Avoiding “A Failure to Communicate” to IT

I recently read a blog in one of the other AV trade publications that left me scratching my head.  It was meant to be a primer for our industry in learning the language of our IT counterparts, and as the subject is something I think is very important for us to continue learning about, I opened it.

The article was rudimentary at best and disappointing at the least.  It seemed that the author either severely underestimated the existing knowledge base of the audience or didn’t really take the subject very seriously.  I was surprised at that given his intelligence and pedigree in the industry.  Maybe he was asked to aim low by the editor, I’m not sure.

It seemed somewhat dangerous in that the uninitiated may read the piece, realize they know all these terms already, and then feel confident enough to walk into a meeting where the CIO of their potential customer’s company is sitting at the end of the table.  That may not go as well as they thought.

Based on that scenario, the glossary he created left me thinking he missed a couple terms

Security- Who the CIO will call to escort you out of the building if this is your idea of “knowing IT”.

Mouse- What you’ll be chasing around the facility with a broom in your new role after the IT guys run you out of business.

Keyboard- Where you will hang your gigantic ring of keys after your shiftfailure to comm.

Seriously though, this subject is extremely important and I feel if someone makes the investment in clicking through one of my posts, I should make sure I am offering some value.

If we really want to be having IT discussions, we should be well versed in more than basic terminology.  

Everyone has heard of gigabit ethernet, but not everyone knows that just because a gigabit ethernet switch has 48 ports it may not be able to support 48 gigabits of simultaneous throughput.

Managed switches are important not just because you can use them to segment the network into separate VLANs for traffic and security purposes, but because you can adjust them to provide different security and QOS (Quality of Service) levels to whole blocks of ports on the switch.

You can also adjust managed switches to optimize data transmission based on the type of data being transmitted by doing packet or traffic marking of the data through the use of DiffServ (Differentiated Service).  Assigning different types of traffic like voice, video, data a DSCP (Differentiated Service Code Point) can make sure that a company’s VTC stream gets high priority and “low-latency” service while other employees’ web searches may be treated in a “best-effort” protocol to not use any more bandwidth than necessary on the switch itself.

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Sure we need to know the terms streams and bandwidth, but in a way that we can explain how we make sure that we know how to explain how our streams will be managed to most effectively use the available bandwidth, both from an ISP perspective and from a switch fabric perspective.

There is also a pending shake up in the AV/IT world based on the introduction of IPv6.  IPv6 is essentially a whole new address system for the internet, as we will run out of addresses in the current IPv4 addressing scheme.  The main issue being that IPv6 equipment will not be backward compatible to assure communication with IPv4 equipment.  IPv6 has some advantages too in that it has intrinsic support for packet encryption and authentication meaning in theory you could use those features to replace the functionality of a VPN.  (Kudos to InfoComm for offering a whitepaper on this)

Codecs (compressor-decompressor) can be based in hardware or software or both.  Free programs like VLC player on your PC/laptop can actually be used as a decompressor at locations where you only need to receive data and decompress it for viewing, eliminating receiver-side boxes for displays.

This is just a small collection of the terms and things we need to know to have valuable conversations in today’s world of AV/IT.  Then there is another whole set of terms surrounding security for managing and securing mobile and BYOD devices on the network as well.

Even if we are not configuring the switches ourselves, being able to demonstrate this type of knowledge builds our credibility with our potential customers and shows we understand how our equipment affects their world.

Our role needs to be one of a trusted adviser and that position is earned.  We earn it by going above and beyond the perfunctory terms we learned when buying our home internet service and setting up our PC, and by showing not only that we know the terms themselves, but why they are important and how we use that knowledge in our system designs and implementations.

So lets make sure that we up our game as an industry and commit to knowing more than our cable guy.  Otherwise, we may just find that we lose jobs to the guys who did make the efforts.