Bryan Mehaffey and his staff built a single IP network for facilities and IT at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida.

Feb 06 2011
Data Center

The Process of Building a Successful Single IP Network

Running a single IP network for facilities and IT is both green and economical, which is why it makes sense. But it takes dedication to make these intelligent networks happen.

Running a single IP network for facilities and IT is both green and economical, which is why it makes sense. But it takes dedication to make these intelligent networks happen.

Seven years ago when Bryan Mehaffey first started talking about a single IP network to manage both physical facilities and information technology, many of his colleagues thought he had flipped.

“I met with several consultants and groups, and they all looked at me like I was crazy,” says the vice president for technology, systems and engineering at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida. “Especially the facilities people.”

That's because, at the time, many of the facilities management systems were deeply embedded with proprietary technologies and old-fashioned communication standards such as RS-232. There was no support for IP or web browsers.

But Mehaffey didn't give up. Knowing that Ave Maria planned to build an entirely new campus later in the decade, Mehaffey saw his opportunity.

He proposed that all systems communicate on a fiber-optic backbone driven by TCP/IP, with standard Category 5 and Category 6 cabling and Power over Ethernet. Mehaffey wanted everything to communicate on a standard network, with the information stored in a standard Open Database Connectivity database and everything accessible via web browsers.

“I met with a lot of pushback, and it took a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears to sell the concept,” he says. “That was seven years ago. No one would ever think about running facilities equipment on Category 5 cabling, with systems that were web-enabled with smart technology.”

But the plan worked. In 2007, when Ave Maria opened the doors to its newly built university, there was a single IP network pulsing throughout the 908-acre campus and more than 500,000 square feet of facilities.

The IP network links numerous IT and building systems. The university's network operations center that houses all of its IT systems are on the network, but so are the overhead lights, HVAC systems, the building access control devices, fire panels, surveillance cameras, and the voice and data systems.

This smart network can regulate heat and air based on the number of students sitting in a lecture hall. It can flick the lights on and turn on the air-conditioner in a professor's office when that professor swipes his access card to gain entry into a building for after-hours work. If a fire breaks out, the HVAC system is automatically directed to stop delivering fresh air, the access control system will unlock all the doors in the building and the security cameras are automatically directed toward the area of the reported fire. Operators can access, monitor and control the systems through web-based applications.

Mehaffey says the university saves $600,000 annually by reducing power costs through more efficient energy use. As much as $350,000 is saved each year by having IT assume oversight of the building maintenance systems. And during the construction of the university, more than $1 million was saved by eliminating redundant wiring and cabling for multiple, isolated buildings.

Ave Maria's Mehaffey had not only the technology vision, but also the support of top management and a dedicated staff of developers and engineers. He also found kindred souls in the manufacturer community.

Professional engineering and consulting services company Smart Buildings helped design the system. Johnson Controls was brought in to deploy a building automation and access control security system, as well as design and install IP infrastructure and technology. Cisco Systems built a campuswide network based on its switches and its fiber-optic, wireless and IP telephony equipment. And Eaton helped develop a power management system.

Developing Trend

For many institutions such as Ave Maria, the idea of creating a networked, automated system that is integrated with both IT systems and building systems is catching on. “Many organizations are already doing elements of this – integrating building management, including HVAC and lighting, security cameras, electrical distribution monitoring, and building access control such as swipe cards,” says Chris Sedore, vice president for IT and CIO at Syracuse University in New York.

North Carolina State University continues to add systems to its IP network. For now, some of its building security, HVAC and other controls run over IP.

“I do believe this is an increasing trend,” says Marc Hoit, CIO of N.C. State. “It simplifies the infrastructure and reduces cost,” he says. “There's one set of wires and switches.”

However, Hoit points out that there is no major effort under way at the university to migrate building systems. Instead, the university will migrate as costs and benefits turn into savings, or if N.C. State needs to make any major replacements. For example, as new buildings are designed, N.C. State is looking to move more onto the IP network, Hoit says.

Larry Fisher, research practice director with ABI Research's NextGen group, agrees that more organizations are looking at single IP networks, and one of the main reasons is to manage energy more efficiently.

“Focus on energy management within buildings is growing, and for good reason,” says Fisher. “Homes and office buildings consume three-quarters of U.S. electricity, and commercial buildings alone account for 18 percent of total energy consumption in the U.S. Minimizing energy waste provides a significant opportunity for energy efficiency improvements and carbon waste reductions.”

Syracuse University, which a year ago opened the doors to a green data center that was designed to use about 50 percent less energy than a typical data center, has integrated many of its facilities systems, including lighting, HVAC and security cameras, onto a single IP backbone.

The percentage of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions attributed to energy use in commercial office buildings

SOURCE: ABI Research

“The obvious advantage is cost,” says Syracuse's Sedore. “Deploying and managing multiple networks to support multiple systems is expensive.”

“Networks, like other parts of the IT infrastructure, are evolving and becoming more sophisticated,” Sedore says. “This evolution is letting us do much more on our single network infrastructures than what we could do in the past, and is letting us do it with greater reliability and fault-tolerance, as well as with better security.”

Ave Maria University's Mehaffey sees only great potential for single IP networks. Moving forward, Mehaffey and his team hope to develop apps that would let professors control their classroom environments from mobile phones. And, by having the foresight to put IP ports in the ceilings, in the future they plan to add PoE devices such as variable action valves, building controllers and actuators that can plug in to those IP ports.

They are also looking at creating kiosks that showcase the university's green efforts. “This isn't about thumping our own chests, but about bringing awareness,” Mehaffey says. “The students who come through our doors and then leave will be the pillars of our society. We want to create an environmentally friendly mindset, show them that they can have a similar impact.”

What a Difference

Photo: Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty Images

Ave Maria University's Bryan Mehaffey had the vision of a single IP network several years ago. What made him so different?

“You have to change how you look at things,” he says, using the example of card readers at doors that, when used to verify a person's right to enter a building, can trip a wire to open a door.

“If that device can automate the door opening, why can't that device turn on lights and the air- conditioning and the elevator? It's all there – it's just a matter of leveraging things differently.”

That's why each morning at Ave Maria, when the first person to enter the building swipes his or her access card to gain entry, the building automatically lights up and the air-conditioning or heat turns on. In an hour, the lights flash, and if the person is still in there, they simply swipe their card again to acknowledge they are still working. If there's no swipe, the system shuts down the air and the lights.In the lecture halls, sensors measure carbon dioxide levels so the rooms can adjust the temperature based on the number of people in them.

“If there are only 20 people in a room that's built to hold 100, then the room is only at 20 percent capacity, so the temperature can be adjusted accordingly,” Mehaffey says.

Sensors in hoods over laboratory workspaces can determine if the classroom is being used for lab work, and if so adjust the number of air exchanges necessary to meet code.

<p>Josh Richie</p>

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT