The convergence of AV and IT has gathered speed over recent years and using the network as a transmission medium for video and audio is now commonplace. One aspect of this technology that is still causing some confusion, is the subject of ownership and accountability. In order to provide a smooth design, installation, commissioning, and support process, ownership and accountability must be established at the beginning of the process. Determining the proper owner of the network will be influenced greatly by whether the network design is ‘Converged’ or ‘Isolated’.
In a converged network design, all IT services, including voice, data, and video, are delivered on the same network. This provides some considerable benefits to both the customer and system integrator, as the customer’s IT department will take full ownership of all aspects of the design, installation, and commissioning of the AV network. This is often the preferred option as many IT departments are required to take ownership of any network equipment belonging to the organisation. This means that they are likely to use their preferred make and model of network switch rather than anything recommended to them. Using a converged network can also include cost benefits, especially if the existing network can carry video traffic with minimal changes to the infrastructure.
To ensure that the IT department provides a suitably designed and capable network, it is important that the AV integrator have a good understanding of network architecture and the requirements of the NAV hardware. By including the hardware manufacturer in these discussions, many of the initial concerns and pitfalls can be avoided, but this is always in an advisory capacity as the network ultimately belongs to the customer, and they will design the network in accordance with their own policies. In the case of a truly converged network, understanding the bandwidth requirements is paramount to ensuring that multicast traffic does not have any adverse effect on other parts of the network.
When considering a converged network, it’s important for the IT department to ensure that pre-existing IT policies applied to the network ports do not conflict with the requirements of the NAV system. This can be anything from the use of QOS policies to settings within IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) or PIM (Protocol Independent Multicast). These may cause unforeseen issues that can be difficult to diagnose.
When sourcing issues of any networked AV system, examining the network configuration is always a good place to start. This type of solution will require good communication between the AV and IT staff to ensure that they remain accountable for their own aspects of the design and commissioning process. It’s vitally important for this to be a partnership between AV and IT to avoid each party blaming the other when there’s an issue.
Whether or not to use a converged network is always a choice that customers will have to make as it is “their network”.
This method of network design is often the first choice as it avoids overlap with any other IT services that the customer may use. It also allows the system integrator to provide a full turnkey solution without having to rely on any external partners. Without third-party involvement, the integrator will be able to provide equipment that they are fully conversant with. This means that they remain in full control of the project and can accept full accountability for all aspects of design, installation, commissioning, and ongoing support. This is a great benefit to the customer as the support path is very clear.
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For this to be a smooth process, the integrator will need to be fully trained on all the equipment being installed, including all aspects of the network solution they have selected. This is becoming easier with network hardware manufacturers beginning to provide switches specifically designed to be used with networked AV systems, using simple graphic configuration and plug-and-play functionality.
There is still a temptation in some cases, however, to attempt to defer some aspects of design and commissioning to the hardware manufacturer themselves. Support is always available at every stage of the project, but accountability must always remain with the system integrator to avoid support issues along the way. This is why AMX’s comprehensive networked AV training programs have been designed to give AV system integrators the skills necessary to not only design and commission AV networks, but also to diagnose issues and configuration errors when they arise.
One of the most important factors to consider in any network-based system is security. Although network security risks are reduced when using an isolated network, they can never be removed altogether. Care should be taken to ensure that the isolated network is as secure as possible, and the onsite IT department should always be consulted so that they can ensure any risks are minimised and mitigated. The level and complexity of cyber-attacks is increasing every year, and no one should be complacent when it comes to IT security.
Although the stand-alone network may seem like an obvious choice, the full scope of the project, including future expansion and potential requirements, should be carefully considered. What begins life as a straightforward project that could be visualised in terms of a traditional matrix, can rapidly expand, and introduce complications that may not have been considered earlier in the project. This expansion could involve complex network configuration that goes beyond the capabilities of the integrator, so it’s key that they have network skills in place and access to adequate support.
There is another option…
An isolated network, by its very definition, cannot touch the corporate network at any point, but there is a third, often overlooked option that is growing in popularity. In a hybrid network, the AV network is designed, installed, and maintained by the AV system integrator, but the corporate network and onsite IT department provide some of the services required.
There is still a clear definition between the two networks but services such as internet, Wi-Fi and remote access can be the responsibility of the local IT support team. This avoids duplication of services that can cause additional costs and issues. Having a separate Wi-Fi system for example, can seem like a good idea, but too much Wi-Fi is rarely a good thing and generally causes needless RF interference. Another security benefit of hybrid systems is external access management by the IT department. As long as the AV network is secure, this considerably reduces the risk of cyber-attack.
This format provides two clearly defined areas of accountability, with the AV system integrator taking responsibility for all aspects of the AV network, and the local IT team continuing to manage and support the corporate network. This offers a ‘best of both worlds’ solution to the question of ‘Converged’ or ‘Isolated’.
Whichever format is chosen, the technical support and design teams at AMX are ready to assist customers in determining the best solution for their unique application.
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