Meraki Good, Homefront Bad

by Ed Sparks

We've recently been working with two products for a local small business customer, that truly showcase the best of the tech industry, and the worst. 

So on the good (great!) side we have deployed Meraki wireless gateway and firewall products, that have far and away exceeded our expectations.  The entire experience from the free trial (yes - of hardware), to the sales process, to the exceptional user interface and management, and American-based technical support - this is truly excellent technology.  When you're talking enterprise networking gear that is a rare thing, and truly a breath of fresh air.  Plus it has proven rock solid in production.

HIGHLY recommended!


On the flip-side, is a home building industry specific software product called HomeFront by a company named Zybertech. 

Everything about this is a disaster.  While it has a website full of lofty claims and smiling faces, that's where the happiness ends.

The software was clearly written years ago, by developers who have long since left.  It is full of non-working dialog boxes and hasn't any concept or support of modern Windows versions beyond XP, so it is constantly getting tripped up. 

Deployment involves the manual hacking of config and database connections files, and all users - seriously - need full direct read/write permissions to the entire SQL database. Once configured, it litters the computer with icons ("Profit Builder," "Project Builder,"  "Precision Builder" and on and on).  Every task requires the user to run a separate executable, and many times deal with separate configuration. Some reports call up a web browser with ActiveX controls, some use Crystal Reports, while others dump to PDF files.  It's a complete mess.  

In addition, it's virtually impossible to run this over a VPN or WAN link, as the thick clients make horribly inefficient use of the database and GUI, making it unbearably slow. Running the software in a RDP or Citrix environment is also a challenge, due to the mess of executables and dependencies on other software.  Apparently driving to head office is the solution for all the staff.  Which makes sense, because most companies building houses have everyone in a central location, not, you know, out at their construction sites?

Then there's the web portals which are another set of fully separate programs; some based in old ASP, some in ASP.NET, and all completely and utterly unsupportable.   Deployment involves the developers - all of who are not really part of the company and foreign based - remoting into a customer's server to hack away at the database and web.config files, often for days at a time.  No installers, no release control. No manuals.

Rarely does anything work, and without a lot of digging and frustration on the customer's side is anything logical, clear or apparent.  Of course, like the thick client itself, the web portals are all separate URLs with separate user databases and configuration.

We are well over a year into the project with our client, and they still do not have a fully working system.

Are you in the home building industry? Avoid this mess!  You'll thank yourself.