in December 2007
By Jim Stokes
Aetna's data center campus undergoes extensive AV overhaul.
|Aetna's CNCC is divided into two distinct areas: One side houses the company's Network Operations, while the other houses Data Operations.
Aetna, a leading nationwide provider of a wide range of insurance and employee benefit products, has completed an AV install at its Middletown CT data center campus. The campus houses the company’s impressive Computer Network Command Center (CNCC), which manages and monitors Aetna’s Information Technology (IT) operations around the clock, every day of the year.
According to Bob Reynolds, computer support specialist for the data center, “One of the quests we had was to be able to integrate all the technologies into one screen, so we could control and route [information] anywhere within the company or anywhere within this building. The other reason was [because] the president of the company had a business need to show potential customers what they’re getting for their money, not only in quality technology but also in full IT support, ensuring them we’re here 24/7 for them.”
Reynolds added, “Today, the CNCC is really a showcase for Aetna. When current or prospective clients visit, they see several large videowalls displaying vast amounts of information, and staff members who can walk up to one of the touchpanels in the wall and make just about everything happen. I believe this provides a level of comfort for [the visitors], knowing the steps Aetna has taken to ensure our network and data are safe and secure.”
The CNCC, however, wasn’t always consolidated in Middletown. In 1997, Aetna was one company with three individual divisions. Reynolds said, “And each division had its own data center. In 1997, we decided to bring everybody together.” As a result, data personnel had synergy going on among the groups because they were housed in one room. “We started seeing that we had a lot of similar tasks. And we were able to leverage our resources. We could house all the monitoring and escalation in one room.”
Three Distinct Groups
There are three distinct groups within the CNCC. The Network Group monitors everything from IP addresses to telephones to any type of external customer. That includes checking AT&T and Verizon. “We monitor all their services to ensure we’re totally up and we have full redundancy in everything we do,” said Reynolds. The Data Site looks at all of the company’s applications that are running and ensures that the applications are healthy. If not, they automatically start the recovery.
Then there’s Mission Control, located in a separate glass-enclosed room, which takes the best of the two other groups and brings them into one group. According to Reynolds, “What [Mission Control] does is triage and troubleshoot problems. Then they farm out problems to the specialist in either the Network or Data Site [group] to help us reduce mean times for recovery.” More on that room later.
|Using this touchpanel, staff can quickly preview, select, route and display any source device in the room to any or multiple video cubes and/or flat panel displays.
Constant Technologies, Wickford RI, was the AV integrator. Spokespersons are project manager Dan Kment and technology integration engineer Ben (Benjamin) Watkins. The integrator provided the conference table and other command center furniture, as well (see “Constant Technologies’ AV and Furniture Present a Unified Look”). Overall, Constant Technologies had the distinction of designing, manufacturing and installing the CNCC for Aetna.
According to Watkins, the current completed project was “kind of a facelift. We did quite a bit of work as far as moving walls and pulling out a lot of equipment. It was repurposed and rewrapped. And we installed a good deal of new equipment, as well. We augmented a couple of videowalls and made them a bit larger, including increasing the capacity of the display wall processors and the size of the audio-video switching. From start to finish, [the project] was completed within two months.”
Fortunately, Aetna has been the AV company’s client since the late 1990s, so Constant Technologies was quite aware of, and responsive to, Aetna’s needs. Thus, technology evolved from CRT projection systems to the present digital projection cubes. “As technology progressed, we were able to integrate new technology such as AMX systems and Jupiter processors into the mix for [Aetna’s CNCC] to be a better manager of information,” said Kment.
The large CNCC room houses well over 42 operator desks, each of which incorporates a PC and keyboard with three monitors, which show spreadsheet information. In turn, data is displayed for the entire room to view on three videowalls, which are grouped into the newly installed Clarity 50-inch rear-projection displays consisting of 16-, 14- and 12-cube configurations.
“During a given week, we have 104 people who sit inside the Command Center to view all this data,” said Reynolds. The videowalls display all the monitoring and alerting mechanisms, as well as live video, which would include the latest news and weather plus videoconferencing going out through the company.
Later, we’ll cover the co-located, separate Mission Control “war room,” as well, where videoconferencing takes place.
Before we delve further into other install components, let’s look at the control system. Watkins explained that the AMX Modero touchpanels allow the CNCC staff to preview, select, route and display any source device in the room, including desktop PCs, cable TV receivers and videoconferencing gear, to any or multiple video cubes and/or flat panel displays quickly. Without this interface to the display wall processor, this would be a tedious, time-consuming task for Reynolds and his staff. It used to take them about an hour to set up a videoconference call and route it to the videowall. Thanks to this interface, this process now takes about two minutes. More specifically, the three touchpanels are wall-mounted. Conveniently, the PC operators and managers have AMX interface web access.
Reynolds said that the AMX install in the CNCC has “significantly increased efficiency, enabling us to do more in less time. We’ve been able to improve our customer service, resulting in an overall satisfaction level that’s as high as, or higher than, it’s ever been.” And the AMX is especially valuable during times of crisis because it maximizes staff efficiency. Pre-programmed macros via the Modero touchpanel allow a series of commands with just one touch.
Watkins further explained how Constant Technologies approaches tying systems together. “We do little with pre-coded modules from vendors and even from AMX. So, typically, we’re able to eek out a bit more useful information than is given in stock modules, that’s given by manufacturers. By that, I mean we can find a lot more information from, say, a video cube or from a display wall processor than most people would need to know. And then we find the right balance between giving a lot of control and maintaining a simple interface.”
Processing equipment includes a 16x48 AutoPatch router/switcher and four Jupiter 980 display wall processors. In addition to the videowalls, there are six 40-inch Clarity Bobcat LCD displays housed in furniture that’s interspersed between the individual walls. These flat panels carry additional information sources, such as computer feeds.
“Often, when you walk in, you’ll see the LCDs showing a news channel, monitoring a weather event or another source,” said Watkins. “They’ll have on an appropriate channel, perhaps with closed captioning activated. In addition, the touchpanel gives them the ability to broadcast audio into any one of these sections and show DVD presentations.” Reynolds explained that The Weather Channel is monitored because of all of Aetna’s field offices around the world. Mainframe displays are also shown on some of the LCDs.
On the audio side, each of the three CNCC operation areas has its own audio system with separate Rane audio processors. “They’re able to control each area,” said Kment. “The middle, left and right areas can control and direct information, as well as audio sources with the CNCC.” Separate TOA audio mixers and power amplifiers similarly serve each area. There are three DVD players and VCRs, as well.
|The touchpanel in the conference room enables staff to execute macros, such as adjusting the lights, switching AV equipment and videoconferencing.
Although we’ve already alluded to Mission Control, here’s a detailed description. According to Reynolds, the room has several uses. “If we ever have an emergency, the room is set up so the president and chairman of the company can have full videocon-ferencing with either internal or external customers to explain the situation.”
The room is designed around a 30-foot-long custom-designed table also provided and installed by Constant Technologies. It’s set up with four Clarity 40 rear-projection displays, which can bring up any display via a touchpanel from the outside floor, which will allow the Aetna president or head of IT to come to Mission Control to triage problems, as needed. There are several ClearOne G button-type uni-directional recessed mics embedded into the table for audio conferencing.
Watkins noted that Polycom is Aetna’s corporate standard for videoconferencing. They’ve gone through a couple of generations of Polycoms. The most recent addition is the VSX7000e, which is tied into the control system. “It’s very nice because you can get a good deal of feedback on the control system, including being able to browse the directory on the Polycom, so you can keep track of the calls you’re in. Depending on the type of meeting they’re having in Mission Control, it can be broadcast company-wide like a town hall meeting. It can be displayed on each of the video display walls with audio, so those folks can follow what’s going on.” Room video is captured via a Sony EVID70 videoconferencing camera.
And regarding audio conferencing, Mission Control uses the ClearOne XAP800 in conjunction with the aforementioned recessed table mics. “That’s because the table in this glass room has microphones built into it for optimal sound pickup,” said Watkins. “We use the XAP800 for echo cancellation as well as ambient noise cancellation for noise problems.
“In a room like this, where there are several panes of glass from all different angles as well as a hard reflective table surface, those elements would cause variable echoing if ceiling mics were used.” So, the unidirectional mics embedded in the conference table were the best choice.
“Instead of text-based control, we use a 3D graphics control system,” said Kment. “Where the room is rendered in 3D, [the operators] are then able to touch on certain aspects or actual visuals of the screens and the consoles in order to interact with the information. So it makes it much more intuitive for them.”
Watkins further explained, “Because you have so many sources and so many outputs [in the CNCC], what we do is give them a visual representation of the room. Our design engineers lay out the room in AutoCAD 3D from the perspective as if you were standing in the room with all the proper laminate colors on the furniture, all the right carpeting colors and paint on the wall.
“Everything down to the ceiling tile is rendered faithfully before the room is even put together. Of course, this is not only useful for a sales tool beforehand, so people know what they’re getting, but it’s also for presenting to the touchpanel user an interface that’s intuitive and easy to understand.”
So, now we’ve come full circle in our CNCC story. “In our install, we strive for a world-class operation for our Aetna external customers when we try to sell our product,” said Reynolds. “Not only does our product sell by itself when customers come into the data center or just the CNCC operations, they also see a high quality product that we put together to ensure they’re spending their money wisely when they invest in us.”
Constant Technologies’ AV and Furniture Present a Unified Look
“We started out as a furniture company: not just furniture but consoles,” said project director Dan Kment. “It’s more of a specialized market in the command console. We’ve been doing command console furniture—designing, manufacturing and installing—since 1983. About 10 years ago, we used to sub out a lot of our AV work. Because of quality assurance and customer care, we didn’t think our customers were best being serviced by our outsourcing end of the business. So, we brought it all in-house, and created one turnkey solution for them.”
Technology integration engineer Ben Watkins stated, “The cabinets give a unified look. Because we do all the millwork as well as the AV integration, those components function together seamlessly. Everything has a unified look, feel and functionality. They’re very coherent.”
Kment added, “We now have one person—one point of contact—for a whole project. And we’re able to integrate a lot of the AV needs into the console, as well, such as with the laptop plug-ins. RBG plug-ins allow customers to have their local applications projected on the large screens. We come in and do that all in-house. One team goes in and implements them, as well. So, it really helps for the client to have direct control with us. They’re not calling five or six different tradesmen to do one job for them. It has been a successful model for us.”
Specifically, Constant Technologies’ console furniture includes the Contender and Freedom Series, enclosed command modules, workstations, trading/corporate classrooms and conference/situation rooms.
Headquartered in Hartford CT, Aetna is one of the country’s leaders in healthcare, dental, pharmacy, group life, disability, and long-term care insurance and employee benefits. Dedicated to helping people achieve health and financial security, Aetna puts information and helpful resources to work for its members to help them make better-informed decisions about their healthcare. Aetna offers a broad range of insurance and employee benefits products.
The first national, full-service health insurer to offer a consumer-directed health plan, Aetna continues to lead the way with its Aetna HealthFund products, including HSA, HRA and RRA options. Aetna offers programs and services that help control rising employee benefit costs while striving to improve the quality of healthcare, such as case management; disease management and patient safety programs; integrated medical, dental, pharmaceutical and behavioral health; and disability information.
For more information, visit www.aetna.com.
Constant Technologies, Wickford RI, offers a range of AV integration services as well as console furniture (see “Constant Technologies AV and Furniture Present a Unified Look” sidebar). On the audiovisual side, it offers large screen displays, display wall processing and integration, along with design services. The company’s wide range of AV experience includes financial, telecom, insurance, education, healthcare, government, utility and technology clients.
For additional information, visit www.constanttech.com.
6 Clarity Bobcat 40" WXGA diagonal direct view displays, 1280x768
42 Clarity Puma 50" XGA diagonal rear projection displays w/ dual lamps, 1024x768
3 Contemporary Research 232-STS CATV tuners
1 CTI video camera housing
2 Peerless wall mounting kits for flat panels
2 Samsung 40' cable ready LCD flat panel displays w/speakers
3 Sony DVP-S530D DVD players
1 Sony EVID70 videoconferencing camera
3 Sony SLV-N60HF VCRs
6 ClearOne 910-103-164 uni mics (button type, flush mount)
1 ClearOne XAP 800 audio processor echo cancellation matrix unit
40 Sound Advance CM77 custom speaker tiles
4 TOA IP450D 450x2 amps
4 TOA M900MK2 8-input audio mixers
4 TOA MB25B mixer rackmount ears
24 TOA UO3 input modules
1 AMX CC-USB wire programming cable
3 AMX FG032-10 CB-TP15 conduit boxes for NXD-CV15
1 AMX MISC patch panel cable kit
1 AMX NXC-ME260/64 NetLinx master 260 card Ethernet/32 MB compact flash/64MB RAM
1 AMX NXC-NH NetLinx ICS hub expander card
3 AMX NXD-1500VG Modero 15" color video-flushmount touchpanels
1 AMX NXI integrated NetLinx controller
1 AMX PSN-4.4 power supply
1 AutoPatch 16x48 composite video, stereo, CP-10
4 Jupiter 980 display wall processors
1 Polycom VSX7000e VC (client supplied)
3 Rane RPM26V programmable multiprocessors
2 Extron HSA 822 hideaway surface access enclosures
3 Gyration GP-270-001 wireless keyboards and mouse kits
6 Middle Atlantic AXS16 sliding equipment racks w/accessories
List is edited from information supplied by Constant Technologies.
Sound & Communications Contributing Editor Jim Stokes has been involved in the AV industry for more than 30 years as an AV technician and writer.