September 2016

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EMAIL INTERVIEWMatt Newton and Ken Sinclair

Director of Technical Marketing, Opto 22


With the RESTful API an automation controller can be connected to cloud applications without having to deal with setting up things like OPC servers or protocol gateways. That’s going to save a lot of engineers a lot of time.

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SinclairOpto 22 recently released a RESTful API for its SNAP PAC automation controllers.  What’s the industry response been like so far?

I have to be honest, Ken; it’s probably been the most exciting product release I’ve been a part of in my career thus far. The feedback we’re getting from the industry has been overwhelming. I think we’ve really tapped into a big problem in the IIoT and technology space in general that no one has addressed yet.

What I’ve found most interesting so far is the audience that the news about the API seems to be garnering. Because the API is based on open technology that was developed predominantly in the information technology space, the news has been attracting people from many different industry arenas, including software development, data center and application hosting, and of course the cloud computing and Internet of Things market overall. Opto 22 has historically had a strong background in information technologies, and the RESTful API is a great tool to round out our product offering and tap further into those markets.

SinclairHow do users get this new RESTful API? Do they need to buy a new PAC from Opto 22 equipped with the RESTful API and RESTful server or can this somehow be added to existing Opto 22 PACs?

The RESTful server can be added to any existing SNAP PAC controller dating back to 2007. All any customer needs to do is update the firmware on their controllers to access these new features. All firmware updates are free of charge.
The RESTful API is a standard feature in all PACs we ship today. There’s no need to buy additional hardware or software products; the features are built directly into the controller's firmware. Our goal is to make it faster and easier to use IIoT technologies like REST in the automation, process control, and manufacturing industries.

SinclairWhat are some of the applications where people are planning to use the RESTful API?

We’ve seen a lot of interest in building automation, industrial refrigeration, smart manufacturing, automated testing, and predictive maintenance. A number of companies have come out with what they call Internet of Things platforms to monitor data from assets deployed in the field and do some type of machine learning or predictive analytics based on data collected from the assets. But these platforms are really just software applications that are hosted in the cloud, and they face a common problem: how to actually get real-world data into the software application. 

For example, a cloud application may want to monitor and control a backup generator in a building to maximize service intervals and predict points of failure. Or it may want to monitor power consumption and HVAC zones to reduce power usage while keeping the building within comfortable environmental conditions. In the past these cloud applications had to go through several layers of middleware to get access to the assets they want to monitor and control. First they’d go through a cloud or edge gateway to get onto the building’s network. Then they’d have to somehow figure out how to interface to the building automation system for monitoring and control. Then if they wanted to pull in data from an asset outside of the building management software, they’d have to use some type of hardware-based protocol converter—more middleware. 
With the RESTful API we’ve removed all of those layers of complexity. Now when the cloud application wants to find out what the generator run time is, it sends just one message, directly to our SNAP PAC controller. And the PAC sends back the generator run time. It’s that simple. No more complex middleware.

contemporary SinclairHow will the RESTful API benefit building automation and facility engineers?

I think it comes down to time and money. With the RESTful API an automation controller can be connected to cloud applications without having to deal with setting up things like OPC servers or protocol gateways. That’s going to save a lot of engineers a lot of time.

And the other benefit is money. The RESTful API is available for free download. If you’ve already got SNAP PAC controllers, you can download firmware version 9.5, which enables the RESTful server and API to the PAC. No more paying licensing fees for third-party building automation applications. You can write your own and interface it to any cloud application that understands HTTPS and JSON data format.

SinclairAre RESTful APIs going to replace traditional building automation protocols?

In the short run, no. But in the long run, and I mean quite some time, that will likely change. Internet technologies are eventually going to be built directly into building automation products.

Just as we saw hardware vendors start to design Ethernet into their products because it was a common communication bus built on an open standard, this same thing is starting to happen on the software side of technology as well. APIs are a common method for software applications to communicate with each other. They’re built on open standards so anyone can adopt them and use them in their specific application.

That’s a trend we’re seeing more and more as technology innovators shift to using open-source tools. Just look at the Android OS from Google. It’s an OS built on the free open source OS Linux. Or the fact that the Internet runs on TCP/IP, another open standard protocol. It’s just a matter of time before these open technologies make their way into the building automation industry. And Opto 22 wants to help engineers and their customers get there faster.


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