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Open-source technologies that cut costs and eliminate vendor lock-in

July 24, 2023
Several open-source software products are increasingly popular in the smart building space.

A building management system (BMS) can greatly streamline oversight of day-to-day operations of the many connected systems—lighting, electrical, HVAC, security, life safety—of a smart building. Building owners and operators looking to reduce their technology spend can consider the use of open-source smart building management platforms as an alternative to commercial alternatives. Not only is the software free to use and growing rapidly from a feature/functionality perspective, but it also prevents the dreaded vendor lock-in, which can considerably increase the cost of commercial systems over a product life cycle because building operators must commit to proprietary IoT management systems and associated hardware.

Open-source software often comes with concerns regarding support—or lack of support—from bugs, security flaws, and lagging features. However, if the open-source community is strong and includes multiple commercial vendors contributing to the software, it can be as reliable and feature-rich as commercial alternatives.

This article describes a handful of vetted open-source in-building technologies and why they’re gaining in popularity for smart building use cases.

Available open-source solutions for smart building infrastructures

OpenVisu: This community-driven, multi-language software product delivers an elegant and customizable building management dashboard that supports several standards-based protocols. It provides a way for smart-building IT teams to manage their operational technologies (OT), including industrial systems that rely on SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition).

ThingsBoard: This free-to-use IoT platform is compatible with many lower-cost IoT devices and sensors to rapidly provision, automate, control, and monitor multiple IoT systems in single and multitenant building environments.

SONiC: The operation and management of smart building technologies often require Ethernet-based networks. Within data centers, proprietary network switch hardware and software are often installed to manage communication between in-building systems and the software used to control them. Equipment and associated licensing and support contracts are growing more expensive by the day.

Open-source network operating systems (NOS), like SONiC, are growing in popularity as a lower-cost option for in-building data centers. Microsoft originally developed SONiC to drive network communications for its global Azure cloud platform. The company later opted to make the SONiC NOS source and is now managed by the Linux Foundation. The use of SONiC within smart building data centers provides highly scalable and capable network services while allowing the software to be deployed across a number of white box or brite box hardware. White box switches come pre-configured with their own distribution of SONiC, while brite box switches allow for a number of open-source or commercial versions of the SONiC operating system. Eliminating network equipment software licenses and support can significantly reduce IT OPEX spending.

Why open source is becoming popular for smart building use cases

A few key benefits emerge from the use of open-source technologies.

  1. The proprietary software and protocols that lead to vendor lock-in are eliminated.
  2. REST API capabilities allow for streamlined and automated data extraction to other platforms for automated analysis using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
  3. The growth of standards-based smart building and IoT hardware components – The underlying network infrastructure, IT, OT, and IoT systems can now rely on open-source solutions that operate on low-cost white box solutions that are cheaper to purchase.

Commercial distribution options are available; however, if you require enterprise-grade support, community versions of open-source software are largely not ideal. Many commercial vendors have adapted their commercial distributions based on open-source software that is fully supported, including full enterprise-grade hardware and software support. Dell Technologies, for example, offers varying levels of support contracts and network orchestration options for fully integrated automation and increased network visibility within data centers and clouds.

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About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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