As audiovisual technology pervades our lives to an ever-increasing degree, it often falls into two categories: things designed to solve problems, and stuff engineered to amaze. Occasionally, though, there comes a special integration that does both equally. Fishtech Group’s cybersecurity operations center (CSOC) is one such installation.
The Kansas City, MO-based data-driven cybersecurity solutions provider recently opened a world-class facility packed with tech designed to both serve the company’s clients and wow new ones. And the centerpiece is a massive, 32-foot-diagonal video wall, on which the company’s security analysts vigilantly monitor threats.
“Our clients are blown away by the Cyber Defense Center,” said Andy Jones, Fishtech director of digital solutions. “Most people have never seen anything like it here in the Midwest; it’s pretty remarkable.”
CEO Gary Fish founded Fishtech Group in 2016 as a successor to his previous company, FishNet Security, which was primarily a product retailer. Fish wanted his new venture to capitalize on the broader services side of cybersecurity as well.
“Fishtech is focused on services,” said Matt Skeen, director of information technology. “We take an overarching approach to our customers’ challenges. And rather than just throwing a product at the problem, we provide a solution and the path to get there.”
In addition to this consultative branch and the company’s product vendor business, the third arm of the group is CYDERES—an acronym for cyber defense and response.
“CYDERES uses a security-as-a-service platform as a managed SIEM [security information and event management],” said Skeen, who has worked in enterprise IT for more than a decade, including at FishNet. “The platform ingests logs across various different security technology platforms, so analysts can provide feedback to our customers about potential security threats and vulnerabilities. Often times, we then take action on a manual and automated level to mitigate those threats.”
A New Vision
To execute the CYDERES branch of the company required a new space, and Fishtech began planning the facility two years ago. The 20,000-square-foot operations center, which sits next to the company’s main headquarters, was to feature open-concept work spaces, private offices, meeting rooms, an executive briefing center, and, of course, the CSOC with its massive 7-by-7 video wall.
“Gary [Fish] envisioned a security operations center that other companies could enlist rather than having their own,” Jones said. “And he wanted to build one bigger and better than any before it. Hence the two-story video wall, which, really, the whole SOC was built around that video wall concept.” Jones, who began his AV career doing high-end residential integration and has worked with Fish for more than a decade, took on the task of leading the installation of the wall.
With a project this size, the process involved more than just hanging displays. “I worked closely with the engineering firm pre-construction to ensure that we really bolstered that wall that it’s mounted to,” Jones said. “I also worked closely with the electrical and HVAC engineering firms to ensure ample power and avoid creating a furnace on the wall. That space has to be comfortable for employees to work in as well as for clients to visit and use.”
Jones and the HVAC company created a system with ventilation below an elevated floor, and a suction system at the ceiling that pulls hot air up from behind the video wall.
Jones also underwent a nearly yearlong process of evaluating options for the wall displays. “We wanted something that was easily serviceable, that looked great, and that was reliable,” he said. He eventually settled on Barco’s UniSee. “You can slide the wall up, pull a screen out, and just pop it back in if you have to. With a wall that size, everything has to be laser perfect.”
Another challenge remained: enabling current and prospective clients to view the operations center without seeing private customer information on the analysts’ computer screens. “The solution was to put a viewing platform in that room above our analysts,” Jones said. “Our potential clients can now walk within that viewing platform. They can see the huge screen and even interact with a nearby touchscreen on a podium. They get to see this state-of-the-art facility and we don’t reveal any proprietary or sensitive data.”
Securing the Security
As a cybersecurity company, it was paramount that the screens in the CSOC not only stayed operational, but that the signals feeding them would be impervious to threats as well.
“The video wall was mission critical to our CSOC environment,” Skeen said. “The data displayed on that screen is potentially customer-impacting—from alerting to our managed SIEM platform. We had to ensure that that those screens would always be up, and that the data transferred to those screens was always secure. We took a 5,000-foot view to see how we could architect that not only securely but efficiently and effectively.”
Through the company’s established relationship with Crestron, they were aware of its NVX AV-over-IP platform. “NVX could provide not only government-grade security around the actual networking side of the house, but also reliability and availability in the ways they actually manage that product,” Skeen said. “Crestron NVX’s security definitely went above and beyond what we were looking for.”
Crestron solutions permeate the rest of the facility as well. With only a little more than 100 out of the company’s 220-odd employees based in the CSOC, robust conferencing capability was key.
“We use Crestron for scheduling our conference and huddle rooms and managing the content,” Jones said. “Screens in all those areas allow employees to bring their own device and just plug right in.” The team settled on Zoom Rooms with Crestron Flex hardware, including its wall-mount UC Video Conference Smart Soundbar & Camera, and displays from Sharp, LG, and Christie. “Zoom Rooms fit pretty well for some of our large conference spaces, where 10 to 20 clients at a time sit in a room and talk remotely to their remote staff and our remote staff.”
Of course, standardization is crucial. “We needed it to be the same user experience in every room, for the most part,” Jones said. “We’re still kind of tweaking it and improving it constantly, but we’re doing pretty good keeping that user experience the same everywhere.” Jones said that Fishtech is currently considering migrating from Zoom to Microsoft Teams, as the company uses Microsoft Office 365 for the rest of its communications.
To ensure the technology would be well received by employees, Jones and Skeen took a proactive approach to developing a training regimen. “When we built out the building, we went to our facilities team and said ‘Sit down in these rooms and let’s go through how it works,’” Skeen said. “Consequently, we developed a five-step process of things to do to make the rooms work.”
In addition to the CSOC video wall, Fishtech’s new facility has another room to show off what the company is all about, the executive briefing center (EBC). “There’s a stage in there, and eight restored cars—our owner is a car guy,” Jones said. “We have professional stage lighting, video presentation equipment from Blackmagic, microphones, and more.” The centerpiece is a large Christie LED wall, and the space is used for various purposes, including events that are livestreamed, called “Disruption Theater.”
“Our marketing team uses the theater to record Fishtech initiatives and expert panels; we record it and put that out,” Jones said. These videos are published to YouTube and Vimeo, and occasionally broadcasted leveraging Zoom’s livestreaming capabilities. The space is also used for internal all-hands meetings.
Refining the Systems
Since opening in early 2019, the reception to the facility has been overwhelmingly positive. Beyond the amazement experienced by clients on their tours, Skeen said the employees have been happy with their new systems as well. “The Crestron systems and scheduling outside of all our conferencing rooms makes it absolutely fantastic for our end users who need to have an impromptu meeting,” he said. “And having the same technology within each of those rooms makes the end-user experience repeatable and efficient every time they go into those rooms.”
Naturally, no technology implementation is without its issues. “Things will never go 100-percent smoothly,” Skeen said. “Even though we’ve documented and trained users, there’s still some challenges.” Another issue revolved around the hundreds of Crestron endpoints across the company’s multiple facilities—a challenge that’s being addressed using Crestron XiO Cloud management platform. “Before XiO Cloud there was no way to centrally manage those well, from a software upgrade, a firmware upgrade, a code upgrade perspective,” Skeen said. “We believe XiO Cloud will be able to solve a lot of the challenges we had from an implementation perspective. The ability to centrally manage all of those devices more effectively is a huge win for us.”
Looking a step further down the road, Jones said he’d like to see a platform like XiO Cloud that could aid in the management of all the devices under his purview. “We are constantly leveraging and interfacing with 160 cameras, IP-controlled door access system, security system, Four Winds Interactive digital content management for our signage, and many other platforms,” he said. “We’re always looking for a better solution to manage all of that together.”