June 2010

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The Future of Cloud Connectivity for BAS
It is clear that cloud computing has the potential for the BAS to seamlessly integrate with other business services to provide a user friendly, cost effective and in depth solution to the client, transparent of the underlining technology.

  Nirosha Munasinghe

Nirosha Munasinghe MBusIT BSc BE (Hons) (Melb)
Product Development Manager,
Open General

Be sure to read last month's articles What is a Web Enabled Building Management System? & Data Integration Levels

Cloud computing has the potential to be the next major driver of business innovation across all industries allowing more dynamic, resilient and cost effective information technology systems to organizations. Over the last few years the concept of cloud computing has gain widespread of interest in research institutions and businesses to debate the implications to formulate a path to use the technology as a business enabler to gain competitive advantages for organizations. However, as with any technology it is difficult to distinct the reality from the hype to form a clear strategy to capitalize on the technology. Just as many industries became a winner with high rewards with the dot com boom, there were many failures. Cloud computing will have a similar impact in the market place and it is up to the industry to define a winning strategy to successfully adopt the technology.

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The building automation industry has generally been a slow player when adopting new technology. Over decade ago, majority of building automation systems were proprietary and the BAS was another tool required for operation of a building. A facility manager reacts to the system when in fault but system was non-existent to the outside world. However, over the decade emergence of open system protocols such as BACnet and LonWorks and worldwide emphasis on energy management and sustainability, the rate of adoption of new technology and rate of continual improvement by BMS vendors has increased dramatically. Most vendors are using web technology and open system architecture to integrate and converge with IT networks to create new features at a more cost effective and time efficient manner. As the cloud computing wave hits the market, it is up to the IT executives of the building management system vendors to adopt the technology into BAS with a clear strategy. The paper analyses the basic concepts of cloud computing, the implications it has n the BAS value chain in manufactures, system integrators and end user and an example to outline the operation of cloud in the BAS market.

Cloud computing is the term used to describe the use of interconnected business applications over the Internet. As depicted in figure 1, the applications are interconnected via web services and the end user accesses the required service using a web browser. Therefore the application and the infrastructure does not reside in end users premises. The end user accesses the application on demand and can concentrate on using the application for its purpose, without investing in capital expenditure and avoiding the overhead of installation, networking and maintenance.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Set of interconnected business services/applications via web services, communicating with each other is available as a web service or via web browser over the internet for the end user.

Each service or cloud consists of detail architecture and technology invisible to the end user. It consists of the application/service, platform, infrastructure and storage.

Figure 2
Figure 2: The detail technology behind the cloud

The early modeling of the cloud computing concept has various deployment methods in public, private and hybrid clouds. A public cloud service is available over the Internet via direct application or web service to the end user. A private cloud is restricted to private networks for data security and reliability. A hybrid cloud consists of multiple private and/or public clouds to provide enterprise solution. Which deployment model will the building automation market fit into? The vision of smart grid where the BAS communicates with other industries and the need of having a secure control network clearly indicate that BAS market will adopt a hybrid model.


Figure 3: Hybrid Cloud Model for BAS

As it is depicted in the figure 3, the general cloud computing architecture for BAS includes the building management software residing in a public cloud interacting with the other clouds and the control network itself is in a private cloud in a building. Obviously the controls itself cannot be moved away from the premises and the control networks should be restricted to the stakeholders of the building. Therefore a hybrid cloud models the BAS market space.

What is the implication of the hybrid cloud computing model to the BAS value chain in manufacturers, system integrators and end users?

Control Solutions, Inc To illustrate cloud computing model in action in the BAS market, letís examine a simple example case study of a global hotelís requirement of improving comfort level for its guests, reduction in energy consumption and carbon emission. The characteristics of the requirements as follows:

Current Environment

At present to meet such requirement the control networks is installed at each branch and at each location a server running the software with a database to monitor and control. Therefore it requires 100 plus servers, requiring a large investment in capital. For reporting requirements specialized software needs to written to merge the databases and link with the ERP system to allocate costs. It is difficult to proactively manage the KPIs as system can struggle to obtain the required data at the right time. The current systems have great difficulty to meet such requirements in efficient and cost effective manner.

Cloud Environment

In a cloud computing environment, the controls networks is installed at each branch and one instance of software with a database installed at one location, which saves real estate and power consumption. The executives and facility managers accesses the required data from web browser from their local destination. The general architecture as follows:

Figure 4
Figure 4: BAS connectivity to the cloud.

Figure 4 illustrates the control networks in a private cloud with the software application in a public cloud interfacing with other business services to provide a turnkey solution to the hotels requirements. The dynamics of the cloud as follows:

From the simple example it is clear that cloud computing has the potential for the BAS to seamlessly integrate with other business services to provide a user friendly, cost effective and in depth solution to the client transparent of the underlining technology. The cloud computing model benefits BAS manufactures, system integrators and end customers to streamline their current business models and open up new ventures. However, the BAS industry must be proactive in developing strategies to manage the model change and not fall behind other industries during the transition period.

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