When audio pros think of studio architecture, most know about the latest trends in acoustic treatment, facility design and incorporating new recording technology within new environments. However, underneath it all lies the backbone of connectivity. Today's data-movement and storage technology serves our industry as a great equalizer; thanks to both pricey, hyperspeed, acoustic consultant — designed dataflow/storage solutions and simple, D.I.Y. Ethernet networking schemes, there's a solution to help you to operate on a more capable and creative level — no matter your business' scope or budget.
DESIGNERS PAVING THE DATA PATH
These days, studio designers are integrating networks at the project's concept stage. “Networks allow building infrastructure to be designed and installed before final speaker and other system components have been determined,” says acoustician John Storyk of the Walters-Storyk Group. “Larger projects are often built over a three- to four-year period, with infrastructure needed very early in design. Networking concept assists greatly in this process.”
Working out networks early in the planning stages is especially crucial in larger venues and projects in which large distances are involved. “For larger facilities, networked audio is vigorously discussed in most planning stages,” Storyk says. “Networks, and specifically certain digital console and speaker configurations, require different wiring diagrams, thus different cable-management schemes.” More than ever, comprehensive and flexible conduit routing is needed, but when choosing to install modern network systems, smaller sizes of conduit can be used, which can save quite a bit of money. Storyk also insists that because networking technology is advancing by leaps and bounds at a rapid pace, incorporating plentiful data pathways helps tremendously in major multi-year projects.
Martin Pilchner of the Pilchner Schoustal International acoustic design team says that the decision to build a studio with an installed audio network gives him a new design stage on which to begin. This new stage is present in nearly each of the firm's designs. “As the core part of the technical infrastructure, establishing the network system is the first part of the global backbone of a facility from which all other systems stem,” he offers. “Practically all multi-room facilities are integrating networked audio systems of some type. This is especially the case in post-production facilities where each part of the job may be happening in a different part of the building.”
Incorporating studio networks not only makes things easier for audio engineers, says Pilchner, but it has also eased his own job. “In reality, planning cable-management systems is becoming easier. Much more information is being moved in many more similar ways. The requirements for trunking systems are becoming smaller and easier to handle. For engineers, the ability to instantly access data in any part of a facility dramatically increases productivity and, in some cases, promotes creativity by [letting them easily] experiment and try things in other rooms.”
Not everyone has the luxury to hire a world-class designer, or to even build a room from scratch. There are plenty of options for those looking to build networks in existing spaces, whether choosing all-in-one solutions or off-the-shelf building blocks. Anthony Vanger — producer, composer, engineer and owner of New York City's Antmusic (www.antmusicny.com) — has a fully connected music and sound design facility featuring a seven-DAW, PC/Mac hybrid system. Like many other studio owner/operators, Vanger tackled the job of networking his facility. Sure, his network may not be the fastest or most complex system out there, but according to Vanger, it's well-suited for his needs. “The most important thing you need to remember when networking a studio is to decide what you need,” he says. “Figure out how you want to run your system and build one that can accomplish that. You don't have to spend a lot of money. You just need to consult with someone who understands computers.”
Antmusic is networked via “traditional Ethernet connections” and standard computer industry networking equipment, insists Vanger. Two identically equipped workstation-based rooms featuring Pro Tools|24 MIXPlus systems and a Focusrite Control|24 mix surface are connected to each other and other workstations via an SMC router. “As a result, you can edit in either room and go back and forth between the two,” Vanger says. Each workstation has access to a central server with a large hard drive, and all data is backed up to an auxiliary Sony DDS drive.
Because much of Vanger's clients listen to his work by accessing Antmusic's Website, a server designated for such purposes was a must. “Just use one computer for all your posting and downloading,” he explains. “You don't want your music computer tied up with posting and downloading — closing and re-opening Logic or Pro Tools takes forever!”
What was the hardest part of setting up Antmusic's network? “Running the cables,” Vanger says. As a matter of fact, he says that when he soon moves to new digs on New York City's 26th Street, he may even configure a wireless network.
THE POWER OF PREFAB SYSTEMS
For those needing faster and more advanced networking capabilities than what a basic D.I.Y. Ethernet system provides, a few innovative manufacturers have developed a variety of notable technological advancements in the realm of audio data networking and storage. It is these quantum leaps forward in data-holding capacity and speed that has provided new network users with the most important benefit, which — according to Pilchner — is “definitely convenience.”
Many manufacturers focus on solutions for studios to become flexible, connected workspaces. For example, Avid's (www.avid.com) Unity MediaNetwork enables sharing of high-bandwidth digital media files among more than 60 network clients simultaneously. The Avid Unity LANShare EXA is a “little brother” solution for small- to mid-size facilities. Glyph (www.glyphtech.com) offers high-quality rack-mount data storage and backup hardware. Lines include the flagship GT Series of A/V storage solutions, and Classic series of hot-swappable FireWire and SCSI drives. Rorke Data's (www.rorke.com) A/V pursuits include ImageSAN, a file-level SAN management system for Mac and PC; StreamMine, an A/V networking server system for digital broadcast; and Galaxy HDX, a lower-cost A/V data storage system.
According to Studio Network Solutions (www.studionetworksolutions.com) president Gary Holladay, having a fast, secure and robust audio network/data storage system no longer requires deep pockets. “We realized that not every studio has the budget for a full-blown Fibre Channel system,” he says. “Most of the audio industry is using FireWire, unless it's a top-line studio that needs full track-out and they mix in every room. So we built a solution that was specific for DV, offline video, and Pro Tools — the globalSAN iSCSI SAN. GlobalSAN is the first solution to offer RAID 5 protection and full track count in Pro Tools over Gigabit Ethernet.” SNS designed the X-4 as a low-cost Pro Tools drive solution that has the same features of their SAN product at a price point similar to a FireWire hot-swap chassis.
Small Tree Communications (www.small-tree.com) — a designer of networking products specifically for Mac OS X — is also destined to build on the burgeoning networking momentum. Led by president Corky Seeber, Small Tree focuses on ways to enhance the Apple G5 platform via dedicated networking products such as 10-gigabit Ethernet cards.
“We have been pushing the networking performance envelope with support for gigabits and jumbo frames on Ethernet, which improves networking bandwidth and latency performance while reducing the CPU overhead usage for the system of a pro audio engineer,” explains Seeber. “As a result, users are more effective and, hopefully, more creative in the studio as they work.”
THE FUTURE: GOING GLOBAL
Holladay says that the future of networking lies in collaborating across the world. And much to the joy of independent audio professionals worldwide, working in this manner is possible for a variety of studio types and budgets. Moving large amounts of data at lightning-fast speeds isn't that far away. “Many of the major phone companies have miles and miles of untapped fiber-optic cable,” he offers. “That technology is going to be a huge content delivery mechanism — and could be part of the new Internet2 backbone. Los Angeles is getting 5MB pipe, and in two years, that will easily be a 10MB pipe. When that happens, actual online production will be possible.”
Seeber echoes the forecasts of Holladay and insists it is even more reason for Small Tree to help audio professionals harness the networking potential of their existing rigs. “We try to educate the audio industry,” offers Seeber. “Many are being impacted by a lack of networking performance and may not even realize it. It's kind of like having a great engine in a car but not having it tuned properly to take advantage of all the horsepower — that's what we've been finding over and over again. Getting clients to move to gigabit Ethernet, multiple ports and running in jumbo frames — particularly those three things — doubles to quadruples output over everyone doing things the older conventional way.”
Strother Bullins is a North Carolina-based freelance writer.