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Haystack Connect and IoT World Set Foot on Common Ground

From Saddlebrook to Silicon Valley, everyone is talking about using data to bring order, efficiency and transparency to the operational challenges of running buildings.
Therese Sullivan
Therese Sullivan,
Principal,
BuildingContext Ltd

Contributing Editor

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It’s a new day. Visibility is good, as dust from previous storms and battles has settled across the plain. Observers wait in the shadows. An imposing hero figure steps into the open. Everyone knows that whatever went on before—that’s over. And something new has just begun. The story of the new sheriff bringing order to a lawless place is a common plot for Western films. It feels like the commercial buildings industry is at a ‘New Sheriff’ moment right now. The power of data to bring transparency, greater security, fairer market competition and rapid change to buildings was the main theme at Haystack Connect in Tampa in early May. Advancements in contributing technologies like wireless connectivity, edge computing, analytics, machine learning, etc. were well covered in the IoT Architecture Symposium that ran during the IoT World Conference in Santa Clara in the middle of the month. I was at both and heard speakers and exhibitors deliver similar news: The business practices that have kept the buildings industry seven to ten years behind manufacturing, processing, transportation and other industries when it comes to data-driven operations are about to see their eclipse at High Noon. It is no longer just a Wild Bunch working on data interoperability; the biggest companies in IT and OT want standardization and less friction in data flows. Soon, for a Fistful of Dollars, building owners will be able to integrate and analyze the digital data streaming from any piece of building equipment, per any key performance indicators (KPIs) they want to monitor and manage.

Project Haystack’s 3rd bi-annual gathering brought together experts in operational technology (OT)—specifically the equipment and controls manufacturers, software vendors and systems integrators that have been at the core of open-source metadata tagging standards. The big presence of new Board-level member Intel signaled that dominant forces in IT were merging onto the same path. There were keynote presentations from Rita Wouhaybi, who is guiding Industrial & Energy Solutions Architecture for Intel’s Internet of Things Group, and Milan Milenkovic of IoTSense, IoT Technology Strategic Advisor to Intel. Each offered a stage-setting market landscape:

Dr. Wouhaybi made the point that when it comes to data modeling, the need for semantic schemas and label dictionaries for various IoT market segments —cars, cities, homes, energy grid, factories —overlap. Buildings are at the center of it all, so Project Haystack lessons, knowledge and tag sets have potential for sharing and adoption across the board.

Milenkovic’s landscape was of all the IoT interoperability standardization organizations. His point was that the various bodies need to build better bridges between their definitions to achieve higher rates of adoption. He explained that some organizations are working on syntactical interoperability and others, like Project Haystack, are working on semantic interoperability. There is still so much work to do on both fronts. He put out a call for collaboration: the path forward is for the various standards organizations to add interoperability to their charters and reach out to one another.

Two new significant bridge-building efforts were presented to Haystack attendees:

Dave Robin, research engineer with Automated Logic Corporation, past chair of the BACnet standards committee and longtime leader of its Network Security Working Group, made the ASHRAE 223 announcement. He gave some detail about the mapping mechanism to Haystack and other ontologies. The EdgeX Foundry announcement was made at the Dell booth, as Dell contributed the initial micro-services and tens of thousands of lines of code to seed the effort. EdgeX seeks to be a resource for anyone doing an edge device to have a ‘clean’ architecture to plug into.

Anno Scholten, President of Connexx Energy, also spoke to the coming era when well-defined reference architectures will bring order to the terabytes of time-series data that will be collected for a multi-story building. Metadata tagging systems like Project Haystack dictionaries ease navigation of all this data. He used the metaphor ‘Digital Twin’ to describe the end goal—a dynamic software model that can be used to analyze and predict building systems performance. He sees all the performance and energy modeling that design engineers do before a new construction or major retrofit project is built, and all the actual time-series data that is collected once it is operating, contributing to this Digital Twin.

The participation of big architectural engineering firms as well as building commissioning/energy management firms at Haystack Connect also contributed to that new-sheriff-on-the-beat feeling. While the metaphor of the Digital Twin is a good way to personify the kind of performance authority that a complete data model will represent, the engineers that building owners hire as their trusted advocates in making technology decisions are performance authorities in the flesh. John Petze and Marc Petock of Project Haystack led an “Engineers and End-Users Panel’ that included Matt Schwartz of Altura Associates, Ben Talbot of DLR Group, Zachariah Nobel of Constellation, and Rob Murchison of Intelligent Buildings, LLC. These are the type of firms and people blazing the way toward data analytics platforms that enable monitoring-based commissioning and better energy management.

The panel talked about proof-of-concept projects that used Haystack-compliant software and edge devices to balance ‘hot-path analytics’ (acting on data as it is being generated on the edge) and ‘cold-path analytics’ (analyzing select data in the cloud). Alper Uzmezler’s presentation addressed implementing Haystack from the cloud to the edge. And  a new community of developers working toward lightweight BAS suitable for analytics on the edge, Sedona Alliance, announced its formation.

These were just a few highlights at the Haystack event. I’ll be covering more of the content presented in the next edition of Haystack Connections magazine, to be published soon. ControlTrends has posted video recaps of each day of the conference that show even more of the action. Harbor Research’s Adam Hise wrote his own reflections on the Haystack Connect event here. He too describes a palpable sense of ‘New Sheriff in Town’ among the Haystack crowd:

“Systems integrators shared anecdotes of clients who, faced with the option of a proprietary system or a BACnet compliant offering that was $100K more expensive, were effectively forced into a long-term contract for a closed system. The same SIs could hardly contain a grin as they predicted, “they won’t get away with that anymore.”

Interestingly, some of the biggest proprietary-protocol-protected OEMs are also touting digitalization, aka the coming of the Digital Twin, as opportunity to renew buildings and other industries and to remake their businesses from the inside out. The stage at the IoT Architecture Symposium during IoT World was an opportunity to learn about that. For example, Suhas Joshi, Director, Honeywell, presented on merging new IoT tech with legacy C&I equipment. In the Q&A, Joshi was asked about handling 'contextual' data versus 'global' data—another way of saying meta data tagging versus the large time-series data stores. (See Anno Scholten’s Digital Twin presentation linked above.) Joshi answered “Certain markets are working on this. Look at Project Haystack." On the same stage, Johnson Controls VP & GM of Data-Enabled Solutions, Sudhi Sinha, presented on how such a big industrial company goes about deciding who to partner with for data services, among tech-stack behemoths like Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Even companies the size of JCI must consider how to maintain power, leverage and future growth opportunities when they decide which cloud provider should store and secure their customers’ building data. Data is where the value resides. ‘Who are you going to entrust with it?’ becomes a very strategic question. The IoT Architecture Symposium also included an EdgeX Foundry presentation—just one more point in common with Haystack Connect.

Jim Lee, CEO of Cimetrics, was one of the original BACnet authors that was present at the Haystack event. He has just launched the New Deal blog with collaborator and market-mover Anto Budiardjo, who has long been dedicated to facilitating dialog between the building systems industry and commercial building professionals. ‘New Deal’ is their metaphor for the Day of the New Sheriff, Dawn of the Digital Twin, Pivot Point of the Paradigm Shift. There are already some articles well worth reading on the blog. I highly recommend Building Blocks For The New Deal:

“The New Deal is built on three critically important building blocks: BACnet open standard, model-based analytics, and service transparency.

This new blog is another response to Milan Milenkovic’s call to action for bridge-building between industry organizations working on data interoperability in the interest of finally moving more swiftly toward better buildings and toward all the Internet of Things product categories that rely on the contextual data streaming from them.

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