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Season 2, Episode 6 – AV/IT Convergence: A Ghost in the Machine
On the surface, building separate networks for AV and IT may seem like the easy choice. End users see risk in adding AV functionality to their IT network. AV integrators are fearful of interacting with the client’s IT network. But there are hidden risks in installing these shadow networks. Who owns them? Who is responsible for security on them? And who is monitoring and managing them to ensure reliability? Our guest Pete ‘TEC MAN’ Coman argues that keeping AV and IT separate is ultimately holding back the AV industry by enabling products that don’t meet modern infosec requirements. He claims we should be focusing on building products that IT will welcome onto their network, so we can enjoy true convergence. Is this a world that we as an industry are prepared to embrace? Or are we too stuck in our proprietary old ways? Tune in to find out!
Pete ‘Tec Man’ Coman
Justin Kennington (00:00):
Hello. Hello again, everybody. Hello, and welcome to SDVoE Live. I’m your host, Justin Kennington, and this, everything you see right here, this is TV for pro AV. We have, I think one of the most interesting topics of the season so far on the show. Our guest is going to be Pete “The Tec Man” Coman. So it’s got to be good. And look at his name, it actually says Tec Man in there or something. It’s kind of cool, actually. Hi Pete, if you’re watching. I hope you’re watching. Oh God, what if he didn’t come? I’m sure he’ll be here. We’re going to be talking about AV and IT convergence. I get this question a lot, just in a pure SDVoE context at a trade show, in an email, people ask me, “Should I build my AV over IP system as a standalone network? Or should I build my AV over IP system as part of the IT network?”
So we’re going to talk a little bit with Pete about which one of those you should do. Maybe you should do one sometimes, maybe some the other. But there’s actually some really sort of hidden considerations that I think are going to come out in this conversation. It should be very interesting to watch. So stick around, and we’ll be with Pete in just a few minutes. We have an aftershow today. And so that means if you have a question now, if you have a question during the interview, get it to us, firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be with Pete, with Matt Dodd, in the aftershow, answering your questions live right there.
Also, those of you joining us in the SDVoE Academy, those of you joining us on the launch platform from Rave, look right down below my feet and you’ll find the chat box, or actually, I guess if you’re on the Academy, you have to click the launch the chat button first, and then it’ll be down there below my feet. Chat with your fellow audience members and bring questions to us. We’ve got moderators in the chat who can help answer some of your questions, but they’ll also get those questions to us right here on the show so that we can answer them live with our guest.
So stick around for that aftershow. You’re going to have a really easy time finding it. After we finish this show, the credits roll, all you have to do, write this down, all you have to do is sit right there. Don’t touch anything. And the aftershow will start right at 1:30 PM in the Eastern time zone, or about 27 and a half minutes from now in your time zone. So get us your questions. And without any further ado, we’re going to throw it to a quiz before we go see Matt. Let’s see the quiz.
Hotline central. You all know this. You all love this, right? This is where we check for your questions. Matt, are you there?
Matt Dodd (03:00):
Justin Kennington (03:01):
Hello, Matt. Good to see you. You’re looking fresh today.
Matt Dodd (03:05):
Oh, well, I’m trying to, trying to keep fresh as always. And hello to you all out there, as well. Thanks for coming back and seeing us again. Got a great show for you today. Got a team of moderators, all ready to take your questions. The Tec Man is here to explain AV and IT convergence, very important. So get your questions in. Ask Justin and Pete live here in the show. Get your comments and questions into email at email@example.com. You need to send us these.
There’s a chat window somewhere down here as well, for those of you in Academy. So use that as well, but give us your feedback, too. Questions, comments to us here live, or any feedback on the show. We want to hear from you. And actually Justin, we’ve had a question already from Bill, Bill Zane from Omaha in Nebraska. He asked, “How do I connect an AV network to the internet if it’s not connected to the IT network?” A good question, I think.
Justin Kennington (04:03):
Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. We’ll find out. We’ll ask Pete about that.
Matt Dodd (04:06):
The Tec Man.
Justin Kennington (04:06):
Good stuff. Well, thank you. Thank you, Bill. Matt, did you mention that we’re taking questions? He did. He did.
Matt Dodd (04:12):
I might have done.
Justin Kennington (04:13):
Matt Dodd (04:14):
Or the chat window. It’s down here. Get them over to us. We can’t ask-
Justin Kennington (04:19):
Matt, get out of the hotlines. Get out of the hotlines. Get in here.
Matt Dodd (04:21):
I’ll get in there.
Justin Kennington (04:23):
Let’s check out some news. Come see me, come see me.
Matt Dodd (04:45):
Ah, here we are again. Where’s the tree? The Christmas tree’s gone.
Justin Kennington (04:45):
Matt Dodd (04:45):
Justin Kennington (04:51):
It’s a new year, and we’re putting all that behind us. We’ll have no more cheer, no more gaiety, no more excitement. Now, this year we’re getting down to business.
Matt Dodd (05:00):
2022 is exactly where it’s at, and let’s start it here and right now with some news. So you’ve thrown some fab news items in here. The first one, the benefits of cloud-based AV management. It summarizes how cloud-based services have been embraced in recent times. IT staff need to work smarter when delivering support to more and more companies, without the cost and the delay of actually getting to site. It’s a great piece.
I took quite a lot away from this, especially with AV network management configuration, and even operation. People can actually control and look after and manage a whole system without having to be there. But these recent changes that are being thrust upon us, which is the way we say it, have played a role in speeding this adoption up. And this article really does go into great detail. Justin, what were your takeaways from this?
Justin Kennington (06:05):
Yeah, I think for me the big message from the article was the way that system integrators are advised to take strong advantage of this, because of the advantages it gives to them, the ability to help manage and maintain your customer’s AV systems without having to roll a truck every time, right? Or if you’re the end user, if you’re in charge of maintaining the rooms, if you’re in charge of training, you don’t have to be in the room with the user any time something goes wrong. You get to use these cloud-based services to alert your staff before something goes wrong.
And there’s so many ways, I know that I personally, I’m big in the smart home world. I like all that stuff. I like all the cloud-based things that I have in my home. I’ve got cloud-based cameras on the house. I’ve got a cloud-based doorbell. I guess that’s also a camera. I don’t know what else I have, but I’ve got all sorts of cloud stuff and I love it because when I’m away from home, I can understand what’s going on. I can say, oh, let’s check the thermostat and make sure that it’s not too cold, because it’s freezing outside here today. And I like that.
And I think that the AV end customer benefits from that. They benefit in cost savings, but then the integrator gets new things. This is a funny way to say it. They get new things to sell. I just said the end user’s going to save money and the integrator gets to sell more, but that’s really kind of the truth here, just because there are efficiencies gained. So I think it’s something we need to embrace, and this is going to play in. We’re going to talk to it in fact, kind of what was it, Bill from Omaha asked about connecting these broken off separate networks to the internet. Well, you’re going to have to connect to the internet if you want to take advantage of these cloud solutions. So there’s kind of some interactivity there.
Matt Dodd (07:48):
It does also include a section, which I think is important, about the security considerations of cloud-based services. And while it’s been widely adopted, it’s that easy to click a button and off you go, it still requires that essential basic knowledge of networking to make sure that the right discussions are taking place with IT people. It’s not just as simple as saying, “Oh, it’s easy peasy. We can control all of our AV system. No problem. All cloud-based. Don’t worry about it, Mr. Customer.” They do worry about it. It’s important. So this isn’t an easy way out for, hey, I don’t need to know about this stuff. It’s all done for me. It isn’t. There’s still an essential part to play for having the right education. Wouldn’t you agree?
Justin Kennington (08:32):
Well, I totally agree. And I’ll say that that’s a fantastic segue to our next piece, but before we go there, I wanted to ask our audience, I know, I said segue, it’s my fault. We’re headed to here, but I want to ask our audience, have you tried cloud-based AV? Have you had experience with us? Drop us a note, put it in the chat, tell us what it’s been like.
But yeah, Matt, your point is exactly right. Just because these tools make things simple doesn’t excuse the AV integrator from having to learn not only about the tools themselves, but a little bit about how they work. And that’s really what this next article from Rachel Harris talks about in it. She herself is a live stream operator, and what she’s talking about is look, there are great tools that make live streaming of events possible, and even simple, right?
And on the good days, when things go right, you click a couple of buttons, you get your screen set up, and everything goes well, but what about what happens when things go wrong, and better than that, better than asking what do we do when something goes wrong, is asking how can we be prepared and ensure that things won’t go wrong? And both of those kind of questions mean you need to have some under the hood knowledge to be able to dig in, to understand the concepts that underlie these tools and use that knowledge to prepare yourself to build reliable working systems. Matt, what did you think of the piece?
Matt Dodd (09:58):
Well yeah, to follow on from that, don’t forget that IT people are now learning about AV. They’re educating themselves about AV. It’s there. The convergence is happening. So therefore we need to make sure from an AV perspective that we’re learning about IT. And it does a really good job of raising this point inside this article. It also suggests, which I really liked about this, that troubleshooting is actually an excellent learning experience. Being able to take on board the issues that may arise, maybe it’s from an IT perspective, but rather than just handing it over to the IT guy that knows about it, it’s a case of learning about it yourself and troubleshooting it yourself.
And that’s what the IT guys need to see from us. The convergence isn’t just technical. The convergence, Justin, for me is also a personnel thing. It’s the convergence of IT and AV personnel to make the system work for the client properly. And IT teams may still see AV conversions as a bit of a threat. It’s not just a transition, and it might take a little bit more time and a bit more learning on the AV and the IT guys’ part to finally win this battle. So bear that in mind. This is a great article to check up on.
Justin Kennington (11:18):
Yeah. You talked about AV and IT as a people convergence issue. Tune in in two weeks and we’re going to talk about that. Another beautiful segue, Matt. Two final thoughts that Rachel ended her article with, tied to what you just said, Matt. First of all, she said, “Everything a business does on the network is more important than AV delivery.”
Matt Dodd (11:38):
Justin Kennington (11:38):
And so what she suggests concretely, that really resonated as true with me, is if you go to your IT team with an attitude of here’s what we want to achieve, but how do we protect the network, then they’re going to see you as an ally in what they’re trying to achieve. And now I think they’re going to be more open to learning about what AV can do for the network and what AV can do for the business and how the network can support that.
Matt Dodd (12:03):
Absolutely. Get stuck in. I’m going to leave you and the guest to have a chat. I’ll catch you later.
Justin Kennington (12:10):
Well, speaking of building out the business network and converging things, our guest today, Pete “The Tec Man” Coman is the CTO of the PTS Consulting Group. And why don’t we bring him on in? Let’s talk about this. Pete, are you with us?
Pete Coman (12:24):
I am. I am, Justin. It’s an honor to be on the show. Great to see you again.
Justin Kennington (12:26):
Oh, are you kidding me? Oh, thank you. Thank you. Well, it’s great to have you. I can see that you’re clearly a real AV person. Those are those like flashy, programmable, LED lights on the wall behind you, right? Am I right?
Pete Coman (12:43):
No. But the lamp is programmable with different colors.
Justin Kennington (12:48):
Okay, that’s what I meant. I meant the lamp.
Pete Coman (12:51):
Come on. We need good acoustics. Always need good acoustics, acoustic panels.
Justin Kennington (12:57):
See, that’s precisely what I said. I’m sorry if I was unclear. Pete, welcome. Welcome to the show. Let’s start out with some definitions. So for the two kinds of networks we talked about, I’m going to name them and you’re going to define them. We’ll play that game. I think there are converged networks and there are island networks, or maybe AV island networks. Does that ring true to you? And if so, define those terms for me.
Pete Coman (13:27):
Sure. Yeah, it absolutely rings true. I mean, a converged network is, I mean, some people think of a converged network as utilizing the same cabling infrastructure as IT, but a true network convergence is really the coexistence of multiple systems. For example, you have your data or IT, your telephony, the AV, security, allowing these disparate systems to connect and communicate on a single IT network with segregation being provided by virtual VLANs or VLANs.
Justin Kennington (14:01):
Okay. Okay, so a customer comes to you [crosstalk 00:14:04] and he says … Go ahead.
Pete Coman (14:06):
I was going to say, I mean, you’re talking about island networks or what we call shadow networks, is a network that is totally isolated or segregated, not connected to the main IT network. It’s typically unmanaged and it’s typically installed without the approval of the IT department. And unmanaged silo, shadow networks pose a huge security risk to any organization. So it should be avoided at all costs.
Justin Kennington (14:38):
Wow. That’s a very strong statement. I was just about to explore, let’s talk pros and cons. Let’s talk pluses and minuses. But you’re saying avoid it at all costs. First of all, I took a note here, shadow. We’re not calling them island networks. We’re calling them shadow networks. I love shadow. So that’s a change right here on my note card. Avoid it at all costs.
So let me play devil’s advocate. I’m the AV team. I’m scared of those IT guys. Every time I go to them and I say I need something for the network, they tell me no or they tell me I’ve got to pass this security level, blah, blah, blah. I don’t even know what that means. You know what, Pete, it’s just a couple of switches. I’m going to set up a couple of switches, just like I used to do with a matrix, and I’m going to run my cables and I’m going to have my AV over IP. Nobody needs to know better. Come on. Why not?
Pete Coman (15:25):
Well, if you’re going to do that, Justin, I hope you’ve got really good insurance because if something goes wrong and that network is hacked, the fingers are all going to be pointing directly at you. And I wouldn’t, I just wouldn’t take that chance. I really wouldn’t take that chance. I mean, obviously we hear in the news every day, there’s so much hacking that goes on with all these networks, companies being held to ransom. I mean, last year there was the, was it the oil pipeline or the gas pipeline or something in the US. And they were held to ransom, and they paid the money. Why take that chance?
Justin Kennington (16:06):
Yeah. Okay. Okay.
Pete Coman (16:09):
It’s just not as secure. And the reasons why you would be, the advantage to being on a managed network is that you’ve got the IT architect team, the IT managers, they’re managing these switches. They’re managing the network. They’re controlling the network. They’re testing devices before they go on the network to make sure that they are secure and they’re not going to cause any problems and there’s no vulnerabilities.
And this is what I’m saying about, why would you take that risk when if you, if you get on well with the IT team, and like was what was mentioned before, you turn around and you say, “Look, these are the risks. Here’s all the information. Here’s the device.” Give all that to the IT team, and if they let it on their network, then they’re now taking responsibility for that.
Justin Kennington (17:02):
That was where I was going to want to go next. I’ll be honest, I have zero insurance that I think would cover me in this case, which is why I don’t install networks for anybody else. But yeah, it sounds like this is about, look, the IT team already has responsibility and ownership over the network. And so it sounds like our role as the AV professional is to be a service provider, is to be a subject matter expert, but is to allow them to maintain that level of responsibility that they have, rather than trying to take it on ourselves. Would we do that? It doesn’t make sense.
Pete Coman (17:36):
Exactly. No, no. Look, a lot of the responsibility needs to really reside with the AV manufacturers. I mean, they’re producing this product. I mean, what I find hard to believe is that they, a lot of them, even the very biggest ones in the industry, have so many IT security vulnerabilities in their products. A lot of them aren’t compliant with IT standards and security requirements. And it just, it baffles me. I mean, we’ve been putting more and more devices on the network for many years. This is nothing new. They should be compliant. If all these other IT manufacturers can make compliant equipment, why can’t the AV industry?
Justin Kennington (18:29):
Hmm. Well, fair enough. What do you see out there in actual fact? In other words, how often do you see shadow networks versus people embracing convergence?
Pete Coman (18:44):
You see shadow networks all the time. And I think it depends on which part of the world that you’re in, as well, what region. Where I’m from in Australia, in sort of Asia Pacific region, you see a lot more converge networks because the IT department understands the security risks and they accept it and they take it on and they own that responsibility. In the US, from what I’ve seen, there’s not a lot of converged networks. I mean, we recently finished a project here in New York that’s a fully converged network. And I mean, there was obviously, you’re going to have some hurdles along the way. We found out some products didn’t do what they were supposed to do.
And there’s always going to be some issues. However, at the end of the day, I mean, this client is a bank and they need to have the highest security, and they’re not going to allow shadow networks to exist. On that particular project, I mean, the BMS contractor rocked up to site with a four port Netgear switch that they probably bought at Best Buy for $29. And it was just like, it’s not going anywhere near this network, champ. So yeah, we quickly sorted that one out.
Justin Kennington (20:01):
I had a friend who was once doing some troubleshooting on a US Department of Defense site. And the story was he accidentally plugged his laptop into I think a blue ethernet port instead of a green ethernet port, whatever the color code was. And only moments later, men with machine guns showed up to inquire, what precisely are you doing? So that’s network security. These are people who take shadow networks very seriously, as well.
Pete Coman (20:30):
Justin Kennington (20:32):
You know, something you just touched on about some of the products maybe didn’t behave the way you had anticipated or hoped on the network, in the piece we talked about in the news, and I’m going to, I’m going to quote it because I took some notes from it here, Rachel said, “Sometimes you have to live without aspects of ideal delivery if the IT team considers them potential threats.” Maybe talk about in your experience, what are some examples of times that you’ve kind of said, “Here’s what I really wish I could do, but out of respect for the network, for the IT team’s demands, we’re going to tone that down somehow.
Pete Coman (21:07):
Yeah, sure. I can give you plenty of examples. I’m just, make sure I sort of edit out all the manufacturers’ names. But for instance, room booking panels, with that particular client that I just was referring to where we did the fully converged network, we had room booking panels outside each room. Now, the thing was is that we couldn’t actually use those room booking panels because they had an old version of Android on it and the client has a minimum requirement. It has to be Android 10 or higher. So those panels then became just dumb panels. We had the room name on the outside and just a picture of, you know, each of these rooms were named after a national park. So we had a nice image there, and it just had the room name on it.
So the compromise there is that these room booking panels, which were supposed to be connected up to the client’s network, they were supposed to be running Microsoft Teams, couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t do it. And until that manufacturer updates the firmware, we can’t then deploy it.
Justin Kennington (22:16):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, that makes sense. I’m thinking that the context that we’re talking about here is mostly about pretty large what I would call high-end end users. We’re talking about big enterprise stuff, I think. And I think that’s most of what you work on. How does this same story impact the smaller business, the folks who have AV and IT infrastructure, but maybe don’t have a 25 person IT team, as well as a small AV group? Should they without exception be building converge networks, or is the complexity of that so high that maybe shadow networks make sense, as long as they know what they’re getting into? What are your thoughts for the smaller guy?
Pete Coman (23:07):
Sure, yeah. And you’re right. I mean, the references that I’ve been giving have all been to do with enterprise networks, so higher end clients. If you’re talking about a smaller business, look, it’s like anything. You’re trying to gauge the risk, aren’t you? That’s what it comes down to. You can get away with it. Typically, the reason why you deploy a shadow network is because the network switches, they’re cheaper typically, they’re quicker and easier to deploy. You’re not jumping through all these hoops. You’re not getting approval for anything. So you could deploy a system a lot quicker and a lot easier.
And the skill sets that are required to configure these networks, like you said, typically reside with a, you know, 20 person IT team. So look, as I said, it just comes down to that risk. I advise all our clients not to do it. If you’re going to put it on the network, if it needs a network connection, it should be connected to the client’s network where they’re managed, the switches are in secure locations. Hopefully there is a management plan to update and patch the switches as required, because typically if you’re talking about a shadow network, a switch is deployed, no one touches it, and it sits there. And five years later, it’s got a thousand vulnerabilities.
Justin Kennington (24:37):
Wow. Yeah, tricky stuff. Well, in just the about 30 seconds that we’ve got here left, I said I got 30 seconds left, and then I lost track of my question for you. How fast has this been changing? That’s what I wanted to hear. 10 years ago, I don’t think a lot of people were converging these networks. Today, everybody should be. What’s the trend?
Pete Coman (25:04):
Yeah. I remember probably back in sort of, geez, 2012, 2013, that kind of era, where I was saying to the AV contractor, “These projectors, they need to go on the network,” and they were pushing back and saying, “RS-232, it’s more reliable,” and blah, blah. But we can’t get the same kind of management tools available to us that we can with IP connections. So it has been happening for some time.
And once again, I think it depends on the region that you’re in. But I think we’ve been putting devices on networks for coming on 10 years now. But I think it needs to start really with the design and that you need to get a good consultant on board who can actually go through this process with the client and help vet out the products that maybe don’t meet the client’s standards. The last thing we want to do is just give all this product to the IT team, the IT manager, and let them try and sort it out. They’ll just, they’ll hate you forever. Test it out yourself, get all the information you need, provide it to them so they can turn around and make informed decisions.
Justin Kennington (26:20):
Pete, let me get to our next segment, but sit right there. I want to have you back in the aftershow. I want to find out if you know any of those good consultants. Maybe you can tell us some names.
But first, a fact check for all of you.
Matt Dodd (26:51):
Great interview. Well done. Looking forward to the aftershow. It’s going to be fantastic. Thank you for your questions so far. And don’t forget the resource links on the page down here. On it, you’ll find some great course links to help you talk to IT administrators about basic security and privacy requirements for AV over IP. There’s some really good troubleshooting stuff down there, as well. You need to take these courses. But for now, we’re going to head back to Justin for the closure.
Justin Kennington (27:24):
Wow, that was fascinating. And I’ve got a few more questions for Pete, so stick around for the aftershow. We’ve got your questions coming in, and we’re going to check that all out. In the meantime, catch us on social media. Use #sdvoelive live on Twitter, on LinkedIn, anywhere you want to use it, anywhere you want to find us. Get us questions. If you think of something next week, hey, what about this, send it in to us on the hashtag, send it in to us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our next episode, AV and IT problems and AV and IT human solutions. That’s what we’re going to be talking about. Matt teased it a little bit today in the news segment. You know, it’s one thing to put a bunch of AV boxes and a bunch of IT switches in a room together and hook them up with wires, but it’s going to be people that are going to have to design that connectivity, that are going to have to manage and maintain those systems. And it’s going to be people with different skill sets, AV on one hand and IT on the other, that are going to have to work together to make that happen.
We’ve got a very interesting guest from Boston Children’s Hospital, big end user who’s going to talk us through that. Tom Norton is his name. So look for that in two weeks, January 25th. We do this every two weeks, but if you miss us in the meantime, then don’t worry about that because you can always catch us on our YouTube channel or on sdvoe.org/live. So thanks everybody for watching. Stick around for the aftershow, and have a great rest of your day. Goodnight.