The potential smart home disaster: amateur IT 'admins' making a mess of things

Don't let the lights go out in your smart home
Don't let the lights go out in your smart home

The idea of your Nespresso machine automatically ordering new cups when you've almost run out sounds good, doesn't it? Or what about your fridge telling you that you should buy more milk today? These are just a couple of examples of the types of apps being integrated into the much anticipated smart homes which are now fast becoming reality.

However, with the apps come devices and with them an increasingly sophisticated home IT network to connect them which, like all IT networks, will need reliable management.

Consider that homes of the future will essentially, in an IT capacity, become micro-companies with a multitude of devices connected to their own network. Yet, where companies have their own IT department (internally or outsourced) – specialists in network management to protect their network and make sure everything is working the way it should – consumers are expected to manage their own IT at home.

Home admin?

So, as connected devices begin to establish themselves in a domestic setting, and the Internet of Things becomes a normality, who will be the IT admin at home? And how will he or she make sure that the connected devices and equipment remain secure, operate properly and get the right software updates?

How can vendors of smart devices and technology companies help consumers to manage their networks? Do we all have to become amateur IT managers in our downtime, or will a new type of service provider emerge to take care of managing connected home environments?

The fact is, when we are at home we don't want to be dealing with IT challenges. Indeed, wherever we are, be it in our personal or work lives, we would prefer the complexity to be taken out of managing technology.

Common ground

A good place to start when considering the home network is to identify where the common challenges for the IT managers of the workplace and the IT managers of the homestead would lie:

  • Knowing how many devices are connected to the internet/network
  • Knowing the status of the devices – what's up, what's down, and performance issues like when something is online but not performing
  • Knowing how to find the source of a problem that is somehow hard to identify through basic means ("the little green light is on but it's not working")
  • Who is using the devices?
  • How are the devices configured?
  • Where are the devices located?

A quick glance down this checklist pulls one's home network into sharp focus – if you did not think you already had one you probably realise now that you do! Apart from smartphones, laptops and tablets – which are the most commonly used connected devices in the home – smartwatches, smart meters and smart smoke alarms are amongst the connected devices already gaining popularity in households up and down the country.

The smart meter, for example, will send a message to your phone or watch whenever you leave the lights or heating on. The smart smoke alarm will inform you when it detects a fire in your house. With the obvious benefits of such apps propelling the Internet of Things it is clear that the number of devices needing access to the home network may rise exponentially.

Also consider that, in order to support smart apps, it may become the norm for next-generation electrical devices to be fitted with a sensor specifically for network connection. Consequently, demands on the home network to handle more data, applications and devices will rise in some cases possibly unchecked. And with the increasing demands and traffic on the home network, so the opportunity for something to go wrong increases.

Network failure

Specifically, with a crowded home network the risk of network failure grows. Data flows become complicated, and the risk of data slowdowns increases. With a large number of devices gaining access to the network, it is harder to notice any unknown devices. This is comparable to the issues network managers had, and still have, with the rise of BYOD. The wave of numerous different devices will make the network more vulnerable to malicious attacks such as viruses and malware.

To make sure the home network will continue to operate properly, someone or something will have to keep an eye on it. A couple of consumer network monitoring tools are available, but choice is limited and the question is whether they are really suitable for app-enabled smart homes. Besides, the average consumer – who is not usually an IT expert – will probably not even know that these tools are available and needed to keep their home environments up and running.

Taking all this into account, it is likely that consumers will not be able to manage their networks themselves, which invites the question: who will manage the smart home network? Consumers simply cannot be expected to handle the complexity of technology emerging in their homes to the same degree as IT administrators (who are trained and follow the latest trends, and get paid for it) in business environments.

Big opportunity

For those network vendors and/or service providers who see and act upon it, there is a huge opportunity to deliver to market a solution for consumers that will help them to monitor their home network and the devices connected to it. In addition, network vendors and service providers have a role to play educating consumers to properly setup and manage a connected home, keeping all devices up-to-date and in sync.

IT companies like Ipswitch, which spent decades solving similar challenges in corporate environments, need to step up and raise awareness of this potential risk to the domestic market. Only time will tell which vendors are best positioned to create solutions or services for consumers to simplify the connected lives of people in the age of the Internet of Things.

  • Alessandro Porro is VP of International Sales at Ipswitch