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D-Link Water Sensor: Pondering The Business Ramifications

Smart home devices share some interesting  characteristics  with cloud-managed enterprise networking gear. I recently tested one consumer-grade gadget that got me thinking about the parallels, but also  about the pervasive gap between consumer and enterprise hardware as the Internet of Things takes shape.

The gadget I tested was a new WiFi enabled water sensor provided by D-Link.  I’ve had catastrophic basement flooding, so I relished the thought of how this device, which has a street price of $65, could be put to real-world use for detecting water leaks. The sensor is a 2.4 GHz only WiFi client that jumped to life fairly easily on my home network. It also was discovered quickly enough on the mydlink app required for use with the sensor, and it notified my smartphone immediately when I touched water to its sensor cable.  

The sensor also can be made to activate a remote WiFi enabled siren, and you can have many sensors and sirens on your network along with other mydlink devices (including smartplugs and cameras), all making for handy home instrumentation and control in a common web-based dashboard.

Bringing up the sensor was very much like getting new cloud-managed networking equipment online. You need a dashboard account, and either a sales order number, a QR code, a MAC address, or a serial number to get these devices to be seen by the dashboard account. Once online, my sensor did a firmware upgrade. I can configure event notifications via the dashboard, and the general interactions between my devices and my account out on the cloud are peppy and dependable.

Figure 1:

This little consumer-grade water sensor has a respectable back-end cloud framework enabling its functionality. Interestingly, many enterprise-grade sensors that might fill the water-detection role are still analog, and need homerun wiring back to a central box that may or may not be IP enabled.  In this regard, the D-Link sensor is arguably in the lead for network-readiness.

Still, it's  absolutely a low-end network client. Along with only working in 2.4 GHz spectrum, it also has no capability to work on 802.1X-secured Wi-Fi networks, and the only notification it can do is via smartphone alert; it can’t email or do SNMP. Even though I can picture putting this easy-to-install sensor in a number of network closets that have had various moisture problems, it lacks the capabilities required for  enterprise network environments.

At the same time, for many SMBs, this sort of product set could be very empowering to business continuity and disaster prep/recovery. Many SMB networks are done on the cheap, without deep IT support. Whether monitoring for basement flooding where inventory might get damaged to standing guard against broken pipes that might go undetected until spring in seasonal-use buildings, there are many scenarios where this cheap sensor could provide big benefits.

I can see smart home devices, and their enterprise equivalents (if device makers ever beef them up to be robust wireless clients), significantly driving up device counts as the notion of instrumenting your home or business catches on. Whether we ever get there or not, for real, depends on if the IoT is built with feature sets that extend beyond just the residential-grade approach we’re seeing so far with products like the D-Link water sensor.