Internet protocol (IP) is increasingly described as a revolutionary force. This is a well-deserved description, as the world has adopted the Web and the underlying IP superstructure for communication, entertainment, news, shopping, gaming and, now, building automation systems (BAS).

While the Internet makes nearly every product, service and electronic device accessible, IP’s greatest impact may actually be as an evolutionary force that expands device communication possibilities. It could merge building management and information technology for data exchange through IP-based controls.

Integrating IT and IP

Understanding this new level of integration doesn’t mean abandoning one’s information technology (IT) knowledge. Rather, it builds on that foundation. According to the analogy used by Terry Reynolds, PE, partner with Vermont-based Control Technologies Inc. (CTI), IP technologies “encapsulate” information, such as an envelope around a letter. The letter, Reynolds said, can be in any language, but the envelope has to have some common information on it so that a French letter mailed in America can get to a French-speaking person in Senegal through the IT backbone of the mail service.

“IP technology can be thought of as the envelope, the addressing conventions—ZIP codes, etc.—and the mail handling system itself. The ‘payload’ of the IP envelope is data that is required by the communicating devices—the IP controllers—that speak to each other in a con-troller protocol,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said an example of how IP is used today is the integration of interoperable environmental control systems for all 1,200 schools in New York City’s five boroughs. With more than 200 new schools projected between 2005 and 2010, district initiatives drove efforts to reduce the cost of school construction through standardized methods and materials that includes a district-wide supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that uses the existing city wide-area network (WAN).

Though it’s not commonplace yet, Terry Hoffmann, director of building automation systems at Johnson Controls Inc., said all fu-ture building subsystems, such as fire alarms, lighting, security monitoring, video cameras, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, will shake hands and connect on the IP network using standard protocols. To Hoffmann, Reynolds and several others, it is not a matter of if the convergence will happen, but when.

Hoffmann said the greatest benefits are in store for organizations whose IP is seamlessly merged with the IT structure, creating a synergy between infrastructure and data that cuts operating costs and creates new service opportunities.

“I have no doubt that IP-based controls will dominate the market in the future. Already, we are seeing owners and facility managers with an eye to systems expansion who are not accepting anything less. Controls that take advantage of the economies that will result from ad-vances like the widespread adoption of Internet protocol Version 6 (IPv6) will be best suited to meet their needs for economy and sustain-ability,” Hoffmann said.

Convergence’s cost efficiencies

In a true IP-integrated environment, installation of subsystems is less intensive and less expensive because they can take advantage of the distribution capabilities of an organization’s existing IT infrastructure. From an accessibility standpoint, once a subsystem or IP-enabled device is installed, its functionality is flexible and mobile, evolving as business and facility needs change and as new controllers and new IP devices are integrated. And, with the advent of powered Ethernet cables, systems can receive their power and data through a means that is scalable with less reliance on new wiring or major system modifications.

For instance, Hoffmann said, while a building’s chiller and a data server are not similar devices, the networked chiller controller has a lot in common with the personal computer used to enter and access data.

“High performance can be achieved more economically because a single high-speed network avoids the redundancy that is required with a separate BAS infrastructure. Furthermore, with fewer wires, bridges, routers and repeaters throughout a building, there are fewer propensities for component failure and downtime,” Hoffmann explained in a recent Johnson Controls BAS report.

Until control systems that rely directly on IP-compatible technology to communicate between controllers become more common, there are technologies that link IP devices and subsystems to existing IT networks.

“Connectivity will still be required as long as there are legacy systems that do not connect to the enterprise IP network. Some sys-tems providers will be slow to adopt this. Eventually, all systems will connect on the IP network using standard protocols,” Hoffmann said.

Johnson Controls’ Metasys Network Engine facilitates convergence with generic IT infrastructures, eliminating the proprietary communications bus between the supervisory controllers and field controllers. Integration with this technology allows direct communi-cation to multiple field bus open protocols, such as BACnet and LonTalk.

“Metasys achieves true convergence by relying on standards wherever possible and applying them in the manner most consistent with industry best practices. Also, Johnson Controls has taken a leadership position in organizations like LonMark, BACnet and the ZigBee Alliance to develop harmonized standards across all system types, so they are not limited to a single application but broad enough to provide flexible, scalable platforms for the future,” Hoffman said.

Fire protection takes quantum leap

One of the most reluctant industries to embrace IP devices, the fire alarm communications segment is beginning to benefit from the Web and to design systems with enhanced applications for information transfer. Traditional fire alarm communications prior to IP technolo-gies were conducted through central stations linked to fire alarm systems by two hard copper phone lines as stipulated by the current National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72: National Fire Alarm Code in section 8.6.3.2.1.5(3). This public switched telephone net-work (PSTN) has been the standard for the past three decades.

With the new millenium and the global presence of the Internet, industry organizations and NFPA committees are looking at IP communications as a technology that would provide a reliable alarm monitoring method offering increased security, infinitely faster alarm transmissions and cost efficiencies. As a result, the 2002 NFPA 72 code adopted standards for IP technologies, and the cur-rent 2007 edition stipulated requirements that led the conventional PSTN to a packet switched data network (PSDN).

“One of the primary benefits to this type of system is that it’s always on,” said Dirk von Richthofen, Fire-Lite Alarms’ director of engi-neering. The current code, NFPA 72 8.6.4, requires that the transmission channel be tested once every 24 hours. “With IP, central stations are aware there’s a problem with the fire alarm as frequently as every 90 seconds,” Richthofen said.

Fire alarm monitoring manufacturers are capitalizing on IP communications modules that digitally transmit information through different protocols and provide compatibility to conventional existing central station architectures. There is no longer the ongoing utility cost of two phone lines; one IP line can service multiple computers and other commercial electronic systems without the need for a backup analog phone line. Additionally, some central station receivers can support up to three destination IP receiver addresses for extra equipment redundancies, providing more configuration options.

For installers, new IP-enabled breakthroughs are allowing a two-way flow of information on the IP network. Fire-Lite’s IPDACT-2UD brings a benefit to installers by enabling upload and download capabilities through any IP connection. The UL-listed controller is a device that serves as a conduit between a fire alarm panel’s telephone ports and any type of Ethernet 10/100 Base network connection (LAN, WAN, DSL, cable, etc.) without the need for panel reconfiguration.

“These advanced capabilities introduce huge benefits for installers. They can now download alarm panel data and upload informa-tion, such as program updates from a PC via any Internet or Intranet connection,” von Richthofen said.

Aside from the upload of historical information and the download of updated information and value-added sensitivity settings, another aspect of IP devices that is attractive to installers is the ability to perform regular system tests from a remote location.

Empowering the IP evolution

Electrical contractors will play an important role in empowering the IP evolution. Traditional wiring and power distribution will ex-pand to the installation of Ethernet cables and collaboration with IT staff on existing networks. The partnership will extend to individ-ual IP subsystems specialists who will retain the expertise for IP-enabled products.

Within this labor framework, the installation and training advantages of converged BAS with the IT network versus separate compo-nents are emerging.

“The electrical contractor will see less need to train workers in proprietary methods where rework often results. Instead, they will work closely with the automation contractor and the owner’s IT department to apply standards and deliver consistent value,” Johnson Controls’ Hoffmann said.

As the use of the common building IP communications backbone within factories and buildings by specialty systems becomes more prevalent, another important distinction can be made, Reynolds said.

“One of the important differences in installing systems that share the existing IP communications system versus installing lighting and power wiring systems is the need for sensitivity to the fact that the IP backbone is an ‘active’ system of its own, not merely ‘passive’ wire and conduit,” he said.

Finally, as all communications platforms evolve to wireless applications, so too are IP controls, which are equally comfortable in a wired or wireless environment. But, as Hoffmann cautions, wireless can’t perform its task without power.

“Installers will focus on power wiring to hubs, repeaters, routers, computers and other information technology devices required to support and maintain these networks,” Hoffmann said. “Reliability depends on reliable power.”

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached at mcclung@lisco.com.