December 2005
  
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Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
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Building IP Network Convergence
You will know this has happened when everyone stops talking about protocols and starts building innovative, high functioning, low cost controllers.

John C. Greenwell,
IBS Sales Engineer
Continental Electrical Construction Company, LLC

The idea of a structured cabling system encompassing all of a buildings communications needs is fast becoming a reality.  IT technologies are starting to align to support a converged network.  10GB copper networks and single mode terabyte fiber will provide the necessary bandwidth for most conceivable applications.  IPV6 will expand the IP address scheme from 32 to 128 bit, eliminating the old argument about limited IP addresses.  PoE (Power over Ethernet) only enhances the prospect of success.  The current PoE standard 802.3af is limited to 48vdc at 13 watts, hardly enough power for BAS network and unitary controllers.  Work is ongoing to boost the power output to 28 watts and eventually raise the voltage to 96vdc at 50 watts.  PoE will be no different than an electrical receptacle in your house; only it will provide low voltage power for tomorrows technology.   A structured cabling system utilizing zone boxes with PoE switches installed in the ceiling or under the floor will provide a place for IP cameras, card access equipment, overhead paging and others to plug into the network.  These zone boxes also provide installation economies that could help make a PoE/IP VAV box controller viable.  The additional cost of the controllers would be more than offset by the installation savings.

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A structured zone cabling approach can provide building owners with a way to control the costs of MAC’s (Moves Adds and Changes).  These MAC’s will become a costly proposition with new electrical codes requiring all unused cable to be pulled out.  This would also provide a controlled approach to demolition, as cables would be pulled out only to the zone box.  We shouldn’t treat the IP network any differently than we do other utilities.  Tenants will benefit from this approach, as the cost to build out a space will drop significantly.  Given the choice between two similar buildings, what tenant wouldn’t choose the least expensive to move into.  Developers can realize greater valuations of properties if they incorporate a converged network and technological innovations.  Internet access could be provided to the tenants at a fraction of the cost than if they had to implement their own.  Owners are starting to look at first cost verses life cycle cost analysis. The LEED program requires sustainability; zone cabling certainly fits that model.

The successful installation of a converged network will require some changes.  First, the construction model must shift to allow the network design to happen much earlier in the process.  The communication networks normally installed under separate divisions must be exposed and designed as a system not a silo.  There are exceptions; fire alarm systems will be the last to join convergence because of code and liability issues.  This doesn’t mean that their installation shouldn’t be coordinated with the structured cabling system.  Building control equipment manufacturers must adopt IT standards, not encapsulation of other protocols.  XML/RPC, SOAP, WSDL, SNMP and others used extensively by the enterprise must be fully supported.  Certified professionals design the data networks.  These designers will need information from all of the potential network users.  Standards as simple as patch cord color coding or as complex as virtual network addressing and QoS schemes will need to be developed.  IT departments will not start opening up their networks to control integrators until they have certified IT engineers on staff.  Think about what your asking them to do, trust an installer of products they know nothing about not to take down their network.  A network they have spent years perfecting and securing, not to mention the money invested.  Make your NBM (Network Building Managers) rack mounted servers installed in the IDF closets.  Make your field networks manageable from the NOC.  Certify your installations by working with IT professionals already certified by the major IT product manufacturers.  If it’s a Cisco certified network, hire a Cisco Partner to do your network design and installation.  Playing by IT rules isn’t easy but until you do, the integrated facility everyone is talking about is just that, TALK. 

To shift the paradigm, IT professionals MUST require that the control system installers and their products be certified same way they are on the data side.  The standards created by the IT industry will serve the building low voltage subsystems well.  If you truly follow the current standards, the low voltage subsystems should be the most stable, most available, most secure ever installed.  IT departments should take the stance that; if it communicates it belongs to IT, proprietary or not.  If non-IP networks must be installed then they should originate from the IDF closets, thus allowing them to be controlled and documented.  You need only look above the ceiling in any building over 10 years old and you will see why this is necessary.  Undocumented cables traveling in every direction across the ceiling some tied to the pencil rods and some not supported at all.

CatNet Systems In the future, building owners should be able to buy the best equipment for their needs and plug it into the IP network.  Unfortunately, the control manufacturers are not going down easy.  Trane, Carrier, and JCI are trying to package their wares with the equipment under the guise that it provides value.  Major electrical manufacturers are purchasing controls companies and packaging building infrastructure components together to provide (hide) value.  Control system manufacturers have no incentive to create a plug and play environment; they would then have to build the best products at the best price.  The status quo serves them well, the end game is always the same; control the customers’ choices for products, service and expansion.  Even though pseudo protocol standards have helped, significant hurdles still remain.  If building owners install an “OPEN SYSTEM”, yet only have one source for purchasing parts and service, you have to ask, how open is?  Proprietary tools or plug ins are still required to commission each manufacturers equipment.  This can make it less cost effective to implement a best in breed approach.  If building owners must purchase multiple high cost tools and the maintenance staff must learn multiple systems; the prospect becomes less appealing.  What is needed, are DDC controllers that require only web browsers for setup, not unlike a wireless router.

Change is hard.  To make a comparison, look how long it took DDC to catch on.  Pneumatic controls were the de facto standard; DDC took years for people to accept.  They all had proprietary input and out devices.  Over time, industry standards for inputs and outputs on DDC controllers were adopted.  Companies supplying these I/O devices flourished, they did so by offering the best products at the best price.  The next step is to implement the only true open protocol, IP, then let the competition begin.  You will know this has happened when everyone stops talking about protocols and starts building innovative, high functioning, low cost controllers.  Once everything is IP based, let your imagination be the only limitation to the solutions you can provide.  New network appliances will emerge such as NBM’s “Network Building Managers”, as a place for distributed control, trending and historical data storage, network management etc.  These supervisory managers will have access to data across systems allowing them to perform systems interaction and address network security issues.  They may also have interesting labels on them, like HP, Cisco or others not normally associated with automation. 

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