Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
EMAIL INTERVIEW – Matt Newton and Ken Sinclair
Director of Technical Marketing, Opto 22
a lot of hype around IIoT right now. But how do you see the IIoT
and the technologies changing the building automation market?
Newton: IIoT and its underlying technologies like RESTful APIs give buildings a “voice.” The beauty of these APIs is they describe what data a building can provide, like current temperature or power consumption. They also provide a method to “talk” to a building, say to change a thermostat setpoint, or start backup power generation.
APIs describe what data can be read and written to an endpoint on a network or software application. If the API is publicly available, then people, mobile apps, analytics packages, databases, or other software applications can interact with that endpoint. So imagine a building with an API of its data: what current energy consumption is, what lighting is on, what the level of fuel is for the backup generator, what points of ingress/egress are open or closed, and so on. Then, applications of any kind could consume this data, then mashup the building data with other APIs like weather, geolocation, people density, power availability, demand response, and many more to provide a holistic view of what’s occurring in any or all buildings, their surroundings, or even external building influences like water, power, and gas at any given point in time.
I know there’s a lot of hype around the IIoT right now. It’s the latest buzzword. And people lump so many things into that category from wearable technology to virtual and augmented reality. But when you boil down everything that we’re really trying to accomplish with the IIoT, it’s really all about data. With our RESTful API we’re trying to enable easier access to that data. And we want to provide that access without having to use proprietary hardware drivers and software applications. We’re finding new ways to tap into huge volumes of data that we previously couldn’t. We’re starting to ask questions about what we can do with that data. And we’re finding out that there’s an infinite list of opportunities to improve our world and our way of life through this new data access. We’re finding ways to make buildings intelligent and much more efficient. We’re identifying problems before they occur. We’re using all kinds of new machine learning and artificial intelligence applications to do predictive analytics to keep people safer and make businesses more efficient. It’s a really exciting time to be in the operations or information technology fields.
Sinclair: Opto 22 recently sent out a press release about adding a RESTful API to industrial programmable automation controllers to rapidly build IIoT applications. What exactly is an IIoT application?
Newton: Great question, Ken. IIoT applications are not clearly defined but there is an underlying concept in each IIoT application. The common theme in IIoT applications is leveraging open standards-based information technology (IT) tools and resources in operations technology (OT) applications. Operations technology could mean building automation, factory automation, process control, SCADA, etc. IIoT applications use IT tools to access, transport and analyze huge volumes of data generated in our OT systems. IT and OT teams then work together to accelerate time to insight on business processes and solve problems faster, sometimes before they even occur. One of the best IT tools out there today to accelerate IIoT application development, rollout and ROI is the RESTful API.
Sinclair: What’s so important about RESTful APIs?
Newton: RESTful APIs are the technology that stitches together the Internet and mobile computing as we know them today. An API is an application programming interface, and it's the tool that software developers use to write applications that talk to other software applications. When we say an API is RESTful what we mean is that the API adheres to a certain set of rules that help make APIs easier to work with. RESTful APIs are important because they provide another step towards automation system interoperability. Just as Ethernet helped provide a common physical bus to send data between nodes on a network, RESTful APIs provide a common software interface for applications running on those nodes to communicate with each other. RESTful APIs are the key to flattening and simplifying IIoT system architecture. They allow engineers to write applications that interface directly to physical control system assets like pumps and motors and even digital variables inside a control system program. APIs allow direct interfacing to these assets rather than having to go through layers of protocol and data conversion like OPC servers and protocol converters.
Sinclair: How do RESTful APIs compare with existing approaches like OPC servers and other middleware? Do they replace the existing technologies, or work with them?
Newton: You could definitely say there’s overlap in these technologies in some respects. But the truth is there will always be a need for both technologies, dependent upon what the goals are. And in Opto 22 PACs, both OPC and the RESTful server can be used simultaneously to send and receive control data.
Another angle to consider when comparing these technologies is understanding who the consumers of the data are. With OPC, you’re typically talking about operations personnel, including facility managers, equipment operators, and technicians. There may be a human-machine interface or building automation system that is compatible with OPC, but not RESTful APIs and servers. In this case, OPC is important.
However, if the consumer of the data is an IoT-related software application like a database or a cloud analytics system, or you’re trying to prepare a building to participate in the data economy (facilitated by APIs today), then RESTful architectures make much more sense and are a better fit. An order of magnitude more developers understand RESTful APIs than those who work with OPC tags.
Sinclair: Which communication technology is best for IIoT applications?
Sinclair: How can folks find more information on this new RESTful API? What’s the cost of the new RESTful API access?
Newton: We’ve provided plenty of easy-to-use documentation and examples at http://developer.opto22.com/.
There is no additional cost to using the RESTful API or server. There’s no licensing fee or recurring costs of any kind. If you’re already an Opto 22 customer you can upgrade your PAC firmware and get access to all of the new features for free. We’re also shipping this capability in all of our controllers today—with no additional charge.
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