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Networked AV: futureproof options and pain points

We consider the options there are for a futureproof network and reveal some of the pain points around AV networking

In the first part of this AV networking feature we looked at the increasing levels of convergence as well as the ongoing shift towards interoperability. Here we consider the options for a futureproof network and reveal some of the pain points around AV networks.

At the present time – and not surprisingly given the recent expansion in the complexity of, and demands upon, network infrastructures – one of the major decision points constitutes whether to implement a 1Gb, 10Gb or even 40Gb network. Increasingly, in order to support uncompressed network traffic, a 10G network is being favoured, particularly for new-build or substantial redevelopment projects.

Rob Muddiman, EMEA sales director of AV over IP solutions provider ZeeVee, observes that “if you are talking about a new building then most people would be advised to put in a 10Gb network as the simple fact is that you will never need less bandwidth! No one is going to say ‘thank goodness I put in that 1Gb network’ in a few years’ time’.”

Given that “the cost of bandwidth (ie network switches) is continuing to reduce in cost,” then it can make even more sense to opt for a more generous network capability.

Mark Rogers, product manager of video wall controller, software and hardware company Datapath, notes that video networking can be problematic on a 1Gb network, remarking that “the JPEG-2000 algorithm can be quite difficult and power-hungry. Given that the costs of fibre are coming down, and the price of switches is not what it once was, there can be a strong argument for [opting to implement 10Gb].”

All of this is not to say, however, that a careful discussion of “application and budget” should not inform the decision. After all, if you are primarily seeking to run a digital signage network, in which latency is less of an issue, then a 1Gb deployment could well be perfectly sufficient. But if instead it is large volumes of uncompressed video that needs to be put onto a network then a 10Gb network “will give you the scope that you need [as well as] the headroom for future bandwidth requirements”.

With a simple single dedicated switch network for video, bandwidth will never be an issue and everything can be switched everywhere. However, within a facility there may be several switches, in which case the network video requirements need to be well-defined in order to keep costs down. In reality requirements may be very different in one area of a building to another, so one of the questions that should be asked is “do you need ‘everything everywhere’?” says Muddiman. “You might need the capacity to share everything on the floors that house the meeting rooms, but you might not need it on other floors.” 

Accordingly, Muddiman says there is considerable scope to save on “network costs and complexity” if the actual requirements are defined well in advance.

Invited to identify the primary pain points for AV networks Durai Ramachandiran, – senior director, product line management at ClearOne, identifies “network switch selection, network switch configuration, and the AV devices’ configuration for a given project based on user requirements.” But, he believes, “all of these can be reasonably mitigated by following through best-practices guidelines and training.”

Internet of Things impact
Given the extraordinary excitement around the Internet of Things (IoT) then some consideration of its possible implications for professional network implementations seems only appropriate. Views on its impact – and the related timeframes thereof – do vary substantially, but virtually everyone is concerned about security.

“The impact of IoT will be significant and will come from various areas,” says Martin Finlayson, who is head of visual communications at avsnet. “But as far as business is concerned, I think the biggest issue is network security. The fact of the matter is that stuff is not always ‘buttoned down’ as much as we would wish it to be in the corporate environment. The home does not matter so much, but in the corporate environment it is crucial; [without sufficient safeguards] anything connected to a network could potentially be hacked and turned into a bot to do something else.”

Invited to consider whether the security of IoT-supporting devices will have to undergo a step-change, Finlayson agrees that the present situation “will have to change. If the market does not change then regulation [will have to come into play], but the problem is that regulation tends to lag behind the market.”

But by drawing on an example from the domestic realm, Finlayson amply illustrates the carnage that could be created if IoT devices were allowed to disrupt professional network deployments. “Think about a thermostat being hacked that is found in a million homes around the country, and then if the heating is turned on at the very same time in all of those homes during a high use period in the grid then you would have brownouts,” he says. “The impact on energy supplies [of extensive hacking attempts] could be significant.”

Apart from security, the sheer number of potential extra devices to be connected through the network will have implications for management and monitoring. One upshot of this could be a new generation of integrated solutions that offer specific support for IoT devices.

As Ramachandiran observes, “all the devices that are connected through the IP network are going to be monitored, managed and controlled through a centralised system. With the continuous growth of IoT and smart buildings infrastructure, this will [give rise to] new integration solutions and services.”

Educational imperative
Whatever the desirability (or otherwise) of running AV over IT-oriented networks, there seems little doubt that greater convergence will continue to take place. And in those instances where AV networks are piggy-backing onto existing IT networks – and then being managed by IT teams – the dialogue and exchange of information between AV and IT personnel will need to become evermore rigorous. All of which suggests that the clamour for combined AV-IT network education will only grow more acute.

Finlayson, for one, is concerned that there is currently “a big gap between AV and IT, and it’s getting worse. So for example, IT doesn’t understand the ramifications of running real-time video [over their networks], and AV is not always good on explaining what is going to happen. Assigning a separate V-LAN isn’t going to work – it’s like reserving a lane on the motorway!”

ZeeVee is among the manufacturers to be investing in substantial educational efforts in the form of webinars and on-the-ground training. “We take training related to the design and implementation of AV over IP products very seriously,” says Muddiman, who also highlights the importance of helping distributors to negotiate what is an increasingly complex product marketplace.

There may also be a need to reassure AV integrators “who perhaps tried an AV over IP solution in the past and it was not entirely successful, or the client was not completely happy.” Such scenarios can understandably lead to feelings of nervousness and a tendency “to stick to what you know” rather than taking advantage of all the benefits AV over IP can bring.

Mark Rogers agrees that there is a need for effective sharing of information and “communication in all sorts of areas”, not least because “each area of a deployment may have specific needs when it comes to streaming and transport protocols, centralised video management and global content security”.

Ramachandiran neatly summarises the primary crux of the matter here, given that “AV and IT are merging very fast and the new AV products that are being introduced in the market are supporting IP. AV practitioners need to be familiar with IT, and IT practitioners need to be familiar with AV.”

But like many other observers, Ramachandiran feels this could be great news for service providers and vendors, heralding as it may “interesting new opportunities for business growth, with new products that will address existing and new problems. In addition, such integrated solutions may collect a lot of data which will lead to big data analysis solutions.”

Without a doubt it is a singularly eventful time in the evolution of networked systems. The rate of adoption of networked AV from the smallest-scale deployments to the largest concert halls and conference centres has taken all but the most optimistic of observers by surprise. Now as AV and IT networks draw closer together, and as video greatly increases the volume of traffic, the greatest challenge will reside in ensuring that networks remain manageable and flexible – the two ‘base’ requirements that arguably instigated the growth of AV networking in the first place.