IP Growing to Encompass Building Automation?

Forget voice and video ... the next face of convergence will link your IP network to security, access control and CCTV.

By Drew Robb | Posted Nov 27, 2006
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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.

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.

Continued on page 2: Power over Ethernet (POE)

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