International PoE Projects Highlight Opportunities - Codisa Data Center, Costa Rica
October 17, 2021
By: Andrew Pospisal and Dwight Stewart
First Published in ICT Today, October/November 2021, Volume 42, Number 4
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In the opinion of stakeholders across the power over Ethernet (PoE) ecosystem, PoE is now a top-down directive. In other words, the decision to integrate PoE cabling typically comes from the highest levels of an organization.
Most PoE adoption is driven by business owners requesting it from general contractors, who must then push their design teams down that path. Generally, these are innovation-minded owners leading progressive companies, which not coincidentally, make great partners for growth-oriented ICT firms.
This is why so much of today’s PoE impact is found within the world’s high-tech sectors. The organizational and cultural values of tech companies create a natural alignment for operating outside the comfort zone of status quo power and communication plans.
Transforming a Lighting Plan into a Scalable Roadmap for Automation
Data centers are among the tech-centric organizations flocking to PoE for the infrastructure’s myriad benefits. Consider Codisa Data Center. Codisa operates three data centers across Costa Rica specializing in colocation and carries the highest number of certifications in the region. In 2019, the company began looking to update the lighting in its office space and began evaluating different vendors and solutions that would meet both physical and philosophical requirements.
Because Codisa operates three data centers and built the first ever private cloud in the region, leaders in charge of the project were familiar with the concept of structured cabling as a means to add a layer of intelligence to lighting. However, they were intrigued to learn about the scalability of a PoE lighting system. Acting as a digital ceiling, the same PoE network cables powering Codisa’s office lighting could one day deliver both energy and data to any number of connected devices and systems. Naturally, this was appealing to a technical company with rapid evolution and scalability in its DNA. Codisa was founded in a garage in 1991; the organization had expanded to 16 Latin American countries by 1995.
“We have more than a lighting solution. We can simplify our daily routines, and we can control what we invest in each facility,” says Diego Cardosa who is Codisa’s general manager. “We are looking to do integrations with the systems we already have and to add the solution to our other facilities.”
Real-time location services are an example of one possible future enhancement for data center facilities like Codisa that have already invested in a PoE lighting base. In these scenarios, PoE nodes and advanced sensors are embedded within suspended LED light fixtures. Those fixtures then track mobile assets, such as people, phones, keys, lifts or electric vehicles with a location accuracy often up to 2 meters (≈6.6 ft). In a post-pandemic environment, this can be particularly helpful for monitoring things like the social distance of employees.
If configured to work on a continuous and real-time basis, the system could determine if two or more tags were within a particular distance at any given time and for what duration.
Satisfying Sustainability and Energy Cost Reduction
Aside from intelligence and scalability, tech companies are generally drawn to solutions that reduce energy consumption and accomplish other sustainability objectives, such as waste heat recycling. Data centers, in particular, are notoriously large consumers of power. In fact, data center power consumption eats up about 3 percent of all electricity generated worldwide.1 More than 50 percent of the operating cost of a modern-day data center is driven by energy consumption.2
As a result, these organizations are under pressure to find effective ways to reduce their draw on energy sources without sacrificing reliability, capacity, and security. There are a number of public declarations from data center operators, some of which go beyond the standard commitment to reduce energy consumption. Amazon, for example, has committed to purchasing enough renewable energy to cover all of its activities by 2025.3
Power over Ethernet lighting is one such solution to the critical need to conserve energy, meeting this need by maximizing savings and improving overall building efficiencies. Because the solution is an integrated lighting application, it provides significantly more energy savings than switching to LEDs alone. In addition to less power demand, smart lighting programs learn the behaviors of building occupants and automatically adjust the schedule to save energy and associated costs. When integrated with solutions, such as automated smart shading, PoE lighting helps office spaces harness natural light, reducing lighting loads and creating a more sustainable environment. It is not uncommon for building owners to experience immediate reduction in energy costs up to 70 percent following a PoE lighting installation with as much as 80 percent annually.4
Another factor to consider is that PoE lighting solutions typically come paired with analytics software. Not only does this software provide insights around energy optimization, it also sets the state for the layering in of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to find opportunities to improve efficiencies in a real-time, prescriptive fashion (Table 1).
Global Standards, Ease of Installation Accelerate Implementation
Codisa ultimately chose to integrate a U.S.-based PoE lighting solution proposed in partnership by a Costa Rican IoT solutions installer and an IoT consulting and integration company that has offices in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Even though the manufacturer and the installer operate in different countries, implementation was straightforward and the entire installation, including technology commissioning, took only three months.
This is largely because PoE operates on a global standard. The general safety and ease of installation are additional components that minimize restrictions, both on a global and local level. PoE is direct current (dc) based and all connections are less than 60 volts DC (VDC) and 100 Volt-ampere (VA), which puts the system under National Electric Code (NEC) Class 2 regulations that are recognized across most of the world, including Costa Rica. This means equipment does not have to run in conduit, nor does an associated device need to be inside an electrical box. In most jurisdictions, PoE devices can be put directly into plenum spaces without shielded wires/cables.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 2043 certification states that PoE devices are “suitable for installation in air handling spaces.” All connections to PoE devices are low voltage, including LED lights and sensors (12-48 VDC) and the PoE input power (55 VDC). The NEC Class 2 definition does not require conduit or enclosures of any kind at these voltage and power levels. This gives the installation contractor a lot of flexibility in terms of how and where to install various components of the system to achieve maximum efficiency (Figures 1,2, and 3).
Barriers to Adoption are Similar Across the Globe
According to Henry Jimenez, business development lead for the Codisa project, “Costa Rican installers follow American standards for PoE, including those established by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA).”
Currently, TIA standards serve only as guidelines, albeit strong ones, for communication systems to work properly; they are not building code requirements. With PoE lighting being a fairly new technology, building codes are still catching up to accurately define and incorporate standards. Until that happens, there is room for interpretation on installation practices. Therefore, the locally adopted NEC standard of electrical requirements can be interpreted as the law, dictating how an electrical system, including PoE, can be legally installed.
“Regulations and standards are no problem. The biggest barrier to mass adoption in our market is the misconception of PoE as a replacement for traditional cabling. We spend a lot of time educating contractors that both infrastructures can work in parallel, even within the same project,” explains Jimenez.
A pure PoE lighting installation throughout a building will have the greatest impact on long-term maintenance, cost, and energy savings, as well as extensibility, control, and data insight. However, hybrid line voltage and PoE installations are still possible and can still offer full-building control through a single system. Non-PoE fixtures, such as 0-10 V line voltage LED lighting and emergency lighting, can be controlled as PoE fixtures with new innovations that send commands, control dimming, and provide for two-way data transmission for non-PoE fixtures. Designers may run into this type of circumstance if they are recommending a high-bay or decorative, non-LED fixture with a power requirement above 80 W, which is out of the range of PoE compatibility.
There can be additional benefits to a hybrid installation for electrical contractors, particularly if the firm has a low-voltage division running alongside its main-voltage division. Establishing a mix of capabilities is a strategic growth initiative executed by contractors witnessing increased market traction of IoT devices and building automation. In a recent survey, 96 percent of electrical contractors said their firm is performing low-voltage work; another 22 percent said they have established a separate low-voltage division (twice the number reported in 2018).5 These contractors have intrinsic motivation to install both lighting types and are less threatened by the common misperception that the emergence of PoE presents a risk to the electrical trade. Across the ocean, some 5,600 miles away, the same sentiment is expressed by executives with a network infrastructure firm that is based in the Netherlands. “The farther down the chain we go with PoE, the more resistance we get,” comments Richard Vermeulen, product manager. For this reason, the firm is focusing on hybrid proposals that combine line voltage and DC. “Part of the solution to advancing adoption is flexibility. Hybrid scenarios work great because not all fixtures can be configured for PoE as easily. We’ll see more hybrid projects before we see less.” See Figure 4
Hybrid configurations should ultimately be viewed as a bridge to a full PoE model. Hybrid projects are great for creating familiarity and comfort with using PoE as a backbone for a smart lighting or building project but will hamper the overall return on investment (ROI) of a project. Today, most PoE projects in the United States are now fully PoE.
Economic Policies and Sustainability Goals Advance Acceptance
Jimenez believes Costa Rica’s burgeoning commitment to sustainability, as well as the influx of multinational high-tech companies like HP, IBM, and Intel to the region will soon turn the tide of PoE adoption.
High energy costs in Costa Rica have accelerated the country’s focus on renewable energy. In the last four years, the country has generated more than 98 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to be carbon-neutral by the end of 2021.6 Guanacaste, which is known as Costa Rica’s “capital of renewable energy,” has taken on a number of wind, solar and geothermal energy projects.7
Regarding the relocation of high-tech companies to the area, the trend is expected to continue, particularly with the pandemic’s influence on remote labor and changes to U.S. policy. A recent report released by the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center8 proposes using U.S. domestic economic policies to improve cooperation between U.S. businesses and the Greater Caribbean Community (GCC), which includes Central America. This spells promise for PoE’s acceptance and adoption, something Jimenez believes is much simpler when working with tech-forward project leaders.
Proposals, Implementations Smoother with Tech-Forward Clients
With Codisa, Jimenez says, “Proposing PoE was easy given the company’s knowledge of and comfort with networking. They know about the power of technology, which is why they are inclined to adopt PoE. Everything from proposal to install was simple, and we’ve had no issues. The solution has been working well.”
Neil Corradine, managing partner of the project’s IoT consulting company, recalls a similar response. “As soon as we brought up PoE with Codisa, they loved the story. They got all their engineers together to learn more and ultimately chose to go with PoE. The main driver was innovation. They want to show their customers they have the latest, the best across every product or tool. That’s the impression they give every customer they take through the space.”
“PoE is following the same trajectory as VoIP,” Jimenez continues. “It took ten years before people understood that was the way to go and were willing to make the investment. Faster and wider adoption will take comfort, education, patience, and time. But for those willing to make the investment, there’s a lot of potential, especially in Costa Rica. We have a lot of very important projects taking place.” Corradine again concurs. “Costa Rica is a very open economy that is friendly to foreign investors. There is also a high value placed on ingenuity.”
Newfound Control for Data Center's Visual Environment
Codisa’s PoE lighting solution, which relies on a patented daisy-chain configuration and high-quality luminaires, enables customization and automation. Roughly 45 luminaries, powered by approximately 33 PoE nodes and 8 IoT motion sensors are distributed across warehouse areas, offices, and work areas, delivering newfound control of Codisa’s visual environment (Figures 5,6, and 7).
Unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) category 6 (Cat 6) cable is used to deliver power and data from a single section in the patch panel to the point at which network output is requested. Within the cabinet, blue Cat 6 modular jacks, also referred to as UTP jack modules (Figure 8), are used on one end of the cabinet; an angled Cat 6 male connector was attached to the other end. For optimal cabling management, all outputs were labeled.
Each of the components is connected to an on-premise, cloud-connected management server. This enables both snapshot and historical data analytics so Codisa’s facilities managers can understand the system’s performance in both real-time and across self-selected timeframes (Figure 9). Outcomes reported by Codisa include both energy and cost savings, achieved through an improved quality of lighting, tunable white lighting controls, integration with occupancy sensors, and timing rules that minimize lighting in unused areas. The company is currently evaluating opportunities to hook additional systems into the IoT platform to centralize smart building controls and achieve the scalability they want from the system in its office environment, as well as Codisa’s data center spaces.
Data Centers Present Ideal Breeding Ground for PoE
Across several data center implementations of 800,000 square feet (≈74,322 m2) and growing, actual field experience confirms the following opportunities for an international marketplace of ICT designers and installers:
- Although a PoE network may be isolated from a data center’s corporate or utility networks, the solution is a good fit given the presence of existing cable trays, electrical spaces, and data rooms. PoE can be run alongside structured data cabling without interference or excessive heat generation. Because PoE is based on DC power, it does not generate the same electrical noise as some line voltage cables. There is no possibility for cable-to-cable crosstalk, which enables installers to run PoE cabling right alongside data-only cables without issue. And, as long as PoE cable bundling standards are followed, there is no concern about excess heat generation within those bundles. The TIA standard TSB-184-A, Guidelines for Supporting Power Delivery Over Balanced Twisted-Pair Cabling, provides guidelines for maximum cable bundle sizing.
- Data center providers view PoE-connected lighting favorably and with familiarity. Due to an extensive background in managing data and power, they “get it” when it comes to PoE technology and adopt PoE more quickly than traditional commercial buildings.
- Increased social, market, and legislative pressure to reduce energy required by data centers is fast-tracking global implementation of technology that monitors and reports data on energy-reduction efforts.
- PoE lighting is uniquely applicable to a data center environment because there is already a massive infrastructure of cable tray installed in those environments. Because PoE lighting structured cables can utilize that existing tray and no conduit is required, there are tremendous opportunities to save on installation costs.
- Data centers are increasingly chasing down modularity in their approach to physical assets. Consider the emergence of hyperscale data centers, for example. They are configured in such a way that operators can replace individual components rather than an entire server. PoE infrastructure is similar in nature, providing the ability to scale up and down as building stakeholder needs warrant.
- With no expected decrease in the global demand for data, the data center market is becoming larger, opening up great opportunities for data center vendor partners. Analysts anticipate that data center IP traffic will reach 20.6 zettabytes (ZB) by the end of 2021. That is a nearly 7 ZB increase in five years.9
Accelerated adoption of PoE within the data center market underscores the fact that success of any emerging technology depends on finding the right market. By pounding the pavement (sometimes virtually) and networking with globally recognized partners and custom-building products for entirely new use cases, an experienced smart building innovator and its partners will continue to pinpoint the most receptive geographies, client personas, and industries for PoE.
Dwight Stewart is founder and CTO of smart buildings innovator Igor in Des Moines, Iowa. A presenter at a recent BICSI Winter conference, he joined the PoE Lighting and IoT panel as they discussed a recent 87,000 square foot building’s use of the technology. This is just one of the installations Stewart and the Igor team have completed in more than 30 countries. Dwight is most influential in launching a PoE-based IoT smart building platform that incorporates hardware, software, and cloud analytics to enable smart and secure buildings. Dwight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Pospisal is director of hardware engineering for Igor. He has more than 20 years of experience in the building controls and energy efficiency industries and is a former president of the Iowa chapter of ASHRAE. Andrew joined Igor in 2014 and is currently responsible for new PoE hardware and UL certification coordination, as well as compatibility testing of third-party equipment, including PoE network switches, LED fixtures, and sensors. Andrew uses his subject matter expertise to contribute to products and process documentation, as well as to run Igor University, a customer and partner training program. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- Watkins, David. “How Data Centres Can Help Businesses be More Sustainable,” Information Age, 01 June 2021.
- Shinde, Sayaji. “Building the Data Center of the Future,” Data Centre Dynamics Ltd (DCD), 28 May 2021.
- Schechner, Sam. “Amazon and Other Tech Giants Race to Buy Up Renewable Energy,” The Wallstreet Journal, 23 June 2021.
- “Igor’s Lighting Install to Save 80% in Energy Costs, Igor, 28 July 2017.
- Ross, Chuck. “2020 Profile of the Electrical Contractor,” Electrical Contractor, 15 July 2020.
- Campbell, Brian R. “Creating Tech Hubs in Greater Caribbean Basin Would Serve US Domestic Policy,” Nearshore Americas, May 2021.
- Crider, Johnna. “IRENA Study Finds Renewables Are Becoming Popular in Large Cities,” CleanTechnica, 7 June 2021.
- Rote, Miles. “Costa Rica Has Run on 100% Renewable Electricity for 299 Days,” Under30Experiences, 17 March 2021.
- “Global Data Center Colocation Market (2020 to 2025) Growth, Trends, and Forecast,” ResearchAndMarkets.com, Business Wire, 25 May 2020.