in January 2007
VoIP Provider Experiences Explosive Growth
By Dawn Allcot
Vonage's AV-equipped HQ NOC, Situation Room keep pace.
|Vonage’s new headquarters in Holmdel NJ was renovated to accommodate the 1500 employees of the rapidly growing VoIP provider.
When you hear the word Vonage, you might think of the telecommunications company’s distinctive logo in a soft orange color. Quite unwittingly, you start whistling the catchy tune from its commercials: “woo-hoo, wooo-hoo-ooh.” The brand is so ubiquitous today, it’s hard to believe the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider has only been in existence for five years, and selling broadband phone service only for the past three.
The company launched in 2001 in a 100,000-square-foot building in Edison NJ. “We started out as five people around a folding table,” recalled Brooke Schulz, Vonage’s senior VP of corporate communications.
In 2003, Vonage’s rapid expansion began, with the company growing from zero to two million customers in just three years. In the past 12 months, Vonage has doubled its number of customers. “It is a high growth business,” Schulz affirmed.
Management knew that Vonage’s infrastructure, including the audiovisual technology within its headquarters, had to keep pace with the company’s growth. Vonage planned a revamp of its Network Operations Center, the place where operators monitor the entire Vonage network to make sure it is running continuously. Following further unprecedented growth between 2004 and 2005, though, management soon realized that they needed to move to a larger space.
“Our old facility served us quite well through our early stages of growth,” Schulz told Sound & Communications. “But we needed a building more customized to our needs, a more functional design that was built around our specific business.”
The search was on for a facility to accommodate the largest independent provider of VoIP in the US.
Vonage’s new building, in Holmdel NJ, slightly further south down the Garden State Parkway than the original headquarters, previously housed Prudential Insurance. Vonage’s contractors gutted the entire space to design a facility tailor-made for the company’s unique needs and its more than 1500 employees.
Within the new headquarters is a Network Operations Center, featuring workstations for 10 operators plus a large videowall controlled by a Crestron system, and a smaller Situation Room. Both rooms use state-of-the-art audiovisual and networking tools, which allow the company to monitor all two million-plus VoIP phone lines on the Vonage network to ensure continuous service.
‘A Quick Turn-Around’
As Vonage searched for a new, larger building, the company also began considering the audiovisual installation company that would take the facility’s technology to the next level. Audio Visual Innovations’ (AVI) Control Room Group, with headquarters in Tampa FL, and 40 offices nationwide, caught management’s eye as a “one-stop shop” that worked with all the major manufacturers of audio, video and control systems. “It was important to us that we had one partner, one point of contact. That was necessary,” said Tim Smith, president, Vonage Network.
Vonage management began speaking with AVI’s business development manager, David Jones, in January 2002, and quickly decided that Audio Visual Innovations was the right company for the job. But the installation didn’t begin until late 2005, when renovations in the two-story, 350,000-square-foot building were almost done. “For most mission-critical control rooms, the cycle is 18 to 24 months,” Jones said. “This was a year outside of that framework.”
Even so, Jones said, there were only slight changes from the initial design to the final product. “In our initial conversation, we were going to have a single videowall. We added a second videowall, and increased the number of workstations, as the number of people in the Network Operations Center grew.”
The time from design to installation was within the norm of 12 months, but work moved faster than usual during the actual installation process. “We were very demanding of Audio Visual Innovations,” Smith said. “Our needs, from the start of the project to the finish, didn’t change all that much, but we wanted to do this project in an amount of time that was very quick.”
To ensure that AVI met the client’s tight time frame, the contractor built as much of the equipment as possible in the AVI offices, and shipped it to the site fully assembled.
Ran Cable Early
In addition, the integrator also was able to speed up the installation time by running the cabling in the floor well before the installation. All the cabling was run through existing ducts in the floor, which then were covered by carpet runners. Console placement was determined based on the location of the ducts. “In a retrofit, it’s all about coordination,” said Carlos Lerma, AVI’s senior design engineer for the project.
The challenge in meeting the construction deadlines, Lerma said, wasn’t in getting or building the equipment, but finding a secure place to store it until the other trades were done with construction. “For the products we were installing to last,” Lerma said, “they must be installed in a dust-free environment.” It was only after the general contractor and other trades had completed their work, from floors to walls to ceiling, that the sound and video integrator came in and finished the job.
In fact, AVI representatives arrived onsite at the scheduled time, planning to begin work, only to discover that the rooms weren’t quite ready. Lerma interfaced with the general contractor, who moved people from other areas in order to finish work in the Network Operations Center and Situation Room so the AV integrator could finish the job. “It was a matter of communicating our needs clearly, but diplomatically,” Lerma said of his success in dealing with the general contractor. “You have to understand that everyone has a job to do, but our one requirement is a dust-free environment. In this case, the GC stepped up and got it done.”
Jones agreed, saying, “The project went smoothly because we maintained open and complete communication. [The general contractor is] the boss; you just have to work with him.”
'Needed Flexibility, Focus’
|Designed to endure the 24/7 work environment, the Network Operations Center is equipped to provide operator comfort while offering the most modern technology available.
Smith described Vonage’s requirements for the Network Operations Center, which was to be a small, focused space where the network’s operators could work comfortably and effectively. “Our primary goal was to build a very functional control center. It was very much designed around what we needed to get the job done without a lot of frills,” he said.
The system had to be user friendly, durable and extremely flexible. The key to meeting this goal was the Crestron control system, selected by AVI for its ease-of-use, reliability and programmability, according to Lerma. The system controls workstations for 10 operators with LCD monitors and an 8x2 video array of 50-inch Christie video cubes. The cubes can act as independent displays, but can also be configured in any variation. The Christie cubes were selected because they are rated for 24/7 use, with no burn-in. Time was also a factor in the choice, according to Lerma. “Christie was the [company] that could deliver on time, and the ease of installation allowed us to install them quickly.”
The Crestron system is connected to the network through a Linksys wireless gateway. “There’s a two-step approach to controlling the videowall,” Jones explained. “You can select sources, change volume, with the Crestron, but the Crestron talks to a videowall display processor.”
That processor is a network-based Jupiter Custom videowall controller, the same unit used in many military applications.
All video and PC source information is routed through an Extron CP 450 Plus 24x24 matrix switch. Source equipment includes a JVC S-VHS player, a Pioneer V-7400 DVD player and an S-video cable TV/FM tuner from Control Research. The wall also can display sources from client server applications on the network.
At the touch of a button, operators can see an all-inclusive overview of the network across the entire wall, zoom in to view any application or information being processed in the Network Operations Center in close detail, or view 16 different images at the same time. The operator in the master control position has complete control over the videowall, but individual operators also have access to the videowall controller in a “slave position.”
“In most cases, the operators don’t do much in the way of changes on the big board,” Lerma explained. However, at times when the network is less active, for instance, in the dark hours of the morning, the system’s flexibility allows nightshift operators the ability to change the view with a single keystroke.
Layout changes can also be triggered through software alarms or SNMP traps, which alert operators to potential issues in the system.
24/7 Comfort, Durability
With a 24/7 network requiring constant monitoring, Smith stressed that it was important for the operators to have “a place where they would enjoy coming in and sitting down to work.” The custom-designed, highback ergonomic chairs manufactured by Concept Seating contribute to the operators’ round-the-clock comfort.
Just like the AV equipment in the room, the chairs are made for 24-hour, seven day a week durability. Designed to hold operators up to 500 pounds, the chairs were given additional caster legs for added stability and have increased lumbar support.
Similarly, the Evans custom workstation desks are manufactured with an extruded metal framework and extra durable hinges to withstand constant use. They were outfitted, as needed, with task lighting, storage and CPU trays. “It’s a matter of supported and re-supported equipment versus pieces of plywood on sawhorses,” Jones said, commenting on the extreme durability of the furniture.
Line of Sight
Jones said that line-of-sight issues were carefully considered during the planning stages. “There was an intensive amount of design work that went into the placement of the videowalls and the seating. We worked with the architect to ensure that the room was laid out correctly and that critical people had the correct sightlines,” he said.
Even so, when senior design engineer Lerma arrived onsite, he discovered that the ceilings in the Network Operations Center were much lower than expected. Instead of 16-foot ceilings, the room had 9'6" drop ceilings. With seven feet worth of monitors, the videowall nearly touches the ceiling.
“When you place a videowall,” Lerma said, “you try to consider proper sill height: where a human being’s eyes naturally fall on the wall. It is about 47 inches for a male, and 43 or 44 inches for a female. Ideally, you want the sill height between that space.”
The contractor had to maintain two inches of clearance at the top of the videowall, putting the screen’s sill height “somewhere very close to 47 inches, but just not quite as comfortable,” according to Lerma.
Basic, But Functional, Sound
|Located adjacent to the Network Operations Center and often called a War Room, the Situation Room provides executives a clear view of network activity.
Audio Visual Innovations selected a basic 70-volt full-range mono system, using 12 JBL Control 26C six-inch ceiling speakers, powered by a Biamp MXA150 Professional Series multi-channel amplifier/mixer. Operators listen primarily to system alarms, plus news and weather broadcasts, to stay up-to-date on situations, such as predicted thunderstorms, which may affect the operation of the network.
Acoustics were a small, but surmountable, challenge for the installer. “It was a wide room, with poor acoustics,” Lerma said. “There was potential for a lot of echoes, with all the hard surfaces that reflect sound in the room.” The rigid screens of the videowall, rigid floors and rigid desktops all contributed to a less-than-ideal acoustical environment.
Additionally, because of the very nature of the space—a room designed to monitor a network, with employees trained to react during emergency situations—the ambient noise levels in the room will go up specifically when it is most critical for the operators to hear each other. “When things are running smoothly in an environment like this, it’s very quiet,” Lerma said.
“The ambient noise rises depending on the number of problems being faced. We had to look at how noisy it is going to be if everyone’s talking: if a system is down and they are working on solving multiple problems at the same time.”
AVI worked with the architect to create acoustical panels for the walls. These, combined with standard acoustic ceiling tile and the carpet runners, helped absorb some of the echoes in the room, without interfering with the functionality of the workstations.
High-quality sound was even more of a priority in Vonage’s new Situation Room, often called a War Room. This is where Vonage’s supervisors gather in the event of an emergency to watch how the network operators are handling any given situation, and to make what Lerma called “executive decisions,” such as a major traffic reroute.
Due to its unique function, the Situation Room contains equipment one wouldn’t typically expect to find in a regular conference room. “Normally, we don’t design a conference room with 5.1 surround sound,” Lerma said. The AV integrator installed a surround sound system manufactured by KSI, using the company’s 8081-CSD-SW tile-mounted ceiling speakers and a 12-1C-FR tile replacement sub-woofer.
The 8081-CSD-SW speakers, a swivel design, allowed Lerma to adjust the loudspeaker on a 360° center axis after using modeling software to determine optimal placement.
A 61-inch wall-mounted Pioneer plasma screen, also controlled across the network by use of a Crestron controller, affords those in the Situation Room the same view as those in the Network Operations Center. Like the videowall in the Network Operations Center, the plasma display accepts video from a variety of sources, including S-VHS, DVD, cable television and FM radio frequencies, or directly off the network. Sources are routed through an Extron matrix switcher.
In spite of the aggressive schedule and the client’s unique, specific needs, AVI accomplished the task to create two rooms with the capability to evolve as the client’s business grows. Lerma attributes the success, in part, to his experience as a former network operations consultant. “It helped me understand exactly what the client needed,” he said. “Network operators have a lot of acronyms, and I was able to show them that we spoke their language. Their job is to keep the network running smoothly. Our business is to help them show what’s happening on that network at any given place, at any time of day.”
Audio Visual Innovations, Inc.
To those in the AV industry, Audio Visual Innovations, Inc. (AVI), headquartered in Tampa FL, has been a household name for many years. The multi-million-dollar, full-service provider of audio, video, lighting and control systems has been around since 1979. Today, AVI boasts more than 40 offices, spanning from Denver CO to Fort Lauderdale FL.
Recently, the company’s fame grew beyond the AV sector, when owner and founder Marty Schaffel was featured on the cover of the Tampa Bay edition of Smart Business magazine.
AVI has more than 750 employees and more than 400 manufacturing partners, allowing the company to provide services including AV system design and integration, creative show services, rentals, sales, repair and extended warranty services to a variety of clients. AVI’s areas of specialty include audiovisual and control systems in the corporate, government, education, healthcare, hospitality and house of worship markets.
To best meet their customers’ needs, Audio Visual Innovations has several different divisions: the Control Room Group, Creative Show Services, Hotel and Rental Services, Residential Services and Logistic Innovations, which works hand in hand with the company’s rental division to provide broad-ranging event management services and consultation.
The fact that Audio Visual Innovations’ Control Room Group was a “one-stop shop” for Vonage’s Network Operations Center and Situation Room’s AV systems was a key selling point. AVI also provided all necessary training for Vonage employees, which was another benefit to the relationship.
Audio Visual Innovations’ designers and engineers believe in taking a “whole room approach for control room environments,” leading the company to high-profile design and installation jobs within the Florida Department of Transportation, the Coweta Courthouse in Atlanta GA, and the new 354,000-square-foot corporate headquarters of Ring Power Corp., in St. Augustine FL.
NETWORK OPERATIONS CENTER
8 CDS custom pedestals for 50" Christie Cube w/storage
3 Christie FP400 40" LCD flat panel displays
2 Christie PLP-2045 flat panel mounts
16 Christie 38-GFX003-01 Graphxmaster CX-100U
16 Christie 38-804810-01 50" Truview, low reflective, high gain
8 Christie 38-804805-01 50" top cover
1 HP/Compaq TFT5600 RKM 15" LCD panel, keyboard, mouse (rackmount)
1 Jupiter custom video wall controller w/audio out
NTI DVI-FO-66-MM 66' DVI cables
1 BRG Precision TBD 6 time zone clock
13 Concept Seating 3142 “highback” operator ergonomic chair
1 Evans custom operator console furniture
1 Crestron PRO2 media controller
2 Crestron TPS5000 12" color touchpanels
2 Crestron TPS-IMCBV IMC cable termination boxes
2 Crestron TPS-XVGABB TPS 5000 VGA insertion cards
2 Crestron TPS-VID-2 TPS 5000 video insertion cards
1 Crestron C2-ENET2 dual port Ethernet card
1 Crestron C2-VEQ4 volume control, equalizer card
2 Crestron C2-COM3 RS-232 control cards
1 Contemporary Research 232-STS stereo/S-video cable TV/FM tuner
1 JVC SR-S365U S-VHS player/recorder
1 Pioneer V-7400 DVD player
14 Extron 60-486-01 RGB splitter-RGB 192 w/cables
1 Extron 60-468-02 CP 450 Plus Series 24X24 matrix switch
1 Biamp MXA150 professional series multi-channel amp/mixer
1 Biamp AudiaFlex CM DSP 12-slot frame w/CobraNet
5 Biamp IP2 DSP input card
7 Biamp OP2e DSP output card
12 JBL Control 26CT 6" ceiling speakers
1 Furman Audio PM-PROII power conditioner
1 Middle Atlantic WRK-44-32 19" rack w/accessories
1 Pioneer PDP-614MX 61" plasma screen w/mount
1 Pioneer PDA-5003 RGB video input card
1 Pioneer PDA-5004 RCA video input card
1 Crestron PRO2 media controller
1 Crestron TPMC-10 10" wireless touchpanel
1 Crestron TPMC-10DS docking station
1 Crestron C2-ENET2 Ethernet card
1 Crestron C2-COM3 RS-232 control card
1 Linksys BEFW11S4 802.11B wireless gateway
2 Contemporary Research 232-STS stereo/S-video TV /FM tuners
1 JVC SR-S365U S-VHS player/recorder
1 Pioneer V-7400 DVD player
1 Extron 60-334-11 CP 450 Plus Series 12X8 matrix switch
4 Extron 60-416-02 HSA400 pop-up boxes
4 Extron 70-147-01 Extender AAP VGA/audio line drivers
1 Biamp MCA8050 professional series multi-channel amp
1 ClearOne 910-151-201 XAP 400 4-channel AEC mic mixer
6 JBL Control 24C 4.5" ceiling speakers
2 KSI 8081-CSD-FR-SW tile-mounted ceiling program speakers
1 KSI 12-1C-FR tile replacement ceiling program speaker
4 Shure MX-393C P/T logic boundary mics
Liberty Wire & Cable plenum rated Cat5e, RGBHV (5-wire) standard AV shielding, CrestNet (specifically for Crestron), coax and S-video standard jacketing and shielding, and standard twisted pair audio and speaker cabling
2 Middle Atlantic SRSR-4-16 19" slide out, rotate racks w/accessories
List is edited from information supplied by Audio Visual Innovations, Inc.
Dawn Allcot is a freelance writer specializing in the audiovisual and health and fitness industries.