Integrated Systems: Converged Solutions Make for Happy Customers

IP (Internet protocol) convergence refers to an enterprise building or campus in which data networking, building management, audio/video (A/V) and security systems are effectively merged over a common infrastructure using open IP-based protocols rather than separate, closed proprietary systems.

In most networks today, total convergence is more vision than reality. However, many enterprise IT leaders, as well as building owners and building management system designers and consultants, are beginning to realize how IP convergence can deliver benefits related to efficiency, productivity and costs–and some are already taking steps to implement a more converged IT platform.

This article takes a closer look at some of the issues and challenges involved in implementing IP convergence, and discusses the real value convergence can deliver in terms of network performance, security, maintenance and IT costs.

What’s driving IP convergence?
Enterprises are seeking new and innovative ways to handle faster networking transmission speeds, design more energy efficient data centers, enhance the quality of their building management systems and provide better security for their people, premises and assets. So the main market forces driving the shift to IP convergence include:
• An increasing volume of data and bandwidth capabilities to support day-to-day operations;
• The need for enhanced access and mobility to boost user productivity, even from remote locations;
• The growing worldwide trend toward increased safety and security of both brick-and-mortar facilities and cyber network integrity;
• Increasing concerns related to energy conservation and environmental responsibility; and,
• A greater demand for operational efficiency and lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

For many organizations, IP convergence is already providing significant benefits. For them, merging transmission of various types of communications–voice, data, video, wireless access and multi-media–over a single integrated Ethernet network has resulted in faster and more efficient network performance, simplified maintenance and reduced IT costs, as well as reduced overall TCO.

A robust and well-tuned signal transmission infrastructure solution should be capable of supporting all of an enterprise’s mission-critical communications systems, A/V networks, premises and cyber security systems and building safety, automation and control systems. Such a complete system might be comprised of:
• High-bandwidth copper, optical fiber and wireless cabling and connectivity systems;
• Cost-effective data center solutions;
• Reliable HVAC and environmental control cables;
• Best-in-class security and alarm cables;
• Professional-level video, sound and broadcast systems; and,
• Reliable, end-to-end cable management systems.
For example, consider how convergence could be implemented to improve life safety and security. With properly designed IP convergence:
• A network login could more easily interface with the security access control system to make sure the user did in fact enter the building;
• Security personnel could check surveillance cameras from anywhere on the network, or even wirelessly from a remote location;
• Critical alarm and notifications from life-safety systems could interface with the corporate LAN and phone system to send alerts to PCs, pagers and even cell phones of those responsible for facility management and security; and
• Lights could be programmed to automatically go on in an evacuation situation, and air handling systems could be automatically shut down when smoke is detected on the premises.

Partial or total: the right path
The path to convergence can begin on many levels, from trial convergence in small, localized systems to complete enterprise-wide deployment involving all building operating systems. Every facility and campus is unique. It has its individual needs, priorities and constraints, which is why every enterprise’s management team and IT professionals must decide what level of convergence would best suit its situation.

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.

High Quality Structured Cabling Components: Most network system failures can be traced to less than reliable infrastructure components. Work with qualified vendors and certified installers to specify an integrated, end-to-end structured cabling system and to ensure that each system within the converged building system complies with all applicable codes, regulations and standards.

In today’s world, data rates will continue to increase. At the same time, the workforce is becoming more mobile, security threats are growing more serious, environmental issues continue to expand and operational costs continue to rise. For many enterprise networks, IP convergence can provide a powerful tool in battling these market realities to reduce costs, gain measurable efficiencies and business value, and, ultimately, realize a favorable return on the technology investment.

About the author: Joshua M. Dixon, CPIM, is vertical marketing manager for Video, Sound and Security for Belden Americas Division. For more information, visit Belden at www.belden.com.

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