May 27, 2014

| By Midsize Insider - IBM

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SoftLayer Proves Smart Choice for Smart Buildings Service Provider

U.S. commercial businesses spend an estimated $100 billion on energy each year, and experts estimate that intelligent building technology could reduce those costs by up to 25%, according to Facilities.net.

There are a lot of definitions for “Smart Buildings,” but ultimately every customer wants to lower the cost of facility operations.   This is accomplished through the use networks of sensors, programmable logic controllers, and software to adjust energy use on the fly as resources as needed. For example, smart buildings can turn off lights and turn down thermostats in unoccupied rooms or detect small changes in amperage that indicate an air conditioning fan is failing or running inefficiently.

Small adjustments can add up to big savings. Microsoft estimates it reduced energy costs by $1.5 million in one year by implementing intelligent building technology.

Environmental Systems, Inc. (ESI) helps companies make smart decisions about smart buildings. The Brookfield, Wisc.-based technology and services firm pulls data from sensors and controllers in its clients’ buildings and feeds it into sophisticated analytics engines to identify issues, equipment, and processes that are not performing as expected or that are performing in an inefficient manner.  Their engineers take the top anomalies identified, prioritize them based on cost impact to the business and diagnose the issue.   That combination of information and experience drives actions for improvements in efficiency, corrections, or dispatch of onsite service, which results in savings that drop to the bottom line.

“We’re not selling a shiny box,” says Paul Oswald, President of ESI. “We work with our customers to develop solutions that make their buildings run better.”

ESI’s customers span all vertical markets. Each has unique needs. Some are concerned mainly with cost reduction, while others have specific sustainability goals. ESI consults with each customer individually to design a customized analytics solution.

Flexible IT Need

The business creates a demanding IT environment. Servers must constantly collect and analyze data streaming in from around the country, so downtime is unacceptable. Customers also demand a high level of security and reasonable cost.

ESI originally provisioned its IT needs in-house, but the time needed to install and configure servers, as well as to staff a data center around the clock, pointed naturally to a cloud solution. “We were looking for a high-touch cloud partner with excellent service levels and security,” says Ron Vissers, IS Strategy & Operations Coordinator at ESI.

The company evaluated some high profile cloud providers, but those solutions lacked the needed flexibility necessary to achieve ESI’s goals. That’s when associates at IBM, which has been a frequent partner on some large scale energy efficiency projects, mentioned SoftLayer, a cloud infrastructure provider that IBM acquired last year. A test went nearly flawlessly, and ESI began moving operations to SoftLayer in September, 2013.

SoftLayer provided all the technology essentials that ESI needed. New virtual servers could be provisioned almost instantaneously. For very specific situations where virtual servers would not suffice, bare metal hardware was available . “We can actually bring up a dedicated private virtual server for a given customer solution within a few hours and get our specific software packages online typically within a day or two as opposed to weeks if I had to order and rack new physical hardware, ” Vissers says.

ESI found significant benefit from being able to flexibly provision private or shared services depending on customer needs. Security was enterprise class and matched customer compliance expectations.  Inbound bandwidth pricing was a nice surprise. Since most of ESI’s data traffic is inbound, it didn’t have to pay for those bits per Softlayer’s pricing model.

But what really cemented the SoftLayer choice was the quality of customer support. “SoftLayer took the time to listen and understand uA SoftLayer cloud solution is helping Environmental Systems, Inc. guide its customers toward smarter decisions about building energy management.s and make sure we were pointed in the right direction,” Vissers says. Both sales and Technical support is so responsive that, “It feels like they’re local,” he says.

ESI is in the process of migrating 30 additional customers to the SoftLayer platform, but that number should rapidly scale as the company adds new portal capabilities to its product portfolio. These dashboards will enable customers to monitor their energy usage and to gain deeper insight into how their buildings are performing. The company won’t deemphasize its high-touch consulting approach, but customers will have the added dimension of up-to-the-minute information.

That’s where the scalability of the SoftLayer solution will really pay dividends. Cloud infrastructure will enable ESI to spin up and customize servers for new clients at speeds that were unthinkable in the on-premise data centers of old. “SoftLayer gives us a lot of agility and flexibility in what we can deliver to the customer,” Vissers says.