IP audio and control pioneer Barix this month celebrates its 20th anniversary. Over two decades, the Swiss company has grown from a control and automation upstart into a globally recognised Audio over IP innovator primarily serving the professional AV, broadcast and security industries, while supporting a variety of vertical markets within each. Barix has shipped nearly one million devices to serve control, streaming and transport applications for end-users, OEM vendors, service providers and systems integrators.

Current CTO Johannes G. Rietschel founded Barix in 2001 to escape the trappings of corporate operations that slowed his product development ideas, which evolved from standard legacy network components to IT-focused control products by the turn of the century. “I had spent too much time traveling to tradeshows doing ‘research’ with little to show beyond expense reports,” he said. “My vision was to build a product that would fit the market and adapt to customer requests from there, instead of overthinking. That’s the premise on which Barix was founded.

Four core product lines

Barix’s roots took shape in residential automation, an area the company remains active in through partnerships with Aiphone, Crestron and other companies. Rietschel soon added audio distribution to his vision, introducing products to move voice and music throughout homes. Commercial markets came calling in search of inexpensive ways to move audio and control signals over then-novel IP networks.

Barix’s four core product lines were established before long, with proven hardware devices for voice and intercom (Annuncicom), automation and control (Barionet), and music/audio streaming (Instreamer encoders, Exstreamer decoders).

Broadcasters adopted Barix

Broadcasters approved Barix to transport live program signals between studios and transmitter sites over IP networks The broadcast industry was among the first to take an interest, with radio engineers recognising that Instreamer and Exstreamer products offered a low-cost alternative to expensive microwave STL systems. It wasn’t long before broadcasters adopted Barix to transport live program signals between studios and transmitter sites over IP networks.

Around the same time, Barix saw quickly rising interest in its Annuncicom products for IP paging and intercom systems, and its Instreamer and Exstreamer systems for background music (BGM) delivery. Visionary integrators and service providers were soon moving BGM, paging, intercom and even control functions (HVAC, lighting and more) over a common IP architecture using Barix hardware.

Global partner network

By 2006, Barix had a global partner network, including the highly successful Barix Technology USA division, long managed by the late Andy Stadheim and a worldwide presence in education, government, hospitality, medical, radio broadcast, retail, scientific, transportation and worship environments.

Product developers, enthused by positive feedback, soon came to Barix requesting modular solutions to help them build their own products, a mission made easy thanks to Barix’s openly programmable IPAM modules at the core of their own products.

Assisting with IP transitions

Many of today’s primary Barix applications were discovered by chance, or developed through early enthusiasts,” said Rietschel. “That’s especially true in broadcast, where many AM and FM radio stations didn’t have the budget for STL systems that ran tens of thousands of dollars."

"We also saw strong interest from music service providers and retail operations that urgently needed to transition from expensive satellite systems, and transit companies that were replacing copper with fiber. Barix was in a perfect position to assist these customers with their IP transitions, as our devices offered the combination of price, reliability and performance they needed.

RoHS environmental regulations

Rietschel recounts one challenging period in this timeframe when RoHS environmental regulations forced a substantial product redesign. Barix ran low on cashflow, and one shareholder opted out of the further investment.

Rietschel worked for months without pay and invested more of his own money to redevelop products and meet regulations. Within months, Barix sold several thousand of the then-new Exstreamer 100 decoder — a product that remains available today.

Software & cloud-based products

The company’s focus has increasingly shifted to more software-defined and cloud-based architectures While Barix continues to develop new IP audio and control hardware devices, the company’s focus has increasingly shifted to more software-defined and cloud-based architectures.

These have led to recent game-changing, enterprise-level BGM streaming solutions like RetailPlayer and SoundScape; cloud-based radio signal distribution solutions like Reflector; and fully networked communications systems like Paging Cloud and Simple Paging.

Technology trendsetter

Barix was also an early innovator of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) technology, first adopted by security customers for efficient VoIP connections and now gaining traction in broadcast; and among the first to merge digital signage and BYOD mobile applications with its AudioPoint solution.

Meanwhile, the company’s OEM business continues to flourish; Barix is now on its fourth-generation IPAM Series module (IPAM400), and most recently introduced its IP Former solution to help loudspeaker manufacturers transition their legacy products to IP networks.

Innovative spirit

The unending innovative spirit and sense of creative freedom at Barix has been instrumental in the company’s global growth. The company continues to attract engineering talent from inside and outside its core industries, and recently opened a new innovation centre in Portugal that focuses on research and development for new and existing markets.

Current CEO Reto Brader, who has accelerated the company’s transition to more cloud and SaaS solutions, jumped at the opportunity to join Barix after growing familiar with Rietschel’s continuously evolving vision. He finds Barix inescapable even while just going about his daily business.

Efficient use of Barix devices

I take the Swiss federal train system to work every morning, and I smile knowing that the platform announcements come from an Annuncicom at a dispatch center hours away,” said Brader.

The same is true when I’m on the New Jersey Transit train system heading into New York City, or the Metro in Rio de Janeiro. When I go skiing at the Titlis resort in the Swiss mountains or drive onto the BMW campus in Munich, Barix solutions deliver the music and open the entrance barrier. I was recently communicating with a university research department using Barix for remote-controllable construction digging. I’m constantly surprised at where and how Barix devices are used, most of which tie back to efficient use of the public internet.

Case study

The creativity and innovation at Barix compel the partners and customers to find new ways to use the productsOne of Brader’s favourite stories is from a farmer in a rural northwest area of the United States who uses Barix to play music for 3000 cows on a 30-acre dairy farm.

It’s been running in a very harsh weather environment where the temperatures are very extreme and power issues abound, yet it all keeps running,” he said. “The creativity and innovation at Barix extend to our partners and customers that continue to find unique and compelling ways to use our products.

Products longevity

 Rietschel adds that the longevity of their installed products correlates with the longevity of Barix. “Our products are reliable and hold up well over years and even decades, and the more recent generations of our products will have even greater longevity through firmware updates,” he said. “While we have never been the biggest company, we remain profitable and have made it through 20 years and challenging business environments without ever laying off employees.

The loyalty of our customers and our embrace of open standards and creative, programmable IP solutions have been at the foundation of our success to date,” he said, “We can now look forward to the next 20 years and beyond.

Customer-driven innovation

For Brader, that means continuing to drive innovation as CEO that embraces customer-driven innovation in broadcast, AV, automation and all of the key vertical markets Barix addresses within these markets.

Just as in the early days, our strategy is to be the first to help businesses turn their IP audio and control visions into reality,” he said. “Our customers can count on Barix’s engineering team as an experienced, affordable and hyper-innovative development partner for years to come.

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In case you missed it

Expert roundup: healthy buildings, blockchain, AI, skilled workers, and more
Expert roundup: healthy buildings, blockchain, AI, skilled workers, and more

Our Expert Panel Roundtable is an opinionated group. However, for a variety of reasons, we are sometimes guilty of not publishing their musings in a timely manner. At the end of 2020, we came across several interesting comments among those that were previously unpublished. Following is a catch-all collection of those responses, addressing some of the most current and important issues in the security marketplace in 2021.

Smart Offices: How is mobile ID changing the way we access the office?
Smart Offices: How is mobile ID changing the way we access the office?

If you’re a security or facilities manager, you may already be aware of the quiet revolution that’s taking place across businesses and organisations up and down the country. By the end of 2020, 20% of all ID and access control systems featured mobile capability, and this is set to increase by a further 34% over the next three years. There’s no doubt that using a smartphone or mobile device in place of traditional credential and access control is a growing trend that’s only been sped up by the pandemic. It’s true that many businesses are still very much focused on remote working, although many are now starting to implement new-and-improved strategies that are better suited to protect the workforce moving forward. Mobile ID systems As the next normal becomes clearer, businesses will be reviewing procedures such as access control, occupancy monitoring, reducing touch points and tracking visitors. Mobile ID systems are ideally suited to this task. But what are the key reasons for considering such a setup in 2021? But why is this new technology so well-suited to future-proof your physical access system, and why is it becoming so popular? Eradicating outdated legacy credentials Have you seen just how vulnerable outdated Proximity card technology can be? Low-frequency 125kHz cards can be cloned in a matter of seconds with the use of cheap, readily available tools. Despite their weaknesses, they are still used by a huge majority of businesses – big and small. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential Replacing such a system with a mobile-enabled system is one of the best ways to increase security ten-fold. Thanks to a cloud-based infrastructure, mobile ID offers best-in-class security and cryptography. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential. Bluetooth Smart and NFC (Near Field Communication) make them the best product to operate such a credential via a secure app. If you’re looking for best-in-class security in 2021, mobile access is most definitely the way forward. Removing touch points across the business Reducing touch points and the adoption of touchless facilities has become a key priority for businesses in the wake of COVID-19. Even as businesses start to return to the office and operate a home/office split, it will be imperative that unnecessary contact is kept to an absolute minimum between staff. The traditional issuance of identification and access control credentials can pose problems in this regard. Facility and security managers who are responsible for onboarding and processing ID have done the process face to face. Mobile access makes it possible to carry this process out without people coming into direct content. First, the security manager has access to a secure portal, allowing them to create, manage and edit credentials anywhere. They can upload and remotely transfer mobile ID and access control credentials directly to users’ smartphones over the air. Via the secure app, users can view and see their credentials and immediately begin using it for ID and access control by simply placing their smartphone over card readers. Enabling a more flexible way of working The way in which we work has changed for good. Even as people more people return to the office in 2021, a majority of businesses will be operating a home/office split indefinitely. This once again reinforces the need for a smarter, more adaptable onboarding system. Implementing mobile ID is the perfect way of doing this: over-the-air delivery of credentials and security data is now a given, helping businesses create the perfect balance between the home and the office. No longer do people have to come into the office for the onboarding process. Increasing convenience and user experience More often businesses are realising the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security Ok, so mobile ID is the perfect way of increasing security and adapting workplaces to a post-COVID way of working. And we’ve not even touched on the most obvious advantage yet: Convenience. How many times have you forgotten your ID card? We’re sure it’s more times than you forget your smartphone. These powerful processors have become intertwined with the way we carry out tasks on a daily basis. They’re so vital that people will soon notice if they’ve forgotten it. From an employee’s perspective, mobile ID and access control is simple, convenient and extremely user-friendly. More and more businesses are realising the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security. From the employer’s perspective, mobile ID means it’s easier for administrators to manage access and credentials. Future-proofing access control now will ensure that in the longer term, mobile ID is well worth the investment. The annual expenditure of printing ID cards and purchasing credentials can be vast, while reissuance costs can also quickly add up for larger organisations. These issues are a thing of the past for businesses using mobile ID. Mobile ID perfect tool for 2021 and beyond Until mobile ID, new and improved credentials’ main focus was on increasing security. Mobile ID not only delivers that, but it also provides a more convenient way of accessing the office in a way that’s perfectly suited to returning to the office in 2021. If there was ever a time to upgrade, now is the time. Summing up, mobile access is changing the way we access the office by: Eliminating weak links in security systems such as outdated legacy card technologies Eradicating the need for touch points across multiple areas of the workplace Enabling a smarter, more flexible approach to onboarding Increasing convenience – for both employers and employees.

Water plant attack emphasizes cyber’s impact on physical security
Water plant attack emphasizes cyber’s impact on physical security

At an Oldsmar, Fla., water treatment facility on Feb. 5, an operator watched a computer screen as someone remotely accessed the system monitoring the water supply and increased the amount of sodium hydroxide from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million. The chemical, also known as lye, is used in small concentrations to control acidity in the water. In larger concentrations, the compound is poisonous – the same corrosive chemical used to eat away at clogged drains. The impact of cybersecurity attacks The incident is the latest example of how cybersecurity attacks can translate into real-world, physical security consequences – even deadly ones.Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. The computer system was set up to allow remote access only to authorised users. The source of the unauthorised access is unknown. However, the attacker was only in the system for 3 to 5 minutes, and an operator corrected the concentration back to 100 parts per million soon after. It would have taken a day or more for contaminated water to enter the system. In the end, the city’s water supply was not affected. There were other safeguards in place that would have prevented contaminated water from entering the city’s water supply, which serves around 15,000 residents. The remote access used for the attack was disabled pending an investigation by the FBI, Secret Service and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. On Feb. 2, a compilation of breached usernames and passwords, known as COMB for “Compilation of Many Breaches,” was leaked online. COMB contains 3.2 billion unique email/password pairs. It was later discovered that the breach included the credentials for the Oldsmar water plant. Water plant attacks feared for years Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the attempt to poison the water supply should be treated as a “matter of national security.” “The incident at the Oldsmar water treatment plant is a reminder that our nation’s critical infrastructure is continually at risk; not only from nation-state attackers, but also from malicious actors with unknown motives and goals,” comments Mieng Lim, VP of Product Management at Digital Defense Inc., a provider of vulnerability management and threat assessment solutions.The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organizations bring systems online “Our dependency on critical infrastructure – power grids, utilities, water supplies, communications, financial services, emergency services, etc. – on a daily basis emphasises the need to ensure the systems are defended against any adversary,” Mieng Lim adds. “Proactive security measures are crucial to safeguard critical infrastructure systems when perimeter defences have been compromised or circumvented. We have to get back to the basics – re-evaluate and rebuild security protections from the ground up.” "This event reinforces the increasing need to authenticate not only users, but the devices and machine identities that are authorised to connect to an organisation's network,” adds Chris Hickman, Chief Security Officer at digital identity security vendor Keyfactor. “If your only line of protection is user authentication, it will be compromised. It's not necessarily about who connects to the system, but what that user can access once they're inside. "If the network could have authenticated the validity of the device connecting to the network, the connection would have failed because hackers rarely have possession of authorised devices. This and other cases of hijacked user credentials can be limited or mitigated if devices are issued strong, crypto-derived, unique credentials like a digital certificate. In this case, it looks like the network had trust in the user credential but not in the validity of the device itself. Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is what can happen when zero trust is your end state, not your beginning point." “The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organisations bring systems online for the first time as part of digital transformation projects,” says Gareth Williams, Vice President - Secure Communications & Information Systems, Thales UK. “While the move towards greater automation and connected switches and control systems brings unprecedented opportunities, it is not without risk, as anything that is brought online immediately becomes a target to be hacked.” Operational technology to mitigate attacks Williams advises organisations to approach Operational Technology as its own entity and put in place procedures that mitigate against the impact of an attack that could ultimately cost lives. This means understanding what is connected, who has access to it and what else might be at risk should that system be compromised, he says. “Once that is established, they can secure access through protocols like access management and fail-safe systems.”  “The cyberattack against the water supply in Oldsmar should come as a wakeup call,” says Saryu Nayyar, CEO, Gurucul.  “Cybersecurity professionals have been talking about infrastructure vulnerabilities for years, detailing the potential for attacks like this, and this is a near perfect example of what we have been warning about,” she says.  Although this attack was not successful, there is little doubt a skilled attacker could execute a similar infrastructure attack with more destructive results, says Nayyar. Organisations tasked with operating and protecting critical public infrastructure must assume the worst and take more serious measures to protect their environments, she advises. Fortunately, there were backup systems in place in Oldsmar. What could have been a tragedy instead became a cautionary tale. Both physical security and cybersecurity professionals should pay attention.