National Center for Healthcare Informatics - AGN Laboratory


A Laboratory and Classroom of the Future –
A True Success Story

The National Center for Health Care Informatics (NCHCI), located on the campus of Montana Tech of The University of Montana, has designed, built and integrated an audio/visual (AV) and Access Grid Node (AGN) Communications System into a new 24-seat computer lab marking it “a classroom of the future.”  Health Care Informatics is an emerging specialization in the health care industry that joins the disciplines of information technology, communications, and health care. The new system enhances instruction for Health Care Informatics students.  It truly is a premium conferencing and presentation system.  Already plans are underway to utilize the system as the link between a Montana Tech Health Care Informatics professor who will conduct classes from Jordan this coming fall semester.

It was the vision of Ray Rogers and Pat Dudley of the NCHCI to build a classroom to facilitate Informatics learning.  Rogers and Dudley understood that learning could be enhanced and facilitated by a laboratory-classroom integrated with networked computers, AV conferencing, and information and communications technologies.  To tie these systems together in a classroom setting, the NCHCI turned to Mike Kukay, Director of Network Services.  Kukay took the lead in designing, planning and supervising the project and reflects, “The project was full of challenges, but that was the catalyst that kept us going. We strived to make the system everything we knew it could be without compromising.”   One such challenge was consolidating AGN services on one high end dual processor, hyper threaded Xeon workstation and eliminating both hardware and software conflicts.  Providing invaluable assistance was Ryan Simpson, Computer Support Technician and a student of the Information Technology and Design program.  Simpson also provided expertise in audio and sound processing and implementation of the project plan.  To simplify interaction with the matrix switch, a customized interface control program was developed by Gary Mannix, professor of Computer Science and owner of Custom Software Development.  The interface control program provides I/O switching control over the audio/visual system.  The interface program is intuitive, graphical in nature, easy to use and includes an online Help assistant.

The new system provides a dual role by (1) offering an elaborate presentation system for an instructor or presenter and (2) accommodating AGN communications.  AGN communications utilize Grid resources to support group-to- group interaction and collaboration among participants at other AGN sites.  The interaction occurs by utilizing streaming multicast media and the grid node provides an AV environment in which the technology fades into the background.  Instantaneous interaction occurs across widely distributed sites; this infrastructure is used to provide groups with the ability to share data, computing resources, and applications. The Access Grid has issued over 3400 certificates to users across 47 countries. 

In the new classroom, the instructor’s presentation station is equipped with an Altinex Pop ‘N Plug tabletop interconnect.  This allows a guest speaker the capability to interface a notebook computer to the projectors, local area network, a phone, the local sound system, and a microphone PA system.  “Ease-of-use is the name of the game” according to Kukay.    

At the heart of the system is an Altinex Multitasker switch purchased on a recommendation from Rheanna Gutcher of Altinex. This switch allows for the sharing of all the AV equipment among three computers – the instructor’s computer, the AGN computer, and a guest computer connecting through the Pop ‘N Plug tabletop interconnect.  Altinex also provided the custom cabling interconnecting all of the equipment.

The AV/AGN system is comprised of three primary Infocus LP-840 projectors which throw an image over a 22’ wide Wall Talker Screen.  There are two additional Infocus 540 projectors for 3D projection which are based upon the Geowall projection system.  This system supports interactive observation and sharing of 3D data sets between sites that have established Access Grid Nodes or independent standalone use.  The lab is also equipped with a high end audio system using the Bose 402 series speakers and Panarray controller. For voice interaction, the system utilizes two Acoustic Magic Voice Tracker Microphones for room pickup and a Sennheiser wireless microphone for mobile presenters and an ElectoVoice desktop microphone for a speaker at the instructor’s presentation station.  To eliminate audio feedback and echo, a sound processor from ClearOne is utilized. Video conferencing is by way of three Canon VC-C50i communication cameras strategically located to cover the entire lab.   

Each desk unit is equipped with a networked IBM ThinkCentre A Series Computer and the lab is managed by GenevaLogic’s Vision5 software which allows the instructor to share, remotely control, or broadcast the instructor’s screen to all PC’s.  Prototyping and configuring the PC’s in the lab comes at the hands of Bud McEnaney, Computer Support Specialist.  The PC configuration is the application suite and custom setups which gives a computer its look and feel.

Funding was made available through a federal grant to establish the National Center for Health Care Informatics.  All of this equipment was purchased through Joel Heney, Sales Manager of AV Superstore who provided excellent pre-purchase research.  The wide variety of video conferencing components used to build the system attests to the broad range of products available from AV Superstore. Their qualified technical staff proved to be invaluable.

The system has exceeded all expectations and is evidence of the professionalism of those involved.  The project was a team effort from inception to completion and is truly a success story.


Ray Rogers, Chief Executive Officer, National Center for Health Care Informatics
Pat Dudley, Chief Operating Officer, National Center for Health Care Informatics
Mike Kukay, Director Network Services – Montana Tech, Project Supervision and System Design
Ryan Simpson, Computer Support Technician – Montana Tech, Schematics and Systems Implementation
Gary Mannix, Custom Software Development, L.L.C., Control Software Development
Bud McEnaney, Computer Support Specialist – Montana Tech, PC Configurations
Doug Cameron, Department Head, Health Care Informatics & Pre-professional Health Studies – Montana Tech
Bob Wachtel, Media Services Coordinator – University of Montana, AGN testing and consulting
Lou Glassy, Professor Computer Science – Montana Tech, AGN Toolkit code consulting
Rollo Shea, Director Physical Facilities, Construction Manager
Dennis Lowney, Carpenter – Montana Tech, Cabinets, shelves
Larry McAllister, Carpenter – Montana Tech
Pete Weber, Communications Project Manager – Access Consulting, Cabling Infrastructure Design
Ed Thomas, President – Lantek Inc., cable installation and custom racks
Joel Heney, Sales Manager – AV Superstore, pre-purchase consulting
Rheanna Gutcher, -- Altinex, Inc., Matrix Switch solution

For more information contact:

Ray Rogers
Chief Development Officer
National Center for Health Care Informatics
1300 W. Park St.
Butte, MT  59701

Mike Kukay
Director, Network Services
Montana Tech
1300 W. Park St.
Butte, MT 59701
















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