The Smart, Secure Building
- By John W. Verity
- Jun 16, 2008
Architects and engineers first envisioned “smart buildings” about 20 years ago. In these structures, access and safety alarms, heating and ventilation, lighting and elevators all would be controlled from a common point. Among the potential payoffs, promoters said, would be streamlined management of subsystems, lower costs, more efficient use of energy and greater convenience for tenants and visitors.
Since then, buildings have certainly grown brainier, but technology has lagged behind vision and synergies have been slow to materialize. Intelligence has ended up scattered across disparate networks of sensors, logic and actuators. Badge readers don’t talk to chillers, which don’t talk to elevator controllers,which don’t talk to surveillance cameras. Alarms, video and other data may be consolidated to show up on a shared console, but that’s only a small step forward. But now, with energy prices skyrocketing, building managers are exploring the potential of the Internet protocol (IP) and Ethernet networks that snake through their properties to integrate the functionality of different systems.
The IP Engine
Building management system vendors already have been scrambling to push IP closer to the edge of their networks to harness its ability to link potentially any and every electronic device, from clusters of servers to fans and blowers to individual locks and light switches. With convergence grows recognition of the fact that, by virtue of its ability to record and store the identity and, sometimes, the location of individuals within a facility, access control and management systems have a logical and valuable fit into the IT system of a large building.
Yet they remain a largely untapped source of real-time information that could benefit and support both building operations and the occupants’ enterprises. “Physical security has always been thought of as a necessary evil, but now it’s seen as a key part of making many other systems work together more efficiently,” says Vishal Mallick, CEO of Performance Buildings Ltd., a Regensdorf, Switzerland, software firm specializing in building system integration, especially for tenants who plan, arrange and host regular meetings that involve outsiders as attendees as well as suppliers, such as caterers.
Also, as the move to IP gives IT departments a stronger say in all aspects of enterprise security, those departments are moving to leverage their experience and expertise in weaving together traditionally isolated applications. These include security, facilities management, energy and traditional IT systems like human resources and enterprise resource planning, analogous to what Wal-Mart and other retailers have accomplished with their complex supply chains. Meanwhile, a bevy of startups is applying advanced software ideas, originally developed for the military, to the problem of how to collect, interpret and automatically act on the rivers of sensor- generated data that are cascading through and between large buildings and far-flung corporate campuses.
“Integration will enable customers to reuse the same sensors to address four different issues: operations, safety, security and accountability,” says Sandeep Gulati, chief technology officer and vice president of product development at ViaLogy, Altadena, Calif., which specializes in integrating sensor networks. “Harnessing combinations of sensors means a better payoff and return on investment for security investments.”
Greater Safety, Savings Through Integration
Ajay Jain, president and CEO of Quantum Secure, a physical security startup, describes a possible scenario: A multinational company’s security operations center in California receives fire alarm signals from one of its labs in Japan. The lab’s access control system shows that 15 employees are in the building. Automatically, an integration server like Quantum’s might alert each of those persons with a cell phone text message: “A fire has been detected in your facility. Reply ‘1’ if you’re safe and secure, ‘2’ if you require help.”
At the same time, the platform could command electricity to be shut off at the fire’s location, get fire dampers closed and rev up smoke extraction fans.Video cameras might zero in on the fire, their image-frame rates automatically upped for better quality.
Furthermore, with officials on the scene and back in the United States needing to view those enhanced video streams, the company’s network routers could be requested to allocate additional bandwidth.
In addition to security benefits, vendors promote energy and efficiency savings. They envision buildings smart enough to adjust lighting, temperature and elevators in response to employees’ badging into a building. The integration necessary to realize this scenario can pay for itself in as little as 18 months, according to Paul Ehrlich, president and founder of Building Intelligence Group LLC, a St. Paul, Minn.-based consulting firm.
“The paybacks are great, especially when compared to the 10 years it can take for solar panels to pay for themselves,” Ehrlich says.
By helping to fulfill the promise of “sustainability,” these savings also can increase a building’s appeal to the growing cohort of “green”-conscious tenants.
More efficient building operations is another key benefit. With the right analytics in place, notes Bill Jacobs, director of global risk technologies and head of internal security at Cisco Systems, security cameras can improve a tall building’s elevator service.
When a camera detects too many people waiting in the lobby for too long a time, the system can automatically be directed to bring down an empty car or two and alleviate the crowd.
Likewise, air-flow measurements normally monitored by a building’s HVAC system can help in determining if a particular door has a broken lock or is being buffeted by a differential in air pressure.
“Integration can save energy, cut costs and improve business efficiency,” Jacobs says.
Addressing Technical Challenges
Physical security and IT directors ready to pursue security and building system integration will find a market in which underlying technologies, product offerings and building-specific technology standards are evolving and where newcomers are trying to wrest market share from established players.
The good news, says Building Intelligence’s Ehrlich, is that “the building automation industry is transitioning to look a lot more like the IT industry.” Proprietary technology is giving way to open, industry-defined standards that could enable a rich, plug-and-play future. Customers and system integrators want the freedom to mix and match best-of-breed products as they choose. This demand is pressuring established suppliers, which have traditionally emphasized an ability to provide broad ranges of compatible products, to tout their adoption of industry standards and work closely with selected newcomers.
Technical challenges abound.That badge readers, video cameras and air conditioners can share a building’s Ethernet network is no guarantee that they can make sense of each other’s data. Even the servers to which each device sends its data may not have much in common. Established suppliers of building management systems, such as Honeywell, Siemens, Bosch and Johnson Controls, emphasize their ability to bridge these gaps and translate data between disparate systems. They’ve also thrown their support behind industry-defined schemes such as BACnet, LONworks and oBix, which describe how different building automation and security devices and networks can exchange data and commands.
Sensors Sounds Off
Entirely new technologies may find a key role, too, particularly in the area of data fusion. As the number of sensors in buildings grows, and as these sensors generate more types of data, new opportunities arise for analyzing and acting on that data autonomously and near instantly.
Improving techniques for rapidly combining and interpreting masses of signals from multiple sensors to achieve a better understanding of an event or a developing situation has been the focus of intense research by the military, in pursuit of the socalled “intelligent battlefield.” The challenge, obviously, is how to triangulate on several signals at once to identify significant events amid a flood of noise and false alarms. These sensor fusion techniques are aiding industrial applications such as managing buildings, tracking assets with RFID tags, improving physical and IT security and detecting fraudulent financial transactions.
Today, each of the established building automation players sells its own software or console for collecting, recording, analyzing, and presenting alarms and data from different sets of sensors. Honeywell’s Tridium subsidiary offers Niagara, for instance, while Johnson Controls markets a scheme called Metasys.
And now, a handful of smaller companies are developing software, called integration platforms, that promises to take building automation to a new level. Companies such as Augusta Systems Inc., Proximex, GridSoft,ViaLogy and Quantum Secure have designed these products to help enterprises cope with the coming floods of data that thousands of sensors, devices and machines will be generating primarily for consumption by other machines.
These platforms are designed to gracefully handle massive volumes of data, even when that data is encoded in many different formats. On the fly, the software can normalize this data by translating it into a common format. Then, it can scan the data and, in real time, recognize patterns and make correlations between signals that may identify significant events that wouldn’t be detected otherwise.
In a high-rise building, a motion detector’s alarm might be analyzed with video and badge reader data to determine how many people are in a conference room and decide if the air conditioning should be upped a notch. Likewise, as soon as an unusual spike in network traffic is detected, correlating data from several different kinds of sensors can distinguish a physical emergency situation from an outbreak of computer viruses.
One area where the new integration companies differ from established players in analyzing masses of real-time building data is in their use of distributed architectures. Instead of bringing all the unprocessed data to a central location for analysis, their software can inspect signals both centrally and toward the edge of the sensor network. With processing taking place throughout the network -- Augusta’s analytics can actually run on a simple circuit card inserted in a standard IP network router -- these setups can greatly reduce net traffic and thereby handle many more sensors and process much more data than earlier centralized systems.
Carter Williams, CEO of Gridlogix, says his firm’s EnNet platform “can listen to thousands of buildings and millions of data points at once.” That scale of real-time monitoring is proving necessary, he says, as global companies seek to integrate all of their security and building management systems with their traditional enterprise software apps.
Acting On Data
Once significant information and insight have been derived from sensor data, what to do with it? Here, too, the independent integration platform companies claim to bring something new to market. They describe their software as enabling customers to prepare complex policies and response scripts that automatically send commands to the full range of building automation systems. These policies are entered and maintained through graphical drag-anddrop programming techniques.
Because their systems are open, integration platform makers see established building automation suppliers as natural partners. Still, companies like Proximex find themselves often doing a hard sell.
“A big challenge for us is to find partners with a holistic view of the market and opportunity,” says Larry Lien, vice president of product marketing at the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company.“We need to educate the entire industry.” Industry executives say corporate IT managers are beginning to fathom the long-range implications of building system integration and are shepherding vision into reality. At Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., Bryan Mehaffey, vice president of technology and engineering, was asked to create a facilities infrastructure for the 600- student, nine-building campus before it opened last year.
“I sat down with pen and paper and worked it all out from scratch,” Mehaffey recalls. The result: a 762-page RFP that called for physical security systems to work intimately with both human resources and building automation systems. Beating out two competitors, Johnson Controls won the deal “because they understood our vision,” Mehaffey says.
Full integration is not complete, yet, but soon physical security and fire alarm systems will be programmed to work directly with building automation. Should a building’s fire alarm go off, its air dampers will be directed to open, extra fans will kick in to extract smoke, secure access doors will be unlocked and surveillance cameras will zoom in on trouble spots.
Customers seeking to integrate security into building and enterprise systems like HR and enterprise resource planning will do well to start their planning as soon as possible and to involve all interested parties: architects, engineers, contractors, facilities managers, IT and security, at least.
“All of these organizations have different budgets, play different roles and have their own priorities. You have to get them all in the same room so they can work things out in a structured way,” says Jim Dagley, vice president of channel marketing and strategy at Johnson Controls. Early planning sessions, says Terry Hoffman, director of marketing at Johnson Controls, give all parties “an opportunity to work off each other” and overcome their natural “fear of the unknown.”
IT managers, for instance, are often concerned that an abundance of security cameras will hog network bandwidth and compromise data flow. However, by “focusing on commonalities first,” says Hoffman, later discussions, which typically center on aligning costs with budgets, will be much easier. The results will be a solid road map and many fewer review cycles that risk delaying construction.
Smart planning, it seems, makes for smarter buildings.