Is there more to proptech than cleantech?

A recent survey from the RICS found that interest in proptech is reaching a high, with 79% of those surveyed saying their companies are planning to increase investment in technology.

Consensus in the profession seems to be that we’re only scratching the surface with what technology can do:

Cleantech and energy efficient buildings present one business case, but there is a lot of interest in what better workplaces can do to improve productivity.

Anyone with views on that relationship might want to get involved in the Stoddart Review, which promises to put the workplace on the corporate agenda – and provide a lot of data on what technology should be doing for the built environment.

Using onboard monitoring? Here’s four things you’re missing.

IMG_3382If your server, rack or cage is in one of the UK’s established and well run data centres you can probably guarantee that they are going to keep the temperature within a fairly well controlled temperature range (unless something goes very wrong).

You also probably already have onboard temperature monitoring in your servers, disk arrays and switches so I bet you have never thought about any other type of temperature sensing or even mapping.

But if you’re simply looking at onboard data the chances are you are actually missing out on a lot of interesting, actionable information. Lets talk about the useful stuff that we at Purrmetrix can help you learn.

1. Locating a Hot Spot.

When you look at your onboard monitors you get a number on a screen – maybe even a graph. But how – and where – does that fit in to the bigger picture and I mean that literally. By putting data into a heat map you can see instantly how that all fits in. Is the machine you are looking at the actual problem? Is it a wider issue in the rack with air flow? Is it one of the machines next to it? A picture paints a thousand words after all. You could use this information to help you to make a better informed choice about where to fit your next piece of kit or how to set up the next rack you buy. Untitled 2 (1)

2. Tracking access to racks

If you have 3rd party engineers accessing your kit for maintenance, replacing kit or just remote hands from the DC to check something out for you wouldn’t you like to know bit more about what they are up to? When they opened the door, which racks they accessed, how long they left the door open for while they walked away from the DC floor or even if they left the doors open when they left. Yes the data that you get from the kittens really are that sensitive as the picture below shows.Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 10.29.24

3. Remedying problem rack conditions

So what can you tell from the kittens that we believe can help you find out a bit more about whats going on when a fault occurs: if the temperature of the air coming into the rack has risen, if the air flow is being obstructed, someone has been into your rack, the humidity (only with the temperature and humidity monitors) has got up which could suggest a leak or a liquid spill, heat from a next door rack is effecting your rack etc. You could set up alerting in your account so that you can be informed when things go out of your preferred parameters.

4. Analysing what went wrong

Lets say that you had a total network meltdown and you really didn’t have time to study exactly what was going on in your rack regarding temperature. That’s ok because you can go back and replay the data when you have the chance. You might not have been able to figure out what happened or why. Perhaps the same scenario keep cropping up and causing a disk to fail or kit a server to reboot. You could find that there is some small event that is causing the issue or even that now you know how it shows up on the data you could recognise it sooner, set up an alert and stop it from causing the issue before it starts.

The importance of time and space.

There are a lot of possibilities but only with the correct level of monitoring. To make sense of the data you need to have information on where it is coming from, as well as when, and you can’t get this just from your onboard sensing. It’s time to bring our thinking up to date.

kitIf you think all of this sounds interesting then ordering a starter kit would be great place to start. A medium bundle contains 1 gateway and 8 kittens, this would do the trick for one rack with 4 in the front and 4 in the back spaced equally from top to bottom. If you want to have a chat to us about your current step up, problems you think you may have and how best you can detect them using kittens then you can contact us on 01223 967301 or

Liz Fletcher is Purrmetrix’s project manager. After nearly a decade in IT, miles of cabling and gallons of tea she is currently dividing her time between Purrmetrix and the UKNOF Programme Committee.





When Cleantech met Proptech – The Cleantech Futures Conference

Believe you me, startups in clean tech and property can end up going to a lot of networking events. Experience has taught me that a small conference that tries to cover a lot of ground risks leaving its audience behind – ‘stretching’ the schedule can leave delegates listening to topics that don’t engage them. Cambridge Cleantech’s agenda for their 2016 event was ambitious, covering clean tech growth, ideas and innovation for Connected Cities, presented by 26 speakers in a single day.

So I was sceptical. And I was proved wrong.

This was a conference with a lot to say and a lot to do, and if the objective was to arm us with facts about smart cities and innovation, it certainly succeeded. A random selection of fun facts:

– The UK’s emissions have fallen by 36% since 1990, according to the Committee for Climate change. Following the policy pathway fixed for the next 7 years should see the reduction increase to 57% down.

– In the UK water industry 24% of water supplied is still lost through leakage. That’s 24% of pumping energy wasted

– In terms of the ratio of broadband speed to broadband cost, large Asian conurbations like Mumbai are streets ahead of European capitals.

Unexpected heroes – the real estate industry.

Unexpectedly however a common story came across from a number of different speakers. A story about the real estate industry, community and sustainability. Historically, real estate (I include developers, landlords and their advisors in this group) haven’t treated sustainability as a priority. This is now beginning to change, at first at the top end of the commercial markets, where Colin Lizieri from the Land Economy department at Cambridge showed us how green premiums and the poor risk profile of less efficient buildings was beginning to influence valuations for property portfolios.

Slides on sustainability and real estate

The real estate industry: 40% of the world’s energy use and 40% of the enthusiasm needed to do anything about it. Slide from Colin Lizieri, Department of Land Economy, Cambridge University

Coming in the other direction, Savills latest research (presented by Nicky Wightman and available online with a fun interactive model) on the most attractive cities to operate tech companies in emphasised the importance of quality of life in cities, and how efficiently they work. Remember, the value of any individual building is limited by how attractive it’s city is – by its context and the community which it sits in.

From building to city to community

And here’s the interesting part…what happens when developers start to think about not just individual buildings but how they work together to create effective cities, and even effective communities? A couple of great examples came from Rebecca Britton at Urban & Civic, developers of two substantial sites in Cambridgeshire (Alconbury and Waterbeach Barracks). Urban & Civic are spending a lot of time working with the existing communities around their developments to make sure that these developments enhance their lives and are sustainable.

These sorts of brownfield developments are small scale templates of how to integrate smart city solutions – for transport, sustainability, quality of life – and offer some useful lessons for anyone interested in larger smart city innovations and how they might get adopted. Particularly in how to work with the public to make sure existing communities feel a sense of ownership and interest in these solutions. Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth  made this point in his opening – smart city solutions need to be adopted from the grass roots up, and as with low carbon generation technologies, the most effective way to engage people is not to thrust top down solutions on them but to give them ownership of the technologies.

Smart city technologies

And yes, there was a lot of technology at this conference. It’s a smart cities conference in Cambridge, what did you expect? From a new marketplace in energy proposed by Origami Energy, to hyperlocal weather forecasts for bike commuters, there is a huge range of solutions just waiting for markets to mature and business cases to be made. This has been the case for many years in smart cities and while government initiatives in many countries have supported pilots there has always been a sense that wider adoption is just around the next corner.

Yesterday was the first time that I genuinely felt the industry might be turning the corner. A Real Estate industry which learns to build efficient high quality places, not just buildings, and is rewarded for doing so by a community that gets returns from these better cities – that’s a welcome step up from our current situation.

We’re looking forward to doing business with them.

It pays to pay more attention to temperature

Last week I had a great conversation with Roger Whitlock at Hoare Lea consulting engineers which raised an important question.

What’s the most important problem with poorly performing HVAC? Nobody likes wasting energy, but with energy bills at less than 5% of most companies’ revenue, it’s not that big a deal, right?


Because it turns out that a poor environment, particularly poorly controlled temperature, has a direct impact on productivity. And thus on the bottom line.

Getting office temperature right

This is not new news. Studies since the 1970s have consistently demonstrated a link between performance and temperature.

Some highlights:

Study 1 – A 2004 study in a call centre showing that temperatures above 25.4°C had the largest impact on productivity, beyond ventilation, CO2 levels and even staffing and shift length1

Study 2 – A 2009 laboratory study used a range of neurobehavioural tests to try and dig into the effects of temperature on more complex cognitive skills. The study found that motivated participants can maintain productivity for short periods (30 minutes) over temperature ranges between 19° – 32° c, and that moderate warmth can affect mental performance in some tasks, while cold temperatures can affect physical performance in other tasks.2

Study 3 – A 2004 office study showed a steady increase in keying (typing) rates from 20° – 25° and a decrease in errors.3

One temperature to rule them all? 

A 2011 meta analysis of these papers and others shows a steady and pretty consistent relationship between workplace temperatures and loss of productivity, with a broadly neutral effect between 20 and 23°c and a loss of about 1% of productivity for every degree either side of 20 – 25%

Effect of temperature on productivity

Temperature’s impacts on productivity come in a range of effects – from routine tasks taking longer with more mistakes, all the way to increased rates of absenteeism.

So if you put all of these studies together do they give the final word on what is the best temperature for workplace productivity?

Nearly – it seems there is a pretty narrow band where optimisation is likely to happen. They certainly make a strong case for taking temperature very seriously in any workplace, along with other factors in comfort like lighting, airflow and humidity. An important point here is that the subjects in most of these studies were properly randomised – different genders, wearing a range of clothing – meaning the results should carry over into a normal working population.

There’s a couple of points that aren’t clear yet. First the effect of acclimatisation. Does the external weather tend to increase peoples’ tolerance for higher or lower temperatures? With results from Helsinki to Florida, there does seem to be a small effect.

Secondly does this effect apply to all tasks? Many of the studies looked at administrative tasks where it’s possible to define how long something should take and what a mistake looks like. It’s obviously difficult to design similar tests for more creative or analytical work in realistic environments. But one big anecdotal clue here – there are very few offices where individual workers have complete control over their environments. The few that there are are in places where these workers produce extremely high value output and a mistake can be very expensive indeed – trading desks for example.

Getting temperature right in the real world

How does this fit with running conditioning systems in a truly efficient manner?

In a system where heating and cooling are split, the recommendation is to run a ‘dead band’ between the heating and the cooling to avoid them fighting. The heating is turned off at 20° and the cooling comes on at 24° for example. It’s clear from the research that the tighter you can keep the dead band, the more time your colleagues will spend in the productivity sweet spot.

And a tight dead band relies on tight control to avoid clashes between heating and cooling. If sensors are drifting over time, or the thermal load is higher than the original design, then buildings can be locked into a cycle of rapid heating/cooling that gives the worst of all worlds.

Reframing the temperature conversation

Nobody sets out to make an uncomfortable workplace. However maintaining the systems that keep our work comfortable is often treated as a low priority, because 1) there seems little quantifiable payback and 2) it is sometimes difficult to measure improvements. The result is that apathy takes hold and it becomes difficult to justify investment, especially where budgets are tight.

Perhaps it is time to reframe the conversations facilities managers have with the board. By producing evidence of better productivity (or raising awareness of the dangers of lost productivity) you can start to build a serious ROI for investing in better control.

For more ideas about how to measure productivity and temperature in your building without needing a scientific research grant, head over to our LinkedIn discussion on the Corporate Real Estate group.