Smart buildings need smart networks: vendor

In the future, integrating networking with other building functions will be an issue

Network managers could miss out on significant energy and infrastructure savings by not planning for convergence beyond data, voice and video, a network supplier has claimed.

The next big convergence will be when building services such as security and access control, climate control and lighting move onto IP and create "smart buildings", according to wiring and communications equipment manufacturer Panduit.

Smart buildings have been simmering away for some time. Not only do they hold out the promise of big savings on network infrastructure and maintenance costs — 60% or more, claims Panduit — but they can also save energy by enabling building services to be managed intelligently.

For example, says Brett Swett, Panduit's business development manager, the company's new headquarters will be able to schedule a meeting on a PC, and the control systems will automatically turn on the air-conditioning and lighting in the meeting room in advance, and activate a digital sign on the meeting room door.

However, Swett claims that unless companies adopt zoned networks when they commission new buildings or refurbish existing offices, it will be much harder for them to converge their building services onto their IP network.

That's because traditional structured cabling set-ups rely on running multiple cables from the telecoms room to each work area, he says. When the time comes to add more IP-based devices, it means running more cables. In contrast, zoned networks push the edge switches out into the workspaces, making it easier to support new services.

Swett says that one objection to the concept has been that placing switches in offices, instead of keeping them in a central locked room, means they are not physically secure. He says one way around this is to use special enclosures, such as Panduit's PanZone boxes, which can be mounted on the wall, in the ceiling or under the floor, and are in effect mini telecom rooms.

He says the latest PanZone enclosures can also host BAS (building automation systems) gear, so that can be zoned too, even if it is not quite ready yet to go all-IP.

But could putting services such as lighting under computer control leave users in the dark — literally — when the network crashes or a hacker breaks in?

Swett claimed that's less of a worry than prioritisation -- ensuring that low-bandwidth BAS traffic isn't disadvantaged by bandwidth-greedy applications. He adds, though, that "the biggest risk now is how to deal with fire and safety. We're saying to keep those off the network for now and integrate them in your services room".

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