Networks are becoming a common infrastructure to support AV experiences, and that can be daunting to those lacking a foundation in IT. Where should these AV managers begin?
There are several aspects of a converged network that warrant consideration. A common goal is to support AV workloads by using the same manufacturers and models of network devices and infrastructure that the IT industry uses. One reason for this is to be able to leverage the lower costs associated with network components that are sold in extremely large quantities. In addition, convergence often enables flexibility in the usage of physical plant infrastructure—such as twisted-pair wiring—to be easily adapted to changing (or temporary) needs for either AV or IT uses. The value this provides the AV world is a single, common set of components that are well understood, can be easily managed, and are capable of evolving with future requirements.
Network flexibility allows certain parts of the network to be dedicated for specific workloads. Even though such subnetworks operate separately for carrying workload-specific data, they may still be converged for purposes such as monitoring and management. IT managers often build special-purpose networks for specific tasks. For example, Storage Area Networks (SANs) are built to support distributed file storage for computers, and basically operate as disk drives over the network. Although those networks were converged in the sense that they could be managed using tools connected to a corporate network, all the data that traversed the SAN did not go over the corporate backbone. Specific traffic in areas of the network could be partitioned for security, efficiency, and performance. These characteristics are often shared with the needs of AV systems, and a similar type of convergence can be utilized by enterprises to leverage the value of the network for AV systems.
Another goal of convergence is to leverage expertise. For example, standardizing on Ethernet switches for AV systems means that specialized expertise and tools to manage older types of audio and video switches are not required. The same tools are used to manage network devices regardless of whether they carry AV or IT traffic.
Convergence also allows resources to be shared with the IT team. Shared resources give more visibility into what’s happening on all of the networks within the enterprise. With AV operating over the network, that additional visibility provides insight into how efficiently existing resources are being used and what changes need to be implemented for a better user experience.
DEMYSTIFYING THE NETWORK
The first step is to expand your understanding by learning the basics of networking. You don’t have to be a network guru—far from it. Simply learning the core networking elements—for example, the difference between Layer 3 and Layer 2—will ease the process. Promote the idea of developing basic networking knowledge across your team through “introduction to networks” classes, books, and videos readily available.
Second, improve the collaboration between the AV and IT teams: while your AV team is becoming more conversant on IT, the IT team should become conversant in AV. This effort should be focused and prescriptive—if the only interaction between the AV and IT professionals occurs during project commissioning, collaboration and subsequent success will be limited. Consider asking IT managers for good learning resources on networking as a first step in relationship building.
Third, do not let yourself fall victim to the popular myth that networking is too complicated. AV pros are already well versed in dealing with technology. Ask an IT pro to explain gain structure and you will likely be met with a blank stare. To the uninitiated, anything can seem overly complicated, but that is only a temporary condition.
We are at an inflection point where AV and IT departments are increasingly being asked to collaborate. Remember to start by building out network-centric AV teams that view convergence as a spectrum rather than an absolute.
Geordie Klueber is field sales engineer for the Tesira Platform Network Solutions at Biamp Systems.