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Open System Architectures for Smart Buildings: The Horizontal Approach

In our previous blog, we talked about the vertical approach to open system architectures typically found in existing systems. It’s time to bring these siloed verticals together with a horizontal layer that is technology agnostic and uses open data standards/protocols. This way, the applications, data, and devices are all brought together for a better understanding of the entire building. 


Horizontal Architecture

A typical silo or subsystem within an intelligent building comprises sensors and actuators wired to controllers, generally aggregated to an edge controller or applications server. Within the silo, legacy systems may be comprised of both propriety and open device protocols. To evolve these silos, their data needs to be consolidated into a coherent data model. This typically can be accomplished in several ways. In smaller systems, the edge controller can provide a dual role of integration controller and data server. In larger systems, servers supporting multiple protocols or individual gateways are used to bring together the individual subsystems and normalize the data.

Horizontal architecture (4) 

Normalized data

As these vertical silos come together, either through a controller, gateway, or server, this level of the architecture becomes a rich source of normalized data, independent of the system of devices that it originates from. There are a number of data standards now available for describing and modeling this data set. Ultimately, the most important aspect is that the data is unified and available for access by multiple independent applications.  The concept of an independent data layer was originally introduced by James Dice on the Nexus blog and was actually the inspiration for this article. 


Independent applications

Once your smart building has easy access to its data, new and exciting applications are now possible that bring together a holistic view of its performance and new tools to manage its systems better. In this new approach to building data, opportunities for picking the best-of-breed applications with exciting new capabilities becomes possible (unlike the Single Pane of Glass approach, where you’re limited to the abilities of a single application). The independent applications and potentially the normalized data set in a horizontal architecture can be hosted at either the server or cloud level. 


Real-life examples

In current installed legacy systems, which originally may have started out as proprietary protocols, for the most part have evolved to supporting open device standards such as BACnet. It could be argued that these systems are relatively normalized at the data level as well, meaning that they have unified all of the point and device information into a common format. So traditional manufacturers like Honeywell, Johnson Controls, and Siemens products accomplish this, as well as technology providers like Tridium’s Niagara Framework and J2 Innovations’ FIN Framework. But the problem is the data may not be normalized to a data standard or model, and not all of these current solutions support data access through open data APIs (spoiler alert: Project Haystack and FIN Framework solve this problem). 

Ultimately open framework software and initiatives such as Project Haystack have helped solve this challenge by providing both the standard/models and the APIs. This effectively creates an independent data abstraction so that applications, data, and devices are brought together for a better understanding of the entire building. Applications such as energy visualization, FDD, analytics, sustainability, and tenant engagement become new possibilities for new building operators and owners.    


B. Scott Muench

Scott joined J2 Innovations as a partner in 2011, and is now Vice President of Customer Experience. He has a wide range of responsibilities including evangelism, business development, training, and operational excellence. Scott is well known as an industry expert in smarthomes and smart buildings. He is a past president of ASHRAE, and is currently a board member for Project Haystack. Scott attended Clarkson University for Mechanical Engineering and graduated with a BS/Business in Organizational Innovation.

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Topics from this blog: Project Haystack Smart Buildings FIN Framework Technology

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