How We Work: Princeton University’s story

How We Work Princeton University Optigo Networks
How a small server fire brought IT and OT closer together at Princeton

At Optigo, we firmly believe IT and OT teams can work together in any number of ways. Your network could be separate or converged, and you could assign responsibilities based on expertise or device type. Really, the only “wrong” way to work together is not at all.

With that in mind, we’re exploring all the ways you and your colleagues can team up. What workflows can you put in place? How can you assign responsibilities? How We Work is a series where we dig into the technical and social sides of managing building networks.

In our first episode, we chatted with Adam Boltz, controls engineer, and Kevin Gift, associate director of critical infrastructure from Princeton University about their IT/OT workflows. We found out how they’ve designed a system that works, and why a small data centre fire actually helped bring them closer together.

Read on for the recap, and watch the recording below!

Kevin and Adam have worked together from day one, in a way that’s quite unique to Princeton University. That’s because Kevin’s role in IT was created specifically to support the Operational Technology (OT) team. From the very beginning, he was reaching out and working with OT, facilities, and controls engineering to help them on projects. They collaborate on all sorts of initiatives whether big (evacuating smoke after a server fire) or small (assigning IP addresses to new devices). Whoever’s driving a new project will go to the other team for support, whatever they need. They even worked together on organizing the Smart Campus Summit in fall 2018!

Now, Kevin’s background is heavy in IT, of course, but he also studied mechanical engineering and worked in robotics. His diverse experience certainly helps him as he works with the different departments that fall under critical infrastructure.

Even more significantly, he understands how important the campus’ Operational Technology is, and that IT and OT are dependent on one another for their success. They both need each other to do their jobs well, so it’s a really collaborative, give-and-take relationship. Kevin works very closely with the controls engineering department on their data centres in particular, to make sure everything’s up and running properly.

There has of course been work on both sides to learn more about each other’s differences, and how they can better support one another.

Adam explained that it came up a while back that they needed to create a private VLAN for the building automation system at Princeton. It would be easier to maintain, especially with broadcast messaging on their massive network. They had a meeting with the heads from all the departments to explain how important these VLANs were, so the network wasn’t in danger of being overwhelmed with broadcasts. Now, not everyone understands just how big of a role building automation plays, from lights and HVAC, to life safety, animal health, and more. But through that conversation, it was quickly clear to everyone how important it is that the building automation system was reliable and easy to maintain.

A small server fire in their data centre back in 2016 also solidified their relationship — though they don’t recommend starting any fires to get IT and OT working together! Fortunately the fire didn’t cause any damage in the data centre, and they already had processes in place for emergencies. The experience did expose some gaps in their processes, though, which they’ve since collaborated on fixing.

One of the biggest gaps was in responding to a smoky environment. Where there’s fire, there will be smoke (even if it’s a relatively small fire), and the data centre wasn’t set up to evacuate smoke quickly. Kevin started working on a vendor quote for the data centre to reduce risks and get rid of smoke efficiently in the event of another fire. He poked his head into the controls engineering office and caught Adam and his colleagues at a rare quiet moment to ask for help. Well, within 15 minutes, Adam and the controls engineering team had figured out a way to get a valve working so they didn’t even need help from the vendor.

This just goes to show how invaluable it is for IT and OT to understand one another, and to work together on an ongoing basis. The departments might have separate projects from day to day, but they really are dependent on one another for their success. If Kevin and Adam hadn’t made an effort to see each other’s value, priorities, and differences, they might not be able to work so well together. Beyond that original effort, though, they’re conscientious to this day about keeping the lines of communication open. Kevin actually “hotels” in the OT office once a week. All of this helps to strengthen their working relationship. If they hadn't built that relationship, odds are when Kevin “poked his head in to ask about the smoke,” it probably wouldn’t have gone over well. And, when Adam's team needed help with VLANs and IP addresses, they might not have gotten support as quickly. 

Now, they can both bring up a problem and get the help they need, even if it just starts with a casual conversation. Whether it’s VLANs or a smoky data centre, the IT and OT teams at Princeton always have each other’s backs.

Recent Blog Posts

What defines a BACnet network?

BACnet Web Services is a standardized system that helps facilities managers integrate different types of information to understand their building and network.

April 3, 2019, Vancouver, BC – The latest release from Optigo Networks helps facility managers understand their building network’s health at the site, zone, and capture node levels.

We’re excited to announce the launch of our new Visual BACnet Site Manager! On April 25th, we’re releasing the latest update to Visual BACnet Site Monitoring.

We actually wrote a whole whitepaper on why you should use BACnet, interviewing thought leaders and technicians throughout the industry.

Recent Projects

Penn State University Optigo Networks Visual BACnet

PENN STATE UNIVERSITY

When Tom Walker looked at Penn State University’s Navy Yard network, he saw huge issues. The system was busy and loud, to the point where the overrun network was bringing down the entire building. Because this was happening on the MS/TP network, pinpointing the problem would mean boots on the ground to segment and test the chain, piece by piece.

Penn State University Optigo Networks Visual BACnet

PENN STATE UNIVERSITY

When Tom Walker first started working at Penn State University four years ago, there were a lot of network issues. Buildings were dropping offline. Broadcast traffic was pushing 90,000 packets per hour. Walker was on the phone almost every single night because devices were down or had to be reset.

 

Torre Manacar Mexico City Optigo Connect

TORRE MANACAR

When MR Soluciones began work on Torre Manacar, they knew they needed a flexible and scalable network infrastructure to support a wide array of integrated systems. Optigo Networks was a natural fit for the massive project, designing a robust network at a competitive cost.

short

SHORT PUMP TOWN CENTER

Short Pump Town Center, an upscale retail center, underwent a complete renovation in 2014. The flexibility of Optigo Networks’ solution meant the retail center’s unknown final design was not a barrier to placing IP surveillance equipment in the field.

BOULEVARD MALL

BOULEVARD MALL

Optigo Networks connected New York-based Boulevard Mall’s security surveillance devices in December 2015, using a Passive Daisy Chain topology.

Visual BACnet tech support team

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One tech support team at a manufacturer purchased an account with Visual BACnet in April 2017, for technical problems around the world.

Aster Conservatory Green Optigo Connect

ASTER CONSERVATORY GREEN

The Aster Conservatory Green is a community comprising 352 residences across 24 low-rise buildings. The buildings use advanced surveillance and access control technology, including 40 HD video cameras and 60 FOB-access-tele-entry points for access control.

25 NATIONAL CIRCUIT

25 NATIONAL CIRCUIT

When Delta Building Automation (Australia) won the BMS Upgrade at 25 National Circuit for the Australian Trucking Association, they partnered with Optigo Networks to create a secure and robust Building Services Network (BSN). Optigo Connect more than delivered on this project with a scalable solution that restored the building network to perfection.

Optigo Connect Seattle Stadium

SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT CENTER

Optigo Connect offered a simple, cost-efficient solution for a premier Seattle-based stadium. Optigo Networks’ design improved the surveillance system to crystal clear perfection, made it dependable, and allowed the security system to scale with the addition of more than 40 16MP cameras.

TELECOM DATA CENTER

TELECOM DATA CENTER

Optigo Networks and OTI offered a secure and scalable solution for four data centers’ HVAC and Access Control systems throughout the United States. Optigo Connect’s performance in the first data center was so impressive, the client asked that Optigo replicate the network design for three other data centers.