Bob's Adventures in Wireless and Video Headline Animator

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Flexibility versus support-ability

The microNVR has been out in the wild now for a couple of weeks. In general, the customers are very pleased. But we have a paradox to resolve.

The goal of the microNVR was to create a flexible platform for edge based video processing. That means that the microNVR needs to be able to support what our customers want to do with video. This can be anything such as:
  • Record the video for surveillance or broadcast purposes
  • Live stream video for surveillance or broadcast purposes
  • Play video from recording or live stream
  • Connect via 3G/4G or WiFi for backhaul
  • Be fault tolerant for network failure and fail over
  • Be easy to configure and use
  • Be supportable and reliable
This is a tall order to fill. At first we created a configuration that we thought would meet 90% of the customer needs for routing, video processing, and connectivity. This set up the microNVR as a router with access point functions on the wireless, local record, and backhaul over one of the Ethernet ports. We were wrong.

Customers wanted to use the microNVR in almost any way except our pre-configured set up.

So we reworked the configuration into a dual boot system. At boot time the user can select "simple" or "advanced" configuration. Simple mode assumes that the customer doesn't need complex routing. Advanced mode is for applications where routing and fail-over is key.

Even with this change, we now have customers adding their own drivers and applications on top of our optimized Windows XP Pro build, some which work and some which require typical application support. So, by allowing customers the flexibility to build their own configuration, we create a support issue. We are selling the platform, but not necessarily the applications running on the platform. Customers are asking us to support the applications. Should we do this? Can we charge for this support? So far the customer reaction is: " You sold me the microNVR, you need to support it". Parenthetically they mean "even if I put software on it that you did not provide and which you have never seen before."

Should a hardware or platform vendor like Dell, HP, IBM or HauteSpot support every application a customer might put on their computer? If so, how do you pay for it? How much? Should the software vendors provide the support? Do you expect network computer manufacturers to support every application you load on their equipment?

It is an interesting paradox: Support vs Flexibility. We can lock it down and force customers to one configuration or we can open it up and let customers support themselves.

Your comments?