Connections +
Feature

Getting Even Smarter

Five years ago there were no IP-based HVAC and VAV controllers - innovations that are setting the stage for sustainable integration with smart grids. In Canada we are seeing some remarkable examples of entire campuses shifting to a smart building philosophy.


January 1, 2013  


Print this page

An integrated structured cabling platform is essential in order to deliver state-of-the-art connectivity in today’s smart buildings. With this approach, cabling can reflect the latest in design principles so that a building is in good shape for the long haul.

However, the building infrastructure itself requires a clear view to all the required services — now and in the years to come — and that is not always a simple proposition.

“Future proofing a network is a difficult concept,” says Pete Newman, senior director of international business development with Leviton Network Solutions. But it can be done. “In essence, planning a smart migration for higher network speeds in the future allows you to minimize costs, delays, and disruptions in the future system upgrades.”

To get there, Leviton has a fiber optic migration plan from 10G to 40G to 100G called Opt-X Unity, which requires only the replacement of some basic hardware.

“The backbone cable is common throughout the system, so it is not necessary to rip-and-replace the permanent cabling,” says Newman. “This makes transitions faster, less disruptive, and less expensive.”

This kind of foresight is what can make future moves to newer technologies and higher bandwidth more efficient. As a result, when looking at the return on investment (ROI) over the lifetime of the system, planning for the next upgrade and an easy migration today will, ideally, minimize costs later on.

This is certainly the view of John Cowley, director of CommScope Inc.’s intelligent building division. “A network infrastructure needs to be robust, which means the infrastructure you build today must meet the bandwidth and capacity needs of tomorrow,” he says. “Cutting corners today on quality, design or install will ultimately cause problems down the road when your infrastructure doesn’t support next-generation needs.”

All demand is equal:  CommScope has found, for example, that from an industry perspective many of its customers in financial services understand the need to future proof their network, because the demanding technology environment involves huge quantities of data with the financial viability of people, institutions, and even countries on the line.

“They cannot afford to have any hiccups in bandwidth or downtime due to poor installation,” says Cowley. “One missed trade can be a disaster.”

In effect, these high-demand areas are testing grounds for the overall challenges that intelligent buildings will face in the years to come. Sophisticated links to the power grid and surging demand for video and wireless connectivity will potentially turn what is now an average demand profile into something far greater. This can include industries that, so far, are not big users of bandwidth.

“Imagine you work where wireless is critical, not only cell phone coverage, but radio coverage for security,” says Cowley, citing the example of a courthouse that had to delay its opening due to unreliable cell phone and radio coverage. “In that case, if the building was pre-wired for cell phone and radio coverage it would have saved the additional $200,000 required to fix the problem.”

That is a good indicator of how a relatively small investment can save a big headache — and a major financial hit — down the road. However, the need for industry-specific offerings is becoming less evident as we move to what Cisco Systems Inc. calls the Internet of Everything (IoE) which will bring together people, process, systems, and a dizzying array of physical objects. As a result, the majority of new buildings are being developed with an eye to network requirements, now and in the future.

“There has been a tremendous change in the industry within the past few years,” says Rick Huijbregts, vice president of Smart+Connected Communities and business and industry transformation with Cisco Systems Canada Co.

“Five years ago the idea of a ‘building network’ was still a foreign concept and only hesitantly explored by the design and engineering community. We have now seen the first buildings fully specified with one single IP network as the intelligent backbone and as the foundation for rapidly growing native IP end-devices.”

As well, five years ago there were no IP-based HVAC and VAV controllers — innovations that are setting the stage for sustainable integration with smart grids. Here in Canada we are seeing some remarkable examples of entire campuses shifting to a smart building philosophy.

“Last year, Carleton University in Ottawa launched two brand new campus buildings where HVAC was fully converged over an IP and Power Over Ethernet (POE) network, where its application controllers draw power from the IP network,” says Huijbregts. “Delta Controls, (a building control product vendor), was one of the innovators leading the change, but we have already seen signs of other building automation suppliers embracing IP and POE as a standard network and protocol standard.”

Huijbregts believes this trend is going to accelerate as a result of the “pull and push effect” in the industry. More edge devices will rely on single converged IP networks. With additional choice in the marketplace, engineers and landlords will be increasingly comfortable specifying IP technologies for their new and retrofit projects.

“Simultaneously, more value-added applications are becoming available that are ready to consume
real-time data from the building to then enhance performance and sustainability,” says Huijbregts. “It is these applications that will call for more connected and interactive physical environments and the value they consequently provide will be profound with real measurable results and hard ROI.”

Nirvana by design: Sounds like Nirvana — if your building is up for it. The problem is that wired and fiber links represent a very high cost of replacement and utilization of the highest capability infrastructure — fiber and Category 6 — means the material cost is dwarfed by installation labour.

“Design strategies for accessible conduits such as physically separate paths that can be used for redundant and resilient infrastructure these are the best way to ensure future usefulness,” says Rick Geiger, executive director of utilities and smart grid at Cisco. “Communication infrastructure architecture should have the same consideration at the same time as electrical, HVAC, water, and waste and be treated as fundamental building systems.”

Wireless links are, of course, readily upgraded with new equipment. The problem — and it is unavoidable — is that there will always be new technologies that provide appealing opportunities and capabilities but require new physical media. Right now, that is most evident in the expectation that 10GBase-T and twisted-pair cabling for support of 10Gbps Ethernet will have strong demand.

“We expect it to outpace all other 10Gbps options through 2015,” says Robert Carlson, vice president of global marketing at Siemon, adding that industry is “now working on a new standard for 40Gbps over twisted-pair cabling.”

To get a total solution, the components have to be tested against each other. For some, this argues for staying with as few vendors as possible because of the compatibility factor. The risk is that bolt-ons designed to optimize one area, or reduce cost, could create problems down the road. By and large; however, Category 6A and 7A cabling can future proof by adding the flexibility required to both improve heat dissipation and accommodate new applications. Design then becomes the biggest concern.

“Most buildings feature many low voltage systems, each requiring its own control, management and monitoring,” says Cowley. “Without a common infrastructure that can link them together, these dozens of systems can create a lifetime accumulation of unnecessary cost.”

However, with a single backbone supporting systems such as security, lighting, HVAC and communications, building operations can be high performing and cost-effective. In effect, all buildings systems can be converged over the same, common infrastructure, providing an enhanced level of efficiency and cross-system performance.

And though the residential market can teach network and structured cabling professionals a great deal about personal control, energy management, and human behaviour, there appears to be more accelerated innovation within commercial and institutional real estate.

“Because of the complexity of the systems in commercial and institutional buildings, IP appears to have the fastest and greatest ROI impact,” says Geiger. “There is also much more to optimize and save within commercial and institutional real estate, which in turn warrants larger investments in innovation and the deployment of new systems and technologies; more than in the residential market.”

It is in these commercial buildings where the physical layer, and Internet Protocol in general, is being used beyond workstation-to-workstation and device-to-device networking, and where there is the greatest integration of security systems, HVAC, access control, lighting, alarm systems, and even factory environments, over a common category cabling system.

“This requires a lot of up front planning but allows for more efficient and interconnected system,” says Newman. “All of these systems based on a structured cabling framework ensure the highest possible communication speeds and much higher network security.” CNS

Timothy Wilson is a freelance writer based in
Peterborough, Ont. He can be reached via
e-mail at tim@twilsonassociates.com.