Everything On The Network
Like it or not, AV and IT increasingly share the same network. For AV pros, that's both a problem and an opportunity.
Hardly a week goes by without another press release announcing a networkable pro AV product, including loudspeakers, displays, and projectors. One reason is the wide availability of hardware, software, and enterprise networks based on Internet protocol (IP) technology. With that installed base, it's not surprising that more AV vendors and integrators are looking to leverage IP.
“Everything is moving to IP networks, and this trend will certainly continue,” says Dave Stoner, president and CEO of ViewCast, a Plano, TX-based maker of networked video products.
Money is a major driver of the convergence trend: It's usually cheaper to run multiple services — in this case, AV and IT — over the same network than it is to build or lease separate ones. Money is also one of at least two reasons why AV pros should care about convergence. The first is that it's already underway and won't be reversed, so it has to be accommodated. The second is that AV pros who learn to work in this new world are less likely to see their business suffer.
“Long-term prospects aren't looking great for custom AV system installers since the inevitable trend is toward everything on an IP network,” says Predrag Filipovic, senior analyst for multimedia and wireless networks at The Diffusion Group, a research firm based in Plano, TX. “That would eventually standardize equipment and communication, thus making AV integration far easier. Equipment can be much ‘smarter,' and thus less business for the integrators —and less appreciated in financial terms.”Know your networks
One obvious way for AV pros to leverage the convergence trend is by learning at least the basics of networking, such as the various network types and transport technologies.
“An example is being able to understand and configure IP-addressable routers,” says Gene Ornstead, director of advanced TV products at ViewSonic, Walnut, CA. “Some environments utilize Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), while others will require setting up specific static IP addresses.”
Speaking the language also helps build a rapport with the IT staff, improving the chances that you can get something — such as extra bandwidth for a videoconference — when you need it.
Training and certification by major IT vendors such as Cisco Systems and Microsoft are also worth considering — and not just because they add credibility in the eyes of the IT staff you're working with. “Since many of the AV components are based on various versions of Microsoft Windows, it will be necessary for AV pros to be able to manage Windows platforms,” Stoner says. “Microsoft and Cisco certifications will become essential to the AV professional's role.”
Knowing how networks work is also the first step toward managing and troubleshooting them. That expertise means problems get fixed faster than they would if an AV pro has to track down an IT tech to take care of it. “Having integrators use the network to make adjustments to equipment or be able to download control programming to fix a problem saves time for both the integrator and the IT support person,” says John Pfleiderer, video infrastructure and services coordinator at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
Integrators who can tinker under the network hood also have the potential to offer more value to their customers — and be able to charge accordingly. For example, not only are they better prepared to fix network-related problems, but they're also able to avoid many of them in the first place.