Interoperability Pipeline?

May 31, 2005
An update on XML and oBIX initiatives

Imagine being able to connect your building to the Internet to improve tenant amenities while decreasing operating expenses.

The technology to do this is already here. It’s called Extensible Markup Language, or XML. Experts are working to define an XML standard for facilities called Open Building Information Xchange, or oBIX.

oBIX, a Web services implementation of XML for the building management and controls industry, will enable mechanical and electrical systems - such as HVAC, elevators, life safety systems, access control, intruder detection, closed-circuit television monitoring, and more - in facilities and buildings to communicate with enterprise applications throughout an organization.

oBIX also will deliver real-time access to sensors that measure or monitor the physical space in a facility, including environmental sensing, electrical panels, and power meters, giving facilities managers and building owners increased knowledge and control of their properties.

oBIX in Action
Visitors to the buildings systems conference BuilConn Americas 2005, held in March in Dallas, learned that the buzz about oBIX isn’t just talk.

oBIX works.

Attendees saw the first-ever XML demonstration based on emerging oBIX standards, giving them the opportunity to see oBIX in action.

The live demonstration of connectivity between different building and enterprise systems using XML and Web services technology was done by representatives from Hirsch Electronics Corp., Santa Ana, CA; Gridlogix Inc., St. Louis; Plexus Technology Inc., Stafford, England; Trane Global Controls Systems, St. Paul, MN; and Tridium Inc., Richmond, VA. Participating companies are involved in OASIS, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, an international standards development consortium that serves as the governing body for the oBIX protocol.

“We had five different companies up there showing how buildings can use XML,” says Rob Zivney, vice president of marketing at Hirsch Electronics Corp. “Some showed how their products will use oBIX, while others showed general XML.”

Examples of relevant facilities industry building systems that could tie into oBIX include maintenance management, energy information, and asset management systems; human resources systems; and enterprise resource management. oBIX uses the same technology as many of these systems and is designed to make the movement of data possible using standard tools.

Paul Ehrlich, president of the Building Intelligence Group in St. Paul, MN, and co-chair of the OASIS oBIX Technical Committee, says OASIS wants to achieve a way to take a building and, in effect, plug it into the Internet. “There are people developing tools that can go in and look at a building’s mechanical systems and determine if they are working correctly. They can see what has failed, what needs to be repaired, and when it is scheduled to be repaired - all from the Internet,” Ehrlich points out.

Using oBIX, facilities professionals will be able to view utility energy usage, study how a building is operating, and implement real-time changes from a computer or a network of computers. “From a facilities perspective, it can centralize a lot of facilities operations - resulting in a building that has improved comfort and lower operating expenses,” according to Ehrlich.

A Steady Progression
The demonstration - the culmination of a day-long session on XML and oBIX offered at BuilConn - reinforces the reality of an oBIX standard that will reach across all verticals in the facilities management space. The standard soon will be published by members of the oBIX Technical Committee for open review. The review should happen in late summer or early fall, Ehrlich says. The standard is at Version 0.7, notes Ehrlich at press time. When it reaches Version 1.0, it can then be released to the OASIS membership for a 30-day review period.

“oBIX is continuing to move forward,” he says. “We’re confident, from the technical side, that it will be done within the next 3 to 6 months to go for a vote with the OASIS membership. We had the successful demonstration. That is a giant milestone for us. We’re making good progress.”

But right now, it is a waiting game, says Barry Haaser, executive director of San Jose, CA-based LonMark Intl., an organization that develops and maintains technical design guidelines to help manufacturers build interoperable products based upon the LonWorks platform. LonMark is an active participant in the oBIX initiative and one of the founding members of the technical committee.

“People are waiting for the standard to pass to deploy it. They hate to take the risk on emerging standards because they figure things will change. But, as far as standards go, this is moving fast,” Haaser says.

Haaser adds that he suspects some manufacturers have already initiated the development process, and that the first oBIX products could possible appear in early 2006.

“One of the important things in the OASIS world is [that] before you can have a standard, you have to prove it works,” Ehrlich says, pointing out why the success of the BuilConn demonstration was historic and crucial to the oBIX timeline.

oBIX Redux
While the first incarnation of an oBIX standard, known as oBIX Version 1.0, is just reaching the review stage, the oBIX committee already has started considering its next generation, oBIX Version 2.0.

Ehrlich predicts Version 2.0 will tie into facilities management and planning, including such areas as LEED™ certification and more. The ultimate game, he says, isn’t to just create standards. It is to find a way to run a building on standard protocols and techniques that optimize a building’s efficiency and its link to the enterprise. “Our mission is to tie in much more broadly,” he says. “We want a standard way [for] buildings [to] interface on the Internet. That is why all of the XML and Web services work is important.”

Those involved in the development of the current oBIX standard are seeking to build the framework to achieve just that. “While there are numerous open communication protocols employed by building systems and equipment, there is a great need for a Web-services standard to make it easy for these systems to communicate with other applications used at the enterprise level,” says John Petze, president and CEO of Tridium Inc. “We believe the success of oBIX under the auspices of OASIS will usher in a new era of efficiency in real-time facilit[ies] management.”

Editors’ Note:
The latest review drafts of the oBIX standard are available to the public at (

Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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