Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
EMAIL INTERVIEW Anto Budiardjo & Ken Sinclair
Budiardjo, is the Marketing Director TAC
Americas. Mr Budiardjo has been in the
building control integration business for 14 years. As an entrepreneur, he
launched numerous controls companies in the United Kingdom. He has designed a
number of integration platforms and is now in charge of marketing TAC's line of
LONWORKS®-based interoperable open systems. Mr Budiardjo works in TAC's
Americas regional headquarters in Dallas, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where are Open Systems Today?
Sinclair: Please tell us where you think open systems are today.
Budiardjo: Over the past couple of decades, we've seen a progression of networked building controls-from the proprietary systems of the 80s and the integrated systems of the early 90s that used various forms of software and hardware gateways, to the recent proliferation of open system protocol contenders. We are now at the next great step, the realization of interoperability as the key to the future of building controls.
Sinclair: What was wrong with the integration stage? Did it not satisfy users' needs?
Budiardjo: The proprietary stage focused on bringing networking to building controls. The benefit of connecting devices together from a single vendor overshadowed the down side of that era, which was being locked to a single vendor. As users found their proprietary systems limited by the features and expertise of the single vendor, the integration era broke down that barrier. The benefit of connecting systems from multiple vendors to provide bridging of key system information far outweighed the cost and additional headaches of creating, installing and maintaining gateways between systems.
Sinclair: So, what is fundamentally wrong with integration using gateways?
Budiardjo: Integration is the process of connecting two or more dissimilar systems. Gateways are devices (in software or hardware) designed to make such systems talk to each other, often by sharing only a small piece of information. Gateways map these systems to each other. They map not only network protocol, itself a major challenge, but also map data types and, more importantly, semantics of the information. This is so because the proprietary systems they are mapping over were not designed with the same functionalities or perspectives.
Sinclair: Would you give us an example of these semantics?
Budiardjo: The simplest piece of data on a network is binary data, as you would find on a digital input. You'd think that it's all about 0s or 1s and that's it - wrong! Firstly, systems interpret the 0s and 1s differently. For example, if the data represents occupancy, one system may interpret 0 as occupied while another system may interpret 1 as occupied. Secondly, systems extend the data with non-0 or 1 value, such as fail state, overridden state or quality of data information. Two proprietary systems are quite likely to have completely different interpretations, thus even after you overcome the protocol translation and get a value of 1 from one system to the other, what does it mean? The integrating engineer will often need to configure such mapping differently on each occasion that data is conveyed from one system to the other.
Sinclair: You mentioned a cost problem with gateways.
Budiardjo: What I've just said clearly translates to an engineering cost, as in some cases the engineer has to research the meaning of data. This takes time and leads to mistakes- in other words, it costs money. Additionally, there is the initial cost of the gateway. Gateways often costly to produce as they must translate protocols that are often a proprietary vendors' leverage to keeping their customers to themselves. Often, these protocols were not designed for use by gateways and are difficult to interpret. The worst thing is the "version-hell" situation.
Sinclair: What is the "version-hell" situation?
Budiardjo: Imagine this scenario: You construct and successfully install a gateway between system A and system B, leave the building and the end user is happy. Some time later, vendor A updates its system with new features that have real value to the user, so the update is installed in the building. Problem is that the gateway was created for the old version of system A, and since the designers who developed the new feature do not know (or care) how the system is being integrated in the site, they may inadvertently make subtle changes to the protocol that make the gateway no longer work correctly. So, you have to either undo the change to system A or bring back the integrator to re-engineer-and often re-design-the gateway. This happens very often.
Sinclair: OK, so you talked about standard open protocols evolving in the late 90s. Would you elaborate?
Budiardjo: Creating a protocol is easy. Any group of engineers can create one. In London, we used to joke about new busses that proliferate in the industry as much as there are red London buses! Making a protocol open, available for anyone to use is also easy. You just create it, make it really adaptable to different applications and tell the world. A little money to market it almost ensures that the protocol is widely used. We saw ModBus, LonWorks, EIB, BatiBus, FieldBus, FND, BACnet, PHP and many others come out to become contenders to rule the world. Many of these were supported by gigantic commercial powerhouses that invested heavily. What made things worse was that many of them were local country-specific standards, so you not only get commercial "battles," but also "patriotic" type of battles.
Sinclair: How does this compare with the standards in the computer network world?
Budiardjo: A great question and one that can give us clues about the future of open systems in the building controls industry. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the IT network world saw similar "battles" between NetWare, Microsoft, the idealistic OSI model and TCP/IP as well as a host of niche contenders. The one that won in the end was TCP/IP. Why? It comes down to the basics that TCP/IP was prevalent, scalable and relatively simple to implement.
Sinclair: So, is there a winner in our battle?
Budiardjo: If you believe that the world will be an ideal place some day (in our industry), then you have to believe that there will be a single standard that will dominate. But maybe it's wrong to think of this as a winner from what is available now. It may be a combination, and there is no doubt that TCP/IP will play a role in the future of building control networks. I believe that the winning standard will win on the same basis as TCP/IP in the computer network world; it will be whichever technology that is prevalent, scalable and relatively easy to work with.
Sinclair: What do you mean by prevalent?
Budiardjo: The technology needs to be usable by a large number of vendors in many different parts of the building from components, controller and end devices, infrastructure pieces, engineering and analysis tools to operator side products such as HMI, database, alarm handlers and so on. Prevalence is also relevant in the human resources side of things; the technology stands a chance of dominating if there is a good supply of developers, engineers and installers who have a thorough understanding of the technology. Having this pool of human resources makes life easier for manufacturers and systems integrators alike to use it successfully.
Sinclair: What do you mean by scalable?
Budiardjo: It's all about mass and momentum. If the winning technology and all of the devices and resources I mentioned can be used in everything from small systems of one or two devices and incorporated into large, multi-continent enterprise systems, then it brings greater value to vendors and engineers who invest the effort. By doing so, the return on such investment gets into the commodity model of business, costs come down quantities go further up and round it goes again.
Sinclair: Which technology do you think will win?
Budiardjo: If you believe what I have said, there is really only one choice: LONWORKS®. With 3,000 developers around the world and over 16 million devices sold to date, LONWORKS is the most prevalent of the technologies for controls, not only for all aspects of commercial buildings, but many other industries such as transportation and residential. With the developments of LonTalk® over IP, LONWORKS is also very scalable, from a single device to maximum usage over the global Internet. The ease of implementing LONWORKS is also there from the fact that using a Neuron chip and a transceiver in your device instantly buys you all of the infrastructure components you need to leverage the breadth and scalability of the technology.
Sinclair: You spoke earlier about the interoperability era of open systems.
Budiardjo: I talked about the semantics of information and its importance in our industry. It will be pointless to have a great technology that is prevalent and scalable if you still have to worry about whether the occupancy state is derived when a data value is 0 or 1! When an engineer installs a device that provides occupancy information, he needs to be able to connect that device to any device that uses the same type of occupancy information-period. The same goes for all types of information that devices need to exchange with each other regardless of manufacturer.
Sinclair: How do you get this level of interoperability?
Budiardjo: First, this is not a technical problem. It is an "industry working together" problem. There needs to be a deep understanding of the issues that will enable feature-rich interoperability; this means that these standard data types need to actually be useful in their respective areas, be it HVAC, lighting, security or others. They need to be defined by experts in those fields under an umbrella organization that can not only control the technical aspects of the standardization but also be able to market the standard and ensure the industry knows the value of interoperability in all manner of control system disciplines.
Sinclair: Are you talking about an industry trade organization?
Budiardjo: Yes you're right; the association that exists today that is working exactly to those goals is the LONMARK® Interoperability Association, supported by the who's who of the controls industry.
Sinclair: You're saying that LONMARK will enable open systems?
Budiardjo: A worldwide organization that does what LONMARK is doing will empower and enable the industry to deliver the benefits of interoperable open systems. I see no other organization doing this to the level LONMARK is, and no other organization basing their solution upon such a strong and heavily supported technology. So, my answer to that question is yes.
Sinclair: What of the claims that LONMARK is nothing but a proprietary system from Echelon?
Budiardjo: Those who say that would probably insist that standards are created in committees. Well, I'm a pragmatic marketer. No committee created the cassette tape, VHS, the IBM compatible PC or Windows®, and we'd all kill to have those levels of standardization in our industry. Each of those standards were started and driven by a commercial body and won the day because their commercial success was largely based on the success of their technology being deployed widely-and no, I don't work for Echelon nor do I have Echelon stock!
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