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Home Automation and the Evils of Cloud Dependence

Dan

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The trend in the home automation space these days is to create hardware devices that are tightly coupled to the Cloud. While this can provide a great user experience when setting up the system, not everyone is aware of the longer term implications of this coupling.

Vendor X Example

Let's say you've just picked up Vendor X's shiny new home automation hub and have it all working. You're enjoying the convenience of controlling your home on your mobile device both in and out of your home. In most cases, here's what that setup looks like:

cloud-issues-1.jpg

As you can see, Vendor X's hub communicates with Vendor X's Cloud through your Internet router. On the flip side, your mobile device communicates with the hub through Vendor X's Cloud. It's important to note that this is the ONLY way your mobile device can access the Vendor X hub.

So imagine you're sitting at home and your Internet provider has an outage (yes, I'm looking at you Comcast). This breaks point A in the diagram. Even though you're sitting within 10 feet of your home automation hub, it's pretty much a paperweight until your Internet connectivity is restored.

This may seem unlikely if your Internet connectivity is relatively stable. Ironically, I received an e-mail from a friend while writing this blog post expressing frustration about how he lost control of his automation system when his vendor's Cloud service had an outage. So it's not just your Internet that can be the failure point.

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "So what? I'll just have to manually turn on my lights for a little bit like in the old days." And it's true that this scenario poses some frustration at best. However, as people become used to the convenience these systems offer, it won't be long before they consider adding more sensitive devices such as door locks and security systems. This makes the penalty of a system failure quite a bit higher. Why buy into a product with such a limitation when other options are available?

How Hobson Is Different

Since this is the Hobson blog, I'd be remiss if I didn't show you how Hobson eliminates this problem.

Just like Vendor X, Hobson also has an automation hub and will offer a cloud service that lets you control it from anywhere. However, the picture looks slightly different:

cloud-issues-2.jpg

The blue arrow in the above diagram highlights the important differentiator. Your mobile device has the ability to talk to the Hobson hub directly over local Wi-Fi. In fact, the design of the mobile app is such that it prefers communicating with the hub directly over Wi-Fi whenever possible to minimize your cellular data cost. So, should the Internet go down (point A in the diagram again), you still retain full control of your system.

The other benefit of this approach is that the Cloud service in this picture is completely optional. Savvy technical folks could set up their Internet router/firewall to allow inbound access to the Hobson hub and thus control it remotely without using the Cloud service at all.

Summary

No matter what automation system you use, it's important to understand its limitations. I've seen quite a few people both in-person and on automation forums express surprise when their system becomes unavailable due to a service outage of some sort. Hopefully this blog post will help to eliminate that surprise for at least a few people in the future.

To learn more about the open-source Hobson automation system, please visit the website.




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