INTRO TO NETWORKS IN 2021
Over the last decade, the term “Smart Building” has become increasingly more mainstream. A building becomes smart when all of its individual systems, HVAC, lighting, metering, security, etc. are linked together and work in unison. Around the same time this connotation developed, the advent and utilization of building networks grew in importance.
Today, all kinds of building automation devices live on these networks: sensors, controllers, lighting, security, metering, and many more. While these technologies have been “networked” for some time, they were mostly kept separate and/or on a lower level. We are now seeing the integration of these into a larger, managed, smart building network. The main reason for this is that an ever-growing number of building systems (once separate) must now share data instantly. Moreover, as systems share a common IP protocol, eash resides with having one all encompasing network to manage.
Traditionally, networking has fallen under the MEP design engineers or controls contractor’s responsibility. Fortunately, building automation networks, tend to be far less complicated than the large global enterprise solutions that large-scale organization rely on to conduct their daily business. In fact, most controls inegrators have the knowledge needed to set up and manage these networks. While working with the IT professionals on site, a smart building can become a reality.
What is a network? In our world, we are looking at devices that communicate via Internet Protocol (IP). A collection of devices that have private IP addresses and can share information. Typically confined to the internals of the building, they do not necessarily connect direct to the internet and the outside world. Often referred to as a LAN, or Local Area Network, this forms the basis of your “IP intranet”.
It needs to be recognized that not every sensor, nor every controller may support being attached directly to an IP based network. Many controllers connect without the use of IP addresses, otherwise known as a subnet. These lower level subnets can then connect through a router (on your IP network) and share information as if they were directly connected in the same manner. The reason subnets like this exist are varied and depend on the manufacturer of the equipment. If they support using an open protocol such as BACnet, LonWorks or Modbus, smart buildings and networks are still a possibility.
A smart building can be visualized by following an occupant as they arrive, enter, and proceed to their office. As the employee arrives at the front door, they scan their badge. The building automation system identifies the person’s individual credential and allows access. This credential is then shared to the HVAC and lighting systems. The HVAC equipment involved is put into occupied mode and will supply properly tempered and clean air. The lighting system will turn on all needed cuircuts to get the occupant safley to their office. Once arrived, motion sensors in the room will confirm occupancy and complete the process. The sharing of information and execution of the corresponding sequence is made possible through the building’s network.
Smart devices today communicate using a host of open communication platforms, a prominent choice being BACnet. Building Automation and Control Network (BACnet) has a 20 year history of IP network compatibility and has purpose built characteristics for communicating information on building related systems. BACnet is also well supported on the lower subnet level, mentioned earlier. Furthermore a common lighting communication protocol, DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface), exists at that sublevel of a network as well. This subnet does not use IP addresses, but the main lighting control panel that it reports to supports BACnet at the IP level.
Now, with a basic understanding of how smart building networks operate on an intranet level, let’s look at how we get out to the real world. Remote access to smart buildings has been around since the days of auto-dialers and dialup modems. Today, connectivity is no longer the issue, security is. Rewind a few years and it was common place to open ports to allow access to a building system remotely. This relatively simple process came at the expense of security. By exposing your building to the outside world, you permit potential hackers an avenue in, even if they do not have a username and password.
Today we have standard practices such as the utilization of a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Tosibox, one such product, gives you the same ease of remote access, but with two-factor authentication over an encrypted connection.
The aforementioned two-factor authentication being that in order to gain access they need: something they have (a physical key) and som-ething they know (a password). VPN setup is normally a technical and intense exercise, requiring strong familiarity with IT processes and nomenclature. Tosibox does away with this by using a secure by default policy, it is as simple as plugging a USB Key into a Lock.
Broudy Precision offers a variety of Routers, IP switches, and secure remote internet access devices.
To learn more, checkout our Broudy Precision Networking Product Vendors list, featuring top network products and descriptions from our trusted vendors; Tosibox, Loytec, Phoenix Contact, and Contempory Controls.
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