July 2019

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BACnet Testing Laboratories

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Data Diving…

I know it’s boring, but it is so darn important to our next state as quality integrators.
Scott Cochrane
Scott Cochrane
President, CEO
Cochrane Supply & Engineering

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As we strive for smarter and smarter buildings, we need the help of software. This software utilizes information from the set-up, management and real-time operating system data it utilizes to serve its application.  The data can go in two directions: stand-alone (not connected to another network) or networked (connected to another network).  If the system is stand-alone, then the data supporting it only has to be considered locally and only for the services required for it to work properly. This was the case with traditional BAS systems.  Creating standard point names and trending parameters worked pretty well for data management in the 90s and early 2000s.
Times have changed, though, and now almost every system is being connected to another network. And with a networked system, everything changes—especially the data supporting the software running the applications needed for building services (comfort, safety and security).  Here are some of the new considerations for networked data from our BAS systems.
DATA ORGANIZATION – How is the data going to be organized such that another software application outside of the original application can use the data effectively? EXTENSIBILITY? In order for other software to use it, there needs to be an identifier within the BAS system that can help other software utilize its data.  For instance, many people use common point names like Space Temp or OAT. If we roll these data values into another network just by their name, how will the next software know where that space temp is or what mechanical system that space temp is part of?
META TAGGING is the future. With organizations like HAYSTACK and ASHRAE out there, we have options on how we take that space temp and add tags, like temperature, VAV202, AHU1, Science Building, etc. This gives the data some structure and, with some careful consideration, can make a system totally searchable—like a Google search window for your building services!!!
DATA MANAGEMENT – How will the systems be managed such that there will be controls on what data is being put on the OT network? In what format? By which devices?  Where will the data be stored?  Who and/or what other software will have access to the data?  Managing the data requires a full understanding of how the building operates. Then you need to work backwards to ultimately create a building data management plan that includes: NETWORK ARCHITECTURE (drawing depicting exactly what and how devices are networked), OPERATOR USER MANAGEMENT HIERARCHY, DATA STORAGE, DATA SOURCES, COMMUNICATION PROTOCOLS.  Of course, the next part to the DATA MANAGEMENT is WHO OWNS the DATA?  The application?  The cloud?  Or the building owner?
This is truly up to the building owner to decide. Depending on the software installed, there may be no option, so we recommend some realistic consideration. Not owning the data supporting your buildings seems scary to me, but cloud services can often add huge value at a fraction of the cost of standing up a networked database to collect data.
DATA SECURITY – WOW, this one is the scariest.  I can’t believe how vulnerable we are as an industry. I really hope no hackers are reading this… I would hate to be unwanted motivation, especially in our current state.  The key to a good data security model is what experts call defense in layers (defense in depth).  Each layer of the NETWORK ARCHITECTURE should be evaluated, and data security decisions should be made.  DATA SECURITY is both digital and physical.  The physical network the system resides on should not have open network connections or capabilities; certain devices should have certain defenses at specific layers.
Reliable Controls As we dig deeper, we find the worst common practices for these systems is no user management plan or policy.  In one case I encountered, the owner used a single username and password for 2,000+ users. Hundreds of contractors walked away with these credentials and still have admin access to a system today that has more than 300 buildings on it.  Who and what has access to these systems is at the core of most real problems we run into today.
We then look at how the system is connected to another network—is there any protection from the owner’s network allowing something to disrupt the software for building services that include comfort, safety, and security?   The proper setup and management for DATA SECURITY is not the end of the journey for the building; it’s just the beginning and should be considered for ongoing maintenance by the owner or integrator.  We are lucky. We in BAS currently live in a quiet cybersecurity world with very few real threats. But, just like other industries changed, ours will, too, and DATA SECURITY is sure to lead conversations about buildings for a long time to come…
Here at Cochrane Supply, we are supporting hundreds of questions about DATA every week.  From this, we are striving to find the new best practices that will drive quality data into our buildings of the future.


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