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Interview - September 2002
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EMAIL INTERVIEW  Gary Bark & Ken Sinclair 

Gary Bark has been involved in building controls industry for the past 18 years and has experienced many aspects of the industry. From 1990 to the present day Gary has concentrated on the International market place, with a focus on the LonWorks market for the past 4 years. He also holds a position on the LonMark Board of Directors.

Gary Bark, Sales and Marketing Director, Plexus Technology Ltd
e-mail: gary@plexus-technology.com  Web: www.plexus-technology.com 


Considerations to be Made When Investing into LonWorks Web Serving Technology

Sinclair:  What applications are available from Web Servers?

Bark:  A variety of applications can be found in Web Servers available in the market place today, and the 'value add' applications are increasing. Typically the core applications are Graphical Displays, Alarm Handling, Data Logging and Time Scheduling. Energy Management, Automated Metering, Maximum Demand Control, Data Analysis are all applications that we will see more of going forward, as end users demand more out of the data that is readily available to the Web Servers. The ability to create bespoke applications quickly and easily is of prime importance.

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Sinclair:  Are Web Servers for small buildings or large building / campus applications?

Bark:  Web Servers can make data available through a standard Web Browser from a single product or application right through to the largest building or Campus. The low cost of Web Servers available in the market today enable a single product such as a pump, boiler or chiller to be web enabled. Small retail stores, fast food restaurants, gas stations, banks and telecom switch rooms are all ideal situations for LonWorks Web Serving Solutions providing key information to reduce maintenance and operational costs in these small facilities.

At the other end of the scale a large high rise building or campus of buildings should be considered as nothing more than lots of small buildings connected together. If a solution is truly scalable and the Web Servers are distributed in a modular approach performance issues and single point of failure become a thing of the past.

Sinclair:  Why are the engineering tools important?

Bark:  While the IT skills in our industry are certainly on the increase, the typical systems integrator in the controls industry does not employ HTML, Java, SOAP, .Net programmers. As a result the tools to engineer Web Based applications need to be designed and developed around the needs of the systems integrator. This means they need to be simple, but comprehensive and ideally don't require any specialised programming skills to implement. Web Servers should be no more complex to implement than a traditional graphical user interface. This is a very important consideration when buying into Web Serving technology. Ensure that all the tools to configure the Web Servers are included with the product and there are no expensive extras to purchase.

Sinclair:  Are Web Servers available on the market really 'Open' or are they locking you into yet another proprietary system?

Bark:  To understand whether you have an open Web Server or not, you need to know whether you could replace the Web Server with another manufacturer's Web Server without having to re-engineer your whole control system. If the Web Servers database is proprietary and you are unable to reuse 'network bindings' and 'control applications' then you are as locked in as you would be with a proprietary system.

As well as considering whether you are investing into an open protocol, there are other areas that should be considered for open standards. If you want to use the data that your web server is collating for other applications such as Facilities Management, Maintenance Management, Energy Bureaus, etc. you should ensure that the alarms and data logging database supports standard transfer mechanisms e.g. ODBC, XML, etc. If the database that the Web Servers logs to is SQL, Oracle or Access you can be assured that data export and transfer to these 3rd party applications can be provided in multiple open standard formats.

Sinclair:  Why is LNS the chosen standard for LonWorks applications?

Bark:  The LNS database fully supports the LonMark Standards, which are key to LonWorks interoperability. It also enables the widest variety of engineering tools available in the market today and enables integration of multiple disparate applications into a single database without the need for manufacturer intervention.

LNS is also the standard for the LonWorks Plug-ins (device configuration wizards); ensuring that systems integrators have only one database to configure rather than lots of proprietary ones.

Control Solutions, Inc Sinclair:  What are users really looking for when they ask for an integrated solution?

Bark:  Typically the User requirements are to have a common browser to display, monitor and control the building control systems. Display common alarm lists and data logs, manage the buildings time schedules and display plant schematics in a common manner regardless of the system(s) that are installed throughout the facility.

While it is a requirement to connect to multiple manufacturers systems, the key requirement is generally for the purpose of common display and management in order to achieve interoperability of systems.

Sinclair:  What are the benefits of Wireless Technology working in concert with Web Servers.

Bark:  There are a variety of added value benefits to be had from Web Serving technology, such as the addition of 802.11b Wireless Ethernet. This enables users to monitor, control, view alarms and display plant schematics from off the shelf PDA's, simply by firing up Internet Explorer. Alarms can also be sent via e-mail to the PDA, so the user is no longer confined to their desk to be in control of a facility. With PDA's and Cell Phone technology coming closer together viewing HTML graphics from a Cell Phone is just around the corner.

Plexus Technology has a range of Web Servers based around LonWorks Network Services (LNS). The Web Servers provide graphical displays, alarm handling, data logging, time scheduling and comprehensive 'Web Based Configuration' of these applications.

The range of Web Servers provides a scalable solution from the low cost NSX-10 NetServer right through to the powerful NSX-2000 NetServer. The scalability enables the smaller Web Servers to aggregate up to the larger high performance Web Servers providing a cost effective solution to small applications without losing functionality such as high capacity data logging.

All the Plexus Web Servers utilise a common Engineering Tool, ALTITUDE Pilot which is included with the Web Server. This tool enables web pages to be created within minutes without the need for HTML or JAVA programming. 'Smart Components' enable a simple 'drag and drop' approach direct from the LNS database, enabling any repetitive functions to be engineered only once, and then utilized time and time again.

The Alarm Handling and Data Logging databases are industry standard Access, SQL or Oracle compliant, meeting the integration needs of any 3rd party applications that may need to access either all or part of the control system data.

Plexus also has a wide range of 3rd party systems it is able to integrate with LonWorks enabling the legacy systems to be retained and expanded with open technology.

For more information about the range of Plexus Web Servers visit www.plexus-technology.com  and log on to a LIVE NSX-1000 for a full demonstration of this technology in action.


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