Businesses today are either wholly dependent on their IT systems or IT is actually their business. That means downtime will cripple operations and conceivably cause irreparable damage — lost revenue and reputation, and everything in between. Continuous access is a must, and so the presence of a data center or IT room significantly changes the requirements of a buildings management system (BMS). Yet, many facilities are not operated with a 24x7, mission-critical mindset.

To ensure uptime, operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) systems must be brought together; the BMS becomes an important part of the overall data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solution. A data center relies on power and cooling systems, but a BMS is traditionally designed mainly to handle occupant comfort, so there must be a strong connection and seamless communication between the enterprise’s DCIM and facility’s BMS.

The professionals who operate and manage these systems and facilities must also be united. The most forward-looking organizations will change their business structures to recognize and accommodate the need for cooperation among facilities and IT, creating a single senior executive to which the two units report in their combined effort towards top performance 24x7.

Additionally, when there’s a data center present, a site’s electrical and mechanical systems must be flexible enough to meet the demands of fluctuating IT loads. And, as IT resources become increasingly virtualized — with compute, storage and networking resources becoming more software-defined — those more dynamic loads create even newer building management systems requirements.

BMS Capabilities

The BMS controls the mechanical infrastructure and provides real-time monitoring of facilities equipment and actively manages cooling performance. The system can automatically react to variabilities as needed by turning equipment on and off, opening or closing valves and increasing airflow to keep cooling level. This automation reduces the chance for human error, but also considers the need for human interface. The system also alerts facilities management team of potential failures so issues can be address before they become catastrophic problems.

Reducing energy consumption is another facet of BMS, enabled by built in logic and in conjunction with the electrical power monitoring system (EPMS), which provides comprehensive power quality data on the electrical distribution network in conjunction with installed power meters. Combined, these systems enhance reliability by providing detailed analysis and reporting of input and output power quality and help optimize energy use by identifying opportunities to reduce electrical power consumption.

For any commercial building, energy savings has a significant impact on costs. That skyrockets when you add a data center. Consider that if a typical building is occupied for 11 hours a day, five days a week, it is at occupancy levels for approximately 2,800 hours a year; a building housing a data center with mission-critical IT apps must often operate the full 8,760 hours a year.

That said, the data center also calls for a balance between energy efficiency and savings. Aggressively scaling back can introduce risk. Maintaining that balance is one of the reasons for a BMS, as it can handle the dynamic loads and changes to operations that are created by the presence of the data center.

BMS must-haves

The BMS solution for a facility housing a data center or mission-critical IT room must feature a number of capabilities, including:

  • An ability to control physical systems, such as cooling and air flow to maintain a consistent temperature in the data room.
  • Complete visibility into the entire power and cooling systems from the utility connection down to the IT servers, including subsystems.
  • Integration with DCIM systems. IT managers need data and insights from the building’s electrical and mechanical systems, while facilities managers must similarly know what’s happening in the data center.
  • Network security. As part of the overall network, BMS can be used as a point of attack for hackers and cyber-criminals with a goal of bringing down the network if it’s not protected.
  • Awareness of the status of any redundant power, cooling and distribution systems, the loss of which can be a precursor to a full IT outage or failure.
  • Event logging, notifications and alarms that send actionable information to those who can use it to respond quickly to an incident or issue.
  • Support for open protocols such as BACNet IP and MSTP, Modbus IP and RTU over a standard Ethernet TCP/IP network.
  • Capability to generate clear, simple reports for CFOs, CMOs and CIOs and other stakeholders, due to the impact facilities have, via the data center, on capital planning, capacity and performance and system performance, respectively.

Working together

Differences in managing spaces with data centers from other occupancies include significant financial consequences for equipment failure, greater need for reporting and visibility, a critical need to share and communicate between systems and departments and drastically reduced time to respond to critical incidents.

Strategies for managing this increased complication and expanded internal oversight include ensuring proper installation and features of the software system selected, using the tools for their intended tasks, and keeping the solution simple.

Once properly programmed and commissioned, a BMS, integrated with EPMS and DCIM, and a facilities team working with the IT team are the most effective tools to manage the redundant mechanical equipment common in mission critical environments.

Bryan Anderson is a sales manager for Data Center Software Solutions at Schneider Electric.