Convergence and the changing workplace

Convergence is the buzzword of the 21st century. It’s a process that’s happening today in many walks of life; the iPod, the mobile phone and the Blackberry are just some of the many devices where developments in electronics and software technology are enabling new combinations of previously disparate functions to be integrated into single products.

But what about the world of commercial buildings? Traditionally, buildings have been constructed with multiple proprietary control networks to run systems, such as HVAC, security and access, energy, lighting, and security as well as separate voice and data telecommunications networks. But the result of this approach presents major problems. These buildings are typically very complex to operate, with associated high installation, integration and ongoing maintenance costs, and, ultimately, limited controls functionality.

But, convergence is happening in this environment too. On a growing number of projects previously separate building systems are being networked on Internet Protocol (IP) with core building control functions, such as, HVAC, lighting, access control, energy metering etc being combined into multi-function systems.

At Tridium we are working closely with Cisco Systems as a partner on its Cisco Connected Real Estate (CCRE) programme to make this convergence a reality. The CCRE programme is designed to harness the power of Internet Protocol (IP) to transform the traditional approach to constructing buildings. In essence, the CCRE approach promotes the convergence of numerous networks onto the open standard of IP to streamline processes by providing a single connection for all building and IT systems. In doing so, the CCRE approach will bring huge financial and operational advantages. It will significantly improve workplace efficiency and real estate utilisation, reducing operating costs dramatically.

The conditions for such convergence are certainly right. Until recently, the network was acknowledged as merely pervasive but now, with the advent of IP, it has become ubiquitous. Today, global business cannot operate without it. In fact, alongside water, gas and electricity, there is a strong argument for considering the network as having acquired its own utility status. The CCRE programme takes this fourth utility, the network, into the very foundation of modern buildings, where it is driven by two rapidly converging market forces:

• The emergence of Ethernet-based, multi-function building control systems – bringing together separate applications, such as, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), physical security and access, energy, lighting, and fire and safety.

• The convergence of multimedia voice, video and data services onto unitary IP-based infrastructures – bringing together separate, technology-specific and proprietary networks.

In these conditions it makes perfect sense for new buildings to be pre-cabled for this fourth utility at construction stage, as, indeed, they are for electricity, water, and telephones. If this is done, then all telephony and building services-related networking can be handled by the IP infrastructure so there is no longer a need to run separate networks.

What we would then have is a new model for the way buildings are used. Currently, in most commercial buildings, floor space utilisation is typically less than 40%, with many desks being unused for much of the time. The result is a huge waste of resources and cost. By use of converged IP based systems and a more flexible approach to working styles, portfolios can be reduced and utilisation increased to around 70%. It is the deployment of IP telephony, offering a personal global phone number, irrespective of location, and the growing use of wireless technologies that will enable the creation of more flexible offices, and allow more effective mobile and home working.

Tridium’s Niagara Framework technology is an advanced software suite running on PC, and distributed low-cost embedded controller platforms, which enables convergence of all building systems onto IP infrastructure, and just as importantly allows their easy interoperation to enhance workplace functionality. In practice, it is the systems integrator, the contractor, the maintenance teams and, of course, the client who will reap the rewards of this fresh approach.

Take the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), for example. This client is harnessing the power and capabilities of Tridium’s Niagara Framework united with IP router and switching technology from Cisco Systems in the development of the new Terminal 3 building at Changi Airport. The result is a fully integrated IP-based supervisory system for the many different controls and environmental monitoring sub-systems being installed as part of the project. Tridium’s versatile web-serving, building services control solution is also being applied to cover the existing Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 facilities at the Airport, achieving vastly improved and integrated site-wide building management.

The installation of Tridium’s Niagara Framework will ensure rapid, comprehensive and successful integration of Terminal 3’s range of building services equipment, including chillers, pumps, access control, fire alarm and other systems without the need for any special gateways, expensive programming or BMS supervisors. At the same time, the project’s systems integrator, CNA, is extending this winning Tridium / Cisco Systems approach to the older two Terminal buildings.

This process of convergence is also at work on another major upgrade project. The Zurich headquarters of leading international financial and insurance company, Allianz Suisse, is employing Tridium’s Niagara Framework, united with Cisco Systems networking products, for cutting-edge, IP-integrated, building systems control. Project integrator Etavis has developed and implemented a web-enabled solution, delivering great flexibility and cost-saving advantages which provides the client with easy control access across multiple sites.

Recent works on this site have involved a new extension to the building, and the renovation of the existing facilities to create a modern, fully functional 13,000m2 headquarters building. Etavis has installed a new controls network for the extension whilst ensuring seamless integration with the existing building’s automation systems.

Tridium’s Niagara Framework has allowed integration of the different control systems within the Hohlstrasse building quickly and very cost-effectively. This web-based solution has also enabled the client to access the control system in the building remotely, and interface with the Allianz Suisse IP network to deliver secure access over the company’s LAN, and bring multi-site benefits to the client.

The Niagara Framework is capable of integrating diverse systems and devices – regardless of manufacturer, or communication protocol – into a unified platform that can be easily managed and controlled in real time over the Internet using a standard web browser. At Hohlstrasse over 700 Lon nodes and more than 3000 physical data points, governing the heating, air conditioning, alarms systems, energy counters, blinds, lighting and even the audio-visual presentation equipment have been successfully integrated, with resulting data served up via the Niagara infrastructure over a web-browser. The building’s systems can be accessed and controlled from any web-enabled PC or via Netgear switching to the company’s Cisco Systems powered LAN. The Etavis solution has also integrated the building controls systems on two other recently refurbished Allianz Suisse sites at Bleicherweg and Badenerstrasse onto the same Niagara Framework. Prior to this project, the three networks were completely separate, with remote access only possible via an ISDN connection. Graphical information from any of the three sites is now served up as HTML pages, allowing supervisory actions to take place from a remote location, over the LAN or via a web-browser. Information and application sharing plus excellent network reliability are again the benefits.

In both these projects, the technology has enabled the contracting teams to fulfil the demands of the client, by effectively delivering a single IP network for communication and building services. This convergence achieves breakthrough advantages. It saves cost, especially on new building developments, improves functionality, enables flexible remote management, allows business access to building related data and reduces operating expenses by simplifying training and maintenance regimes. One day, in the not too distant future, all commercial buildings will surely be built this way.

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