How IoT has Quietly Taken Over the Commercial HVAC Industry

smart commercial HVAC

For several years now, the internet of things (IoT) devices have been slowly working their way into homes all around the world. In most cases, this has taken the form of smart speakers, connected thermostats, and various smart plugs that turn ordinary household devices into IoT-controlled digital appliances. Here is how IoT has quietly taken over the commercial HVAV industry.

All ordinary household devices that are “smart” is a major reason why such things are so closely identified with the IoT revolution by members of the general public.

In truth, however, household IoT solutions aren’t expected to have the biggest overall impact on the way we live. Instead, IoT experts constantly point to IoT forming the core of so-called ‘smart cities’ that will allow local governments and city planners to exercise unprecedented control over the environment within them.

Connected Cities

For example, future connected cities will feature real-time traffic management systems that will be interoperable with autonomous vehicles. They will be powered by next-generation smart electrical grid systems that precisely deliver power to where it’s needed in the most efficient manner possible.

They’ll have a shared transportation infrastructure that lets citizens get around at will without having to worry about bringing a vehicle along each day. All in all, it’s a promise of an exciting future indeed.

But for all of the noise that proponents of IoT-driven smart cities have made recently, there’s still precious little evidence of the technology actually making its way into real, functioning cities.

Aside from a handful of test locations, it’s difficult to find many visible examples of large-scale IoT systems out in the wild – unless you take a look inside the mechanical rooms of most commercial buildings.

In those spaces, IoT has quietly revolutionized the way building owners heat and cool their properties. Here’s a look at how IoT has taken over the commercial HVAC industry and the benefits it has enabled.

Comfort at a Distance

Believe it or not, the rapid adoption of IoT in commercial HVAC installations happened in large part due to the efforts of companies like Nest and Ecobee on the consumer side of the market.

The fact that connected thermostats have become so common in people’s homes has led to an expectation of similar functionality in commercial installations. As a result, there was finally momentum to bring IoT technologies into the market.

And this is particularly notable due to what the IoT tech was replacing. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that most commercial HVAC systems relied on dial-up direct access for remote control and maintenance functions.

Aside from being an outdated, inconvenient, and limited way to handle things, it also meant that most building owners still had to rely on 3rd-party vendors to manage conditions at their properties.

Needless to say, gaining direct, on-the-go control over on-site HVAC systems played a huge role in how willing commercial property owners were to spend what was necessary to upgrade to IoT-enabled systems.

Efficiency at Scale

Once they made the leap to IoT technology, they didn’t stop with remote access. In short order, HVAC installations started making use of IoT technology in other areas, too.

They started to include vibration and pressure sensors that can help detect the earliest signs of component failure. They began integrating occupancy sensors and motorized ducting controls that allow precise airflow redirection toward crowded areas and away from empty rooms.

They even began to utilize socially-driven control systems that allow occupants to have a hand in setting the temperature in the spaces they occupy.

As you might expect, the gains to the overall efficiency of operating an IoT-enabled HVAC system are significant.

By allowing the system to respond in real-time to the comfort needs of occupants, and by detecting trouble before a failure can occur, building operators spend less money on electricity and preventative maintenance and realize significant ROI on the hardware they’re putting into the building.

And they also gain some useful and significant safety benefits, as well.

In the Air

As it turns out, the ubiquity of ductwork connected to a building’s HVAC system also makes for a built-in building safety infrastructure.

To that end, many commercial HVAC systems now include IoT smoke detection sensors that can pinpoint potential fires with greater accuracy than individual open-air smoke detectors.

In some advanced installations, an array of sensors also monitors indoor air quality in real-time to make sure that the building remains safe and healthy for its occupants – and takes action to vent any particulate matter that could be problematic.

Since the monitoring and improving environmental quality is a primary goal of the smart city of tomorrow, such sensor networks are a big step forward that not many people have even noticed.

When paired with things like UV air sanitization light, volatile organic compound (VOC) detectors, and HEPA-quality filtration, today’s commercial buildings are already coming closer to providing indoor environments that will keep occupants healthy and safe to a greater degree than was ever possible before.

What’s Coming Next

Although the rapid introduction of IoT technologies into commercial HVAC systems has flown under the radar, it’s a critical step forward in the drive to build the connected smart cities of tomorrow.

And, there are even more important steps forward the industry is poised to take. One of those steps is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the control hardware that manages the systems themselves.

As that happens, facilities managers and business owners will get something close to a set-it-and-forget-it management experience, which will increase efficiency and drive costs down even further.

Air Quality

And there’s more coming on the air quality front, too. Following on some large-scale studies that have found that it’s possible to detect airborne viruses in a building’s HVAC filtration systems, there’s also some movement toward developing IoT sensors that can do that job in real-time.

With the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still ongoing and building owners coming to realize the challenges of operating facilities that might have to contend with sudden viral outbreaks, that’s no small thing.

At a higher level, of course, the deployment of such varied sensor networks in buildings has even more promise. As smart electrical grid technologies start making their debut in cities around the world, IoT enabled HVAC systems will be able to send usage feedback to generation stations to provide insight into usage patterns on a minute-to-minute basis.

And since HVAC operation accounts for around 40% of a building’s energy usage on average, that’s going to be a valuable data stream to help minimize waste (and therefore pollution) at a macro-level.

The Bottom Line

All of these advances offer just a small glimpse of IoT’s transformative power.

In only a few short years, it has revolutionized the commercial HVAC industry and is continuing to make new, previously impossible functionality available at a rapid pace. And, it’s doing so in a way that’s having a very real effect on the lives of millions of people, even if they have no idea that it’s there.

While IoT continues its march into homes around the world, the technology’s integration into commercial HVAC systems stands as a useful example of IoT in mass action for smart city proponents everywhere.

And it’s also building a technology infrastructure that will help stitch buildings together into the very kinds of connected environments that those tech evangelists foresee.

Oh, and keeping us all cool in the summer and warm in the winter’s still a pretty neat trick, too.

The post How IoT has Quietly Taken Over the Commercial HVAC Industry appeared first on ReadWrite.

Connected Devices Data and Security hosting server VPN

How to Install and Run Your Own Private VPN Server for Extra Security Online


In recent years, the fundamental insecurity of the internet has driven many to seek ways of protecting themselves and their data online. Businesses have pushed many of them in an attempt to help customers stay secure. There have been browser plugins to help force users to take advantage of SSL encryption on websites where it’s available.

The latest IoT devices are turning to short-range Z-Wave encrypted radio technology to keep attackers out. And email providers have increasingly adopted TLS encryption to protect email while it transits the internet.

For individual users, though, the latest internet security method of choice uses a virtual private network (VPN). Subscriptions for them are now available from countless commercial providers all around the world.

A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel that protects internet traffic between a user’s device and an endpoint server located elsewhere, where it exits onto the public internet. That grants the user a measure of security and privacy and some valuable extra benefits, such as the ability to watch any country’s Netflix library.

That doesn’t mean, however, that commercial VPNs are the only option. It’s becoming increasingly common for internet users (who are tech-savvy or have an adventurous spirit) to set up and operate their own VPN servers for private use. Doing so gives them greater control over where their data goes, who might have access to it, and exactly how it’s secured en route to its destination.

For those interested in setting up their own VPN server, here’s a basic rundown on the steps involved to make the process as user-friendly as possible.

First, Consider the Limitations

Before deciding to set up a personal VPN server, it’s essential to consider how you plan to use it and what you need it to do. If the primary purpose is to enhance your online security and keep your ISP (or another local network operator) from spying on you, a personal VPN is a good fit.

If you are looking for a VPN to anonymize your traffic or allow you to use services like BitTorrent without anyone tracing the activity back to you, a commercial VPN provider is a better option. With that out of the way — here’s what you need to do to get a VPN server up and running:

Choose a Cloud Hosting Provider

To operate a VPN server, you’ll need a machine to run it on that’s available from anywhere you might travel, and that has sufficient bandwidth to handle whatever traffic you send its way. For most people, that means choosing one of the many major cloud providers like Google GCP, Amazon AWS, or Microsoft Azure.

Any of those would make a good fit for a VPN server, but it’s important to look at the pricing details to see how much the traffic you expect to generate will cost you each month. If you’re planning to use your VPN to protect all of your web traffic, it might be worth looking into an unmetered VPS solution instead.

Choose a VPN Server Platform and Install

With a cloud provider lined up, the next decision to make is which VPN server type to deploy. Today, most commercial VPN providers rely on software called OpenVPN, which is freely available and open-source. Besides, many major cloud providers have ready-built OpenVPN server instances available, which make deploying one a snap.

It’s also among the fastest VPN protocols available so that it won’t slow down the internet connections of anyone using it. For all-around use, OpenVPN makes a good choice.

There are other options available, too. One is called SoftEther, another open-source project that acts as something of a Swiss Army knife for VPN provisioning. It supports connections using any major current VPN protocols, including OpenVPN, IPsec, MS-SSTP, and L2TPv3.

That means it’s capable of supporting connections from almost every internet-connected device imaginable, which makes it ideal if you need to protect a house full of devices.

By far, though, the best current solution for anyone deploying their own VPN server is Algo. It’s an easy-to-set-up VPN system that supports every cloud provider imaginable and has a step-by-step install process that makes getting it up and running easy enough for a novice to handle.

Better still, it supports connections using the WireGuard protocol, which is a highly-secure and blazing fast protocol that most people expect to be the eventual successor to the widely-used OpenVPN.

The great thing about WireGuard works very well with mobile devices, negotiating unstable wireless signals with ease. That’s something that other VPN systems like OpenVPN struggle with. In many cases, a mobile device with a weak signal can be a nightmare to use with a VPN, with frequent disconnections and pauses for re-authentication.

WireGuard, by contrast, takes less than a second to reconnect when there’s a signal issue, providing a stable and seamless VPN experience no matter where you use it.

Configure and Connect Clients

With the VPN server up and running, the next step is to collect the information needed to connect devices to it. In the case of OpenVPN, the server installation process will have also created a client configuration file that may be used on any device with a native OpenVPN client available.

In those cases, all that’s required is to copy that file to the device and tell the client software where to find it. Then simply provide the username and password selected during the server installation, and the connection should complete with no issues.

For a SoftEther server, connecting a client can be a little more complicated. The server can generate configuration files for OpenVPN and IPsec clients, so if those are in use, the generated files should be all that’s needed on the client (besides the username and password you’ve set).

If the server is configured to use the native SoftEther protocol, nothing more than the server’s external IP address and the login information is necessary to get up and running.

If the server’s running Algo, the installer will have created configuration files for any device capable of running either the WireGuard client or an IPsec-compatible client. The server’s installer will specify where the files reside, and they’re all that’s needed to connect. Best of all, Algo will even generate a QR code with the required configuration information that makes connecting mobile devices as easy as snapping a picture.

Check for Leaks

VPN not connected on a laptop
Photo by Kevin Paster from Pexels

Once the necessary clients are connected, the last step is to check to ensure that all of the device traffic is being appropriately routed through the new VPN server.

The simplest way to do this is to visit a testing site that can scan your connection information. If the results reveal the device’s actual IP address or geographic location, something’s not working correctly. If everything’s right, the test should show the VPN server’s IP address and location and the DNS server information used during the server setup process.

In the case of an issue, retrace the setup steps on the server and client to ensure nothing’s been missed. Chances are; however, everything will work on the first try.

Safe and Secure

If all went well, the result should be a fast, secure personal VPN server that is capable of protecting as many devices as you need (as long as you’re willing to pay for sufficient bandwidth).

Best of all, the setup is entirely disposable, which means it can be terminated or moved to a new hosting provider at any time. After getting through the setup once, it should be easy for just about anyone to repeat the process as many times as they need or want to.

The best part of all is that everything about the setup is under the direct control of its owner – meaning there’s no third-party to trust. And for the security-minded, there can be no more significant asset.

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