Friday, April 19, 2024

Will IP Gobble Up Building Automation Systems?

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Convergence was supposed to be all about data and voice. But with that process well in hand, virgin territory for further convergence has emerged: the linking of IP networks and building automation systems (BAS) such as access controls, AC, security and closed circuit TV (CCTV).

“Vendors like EMC and Cisco are trying to make the IT audience subscribe to the vision of a centralized monitoring infrastructure that encompasses those systems typically maintained by facilities personnel,” says Ashish Nadkarni, a consultant at GlassHouse Technologies, an IT consultancy.

When IT infrastructure fails, after all, it doesn’t matter if the failure was due to a sprinkler system malfunction, a server rack overheating or the uninterruptible power systems (UPS) not kicking in. By monitoring and managing everything within a building in the same way as the rest of the IT systems, says Nadkarni, an IT administrator can pinpoint a brewing problem and isolate or repair it before it cascades throughout the infrastructure.

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Accordingly, products are now entering the market to address this need. These range from systems such as Foreseer by Eaton Corp. of Cleveland, Ohio, that extend the reach of existing approaches to IT monitoring, to a whole new brand of sophisticated systems – developed by companies such as Cisco – that aim to span across every single building system and corral it all under an IP umbrella.

Foreseer Foresight

Software is already available that moves IT management beyond its traditional realms of systems, networks and applications. Eaton’s Foreseer Enterprise Management System, for example, manages infrastructure equipment, including power, environmental, and life/safety devices from any site carrying a Foreseer server. Interfaces are available for most manufacturers of power and environmental equipment, as well as subsystems such as fire, security, fuel, UPS, air handlers, heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC), battery monitoring and temperature/humidity sensors.

Nu Skin Enterprises in Provo, Utah, uses this tool to run a large data center with a wide range of HP, Sun, Dell and Apple servers. It enables the company to track IT and building systems simultaneously.

“Foreseer helps us track detailed information from our fuel source down through our electrical and mechanical chain,” says Shawn Folkman, manager of data center operations at Nu Skin.

Before making the choice, he and his team visited several large data centers to obtain a cross matrix of how they monitored infrastructure. While he is happy with the product, he cautions other IT managers to not take such a project lightly.

“At the beginning we didn’t understand the amount of time necessary for installation, as this implementation involved coordination between many vendors and ended up taking several months,” says Folkman. “But I wish I had installed infrastructure monitoring software years ago.”

Connected Real Estate

The inter-vendor liaison woes experienced by Nu Skin are the norm for anyone attempting to bring together the disparate worlds of IT and facilities.

“Power networks are currently implemented and managed by a completely different group than the data network,” says Clive Longbottom, an analyst with UK-based IT analyst firm QuoCirca. “They may be called in to run new power for IT assets, or even to pull data cables, but there is little interaction between the two when it comes to strategy or how the two environments could work well with each other.”

Even within the building automation category, disharmony reigns. Separate protocols and networks exist to run elevators, cameras, doors, lighting, electricity, HVAC, smoke detectors, fans, thermostats, water systems, vendor machines, fire alarms, pumps and card readers.

Next page: Power over Ethernet (POE)

The concept of having separate protocols for everything started to change, though, with the advent of Power over Ethernet. PoE is a mechanism for delivering operating power to the network device via standard Category 5 Ethernet cable. With PoE, the powered device (phone, security camera, PDA, etc) receives the power in conjunction with data directly from the Ethernet port in the wall.

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While the current maximum of 15.4 watts is not enough for many devices, PoE Plus is due in 2007. That will boost the power potential perhaps beyond 30 watts – more than enough to run CCTV cameras and even laptops without a separate power cord (i.e., the laptop user plugs in an Ethernet cable) and is enough to run the machine without use of the battery.

This has opened the door to another wave of convergence that could well unite BAS and IT within a few years. The Cisco Connected Real Estate Initiative (CCRE), for instance, is one of the more ambitious endeavors. Its aim is to tie together both fields under an IP backbone.

“It really makes sense to build an intelligent environment where a building is self-contained through its controls of access/egress, heating, lighting and so on,” says Longbottom. “By bringing the networks together, buildings can be managed far more effectively and efficiently.”

To further its CCRE initiatives, Cisco is partnering with companies such as Richards-Zeta (RZ) Building Intelligence, a manufacturer of IP-centric building integration controls. RZ’s Mediator MPX provides the middleware to tie IP and legacy BAS protocols together. The basic concept is to have an IP core for the entire building that connects to every single device and building system.

But far from being a distant dream, such technology is already making its way into innovative new designs. Madison Tower in downtown Seattle, for instance, is a 23-story structure that includes 47 luxury homes atop a boutique hotel. The building operator decided to bring all building thermostats, televisions, VoIP telephony, mini-bars, central chilled and hot water plants, and HVAC under IP management. The goal was to improve efficiency, reduce costs and exceed expectations by determining and resolving problems before they affected guests. RZ Mediator acts as the interface between building systems and the Cisco IP Network.

“We used to have to go into various proprietary applications at different terminals to determine cause of failure and now we can do that from virtually anywhere in the world with the ability to dial-in from a remote location,” says Donald Kenney, IT manager of Hotel 1000. “A converged network allows us to monitor all traffic on the services we provide throughout the hotel.”

Wait a Few Years

Such developments, of course, are still in their infancy. According to RZ, the principal vendors on the BAS side are reluctant to give up control by abandoning proprietary protocols. But standardization is coming to the field and will eventually prevail. Within five to seven years, perhaps the pieces will be in place for end-to-end IP building enablement.

“Full network convergence will take time to take hold in the market,” says Longbottom. “And as retro-fitting will not be easy, most of the action will be for new builds in the near to mid-term future.”

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