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What’s more important to the Building?

The Device or the Cloud?

Greg Barnes

Greg Barnes
Vice President
Activelogix, LLC

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is defined by Wikipedia as the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. Some experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020.

Intelligent Building NetworkThe objects that often make up IoT are far from new. Buildings, equipment, homes, and people have been using sensors and networks to provide a steady stream of data about what’s going on. This includes how people or devices are functioning, and where they are located for many years. What has made IoT part of our everyday conversation is the growth in computing power, mobile devices, apps and the pervasiveness of wireless connectivity and cloud data storage.

IoT is generally composed of two or more important elements, including combinations of any of the following:

  1. Devices (sensors, counters, controllers, etc)
  2. Local or IP network protocols (Http, BACnet, TCP, etc.)
  3. Network Level Aggregator (Local embedded controller, PC, Cloud, etc.)
  4. Software Applications and Services (IFTT, Periscope Dashboard, Niagara Analytics, etc.)

Some device manufacturers focus on a narrow device market, while others focus on an entire vertical solution.

In an increasingly connected world, devices are no longer static one-and- done devices. In many situations, new features and functionality can be pushed through the server to connected devices on a regular basis. Each level of the architecture has its importance in the final design solution, and presents unique challenges and opportunities including:

Level One - Device:

  1. Do my devices/sensors give accurate data, and are they controllable, i.e. does artificial light turn off with ambient light available?
  2. Do we have plenty of options in devices given the selected protocol?
  3. Can I use best of breed devices and benefit from them working together? Or must I work within a single family of devices or protocols?
  4. Will they work when network connection to the cloud is lost? Do they store data while waiting to connect?

Level Two – Local Protocol:

  1. What protocols do my devices support? Am I bound to use devices from a single manufacturer or can I buy best of breed devices and mix devices from multiple companies?
  2. Do we have plenty of options in devices given the selected protocol? Can I mix data gathering devices with devices that I can command?
  3. How secure is my network of devices?
  4. How intuitive is the user interface to setup function of devices?

Level Three – Network Aggregation:

  1. Is it ok to send data directly from devices to Cloud?
  2. Do I need to share data between devices for local control or can I make better decisions in my building with the wisdom of the Cloud?
  3. Can devices do their job without Cloud connectivity or store data until connectivity resumes?

Software AnalysisLevel Four – Software Analysis:

  1. Can I have cost effective data analysis, visualization and notification for all my data? Or is it best to use a unique visualization solution based on device type?
  2. Can the visualization be customized to my unique needs or am I bound to wait on something to be offered by my Cloud provider?
  3. Do I gain value by the larger set of cloud data? How easy is it to determine if this data is relevant to my unique needs or if the dataset is too broad? (i.e. Energy Star data may not relevant to every type of building).

In order to really create value and mass adoption, industry must produce and contractors and owners must install accurate and reliable devices. We might not care what protocol they use as long as they measure data accurately, and do their job cost effectively.

The real opportunity of IoT is connecting us to a personalized experience with the whole ecosystem of devices within a building, getting data that impacts our bottom line, and improving comfort and/or securing the physical assets. These benefits come with using best of breed devices and Systems integrators who produce a system of meaningful data. But where should this data reside? How do we create that personalized experience for each type of user? Is it easier to do this in the Cloud? Or onsite? Do we have to settle for one or the other?

Many manufacturers of devices and industry organizations are solving the connectivity of their device to the cloud as networking costs fall and stores proliferate apps. End Users see the cost of this data communication to cloud dropping and they are deciding they can save upfront money by buying sensors, avoiding the installation of any local infrastructure, and going “Direct to Cloud”. There are many situations where this architecture makes good sense.

CloudBut if you are a larger, diverse or highly secure set of buildings, what data should go to the cloud? Why? How? Accurate data doesn’t always just show up… It has to be validated. How do we see data from different devices on the same visualization? Sometimes logic must be applied to data for control or energy management decisions. Networks aren’t always online. But the network aggregation level is the level that everyone seems to want to get rid of… “Let’s go device to cloud”….

It strikes me that the local network and software are still critical in the success of many projects. Facilities can benefit from a hybrid of onsite and “Cloud”. Cloud no longer means a visualization tool separate from your automation vendor. Cloud no longer has to mean getting rid of the local automation rules engine. Facilities still have to be conscientious of installation costs, and weigh those costs against the value of security, logic and visualization flexibility.

The IoT journey is going to help us learn to make our technology experience simple and intuitive. The Cloud will push us to be predictive. It will provide us with knowledge beyond the initial data, and improve the access to visualization and experience for everyone. However, it is only as good as the device data input and the logical operation of equipment.

In the end, both the “Device” and the “Cloud” will play important roles in how we control and improve our buildings. The importance of either depends on the time, budget, objective and situation of your decision. Join Activelogix and other industry thought leaders on October 12th for our Inaugural Technology Forum to discuss how the Internet of Things will impact our industry, devices and buildings.

AutomatedBuildings is pleased to be a media sponsor for the Inaugural Technology Forum.


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