November 2012
Interview

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Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.
Belimo

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Brian FrankEMAIL INTERVIEWBrian Frank and Ken Sinclair

Brian Frank is the founder of SkyFoundry and software architect of the SkySpark software platform. Previously, Brian was co-founder of Tridium and lead architect of the Niagara Framework. Brian is active in the development of open source initiatives for programming languages and protocols including: oBIX, Fantom, Sedona, and Project-Haystack.

Project Haystack



An Update on Project Haystack

Haystack tagging makes it possible for visualization software to assemble graphics of equipment systems with almost no human involvement.



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SinclairCan you provide a brief recap to describe Project Haystack for our readers?

Frank:  Project Haystack is an open source initiative focused on developing naming conventions and taxonomies for building equipment and operational data. The community is defining standardized data models to describe the data that comes from smart devices like building automation systems, meters, and the wide range of smart devices we find in today’s buildings.

SinclairWhy is this important to the industry and to building owners?

Frank:  Haystack is important because it streamlines the process of managing, presenting and analyzing the vast amount of data produced by these smart devices. Technology is making it increasingly cost effective to instrument and collect data with low cost devices.  We have reached the point where we are now awash in data, but still do not have the actionable information we need to improve operation of our facilities. So the new problem is really how to make sense of all this data. Haystack helps address this challenge.

SinclairHow is this different from what the devices and automation systems do on their own?

Frank:  Today, most systems have poor semantic modeling. A manual, labor intensive process is required to "map" the data before value creation can begin. These systems may support an open protocol but this simply means you can access data IF you know what to look for and how to ask for it. Project Haystack naming conventions and taxonomies make it possible to build automated tools to do this work, making it more cost effective to analyze, visualize, and derive value from operational data.

SinclairI see from the Haystack Forum that there have been some major new additions to the materials developed by the community. Can you explain them a bit and also help translate a bit to help our readers understand the significance of the new additions?

Frank:  A tremendous amount of work has been done since the initiative was started back in March of 2011. Lots of that relates to developing models and tagging conventions for equipment systems like chillers, solar arrays, etc.

SinclairHasn't there also been some new work around making Haystack data easier to exchange?

Frank:  In the last month the community has released a lot of work on this front.  We have begun to define a suite of simple file formats to store Haystack tagged data using CSV, JSON, or XML.  We have also created a specification for how to query and exchange Haystack data using HTTP – making haystack a web services protocol if you will.  These new specifications provide a foundation to streamline the plug-n-play of Haystack data between different software systems.  We have even created a full reference implementation, which is freely available on the project-haystack.org site as open source.

Control Solutions, Inc SinclairTell me about the Haystack Community?

Frank:  The community that has built up around the Haystack initiative is as significant as the technology itself. We initially started supporting the activity to help make it easier to apply analytics to building operating data. But it turns out that semantic modeling of data is the key to streamlined interoperability among applications and devices of all types.

For example, Haystack tagging makes it possible for visualization software to assemble graphics of equipment systems with almost no human involvement -- some companies using Haystack have basically accomplished the holy grail of “self assembling graphic displays”. This is possible because the software can “understand” the meaning of the devices and their data and make decisions to build an appropriate graphic.

And other devices and systems like lighting controls and wireless devices support Haystack because it enables their products to be integrated into a “whole” with far less work. It’s very much like the revolution that “plug and play” caused in the PC market -- devices can self-describe themselves and their data to any external application that wants to interact with them. It’s the next level beyond simply having a standard wire protocol where you can get data “IF” you know what to look for and how to ask for it.

SinclairHow can people contribute to the effort?

Frank:  Project Haystack is run as an open source project, which makes it super easy for anyone to get involved. All our collaboration is done on the forum at http://project-haystack.org/.  All you need to do to get involved is sign-up and start posting your ideas on the forum!  A simple way to get your feet wet is to provide feedback on existing or new models under development.  If you are ambitious, and a domain expert in a given space such as chillers, data centers, or refrigeration, feel free to start a discussion. Maybe you are an equipment manufacturer who would like to see specific tag models for your products – the community would love to see that too.


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