By Charlie Jackson — Business Development Manager at Colorado Controls
Building automation systems (BAS) are the core intelligence of your building’s HVAC, lighting, and access controls. BAS act as the brains behind the equipment – directing each individual system to perform pre-determined tasks. For example, tasks can include: heating or cooling based on programmed setpoints or room occupancy, managing lighting energy consumption based on time of day, building security, and even which individuals have access to certain areas of a building. With increased responsibilities attached to the BAS, there comes an even greater demand on building owners and facility staff. The need for accessing and managing the BAS remotely, once considered a luxury, is now a fixture in contemporary BAS design.
This article provides a brief overview of the history of BAS remote access, beginning with the dedicated phone lines and finishing with current technologies. Having dedicated analog phone lines for offices was not uncommon for businesses in the 1980s through the mid-2000s. Common uses included fax transmissions and internet modems. Included in the need for a dedicated phone line was the BAS for a building. The analog phone line was a relatively safe and secure method of a building operator logging into their BAS and collecting information on equipment performance. The downfall is that, as the need for information grew, the speed at which the information could be transmitted was static. Managing remotely or viewing an entire building’s zone design was a slow and frustrating process. Plus, the added phone line created additional expenses for building owners.
Remote desktop connections became the next step in operators logging into their BAS remotely. A remote desktop connection requires an onsite computer to be connected to both the internet and BAS for an operator to log on to the computer from a remote location. There are some potential security bugs and require the installation of system and software updates for the local computer on a regular basis. Remote desktop connections can be sluggish and require patience, but are still a viable option utilized today to access the system from another location.
Another current technique of accessing a system remotely is utilizing a static IP address. A static IP address is a specific IP address assigned to the BAS main controller within a building. This practice is generally frowned upon nowadays, as it can lead to serious security concerns to not only the BAS, but also to the entire network. Hackers comb the internet daily searching for open static IP addresses to potentially launch network attacks. Networks can be protected by a firewall in front of the BAS main controller, but would then require IT support for opening specific ports for network traffic to flow in and out. This creates additional complexity in configuring and supporting a BAS that can delay or extend the timing for support calls.
The current gold standard of remote access involves using a software solution to create an encrypted virtual private network to connect remotely. A virtual private network (VPN) acts as a direct tunnel between an operator’s remote device and the BAS. This tunnel provides security in the form of encryption which makes the connection points and data useless to potential hackers, while also sidestepping the need for additional IT support via firewall configurations. Using usernames and logins, operators can connect remotely to their BAS to perform the exact same tasks as if they were on site – even without the need for a local onsite computer terminal.
Colorado Controls supports the Reliable Controls software RC Remote Access product. RC Remote Access uses a BACnet virtual private network (B/VPN) connection to safely allow building owners and facility staff to log into their BAS and perform any tasks they would onsite. Utilizing 256-bit encryption users can be confident that a building’s network is secure from vulnerabilities that hackers are searching for.
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