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December 2017
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Four questions to ask

before committing to a cloud hosting provider


Chip Cummins

Chip Cummins,
President,
Controlco

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As building automation devices become increasingly connected and demand for enterprise-level command systems grows, the need for hosting – either on-site or in the cloud – is growing too. Many people are sticking with on-site policies because of security and data ownership concerns but there can be capital intensive demands with this approach and scalability can become a limiting factor as companies grow.

Controls contractors and systems integrators can start to consider off-site, cloud hosting to help expand offerings with the Internet of Things, without investing in a network manager or physical server space. But the concerns are real, and there are some big questions to ask before making the leap. And, while there are certainly big names who provide special offers to get you in the door, some personalized attention for your unique building automation needs would help make the transition smoother. Here we outline our top four questions to ask before committing to a cloud hosting provider.

1.  Can you process time-series data?

The first fundamental thing to understand when considering cloud hosting for building automation data is that building automation data is very different from other types of data. Most hosting companies focus on cloud services for websites. Web traffic can be unpredictable and sometimes consumes vast amounts of computing capacity.

Operational technology or building data is fairly predictable and doesn’t take up very much space. However, for building analytics to provide maximum value, data needs to be collected at regular intervals all the time. This is called time-series data. A standard for building data is five-minute intervals, but most enterprise integrators are looking to gather data from key systems every minute. All of this data needs to be stored and accessible in the cloud for predictive analytics and historical tracking (in case a problem is identified at 9 a.m., users need to be able to see how long the problem has persisted and in what sensors).

Most cloud service providers have not built their server infrastructure to handle this type of time-series data, so this is a crucial question to ask.

2.  Do you require dual authentication for access?

Security is the first word on everyone’s lips these days when it comes to cloud computing, the Internet of Things and remote connectivity, and with good reason. Cloud computing can be incredibly secure if you know what you’re signing up for. Dual authentication is the new industry standard for security when accessing cloud-hosted data. Your cloud service provider should offer this standard.

3.  Do you have multiple redundancies and what are your uptimes?

Redundancy is everything in the data center world. To help customers understand their data storage options, the industry has established a tiered ranking system based on uptime and redundancy to increase transparency across the industry about what kind of data center is housing your data.

Tier 4 data centers offer the highest level of uptime and redundancy – 99.999% uptime and 2N+1 redundancy and 26.3 minutes of total downtime allowed per year. For a sense of how crucial uptime and redundancy are, Tier 1 data centers require 99.671% uptime but no redundancy and 28.8 hours of downtime per year.

Control Solutions, Inc Since building automation data is time-sensitive, the more redundancies, the better.

4.  Who owns my data?

The answer to this question cannot be taken for granted. If you go with a big name cloud service provider the answer to who owns your data is likely to be buried in 8 pt. font on page 200 of the service contract. It’s best to ask this up front so you can weigh your options in providers.

ZDNet recently explored a variation on this question - do you own your data and have free reign? Their answer: “Maybe.”

They continue: “You own it as long as your technology partner makes it easy for you to access, integrate and innovate. … The reality is that IT vendors, as well as operational technology vendors, may control your company’s data. Data kumbaya is all fun and games until there’s money to be made.”

The only way to find the answer in your particular case is to ask the question at the outset of your information-gathering on the company you’re hoping to engage with your cloud hosting needs. If they’re dodgy about the answer, you may want to look elsewhere.


About the Author

Chip Cummins is President of Controlco Automation Distributors, based in their Franklin, TN, office. He offers decades of controls experience plus lots of stories about his Navy days on a nuclear submarine. Cummins is helping Controlco become the leader in operational technology products, service, and support for building controls contractors and systems integrators.

                                                                                                                                      

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