July 2019

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The Many Communities of Practice Connected by Niagara Framework®

This article captures key points and comments made at Niagara Forum, London, and Realcomm-IBcon, Nashville, both events which happened in June 2019.

Michael Westerfield,
Director of Product,

COP Tridium

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The Tridium team works with each of the Communities of Practice associated with the logos mapped here to keep Niagara Framework secure, open, extensible and always evolving.

This is an exciting time in the Smart Buildings industry. We are seeing the bigger enterprises asking the question “What is the strategy around our data? What should we be trying to do with it?’ Tridium has been a force for openness and data interoperability across building equipment categories and brands for over two decades. Niagara Framework’s widespread adoption as the most robust, reliable integration engine for Smart Buildings is due to its support for open standards.  Niagara developers work with open standard groups at each level of the software stack needed for edge-to-cloud control. This includes software for cyber defense, connectivity, provisioning, asset tagging, analytics, visualization and report authoring, etc.

You can think of this next phase of the Smart Building as having at its core an ecosystem of interoperating machines. Or, as we often do at Tridium, you can think about it as a set of relationships that need to be managed. Domain experts have gathered into working groups unified under each open standards group logo. These Communities of Practice (CoPs) are dedicated to moving each specific technology forward. It is these people that are Tridium’s collaborators in the evolution of Niagara Framework.

  Working Groups

A first step on the journey toward making an existing building ‘smart’ is an acceptance that the whole world inside your building is going to be constantly changing as new devices are introduced. And, the world outside your building will be changing too, at the fast pace of software developers’ ability to innovate—and that includes the blackhat software developers hard at work trying to penetrate your building’s cyber defenses. You cannot think of a Smart System as if it were a boiler or other piece of equipment that will sit in a basement or on a roof for 50 years. Software systems are living, breathing things with new needs that will continually crop up. As keeper of the building operating system, Tridium needs to have relationships with the various CoPs working at each level of our open standards-based architecture, so that our customers can be prepared to deal with that. We dedicate resources to achieving compliance and certifications and, in some cases, engage in co-development and co-marketing efforts with these CoPs.

With software, the standards themselves are always evolving.  Consider BACnet, which just this Spring introduced BACnet Secure Connect.  As Jim Butler of Cimetrics, Chair of the BACnet IT Working Group explains in this article, BACnet/SC is likely to be preferred to the existing BACnet/IP standard going forward. Tridium is already working with BACnet on its support for BACnet/SC and will have that built into future versions of Niagara Framework.  It is a good example of why Niagara customers need to upgrade to the latest software version to remain harnessed to the forces of innovation pulling the industry forward.

Another case in point is Niagara support for tagging and tagging dictionaries, or ontologies. Tridium built robust tagging support into Niagara4 and joined efforts like Project Haystack. Our engineers participate in the Haystack working group that is evolving nHaystack, an open-source module that enables Niagara stations to connect to external applications and transport tagged data using the Haystack protocol. We support Project Haystack’s intention to evolve into a fuller taxonomy and to merge efforts with other ontology groups over time.  Our goal is that however, the building owner/operator wants to describe its building through tags, Niagara is the best platform for that.  Niagara is playing its role in encouraging standardized tagging to become common practice. But, again to reap maximum value from more efficient asset tagging and evolving ontologies, it is best to be on the latest version of Niagara software.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Encryption standards are evolving over time even faster than ontologies. Cyber defense teams within Tridium and our parent company Honeywell are working to keep Niagara users protected from cyber criminals by keeping up-to-date with these and with other cyber best practices. We are seeing more demand for other IT-grade standards on the network carrying the building’s operational data. Enterprise customers are starting to merge their expectations, if not the networks themselves when it comes to moving data across IT and OT networks.  For example, Niagara now supports 802.1X and different NIST standards.  Customers want to know that any devices and data introduced to bring smart building capabilities can co-exist safely and peacefully on the network with their other important assets in the building.

While optimal cyber defense and bug fixing are great reasons to always be on the latest version of Niagara, that is just the start. For example, in a recent Niagara update, Tridium introduced support for an MQTT driver. Then Microsoft developed a Niagara4 connector that can communicate directly with Azure IoT.  It’s this type of confluence of one Community of Practice building upon and merging the developments of another that is going to lead to the next generation of intelligent buildings. These are the types of advancements that you will continually get access to if you keep your Niagara software up-to-date through a software maintenance agreement

When we look ahead and begin collaborating with the different partners bringing machine-learning and artificial intelligence approaches into being, our mission is again to lay the foundation. Who else has decade’s worth of buildings data for training ML and AI algorithms but the Niagara community? So, we’re working on how to get that data to the folks working on ML and AI, so they can start crunching it.  We believe that it won’t be long before their efforts reveal how ML algorithms can be packaged into tools that augment and amplify human building operations know-how and help the whole industry deal with the talent shortage we are facing.

One of the dedicated research firms following the evolution of intelligent buildings technology is Harbor Research.  Its analysts describe the current building automation paradigm this way:

Networks of intelligent, connected machines are the realm of Smart Systems, which is based upon a new generation of information architecture that — when combined with cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies — represents a radical break from yesterday’s information, computing and telecom (ICT) paradigms. Smart Systems in the buildings sector is entering a dynamic period with emerging solutions across all segments. This will result in OEMs, technology suppliers, third-party value-adders, and end-users needing to leverage, react to, and monetize emerging technologies in different ways.

To borrow from the title of this brief, Tridium Niagara is ‘Taming the Complexity of the Smart Building’ through its relationships with the many Communities of Practice responsible for the pieces that contribute to open standards-based information architecture for building automation.


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