Article
10
min read
Brad Bonavida

Case Study: QuadReal Rolls Out Passive Optical Networks for OT Devices

March 12, 2024

Welcome to our Case Study series, where we dive into case studies of real-life, large-scale deployments of smart building technologies, supported by the Nexus Marketplace.

I emphasize “real life” because this isn’t a marketing fluff story. We're here to share real lessons from leaders who have done the work to integrate smart building technology into their operations. I also emphasize “large scale” because we're not here to talk about pilot projects. We're here to talk about deeper commitments to changing how buildings are operated.

---

Case Study Data:

  • Technology Categories Mentioned: Service Layer - Network Manager, Application Layer - Fault Detection and Diagnostics, Data Layer, Coupled with Applications, Network Layer, Device Layer - Lighting, HVAC, Elevators, Metering
  • Key Stakeholders: Thano Lambrinos - Senior Vice President of Digital Buildings, Experiences, & Innovation at QuadReal Property Group, Wayne Kim - Founder and CEO at Andorix
  • Vendors: Andorix - Network Manager and Network Designer, Beldon - Network Hardware Provider, Kode Labs - Fault Detection and Diagnostics, advanced supervisory control, data visualization on floorplan, multiple electrical and network service providers
  • Number of Buildings: 30 million SQFT across 50+ buildings in commercial, residential, and retail verticals
  • Project Dates: 2019 to Present

Case Study Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Technical Overview
  • Challenges & Lessons Learned
  • Conclusion

---

Introduction

QuadReal Property Group is a global real estate investor and operator with over $73 billion in real estate assets and counting.

In 2019, Thano Lambrinos joined the QuadReal team. Amid the building industry's transition to digitizing everything, Lambrinos and the QuadReal team were eager to embrace new technologies to differentiate themselves from competitors. QuadReal saw the opportunity to use new building technologies to reduce risk, lower energy costs, lower carbon footprint, and improve tenant experiences.

However, QuadReal found themselves hamstrung by the state of networking infrastructure within their buildings. They needed more visibility into what network cabling was in use versus abandoned in place. They needed more space in mechanical risers and electrical rooms for new cabling. Their teams often needed more visibility into the systems inside the building, and there was a looming cybersecurity risk given the lack of organization at the network layer.

The new technology in the market was begging to be deployed, but QuadReal needed to solve an infrastructure problem first. Before trains can explore new frontiers, the tracks must be laid, and this is how QuadReal pragmatically approached bringing their buildings into the digital era.

Enter their partnership with Andorix. Andorix, an informational technology/operational technology (IT/OT) network manager founded by Wayne Kim, worked with QuadReal to begin implementing passive optical networks (PON) in QuadReal’s portfolio of buildings. Within each building, Andorix, QuadReal, and a team of contractors bring each unique OT system from the edge to a converged PON, creating a robust and holistic network layer. This PON acted as the train tracks QuadReal needed to explore the unlimited frontier of the digital era and the potential outcomes for their buildings.

We sat down with Lambrinos of QuadReal and Kim of Andorix to better understand the infrastructure journey QuadReal has been on to lay the groundwork for a brighter future.

Background

Lambrinos started with QuadReal Property Group in 2019 after working as a general- and sub-contractor in the construction industry. This background gave him the real-world experiences necessary to understand the importance of a robust network layer within a building.

In Lambrinos’ role as Senior Vice President of Digital Buildings, Experiences & Innovation at QuadReal, his team is responsible for all OT networks and the systems they are tied to. This includes most primary verticals within the building technology stack: HVAC, lighting, access control, elevators, metering, and many more. The team tackles this problem across an expansive geographic network, as QuadRreal has properties in the US, Canada, Europe, and is expanding into the Asia-Pacific region.

Lambrinos commented on the state of OT networks and their associated systems when he started his role in 2019, “Each of our OT systems did the job it was meant to do in a silo, but that wasn’t going to make us realize the outcomes we wanted for the future.”

QuadReal recognized network connectivity as the foundation of its digital transformation and was able to start responsibly with the infrastructure problem before jumping to higher-level applications.

“We can’t realize high-value outcomes without having all of our devices in the buildings, regardless of system, communicate data through a single pipe which we can then action from. It’s a critical piece in QuadReal’s overall strategy.”

—Thano Lambrinos

Wayne Kim, CEO and founder of Andorix, explained how his company ended up supporting buyers in solving the exact problem that Lambrinos and his team had identified.

Founded in the early 2000s, Andorix initially offered essential IT services to the Data Center industry. As the dot-com crash shook up the industry in the mid-2010s, Kim and his team transitioned to solving more immediate problems for building owners and occupiers as the world went digital.

Kim shared a story of working on a building in 2015 and attempting to layer smart building technology on top of the building’s systems. Kim’s team spent half a year hunting for data from all the disparate systems within the building and bringing them to one centralized location: the access control data, the elevator data, the HVAC data, the lighting data, etc.

This project was eye-opening for the Andorix team. Kim explained, “In order to make the building smart, you better have the network before you can start anything else. There’s no point trying to bring an intelligence platform into the building without the network.”

As Andorix and QuadReal took these parallel yet independent paths to recognize the importance of the universality and robustness of OT networks, a perfect partnership for implementing converged building networks was born.

One example of the possibilities of this enhanced and simplified network architecture is the ability to layer on applications, like KODE Labs’ fault detection & diagnostics (FDD), advanced supervisory control (ASC), and data visualizations.

Once a foundationally robust infrastructure is built, Andorix and QuadReal partner with KODE Labs to reach their goals. As Kim explained implementing cutting-edge software applications can be simple and fast: buildings can start reaping the benefits of FDD and ASC almost immediately after installing the software. Lambrinos shared how this came together on one of QuadReal’s buildings in Chicago: “Because of the infrastructure we had deployed, we were able to stand up a smart building platform in the course of a couple of weeks and entirely remotely because the connectivity infrastructure was there and all systems were available on that infrastructure.”

Unlocking the opportunity to remotely implement application layer tools relies on networks capable of defending against cybersecurity attacks. This further emphasizes the speed at which outcomes can be achieved when starting with the building infrastructure.

QuadReal has partnered with Andorix to complete an OT networking overhaul across over 30 million square feet of property and growing. Through this networking infrastructure overhaul, QuadReal saves 60-70% on network-associated upfront capital costs for new builds and approximately 50% on operating costs. They are one of the first large real estate owners to implement a PON project at this scale and are creating buildings that have endless possibilities for benefiting from the rich data they’re gathering.

Check out our buyer's guides on The Network Layer, Advanced Supervisory Control, and Fault Detection & Diagnostics for more on the technology categories mentioned in this case study and to hear from leading vendors.

Technical Overview

The concept of bringing OT Network Devices Together

In 2024, most people are familiar with the term IT, or informational technology, even if they don’t quite understand it. To grossly oversimplify, IT can often be considered all the effort involved with connecting our computers to the internet and each other. But when nearly everything can connect to the internet (including your smart coffee maker), what defines a computer? This is where the term operational technology (OT) comes into play.

Dozens of different operational technologies keep a large building operating. When these systems communicate their information, it’s over an OT network.

The challenge is that these systems are seldom ready to communicate with each other or cloud-based software applications. Coming from different manufacturers and installed by different trades, OT networks are highly variable in the physical mediums of communication they use and the protocols/languages they speak. If a building owner isn’t careful, the unique OT networks create vertically siloed groups of introverted systems.

Getting all these siloed systems on one “converged” OT network is foundational in creating a smart building. Lambrinos explained how QuadReal approaches this, “Our goal is to amalgamate it into a single place where my team, in concert and partnership with various IT folks that are interested, can effectively manage the cybersecurity program and can effectively run asset management on all of our equipment and systems throughout all of our buildings.”

The network layer is crucial to building a foundation that the higher layers of the tech stack, like the data and application layers, can sit on top of.

Kim and Lambrinos stressed the importance of bringing the OT network as close to “the edge” of each system as possible. The edge represents the end of the network stack closest to the OT devices that generate the data. Kim explained, “The future is that you need to be able to deliver the fiber right to the edge to create the best, most secure, and fastest network possible.” The same concept applies to non-PON networking systems as well, where creating the network port as close to the edge as possible is ideal for converging systems

Cybersecurity and OT Networks

During the discussion, Lambrinos emphasized the benefits of cyber security as the most crucial aspect of a centralized OT network. Before this project, many of QuadReal’s building networks were unmanaged and unknown. In some buildings, QuadReal and their contractors weren’t sure which communication wires were still active, which were abandoned in place, and which connected to outside systems. 

Fortunately, QuadReal never experienced a serious threat. However, Lambrnios explained the existing risk, “We’ve learned the opportunistic nature of bad actors. Sometimes, these hackers stumble into buildings, and there are now case studies of hackers coming into buildings and taking down elevators, HVAC systems, and lighting systems. And because of that unmanaged nature of a lot of these assets, those buildings were left beyond repair for several weeks at a time.”

What is a Passive Optical Network (PON), and why is it used?

Kim and Lambrinos provided a brief overview of fiber optic cabling, which uses glass tubes to transport visible light waves over distances as long as 5-10 km. This technology is proven and has been in the industry for 30+ years.

A passive optical network (PON) utilizes fiberoptic cables with networking equipment that requires no power (hence the term passive). A PON relies on a splitter comparable to an ethernet switch in a typical active network system. Splitters can split light signals from 1:1 to 1:64, allowing one signal to reach dozens of devices without any power necessary at the splitter. It’s important to note that these splitters can only split signals in one direction (typically downstream as opposed to upstream), so networks requiring large bandwidths of upload data may not achieve all the benefits of splitting.

Buildings have commonly used active networks, consisting of ethernet cable that plugs into ethernet switches. These classic ethernet-based active networks rely on these active network switches. Active network switches heat up, have physical moving pieces, and require power to operate. The active aspect of these types of networks can significantly raise operational costs through higher energy usage and maintenance costs. When the systems communicating on the OT network, like elevators, last decades, a network infrastructure with more longevity, like PON, becomes increasingly valuable. It’s important to appreciate that at some point, you are still going to convert to copper in most cases for equipment connection and this interface may require POE so your edge will still have some active network equipment to manage.

Additionally, ethernet cables are several times the diameter of a fiber optic cable. When space in existing buildings becomes a constraint, PON or an active network’s optical fiber backbone can help the building owner carry more information through a smaller space. Choosing a PON or active network backbone is a key part of design decisions that need to be made by the designer, client, and contractor to ensure alignment and effective delivery.

For more info, check out our deployment article featuring Andorix, which includes examples of 70% energy savings, 65% space savings, 50-70% lower service costs, and 65% cost savings associated with PON.

QuadReal’s Procedure for Deploying PON

The concept of PON and the universal OT network is easier to understand than to implement. So, how did QuadReal succeed in making this concept a reality? Lambrinos said it was a systematic and stepped process to get where they are today.

QuadReal had some bad experiences implementing active network technologies into new buildings, so they were open to new concepts. Like so many other successful projects, the work started with an intense evaluation of the options and what outcomes QuadReal could achieve.

Lambrinos stated, “The upside to PON became too enticing for QuadReal not to run a pilot on it.” QuadReal piloted the idea on one of their existing buildings in Vancouver, Canada, and considered the project a success. In parallel, QuadReal needed to ensure the same concept could be applied successfully on a new construction project, and they implemented a pilot on The Post, a 1.1 million square foot office building in Vancouver. 

With successful renovation and new construction pilots, QuadReal developed a pragmatic and systematic process to extend this infrastructure throughout its portfolio. Lambrinos’s team began grouping buildings in their portfolio based on their current network status so they could run similar projects simultaneously. Each building in the QuadReal portfolio was just unique enough to warrant a new project method and new design, although there were lessons learned and applied as they went. QuadReal tendered many different service contractors to support the process in each building, and that’s where Andorix’s expertise came in on the implementation and service side. 

Kim sees the value in Andorix’s offering as a partnership with the end customer that starts well before installation and lasts well after. Andorix is responsible for designing and specifying the network in each building, including the determination of when a PON can be utilized Andorix will create requirement documents and bills of material for electrical contractors who are accountable for running the new cabling. Regarding the cutover to the new network, Andorix technicians are responsible for physically terminating new networking wires so they can commission the new system and confidently confirm proper communication.

Andorix’s scope of work goes beyond the cutover, as well. As a network manager, Andorix is responsible for the network's health for years to come. As Kim puts it, this deepens the partnership: a successful cutover is just as important for Andorix, who will keep the network running smoothly for years. Andorix treats each building as a “mission critical system”—any time network issues pop up, Andorix physically deploys technicians in trucks to solve the problems.

Once the converged network is installed and commissioned, QuadReal and Andorix can bring in partners like KODE Labs, and suddenly, data from across the building becomes beneficial to particular stakeholders seeking particular outcomes.

Challenges & Lessons Learned

Transforming the network of a large building is like doing surgery on the nervous system of a living entity. With that complexity comes plenty of trials and tribulations. Lambrinos and Kim walked us through the two most significant lessons they had learned thus far in the project.

Lesson #1 - In retrofit projects, focus on system discovery before cutting over infrastructure

When attempting to develop a converged OT network in existing buildings, QuadReal didn’t know what they didn’t know. With so many vendors responsible for so many different systems, it can be challenging to know where to start and simply understand what data and networks exist. Lambinos noted that QuadReal could’ve done better at diving deep into what data was discoverable before cutovers. Thorough network assessments before cutover can avoid situations where a wire is unplugged, and a technician says, “Uh oh, why did all those other systems also turn off?”

To compound the challenge, mechanical and electrical contractors are typically not well-versed in how their equipment communicates. When a mechanical engineer is hyper-focused on producing the most efficient cooling and heating possible, how their devices talk to the internet may not be top of mind. Kim explained that some OT system manufacturers have to come in and create custom updates to their network just so that the converged network cutover is possible.

The cutover is a milestone within the project requiring plenty of preparation. Lambrinos explained that his teams always had to be equipped with a “back-out plan”—if the network transition happened and something wasn’t working, the team had to be able to get it back to how it was initially working. In his words, “It’s like we were in the middle of the Amazon with machetes and blazing trail.”

The key to preparing and discovering network devices before a cutover is network assessments: the physical act of someone going through a building and categorizing, labeling, and determining what exists. This is a big task and requires elbow grease. The assessor will crawl under desks and into closets and ask why wires are where they are and what they do. There’s real expertise associated with tracing wires when they can travel through dozens of walls to their final destination.

Lesson #2 In new construction, contractors are responsible for their own OT and often are unprepared for a converged PON approach

New construction specifications, developed by an owner, engineer, and architect, are typically split into divisions for each sub-trade to interpret. Division 23 (HVAC), division 25 (Automation), division 26 (electrical), division 27 (communication), division 28 (access control), and many more have their own networking specifications and ways of doing things.

If the concept of the converged OT network isn’t communicated to these divisions and understood early in the construction process, a building will end up with diverging OT networks. 

And it doesn’t stop at well-defined specifications. Even if a converged network is called out, it is up to the owner and engineer to ensure that what is delivered by each trade fits the spec. 

Like many tasks within the building tech industry, endless communication between stakeholders so everyone can understand the context is the only way to achieve success.

Conclusion

Imagine you’re on the East Coast in 1860s America. Coal-powered steam engines are the rave, and people want to explore the West. Naturally, society should start investing in coal-powered trains to get west, right?

Sort of, but trains don’t run without train tracks.

When I think of building owners starting with high-tech application layer software to solve their problems, I like to think of a bunch of explorers sitting in the engine room of a shiny new train… with no tracks to drive their train on.

IT/OT networking infrastructure is like the tracks of the train system. Without access to the appropriate information, digital transformations are worthless. The success story of QuadReal and Andorix is a story of humble beginnings and patience. While the network layer can be less glamorous than the products on the application layer, the network foundation is critical to the future success of any smart building.

So, is your smart building set up with the networking infrastructure required to truly achieve the outcomes targeted by flashy applications?

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Welcome to our Case Study series, where we dive into case studies of real-life, large-scale deployments of smart building technologies, supported by the Nexus Marketplace.

I emphasize “real life” because this isn’t a marketing fluff story. We're here to share real lessons from leaders who have done the work to integrate smart building technology into their operations. I also emphasize “large scale” because we're not here to talk about pilot projects. We're here to talk about deeper commitments to changing how buildings are operated.

---

Case Study Data:

  • Technology Categories Mentioned: Service Layer - Network Manager, Application Layer - Fault Detection and Diagnostics, Data Layer, Coupled with Applications, Network Layer, Device Layer - Lighting, HVAC, Elevators, Metering
  • Key Stakeholders: Thano Lambrinos - Senior Vice President of Digital Buildings, Experiences, & Innovation at QuadReal Property Group, Wayne Kim - Founder and CEO at Andorix
  • Vendors: Andorix - Network Manager and Network Designer, Beldon - Network Hardware Provider, Kode Labs - Fault Detection and Diagnostics, advanced supervisory control, data visualization on floorplan, multiple electrical and network service providers
  • Number of Buildings: 30 million SQFT across 50+ buildings in commercial, residential, and retail verticals
  • Project Dates: 2019 to Present

Case Study Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Technical Overview
  • Challenges & Lessons Learned
  • Conclusion

---

Introduction

QuadReal Property Group is a global real estate investor and operator with over $73 billion in real estate assets and counting.

In 2019, Thano Lambrinos joined the QuadReal team. Amid the building industry's transition to digitizing everything, Lambrinos and the QuadReal team were eager to embrace new technologies to differentiate themselves from competitors. QuadReal saw the opportunity to use new building technologies to reduce risk, lower energy costs, lower carbon footprint, and improve tenant experiences.

However, QuadReal found themselves hamstrung by the state of networking infrastructure within their buildings. They needed more visibility into what network cabling was in use versus abandoned in place. They needed more space in mechanical risers and electrical rooms for new cabling. Their teams often needed more visibility into the systems inside the building, and there was a looming cybersecurity risk given the lack of organization at the network layer.

The new technology in the market was begging to be deployed, but QuadReal needed to solve an infrastructure problem first. Before trains can explore new frontiers, the tracks must be laid, and this is how QuadReal pragmatically approached bringing their buildings into the digital era.

Enter their partnership with Andorix. Andorix, an informational technology/operational technology (IT/OT) network manager founded by Wayne Kim, worked with QuadReal to begin implementing passive optical networks (PON) in QuadReal’s portfolio of buildings. Within each building, Andorix, QuadReal, and a team of contractors bring each unique OT system from the edge to a converged PON, creating a robust and holistic network layer. This PON acted as the train tracks QuadReal needed to explore the unlimited frontier of the digital era and the potential outcomes for their buildings.

We sat down with Lambrinos of QuadReal and Kim of Andorix to better understand the infrastructure journey QuadReal has been on to lay the groundwork for a brighter future.

Background

Lambrinos started with QuadReal Property Group in 2019 after working as a general- and sub-contractor in the construction industry. This background gave him the real-world experiences necessary to understand the importance of a robust network layer within a building.

In Lambrinos’ role as Senior Vice President of Digital Buildings, Experiences & Innovation at QuadReal, his team is responsible for all OT networks and the systems they are tied to. This includes most primary verticals within the building technology stack: HVAC, lighting, access control, elevators, metering, and many more. The team tackles this problem across an expansive geographic network, as QuadRreal has properties in the US, Canada, Europe, and is expanding into the Asia-Pacific region.

Lambrinos commented on the state of OT networks and their associated systems when he started his role in 2019, “Each of our OT systems did the job it was meant to do in a silo, but that wasn’t going to make us realize the outcomes we wanted for the future.”

QuadReal recognized network connectivity as the foundation of its digital transformation and was able to start responsibly with the infrastructure problem before jumping to higher-level applications.

“We can’t realize high-value outcomes without having all of our devices in the buildings, regardless of system, communicate data through a single pipe which we can then action from. It’s a critical piece in QuadReal’s overall strategy.”

—Thano Lambrinos

Wayne Kim, CEO and founder of Andorix, explained how his company ended up supporting buyers in solving the exact problem that Lambrinos and his team had identified.

Founded in the early 2000s, Andorix initially offered essential IT services to the Data Center industry. As the dot-com crash shook up the industry in the mid-2010s, Kim and his team transitioned to solving more immediate problems for building owners and occupiers as the world went digital.

Kim shared a story of working on a building in 2015 and attempting to layer smart building technology on top of the building’s systems. Kim’s team spent half a year hunting for data from all the disparate systems within the building and bringing them to one centralized location: the access control data, the elevator data, the HVAC data, the lighting data, etc.

This project was eye-opening for the Andorix team. Kim explained, “In order to make the building smart, you better have the network before you can start anything else. There’s no point trying to bring an intelligence platform into the building without the network.”

As Andorix and QuadReal took these parallel yet independent paths to recognize the importance of the universality and robustness of OT networks, a perfect partnership for implementing converged building networks was born.

One example of the possibilities of this enhanced and simplified network architecture is the ability to layer on applications, like KODE Labs’ fault detection & diagnostics (FDD), advanced supervisory control (ASC), and data visualizations.

Once a foundationally robust infrastructure is built, Andorix and QuadReal partner with KODE Labs to reach their goals. As Kim explained implementing cutting-edge software applications can be simple and fast: buildings can start reaping the benefits of FDD and ASC almost immediately after installing the software. Lambrinos shared how this came together on one of QuadReal’s buildings in Chicago: “Because of the infrastructure we had deployed, we were able to stand up a smart building platform in the course of a couple of weeks and entirely remotely because the connectivity infrastructure was there and all systems were available on that infrastructure.”

Unlocking the opportunity to remotely implement application layer tools relies on networks capable of defending against cybersecurity attacks. This further emphasizes the speed at which outcomes can be achieved when starting with the building infrastructure.

QuadReal has partnered with Andorix to complete an OT networking overhaul across over 30 million square feet of property and growing. Through this networking infrastructure overhaul, QuadReal saves 60-70% on network-associated upfront capital costs for new builds and approximately 50% on operating costs. They are one of the first large real estate owners to implement a PON project at this scale and are creating buildings that have endless possibilities for benefiting from the rich data they’re gathering.

Check out our buyer's guides on The Network Layer, Advanced Supervisory Control, and Fault Detection & Diagnostics for more on the technology categories mentioned in this case study and to hear from leading vendors.

Technical Overview

The concept of bringing OT Network Devices Together

In 2024, most people are familiar with the term IT, or informational technology, even if they don’t quite understand it. To grossly oversimplify, IT can often be considered all the effort involved with connecting our computers to the internet and each other. But when nearly everything can connect to the internet (including your smart coffee maker), what defines a computer? This is where the term operational technology (OT) comes into play.

Dozens of different operational technologies keep a large building operating. When these systems communicate their information, it’s over an OT network.

The challenge is that these systems are seldom ready to communicate with each other or cloud-based software applications. Coming from different manufacturers and installed by different trades, OT networks are highly variable in the physical mediums of communication they use and the protocols/languages they speak. If a building owner isn’t careful, the unique OT networks create vertically siloed groups of introverted systems.

Getting all these siloed systems on one “converged” OT network is foundational in creating a smart building. Lambrinos explained how QuadReal approaches this, “Our goal is to amalgamate it into a single place where my team, in concert and partnership with various IT folks that are interested, can effectively manage the cybersecurity program and can effectively run asset management on all of our equipment and systems throughout all of our buildings.”

The network layer is crucial to building a foundation that the higher layers of the tech stack, like the data and application layers, can sit on top of.

Kim and Lambrinos stressed the importance of bringing the OT network as close to “the edge” of each system as possible. The edge represents the end of the network stack closest to the OT devices that generate the data. Kim explained, “The future is that you need to be able to deliver the fiber right to the edge to create the best, most secure, and fastest network possible.” The same concept applies to non-PON networking systems as well, where creating the network port as close to the edge as possible is ideal for converging systems

Cybersecurity and OT Networks

During the discussion, Lambrinos emphasized the benefits of cyber security as the most crucial aspect of a centralized OT network. Before this project, many of QuadReal’s building networks were unmanaged and unknown. In some buildings, QuadReal and their contractors weren’t sure which communication wires were still active, which were abandoned in place, and which connected to outside systems. 

Fortunately, QuadReal never experienced a serious threat. However, Lambrnios explained the existing risk, “We’ve learned the opportunistic nature of bad actors. Sometimes, these hackers stumble into buildings, and there are now case studies of hackers coming into buildings and taking down elevators, HVAC systems, and lighting systems. And because of that unmanaged nature of a lot of these assets, those buildings were left beyond repair for several weeks at a time.”

What is a Passive Optical Network (PON), and why is it used?

Kim and Lambrinos provided a brief overview of fiber optic cabling, which uses glass tubes to transport visible light waves over distances as long as 5-10 km. This technology is proven and has been in the industry for 30+ years.

A passive optical network (PON) utilizes fiberoptic cables with networking equipment that requires no power (hence the term passive). A PON relies on a splitter comparable to an ethernet switch in a typical active network system. Splitters can split light signals from 1:1 to 1:64, allowing one signal to reach dozens of devices without any power necessary at the splitter. It’s important to note that these splitters can only split signals in one direction (typically downstream as opposed to upstream), so networks requiring large bandwidths of upload data may not achieve all the benefits of splitting.

Buildings have commonly used active networks, consisting of ethernet cable that plugs into ethernet switches. These classic ethernet-based active networks rely on these active network switches. Active network switches heat up, have physical moving pieces, and require power to operate. The active aspect of these types of networks can significantly raise operational costs through higher energy usage and maintenance costs. When the systems communicating on the OT network, like elevators, last decades, a network infrastructure with more longevity, like PON, becomes increasingly valuable. It’s important to appreciate that at some point, you are still going to convert to copper in most cases for equipment connection and this interface may require POE so your edge will still have some active network equipment to manage.

Additionally, ethernet cables are several times the diameter of a fiber optic cable. When space in existing buildings becomes a constraint, PON or an active network’s optical fiber backbone can help the building owner carry more information through a smaller space. Choosing a PON or active network backbone is a key part of design decisions that need to be made by the designer, client, and contractor to ensure alignment and effective delivery.

For more info, check out our deployment article featuring Andorix, which includes examples of 70% energy savings, 65% space savings, 50-70% lower service costs, and 65% cost savings associated with PON.

QuadReal’s Procedure for Deploying PON

The concept of PON and the universal OT network is easier to understand than to implement. So, how did QuadReal succeed in making this concept a reality? Lambrinos said it was a systematic and stepped process to get where they are today.

QuadReal had some bad experiences implementing active network technologies into new buildings, so they were open to new concepts. Like so many other successful projects, the work started with an intense evaluation of the options and what outcomes QuadReal could achieve.

Lambrinos stated, “The upside to PON became too enticing for QuadReal not to run a pilot on it.” QuadReal piloted the idea on one of their existing buildings in Vancouver, Canada, and considered the project a success. In parallel, QuadReal needed to ensure the same concept could be applied successfully on a new construction project, and they implemented a pilot on The Post, a 1.1 million square foot office building in Vancouver. 

With successful renovation and new construction pilots, QuadReal developed a pragmatic and systematic process to extend this infrastructure throughout its portfolio. Lambrinos’s team began grouping buildings in their portfolio based on their current network status so they could run similar projects simultaneously. Each building in the QuadReal portfolio was just unique enough to warrant a new project method and new design, although there were lessons learned and applied as they went. QuadReal tendered many different service contractors to support the process in each building, and that’s where Andorix’s expertise came in on the implementation and service side. 

Kim sees the value in Andorix’s offering as a partnership with the end customer that starts well before installation and lasts well after. Andorix is responsible for designing and specifying the network in each building, including the determination of when a PON can be utilized Andorix will create requirement documents and bills of material for electrical contractors who are accountable for running the new cabling. Regarding the cutover to the new network, Andorix technicians are responsible for physically terminating new networking wires so they can commission the new system and confidently confirm proper communication.

Andorix’s scope of work goes beyond the cutover, as well. As a network manager, Andorix is responsible for the network's health for years to come. As Kim puts it, this deepens the partnership: a successful cutover is just as important for Andorix, who will keep the network running smoothly for years. Andorix treats each building as a “mission critical system”—any time network issues pop up, Andorix physically deploys technicians in trucks to solve the problems.

Once the converged network is installed and commissioned, QuadReal and Andorix can bring in partners like KODE Labs, and suddenly, data from across the building becomes beneficial to particular stakeholders seeking particular outcomes.

Challenges & Lessons Learned

Transforming the network of a large building is like doing surgery on the nervous system of a living entity. With that complexity comes plenty of trials and tribulations. Lambrinos and Kim walked us through the two most significant lessons they had learned thus far in the project.

Lesson #1 - In retrofit projects, focus on system discovery before cutting over infrastructure

When attempting to develop a converged OT network in existing buildings, QuadReal didn’t know what they didn’t know. With so many vendors responsible for so many different systems, it can be challenging to know where to start and simply understand what data and networks exist. Lambinos noted that QuadReal could’ve done better at diving deep into what data was discoverable before cutovers. Thorough network assessments before cutover can avoid situations where a wire is unplugged, and a technician says, “Uh oh, why did all those other systems also turn off?”

To compound the challenge, mechanical and electrical contractors are typically not well-versed in how their equipment communicates. When a mechanical engineer is hyper-focused on producing the most efficient cooling and heating possible, how their devices talk to the internet may not be top of mind. Kim explained that some OT system manufacturers have to come in and create custom updates to their network just so that the converged network cutover is possible.

The cutover is a milestone within the project requiring plenty of preparation. Lambrinos explained that his teams always had to be equipped with a “back-out plan”—if the network transition happened and something wasn’t working, the team had to be able to get it back to how it was initially working. In his words, “It’s like we were in the middle of the Amazon with machetes and blazing trail.”

The key to preparing and discovering network devices before a cutover is network assessments: the physical act of someone going through a building and categorizing, labeling, and determining what exists. This is a big task and requires elbow grease. The assessor will crawl under desks and into closets and ask why wires are where they are and what they do. There’s real expertise associated with tracing wires when they can travel through dozens of walls to their final destination.

Lesson #2 In new construction, contractors are responsible for their own OT and often are unprepared for a converged PON approach

New construction specifications, developed by an owner, engineer, and architect, are typically split into divisions for each sub-trade to interpret. Division 23 (HVAC), division 25 (Automation), division 26 (electrical), division 27 (communication), division 28 (access control), and many more have their own networking specifications and ways of doing things.

If the concept of the converged OT network isn’t communicated to these divisions and understood early in the construction process, a building will end up with diverging OT networks. 

And it doesn’t stop at well-defined specifications. Even if a converged network is called out, it is up to the owner and engineer to ensure that what is delivered by each trade fits the spec. 

Like many tasks within the building tech industry, endless communication between stakeholders so everyone can understand the context is the only way to achieve success.

Conclusion

Imagine you’re on the East Coast in 1860s America. Coal-powered steam engines are the rave, and people want to explore the West. Naturally, society should start investing in coal-powered trains to get west, right?

Sort of, but trains don’t run without train tracks.

When I think of building owners starting with high-tech application layer software to solve their problems, I like to think of a bunch of explorers sitting in the engine room of a shiny new train… with no tracks to drive their train on.

IT/OT networking infrastructure is like the tracks of the train system. Without access to the appropriate information, digital transformations are worthless. The success story of QuadReal and Andorix is a story of humble beginnings and patience. While the network layer can be less glamorous than the products on the application layer, the network foundation is critical to the future success of any smart building.

So, is your smart building set up with the networking infrastructure required to truly achieve the outcomes targeted by flashy applications?

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