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Cat5 is the New Bantam: The Ever-Increasing Role of IT in the Studio

February 13, 2018

By Joel Guilbert, Technology Development Manager, Dale Pro Audio

Dale Pro Audio was recently involved in supplying and configuring a well-needed revamp of 2 audio post rooms for a sports broadcaster. They were moving from larger consoles and outboard gear to an “in the box” solution. This has proven to be popular; and compared to the initial and ongoing cost of consoles, a very cost-effective solution.

However, these approaches often leverage standard off the shelf IP based solutions that may not be compatible with tightly enforced corporate networks.

Following are some elements to consider to help these projects go as smoothly as possible.

What’s your DHCP situation?
Many networks are predominantly based on static IP addresses. Some commonly used equipment is reliant upon being handed an IP address on startup. In a static network, these items will have to be segregated into its own virtual network that has a DHCP server. The “opening” for the DHCP server to this otherwise segregated network is indeed a security risk - it’s a hole in an otherwise closed network, so IT may not be happy to oblige such requests. Many corporate networks try to maintain a strict static only IP address structure.

Most devices ship with DHCP active, and require a DHCP server to be accessed easily to change to a static IP address. There are ways to connect to these without a DHCP source(a networking standard known as link local, you’ve encountered this if you’ve ever seen a 169.254 IP address; but you cannot rely on all pieces of equipment utilizing this. Which is why it’s useful to have: A local DHCP source. This can be a huge help to get into devices and reconfigure. Don’t even start on the challenges when a manufacturer uses illicit MAC addresses.

How many VLANs or otherwise distinct networks are needed? Whereas some digital audio networking technologies tout that they can be deployed onto any network, there are caveats. Mission critical devices that utilize control by GUIs that are used over a network - if you NEED these to work 100% of the time, these should be segregated from common network traffic. These are things like control surfaces, FX controllers, loudness meters,  etc.  

Thinking of VLANs, many communication issues can be caused by strict security protocols on switches. Many larger, enterprise switches (think Cisco Catalyst) will automatically disable a port under a number of conditions. Some of these are things like they(switch) won't allow any other switches to connect. Many audio devices are classified as switches to them. If your audio device has 2 or more network ports, there’s a good chance it will be classified as a switch. The IT administrator will have to program the specific ports being used to be active even though it appears to have a switch connected. In a standard Pro Tools setup (such as the one pictured), these included the MTRX Interface (not when in redundant network mode) and the S3 controller.

For Dante networks, some general recommendations to heed: Turn of energy efficient functionality, and enable QoS. While the manufacturer claims all switches will work, making them work reliably is a different game. More switch related info here.

Think POE: More and more devices rely on being powered by the voltage that comes through the network cable. Most modern enterprise switches have this functionality but don’t rely on it being there 10% of the time. When POE isn’t available you can use local power “injectors” but then that’s another potential point of failure.   

So for a “simple” 2 room install, let’s add up the various separate networks needed :

  • Dante or other AOIP network
  • Control network #1 (for control surfaces in room 1
  • Control network #2 (for other control surfaces in room 2)
  • Another control network (meters, device control)
  • Storage network  (this one usually going to be a fiber attachment, especially with video incorporated)
  • Standard network

That’s 6 distinct networks that need to be administered. And that’s a simple approach.

As digital audio technologies and utilizing computers for recording were starting to encroach on the old console and analog gear days, there was always a chorus of “I’m an audio engineer, not a computer person”. Well, a lot of those who thrived realized that they were now, unwittingly or not, computer people. The same is happening now - like it or not - you simply cannot ignore IP standards in our world.

It doesn’t have to be scary - you can always reach out to us for assistance.

Joel Guilbert is Dale Pro Audio's Technology Development Manager, and assists on technical support inquiries, system design and integration, and much more for our company. He can be reached at joel@daleproaudio.com.

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