Q&A: QSC on AV migration to COTS processors

QSC demonstrated Q-Sys software running on an off-the-shelf Dell EMC PowerEdge R730 server in a move that could see AV software migrate to COTS hardware. Tim Kridel quizzes Martin Barbour, QSC product manager for installed systems, about what the shift could mean for the AV industry.

TK: What can the AV industry learn from how the software on COTS hardware trend has played out in the telecom market?

MB: We use the telecoms industry – specifically, what happened with Cisco and Call Manager – as a role model for what we think is going to happen in our space. People are starting to embrace standard, off-the-shelf processors and differentiate their solutions by software rather than the hardware piece. It’s a monumental change for us all. It affects everybody: manufacturers, integrators, consultants and end users. At QSC we’re really excited about it.

There might be a different set of companies that are prolific in this industry in ten years versus what we see now.

The market leaders in Telecom today are different than just 10 years ago. I think that’s a possibility for our industry, as well as a great opportunity for forward-thinking companies to adapt and grow their businesses with this change.

TK: What challenge will AV face migrating to COTS processors?

MB: We know first-hand that it’s not simple to do and this presents opportunities for market leadership change, as well as new entrants to the space with radically new technology or business models.

TK: Outline the Q-Sys development process.

MB: It was a very difficult time. There were a number of years of development prior to shipping that went into getting this product off the ground. We were very lucky that we had multiple engineering teams in-house: a team dedicated to developing and supporting our existing network and DSP products that were generating income, as well as a team to develop this new Intel based solution. That’s a unique situation.

TK: How will the software on COTS hardware trend affect integrators?

MB: From a technical perspective, not too much changes. We’ve worked very hard to make our solution look and behave like the traditional products, to make it easy to transition. The design environment is very familiar. The capabilities are very familiar, although the capabilities far exceed those of more traditional systems. It’s more on the support and familiarity with IT technologies in terms that this is an IT product that goes on an IT network. But those challenges are not unique to using off the shelf products.

TK: What questions has QSC been asked since the announcement?

MB: This introduction has posed a huge range of questions from the market, including “Can I run it as a Virtual Machine?”, “Can I buy your software and run it on my own server?”, “Can I host it in the Cloud?”.

It has become obvious that this announcement has opened people’s eyes to new paradigms in how they can design and deploy systems, which is really exciting from a manufacturer’s perspective. We feel our industry is on the cusp of a major transition whereby processing becomes commoditised and the differentiator between vendors is the software layer running on those processors, along with the AVC specific end-points that the AV industry will continue to manufacture.

We are already having conversations with a whole new group of people. These are IT people at the big corporate companies, and integrators and consultants, who now recognize that Q-Sys is very different from everything else in the market. Those new people, the ones perhaps with an IT background, are completely unfazed by this move to off-the-shelf hardware. Their reaction is typically, “Well of course you would do this. It makes perfect sense.”

That’s great validation of the direction that the Q-Sys engineers chose to take ten years ago when development on the platform began. As our industry becomes more involved with IT, the customer base will expect solutions like this, and they’ll be demanding them from the market.

TK: How might this trend play out in the industry?

MB: We think it’s inevitable. We think it brings huge advantages to everybody in the chain. But it’s going to be challenging to do it and do it well.

TK: What will the impact be on the sales channel? Will more IT firms use this trend to get into, or expand their presence in, AV?

MB: We feel the existing AV sales channel is extremely important and also very valuable. The IP that integrators and consultants bring is incredibly important for the successful implementation of systems like this. So we’re working very hard to maintain business as usual. Further down the line, might you see IT VARs selling AV systems? They already are.

There have been questions about sales models. Does this open up opportunities to do different types of sales, more opex than capex? That certainly presents itself.

Martin Barbour also contributes to a wider article that looks at how manufacturers are responding to this trend that you can read here.

Tim Kridel also talks to IHS analyst Po Li to find out how the research body sees the trend playing out in the industry.

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