Still Waiting. . .(part 3)
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at 09:36PM
Toby Considine in Background

 So if the control companies are now using XML, why am I still waiting?

All of the current web services standard offered by the mainline controls companies are REST, meaning they let me push a point in using XML, and they let me read a point using XML. To some extent, they let me get many points using XML, as I can request a log, or a trend, or a history, and get back many time-stamped values.

But none of them is abstract. Which means none of them feel like a printer driver. If you want, you can find a networked printer. Whatever kind of printer you find, you can usually print to it without further thought. Some of them are in color. Some of them allow double sided printing. Some of them have more than one bin. You can find out by inspecting it from afar. In any case, if what you want to do is print, you can just print.

You do not have to know how a printer works. You do not have to know how a fuser works. You do not have to know how to operate the ink jets. All those internal relays, they mean nothing to you. You can just print.

Contrast this to our general experience with engineered systems. Generally, you will not know what it is. Is it a thumb-drive, is it a camera, or is it a printer. Is it an air conditioning system, a power system, or an intrusion detection system? The system won’t tell you.

You will not know where it is. You cannot link it to Google earth. You cannot link it to your administrative space assignment. You probably can’t even map it to the CAD plans that were delivered to you with the building two years ago. You are expected to know.

Until these systems know what they are, you can’t really perform the most basic interactions with them. I would like to invite the A/C to the meeting, just as I invite other people. But what am I inviting? Is it the air handler above the ceiling? Is it the thermostat? Is it the outside air temperature outside that I cannot set at all? Until systems can describe what they are, I can’t use them. The enterprise can’t use them.

Until the systems know what they are, I can have no security. Well, I can have one security: keep away! I cannot say that all administrative assistants at the departmental level have the right to set the thermostat. I cannot say that maintenance personnel get to see deep details until the system can tell the difference between the deep details and the superficial. Without nuance, there is no security.

I have no way to integrate building systems into long running processes. They do not know what services they provide; they only have settings, and measurements. With REST, they do not understand work flow languages like BPEL (Business Process Execution Language). I cannot integrate them into management frameworks like WSDM (WS – Distributed Management) or like WS-Man (WS – Management).

Two weeks ago, I listened as a major building systems company asked the Data Center group at IBM what they wanted revealed. The answer “We do not want raw data. We want the best information that you can provide with your deep domain knowledge to present to us actionable information. We do not want to become electrical engineers.”

Well, that’s what I want, too. And I am still waiting.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (http://www.newdaedalus.com/).
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