4 tips on interoperability
1. Building Automation Systems Connect With Each Other, Enterprise Systems
Today's tip from Building Operating Management comes from Rita Tatum, contributing editor for the magazine: With widespread use of interoperable protocols, building automation and energy management systems connect better with each other and with enterprise systems.
Not that many years ago, marketing for building automation systems and energy management systems (BAS/EMS) focused on which interoperable protocols was being used. That debate seems to have ended. Major manufacturers today offer open protocol products. Commonly used protocols include BACnet, LonMark, and Modbus.
"Flexible middleware appliances and software platforms are equally adept at all common protocols," says Robert G. Knight, senior associate with Environmental Systems Design. "The focus shifted rapidly from 'Which one will win?' to 'What's the best fit for this application?' and 'Which contractor do I prefer for this project?'"
In addition, modern BAS/EMS systems are relatively easy to install. "The average mechanical contractor can pull off multi-protocol integrations without too much trouble," says Knight. As a result, system integration leaders are bundling "best-of-breed software enhancements as a standard offering," Knight says.
Today's BAS/EMS connect better, not only with each other, but also with other enterprise systems.
Jim Sinopoli, managing principal, Smart Buildings, sees more software that creates standardized databases so the BAS/EMS merges into an enterprise-wide network. "Smaller to medium size companies, often regional control companies, are creating this software, which goes way beyond traditional EMS," he says.
What's more, "islands" of facility data are now being connected. "We are quite pleased to see some very innovative software coming to market that bridges the gap between BIM, CMMS, asset management, document management and BAS," he says. "This is a real killer app and it certainly isn't anywhere near the mainstream yet. But we think this is what the future of building operations will look like."
Knight enjoys imagining how the silos of data from such diverse software applications would interoperate. "We think these systems will have a transformative effect on the entire life-cycle of managing a building," he says.
2. Three Factors Can Limit BAS Interoperability
Today's topic is three obstacles to interoperability.
A growing number of building automation systems are being installed using open protocols like BACnet or LonTalk to enable them to interoperate with products and systems from a range of vendors. But facility managers who are considering open systems should be aware of factors that may limit interoperability.
One such factor is the use of gateways to connect systems that cannot otherwise communicate. These may be a good choice when it comes to linking an existing proprietary system to a new system. But if a new system uses gateways for interoperability, that's an indication that the system itself isn't truly open.
A second potential problem is failure to implement the open protocol properly. To avoid that problem, look for products that have been certified. BACnet Testing Laboratories certifies BACnet producs, while LonMark International certifies LonTalk products.
A third factor to consider is the extent to which proprietary capabilities exist on systems using open protocols. The more that there are proprietary functions, the less the system is fully interoperable.
3. Certifications Can Help Ensure That "Open Systems" Deliver Interoperability
Today's topic is ensuring that interoperable systems really are interoperable.
Facility executives have long heard about the benefits of interoperable building automation systems. They provide facility executives with more choices when it comes to product selection and service providers. Because facility executives aren't locked into a single provider, they can get competitive bids, reducing long term costs of the system. That's why interoperable systems using protocols like BACnet and LonTalk have become more popular.
Just because a building automation system has BACnet or LonTalk capabilities, however, doesn't mean it's interoperable. For facility executives, it's important to ensure that the devices being specified are truly interoperable.
One good way to do that is to look for devices that have been certified. For example, the BACnet Testing Laboratories (BTL) verifies that the product correctly implements BACnet features. And LonMark International offers a certification program that requires manufacturers to have devices tested. If the device complies with the standards and passes the test, the device can use the LonMark logo as a sign of certification.
For facility executives interested in using BACnet or LonMark, those two certification marks are worth including in specifications to ensure that devices will interoperate as claimed.
4. What Interoperability Is and Isn’t
If two devices are interoperable, they can share information and commands without the need for a gateway or other special hardware or software to translate from one protocol to another.
But that doesn’t mean the devices are interchangeable. In other words, just because thermostats from two different manufacturers are interoperable, facility executives cannot simply replace one with another and expect the second to work exactly the way the first did.
For devices to be interchangeable, both the way protocols are implemented and the capabilities of devices would need to be standardized to a far greater extent than is currently the case.
If devices were interchangeable, facility executives would have far more freedom to mix and match devices from different manufacturers. But there would be fewer choices about features and the way those features are implemented.
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