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Implementing networked enterprise energy management systems

Building an IP-based enterprise energy management system can bring an organization's power, heating and cooling systems into the network fold, but implementing that system will require coordination between the network and facilities management teams and will require that a very close eye be kept on security.

Enterprise energy management systems offer a complete view of energy use throughout the organization, as well as the opportunity to manage and optimize that use by controlling power systems centrally. Now, these enterprise energy management systems are being integrated into the rest of the enterprise IP network and will be managed alongside the LAN and the data center network. What's more, these IP-based enterprise energy management networks will have the ability to interact with power utility smart grids to automate energy-saving measures even further.

But implanting these systems won't be simple. For network managers, a successful enterprise energy management system will mean not only integrating building facilities data into the rest of the network's management systems but also securing these previously isolated components of the building's infrastructure in the same way as IT resources.

Considerations for building IP-based integrated enterprise energy management networks

Ultimately, the goal of an IP-networked enterprise management system is to receive data from the building's infrastructure in a consistent format across the IP network and then pass directives back to the equipment in the equipment's native control language.

That enables enterprises to implement a consistent energy use policy and enables them to turn power use across systems up and down on demand and according to communications with the public utility. For example, in the event of an automated demand response (ADR) -- a notification from the utility company to reduce electricity -- the enterprise energy management system can not only adjust air conditioning units and dim the building lights, it can also instruct the network to power down unneeded devices, such as unmanned IP desk phones, idle servers and even inactive switch ports. In a virtualized data center environment, the enterprise energy management system could send alerts when servers should be spun up or down depending on use.

A networked enterprise energy management system serves as a translator between the interfaces in a building's infrastructure management system and the IP network. On the IT networking side, the interfaces are the typical Ethernet and TCP/IP protocols that most network administrators are familiar with. On the energy and environmental side of the equation, while some systems may already support an IP network, there are a myriad of other interface possibilities, including BACnet, optical fiber, Ethernet, ARCNET, RS-232, RS-485, and wireless networking protocols. Sensor nodes may be a mix of analog and digital, with a number of different termination points or connectors.

With such a wide array of interfaces in play, close collaboration between the network administrator and the facilities management team is essential for implementation of an integrated system. Many of the products are priced and licensed by the number of connections and the types of protocols used, so a clear inventory of all building systems, with their specific interfaces and protocols, will need to be compiled early in the process. Even during deployment, the two teams will have to agree on configuration settings, port speeds and so on in order to interface properly between systems.

Where to start building an enterprise energy management system

While there is no single approach to deploying an enterprise energy management system within an organization, network managers should probably consider beginning with their own data centers. In many ways, an enterprise data center is a microcosm of the enterprise itself. The data center typically operates on independent cooling systems and its own power distribution systems, and server racks are usually equipped with temperature sensors. The energy management system can be integrated with the data center network management and monitoring systems.

Security and management considerations for enterprise energy management systems

Network admins must address how an energy management platform deals with disruptions of service, such as WAN outages or switch problems. Ideally, the remote nodes that actually control the power system sensors and devices will work autonomously even when linked to the central management platform. Otherwise, redundant links or alternate backups may have to be considered.

Security is an even more significant concern when deploying an enterprise energy management system. Obviously, the power, heating, and environmental control infrastructure within a facility are mission-critical components for any enterprise, and access to that infrastructure needs to be tightly controlled. It is bad enough to have an intruder compromise corporate data, but it is a much more significant problem for a hacker to gain control of the power within a facility. What's more, facilities management controllers -- designed to be in closed systems -- vary greatly in terms of sophistication and security.

"Historically, management of business infrastructure has been a standalone solution. As these systems have been integrated on the network, best practices for security of these mission-critical components have been evolving rapidly to open up, while still securing these systems," said Nick Chong, marketing director for Converged Building Services at Cisco Systems.

More Enterprise Energy Management resources

Enterprise energy management vendors suggest isolating the sensor and control network, and the link to the HVAC equipment itself, from the rest of the enterprise network, exposing only the management links that need to interact with the outside world. Whether through disparate physical networks or segregating the equipment with VLANs, keeping the building system interfaces away from the public eye is key to securing this half of the network.

For the more public half of the management system, access should be given to only those network elements that require it, such as network monitoring tools and the utility's smart grid interface. Likewise, if remote sites are being tied into a centralized management solution, dedicated VPN tunneling or VLANs should be employed. Access control lists or NAC solutions, if implemented by the organization, could also be used to manage access to these devices.

Operation considerations for enterprise energy management systems

Any time an organization applies a convergence technology that breaks down the silos between departments, there are inevitably questions about how the new technology will affect the roles and responsibilities of the teams involved. In the case of IP telephony, for example, many network administrators found themselves replacing the traditional telecom personnel who managed communications. Deploying an IP-based enterprise energy management network does not, however, make a network administrator any more capable of troubleshooting or managing the actual physical HVAC plant that the network is designed to support. A combined approach, with both the network and facilities teams bringing their strengths to the project, will be necessary not only for a successful deployment but for the ongoing support of the system.

"There is a bit of a culture shock when integrating energy systems into the network," Chong said. "Unlike network administrators, facilities management teams are not used to the frequent patch and upgrade cycles associated with most networked devices. A new set of best practices will develop to keep a facility's infrastructure optimized and secure."

This was last published in August 2010

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