Article - November 2001
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"The Indispensible Internet"


Published October 2001


Ken Sinclair

Web Ways are Winning

My last few ES Building Automation columns, as well as follow up article "Restructuring for the Componentization Era" all have the common theme that web ways are winning. Further reading of related articles and interviews in the last several months' issues of's online magazine "The Automator", indicates that the web is destined to control the Building Automation evolution.

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I have extracted pull quotes from three lead articles from "The Automator" which approach Internet convergence from very separate perspectives. The overall message that the net is here to stay is extremely clear.

From the article with the most online reads for July and August 
Web Based Control Systems The Devil is in the Details by Steve Tom, Director Technical Information at Automated Logic "manufacturers have forced themselves to develop a complete toolkit for their web-based system. For them, the question "does the user have to do this through a browser?" becomes an edict "the user will be able to do this though a browser!" Not surprisingly, the web-based control systems offered by these manufacturers provide a much richer environment than those that are merely intended as an adjunct to a traditional workstation-based system. Trending, scheduling, alarming, reports, program changes, memory downloads - all can be accomplished through a browser. It also follows that these systems provide a better platform to support the new generation of "gadgets," such as WAP cell phones, because these devices are also based upon a browser interface."

Reliable Controls In an article Learning to Deal with IT co-Authored by J. Rand Arnold, P.E. & Darrell Matocha of ControlShop, Inc "Internet enabled' is now a requirement for virtually every job. As building automation technology begins to offer the convenience of Web accessibility and open systems, the integrator can offer additional services and gain credibility with the IT forces. Take for instance the situation where the facilities engineer is responsible for HVAC requirements of a typical data center or computer room. Delivering cooling and maintaining space temperature is no longer adequate. The end user is the IT manager. He demands real time knowledge of the temperatures inside computer cabinets, knowledge of who is accessing the cabinet, and access to every aspect of the operating conditions from any browser, anywhere in the world. After all, he can do this with any of his computer systems."

In a full throttle article on Internet controlled Building Automation called Using Standard Internet Protocols in Building Automation Mike Donlon, Director of Research and Development Computrols, Inc. summarizes: "TCP/IP is the glue that binds the entire Internet and almost every network in the world. It is no longer strictly for large computers. Embedding the TCP/IP protocol into small electronics is not only possible, it is inexpensive and commonplace. Almost every general-purpose widely accepted networking protocol of the future will ride on top of the TCP/IP architecture. Building a TCP/IP infrastructure into buildings today ensures that they will be ready for the technologies of tomorrow.

At the time that this article was written, some manufacturers of embedded electronics might ask the question "Why do I want to include a Web Server on my new product?" With such massive acceptance and potential connectivity and interoperability at a their fingertips, this question is not even valid. The only valid question is "Why would I not want to include a Web Server on my new product?" Three or four years ago the only answer to that question might have been "Because it's too expensive". But now, with the advent of inexpensive 32-bit microprocessors, networking chips, and software, there is no viable reason not to offer web capability. Even if HTTP is not the primary protocol used to exchange data, not including a web page service is inexcusable.

Finally, using TCP/IP connections, protocols like XML will dominate the future of interoperability among embedded devices-even in building automation. This is because XML and other Internet protocols benefit from research and development across industry boundaries. No single building automation protocol will be able to surpass them in terms of complexity, maturity, and acceptance."

My Conclusion

"The times they are a changing" but are we as Building Automation Professionals grasping the gravity of the moment? The fact that the "Web Ways are Winning" changes everything! While you have been reading this column building automation systems are being installed from pre-internet specifications with proprietary systems with no acknowledgment that enterprise interaction may be essential to system longevity. Designs, often done in isolation without the complete understanding of the client's total IT enterprise are dangerously short sighted. It is now clear that TCP/IP will be the data pipe of the future that fits all.

also see "Letters to Editor"

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