InfoComm: Education Preview: Networked AV Systems

This article was reprinted with permission from InfoComm International and originally appeared here.

“If you’re not already well versed in computer networking, you better get versed — and quickly,” explains Dan Fulmer, CTS, president of FulTech Solutions. “The AV world has changed, and for some of us, the basics aren’t enough.”

The crux of that change is the fact that AV systems increasingly utilize enterprise IP networks — the same networks that already carry mission-critical voice, data and other information. Those networks, however, and the switches, routers, firewalls and other components they comprise, weren’t necessarily designed with real-time delivery of audiovisual content in mind. Without an in-depth understanding of IP networks and the way AV applications operate within them, there’s a real chance that what a customer expects to experience won’t match what they ultimately see and hear. Not to mention the havoc that improperly configured AV devices might wreak on the network itself.

InfoComm University currently offers a pair of popular courses in its IT education track. Essentials of AV Technology for the IT Professional and Elements of Design were created to help IT professionals and others understand the basics of AV systems and systems design. But given the pace of technology advancement and the speed with which AV and IT have come together on IP networks, it’s clear that most networked AV applications go beyond basic education.

“With guidance from InfoComm’s Professional Education and Training Committee, it became increasingly obvious that the industry needed more advanced training in how to deal with the impact of audiovisual applications on enterprise networks,” says Melissa Taggart, InfoComm senior vice president of education and certification.

Networked AV Systems (NET212), an intermediate to advanced three-day course, was more than a year in the making. It’s been audited and honed by InfoComm’s education experts and instructors, as well as real-world AV and IT professionals. The brand-new class debuts this June at InfoComm 2012 in Las Vegas, but fair warning: it is not for the uninitiated.

“The subject matter experts who developed the course determined that the audience needed a CTS-level understanding of AV technologies and design principles, and a CompTIA Network + level understanding of networking technologies and design principles,” Taggart says. InfoComm instructors hold Network + certifications, and although there is no official prerequisite for the course, InfoComm has prepared a 40-question pretest [PDF] that prospective students should take before signing up.

At the end of three days, students who take Networked AV Systems will understand that the best way to ensure applications such as digital signage, streaming media, videoconferencing and telepresence create the optimal experience with as little network impact as possible is to hash things out between AV and IT early in the design. Some of it’s a question of technology, namely the network equipment required to meet enterprise requirements and the capabilities of IP-based AV devices for achieving reliability and interoperability. From there, successful networked AV design comes down to detail:

  • How much bandwidth will the AV system consume?
  • How can we reduce the bandwidth consumption if necessary?
  • What ports, protocols and other network configurations must be enabled to make the AV system work?
  • What threats might the AV system might pose to network security and stability?

And most importantly, what kind of quality can a user reasonably expect given the AV application and the network environment?

The Networked AV Systems course is built around real-world applications that clients want today, and the way AV and IT technologies must be coordinated to create the best experience. For example, a section on streaming media applications kicks off with an assessment process. Does the customer need to be able to respond to the streaming media in real-time? Will any delay in media delivery undermine the application’s purpose? The answers to these questions lead to issues of bandwidth, latency and Quality of Service, among others. From there, students learn the optimal network environment for reliably delivering the streaming service.

“Most of what we teach in the new course is to ensure AV systems can meet service level agreements,” Taggart says.

IT departments and IT service providers succeed and fail based on service level agreements (SLAs), which basically spell out the minimum performance, availability, response time, support, and capability that users should expect of their systems. AV applications, because of the workload they may place on networks, can impact SLAs if AV and IT professionals don’t plan accordingly.

Networked AV Systems follows the process of matching AV and networking technologies to customer needs for digital signage, conferencing, remote monitoring and management, and networked AV security. It goes through the planning for three fictional companies, each with its unique requirements.

Security, in particular, isn’t something most AV integrators have had to worry about in the past. But when AV systems touch an enterprise network, they may introduce security risks. It’s important to identify those risks during the system design and follow best practices to mitigate them.

“Students are going to learn how to glean customer needs, to manage trade-offs between quality and bandwidth, and to work through the sometimes conflicting needs of customers and network managers,” Taggart explains.

In the end, through better coordination among clients, IT professionals, and AV designers, network-based AV systems can deliver the kind of communication experience that benefits everyone.

If you’re not attending InfoComm 2012 in Las Vegas, or you can’t make it for the inaugural Networked AV Systems class, InfoComm University will be offering the three-day class at its Fairfax, Va., headquarters Sept. 10-13. Sign up now.