Although most engineers have some experience with computer networks, not all of us have had to build one from scratch. If you're planning for an Axia IP-Audio network (or maybe you've just purchased some Axia gear), here are four things you should do to help ensure that the audio network you're planning performs the way you want it to.
1) Clearly define your goals. How many studios do you want your network to support? Five? Ten? Just one? Knowing this at the outset will help you determine which network switch you should specify. The switch is the heart of any Ethernet-based network; buy too much switch and you've spent money needlessly - buy too little switch and you'll be wishing for more ports in short order. A list of Axia-approved network switches is found at www.AxiaAudio.com/switches/ , and Axia sales and support technicians will gladly help you determine which one is right for your needs. For smaller installations, you may not even need a core switch -- Axia integrated mixing engines have a switch built-in that can daisy-chain up to three studios.
2) Put it on paper (or PDF). If you're the kind who can visualize complex assemblies in your head, great! Even so, you've got to communicate what you see to others, so sketch it out. Sit down with your tool of choice, whether it be graph paper or AutoCAD, and lay out your studios. Place every audio component that you can think of, no matter how small, and connect them all. This will give you a clear picture of how many audio nodes, adapter cables, CAT-5 runs, etc. you will need -- and also give your team the opportunity to help you fill in items you may have missed. The finished product will be the roadmap you use to assemble the pieces when all those cardboard boxes begin arriving in your lobby.
3) Don't take shortcuts. IP-Audio networking, at its simplest, is the movement of packet-based data. In that respect, it doesn't differ much from your business LAN. Because of this, the temptation might arise to use network switches already on hand, or to buy cheaper switches with similar specs, or to try to let your studio audio "ride along" on your existing business network. Don't give in to this temptation! Although both networks use Ethernet for data transport, an IP-Audio network is a very different beast, requiring guaranteed bandwidth and Quality-of-Service (QoS) prioritizing to ensure that your real-time broadcast audio gets where it needs to go without interference. Networks and switches built only to handle email and Internet traffic simply don't have the smarts to keep your program audio flowing seamlessly.
4) Call for friendly advice. If you get stuck, don't be proud -- call us with your question. Chances are, it's something we've run across before, and we're always happy to help you past whatever roadblock's got you stopped. After all, our success depends on your success!