There's a lot of focus today on the greening of the data centre. But the energy conservation movement and the proliferation of IP-based data transport are also causing IT to pay more attention to building and facilities management, an area that has traditionally been outside its purview.
How LonWorks operates
In the LonWorks system, a building system's devices - HVAC equipment, light switches and room occupancy sensors - are outfitted with chips. These chips run scheduling, alarm and data-logging applications and also enable the devices to communicate with one another in a peer-to-peer control network via a widely accepted protocol written by Echelon.
The control network interfaces with the i.LON 100 Internet Server, which serves up Web pages to any Internet Explorer-compatible browser. It also acts as a gateway to the corporate IP network, a dedicated IP network or the Internet, providing facilities managers with Web access to the scheduling, alarm and data-logging applications residing in the devices. The i.LON also provides a SOAP/XML Web services interface for integration with corporate applications.
Echelon may be a pioneer in open systems, but it's not the only company offering Web-accessible control networks. Site Controls offers an open-source, internet-enabled energy management system that allows retail, restaurant and convenience-store franchises to monitor and control their building systems to minimise energy costs. The rest of the competition is largely from makers of proprietary systems, such as Johnson Controls and Delta Controls.
From sportswear retailer Eddie Bauer to the New York public school system, organisations throughout the US are implementing automated building control systems that send vital data over IP-based networks and are manageable through Web portals. The common goal is to reduce energy costs and comply with green building standards.
"Building systems are beginning to use the IT backbone as their medium to get information back and forth from the control systems" to the people who monitor them, says Terry Reynolds, vice president for business development at Control Technologies, a systems integrator that helped implement the New York schools' system.
In many cases, facilities and building managers work directly with integrators to design and implement these networks. But even then, IT is needed to make critical decisions, such as whether there's enough bandwidth on corporate IP networks for the new data to flow in real time; how to carve out roles for IT, facilities and other departments for managing the new data transport; what security measures should be implemented, especially when the setup involves sending the data across the Internet; and how to set up the network addressing and naming schemes for the new devices.
When Eddie Bauer needed to replace its automated temperature control system at its 2.2-million-square-foot fulfilment centre in Ohio, it went with the LonWorks system from Echelon, a provider of networks that control and monitor heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting systems as well as other equipment.