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The future of Building Management Systems is in the cloud, but is the industry ready?

By David Sciarrino,
Source IoT

On-premises servers for Building Management Software have been commonplace for decades.  While everything else is moving to the cloud, standalone BMS servers are still being installed, but why?

I’m certain there are many more reasons than I list here, but let’s focus on three that come to mind.

  1. Specification Aging
  2. Construction Mentality
  3. Backward compatibility

Specification Aging

The consulting community assumes quite a bit of risk when it comes to engineering buildings and building systems.  This causes many of them to play it safe and use only solutions that have been proven in the marketplace for years.  An extreme example of this is one I saw earlier this year that was requiring the following for the Building Automation Server:

  • Intel Pentium 2.66 GHz processor (Pentium IV- Duo Core)
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 80 GB hard disk providing data at 100 MB/sec
  • 48x CD-ROM drive
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • 22-inch 24-bit color monitor with at least 1024 x 768 resolution
  • Serial, parallel, and network communication

We don’t need to spec bleeding-edge technology in buildings, but we need to start “future-proofing” buildings so we have a path forward to meet that new technology halfway when it emerges over the next decade.  The focus should be on open standards, converged networks, and upgradability.

Construction Mentality

The faster a project can be completed, the more profitable it usually is.  This is easy for most to understand.  To complete the BMS portion, a working head end is required for startup, commissioning, and owner acceptance several months before a building is turned over. Having a server on-site makes this easier.  Connecting a cloud resource to systems in an active construction environment may be more costly for a BAS installer, but there’s one huge advantage. You’re no longer waiting on other trades to complete their work so you can begin yours.  We’ve already seen BMS installers getting creative with how they temporarily connect networks before building ethernet is pulled.  Contractors who make allowances for this type of technology may see projects finish faster and closer to budget.

Backward Compatibility

There are thousands of innovative software solutions that are making progress in the Smart Building space, but most of them are not designed to replace a BMS server completely. When it comes to the large OEMs, the ability to innovate is there but the incentive is not. Their install base is a source of high-profit revenue, and a major shift will disrupt their model significantly.  Many have tried to innovate, but maintaining that backward compatibility with 30-year-old equipment is a lengthy and expensive obstacle to overcome.  Their software packages are still designed around their hardware which is a massive constraint for them.

A Solution

A technology-agnostic, cloud-based BAS is possible with the right approach and we can address each of these three reasons at the same time.  Most BAS servers are simply a way to interact with the system, while the programming, databases, schedules, and trend data reside in the field panels.  This means you should be able to walk out of the building with the server and the entire system continues to operate.  If we’re not treating the server like a field panel, there is no reason we can’t put the software in the cloud.  

We still see a large amount of proprietary technology and tools in the market, even with BACnet systems.  Due to BACnet being a loose standard, OEMs have designed them to make it difficult to mix manufacturers on one system.  If we’re talking about technology-agnostic software, we also need technology-agnostic hardware to interface locally.  Edge server technology has emerged that can assimilate itself into the BAS, and make that connection to the cloud possible. These edge solutions should be 100% independent from the software running in the cloud and build on an open standard that anyone software solution provider can work with.

I don’t think the industry is ready for widespread adoption just yet, but if there are enough leaders in the industry, making enough noise we’ll get there in a few years.  If you’re one of them make your voice heard and continue pushing for change.