Building automation systems (BAS) have made tremendous strides in
recent years toward embracing connectivity and interoperability standards.
These efforts have given building owners more freedom to choose among
manufacturers for both products and service support. Even greater benefits
await an organization whose BAS is seamlessly merged with its information
technology architecture. The synergy created by sharing infrastructure and data
reduces operating costs and creates new service opportunities.
CONVERGENCE DEFINEDConvergence in Broad Terms
Convergence in BAS
terms is defined as the complete integration of building systems with the much
larger information technology (IT) system and connected enterprise applications
that exist within most buildings - or, on a global basis, a group of networked
An important distinction to observe is that while we have had
these disparate systems, we did not necessarily have integration
systems and applications can certainly communicate basic information, but they
usually lack complete data-exchange capabilities. With true convergence, we are
empowered to obtain more information on a by-request basis and in a manner that
is more easily understood by any technology system within the building - or by
the people who want to analyze the information.
This elevated level of integration opens new avenues that were
not technically or economically feasible in the past; for example, texting the
energy manager of a health care campus to alert him of a potential peak in electrical
usage. The information is compiled and interpreted at the BAS,
travels across the IT network backbone, is sent by the enterprise
server across the Internet, and delivered via the cell phone network.
In this new environment, building automation systems are less
expensive to install because they can use the existing IT infrastructure. High
performance can be achieved more economically because a single high-speed
network avoids the redundancy that is required with a separate BAS infrastructure.
Furthermore, with fewer wires, bridges, routers, and repeaters throughout a
building, there is less propensity for component failure and downtime.
Convergence as Applied to Building Automation
Many in the BAS industry believed, perhaps naively, that simply
enabling building automation systems to deliver information via Web pages would
magically allow that data to be among the services delivered across the
enterprise for varied applications. As a result, early implementations of BAS
workstations delivered across the Web often were disappointing.
While that was true in the past, now is the time for the BAS
industry to seize the opportunity that convergence presents. This involves
fully understanding the IT infrastructure and cooperating with those who
implement the network for the enterprise. It is also important to recognize
what motivates the IT department in teaming with the facility staff so that
both disciplines can work together harmoniously and efficiently.
Clearly, convergence depends on the successful integration of
building controls. Therefore, when a BAS device is to be added to the IT
infrastructure, a document must be developed for the IT staff that describes,
in their language, precisely what is being added to the shared network, and
what effect the device will have on the network. The result will be a system
that reflects the needs of both departments.
Convergence creates a wealth of new opportunities for both
information systems and the people who manage those systems. Collectively,
these opportunities are known as “divergence.” For example, to prevent
equipment failure, facility professionals could tap the expertise of the IT
department and learn their approach to maintaining network control devices.
After all, they share the same network underpinning, so why shouldn’t they be
similar in terms of maintenance? (No, a chiller and a data server are not alike
but the networked chiller controller has a lot in common with the personal
computer used to enter and access data.)
Divergence, therefore, requires new skills for the building
automation profession. This is challenging because the skills of building
managers and technical staff are an accumulation of what they have learned over
many years, as well as the limited set of solutions that were available. Now
that more diverse technologies and methods are available to operate and
maintain building systems, the possibilities expand.
Keeping pace with this new potential will require facility
experts to broaden their knowledge base. They will need to attend different
types of seminars, explore different courses of instruction and, in general,
rethink the status quo. They must borrow best practices from IT professionals
who have had these opportunities all along.
Building system engineers should have no fears about their
profession being diminished in the future of the enterprise-connected building.
That’s because they are domain experts who have the knowledge to design
building systems so that they function properly. They simply need to realize
that the landscape around them is changing and that they must adapt
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY STANDARDS AS THE BASIS FOR CONVERGENCE
Since the 1970s, our industry has been designing BAS components
as part of the mechanical and electrical systems infrastructure. Components
below the workstation level all had to be rugged enough to reside in equipment
rooms, yet also include some type of communications interface. Today, it is
just as important for all devices that connect to the IT infrastructure to be
good network citizens as it is for them to endure harsh environments. This
citizenship takes many forms.
Building automation system manufacturers have accelerated the
rate of open protocol device development to BACnet® or LonMark® interoperability,
or both. In the new world of convergence, systems that claim to provide
interoperability and conform to industry standards also must provide
connectivity to a variety of equipment that integrates seamlessly into the
network. Neither BACnet nor LonMark alone provide a complete answer for the
vision of total enterprise information compatibility. A better solution is to
apply the new standards for interoperability, such as XML-based communications
applications, in order to achieve all of the benefits that each protocol offers
individually. In general, systems that require interoperability on a broad
basis will be best served if they support multiple protocols. It is always a good
practice to keep interoperability options open.
To many, it is beyond their experience base to be concerned about
network management considerations. This is where the strict adherence to IT
standards is critical to the success of convergence. One by one, we can review
these standard network protocols and languages.
eXtensible Markup Language (XML)
universal language of Internet data exchange, and can be called across
platforms and operating systems regardless of programming language. XML is the
basis for a new form of systems interoperability that relies on Web Services.
These are small, reusable applications that handle all communication between
otherwise disparate devices or applications.
Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
compatibility is a must for BAS devices, as it allows the IT department to use
their network management software to check the status and operation of all
network connected equipment. SNMP-enabled supervisory engines can report alarms
or warnings based upon memory usage, processor temperature, or other critical
operating attributes of the hardware or software.
Simple Network Time Protocol (SNTP)
Network Time Protocol (NTP) provides the standard method of synchronizing time
between a designated time server and all of the BAS devices. Historical data
functions and scheduling elements are impacted by this function. Imagine the
difficulty in scheduling energy usage in a school or office without
synchronizing to the rest of the network.
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)
support is also required so that messages from supervisory devices can be
transmitted using standard e-mail. This feature is important because the use of
Internet client devices for operation, as opposed to workstations, means that
alarm reporting software may not always be online. Pagers and e-mail must
substitute for dedicated alarm annunciation. A caution here is that many virus
attacks are carried by incoming e-mail. System designers must take care if
receiving messages is required.
Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)
the most common transport mechanism for XML. SOAP rides on the Ethernet IP
HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
the vehicle for most Web browser-based communications, and also requires the
Ethernet IP network for BAS implementation.
There are more protocols and languages that may be utilized
within a networked environment, but the common thread throughout this convergence
discussion is that you don’t want to be saddled with a proprietary solution
where a standard exists.
Security is another major concern in this world of hackers, virus
attacks, and even spam. It is important to have system components that leverage
the efforts of the IT department in terms of security. At a minimum, this means
that BAS devices must behave in the presence of anti-virus software and accept
an authentication scheme that is compatible with the network. It is also
important for the BAS servers and network-connected controllers (engines) to
operate through firewalls in an efficient and secure manner. Most IT
departments are hesitant to open additional ports for these systems.
Standard operating systems are essential in a converged
environment. Manufacturers must give up their proprietary, industry-specific
operating systems and embrace IT computing standards. This is necessary to set
a firm foundation for the other IT standards that will support enterprise
applications integration and project development tools. These are needed to
better deliver the benefits and efficiencies of integrated operation. Quite
simply, BAS suppliers do not add value by creating and maintaining their own
There is no magic solution here, but it is obvious that Microsoft
has the most universal set of operating systems applied to the largest set of
end devices on a global basis. Is it possible to apply Linux or Sun Solaris or
Mac OS to the same tasks? Yes, with a clear recognition of what tasks must be
accomplished and which devices these tasks and applications will be applied to.
Web Server Technology
Figure 1. Workstation
based vs. network based systems. (Click on the image for an enlarged view.)
In virtually all cases, it is desirable to use an organization’s
standard Internet browser as the user interface for a building automation
system. A Web solution that still requires a dedicated workstation (sometimes
disguised as a server) is not delivering on the vision of networked computing.
This requires a change in the basic network architecture, which is shown in
The building level supervisory controller must be replaced with
an IT-enhanced engine because there is no workstation in the new systems
architecture. Therefore, the supervisory controller must accept additional
responsibility as a user interface, a data server, and as a programming tool
repository. Taking this concept one step further, IP-connected control engines
combine advanced control technology with the supervisory functions of an
IT-enhanced engine. They are best suited for applications where large central
plants or complex control strategies demand more processing power and
additional memory for historical data.
To accomplish these tasks is not difficult, but it can be
challenging to accomplish them in a manner that gives users easy access to
enterprise computing applications. Also, to provide easy to learn and use tools
for the programming and commissioning of such devices is an even greater task.
Systems that require integration professionals or advanced users to write HTML
pages in order to access information meet the intent of convergence, but do not
deliver the features and functions required to satisfy end-user needs.
As a rule of thumb, make everything accessible to the Internet or
corporate intranet as much as possible, while keeping security needs in mind.
Use the latest and best networking and server technology, and make sure that
the system communications are standards-compliant in every possible way. Hardware
By changing the requirements for communications and
infrastructure compatibility, the hardware that is employed must change
fundamentally. The following table highlights the methods and equipment that
BAS developers have employed in the past, along with today’s requirements and,
in the right hand column, the vision for the future that needs to be supported.
All new hardware must support this functionality and drop seamlessly into the
IT network used by the enterprise.
BUILDING AUTOMATION SYSTEM APPLICATIONSEquipment Monitoring
There are two fundamental reasons to monitor equipment. One is to
alert the operator in the event of a failure or potential failure; the other is
to gather data to evaluate maintenance and operational effectiveness. Because a
converged system is more capable of communicating with more devices and
exchanging data with other applications across the enterprise, both of these
functions can be improved and expanded.
Environmental and Energy
Just as equipment monitoring provides information vital to
operating the equipment being monitored, it is necessary for the environmental
and energy consumption information within a single building or campus to be
In the past, there was often a disconnect between the data
collected by the building automation system and the information required by an
owner’s representative to effectively model and control energy usage. The
ability to access and communicate both real-time and historical data between
energy-using end devices and environmental monitoring devices (the BAS) - and
enterprise computing applications - had not kept pace with other IT developments.
Convergence provides the pipeline to deliver this information
anywhere, anytime by using Web technologies as the delivery mechanism and
avoiding the use of dedicated workstations that confine users to a chair in a
control room or office.
The purpose of an alarm is notification. If an alarm sounds in an
unmanned control room with nobody to hear it, then no alarming function is
being performed. In this era of mobile work environments and multiple task
assignments, it is important for alarms to track the intended recipient.
Reference was made earlier to an alarm interfacing with the IT network and
ultimately being communicated via cell phone. The application of network
communications capabilities in a converged environment expands this capability
to include pagers, wireless laptops, PDAs, and other multimedia-enhanced
personal devices. We now have the ability to communicate and share vital
information with individuals or groups of individuals across the globe. And
those same individuals can find a computer terminal or Wi-Fi hot spot to get
additional information about an alarm that they have received.
Until now, we have had databases that were purpose-built for
building automation systems or industrial control systems. It was not easy to
merge this information into databases that reside elsewhere in an organization.
However, if data is stored in a standard Oracle or Microsoft SQL database
structure, it can easily be exchanged throughout the enterprise.
For example, we may use our energy consumption database to
estimate next month’s energy bill, merge this information from our financial
database into enterprise databases so that other departments can more
accurately forecast their budgets, and print a report that identifies the
resultant enterprise expenditures.
Equipment Time Sharing
When all building systems are truly interconnected and can speak
the same language, it is possible for computers and devices to serve multiple
purposes. For example, a television camera can be used for more than just
security. That same camera also can monitor a device that indicates whether a
sump is high or low. A small box in the corner of the sump will have a raised flag
if a problem in the unit needs attention. Monitoring this via the security
camera eliminates the need for visual inspection, thus increasing employee
Occupancy sensors that turn lights on could be synchronized with
the security system. The same could be true for air quality, by pumping the
right amount of fresh air into a building at the right time. We could also
determine whether a particular area within a facility is using too much energy
based on the occupancy.
As noted in the section on alarm transmission, we live in a
mobile world. We don’t want to be tied to a single location to do our jobs,
much less a chair in front of a computer. Global professionals require access
to information without contacting another person or traveling to a fixed
location. The current Web infrastructure in first- and second-tier countries
throughout the world provides just such a connection, as long as the system is
converged with it at the source. Connecting a computer to the Web with a cell
phone, wireless access of a PDA to the network in a hotel, or simply walking
into the Internet café on a cruise ship gives anyone access to this capability.
Care must be taken by systems providers to ensure a capable and straightforward
user interface to leverage these capabilities.
FUTURE OPPORTUNITIESWeb Services and Interoperability
The convergence of building control and IT infrastructures will
pay its biggest dividends in what is called “Web Services.” Web Services are a
way of sharing information between computers and between software applications
that is based on XML.
The Web Services model provides information to diverse requestors
of information. This opens the floodgates for a new class of information-rich
applications to be delivered anywhere, anytime across a network that is in
place and inexpensive. In most discussions on the subject, it is accepted that
initial delivery of these services will be accomplished over the Internet or
corporate Intranets via a combination of XML and SOAP (Simple Object Access
Protocol). XML defines the pages we look at and is a common model for data
representation, while SOAP is used for client-to-server communication.
The immediate goal for our industry leaders is to define services
and objects that the XML/SOAP communications standards can request and deliver
regardless of the originating systems or the protocols inherent to their basic
operation. This will answer a common question: Will it be necessary for all systems
in an enterprise to use the same BAS protocol to provide information to the
client? The answer is no. As long as each system can handle the data and
respond to the request for information, it doesn’t matter how the information
got there. BACnet, LonMark, ModBus, or any proprietary protocol are all equal
service providers in the eyes of an XML/SOAP-empowered client. Web Services
will not be a substitute for interoperability at the control level, or the
accuracy and dependability of individual controllers.
What we will have is a fully Web-enabled system that bridges the
gap between the controls and IT infrastructure within an enterprise. It will
deliver information-rich, data-based applications that are transportable
between standard hardware and software platforms. It will be expandable and
extendable using both protocols and hardware that are proven in our industry.
The ability to use Web Services as a tool for the analysis,
control, and prediction of energy usage is greatly enhanced by a standard means
of defining the XML data so that BAS and energy-consuming device vendors all
conform. This simplifies the task of integrating this information.
The array of services that can be provided is a powerful
motivator toward implementation. Here are just a few:
• Energy accounting services allow each building to report data
to a common repository.
• Air quality services enable indoor air quality from large,
multi-site locations to be analyzed in light of geographic and meteorological
• Services that compare the efficiency of mechanical and
electrical equipment to benchmarks.
Web Services are just beginning to have an impact in leveraging
this convergence. In the future, a college professor who wants to use energy
and air quality data in a case study will be able to do so easily. Today, the
professor may be hesitant to ask for information that would require many hours
for the college facilities staff to extract.
A common feature of today’s IT infrastructure is the in-building
wireless distributed antenna system. The basic infrastructure is a system of
cables, antennas, and other components engineered to capture and convey signals
throughout the building, and confine them to the interior. When added to the
wired infrastructure, they can help building occupants tap the full power of
today’s and tomorrow’s wireless services and applications.
The goal is to employ an in-building wireless distribution system
that provides complete wireless coverage for a full range of voice and data
services. Once a wireless distributed antenna system is installed, it can be
modified and expanded without intrusive, costly infrastructure changes. A
well-engineered system helps eliminate dead signal spots and facilitates the
expanding number of wireless applications and devices. These include wireless
LANs, personal communications services (PCS), cell phones, PDAs, pagers, and
two-way radios for maintenance and security.
Such a system also enables wireless building automation in
conjunction with a state-of-the-art building automation system. The wireless
infrastructure will help the BAS access data from multiple enterprise
applications and assimilate the data into meaningful information that helps
busy managers operate more efficiently.
This technology will help customers seamlessly and cost
effectively integrate fire and security systems and other building controls,
whether they are in one building or spread across a corporate campus. As
momentum builds, wireless distribution technology will become an integral part
of a facility’s infrastructure, providing building owners with solutions that
simplify operations, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies.
For example, a new Chicago area children’s hospital uses the
technology to improve access to patient medical information through PDAs or
other handheld devices. A doctor can check a patient’s vital signs without
reporting to the bedside. Hospital employees can read e-mail without having to
stop at their desks. These are just two of the many productivity enhancements
that a wireless distribution system offers.
In a perfect world, an organization’s BAS and information
technology architecture are a seamless entity. They work in concert because
they share resources and adhere to the same set of standards. This ideal
scenario offers many benefits, including:
• Reduced management and infrastructure equipment costs.
• Critical building system information is readily available at
all levels of the enterprise.
• Employees can access and act upon this information without the
constraints of a dedicated workstation at a fixed location.
• New services are possible that save time and preserve
When making an investment in BAS technology, an organization
should look beyond today’s configuration. Decision-makers need to cast a wider
net and recognize the advantages of merging the building automation system into
the IT infrastructure. Whatever technology platform is selected to harness
energy and operational data, it must be fully compatible with the IT network
that is already in place. Allow the BAS to rely on the IT network as the data
highway for safe and reliable transportation of information. In return, the IT
staff will provide critical services for planning and maintenance.