April 2004

BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
BACnet Testing Laboratories

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EMAIL INTERVIEW -  Ron Brown & Ken Sinclair

Ron Brown, CTO, Gridlogix, Inc 

Mr. Brown is the primary architect behind Gridlogix technology strategies and solutions that include the EnNET® software framework. Prior to co-founding Gridlogix, Mr. Brown co-founded Automated Energy, Inc. (AEI) where he served as President and Chief Information Officer. During his tenure, he recruited and led the team that designed and engineered AEI's industry leading web enabled Enterprise Energy Management (EEM) System. As a result of his cutting-edge development, he has several patents pending.

Mr. Brown's 20 plus years of utility engineering and operations experience has been in the management, consulting, software development, implementation and integration of GIS, energy management, distribution automation, and MIS projects for various leading utility software vendors, including National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) and Gentry Systems. Mr. Brown holds a B.S. Degree in Engineering Physics from University of Central Oklahoma. He is a Senior Member of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), member of the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA), and a member of the Energy Marketers Association. 

For comments or questions rbrown@gridlogix.com

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Connecting enterprise energy management systems

Sinclair:  Tell us about your IT style of easily connecting enterprise energy management systems.

Brown:  The market is searching for a specialized IT centric Enterprise Application Integration framework designed to turn automation and control systems and their devices into easily accessible data sources for business systems. I recognized this through my own desire for an easy way to connect enterprise energy management systems to customer's HVAC systems. But for such a solution to be utilized, it would have to be straightforward enough for a junior VB programmer or business analyst using MS Excel to take advantage of it. Furthermore, these individuals would have little or no knowledge of HVAC systems and their protocols.

Most of the solutions and technologies that were available and, still today, are typically hardware specific and support only a few protocols. These hardware specific solutions known as Gateways, require use of a specific programming language API and operating system. And because these gateways only support a few protocols, users are forced to use gateways from more than one vendor. This is a drawback due to the time and cost associated with learning and incorporating the operation of different gateways into an EEM framework.

What happened during this timeframe outside of the BAS market was the development and acceptance of XML Web Services as a new computing paradigm for enterprise integration. XML/WS was quickly adopted by IT departments around the world as the new standard for integrating proprietary/legacy systems and for making the data easily available to any user or application inside and outside of an organization, securely across any network.

I recognized that this new IT standard made sense in the automation market and was the perfect platform for solving automation system to business system integration. We formed Gridlogix in 2002 and set out to build that easy to use enterprise application integration tool built from the ground up with the latest computing paradigm - XML/Web Services. EnNET is the resulting application that enables tremendous value to be derived by exposing real-time data to knowledge workers, their applications and partners that comprise and support an enterprise.

Sinclair:  What is this framework you at Gridlogix are always talking about?

Brown:  The framework represents a collection of software applications built around our innovative XML Web Service's interface. This interface encapsulates the complexity associated with working with multiple automation system protocols, their data types, and their interfaces. In other words, we provide software developers and application integrators a single interface to any supported automation system in the same way they would use an ODBC interface to connect their applications to a database management system.

As I mentioned, the framework comprises several software applications. The core application is the Web Service. Inside this application are embedded automation protocol clients such as BACnet and Modbus. The Web Service uses these clients to natively connect to a protocol specific automation system. For example, the Web Service can simultaneously connect to separate BACnet, Modbus, and OPC networks, and then serve the data flowing in those networks to other business applications via the Web Service's interface. The interface does not discriminate between the different protocols, and presents these distinct real-time data sources resolved into one nice, neat interface.

The next major application that we published was the EnNET Explorer. The Explorer is a simple Windows application that allows the user to remotely connect to our Web Service and read from, or write to any connected automation system. The Explorer has become a very useful tool for our customers, particularly our OEM partners, because it helps them to quickly implement the power and flexibility of Web Services into their solutions.

After completing the Explorer we released our BACnet Proxy Server. We were constantly being asked if we could do protocol translation. So we considered several approaches to this idea, and decided that we should add a BACnet Server to the framework. Now any automation protocol that we directly connect to, can be served up as native BACnet/IP. For example, we can simultaneously serve-up as BACnet/IP a power monitoring system using Modbus and a PLC system using OPC. This means that most BACnet host applications can be used as a centralized head-end to manage more than just HVAC systems.

Our business development and R&D efforts have identified additional applications to be considered for inclusion in our framework. We expect to release 3 or 4 new applications this year.

Reliable Controls Sinclair:  What market niches does Gridlogix want to serve?

Brown:  Our primary market focus has targeted the opportunities that revolve around the common ground between HVAC, facilities management, and enterprise energy management. Our domain expertise also includes electric utility automation and operations systems, and we're currently involved in exploring opportunities in this market.

The manufacturing and industrial automation markets are now presenting opportunities for us in the M2M space because of proven business metrics showing real value gained from smart/remote device management.

Sinclair:  What is Gridlogix's involvement with oBIX™?

Brown:  We're a founding member of the oBIX Committee and a strong supporter of the group's efforts. Our position is that we will embrace the standard that oBIX produces in the same way that we embrace other similar standards developed and being developed in other vertical markets. We are also a founding member for MultiSpeak, which has become a XML/WS standard for electric utility application integration.

As mentioned earlier, we have developed an easily understood XML Web Services interface. One important benefit is our interface is very general in scope. The interface accounts for all of the major data structures and data types normally used in automation systems, but it is not specific to any automation genre, such as HVAC, Utility SCADA, or Manufacturing. We will add the industry specific benefits of oBIX to our interface when the standard is completed.

We don't compete with controls manufacturers or system integrators, we partner with them. Our strategy is to create relationships with these companies, enabling them to bundle our technology with their existing products and services. oBIX will help our partners to appreciate and understand they are licensing technology from Gridlogix that is not only built on the open standards created and supported by the W3C -World Wide Web Consortium - (Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, HP, IBM and others) but more important we actively participated in the development of the specific standards required to support their very own BAS industry.

Our strength comes from the fact that we have over 2 years of significant R&D, which has resulted in the most robust use of XML Web Services within the automation and controls industry. Our integration application is a hardened XML Web Services automation technology that is secure, reliable, and real-time.

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