5 Network Devices for work-from-home and Small Business

Over the past year, we’ve seen a mass migration from the office to the home office. This continues to increase the requirements for better network security, greater capacity, and additional capabilities. Small business and work-from-home networks must be more performant, reliable, accountable, and easier to manage. As such, network devices designed for consumers and small business customers are more critical than ever before!

At the beginning of 2020, I published the article Home Lab Beginners guide to hardware, where I briefly touched on some of the available choices for network devices such as routers, firewalls, switches, and so on when building out a home lab. I’ve learned a lot over the past year. For one thing, the choice of router and firewall combo is arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your small business or home office network.

 

Work-from-home and Small Business Network Devices

Recently, I hit a limitation with my EdgeRouter 10x. This has caused me to rethink my choices a bit, and I’m now in the middle of selecting add-on or even replacement network devices.  This article won’t go into detail about my decisions yet. However, in the meantime, I wanted to share some of the devices which we should all consider when building out a small business or home office network.

The network devices below include entry-level models; you can determine if you’ll need more processing power, memory, network ports, and features.

As usual, I do not link to or recommend devices or services that I haven’t either personally used or spent extensive time researching. As such, I’ve included affiliate links to the devices I have confidence in. If you find better deals, please add the links in the comments section, as well as any feedback about the devices you are using, plan to order, or currently researching. Let’s get right into it, shall we?!

5 Network Devices for work-from-home and Small Business:

  1. MikroTik hEX S – Network Router.
  2. Netgate SG-1100 – Network Firewall Device.
  3. Firewalla Blue Plus – Cybersecurity Device.
  4. Brume (GL-MV1000) – Edge Gateway + VPN.
  5. Netgear Nighthawk M1 – 4G LTE modem + hotspot.

 

MikroTik hEX S – Network Router

MikroTik hEX S - Network router
Warning: Objects in the above photo may appear to be larger than the actual size.

Out of the gate, the MikroTik hEX S five port Gigabit Ethernet router is probably one of those few purchases where you aren’t likely to have buyer’s remorse. You can pick these up for around $70. With the hEX S, you can connect fiber directly from your ISP to the router. The router is also capable of full gigabit ethernet up and down.

Pros: 

  • Inexpensive.
  • 1.2GB SFP port.
  • Gigabit speeds (with basic setup).
  • PoE capable.
  • Supports MicroSD storage.
  • Low power consumption. Starting @ 6 watts.
  • It can be configured entirely using a web browser (192.168.88.1).

Cons:

  • RouterOS has a bit of a learning curb.
  • PoE requires a more powerful power supply.
  • Lacks documentation.
  • They have limited free support. Check the support forums.

Consider:

More powerful options from Mikrotik and compare them with Ubiquiti’s EdgeMax line, for example, the ER-X-SFP or its big brother, the ER-12.

 

Netgate SG-1100 – Network Firewall Device

Netgate SG-1100 - Network Firewall device
Netgate SG-1100’s wall/rack mounting accessories are sold separately.

The SG-1100 is Netgate’s replacement for the highly successful SG-1000 at 5X the speed and 2X the RAM. That said, you won’t be blown away by its speed. It gets the job done!

Get up to 500 Mbps of throughput when used as a firewall and up to 1 Gbps when used as a router. It features firewall packet filtering performance, load balancing, pfSense software, intrusion detection system (IDS), intrusion prevention system (IPS), VPN, and more.

Pros:

  • Excellent entry-level value to gain access to a ton of features.
  • Helpful documentation.
  • Easy GUI management.
  • Heavy on features: firewall, DNS resolver, NetFlow collector, router, VPN endpoint, logging, etc
  • Pre-loaded with pfSense Plus software.
  • Low power consumption stating < 4 watts.

Cons:

Consider:

  • The Unifi Security Gateway, a bit cheaper but best selected when purchasing other Unifi hardware for your wired and wireless network.

 

Firewalla Blue Plus – Cybersecurity Device

Firewalla Blue Plus - Network cybersecurity appliance
This is NOT the Firewalla Blue. It is the Firewalla Blue Plus! Not to be confused with Firewalld.

The Firewalla Blue Plus makes this list over the Firewalla Gold because of its value. At $199, the Firewalla Blue Plus is a very competent plug-and-play cybersecurity appliance. It features simple enterprise-like security features for your small business or home network.

The more expensive Firewalla Gold can be used as a whole-home router, with much faster throughput capacities and supports virtual and segmented networks.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Young and not yet time-tested startup company.
  • Suitable only for ISP speeds up to 300 to 400 Mbps.
  • Some features like ad-blocking are too simple and lack granular control.
  • A bit pricey. (although there are no yearly license fees).

Consider:

 

Brume (GL-MV1000) – Edge Gateway + VPN

Brume Edge Gateway
Poll: Lilac or lavender?

The Brume (GL-MV1000) is the non-wifi cousin of the Brume-w (2.4GHz WiFi capability). The Brume cost only $120 + intl. Shipping from GL or $160 from Amazon. If you are looking for an inexpensive Wireguard or OpenVPN client to cover your office or home network, the Brume is a pretty practical solution.

Pros:

  • Great bang for the buck.
  • Good Wireguard and OpenVPN performance.
  • Compatible with 30+ VPN providers. Easy setup!
  • Pre-installed with OpenWrt. Also compatible with Ubuntu.
  • Supports MicroSD storage. (up to 256GB)
  • Connect an external SSD via USB for network file sharing.
  • Functional and straightforward GUI.
  • Simple first-time setup.

Cons:

  • Only available in one color. Purple? (wife says lilac, sister says lavender, I say I’ll paint it black.)
  • Not IPv6 compatible.
  • Wireguard limited to just under 300 Mbps.
  • No auto-reconnect for VPN connections.

Consider:

 

Netgear Nighthawk M1 – 4G LTE modem + hotspot

Netgear Nighthawk M1 4G LTE - modem/hotspot
Battery included. Antennas are sold separately. Can have ’em all.

If your office or home office is located in or near a city, you may not need this. However, if you’re located in a rural area with limited or unreliable ISP options, the Netgear Nighthawk M1 4G LTE router may be of interest to you.

It can easily be set up as an auto-failover or even combined with your main ISP for seamless dual WAN (when used with a dual-WAN capable router).

Pros:

  • Capable of speeds of up to 1 Gbps.
  • Can plug directly into your router’s WAN port.
  • Includes a removable 5040 mAh battery.
  • Simple GUI for easy setup.
  • Can attach USB NAS or add a microSD card.

Cons:

  • Expensive. (You can find it cheaper used on eBay at $150).
  • Weak internal antenna. You may need to purchase an external antenna. I use this one.

Consider:

I’m using the Netgear LB1120 4G LTE modem, which meets my speed requirements. If you need faster 4G or even 5G speeds, check out Netgear’s entire lineup. Compare with GL’s 4G Smart Routers.

 

Additional Network Devices and Services for work-from-home and Small Business

  • Bitdefender Box – IoT security for all your devices.
  • Cisco – Solutions designed for small business.
  • Cujo AI – Network intelligence software.
  • Fortinet Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) – filter network traffic to protect an from internal and external threats.
  • IPfire – firewall.
  • Linksys – professional network devices and accessories.
  • Netgear – work-at-home network devices.
  • Protectli – appliances built for Open-Source Software.
  • Sonicwall – Next-Gen Firewalls & Cybersecurity Solutions.
  • Sophos – Fully Synchronized, Cloud-Native Data Security.
  • TP-Link – Networking Equipment for Home & Business.
  • Ubiquiti – Network devices and technology.
  • Untangle – firewall software and appliances.
  • Watchguard – Enable Remote Work Security.
  • Zyxel – Network devices and software.
  • Add any suggestions in the comments section, I’ll add them here.

 

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve considered five very different consumer and small business networking devices. Hopefully, this has you contemplating your options. There are many. For example, also see OPNSense custom-builds, SonicWall (TZ350), Zyxel (USG60), and others.

As discussed, there continues to be a rapid migration from the office to the home office. Making small business, home office, and work-from-home network device decisions more critical. What network adjustments have you made? What network devices do you recommend?

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