July 2006

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Dimension Data - Making Dimension Data’s buildings more intelligent

The benefits of implementing an integrated IP intelligent building system more than justify the investment. We are already reaping the benefits of improved agility and improved buildings management.

Mark Griffiths
Business Development Director
Dimension Data

Case Study

In 2005, Dimension Data UK underwent a major office relocation to three new premises throughout the country. The main new site is the Waterfront development in Fleet, Hampshire – a four-storey building, housing around 250 Dimension Data employees. The other two sites are a two-storey office at Preston Brook, Cheshire and a warehouse and logistics facility nearby in Runcorn.

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In fitting out these greenfield sites with services for security, heating, lighting and communications, Dimension Data took the opportunity to review the various options and select the most appropriate solution available.

Andrew Coulsen, COO of Dimension Data UK, explained: “The traditional approach would have been to run each of these core systems over its own discrete infrastructure, each requiring separate cabling and, most likely, its own project process. However, we felt this would not deliver the flexibility, functionality or efficiency we were looking for in our new premises.

“Instead, we called upon the specialist experience of our own Advanced Infrastructure (DDAI) and Intelligent Building Solutions (IBS) teams, to implement a modern, converged IP network, over which all key building services could be run. Such a converged IP network was clearly the best option, giving us greater control and agility, as well as allowing the team to monitor and change systems, on-site or remotely.

“Another key factor was our need for a quick and efficient installation - we wanted employees to reap the productivity benefits of our investment as swiftly as possible. As well as its technical expertise, the IBS team brought a detailed understanding of business processes and issues, allowing them to match a solution to our specific needs and deliver a fully operational solution within a matter of weeks.”

Foundation Technology
The first stage of this project – implementing the high-capacity IP network backbone - was handled by the Dimension Data Advanced Infrastructure (DDAI) unit and the company’s internal IT team, headed up by IT director, Mike Freeman: “When running multiple services, including video, voice and data, over a common infrastructure, it is absolutely essential the networking backbone is fit for the purpose. In the case of our own intelligent building project, we had to anticipate video traffic from the security systems, as well as voice traffic from IP telephony – including an on-site call centre – on top of the high volumes of data which are usual in a busy corporate environment.

“Dimension Data operates a six-site MPLS (MultiProtocol Label Switching) network in the UK, designed by the internal IT department. Running Cisco equipment throughout the network, including voice, data and video technology at its core, provides many benefits. Not least of these is the ability to have all events monitored in the first instance by Dimension Data’s own Insite service and, thereafter, by Cisco’s Works network management system. The entire network is IP-based, giving us the ability to maximise the available bandwidth.

“The IPCCTV cameras are powered through switches which use Cisco’s PoE (power over Ethernet) implementation. This has enabled us to position the cameras in places that would have been impossible using standard power connections. Although the network has a finite capacity, using Quality of Service across the network ensures time critical services – such as voice and video – are prioritised.”

Anticipating the requirements of the intelligent building project, it was decided all network switching hardware should be compliant with the PoE standard. This allowed, for example, IP-based CCTV cameras to be installed without any additional power supply requirements. As well as giving valuable flexibility during planning and installation, future adjustments to the surveillance system will be simple and cost-effective.

Intelligent Security
The new IP-based security system was conceived to give the facilities management and security team centralised control over all aspects of security for all three sites. Software from Lenel, a leading provider of corporate security solutions, was deployed as a single point of access, integrating surveillance, access control and intruder detection.

Control Solutions, Inc Surveillance
IP-based security cameras across all three sites record and feed back to a central point for monitoring and digital archiving. Through the unified front-end, the system administrator is able to access footage from each camera from any suitably equipped PC. In addition, the system can be programmed to execute ‘guard tours’ – pre-defined routines, in which each camera in turn moves through its field of vision, giving the equivalent of a physical ‘walk-through’ of the entire building.

Archived footage is stored in a central repository, in an optimised digital format, intended to make the most efficient use of storage space and network bandwidth, while preserving the necessary level of visual detail.

A key task was planning the layout of the CCTV cameras, to provide sufficient blanket coverage to ensure the safety of workers, as well as extra protection for those areas identified as weak spots. Rather than flood the buildings with cameras, the various teams worked with external surveillance specialists to ensure the optimum balance between coverage, cost and employee privacy.

Access Control
Tight access control is a key requirement across all three sites coming under the intelligent buildings project. The new centrally managed access control system works through identity swipe cards and physical security measures – such as magnetically locking doors – integrated into a wider system of access rights and user management.

Once again using a centralised interface, the specific areas to which each individual cardholder is given access can be managed on an ongoing or ad-hoc basis. For a worker involved in a time-limited project, for example, administrators have the option to set a date on which access rights will be revoked. The physical access control system is also linked to the company’s Microsoft Active Directory infrastructure, for an additional layer of protection.

Mark Griffiths, who heads up the IBS team, explained: “If the physical access control system says a user has not entered any of the three sites, yet that same user appears to be attempting to log on to the network, the system is smart enough to ask why. If it’s simply a case of a remote worker logging on from home, or via a wireless connection while on the road, that’s easy to establish automatically. However, if it’s a computer criminal, attempting to gain access to the network by posing as a legitimate user, we’ve shut him out at the first hurdle.”

Intruder Detection
Various technologies are employed, throughout the three sites, to alert security staff to the presence of intruders. These range from window alarms to motion detectors, inside and out. Again, because these systems are integrated into the unified control system from Lenel, any suspected threat is immediately flagged-up to the guard, along with live camera feeds from the area in question.

Intelligent Lighting
Intelligent lighting systems, using motion sensors to turn off the lights in rooms where there has been no activity for a set period, have been installed throughout the new premises. As well as the clear cost benefit, there is also a positive impact on the buildings’ long-term environmental footprints.

Intelligent HVAC
While heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems were all present in the new premises, they were controlled by a small number of simple thermostats. As part of the intelligent building project, the Dimension Data’s IBS team brought in an entirely new control system, employing a sophisticated network of thermal sensors to fine-tune the working environment.

Mark Griffiths said: “The new HVAC control is truly intelligent, in the sense that it learns. Using the preferred temperature settings it is given by the administrator, the system looks at its own logs and estimates what it will need to do over the coming day. So, for example, if the weather is getting colder, the intelligent HVAC software will have noted that, for the last couple of days, it has taken 20 minutes to heat the building to the required temperature. It also knows employees start arriving at around 8am, so it will begin heating at 7:40.”

Reliable Controls Results
Mark Griffiths said: “The converged nature of the intelligent building network allowed us to run this as a single project. This clearly delivered significant benefits on implementation time and cost, in addition to the ongoing operational savings associated with a more usable, flexible system.”

The ability to view all cameras and security systems through a single application – often used remotely – has allowed Dimension Data to significantly rationalise its need for security guards, without compromising on safety. This has brought associated annual cost savings of around £40,000 per guard.

The new CCTV network has also demonstrated its value in several specific situations. For example, when a group of travellers attempted to set up camp at one site during the night, the guard on duty was able to access real-time footage and co-ordinate a response. Key members of the security team were also able to observe from remote locations.

Archived recordings have also given valuable evidence for prosecution. In one instance, a courier truck reversed into a vehicle parked outside the Waterfront development. When the courier denied the incident, Dimension Data was able to quickly identify and retrieve video footage of the event.

Intrusion detection systems have greatly improved security, particularly at the Waterfront development, which backs onto a nature reserve with a large body of water. This side of the building, dark and exposed, could have been a serious security weak point, had it not been for the additional level of protection afforded by intrusion detection.

The intelligent HVAC system has made a great difference to the working environment. Alex Jackson, who is responsible for facilities management, security and health & safety across all three sites, commented: “The HVAC control was one of the final elements of the project to be installed. There was a short time where employees were at their desks, working, before the old system had been upgraded and it was pretty uncomfortable. Some areas were too hot, some were too cold, energy was being wasted on a grand scale and we had plenty of complaints. The intelligent HVAC system solved the comfort issue straight away and we’re currently working on fine-tuning the operating parameters, to ensure we are as energy-efficient as possible.”

Andrew Coulsen concluded: “Taken together, the benefits of implementing an integrated IP intelligent building system more than justify the investment. We are already reaping the benefits of improved agility and improved buildings management. Even looking at it from a purely financial perspective, the system pays out in less than three years and our total cost of ownership has been significantly reduced, with savings of around £80,000 per year. When you then also consider the significant gains in business security, productivity and agility, on top of potential future developments, this was clearly the right investment decision to make for our building portfolio.”


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