In many cases, taking a phased incremental approach to IP convergence based on budget and operational priorities can be the most sensible way to proceed. Conversely, in designing new construction, such as a corporate or educational campus, a total convergence approach right from the start may prove to be the most cost-effective choice.
More specialized facilities, such as government agencies or financial institutions, may be required to maintain separate and secure networks for certain building operating systems, thereby preventing those systems from residing on a common network for reasons of confidentiality. However, as software vendors continue to develop better network security solutions such as data encryption, firewalls and traffic regulation–an increasing number of enterprises are moving to some level of IP convergence.
Convergence at a lower level may consist of various networks transmitting signals over a variety of cabling media while sharing conduit and pathways to reap the benefits of having one central management and operations center. For example, data from the corporate LAN may be transmitted on twisted-pair copper in the same pathway as coaxial transmitting video from security cameras. Both systems can then be managed from one data center where head-end equipment can co-exist and communicate, while sharing resources such as storage area networks, power distribution and cooling systems.
At a higher level of convergence, building operating systems can be deployed using the Internet to transmit system information as IP data packets over one Ethernet network, using routers and switches. Ethernet has become the most widely deployed network technology for transmitting IP data signals between two hosts across packet-switched networks. In recent years, Ethernet and IP have advanced to the point where it can now be used to transmit voice, video, security, industrial control and building management information as data signals across the network.
This means that data from these various systems can be centrally managed from one central interface versus separate equipment and can be more easily shared between applications for even more efficient and simplified building operations management.
Facility owners and managers need to determine the best level of IT system convergence for their particular building or campus–and the answer may well be partial convergence. Take, for example, the IT infrastructure of a typical hospital facility. In the non-converged infrastructure layout shown here, seven different functional systems operate on independent networks within the facility, making network management and administration more complex and costly than it needs to be. The converged layout diagram shows how five of these systems–including CCTV and security, have been converged onto a single, secure, IP-based Ethernet network. To comply with life safety regulations, the nurse call and fire systems remain on separate networks. Graphics courtesy Belden Americas Division.
Smart deployment overcomes challenges
Deployment of IP convergence at any level can be fraught with challenges. For example, a CIO or IT manager might ask: “Will our various systems really work together and will they continue to do so as applications grow and evolve?” What about network performance and reliability over the long term? And, can we ensure that the safety and security of our people, premises and assets are adequately protected?”
Fortunately, groundbreaking technology advances are emerging every day that can help in overcoming these and other challenges to achieve successful deployment of network convergence. In deciding on a convergence strategy, here are a few practical guidelines to keep in mind:
Interoperability and Scalability: Proper system design to support current and future technologies is essential. It’s important to find and work with knowledgeable and reliable partners having the engineering and product expertise to design and implement all levels of network convergence, whether in commercial buildings, data centers, healthcare or educational facilities.