Where should we locate our Web-based facilities operation (WBFO)?

The WWW is way too wild and woolly, and the corporate Intranet may be calm and secure but too restrictive to allow real-time applications. Although security is a concern for the type of information on a building's website, it does not normally require the same bulletproofing the corporate Intranet does.

The fact that we want to run real-time data-gathering applications that were invented yesterday is normally of concern to most Intranet administrators. An Extranet identity allows us to create a "state of mind" in which the Internet is perceived as a way of doing business.

What is it?

An Extranet is a buzzword for something that is not completely Internet or Intranet. Here are some definitions from the Web.

From www.clienthelpdesk.com/dictionary/intranet.html: "You might think it's ... what a fisherman needs when he catches two fish at one time. But the real definition of an Extranet is ... an external Intranet. It connects people within your company with people who are outside your company - all within a secure, password-protected network that can be accessed from anywhere."

From http://quest-web.com/what_is_an_intranet.html: "An Extranet is really an Intranet with a wider range of users. For example, a company may allow its best suppliers limited access to the company Intranet via the Internet. Often, Extranets are used to provide companies and their vendors with a secure forum for interacting on projects, getting bids, etc."

An Extranet is a private network that uses the Internet protocol and the public telecommunication system to securely share part of a business's information or operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, customers, or other businesses.

An Extranet can be viewed as part of a company's Intranet that is extended to users outside the company. It has also been described as a "state of mind" in which the Internet is perceived as a way of doing business with other companies as well as of selling products to customers.

Our definition of Extranet for this column is a separate website that has the building name or address as a URL and is password protected but accessible to all project stakeholders.

The first point of ensuring that equipment is not turned on/off or reset by hackers is easy: Do not enable the Web browser access to anything with which you have a concern. Use vendor software and its existing security to control the building as you have done before, except now over the Internet.

What Goes in It?

To operate an unrestricted WBFO, we must include real-time data generated by several sources and allow access to contractors and support staff outside the core company. The standalone concept of an Extranet identity allows access and equipment problems to be quickly isolated without affecting corporate Intranets.

Past building automation experiences have taught us the value of standalone capabilities. In this virtual world, the standalone capability can be provided cost effectively on a virtual server without additional hardware.

The actual details and corporate enterprise structure will determine the best configuration for your project. An advantage of the Extranet approach is that it can be a development site. When the WBFO model is solid, all files, applications, and links can be transferred back to the corporate Intranet.

The WBFO website should include at a minimum the following:

  • Online documentation and linkage to energy, comfort, and safety strategies for the facility;
  • Real-time presentation of success factors for each of the above strategies;
  • Generation of energy and success factor alarms via e-mail and/or pager;
  • Real-time hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and annual energy reporting and accounting;
  • Documentation of existing design variances; and
  • E-mail, website links, and phone numbers of all building stakeholders.

Please refer to this month's pullout supplement "A Guide to Web-Based Facilities Operation" for more insight into this topic. This guide has been developed to try to address the reason why you would want to move to WBFO and some of the additional benefits the new approach can bring. Of course, both this column and the guide express my opinions and point of view only. We have created an online forum on the AutomatedBuildings.com website so if you would like to provide correction or a different point of view, visit www.automatedbuildings.com/webbasedfacilitiesoperation.htm. ES