on a Home Network
We’ve already covered some of the benefits that come with setting up VLANs, so let’s take a look at some of the practical uses for them in an everyday home network.
Isolate Kids’ Devices
If you have children, VLANs can be used to isolate all of the devices that the kids use away from your primary network that you yourself use.
As I mentioned earlier, you can apply security policies to certain VLANs but not others, so stricter rules can be applied to the VLAN that the children’s devices belong. Not only does this offer more protection to them, but also prevents them from messing with all of your own stuff by mistake.
Isolate IoT and Smart Home Devices
Many people that use IoT devices, IP cameras and devices that can listen in on you like Alexa and Google Home will favour placing these into their own VLAN to keep them separate from everything else.
As an example, you may have an IP camera that you only want to be able to communicate with certain ports on certain devices. Within a VLAN this is possible and so you know exactly what is talking to each other and gives you a bit more peace of mind when it comes to data security.
Setup a Guest Network
If you have visitors, you are likely going to want to isolate their network traffic and keep their devices far away from your main network.
Having a dedicated guest network in place thanks to setting up a guest VLAN means you’ll still be able to provide your visitors with access to the internet whilst removing the risk that they could potentially access your network.
Families and friends that come to visit you are unlikely to want to perform any malicious activity, but it is reassuring to know that the protection is in place. This is especially true if they do something in error which unintentionally has an impact on your network.