Home Control Assistant Newsletter for Jan 2 2022

Have you read the Important Announcement posted on August 1, 2021? If you haven't you need to.
The Cloud
A few weeks back there was a major outage of Amazon Web Service (AWS) that caused Alexa and many cloud connected services to stop working. I received an article from an HCA User (thanks James!) about the outage and mitigation strategies for companies that are heavily reliant on the cloud for their applications. I’m not forwarding that on to you because it is really about providers not consumers. The takeaway from the article was that while there are mitigation strategies, they are difficult and expensive. I doubt we will see many of them being implemented especially by smaller companies like those that make home automation gear.

But let’s think for a minute what this means for us with houses full of “cool gear”.

Suppose that the outage lasts longer than an a few hours? What effect will this have on your home design and features you have come to rely upon?

Let’s start with the voice assistants. Are they the only way to control a device? Is some device buried in the wall and the only way to activate it is via voice? Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. A local keypad would be a great backup. You should have a client configured – mobile or windows - to connect to your HCA server so you can manually start and stop programs rather than use voice.

Then there are those automation systems that are 100% cloud based like SmartThings. There are alternatives like Hubitat that provide local control. The Wi-Fi enabled bulbs from Hue and LIFX can be both controlled locally via an app and remotely via a cloud connection.

And now we turn to HCA. What can it do without the cloud? The mobile apps connect directly to your installation – by making a connection using port forwarding – so they will work. Of course, the voice assistant facilities will not be operational if Google Cloud is down – for Google Assistant – or AWS – for Alexa. But do you really need voice control? Probably not, but you could be relying upon some features of Alexa like Guard that will not be operational.

There really isn’t anything I can say here that you have not heard before. The Cloud makes it possible to add a lot of exciting stuff to your installation and reliability is excellent as Amazon does a great job. But like all things in the real world, nothing is 100%.

What that outage told me was that with each new widget I add to my home I should consider what happens under both normal and exceptional circumstances. For example, I have an Ecobee thermostat and many times I have changed the set point from my mobile device. Sometimes I do this just because I don’t want to get out of my reading chair (ok, that makes me officially lazy), but other times I do it remotely when I’m heading home after being gone for a few days and want the house not to be freezing cold. That’s not possible if the cloud is down. A catastrophic problem? No, not really. 

Up until recently I never thought much about this. I was happy to add yet another new widget or light that had a “cool factor” and replaced something “old and dumb”. But “old and dumb” was very reliable. 

Oh, by the way: Happy 2022. May it be better that 2020 “the year of no fun” and 2021 “the year of a bit more fun but disappointed us in the end”.

If you are using a version of HCA prior to version 17, you may have questions about the wisdom of upgrading to version 17 given the future of HCA. Here is something to consider:

The support policy for older HCA versions has been changed
 as I can no longer devote time to past version users. Support will only be available for HCA 17 users.

If you are on version 16 or earlier and want to continue using the cloud features and want to be assured that if you have a question that it gets answered, it is indeed time to upgrade.

HCA is fully operational for several more years so the update cost, spread out over that time, is very little. Knowing support is available when you need it is worth it.
Upgrade to HCA 17
Anyone who is using Hubitat with HCA – not SmartThings – please drop me a note as I would like to add you to a discussion list for those users. I have some Hubitat ideas that I would like to “kick around” and it would help to have a group of users who have experience with Hubitat. Please just send a note to the regular support address saying you would like to be added to that discussion list.
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