Network Segregation?

The IT versus audiovisual war seems over. Guess who lost.

The great irony of engineering is that, if you do your job well, you are generally expendable in the short term. If you do the job poorly, while staying below the radar, you just might have a job for life.

Before you argue otherwise, consider the case of a well-documented and well-engineered design. Essentially, you could drop dead on Friday and another engineer could pick up the task on Monday. Now, if you’re disorganized and generally incompetent, it will take weeks just to get back to “ground zero.” No competent engineer would want to put up with such nonsense, and he or she would gladly pass on the “opportunity.”

Now, consider the war between audiovisual and IT in the commercial space. Audiovisual is losing, if it hasn’t already lost, the war to share the same network. Had we played together nicely, there should have been a single compatible network. Sadly, AV thought this was a battle over packet sniffers and protocols. It wasn’t, though, and IT’s “solution” makes the Treaty of Versailles’ reparations look reasonable by comparison. We haven’t just lost—it’s as if we got stomped on by Godzilla.

Note: I am defining “losing” as not being able to share a network and having to build an entirely separate one for AV users only. For a campus environment, it means an enormous and potentially unnecessary expense, often on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars in switch, cabling, labor and associated costs. That’s a high price to pay for not having to talk with each other.

And let’s not forget that IT has been eating audiovisual’s lunch while doing a terrible job tending to its own knitting. IT’s inability to secure even basic consumer data is appalling. Equifax alone had data breaches of 143 million of its customers in 2017, or roughly the entire US working population. More customers’ collective data has been breached than there are working humans at this point, so you’re likely to be on someone’s list a few times. Reference the list at if you have any questions on the subject. Apparently, 2017 was considered a good year, too, even when it was found that anti-virus programs had been hacked worldwide. In fact, it might be difficult to find a single customer they haven’t failed. And, yet, they’ve kept their jobs for lack of a better alternative.

That is likely the main driver behind why the great merger between the worlds of audiovisual and IT hasn’t happened. Audiovisual, in most cases, could technically travel upon their networks, adding a host of functionality that would enhance most every experience. But, generally, it doesn’t, especially on large projects and where it adds significantly greater cost.

In fact, most of the larger projects I’ve seen have gone to great lengths to separate the two systems. They use fancy words like “bifurcate” to obfuscate the simple fact that IT guys are running scared, and the last thing they want is to provide fixed IP addresses for AV data to travel upon their system, outside of their control. Although I can’t find a single instance in which a breach occurred due to an audiovisual system, there’s always the possibility of one in the future. And that, it seems, is enough for any IT person to believe we dabble in the black arts and, therefore, deny access to audiovisual systems. The result is two unshared, “separate but equal” data-transmission-and-distribution systems.

That is the epitome of having lost.

Mind you, the audiovisual industry hasn’t done itself any favors. To the best of my knowledge, there was only one company in the audiovisual industry using IP technology that had a truly serious Defense Department-level data-security specialist on staff. And let’s not forget that we started with protocols inherently incompatible with IT.

There are two major exceptions to this state of affairs: teleconferencing and remote CCTV viewing. Both seem to have ended up under the aegis of the IT department, even though the IT guys have no idea how to treat a room acoustically or light it. Not exactly a merger, in retrospect…more of a case of complete domination.

Strangely, many IT departments will connect remote networked CCTV systems manufactured by even the shadiest of manufacturers, likely to be reporting to some foreign entity with green, gold and red epaulets. I never have figured that one out, but the level of trust placed by IT departments in some of these fly-by-night operations is almost comical.

We’ve seen many IT departments ignore the issue of IT and AV “incompatibility” for decades now. Generally, the issue never comes to head. The typical IT strategy is just to do nothing at all, knowing the clock will run out on audiovisual and it’ll have to pony up for a virtually identical, but separate, network on most projects. “Get your own network, pal!”

The greatest irony is that home systems have happily shared emails, purchases, payments, audio downloads and video streaming for some time now. You’d think it would be the same in the business world. It’s not. Just ask the digital signage folks about their struggles to connect to the internet in a commercial space.

Trying to find some industry mechanism that would certify audiovisual components for use on corporate networks is a challenge. The American military has had one for years—DoDIN APL—but I’m struggling to find a commercial version that serves the same purpose.

Many readers will respond to this column by shaking their heads. I would hope they look past the obvious and really think about the implications of this systemic failure. Consider one system we were involved in that had remote theaters, all sourced from a single location, to locations all around the world, under touchpanel control, back in 2002. Now, the same system is unable to report even basic component failures back to the mother ship. It was only a temporary pause in the war.

Why? Because audiovisual and IT departments still can’t play nicely in the same sandbox.

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