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UIT and LBRE Dig into a New Networking Solution

Thursday, September 14, 2017

In University IT (UIT), we aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty, and that’s just what we did working with Land, Buildings, and Real Estate (LBRE) to build a rugged networking cart for use at construction sites on campus.

The cart provides secure network access that helps make the hand off from the construction team to the UIT networking team more efficient.

Smart campus for more efficient buildings

LBRE recently set a goal to advance the development of a “smart” campus infrastructure across the university’s facilities. Making buildings “smart” means having more information about and control over basic systems that power buildings - like heating, air conditioning, ventilation, lighting, and water systems. When LBRE knows more about these systems, they can automate their use and make them more efficient, reducing costs and saving energy in the process.

Construction challenges

To automate and control the building systems, the systems need to be connected to controllers that gather data and power the systems. The systems are connected to the controller via a network, just like computers are connected to the network. But there have been some challenges with creating networks during construction projects.

When constructing a new building, the construction company has traditionally created their own temporary network so that they can connect these various systems to the building controllers. When the construction project is finished, UIT’s Local Area Network (LAN) team is tasked with connecting the temporary construction network to the Stanford network.

Unfortunately, contractors generally do not produce drawings of their networks, leaving UIT to spend hours tracing cables in an effort to connect the system. Often, UIT has to completely re-architect the networks created by the construction company.

“Networking was identified as a major pain point in the building commissioning process. After some discussions we came up with the idea of a rack that is rugged, locked, and could provide all network connectivity necessary for commissioning a new building,” said Arne Dietrich, IT Infrastructure Manager for LBRE.

Rugged networking cart

The UIT Facilities Engineering and LAN teams listened to the needs of LBRE and responded with a creative design for a portable network cart that could provide secure, Stanford network services to a construction project. Of course, this required a new technical solution to deliver the network in a dirty, busy, construction environment that is not acceptable for Stanford's standard network switches.

The network cart is built from a sturdy network rack enclosure and has a plywood base with large casters to make the cart mobile. Additionally, at the base of the mobile cart, the air intake includes space for a standard HVAC filter. The cart is secured while onsite to prevent anyone from tampering with it.

Successful pilot

The cart was first used during the Kingscote Gardens renovation project that began in August 2016 and proved to be very successful. The cart provided the following benefits:

  • The construction contractors tested and commissioned building systems on networks that were architected and monitored by Stanford, while not detrimentally impacting the project schedule.
  • When construction was complete, it was a relatively simple process for the UIT networking team to make the controllers available on the Stanford network.
  • Ongoing maintenance of the network improved because the networks were known and understood from early on in the project.

Erich Snow, Director of Facilities Operations for UIT said, “Both UIT and LBRE had been living for years with our individual headaches related to building and transitioning a network during construction. When we came together to understand all the pain points, it was easy to collaborate on a solution that solved both our problems. It was a great example of two units partnering to make things better for everyone.”

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