The Great Convergence - Discussion on a New Business Reality

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This month, SCN continues its quarterly feature delving into the ongoing convergence of AV and IT . We’ve selected two experts in their respective fields, John E. Stiernberg for AV, and Todd Acree for IT , to answer questions that many integrators have on this subject. If you have any questions you’d like to have answered in the future, tweet them to us @scnmag or email Kirsten Nelson at knelson@nbmedia.com.

SCN: What does the convergence conversation look like from the IT perspective?

John Stiernberg: From my admittedly AV perspective, IT people think of convergence more in terms of technology than as it relates to business. This is a neutral factor, neither good nor bad—but only to a point. For example, the IT world is used to technical standards and protocols as tools for assuring plug-and-play reliability of networks. In the AV world, there is still a substantial camp that resists or even protests the global standardization of AV networks.

Business-wise it’s the reverse. AV integrators and their suppliers (gear manufacturers and distributors) are already used to the “convergence” of diverse channels, exemplified by the blurry line between commercial and residential dealers and spec writers. They have embraced IT integrators and specialty distributors a bit more than the IT people have embraced AV business practices and jobsite partnerships. It’s better today than three years ago, but still has a way to go.

Todd Acree: Convergence to the IT group is always about sharing the same resources. So, when audio/video traffic now shares the same switch ports and uses the same CPU and memory resources as all of the other traffic on the local area network (LAN), how does the IT team make sure that all traffic gets the resources it needs and expects? Normally, the IT team accomplishes this feat with bandwidth profiles and quality-of-service (QoS) profiles identifying traffic with Layer 2 and Layer 3 identification fields. With AVB, this process is automatic with signaling and setups done via AVB protocols which frees the IT teams up to work on other tasks only having to monitor the end result of the AVB traffic as it makes its way through their network.

SCN: Is hiring, partnering, or training the way forward for AV and IT companies looking to add expertise from “the other camp”?

JS: First of all, the “other camp” barriers need to come down a lot more. InfoComm has done a lot for this, both in terms of its trade shows and its education programs. In talking to integrators this year, we’ve heard examples of all three approaches, and partnering or subcontracting seems to be the most common.

The training and certification programs are there for both “sides” to partake. The industry challenge is to design and install reliable AV/ IT networks on the client’s schedule. While training is great, it tends to take too long. You can’t tell your client, “I’ll do the installation as soon as my people get trained.”

TA: All three methods are valid to educate any company’s workforce. It seems most efficient to let the AV teams focus mostly on AV concerns and the IT teams to focus on IT concerns. But to help merge the two worlds, each team will need to learn something from the other. With AVB networks, the AV talent will need to learn enough to query the network to know that their AVB stream was advertised and subscribed to successfully. And when unsuccessful, knowing what was the cause. Again, AVB makes this simple with detailed messages coming back to the advertiser (talker) and to the subscriber (listener) giving such detailed information as lack of bandwidth or VLAN assignment issues. This allows the AV expert to talk to the IT expert with meaningful and accurate data.

SCN: Does IT see AV as a panacea of higher margins?

JS: The idea that AV margins are going to help IT companies build their profits is largely a myth. Higher margins are everyone’s ideal and goal. IT margins have been slimmer than AV’s for years. AV margins have eroded a lot over the past five years. Some of this is technology and commoditization-driven. Some of it (but relatively little) relates to the global economy. Mostly I think that both AV and IT integrators (with exceptions of course) tend to cave in whenever there is a price negotiation, client budget constraint, or competitive bidding situation. They tell their suppliers that they “need more margin to be competitive” and the vicious cycle continues.

TA: IT departments see AV as yet another service that their networks will need to support and deliver. Yes, there are more services offered on a network by adding AV to the mix. But the IT departments will have to balance the AV services with their existing services and still provide the service expectations for all of them simultaneously. Again, AVB helps makes this action as clean and quick as possible since the configuration required is only to enable AVB protocols on the ports necessary and all of the setup and configuration of the bandwidth, queue priority, timing synchronization, and traffic shaping are all automatic with the AVB protocols at work.

Kirsten Nelson is the editor of SCN.

Quick Bios

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John Stiernberg (john@stiernberg.com) is founder and principal consultant with Stiernberg Consulting. John has over 30 years experience in the music and entertainment technology field. He currently works with manufacturers, publishers, inventors, investors, and trade associations on strategic planning, market development, and M&A projects.

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Todd Acree serves as the director of product management at Extreme Networks. Todd’s responsibilities include managing the development of Extreme’s innovative Summit TOR hardware and Mobile Backhaul switches, XOS modular and Ridgeline management software, Audio Video Bridging (AVB), mobile backhaul (MBH), and Physical Security (PhySec) solutions. With over two decades of extensive experience in implementing product and service strategies from highgrowth start-up companies to mature corporations in the telecommunications industry, Todd demonstrates deep technical knowledge with diverse background in voice and data, from TDM to IP-based networking.

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