Open systems: The foundation for a new era of BAS
As BAS and IT integration issues are addressed, the use of cloud computing becomes an attractive opportunity for real-time data management. In a cloud scenario, data are stored in remote servers in a manner that is accessible anywhere, anytime. For integrated control systems, this is achievable only if the system design and specification define that access.
"Open protocols are enabling us to tie these variables together by utilizing one standard platform, being able to aggregate those data into the cloud. Cloud computing has become so mainstream that by integrating all the data into a cloud database, we are able to utilize that information across multiple platforms," suggests Jason Alvarez, president of 8760, Inc., a system integrator proficient in open systems. "So, when it comes to balancing between the Smart Grid, demand response, performance optimization of buildings, and so forth, these applications are all pulling from the same source of information."
Alvarez explains how his firm uses cloud-based technologies to access and analyze the data, providing them to the owner in simple reports that identify trends and system anomalies on which the owner bases operational decisions. This vendor-based approach allows owners to "subscribe" to the data they want to see and how they want to see them.
While there are good economies of scale, such as reduced maintenance of onsite computers and improved system flexibility, cloud computing faces a perception issue that must be overcome. Owners still want to "own" their system, and if the data and servers are remote, this comfort level must be addressed. To bridge concerns of data ownership, savvy integrators are providing solutions that combine both local and cloud storage.
Building Clouds, LLC, President Robert Wallace says, "Cloud-based access of building automation systems allows our clients access to a wide variety of analytics, reporting, trending, and control from a web-based user interface. Uptime and security are critical for our customers, so ensuring the service is hosted at the most reliable data centers is fundamental to our business model. Customers like the idea of us maintaining their infrastructure, but also like that we can provide local access as well as cloud access to their systems. Flexibility and choice are key."
As solutions start embracing more remote and cloud access, improved security standards using the latest firewall and encryption techniques are necessary. Recent awareness of security holes in certain solutions has raised the bar, and integrators and vendors are now taking this much more seriously. Opportunities for security solutions in the IT space are filtering down to the BAS space, and the best way to incorporate heightened security measures is including criteria set by the IT industry in the specification. This further underscores the importance of IT and BAS professionals working together to understand each other's pain points and requirements.
Outlook for the future
It is an exciting time for the BAS market as the concept and scope of system automation and interoperability are expanding from the core single-building model into an enterprise model. System integrators, vendors, and owners are pushing the envelope, and the demand for open technologies and solutions has become the norm. As more subsystems are integrated into buildings, more buildings integrated into campuses, and more campuses integrated into the enterprise, the definition of the "system" is becoming blurred.
To accommodate this growing market sector, more holistic system designs and specifications are critical. Today, BAS systems must peacefully coexist with IT, which requires collaboration between the IT department, facility managers, system architects, and engineers. Together, these elements of change will provide significant opportunities for engineers, vendors, integrators, and users who will create a new standard of intelligent, integrated buildings.
Ron Bernstein is president of RBCG LLC, a company providing consulting services for building owners, users, integrators, and engineers. He is also the chief ambassador of LonMark International.
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