Networks Need Retrofitting (Through the Cloud), Too

An update to a building’s private network can make the entire building “smarter” without the need to pull new cables or allocate more space to create a new distribution center. How is this possible? With software. A “software defined network”, or SDN, is just like a regular network, except it is defined through the cloud. Because it is software-based, it can be configured to suit different needs, partitioned in different ways, dynamically changed to accommodate events, and it can be managed and maintained remotely. This saves time and money on maintenance and upgrades.    

Without a private in-building network, old buildings will be left behind. They won’t be compatible with the newest building control systems or be able to provide a base for high-end connected services to tenants that they’ve come to expect. Plus, a private SDN has secret benefits: You can define new, revenue-generating building services on the back of a high-quality, high-speed network.  

Buildings Are Becoming Computers

Buildings have extensive pathways of electric cables, phone cables, internet cables, water pipes, sewers and HVAC vents. All are intricately linked—not to each other but to the tenant. And the way the tenant behaves within the building triggers how these systems react. However, these systems are managed by separate building control systems. And they don’t communicate with each other. By incorporating them into a software defined network, the building can understand what is happening within it. Thanks to the data that is being collected, the network can optimize the way in which the building is run; for example, balancing energy loads thereby saving energy or allocating shared bandwidth intelligently.

Everything Wants to Be Connected

In today’s on-demand world, we are seeing more and more appliances becoming connected to the internet. Smart TVs offer access to Netflix; refrigerators have connected cameras so you can see what you need to buy at the grocery store; your thermostat lets you control your temperature even when you’re not there; and so many more options are coming onto the market, including connected washer/dryers, coffee makers, door locks. Let’s not forget the number of devices you own and are already connected to, from phones to laptops to tablets. All of these things need a secure connection—at the level of the home but also at the level of the entire building. The building network needs to know what devices are connected and where, to ensure full security at all times.     

How Do Things Communicate?

Today the devices, appliances and sensors that make up the smart building all have certain communication protocols that talk to other components of the same brand: Apple to iHome, Alexa to Amazon, Nest to Google Home, etc. But what if you want a door sensor to talk to a light fixture to talk to a thermostat that isn’t of the same brand? That has to be done through the network they are connected to. The network has to be smart enough to understand the data that is coming out of connected objects and to deduce the action that should be taken. For example, a person enters his or her home, his phone automatically connects to the Wi-Fi, the light turns on and the temperature adjusts to his liking. When the person leaves the house, the door sensor kicks in, the lights turn off, the TV turns off and the temperature is set to energy-saving mode. The SDN comes in to make sense of all the disparate data your devices are emitting, to make life easier for you in your home, at work, in factories, at airports and anywhere in between.

Is the Data Secure?

The whole premise of a private in-building network is that it is secure. Firewalls and failsafes are put in place to monitor traffic and stop attacks. Currently most buildings allow their tenants to bring in their own networking gear, but these various routers can each be a medium for hackers to infiltrate the system. Not only that, but the devices connected to an unsecured network can be used for botnet attacks that have been the subject of many news stories in the past few weeks. The hackers take control of the connected devices that don’t have a security layer and use them to surge the server, effectively shutting everything down. With a private in-building network, connected devices have an additional protective layer that stops attacks. Not only that, but the data that passes through to the cloud is encrypted at every level so it is very hard for it to be infiltrated.

What Other Benefits Does a Private In-building Network Have?

Building owners are able to offer a seamless, integrated experience to their residents, from easily connecting their devices to the private network to entering locked doors with their smartphones. The building can have one platform that will integrate any connected service. For example, messaging services for when a package is delivered and maintenance requests or communal events can be communicated swiftly and effectively. In this way, building owners and managers can obtain precious data on patterns of usage, which can help drive their leasing and development strategies in the future.    

The Network Is the Backbone of the Building

Using the software defined network as a backbone for all future technological services means that they too will benefit from being secure and integrated into the overall building experience. Because the network harnesses data from connected elements, it can collect data about energy usage to help reduce the building’s footprint. It can also help implement workflows by understanding the critical processes that your tenants (residential and commercial) perform day in day out, then tailor recommendations or trigger events to help streamline the process.

Adding New Revenue Streams

The race to amenities is the name of the game today for residential and commercial buildings. Yet developers and building owners rarely focus on the building’s networking capability as an amenity that can be monetized. Because the network has the ability to understand how different elements interact with one another, the information can be used to create ever-evolving experiences and services for tenants. And because you are the gatekeeper of the network to the building, you can profit share in those services, especially if they need to source data from the network.  

The key to an integrated building is having a future-proof, secure backbone that can be maintained and reconfigured remotely to avoid costly site visits and have the flexibility to redesign the space to suit any environment.

About the Author

Simonida Boscovic, Esq.
Simonida Boscovic, Esq., is co-founder of Vizlore LLC, Chicago-based company specializing in the orchestration of smarter spaces through technology.

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