What IT Managers Need To Know About AV Over IP
While focused on creating buy-in from executives, integrators may miss the other major party whose objections can stall an AV over IP project: IT managers.
Often, this pushback results from IT’s specific position within a project. IT managers and staff have often put hundreds or thousands of hours into the installation, configuration and maintenance of their organization’s existing IT network. They know how bandwidth is used and for what purposes, and they’re concerned about the effect that adding audiovisual signals will have on the performance of their carefully constructed network.
While IT pushback can feel like a challenge, it offers an opportunity. Integrators who speak IT gain an ally who can spot particular problems and help to prevent or minimize them during installation.
Here, we discuss the most common IT manager objections to an AV over IP project and ways integrators can address them successfully.
We’re Working Here!: Install Times and System Disruptions
Whenever network service is down or simply slow, the IT staff are the first to hear about it — and often the ones who take the blame. As a result, many IT managers view any project that might further disrupt service with intense skepticism.
Integrators have several options for addressing concerns about installation times and system disruptions. First, consider offering IT staff and managers a brief explanation of why installation may not take as long as the IT department thinks, thanks to the department’s own existing efforts.
For example, UK distributor RGB recommends emphasizing the scalability of an AV over IP installation and its integration into existing networks. Encoders and decoders can be made to work together to facilitate as many AV connections as required. Because the system relies on already-installed CAT-5 or CAT-6 cabling, both installation time and disruption of the physical space are limited to the rooms in which AV readouts must be installed.
And because AV signals no longer degrade with distance or proximity to other technological or electrical components, integrators can do much of their work from centralized points, rather than crawling through an entire building, according to a Lightwave white paper.
In addition, Mersive Technologies recommends performing three basic network performance checks in the early stages of the process:
- WiFi coverage. Particularly when audio and video will be streamed over wireless devices, checking for strong WiFi signals in the space is essential.
- Ping test. Ping testing is a staple of IT work. Double-checking the speed at which packets of data reach various devices on the network can help integrators ensure video and audio will stream without latency.
- Network speed and bandwidth. While IT staff can provide specifications, a test of the actual system will help integrators determine how the existing network performs and what compression or other tools may be necessary to guarantee high-quality AV delivery.
Recruiting IT staff to assist with these checks can help them better understand the project. IT staff or managers may even be able to recommend specific tools or strategies for handling a space’s specific network performance quirks.
Despite integrators’ best efforts, some disruption may be inevitable. A well-planned schedule can help IT staff and other building occupants alike avoid temporary disruptions, as can the use of certain technologies.
Hannah Evans at Ford AV recommends considering the following solutions to manage technical disruptions both during installation and when the AV system is fully operational:
- Redundant power supplies. IT staff may already have a system in place or may be able to assist integrators in setting up a redundant power source, so that integrators can work safely without disrupting day to day operations.
- Projectors or displays. When providing information to visitors or staff is a must, existing projectors or displays may be useful in ensuring information is offered, even when the AV system’s installation or upgrade demands that other screens be temporarily offline.
- Technology assurance tools. System check-ups, remote monitoring and other information sent to IT readouts can keep IT staff in the loop during an install and make it easier for them to address or report system problems once installation is complete.
These tools can be particularly useful in what Evans calls “critical spaces,” such as hospitals and emergency centers, command centers, and security operations.
Finally, David Webster at RGB recommends discussing bandwidth availability with IT staff well in advance and preparing several options for addressing video transmission over 1 Gb systems, particularly if an upgrade to a 10 Gb system is not within the client’s scope or budget. Doing so will help alleviate another significant IT manager concern: capacity and performance.
Can IT Handle It?: Capacity, Performance and Maintenance
In the past, AV and IP were separate systems because “the application requirements [of AV] demanded more than the IP networks could provide,” AptoVision strategic and technical marketing director Justin Kennington explained to Installation International. “Pro AV frequently demands zero latency and zero artefacts.”
Many IT managers are familiar with these problems — and unfamiliar with how advances in IP technologies have rendered them obsolete in the past few years. Integrators may need to offer a brief explanation of how tools like 10Gb networks and Ethernet make difficulties with capacity, performance and maintenance of pro AV over IP a thing of the past.
Capacity and Performance
When faced with the prospect of sending audio and video over their organization’s existing LAN, many IT managers raise concerns about latency, or lag.
Not long ago, these concerns were real and persistent. The proliferation of proprietary, dedicated AV equipment and systems in previous decades had much to do with the need to send and display audiovisual information without lag.
Today, however, audiovisual information can travel along IP networks with the same freedom as other types of data. However, “most vendors using standard IP mediums apply some form of compression to the source audiovisual information so that the use of data networks can be properly leveraged,” notes Matrox’s Samuel Recine, speaking to AVNetwork.
Options like virtual signal paths can also reduce latency and alleviate the “drag” on the existing LAN, Core Brandsmarketing manager Chris Bundy tells AVNetwork.
IT managers often raise concerns about sending high-quality video over IP systems. Without the use of compression tools, sending uncompressed video over a network is ordinarily beyond the network’s capabilities, particularly if video is being sent to multiple output devices. And in the past, compression codecs were often proprietary, buggy, ineffective or all of the above.
Here, a crash course in state of the art compression can benefit both IT staff and integrators. For instance, as Solutionz notes, transmission standards like HDMI, DVI and SPI allow video to deliver 1080p images at 10 or 20 Mbps — offering high-quality video at speeds that won’t bog down the network.
When discussing capacity and performance, be clear on your terms. For instance, many people use the terms “audio over IP” (AoIP) and “audio over Ethernet” (AoE) interchangeably, but the two differ in key ways, Amanda Roe of Biamptells AVNetwork. By clarifying which is anticipated in a proposed project, integrators can more easily address specific IT department concerns about network capacity and performance.
Audio and AV over IP are becoming standard due to the flexibility and standardization offered by IP infrastructures, according to Aurora Multimedia CEO Paul Harris. Now that IP-based delivery methods are up to the task of streaming high-quality audio and video, “the beauty of IP is there are many ways to achieve the goal,” Harris tells AVNetwork.
Even in an ideal AV over IP system setup, IT staff may raise concerns about an addition to their workload. “The shift [to AV over IP] means that the IT department of any reasonably sized enterprise … is now ultimately responsible for the implementation and management of the AV systems within the environment,” states an Audinate white paper.
In some cases, integrators will need to work with IT in order to install and troubleshoot AV over IP systems. Some proprietary hardware and switching, like HDBaseT, still appears in AV builds and may need to stay in place in order to address the constraints of space, existing hardware or budgets.
While IT staff won’t need to be experts on AV, integrators can help address this concern by offering the training IT staff will need to handle day to day decisions — and to know when to call their integrator or another AV specialist source for help.
Say Hello to the Future
While IT managers may have initial concerns, gaining their buy-in for an integration project is often not as difficult as it first appears.
As Ian McMurray notes at Installation International, the industry is experiencing a sea change right now. AV over IP adoption is driven by the ubiquitous nature of TCP/IP, their flexibility in the treatment of data and the drive for seamless device interaction.
Both integrators and IT professionals have the best interests of their end-users in mind, and AV over IP is the “simple solution” these users seek, David Margolin, marketing director at Kramer, tells McMurray. By addressing the most common IT department concerns and focusing on ease of use, integrators can convince IT managers that they are on the same team — and can achieve more effective goals.
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