Article - Nov 2000
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Ken Sinclair

Looking for new opportunities? 
“Stick your head in the clouds.

Article as published by

Engineered Systems 

September 2000,
 in their new monthly column 
Building Automation

Building Automation: Avoid Data Drift

When I first heard of the concept of a Communication Cloud representing a simple way to diagrammatically represent communication as a utility on our control drawings, I was impressed. This was a great way to present the complex communication technology that provided us simple transportation functionality.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]The audience did not have to understand in full detail what happened inside this complex cloud. All we had to do was connect information flow to the communication cloud and exit the other side of the cloud somewhere else in the world and our data was there. Who knows, or even cares, how many times our data had been converted to how many forms to get there. The cloud concept is easy for all of us to conceive because radio and television “came from the clouds” originally, too.

A New Paradigm
The building automation industry has a long history of being hardwired. Our industry’s existence has revolved around wiring a myriad of control components into an operational mosaic that meets our client requirements. Our relationship with wire is deep, and our need for an “end-to-end continuity check” is like motherhood.

However, today’s Internet and Intranets are bringing alive the diagrammatic communication cloud. The reality is that this cloud is replacing our wired past and raising questions about the future of the continuity of our data. Our new projects often provide data into the clouds that is available whenever and wherever. This is a new concept to our industry. The release of dynamic data into hyperspace allows the potential for our clients, and even our competitors, to have better informational analysis tools than ours.

Our industry has always played our building information cards very close to our chests. The new freedom of information out of the clouds is an entirely new concept for us all. I am not concerned about the freedom of information, only concerned that our industry becomes closer involved in the development of the new tools to collect and process this data into useful information.

In the past, our experience with building comfort and energy data shared with our clients has caused both joy and pain. Clouded communication is usually at the bottom of most client-contractor concerns. It is important to share our knowledge and industry experience with the database geeks creating the new virtual applications that will be representing our building control performance. This data will flow freely anywhere, anytime, without us having a chance to provide reason to it.

In the past, the value added by our industry was the expertise that could separate the failure in comfort control from a defective chiller or a cycling control loop. It is important that our industry remains involved with total presentation and validation of this data. When data communication becomes a utility, there is a potential concern that we will become only the generators of data. Data without reason and rationale is useless and will only further cloud our automated building communication.

As we enter into this new arena, we must go with an open mind because although our past experiences are needed, our biases are not. It is a new world with new ways of presentation and significant extension of our present capabilities.

Cloud Control
With the wide acceptance of our wireless, or at least a wire reduced world (networked), the communication cloud is moving closer to our building control applications. As an industry we have better control at this level with standard protocols like Lon, BACnet, etc. The ability to share information on these networks between devices will result in the generation of interesting interactions if cloud protocols are not maintained.

Closer involvement by our industry in cloud control is extremely important. In the past, the complete delivery of comfort, energy use, and client communication has been provided by our industry in hardwired-software packages. Let us not allow these clouds and Internet browser presentations get in the way of providing our clients the services they have come to expect. We must consider the communication cloud as a simple extension of our automation system, and work harder to understand the technologies used as well as how the new information will be presented and used. We should be an active part of that evolution.

New Opportunities in Those Clouds
A recent article of ours (found at quotes Kirby Russell of Lucent Technologies. He says, “For many of today’s hotel guests, apartment residents, and office tenants, high-speed data access is essential to both business and home life — like electricity, phone service, or cable TV.”

Understanding this, and realizing that the existing building communication structure is likely to include a provision for this, provides many opportunities to build on these installed cloud systems. Even providing your own communication cloud, as part of your building control contract, becomes a viable option.

Looking for new opportunities? “Stick your head in the clouds,” but remember this is a new frontier, not a mature part of our industry; the old adage, “The only thing constant is change,” still rules.

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