Hardware and Software for the Network Consultant

I work from home, I am the owner of a corporation that performs consulting work for other companies. I am the sole consultant in this corporation so my organization needs are relatively small, but they’re not minor.

If I didn’t have the software that I use I wouldn’t be able to function. So here is what I use on a daily basis.

Google Hosted Applications

This is how I roll. Hosted Gmail, hosted Calendar, hosted Documents. Those are the three apps that keep me going. To get Google hosted apps, you have to have your own domain.

Getting Your Own Domain Name

I registered my domain with http://10dollar.ca; you can register .ca domains for $10 a year.

It isn’t enough just to have your domain registered, it has to be hosted somewhere. I use a free DNS hosting service called http://zoneedit.com. These guys make their money when you pay for more servers hosting your domain, but it is free for small operations like me. The interface is a little clunky and Internet 1.0 but it works and that’s all I ask of it.

Maybe you’re enough of a server geek to manage your own DNS — I could do this, but I know that I can’t do it with any guarantee of High Availability because I don’t have dual-internet connections, multiple servers, redundant power sources, redundant cooling systems, and on and on.

Hosting a Website

I felt like I had to represent my business on the Internet, with my own website: http://wozney.ca. It isn’t much but it tells people who I am, and how to find me. I use http://godaddy.com to host my site — they’re relatively inexpensive and they aren’t too complicated to use.

Managing the Finances

This one is difficult, because you have to keep working at it and it doesn’t actually generate any revenue. It is in so many ways just another way to waste your time. Nonethless it is a critical part of running your business so just keep reminding yourself that if you don’t do the books you can’t be out there making money.

I use Quickbooks Easystart to manage the books. My accountant says it is more than I need, and he is probably right but I’ve become accustomed to how it works so I’m just going to keep using it.

Have a good accountant. You have to have one — so make sure you get one that you can get along with. I thought when I started this that I just needed someone to push the pencil, but I realized that I spend a few hours a year with this person so it should be a worthwhile few hours. Your accountant should ask lots of questions about how you operate and what you want to get out of your business. My accountant performed my year end report for just under $1k. Some charge more, but as far as I understand nobody charges less — and I like this guy!

Home Networking

I run a lot of network hardware here. I have an ASA firewall, an OpenWRT firewall, two unmanaged switches, a Cisco 2960 8 port GigE switch, a NAS, a linux server, a laser printer, an MFP, two APs, and a Cisco CME running right now. The two devices that really save the day for me are the ASA and the NAS.

ASA Firewall

I use the ASA firewall as you might expect, but the ability to use a VPN client into my own network is a life-saver. I have also configured the webvpn functionality that lets me bounce through the ASA to other remote sites — handy when my clients allow access from my office IP only.

I can also access files on my NAS which is useful if I’m at someone else’s computer (eg: if my laptop is being repaired under warranty — like right now). I use the ASA to create multiple group-policies and the ACL function to allow my clients to access to their files on my NAS; they can’t see each other’s files but their own are download/uploadable.

I can also use the ASA webvpn to tunnel through applications to other hosts; I can tunnel ssh to my linux server, and tunnel RDP to a remote client. And this I can do without bringing up my VPN client — this is very handy.


The NAS is essential as it provides a secondary repository for my business data. I usually work from my laptop, but I use a program called Unison to keep my local files in sync with the NAS. This way if I lose my laptop (has not happened yet) or if I lose a hard drive (has happened before) I haven’t lost more than a day or two worth of data.

My Work Bag

My Laptop

This is where I work. My physical location can be anywhere but I work on my laptop. I run a flavour of Linux called Ubuntu 8.04. I’m not an Ubuntu fanboy, but it is a solid OS and there is a lot of support for it. When it comes to Linux distros for the desktop I follow the crowd.

  • I use putty extensively but you can use any terminal application that allows you to do serial, telnet, ssh and save sessions.
  • I use TrueCrypt to encrypt my work data on my laptop. That way if the machine is stolen then none of my customers are at risk of being compromised.
  • I use VMWare Server to run a WinXP VM. This allows me to use software that (right now) has no suitable Linux replacement.
  • I use Wireshark to sniff network data.
  • I use Firefox, and IES4Linux if I hit a page that doesn’t support it.

Other Stuff I Carry

  • 10 foot CAT6
  • 3 foot cross-over
  • Cisco console cable
  • 9pin to 9pin console cable
  • Anti-static wrist band
  • Coil notebook
  • Business cards
  • Laptop cable lock
  • Bluetooth Mouse
  • USB memory sticks

Good luck!

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