The benefits of cloud computing for building automation systems (BAS)
by Kevin Callahan
A friend recently asked me if the benefit of the cloud for building automation systems (BAS) is an ability to store “Godzilla-size” amounts of data. Yes, building operators can save unfathomable amounts of data in the cloud compared to the capacity of their desktop computers. But, the more important benefit of the cloud for BAS is the flexibility and adaptability it affords building owners and operators.
Grow or shrink, as needed
Rather than needing to forecast their computing needs months or years in advance, and investing in additional expensive hardware, BAS users can rely on the cloud to expand (or reduce) their computing resources to meet their needs at any moment.
What does that look like in practical terms? Say you’re the facility operations manager for a university. Over time your BAS data storage needs likely increase as new buildings are added, but for months or years at a time, your data demands might taper or even decline somewhat as buildings are closed for refurbishment or demolishing. With a subscription from a cloud service provider, you pay for just the right amount of computing power – neither too much, nor too little – and can adjust very quickly.
Leave the driving to us
Another benefit of cloud computing for BAS is it removes the expense and hassles of ensuring reliable computer up time yourself. Instead of needing to maintain an army of internal IT professionals to keep the computers happy, you can outsource that responsibility to someone that specializes in that capability. It reminds me of the Greyhound bus slogan: “leave the driving to us” – you could do it yourself, but someone else might be able to do it cheaper and better.
The above flexibility and outsourcing benefits largely apply to any type of computing, but what specifically can the cloud do for BAS?
An important BAS-enabled function that more building owners are looking to the cloud for is automated, continuous building commissioning. It takes a substantial amount of computing power and data storage to run the performance algorithms needed for continuous commissioning. Operating in the cloud, your BMS can frequently evaluate if various building systems – HVAC, lighting, etc. – are still performing at optimal conditions as they did when they were installed and commissioned. For example, say a chiller begins to operate out of spec, the facility managers can see that performance reduction immediately and take corrective action.
The cloud also provides the power for more sophisticated fault detection, diagnostics and analytics. In essence, it expands the potential for facility operators to use their BAS to optimize building systems, saving time and money on building operations maintenance.
Things to consider
If you’re planning to begin moving your BAS to the cloud, here are a few points to keep in mind as you evaluate cloud service providers and decide if the cloud is indeed right for your organization:
- What will you migrate – the entire BAS, including all data and the automation software, or just a subset of these? The answer to this will help inform the rest of the considerations in this list.
- As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for” – with the cloud, more reliable up-time usually means a higher price, as does greater security, so it is important to find a point that balances your needs and budget.
- In addition to the cloud, itself, for BAS success it’s essential to ensure the integrity of your connection to the cloud, and what the implications are if you lose connectivity. For example, if your HVAC and lighting schedule interfaces are cloud-based, will your building continue to operate on its own until the connection is restored? The importance of such continuity will largely depend on your type of facility – temporary loss of scheduling in a big box store would be troublesome, but not life threatening, while the same disruption in a hospital could be a matter of life and death.
Is cloud computing right for your organization’s BAS? For now, that depends on the answers to the above types of questions, but eventually BAS will likely entirely be cloud-based, so it’s important to evaluate the implications now as you plan your facility’s future needs.
Kevin Callahan is a product owner and evangelist for Alerton, Lynwood, Wash., a Honeywell business specializing in building management systems. He has 40 years of experience in the building control technologies field, including control systems design and commissioning, product development and user training.