Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How to Play in the Sandbox and Keep your Hands Clean

With a plethora of new Internet-base home services being launched by major service providers in the coming year, senior operations executives are favoring a ‘sandbox’ approach to installing customer premise equipment to reduce technical support and field service costs.

Not a wholly new term in the technology industry, a Sandbox is a virtual environment that is used by programmers to develop new code in a manner that doesn’t impact production systems. The same concept is being used by service providers and home networking consultants to rid themselves of the aches and pains of future service calls by providing a secure, private playground within a customer’s network made specifically to manage the Internet-based home devices.

Inundated with various wireless frequencies, today’s home is a virtual jungle-gym of communication conflicts and challenges. Many service providers and home networking consultants are continually challenged with what they may have originally thought would have been a simple installation of a new piece of technology such as an IP network camera or home automation device. This is largely due to the variety of custom network settings required by each device.

Central to the Sandbox is a home gateway which could be as inexpensive and simple as a WIFI router. Preconfigured and set to register (and re-register) with your host servers, the gateway manages communication between the devices and the service provider. The modest cost of a gateway will drastically reduce the costs of repeat service visits related to ISP-downtime, customer-driven network upgrades and, worst of all, Gen Y power-users configuring the network to work with the latest beta of their favorite online application.

It isn’t surprising to find that most successful service providers have used this approach in large-scale deployments of home services such as VoIP(i.e. Vonage), Internet TV(i.e. Apple TV) and video surveillance (i.e. iControl Networks). The advantage of being able to securely control the network environment, the Sandbox, in which your devices operate is crucial to controlling ongoing service costs.

In spite of new standards such as UPnP and hardware manufacturers trying to build the ideal All-in-One Home Gateway that is a modem, router, PVR and controls home automation devices, the Sandbox will continue to the service provider’s main approach to delivering Internet-based applications. For the consumer it may mean yet more boxes in the electrical closet. It is a small price to pay for a consistent, reliable experience which is the ultimate goal of every profitable service provider.

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