In our Tech Talks series, we speak with the industry professionals here at HARMAN about the unique technological challenges our customers face. For today’s Tech Talk, we spoke with Troy Trujillo, Senior Manager, Air Force Programs. Troy, whose educational background is in electrical engineering, was in the US Air Force for seven years in Satellite Command and Control, where he worked in ground network acquisitions. It was Troy’s job to bring in the latest technology to facilitate communications with US satellites. Troy left the Air Force as a Captain. He eventually joined HARMAN, where he now works with customers in the Air Force and intelligence communities.
I reached out Troy to talk with us about the topic of “mission critical AV.” These sophisticated systems require constant uptime and rigorous quality and security, and I wanted to speak with Troy about what exactly that meant.
[SKD] Security and quality are important in any technology installation. How is a “mission critical” application different in that regard, and what are some of the unique challenges?
Let’s take the example of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). In an EOC, whether that’s at an Air Force base or in a civilian institution, the purpose is to bring leadership down and make decisions based upon real-time information that is happening right now. Mission critical applications involve the real-time distribution of video information from the field (sensors, handheld cameras, cellphones, etc.) back to the person in charge, so the commander, police chief, etc., can make real assessments of what’s going on based upon the video they are bringing into the system.
The aspect that makes a system like this “mission critical” is that you can’t take the system down for repair and have the location be without the device for several days—or even one day—while it’s being fixed. If you have a repair situation, it can take several days to send the device off, get it fixed, and send it back, and that just can’t happen in a mission critical application. That’s why you need a system that is designed to be easily repaired in the field. That’s a nice thing about the AMX Enova DGX 100 Series—it’s very modular. So, in the field once it’s deployed into a classified location or operational location, if you need to make changes to a power supply, for example, you can replace it without bringing the entire switch down, because there are redundant power supplies. The same is true with the input/output cards. The cards are hot swappable, so if you need to update or replace a card, you can do that without turning the switch off, and the device is smart enough to know what card is going in. This allows the location to take care of itself for identifiable hardware failures that could be repaired by a simple spare.
[SKD] What else makes mission-critical applications different from normal ones, and how does that change what kinds of solutions you would select rather than a normal application?
Mission critical means there will be a severe impact to health and safety of people and property without that information getting from source to destination—whether that destination is video on a screen or audio from a speaker—so people understand what’s going on. Life safety issues are typically involved with mission critical applications, which is why you can’t really take the system down for repair and have everyone in the dark while you work on it. When you have a consumer application like a home theater system—or even a commercial application like a meeting room—and something goes down, then there certainly is some consternation. You don’t get to watch the movie or the meeting doesn’t take place, and no one wants that to happen, but nobody is going to die. That’s why mission critical applications focus so much on modular, hot-swappable systems. Of course, constant uptime is important in some commercial applications as well, so it’s nice that HARMAN has redundant, modular systems for those commercial customers who need them.
However, the most important part of a technology solution, be it for commercial customers or for mission-critical applications, is that it is reliable and high quality. If it’s hot swappable and up all the time, but still spitting out garbage, that’s not good enough. It needs to be high quality, so you can trust that the quality of the video and the audio will be good—and that the system won’t be failing all the time.
[SKD] So how can customers know something is high quality? What should they look for in a manufacturer to help them identify quality products that they can trust?
The lifetime warranty we offer on our DGX video switches gives faith to the customer that we stand behind our product. We wouldn’t have that kind of warranty if we didn’t think our product was good. So, we’re standing behind our product and saying, “As long as we make this product, and for five years after we stop making the product, we’ll guarantee it. If something goes down on the switch, we’ll come in and replace that for you.” That gives the customer the confidence to put in a system that will last for many years, because when you put in a mission critical system, you can’t be coming in every couple years and replacing major components. That thing needs to be up and running all the time. That’s the confidence we give to our customers. When they put in our solution, they know it’s rock solid.
At HARMAN Professional Solutions, we’re the experts. We’ve been doing this for 70 years, and we make total system solutions. We provide video distribution and control, as well as the audio processing, networked audio distribution, amplification and output by high quality speakers. So, in effect, we provide the entire ecosystem for a conference room, auditorium or training room. We give the end users one manufacturer to deal with, and we make it easier for our integrators to provide a solution, because we share our intellectual property with the different devices, so things work very nicely together. And, over time, we’ll see even more integration, making it even easier to install complex systems and provide high-quality solutions that are backed by a Fortune 500 company. That really speaks to the quality of the solution you get, and it’s something that’s very appealing to our government customers.
[SKD] What about security? I know security is one of those vague words that can mean a lot of different things, but taking all those meanings into account, how important is security to mission critical applications, and how does AV technology address those concerns?
Cyber security is a very high concern in mission critical applications, especially now that there have been several high-profile cyber attacks in the news. We’ve done a lot of work in our control systems to ensure we have a number of defenses in place so that it is very difficult to hack. Technically, nothing is impossible to hack, but we put significant defenses in place to make it as difficult to do as possible. The confidence we provide to our customers and their engineers have led them to say that ours is the best system available right now by far.
[SKD] What are some of the security features that the HARMAN solution has that the customers find so valuable?
As an example, we have a system in a major command and control facility that has standardized on the Enova DGX due in large part to the AMX NX Series control processor that is built into it. They did that because of a lot of work that we’ve put in regarding security features in the NX platform. For example, the NX platform can be integrated into standardized systems with LDAP for logging into the device. This not only verifies the identity of the person logging in, but also determines what level of access you have. We also provide support for standardized logging using Syslog, which can track user actions, password failures, etc., so there is a record of actions on the device. There is even a dual NIC integrated into the system, which lets you use one network connection to access the wider network and the other network connection to connect your AV devices. That way, none of your AV devices are directly connected to the network, but they can still be centrally monitored and managed. There are a number of other features as well, and these allow the device to run securely and in a standardized way on an enterprise network.
[SKD] Now, features like Syslog and Dual NIC are obviously fairly standard IT features, but on an AV device, they’re more unique. Explain that.
Traditionally, AV didn’t have those kinds of IT security standards, because everyone put AV in an isolated network. This prevents access from the outside, which makes it secure, but it also completely isolates that room. Any activities going on in that room stay in that room. You have to be in the room to see the video, hear the conversation, etc. And you can’t centrally monitor those rooms, because they aren’t connected to the network. With the new securities in the NX platform, you can now take advantage of the network. You keep the content and devices secure, but you can still connect your rooms together for monitoring as well as sharing video back and forth using networked AV.
I would like to extend a big thank you to Troy for taking time to speak with us today. His insight into mission critical systems are invaluable.
Do you have experience with deploying AV in mission-critical applications? Share your thoughts in the comments.