Picture a scene from one of those hospital dramas on TV, where a host of machines monitor a patient’s vital signs, and start buzzing and flashing if his heart stops or another medical catastrophe happens.

Increasingly, building management systems (BMS) perform a similar function in mission critical facilities. From data centers to health care facilities, advanced BMS monitor crucial building systems to ensure consistent and reliable operations — preserving business and life.


Because of the world’s growing reliance on the Internet and connected technology, IT managers and facility professionals are tasked with ensuring those systems are available at all times. This especially is the case in data centers of all sizes, whether it is the in-house server racks of a medium or large company or the sprawling data farms that power the titans of e-commerce and social networking.

Advanced BMS provide two essential functions in data center reliability:

• Precise environmental control

• Power monitoring

Precise environmental control
Managing heat is a key challenge for data center professionals, as excess heat is the enemy of sensitive electronics. While a desktop computer dissipates heat just fine with its small fan and heat sink fins, data centers with their hundreds or thousands of servers in floor-to-ceiling racks require more rigorous heat management.

A prime example is Facebook, which has become very adept at managing heat in its sprawling data centers. Several of the company’s server farms, including one in Forest City, North Carolina, are cooled in large part by fresh air entering the building from a vast array of louvers. To ensure that interior temperatures remain within tight tolerances, the company’s data center professionals use BMS to monitor thousands of alarm conditions.

The BMS tracks numerous data points throughout each server farm, relating to indoor temperature at thousands of spots, along with the operating performance of the passive and active cooling systems. The moment anything goes out of spec, the BMS sets off an alarm, and crews race to fix the anomaly. In the realm of preventative action, the company also uses the BMS to track system performance and take action even before an alarm goes off. The result is any time of day or night that you want to share a status update with your friends or see what they are up to, the company’s servers will be online to meet the demand.

Power monitoring
In addition to operating within narrow temperature bands, the sophisticated servers of the Internet require stable and clean electricity — in other words, current with precise voltage, amperage, phase, etc. Here too, an advanced BMS can monitor that the electricity entering the data center, as well as throughout the building’s distribution system, is within specs for the sensitive servers. In fact, among the 14,000 some alarms in a typical data center, two-thirds of those relate to the power distribution. A BACnet-enabled BMS provides a common platform for annunciating these alarms, as well as the environmental alarms.


As with data centers, health care facilities increasingly rely on BMS to ensure they are ready to fulfill their mission of providing life-saving and wellness services any time they are called upon. This runs the spectrum from managing the interior environment for patient health and comfort up to ensuring the availability of crucial medical equipment.

For example, the radiation-oncology department at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts, performs external beam radiation treatments using a linear accelerator. The high-tech equipment requires precise water temperatures, so the facility uses its BMS to monitor the temperature and annunciate an alarm in case of fluctuation. This helps ensure continual availability of this crucial cancer-fighting equipment.

Many hospitals also rely on their BMS to remotely posture rooms to serve specific medical needs. For example, to introduce positive pressure to a surgical suite to keep airborne pathogens out or to introduce negative pressure in a quarantine space to keep viruses in. One BMS even includes integrated wall units with color LEDs that enable doctors and nurses to quickly see if the room is properly postured.


While many building and HVAC professionals recognize the power a BMS provides for saving energy, the systems also provide essential monitoring and control for mission critical facilities, whether it is data bytes or lives that are on the line.