Saving through network convergence

Combining building systems and IT on a single IP network can reap efficiencies, savings

There's likely a number of building systems in place at your organization: HVAC, lighting, fire, security, telephone, and the like. You also have your IT infrastructure. Turns out that converging those systems on a single IP-based network promises a wealth of money-saving benefits and efficiency gains, according to a recently released white paper from Johnson Controls titled "The Perfect Technology Storm."

For starters, a converged network can provide a new level of visibility into building-related data -- as the data becomes easily accessible thorough a standard Web browser, rather than being trapped in a building management system's workstation. For example, real-time energy consumption data becomes widely available to management outside the facility department, according to the report.

"Today, for example, an organization may use its energy consumption database to estimate next month's energy bill, merge this information from 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. Or, environmental alarm data can be merged with production data to find correlations between employee comfort and productivity," the paper says.

[ Read how the California Academy of Sciences leveraged a converged IP network to cut costs. ]

Another benefit: In an integrated environment, BASes (building automation systems), are less expensive to install because they can use the existing IT infrastructure. That means less duplication and less waste. You can also do more with less in that leveraging a single high-speed network avoids the redundant parts that are required with separate BASes. In addition, the white paper notes, "with fewer wires, bridges, routers, and repeaters throughout a building, there is less opportunity for component failure and downtime."

The nature of the converged network makes future growth and modifications easier, more so than making changes and replacements to separate, individual systems.

An IP-based system also can help boost energy efficiency. That's not because the BAS and IT data are flowing over a common data highway. Rather, the setup makes it easier to drive facility improvements, such as retro-commissioning program for HVAC equipment and controls, which could save 10 to 30 percent of applicable energy costs, according to the paper.

There are other ways this type of converged network could reap energy savings, the report notes: Building code requires that a minimum amount of outside air per occupant is brought into a building. Common control system design is to use a fixed minimum of air based on "design" occupancy. But significant energy savings could be realized if the outside air was based, instead, on actual occupancy. In the case of buildings like auditoriums, theaters, or convention centers, the actual occupancy might come from the advanced and walk-up ticket sales system -- all data that would be readily available thanks to the converged network. The HVAC systems can know in advance what the anticipated occupancy is, and proactively adjust control strategies accordingly, the white paper says.

The paper cites a case study where an organization, Ava Maria University in Florida, successfully converged 23 systems -- from information technology to facility operations -- on a single IP network, including the university's IT infrastructure, fire, security, HVAC, and building control systems. Doing so proved to be easier and cheaper than installing multiple proprietary networks for different building functions: The school estimates it saved $1.5 million in construction costs.

The school also anticipates saving money down the road: $600,000 in annual utility costs and $350,000 in annual staff. "We manage the entire campus operations – facility systems and IT systems – with just seven full-time employees, which is pretty lean when you consider the alternative of as many as 24 people to manage those same entities," says Bryan Mehaffey, vice president of technology systems and engineering.

You can download "The Perfect Technology Storm" (PDF) from the Johnson Controls Web site.

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