Cisco Home Networking Contest

Cisco held a fun event that ended recently with winners announced in The Cisco Home Networking Contest. The rules seemed pretty simple. Send a diagram and description of your home network, and the most impressive (complex?) would be the winner. Two grand prize winners of the Best Overall Home Network were awarded: Iwan Eberhart, Frauenfeld, Switzerland and Andrew Ward, San Leandro, California, USA. Iwan's network was very organized and well laid out. He subnetted his entertainment systems from the main network and had a separate router for the VDSL connection. Critical services were provided, including IPTV, gaming systems, NAS, SIP-based IP Telephony, wireless, and streaming audio. A very nice setup. I would recommend though that he separate his work laptop and Cisco IP Phone on its own VLAN. The other winner was somewhat less organized. While Iwan's network was well laid out, I think Andrew won because of the shear SIZE of his network. It would've been wrong not to give him (some sort of) an award. I count eight computers in the home network, along with video cameras, home audio, NAS, printing, TiVo, home office, and a 2-mile line-of-sight wireless connection to a friend's house using a high-gain directional antenna!

DAMN! But, according to Ward, "It only looks complicated because I've built it up, piece by piece over several years. It started out pretty simply when we moved to our house nine years ago. I wanted to build a home automation system, and after I installed that the rest of the network grew from there." I'm impressed. Although, I'm a little worried about Andrew's electric bill, especially in California. I don't think Andrew will be winning an award from Cisco's Green IT department.

My own home network is not as exciting, but still good. My new house came pre-wired for Ethernet, cable, satellite, and home audio. I then have a cabling junction box to decide what goes to which room. Wireless is nice, but having a cable is still the best since the AP's signal doesn't reach into the bonus room or my daughter's room. I work 2-3 days a week from home so having an nice home network is key.

Having a nice home network in order to work from home brings up network design issues that I think will get very interesting in the next few years. Working from home is going to explode in the next 5-years, particularly as employees and companies adjust to higher energy costs. So, IT departments will need to support much more functionality than the current typical setup - laptop and a software VPN client. Here are just a few things I could see in a production home office in the near future:

  • Laptop PC with docking station and flat panel monitor.
  • Printer
  • IP Phone with headset (preferably wireless)
  • Webcam with group video conferencing software
  • Dedicated router to provide encrypted link back to corporate office (takes the load off of the PC)
  • LAN switch
  • Properly secured wireless
  • Cabling to the home office (most homes don't have the necessary CAT6 wiring for a home office)
  • UPS and surge protection
  • Business class broadband (7 Mbps down is fine, but 300kbps upload is just ridiculous, particularly with an IP Phone, video camera, desktop sharing, and PC backups)
  • Software WAN acceleration

That would be a pretty significant investment for everyone's home. But honestly, is that list any different from what would be provided to each employee in the actual office? Are the home employees not as important as the office employees? After all this equipment is purchased, you'll need a network engineer to do a standard design template. That way each home office can be setup correctly. You may need to contract with a service company to go to employees' homes to do the install. Then what about operational support after the installation? That's too much equipment to allow employees to troubleshoot themselves. Do you hire more people - maybe ones who also work from home - to support the home offices? Do you outsource it to India? How are RMA's handled? How do you ensure security? Yeah, this is going to be fun.

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