March 2019

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Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Smoothing the Bumps

In short, if we offer separation, a transmission protocol that the IT world understands and trusts, along with interconnectivity at site level via BACnet and in the cloud via APIs, we will ease the journey and some of the bumps in the road will look and feel a lot smoother and provide us all with a more enjoyable and fruitful journey that can only lead to our ultimate success in implementing innovative solutions.  
Dave Lapsley
Econowise Group of Companies

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Well, it is that time of year again and being fresh back from yet another very interesting visit to AHR in Atlanta in the USA.

Yet again I have to say that the sessions arranged by the ever passionate Ken Sinclair and his team at Automated Buildings that I attended were pretty interesting.

What were the main points that I came away with you may well ask, to be completely honest there still seems to be an awful lot of confusion surrounding the term ‘open’?

From the discussion in the sessions, it still seems that no two explanations of this term and what it will mean to us all are the same, from industry leaders through to some of the new boys on the block, there remains a complete lack of clarity.

I think it still remains a complete enigma as to which way the industry is finally going to end up heading with respect to what are almost certain changes to the BEMS market?

Again though there is a common agreement with the fact that much of the information is going to end up in the cloud even if we do not yet know quite how we are going to standardise on ensuring that it arrives there both accurately and safely in a harmonised manner?

Listening intently to Scott Cochrane of Cochrane Industries; who is without doubt well placed to comment states that his own business is evolving into a hybrid of conventional BEMS engineering along with IT specialists, it seems that this is largely due to the fact that the USA has finally decided that the market will be taking a shift towards systems implemented entirely on IP based platforms.

This has been the case in the UK for a very long time now, yes RS 485 in a few flavours is still very common in the UK but is largely confined to unitary controllers for FCUs, VAVs and metering systems that all have IP gateways enabling information onto Ethernet networks.

This brings us to one of the biggest challenges facing the global BEMS industry in deploying the system to the cloud, and yes we have been climbing this hill in the UK for a good ten years now and still haven’t quite made it to the top and had that proverbial flag-waving moment.

This said I do feel that our experiences in the UK could and should be put to good use and if our own experience is deemed of use, it could well save others evolving onto IP platforms a considerable amount of time and heartache.
A statement that strikes fear into pretty much all industry heads is Cyber Security, losing data can and will create hysteria faster than pretty much any other topic with respect to computing infrastructures, in particular now that we are all looking for remote connectivity.

Enter the head of IT and unfortunately let’s face it this person is generally a titan within the business and carries the final say with respect to what does and doesn’t get connected to the system.

This person is always going to be nervous when it comes to putting systems on a network that they are responsible for when they have no real understanding of what they do and how they work?

This I guess moves us nicely onto the next question, do we go through the pains of fighting for our systems to sit on a common IT network with the rest of the infrastructure of the building or do we perhaps take a slight detour?

Although not claiming to be the oracle, through the struggles that we have faced, I feel pretty confident in stating that separation is the answer, what though am I referring to here and why am I completely convinced that it will be the answer that satisfies all parties that will be involved in making these decisions?

The question that we need to ask ourselves is, do we really need to sit on the same network as the main computing systems in a facility or can we achieve exactly the same results by keeping it simple?

With the ever decreasing costs of both networking infrastructure and dedicated IP connections, why do we want to embark upon a completely unnecessary crusade? Let’s be selfish and have a network all to ourselves and a dedicated connection to the outside world.

With a dedicated line now being available for little more than a few dollars a month, (I have to be careful not to be too English and use the word pounds as Ken Sinclair will visualise me struggling through the door with a sack of Potatoes on my shoulder) this combined with a hardwired backbone that is amongst the cheapest and easiest to install. Very powerful switching and WI-FI systems from vendors such as Ubiquiti Networks, that can now be deployed to provide reliable enterprise networking for sums that might be considered paltry when compared to the cost of the multiple meetings and the time required to get approval and subsequent connection to the main building systems.

Well, that’s the answer then so can we all rest easily? Not quite, as this is only part of the puzzle that we as an industry have to solve, we need a system to be able to interconnect and understand one another, and that poses a whole new challenge.

How do we best achieve this and at what level will this inter-connectivity take place?

Many of the big players seem intent on banging the N4 drum but is this the right thing to do? Yes it offers a common framework and an awful lot of power for integration but this is simply going to create a monopoly that no one will ultimately want to be subjected to, It could, in fact, be considered completely inappropriate for us as an industry to allow one particular company to manoeuvre themselves into a position where this could become a reality.

Is the BACnet protocol going to solve all of our problems? Again I do not think so, yes the industry is currently working on BACnet Secure but is this really needed to enable systems to interconnect?

Again not claiming to be all knowing, but simply applying common sense to this, normalisation of data along with APIs is going to the answer, not a system that locks us all into a common framework.

I agree that BACnet implementation at site level will open up a whole new raft of choices to both clients and end users alike, system will no longer need to be of the same family to work in complete harmony with one another and this will allow a freedom of choice that has never been seen before in the BEMS industry.

Moving onto tagging of data, is this going to be a must? I agree with this methodology at site level as it will enable a standardisation of terminology that will save an awful lot of time and allow a deeper level of transparency to the engineering in buildings, is it an absolute requirement for the cloud-based system though?

Normalisation of Data is going to be the key to cloud implementation becoming the norm, providing data in a transmission format that the whole world accepts such as HTTP, which is widely accepted and implemented in situations demanding the utmost data integrity will provide the long term answer to our problems, why tag it, when we can call it what is really, is rather than an acronym? We will avoid Block Chain at this point as that is going to a subject all of its own.

I think that tagging will become a standard due to the hard work of the guys across the globe fighting for its acceptance and adoption, but let’s be honest, pushing it as the answer to the cloud becoming more user friendly and easier to understand is not really a pre-requisite to facilitate success, I know this may be a little controversial but it is only a humble opinion.

The provision of systems with fully implemented APIs is going to be the vital ingredient in the provision of truly open cloud-based solutions, if the data is in a format that all systems can simply understand irrespective of the way it was tagged on site it will provide a level of interoperability that can only do great things for our industry; not to mention gaining us a level of acceptance with mainstream IT architects but also the respect that we will ultimately need to secure the support of industry figureheads and decision makers.

Well I guess by now you are all asking the question; what is that qualifies a simple automation engineer to make such statements?

Confidence in a statement or opinion can only come from having access to knowledge, and I was fortunate enough that this came my way purely due to a chance meeting with a gentleman that has since become a much-respected business partner and friend.

Enter stage right, Mr. Gurmeet Singla, an exceptionally talented software architect who in my opinion has a depth of knowledge that is beyond doubt.

Our Journey in developing two industry groundbreaking software platforms has taken me on a personal journey that has taught me about things that I would never have been previously exposed to.

I have learned over the last few years that with respect to technology our industry is, in fact, a long way behind computer science and what we consider high tech is in fact very standard.

Combining my multiple years of experience in the BEMS industry along with Gurmeet’s knowledge and passion for computing architecture and security has led to the creation and implementation of Bubll, a very unique user-centric platform, now also Sentinll which is packed with state of the art engineering features; allowing visualisation and close monitoring of systems with an ease of implementation that is quite simply unrivalled.

Both systems boast feature-rich APIs that will enable fast and simple integration with 3rd party platforms whilst providing best in class levels of security.

Bubll and Sentinll have been developed on open source platforms that can run on everyday devices whilst offering features and power that are now gaining recognition by some key players in the industry.

I think the capabilities of these platforms should be saved for a more appropriate time and we should concentrate on my true intentions of helping to iron out some of the bumps in the road as we all know the journey still has a few obstacles that we will face.

In summary to all of the above, this is about how we can make the transition to IP and the cloud a little smoother and less arduous just by following a few simple pieces of advice from a person that has faced the IT departments’ obstacles for a good few years now.

In short, if we offer separation, a transmission protocol that the IT world understands and trusts, along with interconnectivity at site level via BACnet and in the cloud via APIs, we will ease the journey and some of the bumps in the road will look and feel a lot smoother and provide us all with a more enjoyable and fruitful journey that can only lead to our ultimate success in implementing innovative solutions.   


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