News Column

Display Technology Moves to the Cloud

May 1, 2014

Kenyon, Henry S

Customers virtualize their audio-visual systems with software.

Forget about the history of science and technology, the Internet of Things and its travelers have hijacked the trends. Real-time collaboration, whether it is manipulating the content of a database to catch the bad guys, or the unique presence of a video call formed in a secure and remote location around the world, these technologies exist today. Bringing these solutions to life takes experience.

As more individual systems become linked into larger information technology-based enterprises, companies developing what was once stand-alone hardware must make the transition to providing networkready applications to remain competitive. The audio-visual (AV) equipment industry is a case in point. During the last 20 years, AV systems have evolved from discrete physical devices that only interoperated with a limited range of products-usually from the same manufacturer-to softwaredriven or software-only tools that can plug into customers' networks and interact with a variety of physical and virtual entities.

One firm successfully managing the transition from a predominantly hardware-based business environment to a networked and cloud-based one is Technical Innovation LLC. With 75 years of AV industry experience, the Atlantabased company has been providing its customers with a variety of visualization systems, from board rooms and meeting facilities, to highly integrated command and control centers used by the Defense Department and intelligence community.

The company now is committed to helping many of its clients move their traditional AV systems to virtualized, cloud-based systems, explains Charles Crawford, Technical Innovation's director of technical operations for Enterprise Video Communications. One of the major challenges facing the AV industry is the transformation of videoconferencing technology, which is putting many firms out of their traditional comfort zone. But there is a need to move to software-based tools because networked information technology systems help bring collaboration and visualization capabilities together, allowing businesses and federal agencies to make better, faster decisions, he says.

But as new systems are acquired, they must be integrated for seamless operations with the old equipment, which can be difficult in an era of tight budgets. "How do you spend that money wisely?" Crawford asks.

Technical Innovation differentiates itself from its industry competition because it sees itself more as a systems integrator than as a hardware provider, company officials say. The firm migrated over the years from old-school display technology to videoconferencing and then to unified communications and collaboration. The firm now is actively blending the latter two trends into a capability that can provide and support more complex presentations. But as more equipment is networked together, it has to function in an organizations enterprise environment, says Jason Jaworski, a project development consultant with the firm's CriticalSpace Solutions group.

Traditionally, AV firms avoided networking and enterprise systems. "What Technical Innovation wants to do is embrace that [networking]," Jaworski maintains. The challenge is convincing customers to accept this new model and making AV systems work with and across their networks, he adds.

Technical Innovation is working to introduce software that will make AV systems more intelligent and able to integrate with other technologies. For example, Jaworski notes that in Defense Department applications, radar and other devices can be integrated to intelligently alert users via their visual displays.

An additional challenge is that a lot of data flows across public and private organizations' enterprise networks. Because of the volume of information and the interconnectedness of modern systems, security and information assurance (IA) is a new consideration for AV firms, Jaworski says. No longer is it acceptable to simply design and implement a system. The system must be proven to be secure and not introduce unnecessary risk or vulnerabilities to an enterprise IA posture. Integration firms that are delivering integrated enterprise AV and information technology solutions must be familiar with the ever-changing IA standards and certification and accreditation processes that are utilized by the government. Manufacturers that "bake in" security and document and verify how they develop products will have preference in government and military markets. The days of encouraging clients to build stand-alone AV networks as a means of security is archaic.

Technical Innovation has five business units organized by business lines: the Broadcast Solutions Group focuses on supporting television and media production; CriticalSpace Solutions supports military, law enforcement and commercial aviation command and control centers with visual displays for situational awareness and imagery; the Presentation Technology Solutions group designs, integrates and installs custom briefing and multimedia centers; the Enterprise Video Communications (EVC) group helps organizations communicate and collaborate more effectively through the use of video-centric unified communications technologies from endpoint systems to infrastructure; and the Secure Federal group focuses on the defense and intelligence community, supporting secure, classified customer AV rooms and command centers in highclearance environments.

There are a number of growth areas the company is expanding into, such as the integration of display technology with command and control systems. Recent years have brought many changes in this area, with the addition of high-definition video imagery from surveillance platforms and the need to view/ review/analyze it, Crawford explains. In the next several years, new AV and networking technologies entering the market will require multilevel security ready for cloud and virtualization deployment. This is an especially important area for the firm's established Defense Department and intelligence community customer base, he adds.

Because more AV equipment is networked, Technical Innovation also is moving into areas such as management, workflow and situational awareness displays, Jaworski says. One challenge is relaying data to users in ways that are easily comprehensible. For government applications, from the military to law enforcement and cybersecurity, there is a need to present data visually for a variety of situations, such as during an event for situational awareness, situational understanding or situational management and for post-event forensic analysis for situational reconstruction. The tools required to support these specific functions often do not exist, or require extensive modification. One aspect of Technical Innovation's business is developing interfaces to take advantage of these new processes for customers-either through its internal staff or in partnership with third-party software developers, he says. Simplifying the user experience, making applications intuitive and "Apple simple" through integrating open application program interfaces (APIs) is the key to a successful integrated system. Systems and applications that don't publish and or make available a software development kit or API are of diminishing value to customers who are demanding flexibility and an open architecture.

In commercial markets, one challenge is facilitating decision making between secure enclaves. To achieve this goal, there is a need to embed code and applications into workflow tools. Depending on the customer, these may not be commercial applications, but purposebuilt tools designed for work in secure environments, Jaworski says.

AV systems increasingly are moving to use simplified application interfaces to help streamline information sharing and operations, Crawford explains. Several years ago, video was much more difficult to manage or operate and there was a growing need to make video-enabled applications pervasive in organizations, Crawford notes. One of the advantages and values of video networks is the number of people using it-the more people on the network, the more effective and valuable it is. "A lot of our job is to help clients' video enable their collaboration and workflow," he says.

The growing use of mobile devices is another major factor affecting the wider information technology and business world that also directly impacts AV systems. Because modern mobile devices are very powerful and capable, users are not tethered to conference rooms or soft clients on desktops, Crawford says. While this arrangement may not work in some government sectors, he notes that for many enterprises it allows workers to connect remotely and conference from anywhere.

But security remains a challenge for mobile devices, especially in the defense and intelligence communities, Crawford says. While it may not be practical to deploy mobile video devices in every secure environment, some level of technology and policy arrangements will enable this in the future. In part, this is because incoming generations of knowledge workers are more technologyenabled in their daily lives, and to recruit and retain them, organizations are changing how they do business, he explains.

Besides mobility, many other changes are on the way. Crawford notes that video systems have evolved continuously during the past 20 years and predicts that the next five years will bring even more changes than the previous two decades. This is a very exciting time, he says, but cautions that organizations must keep on top of developments or fall behind the curve.

Another ongoing trend is virtualization, which creates a variety of new opportunities for video collaboration technologies. Crawford notes that most telepresence and legacy video teleconferencing hardware is now software-based, ranging from endpoint systems to network infrastructure such as multipoint control units, gateways and firewall transversals, which also enhances its interoperability. There also are overall enterprise requirements to consider, such as continuity of operations, scalability and redundancy. For example, cyber attacks have become a major concern to many commercial enterprises, which requires developers to be security conscious. Virtualization means that video collaboration capabilities, like other critical mission functions, can be migrated across an enterprise's cloud to utilize remote backup facilities if necessary and must be hardened against hacking.

Additionally, as organizations expand, their information technology and related systems must be able to scale up to meet demand. Virtualization is key here and applications providers are looking at more integrated technologies to move video and collaboration information seamlessly across a cloud-based network, Crawford says.

Virtualization also is indicative of the general move to software-driven systems. An ongoing challenge is the maintenance of legacy equipment and, if possible, connecting it to the network, notes Crawford. He adds that many of the technology solutions in unified communications plans-bundled information technology and communications capabilities often managed by third parties-are still siloed. Video collaboration technologies and systems come from different vendors, so there is an ongoing need to integrate all of these systems into the network, he says.

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Source: Signal

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