Control & Automation
Mastering middleware for sustainability
What is middleware? Common definitions are that middleware is the "glue" between software components or between software and the network or it is the slash in Client/Server. Middleware is used to connect applications to other applications.
By Ken Sinclair
Middleware opens up opportunities to use multiple user interfaces, such as the web and mobile devices to monitor and control different systems. A simpler interface also means that senior executives can view building performance measures in a format they can quickly understand. This brings together data from multiple systems, in multiple buildings to give facility managers unprecedented control over their energy use, help them spot trouble early and enable them to make adjustments in real time.
In the past, it was common for this middleware to be packaged with the automation system, security and life safety systems from one vendor. While this was convenient to the purchaser, it left no room for future enhancements from other vendors – you were stuck with the vendor that installed the system. This has changed in recent years, with many vendors using open protocols, which allow customers choice.
The bigger challenge today is determining what information and systems you want to see integrated at the building level. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, but careful choices have to be made regarding what sort of level you both need and want.
Cisco is one company that is expanding its presence in this space. In the past year, it has expanded the reach of its Connected Real Estate offering. In 2008, the company signed its first strategic alliance for Connected Real Estate with Johnson Controls (JCI). This partnership allows the company access to the facility management world and opportunities to integrate more building systems and IT networks. It’s an opportunity to provide end-to-end solutions to clients, but it will build those solutions from the existing technologies on the ground with ever more sophisticated middleware.
In January, Cisco launched EnergyWise, a networked energy management solution that monitors, manages and controls the power consumption of all networked devices. As more and more devices are added to the network, more intelligence and base-functions will be added to a building’s core infrastructure.
With the first phase of EnergyWise, Cisco can now monitor, manage and control all power-over-ethernet (POE) and IP devices connected to the network, including Cisco and third party devices. This means that, with a simple application, you could power down all monitors, IP phones, access points and laptops when they’re not in use, or after office hours.
On January 27th, Cisco announced the acquisition of Richards-Zeta (RZ). RZ – run by longtime buildings control expert and entrepreneur Ed Richards – provides intelligent middleware software that enables business to integrate building infrastructure (automation systems) and IT applications over one common network. Effectively, Cisco can now enable communication and interoperability with all IP and non-IP proprietary building controls systems. Every building control system is becoming a node on the network, and the network is becoming the platform for real estate transformation. Together, EnergyWise and Richards-Zeta offer a far-reaching IT solution for building systems.
Middleware systems will be a valuable tool in controlling overall energy use in the future, as well as more targeted applications, such as demand response events.
An example of this is VirtuaWatt, an online demand response auction application that is designed to help customers more easily navigate the complex energy market. It’s a secure web platform that allows customers taking part in DR programs to schedule load. It provides a simple interface that enables customers to nominate load on an hourly basis and lets them know if they have been called upon for a DR event.
There are a number of companies developing middleware for building management, with more entering the area all the time. Wonderware, for instance, could be seen as middleware looking for a place in commercial building control and facilities management. After many years focused on the industrial automation space, Wonderware is now entering the market as a middleware and user interface solution for buildings. They know a lot about middleware and SCADA applications, so watch this space.
The level of sophistication you want to reach with your middleware investment will no doubt depend on what sort of environment you work within, but it’s very useful to understand what opportunities are out there. It’s tools like this that will help monitor and measure your energy use effectively. When you know how much energy you use, it’s much easier to determine where savings can be achieved. The right middleware can monitor, measure, and manage that process.
Ken Sinclair (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a long-time observer of the building automation and energy management systems industries. Visit his website at www.automatedbuildings.com.