Things are rapidly changing and will continue to change in the home networking environment. It is not enough to just realize that off-the-shelf network products are not capable of handling today’s networking demands in the connected home, but that with even the best-of-class network systems being deployed by our top integration firms, we have no idea about the impact future social changes and technologies will have on these networks. Let me explain this in further detail.
Think about the network you are putting into your clients’ homes today. Most integrators do not have a good understanding of the current network demands that many IP-based A/V devices require, much less what new technologies or social trends your clients will become involved in and how they will be using their home technologies in the next few years. Can the network you designed, can the products you’ve specified, can the programming you are providing keep up with the new demands that will be asked of the network? Or will the family outgrow the network infrastructure you’ve sold to them? How should we plan for the inevitable march of technology?
Here are a few things to consider:
I’ve mentioned this before, but it never hurts to restate the obvious—over-design and over-build. I realize that the price of the network looks pretty big to the client, but you need to educate your clients so that they understand they are investing in seamless performance not only for today, but for the next three to five years. This will ensure that they get more enjoyment out of their connected home, with less service interruptions and less recurring hardware upgrades.
Much like a control system, if you install the best gear but don’t have it programmed properly, you are never going to get satisfactory results. If you do not have the expertise in house to put together an advanced network design, including the necessary programming that goes along with the hardware, there are companies currently offering these services to the residential integration market. Seek them out and let them explain in more detail why a superior network is in your client’s best interest in the long run.
Okay, so you’ve sold the client on a great network and configured it to take advantage of its fullest potential. Now, life changes and technology moves on. Are you keeping an eye on your client’s ongoing bandwidth usage within the house and how it is impacting the network and IP products scattered around the home? Do you even know what level of bandwidth service your client’s ISP is providing—you are measuring that, aren’t you? Not only documenting the performance issues, but reporting back to your client when service falls to unacceptable levels? Are you measuring bandwidth in real time across multiple devices in the home and keeping a log so you can print out a report and verify to your client when problems begin to occur? Are you measuring and analyzing bandwidth in order to make preventative programming changes to keep up with new traffic priorities? Or are you waiting for that phone call: “Why do my VOIP conversations keep dropping?” By this time, it’s too late.
Most advanced network gear allows you to analyze the traffic that is moving through it with the use of SNMP. It is important to understand that your clients’ bandwidth needs are not only an ISP issue, but devices within the house can tax the bandwidth that your network is capable of delivering from device to device. If you have no way to see this information, you will not know that your client is having performance issues until they call you. To be positioned properly to advise and manage your clients’ long-term technology interests, you need to look at advanced monitoring solutions. Advanced network monitoring goes beyond just up/down status, and begins to let you visualize many other aspects of the network.
Bandwidth analyses and diagnostic tools are part and parcel of an overall global strategy your integration firm must embrace in order to professionally manage your clients’ home technology needs on an on-going basis—looking years into the future, not just toward today’s install. You need to go beyond basic network monitoring where you receive an e-mail when something is not responding in the home. FYI, the client doesn’t need you for that any longer, as they can go to ADT or Comcast for that service and cut you out of the loop. You have to provide over-and-above monitoring services that have tangible benefits for your client. Including security.
In addition to setting up a robust firewall and locking down perimeter products that connect to the home network, you also need to anticipate future additions the client will add to their network, and future trends that will inevitably open up new security liabilities, including IP-enabled device viruses and new hacking software that will attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in IP products. In cyber security speak, you need a layered approach to providing your client with the best security defense possible. You need to be able to monitor the Intrusion Detection System and Intrusion Detection Prevention Systems any good layered security plan employs, and alert the appropriate people when these systems are triggered. You need to be able to determine quickly who has been accessing your client’s network and its attached systems and devices. Again, this is all part of managing the technology for your client, not just for today, but into the future.
As with everything, the future will bring much advancement for our industry and many opportunities to leverage these new advancements. The network is going to be the center of most of the new technology for the foreseeable future. It is imperative that you are able to deploy robust, reliable and visible networks.