BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
Ken Sinclair & Edward Hague
Edward Hague is Chief Technology Officer of FieldServer Technologies. He has worked in the industrial communications network field for the last 18 years, lectured on the subject at many venues, and consulted to industry leaders such as Intellution, Inc., IBM, Marin Municipal Water District, U.S. Postal Service, PG&E, Boeing and the U.S. Navy. He is a member of the Instrument Society of America (ISA), and the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Challenges to BAS interoperability
Interoperability in the BAS industry is certainly a challenge. A plethora of legacy, current, and future devices and systems will guarantee that you will have to make these incompatible systems interface. FieldServer Technologies offers interoperability solutions and we interviewed Edward Hague, Chief Technology Officer for FieldServer Technologies to obtain his perspective.
Sinclair: What is the biggest challenge to BAS interoperability?
Hague: It is guaranteed you will have communications obstacles. Modern technology allows all sorts of controls possible, but most of them cannot communicate with each other. It only takes one incompatible device delay or prevent customer acceptance of a project.
Sinclair: Do you mean that there will never be a single industry standard protocol?
Hague: There definitely will never be a single industry standard protocol! If big players such as Honeywell and Johnson Controls don't have single standards within their product offerings, how can you expect multiple manufacturers to arrive at a single standard?
Sinclair: Isn't TCP/IP viewed as the emerging standard?
Hague: Yes, but on a standalone basis it is not enough. There are already dozens of protocols using TCP/IP as a transport mechanism. TCP/IP enables protocols, such as BACnet, LonWorks over Ethernet and web servers to work, but it is only the lower layer to a complete solution. This means that the connectivity problem simply moves to a higher communications layer.
Sinclair: Is it then fair to say that TCP/IP is the emerging transport layer standard?
Hague: The fact that FieldServer Technologies provides an Ethernet port on every seamless interface implies that it is a keeper. But, we believe that it is equally important to support alternatives such as serial, LonWorks, emerging transport standards based on power line and wireless, and also industrial protocols such as Profibus, DH+, and Modbus Plus.
Sinclair: So what is the solution?
Hague: The ideal solution is an architecture consisting of an Ethernet backbone with seamless interfaces to any incompatible devices and systems. The specific Ethernet protocol that is used on top of TCP/IP should be the customers' choices, for example BACnet, so that they can select the vendor and equipment that is most applicable to their project. Obviously the seamless interface must understand both the chosen TCP/IP protocol and the various protocols of the linked devices.
Sinclair: What do you mean by seamless interface?
Hague: This is much more than a simple serial to Ethernet tunnel. As I said before, the seamless interface needs to fully understand the protocols and data representation for each side of the interface. It must also appear as a native device to the established systems by presenting the data in the required format and allowing bi-directional traffic.
Sinclair: Does each application require a tailor made seamless interface?
Hague: No. Companies such as FieldServer Technologies maintain expertise in a broad range of protocol solutions and develop the necessary drivers to provide off-the-shelf seamless interface solutions. The systems integrator simply needs to identify the devices to interconnect and obtains a turnkey solution to their BAS interoperability challenge from FieldServer Technologies.
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