BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
EMAIL INTERVIEW Jim Henry & Ken Sinclair
BACnet is widely accepted in Australia by the consulting community and we see a large percentage of specifications now calling for BACnet...... Recently, I went to both Korea and Japan. There is a great deal of interest in both countries, as well as China in BACnet.
BACnet in AustralAsia
Sinclair: How large is the BACnet Interest Group - AustralAsia (BIG-AA)?
Henry: BIG-AA is growing rapidly. We have twenty-seven member companies, ranging from manufacturers and product distributors, to clients and consultants. We now have members from as far away as Korea. BIG-AA is having a surge in activity, largely due to the efforts of Automated Logic and Alerton. BIG-AA is incorporated as a non-profit organization in Australia which has added credibility.
Sinclair: Tell us about the acceptance of BACnet in your area of the world?
Henry: BACnet is widely accepted in Australia by the consulting community and we see a large percentage of specifications now calling for BACnet. This has been achieved by strong cooperation among the BACnet distributors. In 1999, Alerton, Automated Logic, Delta, and Simplex cooperated to put on a full day forum on BACnet, at which both Mike Newman and Steve Bushby, (respectively, the then Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the BACnet committee) gave lectures. BIG-AA members followed up with lot of presentations to consultants and large clients. Recently, I went to both Korea and Japan. There is a great deal of interest in both countries, as well as China in BACnet.
In Australia, BIG-AA expects to generate a surge of interest next year at the AIRAH show in Sydney in March where BIG-AA will have a BACnet "alley" of interconnected native BACnet systems. (Editors note: AIRAH is the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, and Heating, the Australian equivalent of ASHRAE)
Sinclair: Can you point at any major projects?
Henry: The largest multi-vendor site is the University of New South Wales (UNSW). UNSW has installed five systems from Delta and Alerton. They are specifying native BACnet for all new automation, and are also specifying BACnet as the standard interfacing protocol between intelligent systems, and also to stand alone intelligent equipment such as chillers. The University of Sydney has Delta and Reliable BACnet systems and the University of Newcastle has gone to BACnet. Delta Controls has installed BACnet throughout the new Microsoft Australia Headquarters in Sydney. Alerton has numerous Department of Defense installations around the country. ALC has the Bosch headquarters in Melbourne and has done the first Class One semiconductor manufacturing facility in Australia.
One of the greatest benefits of BACnet is the simplicity in having entire systems from different manufacturers viewed and operated through any BACnet interface. This has helped BACnet gain rapid acceptance from the large intuitional clients I just mentioned.
Sinclair: In the CONCLUSION of your article Evolving to internet intelligent building services through open communication protocols you say "BACnet is clearly the most complete protocol for the building industry. However, Lon is much more widely available and entrenched. The best thing for owners to do is to select solutions that will leave them the most flexibility for future changes while providing the most advantages today, such as Internet connectivity." Could you expand on which Internet connectivity standards you consider important?
Henry: There are two aspects to Internet connectivity that are very important to automation systems and both aspects are being incorporated by most automation manufacturers. The first is the transport of data across the Internet and other complex networks, i.e. intranets. The second is web server based access to systems through thin clients, such as Internet Explorer(r) or Netscape(r).
First, as in all data communications, TCP/IP (or the complimentary, UDP/IP, as used by BACnet) has become the world standard for routing through complex networks. Your August 2001 interview with Rehan Kamal of Computrols made this point. What Mr Kamal obviously didn't understand, as others have pointed out in your e-mag, is that all communications, and real time controls in particular, requires more than just transport of information, you need to agree on the meaning of data and have organized rules for talking and handling exceptions, failures, alarms, etc. BACnet incorporated Annex J to add this transport facility. It is clear that the transport and network mechanism standard is TCP/IP for all industries, not just ours.
Second, the movement to web server based systems is happening quickly. This doesn't require a standard. I remember first proposing a simple web based virtual thermostat back at Delta in 1995 or 96. I had no idea how fast and far this concept would go. It has been the basis of Tridium's successful entry into the market. The concept of a server being the single point of residence of graphics and remote access through a thin client revolutionizes automation system architecture. I can't see a client accepting for much longer either proprietary software packages or the need for dedicated software or graphics libraries being installed on every computer they use. As my former employer, Tridium, stated, this gives the client "Anytime, anywhere control".
Basically, BACnet operating over IP and thin client access through web server architecture provides all the standardization that any client should require.
This topic permits a segue into another aspect of evolution of the automation industry. I am amazed that we are not starting to suites of applications being developed using BACnet as the common interfacing tool, such as data management, maintenance packages. I guess this is because we are used to the standard model of automation through geographical representation of product lines as a suite of products that is carryover from the proprietary protocol days.
Sinclair: Final question. Do you see BACnet becoming the standard BAS protocol?
Henry: Before I respond, let me clarify that I see BACnet as the standard method of interconnecting, not only for BAS, but for all Intelligent Building Systems, including lighting, security, fire protection, lifts, electrical, power monitoring, and specialty equipment interfacing. But to get back to your question, I see two major impediments to the universal acceptance of BACnet. Most important is the need for a common programming environment accepted by the different BACnet manufacturers. Right now, BACnet systems can interoperate beautifully. But you need a proprietary programming interface for each manufacturer. I think there needs to be a movement to a common programming interface, like IEC-1131-3. There is also the need for movement to a new model of controls and automation business where BACnet suites of products are commoditized and can be mixed and matched between manufacturers. Obviously, the programming issue must be addressed first. Once that is solved, then advantage can be taken of the scalability of BACnet, where different BACnet based software applications can be interconnected on a best of breed basis.
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