In 2011—five years ago to this exact day—I wrote an article titled “The Clouds Are Forming,” which, little did I know at the time, ended up to be very prophetic. The article started off with my distaste for buzzwords and phrases, but this one phrase, which was relatively new at the time, seemed to be a formidable trend, if there is such a thing. That phrase was “the cloud.”
Back then, it didn’t seem like much to me, but in late 2011, I started designing AV systems that moved all their content via IP, and were controlled entirely via IP. Hence, the article. It finally made sense to me. Buying multiple devices that each housed their own processor and memory chipsets for every aspect of system functionality seemed crazy, when software running on a failover-protected server with bulk processing and memory can simply be the mechanism that accomplishes the goals of an AV system. That’s a long sentence, but it sums up that 2011 article very well.
Now, fast forward to 2016. These days, IP-based media distribution is commonplace, and IP-based control is a usual occurrence. The transformation from proprietary control and distribution has morphed into the mainstream methodology of system design, which prepares the landscape for a final chapter in the transition to a more “cloud-centric” set of solutions for the AV industry at large. But what does that look like?
First, having a piece of hardware for switching and routing will likely be standards-based network infrastructure. The days of large, half-rack-sized chassis switches are dwindling as manufacturers develop better forms of compression and continue to reduce latency. Furthermore, networking equipment manufacturers continue to develop products that can send and receive larger and larger amounts of data… faster.
Second, we’re seeing the offspring of CobraNet grow up to be serious players in the digital audio networking world. I’m talking about audio networking protocols such as Dante, AVB, Ravenna, Q-LAN, and BLU link, just to name a few. With the advent of AES-67, most of these have started gravitating toward interoperability.
Third, there are an increasing number of USB-based products finding their way into the professional AV ecosystem. Some provide a professional-grade “bridge” between the PC world and the AV world. Others aim to eliminate the bridge and port directly to PCs via IP with bridging built into them. The AV world is rapidly becoming an extension of the computer world.
Coming in fourth, and coincidentally, what I see as the most important phenomenon, is the use of standard operating systems, such as Linux and commercially available chipsets from manufacturers such as Intel or SanDisk, in a variety of products for DSP-based audio processing, which happens to have horsepower and ample memory to spare for other tasks, such as system control, media archiving, streaming, playback, administration, monitoring, document storage, and any other number of future functionalities.
What if we took this fourth phenomenon, paired it with network-based control, threw in a side order of network-based media distribution and routing, and then parked it in the cloud or in a bank of “on-prem” servers? Systems could self-commission, interlink in new ways, monitor themselves, actively repair themselves, store documentation, assist in decision making, schedule themselves, and perform on levels we have only begun to understand.
The result would be a new, leaner, meaner, and more capable AV industry that would have to discover an entirely new set of revenue-generation schemes. There will always be plates, panels, cables, mounts, displays, amplifiers, loudspeakers, and some projectors, but the stuff in between will vaporize into the cloud. We must all begin the process of preparing to monetize this new, “cloudy” paradigm.
Joey D’Angelo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a director of systems solutions at QSC. He is always looking for professional challenges, can wire or fabricate anything, and plays many instruments.
Flashback: The 2011 Forecast
Sadly, the use of the buzzword “collaboration” is still with us, but something else is dethroning it as of late: “The cloud.”
At first, I just thought, “Oh brother, here’s another buzzword, and why would it apply to AV?” I was asked to write about this trend several times in the last six months. I did my research, and delved in as usual. Most often I kept saying, “I don’t think it’s applicable, because we can do networked control and it’s not a big deal worthy of cloud computing architecture!”
Well gentlemen and gentlewomen, I stand before you today being a truly reformed individual with a new paradigm, and I can honestly say that these darn “clouds” are going to revolutionize our industry. Here’s why…