Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Ken Sinclair and Rehan Kamal
Rehan Kamal is an IT Strategist at Computrols. His background is in practical application of Modern Technologies. Mr.. Rehan Kamal is based in New Orleans and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the website www.computrols.com
TCP/IP Protocol - The Real Contender?
Sinclair - What capabilities do TCP/IP protocol offer?
Kamal: TCP/IP offers open connection to the Building Automation System from virtually anywhere in the world. Also, a TCP/IP connection requires no custom software installation. It offers accessibility to more people and may include building tenant access.
Sinclair - Is it cost effective?
Kamal: TCP/IP would be cost effective in any installation. Most buildings already support Internet service for other reasons. They have internal network wiring, firewalls, and an IT staff. If you remove the cost of general Internet Service, using TCP/IP becomes very inexpensive. Even if the entire ISP cost and network cost are included, TCP/IP still offers a lot of "Bang for the Buck".
Sinclair - What components of TCP/IP are different from other BAS protocols?
Kamal: One would need a Web Server computer. The Web Server acts as a client to the BAS system. Users, in turn, are clients of the Web Server. Web Servers relay user requests for data and commands to the BAS system. In fact, the "BAS Web Server" is not very different from most standard Web Servers. Custom BAS controls on the Web pages are the only differentiating feature.
Sinclair - Do you feel that TCP/IP can compete with existing field device protocols such as BACnet and LonWorks?
Kamal: .Today's BAS standards like BACnet and LonWorks will go the way of BetaMax and Quadraphonic sound. They'll simply be overrun by the revolution in technology that's taking place today.
Sinclair - Are there any special hardware and software requirements to use TCP/IP Protocol?
Kamal: One would require a simple PC with minimum 300 MB hard drive, a Pentium 300 MHz processor, 64 MB RAM, a 10 Base T network card, and Windows 98 or better. The client machine must have an Internet Explorer or Netscape compatible browser to "surf" the system.
Sinclair - Is BAS going to be "on the Web?"
Kamal: The BAS Web presence is like most other Web Sites. First, you need an Internet service provider (ISP) that can provide you with at least one static IP address. Your ISP must also allow you to run a server on a few different port numbers. From there, users may literally use the static IP address for connection (example 184.108.40.206 is the BAS address). This can be typed in the address section of the browser or saved as a favorite place. If you want to own a name you must register that name and pay for it. This is easier for users to remember and allows you to more easily change your ISP at a later date. (Example--computrols.com = 220.127.116.11) It is the job of a DNS is to resolve the domain name to the IP address for the user. This is done automatically for users.
Sinclair - What about interoperability? Can Web-accessibility be provided by a company that is not the BAS contractor/manufacturer?
Kamal: .Web Server (which "talk" TCP/IP) product is just that--a Web Server would be a window into a BAS. Other vendors in a building may use this type of access to the BAS system. However, this type of access will generally be limited to humans, not other BAS controllers or computers. Hence the BAS software would integrate equipment from multiple manufacturers, independent of the Web Product. This in turn can be placed on the Web. So, although the Web product can be used to integrate multiple vendors, this capability would have nothing to do with the Internet access itself. Another avenue would be, TCP/IP internet-ready controllers which can be made to have completely open Internet connectivity right down to the controller level. Thus WWW access would be available at the controller level for human-to-controller access. But more importantly, XML and other standards can be used for truly open, third party, controller-to-controller connectivity. I fully anticipate the industry to move in this direction.
Sinclair - Since BAS will be on the net via Internet Protocol, can it be hacked by unauthorized outsiders?
Kamal: I think security is a relative quantity. Any one who says they provide access to the entire world while providing absolute security is in denial. Is there any bank that cannot be robbed? Extremely secure military facilities have their network security compromised regularly. The question is "How easy is it?" and "What damage can be done?" We provide extensive security measures to our clients. One can achieve satisfactory security by setting up a standard Linux firewall. All BAS components use Intranet connections that are behind the firewall and protected from actual Internet connections. Secondly, one can secure connections over the Web and encrypted transmissions between the Web Server and the building server. This further discourages attacks from within the firewall. Thirdly, the functionality from the Web Server is limited to what is needed from the Web clients. Even if Web access is accomplished by hackers, there is a limit to what they can do. And finally, we can optionally limit incoming IP's to a specific addresses or range of addresses. This offers one of the best defenses available.
Sinclair - Can information entering or leaving a WACS server be "tapped"?
Kamal: Once again, encryption can be used between all computers. This, of course, assumes that only the two legitimate parties have the keys to the encryption. Those eavesdropping on the LAN or at the ISP will have a very difficult job in making sense of any snooped data. This also prevents active attacks where unwanted parties try to actively make changes in the BAS system. This is because our encryption algorithms also employ authentication techniques.
Sinclair - If one uses TCP/IP, what other mobile devices can come handy other than office and portable computers?
Kamal: The list of Web devices are endless. New web-compliant devices are introduced every month. Once again, with TCP/IP one will be using standard web pages and standard web development tools. Customers can set up pages that offer BAS access in any way they want. Any fully capable browser can be used on our pages. In addition, if pages are built for smaller resolution and color, palm pilots and other miniature devices can be used. A customer could set up alternate sites--one full sized, and one for hand held devices with less resolution.
Sinclair - Any more thoughts on TCP/IP protocol?
Kamal: The building automation industry is going the way of Internet Appliances. That is ... TCP/IP connection to every single device in the building--not just the front end computers. Internet connectivity from PC to PC reached maturity in the late 90's. Now, there is a huge amount of R&D effort and money going into Internet connectivity for appliances in the home and office. Standards like Blue Tooth, Universal Plug and Play, Jini, HomePNA, and others will drive Internet connectivity in the coming years. Internet appliance technology will reach wide acceptance and become common place by 2005. This is not just in the building automation industry, but in every industry that can use that level of connectivity.
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