November 2014
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#NaaS (Niagara as a Service)

- the hashtag buzzword we've been waiting for
Rav PanchalingamRav Panchalingam
Director of Research and Development
VAE Group


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Control Solutions, Inc

If you’re in cool kids club you’ll be up-to-date with all the latest tech buzzwords floating around, such as #SaaS (Software as a Service) and #IoT (Internet of Things). And by chance if you’re a really cool hipster, you’ll also have heard about #IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and #PaaS (Platform as a Service). If not, you should definitely go and read up more before you proceed any further, a good place to start is this great infographic here http://goo.gl/itPUq4. Now that you’re an expert in all things hashtag, let's proceed to blow your mind with yet another (as if there wasn’t enough already). I would like to introduce to you the concept of #NaaS (Niagara as a Service) and how it could be a #GameChanger to the Building Automation industry.

So what is it? Let’s take an example of a PaaS such as RDS from Amazon Web Services. RDS is a pay-as-you-use service to provide you a highly available SQL server database (such as MySQL) without having to endure the hassles of installing or maintaining the actual server component behind it. NaaS is a similar concept of, as the name suggests, providing the Tridium Niagara platform as a service - pay-as-you-use, which is a wild variation to the traditional distribution mechanism of purchasing a full licence, installing, and configuring a server instance for every Building Automation job you do. In technical detail, NaaS would be a Niagara AX (or 4) Supervisor set up on a cloud server which is utilised as the head end for multiple hard or soft controllers below it, and across multiple sites. Many of you may already have this sort of setup operational already without having coined the #NaaS moniker - but there is a little more to it as we read on.

Why would it useful to Building Automation companies? The major benefit is cost saving. Would it make sense to design, build and maintain an office for every project you do, especially when you only ever use a minor percentage of the capacity? By sharing your platform across jobs you not only save on license costs, but also gain the benefits of economics of scale with your cloud server. There are also a number of offshoot benefits from connecting multiple projects to the same server, such as the implicit standardisation of naming and structure conventions across your projects. You also reduce risks to a single point of failure, which is also a negative (see next paragraph) but in general you only need to look after and ensure one Supervisor server is kept up-to-date and operational.

There are some fallbacks to getting on the #NaaS game. One main one, as mentioned above, is the requirement to have an off-site server which is also a single point of failure. Depending on how IT savvy your company is this may or may not be an issue. Our organisation uses Amazon Web Services (IaaS) and it backs on their high level of uptime and reliability to host our Niagara platform. When using a single Niagara platform for all your sites there is also an additional element of designing/engineering involved to ensure sites do not conflict or interact (unintentionally) with each other, a well thought out user management profile will assist here. The Niagara platform has all the tools and ability to make this work, it just needs a bit of extra thought and design to get it right.

To really call this setup a NaaS, you need to be on-selling its use to others. This could be in the way of a subscription to your end client for higher level services such as monitoring, alarming and portfolio services. However, what really gets me excited is the possibility that NaaS could create a mid-tier market for for the highly Engineering and IT savvy Building Automation company to on-sell the use of an already operational Niagara platform as a service to other more hardware, installation and commissioning focused businesses. This allows the smaller, less tech-savvy businesses to continue performing the traditional ‘wire and power’ jobs and simply handing over to a NaaS provider at the end of the job for higher level integration and engineering. This scheme may also appeal to the hands-on end user that wants to connect their hardware devices onto a Niagara platform without large setup costs and perform their own integration/engineering.

Control Solutions, Inc Of course all the above would not be possible right now with the current licensing agreements held between Tridium vendors and its customers - but I hope that Tridium may begin to consider and review this to suit more of a ’subscription’ type of arrangement. If Tridium really is about connecting more volume of devices to the Niagara platform, I definitely believe this type of market change would suit the new age distinction between the IT/engineering focused Automation companies and the more traditional ‘wire and power’ companies - keeping everyone happy and comfortable within their realm of skills. Most importantly, we get another cool buzzword to use!

Feel free to tweet me your feedback: @ravinator

Originally published Pulse LinkedIn


About the Author

I’m the Director of Research and Development for VAE Group, an Australian company with business units in Construction, Asset Management, Mining Oil and Gas, Automation, Commissioning and Service. I’m also the founder of Bitpool. I approach the automation industry through the eyes of a software developer, and it’s been a very exciting experience to-date. Technology is my passion.

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