Technology considerations in a connected building environment

Dec. 1, 2011
Unifying the physical infrastructure can help enterprises align, converge and optimize critical systems to build a smarter business foundation.

From the December, 2011 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

Unifying the physical infrastructure can help enterprises align, converge and optimize critical systems to build a smarter business foundation.

By Darryl Benson, Gerald Niemi and Jim Sungaila, Panduit Corporation

Every modern building system, such as heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC), lighting, security and communications, uses some form of information technology (IT) networking for management and control. The technologies for connecting, managing and automating building systems include servers for hosting management software and controllers for floor-level settings. Components can include a wide variety of endpoint devices such as desktop computers, lighting, variable air volume (VAV) boxes, surveillance cameras and interactive lobby kiosks, as well as require network infrastructure including cabling, switches, connectors and related protocols.

The connected building strategy we have developed at Panduit is an innovative approach to the design and deployment of building systems that leverage an intelligent, open-systems architecture to fulfill current-day building system requirements while providing a flexible migration path for adopting future technologies. This article will present some key physical infrastructure decisions that are important to project stakeholders when designing and deploying a connected building for light commercial use (i.e. 20 to 500 endpoint sensors/nodes).

The article will break out key connected building physical infrastructure design elements—middleware, owner and tenant telecommunications rooms (TRs), connected building data center (CBDC), zone consolidation points, and endpoint sensors/nodes—and discuss best practices for design and deployment. The article also will discuss top-of-mind technology issues when designing a connected building, such as open/closed systems infrastructure, key building communications protocols and sustainable building technologies.

Overall, the article is intended to generate increased collaboration and new conversations among functional connected building stakeholder groups, especially between internal IT and facilities teams. The result is a property that generates and shares data over a Unified Physical Infrastructure (UPI) to reduce occupancy costs, enhance workplace experiences for their tenants or employees, and increase building efficiency, effectiveness and overall real estate value.

Elements of connected building technology design

The responsibility for operating and maintaining building automation systems (BAS) has traditionally fallen to facilities teams who manage each system in its own unique silo. Each system is bid separately and operated independently, often over its own proprietary protocol. However, the increased proliferation of open system protocols now is enabling building stakeholders to converge previously siloed building systems in order to drive operational efficiencies and meet tenant needs.

Building stakeholders are increasingly using UPI principles to drive interoperability and convergence of building devices and systems that formerly would be separately deployed and managed through proprietary closed technologies. These new intelligent infrastructure design strategies reduce operational expenses with no additional capital costs to help make building-systems data visible, valuable and tangible. Integrated building systems also contribute to core sustainability objectives by managing energy resources more effectively, reducing waste and shrinking the organization’s carbon footprint.

This portion of the article will help you navigate through core technology decisions that enable the development of UPI-based intelligent infrastructure throughout all connected building elements. It allows building owners and stakeholders to take the opportunity to move toward an intelligent, converged building infrastructure that extends throughout the enterprise to both connect technology components and serve stakeholder needs.


Middleware is the internal glue of a building automation system and is used to translate protocols and normalize the BAS data. Middleware can take one of several forms—a hardware appliance, a software application, or a combination of both. Custom policies and rules can be written into middleware to leverage and share information between disparate BAS systems such as HVAC, lighting and security as they relate to occupancy in a building. In this way, middleware plays a foundational role in a UPI-based connected building solution, as the fundamental tool to enable integration, interoperability and convergence of building systems.

Many middleware providers use a software application like Java to blend and normalize BAS enterprise data on a common interface for increased interoperability. Software drivers are used to integrate or interface to various protocols such as LON, BACnet and Modbus; these and other BAS protocols then can be converged in the middleware. In many cases BAS data points can be made transparent to one graphical user interface to provide increased visibility and control over building systems. Some features middleware provides include reduced cost of ownership, vendor flexibility, more control of a system, interoperability, and integration. Middleware allows the end user freedom of choice and is vendor-agnostic.

The return-on-investment (ROI) for the middleware can be found in the orchestration of rules, policies and operations that can be implemented to generate resource efficiencies across building systems (i.e., reducing energy/operational costs, improving uptime, and enhancing occupant safety and comfort). For example, an energy demand response can be routed from the service provider directly to the middleware, which then simultaneously instructs HVAC, lighting and power systems. Each of the BAS systems involved in the energy demand response request will have an independent sequence of operations based on the middleware request. In addition, middleware can provide enhanced environmental conditions, BAS system predictability, remote services and increased safety.

In summary, normalizing the BAS systems data with middleware allows building stakeholders to improve communication and control access across formerly disparate BAS enterprise elements.

Open systems approach

When designing a connected building, the first decision point encountered by the design team is to what degree the building will deploy open or closed BAS. A key advantage of middleware over proprietary control technologies is that it enables building owners and stakeholders to take an open systems approach to BAS deployment.

Proprietary or closed systems tend to operate in silos, and complicate construction bidding processes (as well as future moves and migrations) because they are sole-sourced systems. Other drawbacks of using closed systems include but are not limited to excessive cost of ownership, system scalability issues, integration issues, and end-user flexibility problems.

In contrast, open systems enable BAS scalability and flexibility, and allow the construction scope to be opened up, resulting in reduced capital and operation expenditures. Open protocols are available for all traditional building control systems (lighting, HVAC, electrical and others) that can easily co-exist and interact with IP-based technologies. Although not all building systems are natively IP (Internet Protocol), all non-native IP systems should have a migration path for connecting to an IP network.

By connecting and harmonizing critical systems and devices, owners can optimize building assets and manage risk into the future.

Connected building data center

There is a need within all buildings to house, manage and organize the growing number of IT assets that are required to operate today’s connected buildings. Previous generations of buildings relied on siloed departments to manage, organize and house the specialized equipment required for their specific applications. These were typically spread throughout the building or campus; for example, security was often tasked with managing the video equipment and recorders required to operate their surveillance applications.

The connected building data center (CBDC) leverages current data center best practices to organize previously disparate building system server, storage, power and cooling requirements in an efficient footprint. For example, purpose-built video switches have been replaced by the network IP switch and security recorders replaced with servers and mass storage solutions. The IP network will be flexible and scalable as the physical infrastructure and accommodate nearly all logical connectivity between controllers, management servers and across building systems. It also assures this consolidated and organized environment for the building-level server and storage requirements is supported by adequate power and cooling.

This improved organization of assets enables tangible improvements in infrastructure efficiency and assures the integrity and functionality of the connected building. Specific CBDC advantages include improved scalability of new and existing systems, improved management and maintenance of building system application hardware and software, and the consolidation of applications across virtual servers. Existing servers can be used through virtualization of applications.

It is important to note that the CBDC is sized to maintain continuity among critical building systems, and is not designed to supplant other data center requirements. Standalone CBDCs usually are markedly smaller than a traditional data center. The CBDC must be located in a secure environment, which minimizes the chances of security breaches or system downtime. Connected building infrastructure can be located in existing data centers.

Telecommunications room

The telecommunications room (TR) is a horizontal zone consolidation point, and is a vital point of aggregation for a series of building control systems (HVAC, lighting, security, badge access and others). The TR also functions as the point of physical convergence for field-level supervisory BAS components.

The TR enables the integration of control systems with the IT network and provides a secure environment and consolidation of all network physical connectivity and logical layer equipment. The end result is a consolidated and organized environment for floor-level active equipment that optimizes space and provides for floor-level control of assets. Connected building infrastructure can be located in existing TR closet areas.

The TR is designed to build flexibility and scalability into the building physical infrastructure, and should be designed to accommodate BAS growth (controllers, management servers and across-building systems). Key TR design and layout considerations include the following.

Security: Both physical (racks, cabinets, enclosures and IP/Ethernet ports) and logical (network firewalls, demilitarized zones) security should be observed in each TR.

Scalability: The TR often shares real estate with various clients so physical and logical system scalability is important for long-term owner satisfaction and occupant comfort.

Standards: The TIA-568 standard series is an ideal resource for new and existing TR design and system layout.

Grounding: Proper bonding and grounding is essential for efficient network performance, dispersing EMI/RFI noise to prevent control system degradation. Grounding systems also provide protection for personnel and equipment. Each TR should link directly into the building-wide bonding and grounding network.

Zone consolidation points/pathways

One of the key enabling technologies of converged physical infrastructures is the use of a zone cabling architecture. Under this approach, all system networks (copper, optical fiber, coaxial and Fieldbus cabling) are converged within common pathways from the telecommunications rooms to consolidation points. The final termination is within zone enclosures distributed throughout the building, allowing all cables to be managed and patched in a single enclosure.

This architecture differs from dedicated cabling runs typically used in building systems. Dedicated runs often lead to multiple lengthy and redundant cabling routes along disparate pathways. This leads to inefficiencies in specification, installation and maintenance. Under a zone architecture, network cabling becomes easier to locate, manage and maintain as each additional building system is routed within the same pathways and enclosures. Managed cabling also helps eliminate abandoned cables in ceilings, making the workplace run more efficiently and safely.

Zone architecture enables upfront cost savings by virtue of its physical design requiring a “single pull” at installation. Future operational cost savings are realized by reducing the time and effort required for moves, adds and changes. This localizes changes at the zone enclosure and at user/device endpoints, eliminating the more time-consuming changes (such as at the telecommunications room) that a conventional infrastructure would require. A zone architecture also enables you to adopt and deploy new technologies and endpoint devices as well as required network infrastructure to deliver tangible infrastructure and business process improvements.

Endpoint devices and sensors

Connected building architectures provide a platform for secure, scalable and interoperable systems throughout an enterprise and represent the “last mile” of connectivity to endpoint devices and sensors within the building system infrastructure. A wide range of endpoint devices that are connected include surveillance cameras, climate controls, energy management, access controls, control valves and actuators, wireless communications, and digital signage.

Sensors can include temperature, humidity, CO2 and more. Endpoint devices and sensors usually are connected/wired to a node, which then communicates with the BAS system through a communication protocol such as LON, BACnet or MODbus. This allows the BAS system extended visibility to log, trend and alarm data. Also by exposing these points, control is made possible to increase overall system efficiency.

Wireless coverage throughout a connected building is a key enabling technology in creating an open and collaborative work environment. All deployed wireless technologies should be 802.11a/b/g/n compliant to avoid proprietary protocol issues in the connected space. In addition, wireless deployment is eased through the use of zone consolidation enclosures to locate wireless access points. Wireless coverage can also be an effective future means of reaching out to endpoints and sensors within the space, particularly if these endpoints and sensors are “monitor-only” in function. Note, it is highly recommended that critical control points be served by wired networks.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) extends the capabilities of Ethernet by delivering both data and reliable DC power over the same cables to endpoint devices such as Voice over IP phones, access control and surveillance cameras, and wireless access points. Because PoE converges data and power together over the same cable to each device attached to the local area network, devices can be installed without the need for a dedicated AC outlet. This saves money by eliminating the cost and time associated with AC outlet installations, while providing the flexibility to locate PoE devices where performance is optimum.

Benefits of connected buildings

The benefits of deploying a connected building architecture over that of a traditional network architecture are detailed here.

Lower installed cost: Converged architecture—Legacy building systems often are installed and operate in silos. These systems are functionally robust but are operationally inefficient and often cost more to install and operate. The increased cost is a result of multiple Fieldbus device networks cabled or wired directly to the BAS supervisor control, and the lost efficiency is due to a lack of logical convergence between the disparate BAS systems.

By contrast, a connected building architecture converges both physical and logical networks (card access control, video surveillance, HVAC, power, fire/life/safety systems) and uses middleware to implement rules and policies. This architecture results in a deployment that enables stakeholders to leverage expert policies that can engage any and all of the systems in concert with each other to realize significant operational benefits and savings. An example of a rule or policy might be for all digital signs to show exit routes in the event of a fire or severe weather, leveraging both fire panel and weather service systems.

Stakeholders also can take advantage of a converged physical infrastructure that extends to all system endpoints and sensors. With all building networks designed to reside in the same pathways, multiple redundant cable runs between controllers and telecommunications rooms are eliminated. This architecture reduces the risk and cost associated with installing disparate networks and enables stakeholders to optimize project and contract resources.

Improved ROI: Centralized system management—The centralized management and deeper visibility into building systems afforded by a connected building architecture lowers operating costs and improves occupant comfort and safety by enacting rules and policies across any and all building systems in concert.

Traditional siloed building system deployments usually allow the HVAC/controls contractor to build a common graphical user interface that is used mostly by facilities. Their sequences of operation are typically boilerplate specifications and do not require much if any logical cross-communication between other BAS systems or components.

By contrast, the graphical user interface for a connected building is not just for facilities but serves all building occupants. The user interface is designed by a system integrator on a middleware platform. The ROI can be found in the logical convergence with the understanding that just because any two BAS systems can be integrated does not necessarily means they should.

Reduced operational expense: Sustainable architecture—Physically converged infrastructures also contributed to larger corporate sustainability initiatives by enabling reduced resource consumption (e.g. energy, real estate) while optimizing the occupant experience. Basic green objectives include reducing consumption of non-renewable resources and creating healthy environments.

Many systems and technologies can contribute to helping owners and other building stakeholders achieve their sustainability goals. Some of the key systems might include dimmable, addressable lighting controls, smart electric sub-metering, digital building automation controls and automated fault detection and diagnostics. These systems are used to improve occupant comfort, achieve energy efficiencies and shrink the organization’s carbon footprint.

Connected building architectures also add value by differentiating properties from the competition in a business climate in which environmental stewardship is increasingly valued. Additionally, a connected building is more ready for interaction with the smart electrical grid and better able to comply with the changing regulatory environment. The result is a property that is both good for the planet and good for the bottom line.

In summary, every building system uses some form of IT networking for management and control. The technologies for connecting, managing and automating building systems include servers for hosting management software and controllers for floor-level settings. By using a UPI approach, enterprises can align, converge and optimize critical systems—communication, computing, control, power and security—to build a smarter, unified business foundation and meet sustainability goals. This approach enables the use of an open standards-based, service-oriented architecture framework and is designed to deliver tangible infrastructure and business process improvements.

Darryl Benson is director of solutions – smart cities, Gerald Niemi is connected buildings marketing manager and Jim Sungaila is solutions marketing communications manager with Panduit ( This article is adapted from a reference design guide available at

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