Convergence Countdown - AvNetwork.com

Convergence Countdown

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The consensus seems to be that, sometime soon, new facilities will have a single network serving their business needs and all of their low-voltage systems. Furthermore, we know that there are installations where geographical separation or other physical difficulties make a single network the right choice economically. However, because of existing proprietary and legacy requirements, many facilities will have two or more networks for the foreseeable future.
Can we cram all of our systems on the same network reliably? And just because we can, does that mean we should?
Despite what some experts are telling me, I'm still not convinced that a single, ubiquitous network is really the right thing to do in the long term. Let me explain starting with a quick review of the present situation.

Network Usage
Here's what we use networks for:

•Business (accounting, sales, internet access)
•Building Management (HVAC, lighting, energy management)
•Life Safety (fire alarm, medical monitoring)
•Security (intrusion, surveillance, access control, employee, and visitor badging)
•Media (live, broadcast, or recorded audio and video)
Most of these categories share common networking needs. But each is unique in some ways. For example, the business network has multiple users and multiple applications. IT managers have a continuous challenge balancing open access and communications with network security and reliability. In contrast, the building management network has a limited number of users, only a few applications, and pretty much manages itself.

Life safety networks are unique because, most of the time, there is very little action on the network. But, in the event of a fire or other emergency, the life safety network must be 100 percent reliable and it must be given absolute priority.

As another example, performing arts centers, broadcast and recording studios, educational facilities, worship centers, and other facilities that have live, recorded, or broadcast media, need networks that can pass large amounts of error-free data reliably and with minimum latency.

The Politics
Here's another reason we're likely to see physically separate networks for many years to come: politics. The local fire marshal is unlikely to approve life safety on the same network with internet access and email. The hospital biomed director wants absolute reliability for medical monitoring equipment.

The telecommunications people want control over telephones. And, in larger facilities or government security facilities, the security director will want control over camera feeds, access control, and even intercom. And, at that new performing arts center, the first time there's any noise in the system, the art director is going to demand his/her own separate network-just to make sure the month-end accounting data doesn't get mixed in with the streaming audio.

End Game
Can we put all of these systems on the same network reliably? There seems to be no problem here. Can we separate the systems virtually and insure they don't interfere with each other? Technically, yes.

But, these are the wrong questions. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. The right question is, "should we put everything on the same network?" And, because of life safety requirements, legacy systems, and human politics, in most cases, the answer will continue to be "no."

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