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Emergence of Building Services Networks in Australia
The Australian Government has set the standard around Building Services Networks (BSN) as a holistic solution which extends far beyond just a fibre backbone.
National Business Development
Two worlds have
collided in Australia, the result – a fusion of Operational Technology
(OT) and IT. Whilst there has been scattered adoption of various
forms of integrated or converged networks in buildings in Australia, it
has been the Australian Government who has set the standard around
Building Services Networks (BSN) as a holistic solution which extends
far beyond just a fibre backbone.
What is driving this change?
Australian Government has identified that the security of a buildings
OT and communication networks form a critical function for the
continued integrity and operation of a building. While there are
secondary benefits around deploying a BSN with relation to eliminating
duplicate networks and standardizing network hardware (servers,
switches etc.), the primary reason for BSN's being specified and
deployed by the Australian Government is to address cybersecurity risks
Cybersecurity in the Built Environment:
increasing number of cybersecurity attacks to OT in buildings indicates
that in some cases the IT security is either not well understood or
considered when OT systems are deployed. I have listed and
explained some known vulnerabilities below, of which a BSN monitors and
manages in a systematic way across all connected OT systems through
strict policies and procedures including patch management, strict
password policies, secure remote access and automated backup procedures
replicated both onsite and offsite backups.
Design Intent and Components:
The BSN should be designed to provide secure, high speed/high bandwidth data transfer between all OT on-site and to reduce the amount of cabled infrastructure and hardware across the building. This can be achieved through a design that allows for either a reduction or elimination of the need for multiple cabling distribution systems, parallel networks and additional head-end equipment.
BSN infrastructure should be a combination of not only passive
structured fibre and copper cabling, but it should also include active
networking in a mesh topology, supporting a large amount of information
transmitted throughout the building. A complete BSN may include
the following components:
BSN Resilience and Redundancy:
Each component should be specifically
designed with resilience and redundancy in mind. Given the
reliance the OT in a building will have on the BSN for communications,
it is important that any component which is identified as a single
point of failure is factored into the design with appropriate risk
mitigation. The result should be a highly available, scalable
platform which allows for the rapid roll-out of future services in the
building, which may not form a part of the initial project. With
this in mind, new services should be able to simply be ‘patched’ into
the existing network and connected to a virtual machine. The BSN should
be designed to accommodate bandwidth-hungry services such as IP CCTV
technology, especially high definition multi-megapixel cameras without
reducing the bandwidth available for the rest of the OT applications
installed on the BSN.
Not all BSN’s are created equal:
When we breakdown the BSN into its
individual components, we are able to identify potential risks with
value-engineered designs which may affect the BSN’s ability to perform
reliably not only from Day 1 but particularly into the future.
Whilst there are several solutions in the market that are marketed as ‘eliminating the need for IT to design, deploy and manage the network,’ the risks with this approach have to be assessed. There are two schools of thought around the approach, and there is a debate to be had around upskilling a BMS tech to deploy the network or engaging with a true IT Network Engineer. The skillset to deploy is one consideration with the other and perhaps, more importantly, is the hardware which facilitates a non-IT approach. The hardware is important for several reasons. With relation to hardware support, specifically replacement of failed components, typically IT manufacturers offer 4-hour onsite support with parts and engineering labour in the event of the failure of mission-critical hardware, next-day support for non-critical items. This is important due to the reliance for all Operational Technology on a site being reliant on the BSN – if a major component fails, it may have a far-reaching impact on all service onsite. Secondly, it is important that we don’t fall into the same single-vendor propriety trap that we did with BMS systems – a multi-vendor approach is extremely important ensuring that the network can be managed, serviced and supported by multiple vendors, not just the contractor who initially deploys the network.
Not taking an IT approach to the network
will no doubt be more cost-effective to install and easier to
understand for trade based control system providers, however, given the
criticality of the network in the building, you shouldn’t compromise on
the design of the network for critical buildings systems –the approach
should be one of a modern IT environment where systems communicate over
a secure, yet homogenous platform that offers superior visibility of
the environment as well as being highly available and secure.
Allowing disparate systems access to a central network that isn’t
designed from the get-go to support this is very risky with the
possibility of network broadcast storms, lack of security and potential
The network topology is an important consideration during design and it is essential that the fibre backbone is designed to avoid and mitigate any single points of failure. Implementing multiple core switches with redundant components (such as dual hot-swappable power supplies) provides a solid foundation which is then extended to redundant path vertical cabling in a mesh style topology which avoids the risk of failure due to a single component in a ring style topology.
Pitfalls of Cost Driven Network Topology Decisions:
Network topology is the layout of the
connections of the network and how they are interconnected to one
another. It is important that the network topology is robust and
ensures that there is no single point of failure that may cause
connectivity failure in what is a critical building system. In
addition, the network must ensure that network traffic between building
systems is secure and its performance can’t be reliant upon central
Whilst redundancy may be achieved cost-effectively through star or ring topologies, the advantages of a mesh topology ensure that the system is robust through the availability of multiple paths, network traffic is reliable and provides security and privacy.
Network selection based on upfront cost alone should be avoided, and consideration must be given to the overall value of the network, taking into consideration the importance of uptime given the BSN is the primary conduit for all traffic in a building. If a mesh topology is not selected, it may appear as a cost-effective decision due to a reduction in the total amount of cable installed onsite as there is no requirement for hardware at the edge to be connected back to the hardware located centrally at the core directly. This decision may introduce the requirement for fibre optic splitters to branch the optical signal to the edge cupboard on each floor. The risk with this style of network is that if a cable fails, it has the potential to bring down the whole network. This risk can be mitigated through the introduction of a self-healing ring and redundant path however this topology is not as reliable when compared to a mesh topology and can also be difficult to troubleshoot.
Who should design and deploy a BSN?
Given the importance of the BSN for the
communication of all connected devices, it is essential that
intelligent buildings deploy an industrial-grade IT solution for any
Building Services Network. Whilst the upfront costs are higher
due to the greater complexity of the network requires a specialised IT
skillset to deploy, the final outcome is a more resilient system that
is optimised for day 1 operation as well as being expandable for future
use. Bringing the IT specialists into the construction space is
truly the way forward to ensure that the network infrastructure
installed in smart buildings supports the future requirements of
connected devices and IoT.
The outcome is an enterprise-class IT system that is built upon tier one network and server hardware that has been deployed in countless applications and consistent data backup capabilities across multiple trades and system. The advantage of this BSN is that it is essentially multi-vendor capable with numerous certified specialists nationwide that have the technical experience and expertise to administer the network post-installation. Recognisable IT brands also have a documented history of compatibility by design for decades and will also be fully supported for decades to come.
While the prospect of your BSN being built
and managed by someone without IT certification may represent savings
upfront, as an industry we must consider how this methodology may be
applied to a traditional trade service such as BMS. Would we
accept a BMS solution that was not delivered by a specialist
engineer? In addition, consideration must be given to ongoing
maintenance and support, and product selection should be supported by
multiple vendors – again using BMS as an example, as an industry we
have progressively moved away from proprietary systems that are only
supported by a single vendor. Selecting tier one commodity
hardware that is accepted as an industry standard and supported by
multiple vendors will ensure that your BSN is supported through its
life without being reliant a single vendor.
About the Author
Rob Huntington has more than 17 years’ experience in delivering Commercial HVAC & Automation solutions in Australia. Having completed his refrigeration apprenticeship in 2006, Rob quickly became drawn to the digital control of commercial buildings which has more recently evolved into specialising in Data-Driven Maintenance solutions and Building Services Networks.
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