BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
...all that negativity seemed to have been shattered and replaced with a level of camaraderie that may just propel us towards a real open approach to building systems – an open mindset approach!
In recent months, you have read a great deal on this site about convergence, the dream of intelligent buildings, the use of the Internet for building systems, and that great buzz word, "XML". These are indeed exciting technologies and trends. Nothing, however, gives me goose bumps more than to see people interacting, working together, figuring out how to make things work, or otherwise behaving in significantly unselfish ways-albeit we know that selfish motivations are usually what gets them into such situations in the first place.
The interaction we witnessed at BuilConn in April was well documented by Ken Sinclair on this site. He used words like, "I do not want the feeling of the last few days at BuilConn to end…" Wow, those are strong words. As the organizer of BuilConn, I have to say that the camaraderie at BuilConn was something to be experienced first hand.
Throughout the past few weeks I have been busy on a number of trips that collectively have been an eye opener. I believe October 2003 will be recognized as another milestone in the development of the vision of better buildings.
The month started in Cincinnati at the BACnet Conference. Previous BACnet conferences have been low-key events with a bunch of engineers congratulating themselves on making elements of BACnet work with each other's kit, mixed in with some committee meetings and status updates of committee activities that seem to have moved at a snail's pace since the previous meeting. I don't say any of this as a criticism of the BACnet folk; they have been true to their word in evolving a buildings-centric standard that is now well entrenched in the intelligent buildings landscape-hats off to Mike Newman, Steve Busby, Jim Lee and many others.
The 2003 conference was different, and I believe it indicates a trend for future BACnet conferences. The number of attendees was up 50 percent over the 2002 event with 50 of them end users! The tabletops significantly increased from 2002, and the subject matter - whilst it contained some of the fundamental BACnet committee messages - also included many non-BACnet-centric perspectives. There was much talk of XML and Web Services and even a joke about oBIX being an obituary for open systems…or was it a message of oBIX's obituary? The joke was lost on most, but what was important is that oBIX is now firmly part of the vocabulary of this industry.
I was fortunate enough to have been given a three-hour session at the BACnet Conference to present panel of experts to discuss what is going on in the world OUTSIDE of BACnet. Panelists included Keith Gipson, Impact Facility Solutions, who spoke about the importance of gateways; Rob Zivney, Hirsch Electronics, discussed the access control and security perspective; Paul Ehrlich, Trane, talked about what XML can bring to the buildings industry as a whole; John McCoy, Fosdick & Hillmer, spoke about the use of the industrial ModBus standard in the control of HVAC plants; and Mary Rugh, University of Pittsburgh, shared her perspective of open systems as an end-user. ("Don't talk to me about plug and play until it can be delivered!") We also heard Tom Lohner, TENG Solutions, talk about his experiences with open systems including LonWorks, and Grant Wichenko, Appin, delivered his experiences in designing BACnet-based systems. All were great presentations with a unique perspective, and this drew an interesting Q&A session at the end.
All in all it was a great BACnet Conference. Anyone who feels that BACnet is going away should check their data points-many vendors are either now delivering BACnet solutions, planning to do so or contemplating such a move.
oBIX Meeting in Cincinnati
For those who have been on a long vacation and don't know what oBIX is, it's the new identity for the work being done by the CABA-initiated XML/Web Services Committee and stands for Open Building Information Xchange. The group initially met in April during BuilConn and again in June during Realcomm in Chicago. So, this group is now six months old, and it's been christened with the name oBIX. Legally speaking, oBIX is the name of the resultant work.
The third face-to-face meeting was held following the BACnet Conference in Cincinnati. There were about 30 participants with nearly 20 more on a conference call including many from Europe.
The key part of the meeting was the discussion of three proposed Data Models. (Data models are a fundamental part of working with XML, and it will be the role of oBIX to define structures to describe the data types found in buildings.) Proposals came from AutomatedLogic, LonMark and Tridium. We all know AutomatedLogic is a strong BACnet proponent so there was much anticipation for a lively set of presentations and debates as to which approach was best!
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
A hint of a new positive spirit of cooperation was seen as Dave Robin from AutomatedLogic presented his proposal. On numerous occasions he commented on how his (BACnet-centric) proposal could be enhanced by the proposals from LonMark and Tridium. Jeremy Roberts from LonMark was next, and he, too, made numerous references as to how a combination of his proposal along with elements of the other two could make a very strong solution. Brian Frank from Tridium continued the theme with his proposal also containing a combined solution that would best work for the industry. WOW!
I could sense that people in the room were stunned. For years now, the behavioral norm has been that of confrontation and silo building. In a matter of 60 minutes all that negativity seemed to have been shattered and replaced with a level of camaraderie that may just propel us towards a real open approach to building systems - an open mindset approach!
It must be said that there is still a great deal of work to be done by the oBIX group-this is not by any means a slam-dunk. And, oBIX does not solve everything; XML and Web Services are highly suitable for system-level information exchange, not for controller-to-controller field communications (for the time being, anyway). The strength of oBIX is that it can provide a platform to interconnect LonWorks, BACnet, proprietary and pure TCP/IP-based systems together for the benefit of the operator interface and intersystem integration. oBIX will also provide data for enterprise systems and leverage the all-pervasive Internet and Web Browsers for many purposes.
LonMark Meeting in Munich
Things are changing at the LonMark Interoperability Association with potentially significant positive consequences for the LonWorks community. For a long time, there has been a perception of an unhealthy relationship between LonMark and Echelon; the changes underway are designed to make LonMark very much an independent organization for those who use LonWorks technology worldwide.
The core change is the creation of a new LonMark International entity that will provide global strategic direction and guidance to a number of mostly country-based chapters that work on a local level to ensure the LonMark message is delivered in the local context. LonMark International will continue its work at a technical and marketing level, ensuring interoperability at a device level as well as a system level.
LonMark International will support a federation of affiliates at the regional and country level. The goal is to provide a local presence for LonMark members while leveraging the power of the larger, global organization. New LonMark organizations will be created in the U.S., Canada, China, Japan and other regions. Work is underway to create a new LonMark Americas that will work in the whole of the Americas region instead of just one country (all of North and South America). The LonMark Americas foundation will serve as a launching pad for localization in individual countries, states, cities or counties.
Presentations during the LonMark meeting included a reference to oBIX. Barry Haaser, Executive Director of LonMark, stated that LonMark is working closely with oBIX and sees the two initiatives as being synergistically complementary.
Haaser also indicated that LonMark will be working toward defining standards at a system level, a departure from LonMark's previously device-centric scope. The system definition work by LonMark has significant potential to make open systems a reality, especially when mixed in with standards technologies such as XML and Web Services-the fundamental core of oBIX.
There is much work to be accomplished with this initiative, but the direction is very positive, and 2004 promises to be an interesting year for LonMark.
For those who have never attended LonWorld, it's an event that grew out of early developer meetings for the LonWorks community. The vision of LonWorld is to be an annual gathering of all things LON, and it is held in Europe and North America alternately every other year. Last year's event in Toronto was to a very large degree disappointing due to numerous reasons not worth delving into here, so a great deal of apprehension was in the air for Munich.
Such concerns were unfounded. The event went extremely well. It was well attended by both exhibitors as well as conference and tradeshow attendees, and the mood in the air was optimistic for LonWorks as well as the industry in general.
Despite the fact that a significant number of attendees and exhibitors were from the local German markets, all the key LonWorks players were there. The large Echelon booth was abuzz with what seems to be the key mantras for the month: cooperation, customer-friendly, working together and discovering how we can build a business by understanding customers' needs and adding value by delivering products and solutions.
One thing that came across with LonWorld was the enormous quantity of LonWorks device vendors. Almost every booth displayed some range of devices for building automation and non-building industries as well as a great deal of infrastructure pieces for creating LonWorks-based systems. System and management solutions were also in abundance from vendors such as Honeywell, Distech, Tridium, TAC and Plexus.
I am unable to report on the conference sessions first hand due to time limitations, but the reports I gleaned second hand were positive in scope regarding the subject matter as well as the presenters themselves. The conference sessions were presented much more as a LonWorks Development Conference with a track for Technical Developers and another for Business Development.
I left Munich with a very positive feeling about LonWorks in general; the strong support shown by product vendors worldwide ensures that LonWorks will be in the building systems vocabulary for many years to come.
For years I have held the view that those promoting the "war" between LonWorks and BACnet were missing the point and wasting a lot of energy on the move forward with true open systems.
The past few weeks proved to me that both technologies will be around for quite some time, and with something like oBIX, a glue can be provided to make not only both systems work in concert, but also seamlessly integrated with legacy systems as well as any future TCP/IP-based systems.
The thing that sold that vision for me was not only the products and technologies, but the people who are working together and the industry that is starting to realize that all this technology actually works and can deliver a great deal of value to building owners.
In the end analysis, these are the driving forces that are worth anything in any industry.
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