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Jan 24, 2013 3:57 PM, By Tim Kridel

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Cloud-based services are increasingly common in IT, and as more AV devices wind up on IP networks, it’s no surprise that applications such as digital signage and videoconferencing are migrating to cloud architectures, too. The move brings a lot of benefits, such as lower hardware costs and greater scalability, but it’s not without its pitfalls.

Clouds can use private infrastructure, public infrastructure—such as a data center that multiple customers share—or a combination of the two known as a “hybrid” architecture. One consideration is whether any or all of the content is confidential. For example, suppose that a federal government’s signage network needs to display weather and news headlines alongside internal-only information.

“If it’s federal-specific content that’s generated and hosted by a federal agency, then the data center has to be secure and certified by the government to be secure,” says Andy Vaughan, Haivision vice president of U.S. federal sales. “You can imaging Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss running around saying ‘Cloud! Cloud! Cloud!’ as if it’s all the same thing. You have to be looking at integrating information on a display that may be coming from two very different sources.”

That scenario also is an example of why it’s important to consider security early on in a cloud project. For some clients, poor security can be a deal-breaker. By 2016, 40 percent of enterprises will require prospective cloud providers to show proof of independent security testing, the research firm Gartner predicts.

Another reason to address security early and often is to avoid uncomfortable questions at the end of the project.

“Don’t run away from security,” Vaughan says. “Embrace it from the beginning of the project. Then when you invoice, they’re not hung up on something that you overlooked early on.”

Don’t Overlook Bandwidth Management and Redundancy

Although broadband technologies such as Ethernet keep getting faster, bandwidth isn’t free. So another important consideration is ensuring that cloud-based services use that bandwidth as efficiently as possible.

Depending on the application, it might make sense to cache content locally rather than having each display or other device get its own copy from the cloud. One example is a set of mandatory employee training videos that’s stored in the cloud for use by a dozen facilities. Instead of serving each video to each employee in each facility, the system could be configured to download a copy to a server at each facility for more cost-effective and potentially faster localaccess.

That strategy can be applied to a variety of other AV applications, and it’s particularly valuable when content has a shelf life. For example, if promos need to be pushed out to a retail signage network within a certain time frame, they shouldn’t miss that window due to an overloaded network connection.

“Engage with IT about who’s going to be pulling what and when, and build an intelligent architecture around that,” Vaughan says. “The cloud is great because it gets rid of the need to manage a bunch of servers on your premise. But if you’ve got 5,000 customers on your premises who want to watch the same thing at the same time, that’s 5,000 times however many streams. The next thing you know, the pipes are full.”

Another network consideration is reliability. If 100 percent uptime is a must-have, scrutinize how the data center connects to the outside world. For example, having a primary and backup connection from two different broadband providers might sound like ample redundancy. But do some homework. It’s common for one broadband provider to simply resell another’s network. In that case, a fiber cut would result in two apologies instead of uninterrupted connectivity.

The cloud also is yet another example of how AV traffic and devices are increasingly winding up on IP networks—and in turn why AV integrators need to add IT skills to remain relevant.

“For folks who do AV, two or three years from now, if you can’t explain how your installation is going to talk to a large IT infrastructure that’s both public and private, your competition probably will eat your lunch,” Vaughan says.

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