6 Tips for Deploying Home Networks

August 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

There is no question that designing and installing robust home networks is important. But how robust do they need to be? Very.

“Ten years ago, the only thing connected to the network was the control system processor and the rest of it was RS-232,” notes Hagai Feiner, CEO of Access Networks. “Now, we have security cameras, solar panels, irrigation systems all connected to the network. In the next three years, you are going to have anywhere between 60 and 100 devices connected to the network. It’s going to be critical.”

It’s so critical that home networking is one the major themes of CEDIA Expo 2012 under the tagline: “Own the Network, Own the Home.” The association has even created a new Residential Networking Specialist Credential with a slate of courses designed to give integrators the experience they need to deploy solid home networks.

Here are six important things to know about home networking heading into CEDIA Expo 2012, where the Future Technology Pavilion will showcase an IT-networked home.

Learn How to Sell Networks
It’s not just about designing and installing networks, dealers need to know how to sell them.

“Six or seven years ago, the home network was the last thing put on a client proposal,” says Aaron Gutin, vice president of sales and marketing at Access Networks and a former integrator. “It was right before labor and right after all the fun stuff, including the rack. Today, integrators are leading their proposals with the network, it’s that critical. Networking today is like the telephone of the 1920s.” (Editor’s note: Gutin is conducting “Selling Networking ( IT Services) and Integration” course (ESCR069) at CEDIA Expo.)

It’s Not about the Size of the Home
Enterprise-grade networks are not just for 30,000-square-foot homes. Gutin says a typical 2,500-square-foot home will have 15 to 35 devices connected to it. Access Networks has worked with an integrator to deploy a 350-device network in a large home, it has done a small apartment with 64 devices, and a sprawling property with only 90 devices.

“Six years ago, enterprise-grade networks were probably best suited only for large homes with lots of devices,” says Gutin. “Today, networking has trickled down to the mid-market. It has become a major, critical infrastructure.”

Enterprise-Grade Networks in Homes Are Not Overkill
Clients hate to be oversold for no reason, but with home networks it’s important to create an expandable solution. Thus, “enterprise-grade” networks are becoming important. So what exactly is it?

“The definition of an enterprise-grade network is twofold,” says Gutin. “First, it is a long-lasting piece of hardware that is meant to live inside a data center in a server rack for hundreds of thousands of hours. Second, it is completely visible. That means you can look under the hood of that piece of electronics and it will share with you what’s been going on since you’ve been away. Anything that doesn’t meet those two criteria is not enterprise-grade, but small business.”

Properly Balance Wireless with Hardwired
The biggest mistake in the field today, by far, is that technicians don’t balance a hardwired solution with a wireless solution. “What tends to happen is that integrators deploy really nice WiFi with not-so-nice switching and routing, or vice versa,” says Gutin. “Even though the wireless controller has been on the market since 2005, we talk to integrators every day who have yet to discover what a wireless controller is. They tend to put too much weight on an infrastructure that is not able to support it.”

For example, dealers routinely build large infrastructures that rely on an over-the-counter $100 router and $200 switch. According to Gutin, those integrators will “lose their shirt” on the job because they will spend too much time “running around trying to resolve the resulting calamity that occurs when you ask a piece of electronics to do more than it is intended to do.”

Feiner says it all goes back to design. “In the past, networking has been nothing but a ‘set of parts’ that was thrown into the job and then deployed on the installation date of the project. Now, the network requires design that needs to be part of the engineering process. The design and sales teams need to be onboard. Selling a network is not easy. It doesn’t sound good, or look good.”

Get Certified
Technicians need to obtain networking certifications to succeed. Feiner advises to start with the new CEDIA curriculum for the Residential Networking Specialist Credential. After that, he says it’s a good idea to get certified by certain manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper or Aruba, and then stay up to date with those certifications. That’s the hard part.

“Networking is really a category of the IT sphere, along with server management and desktop support for example. You have to stay focused on its protocols and troubleshooting to be successful,” says Feiner. But in lieu of that certification, companies like Access Networks offer integrators full IT support for every system they deploy for three years at no cost.

Gutin adds, “Every integrator should have at least one or two technicians on staff who follow the training schedule for the new CEDIA Residential Networking Specialist Credential. It is not as technically deep as Cisco training for example, but it is an absolute necessity.”

imageClick image for an example of how much visibility can be obtained into just a single port in a switch with remote visibility into a home network.Look for System Visibility
Remote access to troubleshooting a home network is vital. “For the past decade in the residential space, most of the network devices that dealers have been deploying are very simple, off-the-shelf equipment that don’t provide any ability to management or remote visibility as they happen, including seeing errors down to a specific port, as well as visibility over time,” says Feiner.

“What’s happening now on wired networks is that integrators will deploy a project – regardless of the size – by terminating cables, connecting to the network and turning everything on. It seems to work. Then after they walk away, something goes wrong. Without those tools built into the network gear, you are not going to be able to determine the problem as it happens in real time.

“Some integrators have resorted to rebooting the modem or a switch. That doesn’t solve the problem. The only way to solve the problem is to be able to analyze it while it’s happening and come up with an actionable process.”

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