One could argue that the convergence of AV and IT is a done deal, but the reality is a bit different. Every organization has its own set of requirements, restrictions, and resources, which serves to shape what “AV/IT convergence” means to them. While it would be nice to declare the existence of a one-size-fits-all model for AV/IT workflows, this is still something that AV designers, integrators, and tech managers must do on a case-by-case basis.
“I don’t think it’s there yet,” said Rodrigo Ordonez, CTS-D, principal at K2 Audio, an AV systems design firm headquartered in Boulder, CO. “We definitely have a few clients that are starting with content and workflow first and then moving to the technology, but I think for the most part, when people think [about] AV, they’re still very focused on devices and discrete solutions: ‘I want a display.’ It’s not: ‘I want a room that does this.’”
Jaffe Holden, an AV systems design firm headquartered in Norwalk, CT, works with many educational institutions. Ben Bausher, associate principal at the firm, noted that many of these facilities still prefer to have separate networks for AV and IT. “I suspect to some extent it’s what people are used to, so there’s a little bit of resistance on that end,” he said. That’s not saying these organizations are unaware of the advantages of AV/IT convergence: “They see the importance of networked video, but they also see the limitations of their own networks at play, so they don’t want to spec 10-Gig network switches for every single port, every single place, all of the time.” Keeping AV and IT separate becomes a way to control costs as well as management requirements.
Arguably the biggest obstacle to full AV/IT convergence remains security; having AV on the network continues to make a lot of tech managers nervous. “[It’s a challenge for IT teams] to be willing and open to accept the AV world as part of that IT environment or ecosystem, and be able to work with that to allow it to be a part of the network and not try to isolate it or keep it at bay,” Ordonez said. This wariness is somewhat justified: when it comes to security, not all AV products are created equal, he said. “The bigger players are putting a focus on security, [but] there is a lot of AV [product] development out there that sees networking as [putting] a network jack on a box, and that makes it networked. From a corporate perspective, that doesn’t do anything because it doesn’t satisfy any of the security protocols that the organization needs.”
B. Shane Long, principal and director of Atlanta operations at Decatur, GA-based Waveguide LLC, a technology consulting firm, noted that his organization is still designing around separate networks because of security concerns, especially in regulated industries like finance. “It is just going to take time for people to get comfortable with the security protocols that are built into the equipment—[and they] aren’t yet built into all of the equipment—before they’ll start saying, ‘OK, we can be on a flat LAN,’” he said.
There also continues to exist a discrepancy in IT skills among AV professionals, breeding a lack of confidence in AV in general, according to Ordonez. “Organizations struggle with that when they’re trying to get their very sophisticated IT groups and network professionals to coordinate with AV installers, techs, and programmers that are not at that same level from a networking perspective,” he said. “There’s still a credibility challenge, where when the AV team shows up, there’s this initial reaction of ‘maybe they don’t know what they’re doing’—even though there are very qualified folks out there.” This often results in AV experts not being brought to the drawing board in planning sessions, which in turn creates problems during AV design and deployment.
But a need for more training doesn’t land solely on the AV side of things. Ordonez noted that IT professionals often have a hard time grasping the network requirements associated with AV technology. While real-time data doesn’t have to be 100-percent real time, audio and video does, mandating unfamiliar network settings in order to avoid latency. “Enterprise IT, for example, is usually against things like jumbo packets, and in some cases AV technology will require them,” he said. Quality of Service (QoS) settings and the management of multicast traffic are other common sticking points.
“Everybody’s got to share some of the responsibility here,” Long said. “Corporate and educational organizations need to invest in their people in order to make sure that they have the right network IT training to be able to effectively do their jobs. The AV integration firms, likewise. And then the manufacturers have to… keep up with security updates and fixes and all of that other stuff. Some manufacturers—like the videoconferencing codec manufacturers who are forced to stay on top of [this] because of their systems—have done a better job than [others].”
As the relationship between AV and IT continues to evolve, Ordonez urges tech managers to consider the flexibility that convergence offers their organizations. “[In the IT model], if you need a new workspace, you have a network drop, you put in the furniture, and you put in a computer and someone can work there,” he illustrated. “If we start looking at AV the same way, then we’re really providing them that flexibility and dynamic readjustment, where if they want an office and they want to change it to a huddle room, [they can]—you change that port on the network to be part of the AV network, you add a display, and now you have a huddle room. [Providing] that flexibility and dynamic nature of the systems to be similar to the way they handle their IT infrastructure is the best way to understand what the value is behind going in that direction.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.