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Article - March 2000
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WebCTRLlogo
by Gerry Hull, President
Automated Logic Corporation

The greater the ability to communicate the highest quality information from operator to system, system to operator, and system to system, with the greatest of ease and simplicity, the more valuable the Web becomes.

GerryHullFor 20 years Gerry Hull has been President/CEO of Automated Logic Corporation, Kennesaw, GA, a company which develops and manufactures electronic hardware/software control systems for buildings.  He holds a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt University and received his MBA from Emory University.


Background...How will the needs of building automation in the new decade be different from those of the 90's? Predicting the future is risky, but there are two predictions that are a safe bet.

First, the Web will play a vital role in building automation. The Web is not a temporary phenomenon, and its ability to communicate data to anywhere on the globe at virtually no cost is of extraordinary importance to customers. To take full advantage of the Web, the challenge for delivering, not data, but quality information is even more important than before. The greater the ability to communicate the highest quality information from operator to system, system to operator, and system to system, with the greatest of ease and simplicity, the more valuable the Web becomes.

Control Solutions, Inc Second, open standards is not a temporary phenomenon either. Up to this point, our industry has been sluggish to adopt open standards, and certain suppliers have sown confusion about its meaning and purpose. But there is a much bigger world outside our small industry where open standards is a given; and it is healthy, robust, and continuing to grow. In addition, there is a profusion of new technology that continues to develop around the Web, new technology that is of significant value to our industry and others. This technology is built primarily around open standards, so much so that "web technology" and "open standards" are virtually synonymous terms. To resist open standards is to resist this growing reservoir of new technology. We believe the winners in the building controls industry will adopt open standards or lose their relevance.

Characteristics

WebCTRL has four distinguishing characteristics:

  1. WebCTRL is a front end, workstation software package for the building automation industry that is designed to support multiple standard and non-standard protocols. Referring to the diagram labeled "Single User", notice that it supports BACnet, LonWorks, MODBUS, SMNP, and Automated Logic's legacy protocol, and it does so for concurrent operation over the same data link, TCP/IP (ethernet). Support for other protocols can be added as needed. (Automated Logic's support of both BACnet and LonWorks should not be interpreted as a hedge in our commitment to BACnet. We believe BACnet will continue to provide the best solutions in our industry, but LonWorks systems do exist and they will need support.)


    WebCTRLSingleUser

  2. WebCTRL is not a browser enabled "bolt on" to an existing proprietary software package where functionality through the browser is limited. WebCTRL was designed from the ground up around web technology, therefore any device with the appropriate web standards support (including Internet Explorer 5.0 or Netscape Navigator 5.0) becomes a full featured operator interface with the system. No special software at the browser is required. This is an important distinction because "full featured" includes trending, scheduling using a graphical interface, downloading memory, not only seeing but interacting with graphic programming logic in real time, tree navigation, etc. - in other words, all the features one would want in a high quality front end package. The list of supported devices includes mostly PCs today, but by the end of this year we will see a whole host of new "non-PC" devices such as WebPads, Set-top boxes and other Internet Appliances which will support these standards and will therefore support WebCTRL.
  3. WebCTRL is a JAVA based system and was not designed around any one company, e.g., Microsoft or Intel. It was designed around well established open standards broadly supported by all of the major suppliers of operating systems and hardware. Refer to the diagram labeled "Multi-User". WebCTRL server software will run on Windows 98, Windows 2000, Sun Microsystems Solaris, Linux, and even on an Apple Power Mac. It is hardware independent and operating system independent. Its database can be IBM's DB2, Oracle, Sybase, Microsoft SQL Server, Access, or others.


    WebCTRLMultiUser


    Why is this extraordinary flexibility important since Microsoft has a 90% market share in the operating systems market worldwide and a virtual monopoly in our industry? Microsoft is, in fact, losing market share today, and if its market share should slip from 90% to, say, 66%, then 1 out of 3 customers will expect a non-Microsoft solution. (As a point of interest, 26% of all IT managers have implemented Linux in their departments as of today, and the number is growing.) Automated Logic wants to be able serve 3 out of 3 customers, and with WebCTRL it can.

    We believe Microsoft will likely maintain a level of dominance for years to come, but an exclusive marriage to Microsoft is unwise.

    The IT community fully understands and appreciates the importance of an open standards strategy and they are becoming an important influencer in our industry.
  4. There is an increasing need to share information with other information systems whether it is with the "enterprise mainframe" or with an approved third party.

    For example, an energy services provider wants access to current and historical data on a building's energy usage patterns. The internet is an excellent way to transfer the data to the energy provider's system, but does the BAS provide easy, and flexible access to the database? With WebCTRL, yes, because it was designed with that need in mind. WebCTRL comes with a CORBA/RMI interface, an industry accepted open standard protocol for transferring information from one computer system to another. Microsoft's version, OLE/OPC, is available as well.

Summary

The Web is in its infancy and its sunset is nowhere in sight. It is also clear that the Web, and the mother lode of new technology that it has spawned, are of fundamental value to our customers. With this understanding, it was logical, even compelling, not to "adapt to", but fully adopt the technology and make the substantial commitment necessary to offer the advantages in our products to our customers. The written word does not tell the story however. "You just gotta see it".

For WebCTRL enquiries contact webctrl@automatedlogic.com


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