Converged netsStandardisation has started from the bottom up. Proprietary cabling systems in networks that link sensors and other devices to controllers on individual floors have given way in recent years to two competing, open protocols, BACnet and LonTalk, while floor controllers are migrating onto IP backbones.

Barry Haaser, executive director of LonMark International, says LonTalk and BACnet will prevail at the device level for technical and cost reasons. Others aren't so sure. "Instead of two guys running the IT and controls networks, why not one guy? I see IP going down to the individual device," says Anno Scholten, chief technology officer at BAS vendor Plexus Technology.

But sharing the IP backbone raises security concerns among network administrators. Yale University is starting a project to consolidate its BAS onto an IP network that will link 210 campus buildings, and it plans to tie the BAS into a room-scheduling system that will automatically control energy usage based on room occupancy. For security reasons, Bill Daniels, manager of systems and technologies for the university's facilities group, has created an isolated, parallel network that's protected by firewalls and uses non-routable IP addresses to keep data off the Internet.

Jerry Hill, director of systems engineering at Yale, says security is paramount. "We don't want a student to hack into our building management systems just because they can," he says.

The problem is that Daniels wants to integrate the BAS with the university's accounting system for billing and charge-back, but facilities staffers who log in remotely typically can't get a static IP address from their Internet service providers.

Security is a problem at multiple levels, says Considine. Control system manufacturers have rudimentary password security mechanisms, but most have "no concept of directory-enabled security," he says. This worries Mark Kendall, CEO of Kenmark Group. "In some of our buildings, you can access the front door locks. Security is a very serious matter," he says.

Web enablementThe pieces for successful IT/BAS integration aren't all in place yet. "Various XML groups are developing schemas to interface the building systems to the business systems," says Kirk McElwain, technical director at CABA. But right now, the lack of an industry-wide language to program controls is an impediment, says Considine. He expects XML-based schemas to evolve but says basic interfaces must come first. What's needed is an abstraction layer so that programmers or other users don't have to understand control systems, he says.

For example, Johnson Controls developed a system for Toronto Pearson International Airport that's designed to allow its Airport Traffic Information Management System (ATIMS) to control lighting and heating at gates as air traffic controllers update flight information. The ATIMS database can pass an encrypted XML message via SOAP to a control system that brings up heat and lights at a gate.

Michael Riseborough, the airport's general manager of building and facilities, says that's just one part of an ongoing integration process.

While most companies are struggling with issues related to the creation of a shared IT/building automation system backbone, NTT Data's IT Business Development Sector has gone forward with a next-generation BAS in its 27-storey A-RE-A Shingawa office building in Tokyo, which opened in June 2003.

The components of the BAS - an energy management system, an IP telephony system and an IP-based security system that includes IP cameras, card readers and door locks - all share a Gigabit Ethernet fibre backbone. The network is divided into virtual LAN segments at a switch on each floor to separate the different traffic types, says Akira Koshikawa, senior executive manager.

The BAS doesn't yet share data with any other business applications on the IT side, says Koshikawa. Open Web-standards initiatives such as OBIX didn't exist when the system was being developed. But the BAS supports XML to allow interfaces with such applications in the future. "By OBIX standardisation, BAS data will form a data repository and will enable life-cycle management of the building," he says.

While the backbone network is shared, individual sensors, actuators and other pieces of endpoint equipment use LonTalk. A LonTalk/IP router on each floor interfaces with the IP backbone and enables IP tunnelling. Today, LonTalk is better than IP for small data transmissions, Koshikawa says. But, he adds, "in the future, IP interface equipment with IPv6 technology will take its place."

Making sensors discoverableThe OBIX initiative includes a draft discovery service to allow sensors and other devices to plug and play. OASIS is also working on an alarm service that will offer a common interface for alerts and a service for recording historical data such as room temperatures. Industry-specific services are also under discussion, Considine says. "If OBIX works, we may have more Web services that are OBIX-related than all other Web services combined," he says.

Users are already experimenting with Web-based interfaces and XML. Kenmark Group can query sensors and other devices on its LonTalk network by way of a gateway. Updates go to a central database in its operations centre. But integration isn't always easy.

Estructures offers a hosted BAS service that uses SOAP and XML to interface with customers' building-control systems through a LonTalk gateway device. But the interface only goes so deep. "It's only a veneer. Oddly enough, (customers) seem to be comfortable with that," says Scholten, former VP at Estructures. But behind the scenes, integrating with customers' building-control systems isn't as easy as it should be. "Because there are no standards, we're doing a lot of self-invention," he says.

BAS vendors continue to move cautiously and cling to proprietary interfaces, but Hartman says the industry will move on with or without them. "I don't think it's going to be the control companies that are going to lead the way on this. It's going to be the IT manufacturers," he says.

Companies that outsource IT to companies such as IBM often ask if the vendor can also manage the BAS, says Robert Frazier, an executive consultant at IBM. Today's systems are just too proprietary to gain the economies of scale necessary to do that profitably, he says, but emerging standards will make it possible to manage these systems within IT management frameworks.

"This is really emerging," says Mark Cherry, marketing manager at Honeywell International. "Because IT's infrastructure is leveraged to knit this together, IT is becoming the glue."

You can find part 1 of this feature here.