April 2010

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BAS-IT Convergence
Now and Into the Cloud

Greg Turner



Greg Turner
Director of Global Offerings, 
Honeywell Building Solutions

There was a time that the convergence of building automation systems (BAS) across the enterprise network was a novel concept. And much like the first wave of cell phones, early efforts to marry building and information technology (IT) were imperfect and the results a bit clunky. Today, however, BAS-IT convergence is an everyday reality.  New Web-based technologies are driving open standards (e.g., XML) that improve ease-of-use by delivering information to those who need it, when they need it, and how they want it, whether it’s a desktop computer or (highly evolved) mobile device.

Integrating building systems across the IT backbone is increasingly common; it’s a shift that brings multiple benefits, as well as new responsibilities.
Integrating building systems across the IT backbone is increasingly common; it’s a shift that brings multiple benefits, as well as new responsibilities.

 

The key advantage to convergence is the ability to aggregate, evaluate and deliver actionable information to people any where and in any format.
The key advantage to convergence is the ability to aggregate, evaluate and deliver actionable information to people any where and in any format.

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The standardization and rapidly decreasing cost of connectivity has already delivered benefits to facility managers and their organizations that range from improved comfort to reduced energy consumption and costs.

As the concept of convergence has evolved, it has also ushered in a new era of computing “in the cloud”, enabling organizations to manage building data from disparate systems across multiple locations using shared applications in a hosted environment. This cloud architecture delivers additional benefits including reduced capital expenditure on IT infrastructure and support, while increasing scalability to address new organizational challenges such as sustainability, predictive maintenance and asset management

But despite the many advantages, integrating lighting, HVAC, power, video, access control, fire safety and other systems onto an IT network is not yet “plug and play.” Like most things in a building, planning, collaboration and a well defined architecture are keys to accomplishing the transition. Organizations must adopt an all-encompassing approach to fully seize the opportunity and ultimately improve the bottom line.

Following is a blueprint for organizations looking to embrace and leverage convergence — now and into the cloud.

Building a Common Vision
Successful convergence hinges on developing a unified strategy between traditionally separate groups — facilities, security, safety and IT. Fostering collaboration and building partnerships among these groups poses several challenges because each part of the organization has separate (and sometimes conflicting) priorities and budgets. Establishing common goals, such as combating rising energy costs, extending asset life, reducing risk or protecting intellectual property, will help drive this collaboration. Maintaining clear lines of communication and establishing strong working relationships among these groups is essential for success.

Integrating building systems and IT means merging roles and responsibilities and obliterating silos previously in place. This merger, which is the first step toward integration, is critical and thus requires as much careful planning as any other strategic component.

The IT relationship should be established during the planning period and is key to selecting the standards and protocols that can make convergence with other enterprise systems possible. Initial discussions should include making the architectural decisions surrounding convergence, the implementation process and the desired outcomes from data sharing and dashboard management applications. IT will want to determine what the integrated building systems will bring to a network, including bandwidth, exposures and data management structures, as well as how the building resources will interact with other systems already on the network.

Convergence provides the greatest savings when organizations can start asking the critical questions for optimal system use and performance: “Where else can we use this?” and “How can we maximize this?” Questions such as these can help guide converged systems deployment and performance as groups collaborate to meet overall business goals.

Protecting Vital Systems
As with any network-based system, security exposure and converged system vulnerabilities must be properly addressed. Careful planning and collaboration between facilities groups and IT, however, can help mitigate risk and enhance security when it comes to the network.

A key productivity improvement of convergence comes from the “anywhere access” using a Web browser. However, when that includes the use of wireless networks or remote connectivity, the network security and authentication approach is critical to keeping the network and all systems secure. When integrating any building system onto a network, there are several issues that must be addressed.

Wireless technology gives facilities personnel access to diagnostic data and technical documents that can help them address problems quickly and effectively.

Wireless technology gives facilities personnel access to diagnostic data and technical documents that can help them address problems quickly and effectively. It’s essential, however, that this technology is deployed using the proper network security and authentication protocols.

First, personnel from all departments — including facilities, IT, security and safety — need to identify where system exposures exist based on required functionality. Who will manage network access, for example? When the traditional departmental lines are redrawn, critical tasks must be identified and assigned; each group must have a clear understanding of its roles and responsibilities.

Planning is particularly important when looking at logical exposures. For example, when plugging an access control system into a network, card readers and related management software become vulnerable to network threats such as viruses. Those threats would impact both a company’s security and IT systems.

Conversely, systems on the facilities side can introduce new vulnerabilities to a network. Like any software, a BAS can become a point of entry for threats if it is not secure and routinely updated. That’s why many companies are turning to Web-based support tools — similar to what’s used in the IT realm — that provide automatic control system updates and security patches, among other things. These tools help ensure building systems aren’t susceptible to cyber attacks.

Developing a Security Plan
Monitoring is a crucial factor for network security and reliability, and when facility, security and business systems are all sharing a common network, the issue becomes especially important.

Depending on available resources, implementing a monitoring system for all critical network components can ensure fast notification and problem resolution when issues, such as viruses or unauthorized access, occur.

Besides monitoring, other options for improving security, response and notification time include integrating functions that have previously existed in silos. Organizations have benefited from integrating IT security and building security, not only for operational savings such as a common 24-hour monitoring center, but also to ensure that intellectual property is as secure as physical assets.

CatNet Systems Applying IT Standards to BAS
Integrating a building system with an IT network means standard IT practices, methods and maintenance now apply to BAS as well. When convergence takes place, it’s important for facility and security groups to learn and apply standard IT operating procedures.

Specifically, IT standards include system maintenance practices, notification procedures and hardware standards. If a network experiences an outage, or a system on that network goes down, how quickly will facility personnel be notified, for example? And how will regularly scheduled network maintenance affect critical building systems? Who will manage security patches for building systems? Who manages the backups and disaster recovery plans?

To address these questions, all maintenance and system changes must follow a standard management process, which regulates when and how any action that affects the network is performed. As part of the process, for instance, those in charge of building automation might receive notification of scheduled maintenance, which might let them know they will not be able to adjust the HVAC system or view certain alarms during a specific time period.

Going forward into the cloud, BAS will join a rich IT services environment that is standardized, and allow facilities, safety and security teams to focus on their primary mission without the complexities of managing networks, security, access, and IT hardware life cycles. IT benefits by leveraging shared assets in both server and networking infrastructure to provide another set of mission-critical applications to the business.

Employing Recovery Strategies
Recovery strategies are among the other key IT practices that must be addressed when integrating building systems onto a network. Placing data from multiple systems in one location provides several benefits, but also introduces additional risks. Establishing sound recovery strategies can ensure critical data isn’t lost and critical system uptime in maintained at the lowest cost.

User error is typically the cause of data loss, and placing data on a network often means increased user exposure and chances for error. To determine the appropriate backup strategy, companies must determine how much data loss and downtime they can afford, as well as how many changes are regularly made to the data and the frequency with which these changes occur. The answers will vary based on the type of organization. A commercial office building will have very different needs from a high-tech organization or a facility that handles U.S. Department of Defense work.

These factors must then be weighed with the appropriate data cost model, including labor, space and storage. Cost increases as the amount of stored data rises. An organization might decide it isn’t willing to lose more than an hour’s worth of data and will pay the associated storage backup costs.

Once the optimal level of backup is determined, organizations should apply backup methods for all systems, such as transferring database content to disks or keeping transaction logs.

Another critical component of a backup strategy is regular testing and evaluation. Set a reminder each month for testing, for example, and select a server at random. Restore the data from that server, and then evaluate the testing results. Did the strategy run smoothly? Did anything unexpected happen? Establishing these tests and analyzing the results can mean the difference between smooth convergence and losing mission-critical data.

When the time to recover from backups presents an unacceptable risk or cost, companies should implement redundancy strategies, which can limit downtime to mere seconds. While full redundancy used to be a cost that few could justify, the move to virtualized servers and shared resources makes this a viable option for most systems.

Moving into the Cloud
As integration of building systems onto IT networks becomes more commonplace, some organizations have built upon the concept by managing their building systems and data across multiple locations using a virtualized network architecture, a step on the evolutionary path called cloud computing.

Cloud computing is a natural extension of convergence, and at a basic level involves sharing resources such as servers, network infrastructure, software and applications across a network. This eliminates costly dedicated infrastructure and the high operating costs that come with it. Having application services and data hosted and managed through the cloud creates a highly scalable environment to deliver information to as many users as necessary using a wide array of devices.

Cloud computing is broadly categorized in two ways, public and private. And when considering cloud computing, organizations must weigh several factors — such as reliability, security and how mission-critical the service is to their organization — to determine which approach fits their needs.

Public clouds closely resemble the application service provider (ASP) model of the late 1990s, where externally hosted applications are delivered via subscription to a customer organization. This approach is rapidly gaining ground with schools, multi-tenant buildings and shopping centers where investment in and operation of IT infrastructure is not core to the business operation; as a result, the lower cost of a shared public cloud provides the best value.

Private clouds are hosted behind an organization’s own firewall, and deliver applications to users within the organization, often through a portal or thin client such as a Web browser. Many organizations view private clouds as inherently more secure and easier to manage through network password credentialing, encryption, and certificate-based security. This approach is most common for “facilities clouds” at multi-building and even multi-national firms, where large business-critical IT infrastructures already exist.

From a building automation perspective, a typical cloud computing scenario could involve an organization purchasing a number of points of automation, with a service provider managing the off-site server that hosts the system applications and aggregates data. The building system information is delivered back to the customer via a dashboard, allowing them to use the data to optimize onsite infrastructure and inform decision making.

Control Solutions, Inc Because these applications are delivered as a service in a hosted environment, updating systems becomes more frequent because it’s easier to make a change in one place than it is to do it 100 times across multiple locations with disparate IT environments. Functionality incrementally improves as time goes on too, especially compared to static standalone systems that require more involved periodic upgrades.

In addition to reduced infrastructure, and increased flexibility and performance, one of the key benefits cloud computing provides is the ability to consolidate information from disparate systems across multiple locations to solve problems that weren’t able to be addressed before. Many organizations are developing application-specific clouds, often private, to help with these challenges.

For example, one Honeywell customer needed to seamlessly aggregate environmental and energy-efficiency data from across dozens of sites nationwide in support of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. Their reporting process had proven slow and inefficient, with data collectors at each facility logging the information on various local systems, then sending to the corporate office for further analysis.

To streamline the process, the organization employed a cloud-based application that seamlessly gathered each local system’s data, allowing not only the corporate office to better manage CSR reporting in a timely manner, but also enabling the local sites to view and compare progress against their peers in near real time. The cloud has helped eliminate a non-value added task and allowed each local facility to remain in control of their data.

As cloud computing becomes more prevalent so will the importance of the facility manager whose primary focus will be maintaining and optimizing onsite systems, including mechanical and electrical assets, sensors, actuators and other building infrastructure. In the end, if equipment and sensors do not provide accurate data, the sophistication of any IT architecture will not matter and efficiency goals will not be achieved.

Planning to Get the Desired Results
Cementing roles and relationships, keeping lines of communication open, and planning for all phases of convergence are imperative if an organization aims to improve its processes and realize the full value of integrated systems. Moving to the cloud is simply a new path to further reducing facility operating costs while ensuring safe, comfortable and productive working environments.

The thin line between success and failure is characterized by how well an organization can establish common ground, meet all departmental needs, and support new ways of thinking and doing. By anticipating requirements and adhering to common standards, facility, security, safety and IT personnel can operate in partnership to achieve higher system performance, with lower capital investment, for optimal business results.


About The Author
Greg Turner is the director of global offerings for Honeywell Building Solutions. In this role, he is responsible for the research and development of technology that makes facilities more safe, secure, comfortable and energy efficient. Greg has been with the company for more than 20 years, holding a variety of positions from maintenance technician to project engineer. He can be reached at greg.turner@honeywell.com

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