Dec 21, 2010 5:31 PM, Provided by InfoComm International
Cloud computing is a term that the AV industry is hearing more often these days, especially as cloud-based services are making appearances in both commercial and residential AV installs. Part of the popularity of interacting in “the cloud” is due to the rise in easy-to-use services such as Dropbox, Google Docs, and Gmail&emdashall of which provide a high comfort level to a wide audience. As a result, cloud computing and cloud AV is becoming part of daily modern life.
“The most simple user experience in the cloud is streaming Internet radio. You can be in any location and listen to a radio station online that may be inaccessible by traditional means, but by streaming from the cloud, you can get to a radio station from any country,” says Tom Cullen, cofounder of Sonos.
In recent months, the AV industry has seen a rapid rise in the number of new or updated cloud-based products and services. While these types of products still count as a small portion of the overall AV market, this trend should serve as a warning signal that a change is happening that will affect infrastructure design and system implementation.
“From an infrastructure point of view, the biggest change in AV system design in the last five years is that AV products need an Ethernet switch nearby,” Cullen says. “AV professionals have become IT and infrastructure experts so that customers can access cloud-based services over reliable, high-bandwidth connections.”
And because the cloud means that there is no need to maintain a network disk drive or a multidisc CD changer, the customer has a disconnected relationship to the distance traveled or the complexity of receiving the content. “The customer just sees that magically clean, seamless AV install with loudspeakers and a touchscreen control,” he says.
Cloud AV is also reaching into the education and corporate markets. “Cloud products and services are becoming more popular because budgets are shrinking; the $100,000 classroom or meeting room is gone. And if a client is spending that kind of money, then they want cables off the tables,” says Joe Manning, president of Wow Vision.
Wow Vision manufactures a wireless solution for multiple PC and Mac users to share, collaborate on, and present content on a single projector or display. “Our model is the reverse of digital signage. Instead of one computer displaying to 100 screens, we enable virtually an unlimited number of users to display their desktop on one screen,” he says.
Wow Vision’s products change the traditional install paradigm for the AV integrator. The company’s wireless unit sits next to the projector and needs an audio cable from the sound system, a network cable, and a video cable connected to the projector. Students download a thin client from a specific IP address to access their content and shared services.
Manning says that his product reduces costs for equipment racks, cables, switchers, and routers. That may seem like taking money away from the AV integrator’s sales and value-add services, but he doesn’t think so. “Once the customer sees the benefit, they will want this install in every room rather than in just a few rooms. Instead of a small percentage of networked classrooms at a university, they can expand the number of interactive classrooms across the entire campus. This ultimately gives more business to the integrator. It is profitable business for the integrator, and because there are no ongoing licensing fees, it is more cost effective in the long run for the university,” he says.
Howard D. Smith, chief technology officer for Dynamax Technologies, agrees that cloud-based products and services aren’t taking away sales from the reseller/integrator. Instead, the cloud is shifting the business model to a longer-term view. Dynamax offers its software-as-a-service (SaaS) digital signage platform, a cloud-based service with no license fees. Instead, clients sign a contract for monthly subscription fees.
“The SaaS market is all about customer acquisition. A reseller sees 20 percent to 30 percent commission on $10 per month and thinks you just killed his cash flow. He’s used to selling an $800 software license, which means more money up front,” Smith says. “Resellers get scared when looking at $10 per month, but that’s based on a three-year subscription upfront and a renewal at the end of the contract. It doesn’t take money away from them; it changes the way the reseller sells.”
Smith thinks that the popularity of the cloud is due to people and companies who are reluctant to maintain their own servers or disk drives. SaaS and other cloud-based solutions eliminate the need to hire IT staff, upgrade a server, or back up the data. “Even large companies are attracted to cloud-based solutions, especially since the cloud moves AV and IT from a capital expenditure to an operational expenditure,” he says. “So instead of worrying about a server failure, the AV reseller/integrator can focus on helping the customer with their content strategy and offer best-practice consulting or content packages as a value-add.”
Smith also says that the cloud-based AV model doesn’t omit the integrator since the customer always needs help installing the display or projector, or needs advice on content management.
This is a summary of InfoComm’s new special report on cloud AV. To read it in its entirety, visit www.infocomm.org/specialreports.
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