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Why New Daedalus?

Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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Wednesday
Jul112007

Invisible and Uncontrollable

Recently a well-respected engineer and leader of a well-respected engineering organization lashed out at my comments. “My customers do not want to pay $120 for a controller on the roof, they will never pay for [the interfaces you advocate]!” This echoed my conversations the month before with my brother CJ, who has been programming high performance embedded systems in high-risk environments for his entire professional life. I asked him what it would take to engage a wider audience. CJ defined the barrier without hesitation: “It’s because people see these systems as invisible and uncontrollable. “

In defense, the engineer would have talked of the enterprise control systems his company offers. He would have pointed out that they had been leaders in developing products offering web services. These just add another trait to CJ’s apt description: inscrutable.

Have you ever sat on the edge of a conversation between two experts in a jargon-filled field not our own? You recognize that the conversation is in English. You do not recognize all of the words. Some of the words sound familiar but seem to have non-standard meanings. Unless you are really motivated, you soon stop paying attention.

That is where building systems are today. LON, BACnet, KNX, and others might as well be in Mandarin as far as Enterprise IT is concerned. When Building System providers produce Web Services, it is as if they switched to English, but highly technical English, laced with jargon, and demanding deep domain knowledge to understand. Controls companies say “We tried, and it failed.” It would be more accurate to say that they did the quickest, dirtiest translation they could.

None of these companies would dream of using on on-line internet language translator for their marketing brochures. Yet that is all they have done with their web services. These systems need to go beyond translating their low voltage protocols to XML—they need to translate their engineering processes into business services.

My friend Keith Gipson has all the retro-commissioning business he can handle right now, driven Energy Companies in Southern California. He will launch into descriptions of the last generation “Enterprise Systems” that are both chilling and hilarious. Somewhere in the narrative there is always a paragraph similar to: “So we found the three year old control system in a locked closet on the third floor, running Windows 98…we think it had been frozen up for months”

I cannot imagine ever considering a computer running Windows 98 as being enterprise ready. I don’t think even Microsoft ever marketed Windows 98 as an enterprise operating system. The controls companies that used Windows 98 until recently did so because it was the most recent operating system they could find with no standards for security or system protection that might change the way that they had always written programs. And as Windows 98 was always un-securable, it owners had no choice but to isolate it from the network and lock it in the closet.

Today’s Building Systems use web services are like they used Windows 98. They have made some sort of pro-forma nod toward mainstream systems. It is neither effective nor useful. Without security, the Windows 98 PC could not safely be connected to any network with other systems. Without service oriented abstraction and the useful security models they enable the new web services cannot interact effectively with enterprise systems.

Despite all, they remain invisible and uncontrollable because inscrutable. No one wants to pay for that.

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