Don’t Manage the Devices, Manage the Users


We are a long way from the days where the only connected device in the home was the family-shared PC. Today, each household member can have a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop connected to the Internet. Chances are it won’t peak there, as connected wearables and IoT devices gain traction.

The home network management paradigm has always been centered around the MAC or IP address. These unique identifiers are quite foolproof and are still reasonable identifiers to use for attaching typical network policies like firewall rules and port forwarding instructions. However, the network requirements of a household is beginning to change as users have multiple devices and many are starting to use them at a younger age.

When a user has multiple devices and a network policy needs to be created for all these devices, configuring the router becomes repetitive. This can quickly become complicated for your home network admin, and is also prone to errors. With limited visibility behind the gateway, one configuration mistake can become a nightmare for a customer support representative.

The average age children are picking up computers and using the Internet is somewhere around three. At that age, their use should be supervised but often times they are not. One solution is to install parental control software on their devices. But what if they have or can access multiple devices? What if the software does not support one of the operating systems that Jane uses? A setting change must be reflected across the board, otherwise the inconsistency can be a headache — or loophole — later on.

As more features are shipped standard on CPEs, it’s becoming clear that we can’t keep managing IPs and MAC addresses. Instead, devices and network policies should be assigned to user profiles. Rather than re-creating the same rules for each of little Jane’s three devices, those rules should be applied to her profile, which in turn is applied to all devices associated to that profile. The approach also results in a different network map, one that is humanist and arguably more meaningful to the household. Some settings like port forwarding must still be associated directly to a device, but many others, such as parental controls are better placed on users instead of their devices.

How often does the typical household network admin log onto the gateway to change a setting or two? The answer is very rarely, but every time he or she logs on, they will most likely need to re-familiarize with not just the interface, but also the settings and policies already in place. Shifting the assignee of network policies from devices to users is just one method to simplify network management for the home. Not every household has a network whiz, it’s time to start thinking of users on the network, not devices.

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