Each time something goes wrong at an office, a data center or a critical infrastructure facility, the result can vary from the slightly annoying to the highly disruptive.
When a lift breaks down, workers at a building have to walk up the stairs and possibly end up late for meetings. They lose time and productivity.
When a data center’s building facilities malfunction despite the usual safeguards built in, the cost can be in the thousands of dollars a minute.
Key infrastructure providers may also find themselves at the end of stinging regulatory action. Fines in the millions of dollars are not unheard of.
In 2014, a Singapore telecom operator was fined S$6 million for an outage at an exchange facility that affected close to 270,000 subscribers in the country. A fire had caused the disruption.
For data centers, the downtime can be costly as well. A study of data centers in 2016 by the Ponemon Institute found that a single minute of unplanned outage can cost a data center is as much as US$7,000.
Today’s Systems Can Prevent Common Problems
While there are many factors involved in each outage and costs often vary for each vertical, what is certain is that many everyday issues that occur at buildings can be proactively prevented.
From restricting access to only credentialed persons, to controlling the air-conditioning and lighting in a building, today’s building management system (BMS) are helping to reduce the risk of downtime.
Many of today’s systems are able to connect various different sub-systems in a building, from its chilled water plants to the cooling towers and exhaust systems that provide a comfortable environment for occupants.
Modern BMS systems also enable zone temperature monitoring and control for air-conditioning, for example. They can help to monitor air quality, say, the levels of carbon dioxide in enclosed areas.
What separates today’s systems from the past is how integrated and connected they are. Unlike before, when each subsystem was set up with disparate control mechanisms, today’s microprocessor- and software-based systems enable real-time information to be fed to the building management center, where operators can quickly make important decisions on the fly.
So, fan systems are connected. A network of lights is connected, as are meters, emergency systems, CCTV cameras and even the fire control systems.
In the long run, a BMS makes it is easier to manage a building with the intelligence it provides to operators. With proactive monitoring, it allows for planned maintenance and reduces operational disruption. Ultimately, this means an improved experience for tenants.
Security Must Be Top of Mind
As with the introduction of any new technology, there are challenges involved in BMS. The reliance on sensors, in the form of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, means that there is a need to ensure that both performance and security are up to scratch.
First, the multitude of sensors that are sitting literally on the edge of the network have to be able to reliably send that data to a central point to be analyzed.
To do so, high-performance and secure IoT edge servers have to do the part of ensuring that the numbers are correctly delivered and then passing on the collated information onwards. Sometimes, they can help crunch the numbers as well.
The inherent risk of IoT has been widely publicized in high-profile incidents. In 2016, millions of Internet cameras were taken over by hackers to mount a denial-of-service attack that made the Internet inaccessible in parts of the United States.
Yet, connected devices are a key part of future systems that are used to manage buildings intelligently. Along with performance, their success will depend largely on the security that is built from ground-up to reduce the risk of cyberattacks and unplanned disruptions.
Indeed, in a use case where downtime is not an option, fault prevention rather than fault recovery is arguably more important. Whether this is to keep a cyberattack at bay or simply being able to run reliably, the hardware and software have to deliver.
This is an environment where the servers and networks that deliver the information to the control center have to be up 24/7. For many operators, the uptime has to be as high as “five nines”, and not any less.
In a way, that may be the real “smart” in smart buildings in the future. In other words, it’s not just the fancy front-end solutions that are highly visible, such as nifty user check-ins at the reception desk, but also the transformations happening in the control systems that quietly enable a building to run smoothly.
When preventing a fault is the main mission
When the air-conditioning in an office goes off, the place becomes uncomfortable and unconducive for work. If the lift system in the building decides to have an off day, deliverymen face long flights of stairs.
These are the common faults that building face, which increasingly sophisticated building management systems (BMS) help reduce. Preventive maintenance, enabled by constant analysis of the air-conditioning and lift systems, for example, can lower the risk of downtime.
Sometimes, the requirements are even more demanding, not only alerting to faults, but preventing them entirely.
In airports, for example, cameras that capture footage for video analysis have to be online 24/7 to help detect debris on the runway. An untimely failure in the system could lead to an accident that could potentially cause lives to be lost.
The same can be said for other deployments of BMS that make a difference in everyday life. Tunnel monitoring, for example, is needed to help detect any conditions that may make it dangerous for more vehicles to enter the underground passage.
So, the systems that the cameras are connected to have to be the most robust and resilient. They have to be able to keep the data moving to the servers where the analysis is carried out.
In all these scenarios, BMS is becoming increasingly indispensable for urban infrastructure management, just like it has for managing buildings and high-rise complexes.
More connected, more virtualized
Resilience, of course, is not just for those running public safety infrastructure. It is important to any business that seeks to have its systems stay up during unexpected scenarios, be it a data center or a corrections facility, for example.
Even as recent innovations have added new features that make it easier to monitor and manage a facility, resilience remains a key requirement for BMS.
In the past, many systems worked in silos, each using its own disaster recovery backup or clustering to reduce the likelihood of a complete system failure.
However, today, many of these systems connecting to CCTV cameras or monitoring the telemetry from the cooling or heating systems in a building are virtualized for improved manageability and efficiency.
They could even run on the same hardware and software, in a single physical machine. There may be a backup but this may or may not be a “hot” backup that can kick into action immediately.
The increased use of sensors and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices that are collecting and sending a flood of data onto servers on the edge means there are more points of potential failure that need to be guarded against.
For any system that brings about improved efficiency through centralization, the risks have to be considered. The same for any system that has added intelligence from a new set of data collection devices – they have to stay up all the time at the edge, along with the edge servers that pass on and sometimes analyze that data as well.
As a result, a higher degree of fault prevention is crucial today. Otherwise, the promise of smart facility management rests on just a few points of failure – the hardware and software running it.
Simplicity is also important
To be sure, resilience does not mean building up a complex web of machines and applications that are hard to operate. On the contrary, a simpler yet sophisticated system would do a more able job to keep faults to a minimum.
From a data center to a subway tunnel, ease of setup means fewer hours spent for maintenance downtime. Depending on the scenario, this could result in revenue improvements as well as end-user experience enhancements.
Rather than adding complexity to a setup, the BMS systems that enable new capabilities such as analytics and machine learning should be as easy to deploy as possible.
This means finding a hardware and software platform that is quick to get up and running with. It should also be straightforward to maintain with a dedicated partner whose expertise will help prepare for a time of need, not only when there is a crisis.
The future is promising
In the years ahead, big changes are expected with the increase in automation and digitization. This will boost the data captured on sensors throughout a facility, for a start.
With data as its fuel, AI will enable operations and processes to be more optimized. No longer would human operators have to manually calculate and test different scenarios to find the most efficient and effective way to solve a problem.
To meet these challenges, BMS will become even more sophisticated and empowering. At the edge, robust and resilient computing platforms will exploit the data collected nearer to the source, thus returning results with lower latency. On the cloud, its scalability will continue to ensure that resources are at hand when needed.
Resilience will be key. From a data center or a highly secure government facility, robust BMS solutions will make a real impact that is measurable and sustainable in the future.
Easy setup, robust performance key to enabling smart building features
A discussion about smart buildings today often centers on the high-tech features that users can try out when they enter the premises.
For example, visitors who are pre-registered by tenants can simply flash their mobile phone at gantries to gain entry.
With the current coronavirus outbreak still a threat globally, many building owners and businesses are also seeking to better contact-trace visitors, for example, where they had meetings on site.
These features are crucial in today’s climate. Just as important, however, are the security and robustness that are delivered by the systems that run 24/7 to enable such smart features.
This is especially true for sites that require mission-critical security features, such as corrections facilities and government buildings.
Here, the systems that control access to various parts of a site have to be backed by fault prevention measures. They have to ensure that the gates have to be nearly foolproof and ready all the time, for example.
In the case of proximity and contact tracing, it is just as crucial that the data is securely retained, in the event that it is required by government authorities for public health reasons.
Fault prevention, not just recovery
Gallagher Security, a Stratus partner, makes use of Stratus’ ftServer systems to deliver access control systems for its customers in the government, education and healthcare sectors. The key is not just fault recovery but fault prevention.
The Stratus system offers “5 nines” uptime, with average yearly downtime of just 31.6 seconds. This compares to more than 87 hours on a conventional server, more than 43 hours on a public cloud service and more than 26 minutes on a virtual fault tolerant server.
For Gallagher Security, such a setup usually involves an on-premise installation that connects to the gate sensors and controllers that enable the intelligence on the edge of the premises and network as well.
Much of the functions here are virtualized, which means that the servers can be flexibly assigned new tasks whenever they emerge. This added “elasticity” makes use of compute resources better while enabling businesses to react to unplanned events more quickly.
Just as important as the robustness of the Stratus servers is their ease of setup. For many in the access control or security industry, installing and maintaining servers are not their core competency, so a system that works quickly out of the box and remains so over the years is ideal.
For example, there is no need to modify software applications or write complex failovers scripts. This way, the continuous availability does not mean additional workloads for both ISVs and end-customers.
The ease of maintenance extends to the hardware as well. Stratus’ ftServer systems make use of commonly available x86 components, such as Intel Xeon CPUs and DIMM memory modules.
ftServer systems are also made up of customer replaceable units that can be removed without powering down the system and replaced without using special tools.
Engine behind new applications
The robust servers are a mainstay for Gallagher and other solution providers that turn to Stratus for mission-critical tasks that simply cannot tolerate any system failure.
Today, the Stratus technologies have been the engine behind some new applications as well. Mobile credentials, for example, can be issued to users who require access to sites even as restrictions apply during the fight against the Covid-19 scourge.
Using their mobile phones to tap on an access panel that accepts either NFC (near-field communications) or Bluetooth signals, visitors to a building do not have to exchange passes physically and reduce contact with others.
When a person approaches a gate to scan his phone at a sensor, secure authentication with strong cryptography ensures that the credentials are valid for a gate to be opened.
The system is also useful for guards who are on the move. With a mobile client on their dedicated mobiles devices, they can provide temporary access when needed.
Zone counting is another feature that has become useful today. This means that if too many people are detected at one location, say, a part of a building or campus, an alert can be triggered to those present to help reduce the crowding.
Risk profiles change
To enable these capabilities, solution providers once again turn to the robust solutions they trust most. Typically, for Gallagher, for example, these new tasks are also run from Stratus ftServer systems that deliver the reliability required.
This will be more important as more businesses adjust their risk profiles to cope a fast-changing situation with the pandemic. They require robust, reliable and secure systems.
For example, solutions for better contact tracing actively reduce a risk of disruption to a business. Should a coronavirus cluster form on a production floor, for example, a plant could be forced to close down.
In these uncertain times, systems availability is perhaps more “mission critical” than ever. Having a reliable platform to build on, businesses can then find a way to recover from the tremendous disruption that has occurred.