February 2013

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Unfinished Business for oBIX

40 North American companies offer products
that provide oBIX access

Toby ConsidineToby Considine
TC9 Inc

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In 2003, Ken Sinclair and Automated Buildings were strong supporters (Please read this piece of history Connecting the Dots Surrounding XML / Web Services) of the effort to define standard web services interactions between building control systems and the enterprise. The open Building Information Exchange (oBIX) effort found a home in an OASIS Technical Committee in 2004. OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) known as the primary developer of many business-centric specification, especially for e-commerce, for security, and for service interactions. The core oBIX 1.0 specification was completed in 2006 and is now in widespread use as a middleware layer for communicating with building control systems.

Today, more than 40 North American companies offer products that provide oBIX access to their systems, many using Tridium’s NIAGARA products.  Open source projects for both oBIX clients and oBIX servers are available. oBIX has been used in research projects world-wide, including by US National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research Development Center (USACE-ERDC) and Construction Engineering Research Lab (USACE-CERL).
OBIX has found international use in systems that aggregate information from many buildings. Several European energy management systems use oBIX for data gathering. The Japanese Green University of Tokyo project produced not only another open source oBIX client, but an oBIX server “personality” for the iLON as well. Korean products such as Energle use oBIX between each layer of their multi-tier architecture.

Since publication of the completed specification 6 years ago, oBIX has been a quiet success.

Last month, oBIX Technical Committee began meeting again, both to tie up some loose ends and to address some new issues.

The biggest new issue is energy use. Smart Energy was barely in the picture when oBIX was in development. Smart energy moves the focus from static efficiency to aligning energy use over time with live energy market supply. While Demand Response (DR), under which buildings reduce energy use when its supplier announces a critical shortage, has drawn the early attention, energy surpluses offer a greater opportunity for building operations. Buildings that can use energy when an intermittent source, say a wind-farm, is producing surplus can save money every day—a better scenario than responding to DR a dozen times a year.

New standards for service oriented information exchanges were developed to meet priority needs identified by the roadmap. WS-Calendar was developed as an all-purpose means to exchange schedules, for energy availability is always changing. EMIX (Energy Market Information Exchange) describes energy market products and transaction, using WS-Calendar to express how they change over time. Energy Interoperation (EI), defines the market interactions not only for DR, but for transactive energy as well.

oBIX 1.0 omitted scheduling. Development of a common model for schedule was considered too contentious. There was no specification we could borrow. Today, WS-calendar describes interactions that are already understood by business and personal calendar systems. Buildings must already understand WS-Calendar to respond to smart energy communications such as OpenADR, based upon EI.
oBIX 1.0 did not consider energy measurement directly. If a building system did include an electrical meter, it was read as just one point among many. The oBIX historian provides single-purpose telemetry, less flexible and compact than the report and projection model defined in EI. Interest in standardizing building telemetry is growing world-wide, driven in part by energy, but including many other areas.

The US National BIM Standard (NBIMS) is coming up on a decade of rapid development. COBie Lite (Construction [to] Operations Building information exchange) now offers a standard for describing building spaces (rooms) and their amenities that is becoming accepted by enterprise schedules and calendars. BAMie (Building Automation Model information exchange) provides a vendor, product, and implementation agnostic framework for interacting with building systems.

This establishes a potential basis for aligning BAS performance with Business activities. We have tools now that we did not have during the development of oBIX 1.0.

The OASIS oBIX Technical Committee has begun meeting again to address these and other issues. I think we will keep core specification small, addressing compatibility and inconsistencies to complete oBIX 1.1. The TC will then create a series of small companion standards including:

These standards will reference the core specification. It is the Committee’s current intent to keep the core specification compact. We do plan to update the core specification to address some long-known inconsistencies.

If you would like to help on this work, I encourage you to join the OASIS Open Building Information Exchange Technical Committee. Information can be found at http://www/oasis-open.org. If you have any questions about the projects, or need assistance in working through the process, please contact me, at toby.considine@gmail.com.

More Links on the evolution of oBix

Sinclair:  What is oBIX?

Ehrlich:  oBIX stands for Open Building Information Xchange, and it is an industry-wide initiative to define XML- and Web Services-based mechanisms to present building systems-related information on TCP/IP networks such as the Internet.


In an Open Letter; To the Building Controls Industry on formation of Open Standards for XML and Web Services http://www.automatedbuildings.com/releases/apr03/openletter.htm


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