Link IT and HVAC for energy savings, Cisco rep says

Tying a building’s IT systems into its overall heating and security infrastructure is essential to create an efficient, integrated facility management system, a Cisco Systems official told an information technology conference in Toronto.

“Not only is it the right thing to do for corporations,” Branz Myers, the company’s director of industry marketing said at a seminar Monday, “it’s also a powerful selling tool.” Myers was speaking in Toronto at IT360, an annual three-day industry conference pushing the value of information technology.

With governments and buyers of products and services increasingly becoming energy-conscious, information technology managers are going to have to link their systems to a building’s backbone to get the improvements in energy conservation being demanded.

Some of those demands are coming from government regulations, Myers reminded his audience, demands that are only expected to increase.

The biggest consumer of energy in most countries are buildings, he said, which consume at least 50 per cent of electrical output for powering heating, cooling and lighting systems. Of that, IT systems typically swallow 25 per cent of power demand.

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Yet heating, cooling, electrical, security and other electrical systems are rarely connected, Myers said.

This causes great inefficiencies: For example, in the middle of winter buildings can have huge air conditioning units churning away to cool data centres. Meanwhile, data centres are increasingly adopting racks of blade servers, whose increasing densities generate heat and demand increasing power.

A good way to help lower energy demands is by treating IT systems as essential a part of a building as its HVAC (heating, venitlation and air conditioning) systems, argued Myers.

He acknowledged that today many HVAC and other physical systems can be managed through browsers, but they aren’t interconnected. Instead these systems are separated by mulitple busses and network protocols.

A few vendors are starting to design IP-based systems that talk to each other, he said, allowing managers to create intelligent workflows.

An obvious example Myers gave of the benefits that can result is when motion sensors are tied to an HVAC system they can tell when a person is in a building on a weekend and direct ventilation to be turned on only in the room that’s occupied. But it could also be greatly expanded depending on how widely systems are connected. For example, if a condition of working at night is taking an online night parking safety course, the IT system could allow smart card building entry to only those who have completed the course.

Connecting systems to the Internet and layerying intelligent applications on top creates “a very secure, very maleable system which now enables you to treat it like putty that you can mould around your business problems,” said Myers.

He also mentioned savings that many conference attendees are familiar with today through technologies such as virtualizing servers and video conferencing. At Cisco, he noted, one official who works in California has a receptionist based in Texas, who greets people at a desk outside his office on a large video screen. Simiarly, he mentioned a hotel whose concierge works from home but talks to hotel guests over a video conferencing system.

Working to save energy is “a very valuable opportunity,” Myers said, one that can not only reduce business costs, and meet regulatory demands, but also to improve the company’s brand and possible steal customers from competitors who aren’t moving as fast to be green.

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