Universal IP at Last

There’s no end to what you can do over IP. Prepare your network, take our test, and go!

Heard the one about the New Age appliance repair person who shows up unexpectedly at the door, and tells the housewife, “Your fridge e-mailed me”? Well, now there really are networked, IP-enabled refrigerators.

Your campus may be in the same situation. Traditionally, there have been many devices and systems running independently, and using separate cabling and control systems. You now need to prepare to integrate many of these systems into your data or IP-based networks.

Why You Should IP-Enable These Systems Networked systems allow for remote device management and troubleshooting, in effect permitting a systems administrator anywhere on campus (or off, for that matter) to manage and support the systems.
For management consolidation. Devices can be managed from the operations center, rather than by walking around, saving time and effort.

For cabling standardization. Separate systems and groups of components can share the same types of wires. This can help contain costs and improve aesthetics in new construction and remodeling projects.

IP-enabled systems can be set up to proactively send notifications when help is needed re: environmental conditions, lamp replacement, or fan/filter cleaning. Many systems link to e-mail or text pagers, to alert managers about issues needing attention. This proactive communication can minimize classroom downtime and may also prolong the effective life of devices.

IP is standards-based. This fosters the ability to interconnect many types of systems, and avoids proprietary-type control issues and costs.

There is global acceptance of IP as a transport mechanism, permitting the vendors to offer their wares to a larger market, consequently driving down costs.

Candidates

While voice over IP (VoIP) is the current attention-getter, there are new applications for IP integration, including:

Video (with audio), both one-way broadcast and two-way interactive
Building Automation systems (control and management of heating/cooling and lighting management systems)
Physical security systems (cameras and security equipment controllers)
Multimedia systems (projectors, monitors—any device that has an Ethernet/IP connection or a serial connection)

Candidates Make It to the Campus

Video over IP. Back in ’99, Northcentral Technical College (WI) pioneered a video-over-IP network on a US campus. The new system was designed for live distance learning courses across several campuses, and the transport between buildings became IP, replacing an analog video system from the ’80s. It worked out so well that VoIP was added onto the system later. NTC chose Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com) for the network electronics and subsequent IP phones. Polycom (www.polycom.com) was ultimately selected for the video encoding/decoding units (codecs); Tandberg (www.tandberg.com) was also deemed acceptable.

Streaming video and/or audio is another IP application and already common in higher education. One such application is in evidence at Washburn University (KS), where courses are streamed “on demand” to on-campus network users. A student who misses a class can view that session (with “pause” and “rewind” capabilities) from any networked computer, whenever convenient.

Video conferencing is another angle for video over IP. Desktop video conferencing is designed for one-on-one use, but there are systems for multiple users as well, often referred to as “room-based” video conferencing. Many of the traditional voice/telephone companies now play in this market.

IP-connected projectors. Still another IP application is that of projectors that have built-in Ethernet/IP connections. Some of these devices can even tell you how many hours of lamp life have been used, and notify the administrator/technician when it’s time for routine maintenance. Certain projectors also offer optional wireless LAN cards. The next big thing is delivering content to the projector over the LAN, rather than using analog or direct digital graphics cabling. In 2003, UC San Diego installed Sony (www.sony.com) SuperSmart projectors in a new engineering building, with this in mind. Each projector has an IP address and industry-standard CAT-5 interface for direct LAN connection, allowing presentations to be sent via Ethernet. These projectors also ease maintenance and upkeep by communicating with service and support technicians via Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) messaging. Manufacturers include Barco (www.barco.com), Sanyo (www.sanyo.com), Epson (www.epson.com), NEC (www.nec.com), and Sony. Interested in this feature? You’ll need to note that, currently, only a few projector models are IP-enabled, so check before ordering, and remember to add that Ethernet outlet in the right spot.

Security cameras. Security is another hot topic, with new security cameras that utilize IP to deliver video images back to a switcher and/or DVR. Then too, security control panels and other security devices are also becoming IP-compatible. Security personnel can now control pan-tilt-zoom cameras and recall stored video from any convenient desktop. Some manufacturers with IP-enabled cameras: Sony, Sanyo, Toshiba (www.toshiba.com), and JVC (pro.jvc.com).

Control help. Another useful option for remote management of any serial device is Ethernet/IP boxes that have a serial interface (e.g., RS-232) for sending commands from a control system to a device that d'es not already have an Ethernet/IP connection. Crestron (www.crestron.com) and Extron (www.extron.com) are two manufacturers with products in this arena. Columbia University (NY), University of Wisconsin, UC-Davis, (CA) and Sheridan College (WY) are just a few examples of schools using Crestron IP-based control systems.

Now, the only question is: Is your network infrastructure ready for the influx of IP-connected devices and services? Some of the new applications, such as security, are in the life-safety category and require a highly reliable network. Voice and video traffic have additional needs for timely delivery.

The Final Exam

You’re ready for Universal IP, but is your network? Ask yourself the following six questions:
1—What level of redundancy d'es your network incorporate? Do you have secondary power sources such as UPS and/or a generator? Do network switches have connections to more than one other device?
2—How much bandwidth is available? Video eats bandwidth like candy. If you haven’t checked bandwidth availability, now would be a good time to do it. Need help? Try MRTG, a freeware package for real-time monitoring of your traffic (mrtg.hdl.com/mrtg.html).
3—Can your current “data” network equipment support Quality of Service (QoS)? [Definition, courtesy of About.com: “The goal of QoS is to provide guarantees on the ability of a network to deliver predictable results. Elements of network performance within the scope of QoS often include availability (uptime), bandwidth (throughput), latency (delay), and error rate.”] If you aren’t sure about QoS, ask the person who configures your network switches.
4—How secure is your network, both from a cyber and a physical perspective? If you plan to add IP-based life-safety systems such as fire alarming, this is truly critical.
5—What environmental conditions do your networked devices live under? If it’s too hot or humid, network equipment failure rates go up dramatically.
6—Are your people ready? That is, are they up to speed on things like QoS in the network? If not, now is the time to prepare them. Alcatel has an easy-to-follow white paper about QoS at www.alcatel.com/industry_analysts/pdf/qos_custper_wp.pdf. If VoIP is on the horizon, you should also train your network folks on some of the peculiar requirements of voice systems, such as echo cancellation. A recommended site for more about VoIP is www.voip-calculator.com/directory.

Did you pass? If not, make your plans and tackle the issues now, so that you, too, can support outstanding applications on your Universal IP network.

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