Four questions to ask before committing to a cloud hosting provider

cloud hosting questions

As building automation devices become increasingly connected and demand for enterprise level command systems grows, the need for hosting – either on site or in the cloud – is growing too. Many people are sticking with on-site policies because of security and data ownership concerns but there can be capital intensive demands with this approach and scalability can become a limiting factor as companies grow.

Controls contractors and systems integrators can start to consider off-site, cloud hosting to help expand offerings with the Internet of Things, without investing in a network manager or physical server space. But the concerns are real, and there are some big questions to ask before making the leap. And, while there are certainly big names who provide special offers to get you in the door, some personalized attention for your unique building automation needs would help make the transition smoother. Here we outline our top four questions to ask before committing to a cloud hosting provider.

1.) Can you process time-series data?

The first fundamental thing to understand when considering cloud hosting for building automation data is that building automation data is very different from other types of data. Most hosting companies focus on cloud services for websites. Web traffic can be unpredictable and sometimes consumes vast amounts of computing capacity.

Operational technology or building data is fairly predictable and doesn’t take up very much space. However, for building analytics to provide maximum value, data needs to be collected at regular intervals all the time. This is called time-series data. A standard for building data is five-minute intervals, but most enterprise integrators are looking to gather data from key systems every minute. All of this data needs to be stored and accessible in the cloud for predictive analytics and historic tracking (in case a problem is identified at 9 a.m., users need to be able to see how long the problem has persisted and in what sensors).

Most cloud service providers have not built their server infrastructure to handle this type of time-series data so this is a crucial question to ask.

2.) Do you require dual authentication for access?

Security is the first word on everyone’s lips these days when it comes to cloud computing, the Internet of Things and remote connectivity, and with good reason. Cloud computing can be incredibly secure if you know what you’re signing up for. Dual authentication is the new industry standard for security when accessing cloud hosted data. Your cloud service provider should offer this standard.


3.) Do you have multiple redundancies and what are your uptimes?

Redundancy is everything in the data center world. To help customers understand their data storage options, the industry has established a tiered ranking system based on uptime and redundancy to increase transparency across the industry about what kind of data center is housing your data.

Tier 4 data centers offer the highest level of uptime and redundancy – 99.999% uptime and 2N+1 redundancy and 26.3 minutes of total downtime allowed per year. For a sense of how crucial uptime and redundancy are, Tier 1 data centers require 99.671% uptime but no redundancy and 28.8 hours of downtime per year.

Since building automation data is time-sensitive, the more redundancies the better.

4.) Who owns my data?

The answer to this question cannot be taken for granted. If you go with a big name cloud service provider the answer to who owns your data is likely to be buried in 8 pt. font on page 200 of the service contract. It’s best to ask this up front so you can weigh your options in providers.

ZDNet recently explored a variation on this question – do you own your data and have free reign? Their answer: “Maybe.”

They continue: “You own it as long as your technology partner makes it easy for you to access, integrate and innovate. … The reality is that IT vendors as well as operational technology vendors may control your company’s data. Data kumbaya is all fun and games until there’s money to be made.”

The only way to find the answer in your particular case is to ask the question at the outset of your information-gathering on the company you’re hoping to engage with your cloud hosting needs. If they’re dodgy about the answer, you may want to look elsewhere.

Have you started cloud hosting with a big name or boutique provider? We’d love to hear your experience. Share it in the comments below.

*Header photo by Blue Coat Photos on Flickr.

Confronting Myths and Misconceptions about Tagging in Building Automation Applications


In building automation, tagging applies a standardized name and definition to control devices and points. Tagging is aimed at replacing the unstandardized and frankly not very useful method of naming devices. Take this example: A commissioning agent establishes the names of all the devices and points in a building automation system before getting off the job. By the time a field tech has to go troubleshoot a device, the commissioning agent is long gone and there’s no documentation for that field tech to find what name was given to the device he’s looking for.

Or take the controls engineer who’s using remote access to monitor, troubleshoot and update the BAS. That person is trying to find the point showing where the AHU is delivering air to a zone via VAV terminal units. What should he search? If he’s using Haystack tagging protocol, he could search vavZone. He’d know that because it’s listed on the open web, not because he found a word document on an old hard drive from 1992.

Tagging, and specifically Project Haystack for building automation applications, is about eliminating the guess work and the errors that result from the most minor differences in device and point names. Naming an air handler unit “AHU” may be intuitive to one person while naming that air handler “airhandler” or “air-handler” may be natural to a different person. There are simply too many variations to try if you ever want to get anything done – AirHandler is different from airhandler, airHndlr, and so on.

It’s true, once there’s a unified tagging method for building automation devices and points, then advanced, even AI-driven applications can be run on top of building data. These are applications like SkySpark, FIN Stack, and maybe eventually Niagara. There may be an element of self-interest in developing a standard protocol so that proprietary software systems can advance, but the truth is building controls can no longer stay confined to basements or rooftops. Property owners are pressing for the industry to find real value in data from building controls. We all know it’s there, and tagging frees us up from spending all our time looking for it.

*Photo from jblevine2004 on Flickr, commercial use license.

Tosibox May Be New to Us But…

You may have heard, Tosibox is our newest distribution product. The American subsidiary of Finnish company Tosibox Oy is only a few years old and it has mostly been adopted in the industrial space. We at Controlco like to be first to the distribution market with products that are new to the building automation industry so we’re really excited about representing Tosibox for the commercial buildings space.

While our team is deeply involved in real-world examples of why Tosibox is the best product available for secure remote connectivity to building devices like air handlers, JACEs, lighting systems and more, it turns out those who keep a close eye on innovative technologies have been aware of Tosibox for years.

In a massive report on “Solving the Persistent Security Threats for the Internet of Things,” TechCrunch contributor Ben Dickson had this to say about Tosibox in 2015:

“Other companies such as Finnish VPN company Tosibox are providing versatile encryption solutions that add an encrypted control layer to remote data access mechanisms in order to improve file access security on devices that are lacking such features.”

If you didn’t catch the key word that was repeated there, it’s encryption. For our purposes in the commercial buildings space, Tosibox has two main products – conveniently called locks and keys. For the wonkiest among us, they describe their locks and keys as “intelligent cryptoprocessing devices.” For the rest of us, that means they come with built in security, as in the encryption that Mr. Dickson is referring to.

In his TechCrunch article, Dickson makes the case for on-device encryption as the most secure way to protect data that flows through devices and to protect access to the devices that are connected to each other. At Controlco, we’re working side by side, or usually phone to phone, with building controls contractors and integrators who are confronted with issues related to HVAC troubleshooting, remote building network access and secure connectivity among many other things. We believe Tosibox solves these problems and we’re glad to see that some people have believed that for longer than we have. Let’s talk more about secure connectivity to your building devices.

How to Secure Your Ever-Expanding BAS

Controlco and IoTium know that protecting building automation systems can be tough, even on a small network. And as your BAS expands to incorporate more points and controllers, security becomes a greater concern. But with the right network, security can actually scale with your system.
We’ll discuss security, scalability and network infrastructure with IoTium in a joint webinar on August 9. IoTium CEO and co-founder Ron Victor will discuss how their network infrastructure helps you isolate and secure your data from the edge to the cloud, without having to send a technician out to the field. Our Brent Dunlap will share how he works with clients to deploy the IoTium system quickly, and of course securely. 
Webinar details:
Ron Victor, IoTium CEO and founder
Brent Dunlap, Controlco national IoT product sales director
August 9, 9-10 a.m. pdt
Attendees will get a proposed architecture for a secure BAS that contains hundreds of sub-systems and multiple application connections.

There’s Still Time!


Our summer promotion with Johnson Controls continues. Receive a $50 gift card when you spend at least $750 on Johnson Controls valves, pneumatics, electronic damper actuators and variable frequency drives. Purchases can be made through our web store or over the phone – just enter or say promo code JCSUMMER16 at checkout.

Shop now for more than 25,000 qualifying products on the web store and feel free to contact our sales team with any questions –

*Must reach $750 in one purchase. Promo ends August 31, 2016.

Controlco GGP Partnership an Innovative Combination

ggp innovators blog

At the annual Niagara Summit conference, Controlco and General Growth Properties were recognized for our innovative partnership and the cutting edge ways we’re utilizing the Niagara platform to optimize GGP’s impressive building portfolio.

“The surprise recognition of the Controlco/GGP partnership at Niagara’s largest gathering of industry professionals perfectly punctuates the work that we’ve been doing together for years,” said Clint Bradford, Controlco Senior Vice President of Operations. “It couldn’t be done without the trust of the GGP management, which is consistently willing to explore cutting-edge ways of optimizing their buildings with the technologies we’re developing.”

Established in 2011, the Controlco/GGP partnership began as a user experience optimization project, but thanks to the forward-thinking leadership at the real estate investment trust, Controlco has been able to implement truly unique energy monitoring programs, edge-to-cloud integration, tenant billing, and real-time analytics. The relationship continues to develop as new malls are added to the portfolio, and we examine new ways to push the limits of building automation technologies.

The distinction was outlined by Tridium’s President and General Manager Nino Di Cosmo during his opening remarks at the conference.

Past, Present and Future of the Buildings Industry Workforce

Systems integrators will again gather in June to discuss the challenges at Realcomm’s Intelligent Buildings Conference.

By Brian Turner, originally published on Automated Buildings, May 2016 issue


The buildings industry is at a crossroads. Systems integrators will again gather in June to discuss the challenges at Realcomm’s Intelligent Buildings Conference, particularly at the preceding Smart Building Integrators Summit. “We are dealing with three different generations of smart building technologies,” says the program guide. There is a past of closed, clunky, systems; the present, an in-between experimental stage; and the future, where IP backbones and graphical interfaces bring analytics to the forefront. The shifts in technology have been steady, but are now increasing at a more rapid rate thanks to the Internet of Things and its building applications.

While true, this description focuses only on hardware and software, leaving out a key element of the timeline: people. There is also a distinct past, present and future of building operations staff.

The building operations manager of the past is accustomed to tight budgets and short staff, plus the physical responsibility of keeping the lights on, the air circulating and the buildings secure. These OMs are used to being the first ones called when anyone is too hot, too cold or otherwise inconvenienced by building services and equipment. Knowledge of each piece of legacy equipment runs deep. With years of repairing and replacing the same equipment over and over, it can be daunting to make any major shifts.

And then there’s the present. A recent study out of the UK looked at 50 “leading edge, modern buildings,” – a mix of retail, office, schools and healthcare facilities. It found that only one was performing to the specifying engineer’s expectations. The other 49 buildings were missing their energy performance goals, in some cases actually consuming 3.5 times as much energy as was predicted.  According to the report, “many projects had difficulty merging new technologies, in particular building management systems. Many also had problems with maintenance, controls and metering.” The researchers used the word “alienating” to describe occupant reaction to new mechanical and electrical controls and found that operators routinely disabled them.

Any real estate financial decision-maker who invests in the hardware and software needed to operate a 21st Century building should be willing to invest in bringing their people up-to-date too. Occupants and operators cannot be left out of the equation. They are more likely to play their central role in successful deployment if time and attention is given to familiarizing and training them on the systems. People can’t be expected to look at a new graphical user interface and automatically know where their meters are and how to predict future energy usage. Controlco is a vested partner with our customers in training new users.  It’s our responsibility to listen to how our trainees respond to instruction and to keep improving our training. Of course, a few weeks of training on a particular system is insufficient to gain all the expertise needed by a master operator, so we offer more intensive training courses to become certified in how to design and program energy analytics systems.

Recently, an operations manager whom I was training on new software asked whether it was important to me that he likesthe system we just installed. There are many reasons for upgrading infrastructure—security, support for new products, better user experience. Current OMs are among the sets of users whose workflows and productivity can be improved by the upgrade. But, we don’t expect them to like it out of the gate. What we can expect present operations managers to have, however, is an open mind and the understanding that changes are coming. By definition, new infrastructure is an investment in the future. Project design teams specify technologies and capacities for IP networks and data platforms with an eye towards providing a foundation to support applications and new services for decades to come.

Integrators can provide the technology and the training, but we also need the highly skilled workforces of today who carry mechanical and electrical knowledge to welcome new, more cloud-and-mobile-tech-savvy, data-driven entrants into the buildings industry. The buildings workforce we need is agile and has a keen understanding of internet-based technologies and connected devices. After all, technology change is coming to buildings whether those who have been here for decades are ready for it or not.