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Archive for the 'OPC UA' Category

OPC, Smart Grid and I2G

Friday, February 5th, 2010


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently issued an initial list of standards and other elements needed to support an interoperable smart grid. The NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0, concentrates on standards that will help achieve interoperability among devices and systems. OPC Unified Architecture (UA) is one of the few non-industry specific standards to make the list.

OPC I2G SmartGridThe whole process of choosing which standard makes the cut requires a lot of effort to ensure that those chosen meet the industry specific needs and have sufficient vendor support to encourage a market of compatible products. In order to coordinate work within the SmartGrid community to work towards the achieving interoperability, NIST has coordinated the formation of Domain Expert Working Groups (DEWGs). The DEWG members are subject matter experts representing from utilities, vendors, academia, industry, standards groups, and federal agencies. The working group most relevant to OPC UA is the Industry-to-Grid (I2G) collaboration. As on OPC UA vendor, MatrikonOPC is an active part of the I2G Working group.

I’ll be attending the upcoming ARC forum in Orlando, where Keith Stouffer, the co-chair of the I2G Working group will be presenting on topics related to SmartGrid initiatives. If you’re going to be at the conference and looking to learn more on OPC applications to the SmartGrid or on the I2G working group, let me know. Hope to see you there.

If not you can always read more on it on our OPC and the SmartGrid page.

An OPC Year in Review – 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

I’ve been very remiss of late on getting blog posts up.  That will be my number one resolution for the coming year.  To make up for the lack of posts recently, I thought I’d do a recap of some of the noteworthy OPC happenings of 2009. This year saw a lot of activity from the OPC Foundation, particularly in regards to OPC adoption.


Early in the year saw OPC UA meet a major international standardization milestone when the Committee Drafts of Parts 1-6 & 8 of IEC 62541 (the international version of the OPC Unified Architecture specifications) were approved.  Shortly afterwards was the Final Release of Unified Architecture Phase I Deliverables.  New released versions of Parts 1-8 of the OPC UA specifications, along with matching UA SDK and sample code was made available for members to download.  This, along with additional SDK updates through the year and the launch of the OPC Foundation Blog for Developers and creation of the Accelerated Adoption Working group helped paved the way for many new OPC UA products. 

Autumn 2009 saw several other OPC UA initiatives such as the release of the OPC UA For Devices Companion and Analyser Devices Companion Releases, as well as the OPC UA For IEC 61131-3 Companion Specification  release candidate from the PLCopen/OPC Foundation Joint Working Group (PLC). Several OPC vendors now offer OPC UA support, either as an OPC UA wrapper or native OPC UA support like the MatrikonOPC Universal Connectivity Server (UCS).


OPC adoption also got a boost from the announcement that the OPC Express Interface (Xi) was added to the OPC Foundation technology portfolio, complementing OPC UA and COM-based OPC Classic. OPC Xi’s primary objective is to provide a .NET-based migration path from OPC Classic. Additionally, OPC Xi may be used as a standard .NET WCF interface for newly developed OPC servers.  Expect to see more products supporting OPC Xi in the coming year. 


All in all, an very good year for OPC.


Although 2009 was a tough year for many companies MatrikonOPC had its share of good OPC news.   Major advancements on the core OPC Framework technology lead to had several product milestone achievements including reaching OPC Foundation Gold Level Independent Certification, achieving Wurldtech Achilles Certification and most recently enrollment in the Honeywell PKS Advantage program.  These framework advancements along with the OPC UA implementations culminate in our newest product offering the MatrikonOPC Universal Connectivity Server (UCS).   There will be much more to talk about on UCS as 2010 unfolds.


Technology investments were not the only growth this year.  MatrikonOPC expanded its reach opening regional offices in Brisbane and the United Kingdom.  This global presence allows MatrikonOPC to offer ‘round the clock’ OPC support, which plays a major role in the offerings provided by the Partnership programs such as the MatrikonOPC Integrator Program (MIP) and the MatrikonOPC Vendor Partner program.  Clearly customers recognize the value in our commitment to OPC, since the year also as had exciting business news.  These included the Shell’s global standardization on MatrikonOPC connectivity and the collaborative agreement with Siemens Industry, plus many others joining the Partner programs.


With the horizon looking brighter from an economic point of view, it bodes well for an even more exciting 2010 for OPC. 


P.S.  Don’t forget to check out the newly updated OPC Tutorial video.

Express Interface Xi

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Happy Halloween to all the ghouls and goblins out there.  Halloween is really a time of excitement, expectations and a little uncertainty.  What’s in the treat bag? Candy or Apples?  Who’s that behind the mask?  It’s that combined factor of anticipation and unknown that makes Halloween fun.  The same can be said for new interfaces. The recent news about the .NET based Express Interface (Xi) and the inclusion of Xi as part of the OPC Foundation portfolio is bound to raise feelings of hopeful anticipation about new connectivity options and probably some questions as to how everything will fit together.

The coming weeks will bring information on how OPC Xi is moving forward and where it best fits in user’s architectures.  For now, I’m most concerned with what I’m going to wear to the Halloween costume party, and what effect copious amounts of junk food will have on my kids.  What about you?


Have a Safe and Spooktacular Week-end!

P.S.  As a Halloween treat there are a few more questions added to the Ask The Experts pages. 

Is OPC UA as Simple as OPC DA?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

I’ve been away on vacation for the last few weeks, and will be on the road again for the next few weeks.  In the meantime a few more questions have been added to the “Ask The Experts” section.

Speaking of questions, I had a query from Gary Mintchell regarding comments he’s heard about how OPC UA should be ‘simple’ like DA. (Look for some upcoming OPC discussions from Gary at Automation World).

I’d thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the topic, since I’ve come across this more than once myself.


The first thing is what your perspective is on the matter. There is a difference between being “simple to use like DA” and “simple to develop like DA”. 

The end-user experience of starting an OPC UA client application, discovering the list of available servers, connecting to the OPC UA server, browsing for available points and subscribing to value updates does not change very much from what we do today with classic OPC.  What does change is that this process now has more built in security, reliability and integration of other data models like history, alarms and conditions and programs.  Also the infrastructure is no longer tightly dependant on Microsoft operating systems and the challenges of DCOM.  Of course these additions mean that OPC UA product developers now have some more work to do.


To put it in everyday concepts: The mechanics of driving an ’82 Dodge K Car, and a 2009 Electric Tesla Roadster are the same, but how they are designed, manufactured, maintained and work under the hood is VERY different.  The same applies to OPC DA and OPC UA.


With OPC DA, a C++ programmer with a good understanding of COM could download the 200 page OPC DA 3.0 specification and basically start coding.  A bit of a simplification, but that one document bounded what the programmer had to implement.  A programmer sitting down to develop an OPC UA server opens a layered set of specifications broken into thirteen Parts. These documents are purposely described in abstract terms and in later parts are married to existing technology on which software can be built. They also have to consider options such as programming language implementation, security, information model etc.  (Not saying that’s a good or bad thing, just stating some facts.)  For many people, their first reaction is ‘this is complex’. The discussion on ‘how simple or complex’ OPC UA is really a reflection on the difference in scope between OPC DA and OPC UA.


The classic OPC specifications were COM implementations therefore the constraints of COM dictated many implementation details, including target operating system, discovery mechanism, wire protocol, security etc. 10 years ago, developers were mostly concerned with solving the interoperability problem, so accepted these constraints in order to achieve an acceptable standard.  As the OPC Foundation website states “The existing OPC COM based specifications have served the OPC Community well over the past 10 years, but as technology moves on so must our interoperability standards.” 


Users and developers now require more, several factors influenced the decision to create a new architecture:

  • Microsoft has deemphasized COM in favor of cross-platform capable Web Services and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture)
  • OPC Vendors want a single set of services to expose the OPC data models (DA, A&E, HDA …)
  • OPC Vendors want to implement OPC on non-Microsoft systems, including embedded devices

Let’s look at each of these factors, and what impact that has on the scope of OPC UA.


Choosing Microsoft COM as the basis for classic OPC meant that many decisions were already made for the developer, but this also brought with it all the configuration pains of DCOM, close reliance on Microsoft platforms and limited ‘web’ application integration.  Selecting a Service-based model for OPC UA provides cross-platform functionality, and removes the reliance on any one vendor or technology.  In ten years from now, when the protocols used by Microsoft, IBM or Linux change (and they will), then the OPC UA applications will not need to be re-written, only the underlying mappings need be changed.  This abstraction adds scope to OPC UA that OPC DA did not have, but on the other hand by not being bound to any particular technology means that the OPC UA specifications will be timeless.


OPC UA stands for ‘Unified Architecture’, which encompasses all the classic OPC specifications: DA, HDA, A&E, Commands and Complex Data.  So comparing OPC UA to OPC DA is a bit of apples to oranges.  The base OPC UA specifications contain the common components to integrate all these features.  Again this is a larger scope than OPC DA and developers need to understand what things included in the base and what things are Access Type specific.  That said, not every OPC UA server will be required to implement all 13 Parts.  OPC UA provides multiple ‘Profiles’ that allow developers to choose the right level of functionality for their application, yet still ensure that the base level of interoperability exists will all OPC UA products. 


OPC UA has been designed to be cross-platform and scalable from embedded devices all the way to Enterprise spanning applications.  Offering this level of flexibility while at the same time guaranteeing a usable degree of interoperability means developers must make some decisions on target programming language (C, .NET, Java) and communication stack (Binary, TCP, XML)  their OPC UA products will support.  In classic OPC, COM dictated these things, but with OPC UA developers have more choices. The OPC Foundation provides multiple SDK, communication stacks and sample code to accelerate adoption, but some vendors may choose to implement these lower layers on their own.


All these factors put together means the since OPC UA offers all the functionality of the classic OPC specifications and new features plus removes many existing constraints, that the structure and depth of material to absorb in learning OPC UA is harder than the OPC COM specifications. Or as some people say “OPC UA is not as simple as DA”.


The focus of the OPC UA Working Group over the last few years has been to ensure that specification and supporting deliverables met all the criteria discussed above, while ensuring certifiable interoperability and backwards compatibility and providing increased reliability and security.  Producing a ‘simple OPC UA quick start guide for the new developer’ was not a main priority.  Now that the specifications are nearing final completion, the Early Adopter team validates that things work as expected when the ‘paper become code’, and OPC UA vendors are developing their own products, the priorities are changing. 


The next phase of OPC UA is ensuring that developers have what they need to successfully implement and adopt OPC UA. There is a large segment of the OPC community saying “As a first step we want to just provide our existing OPC functionality on the OPC UA infrastructure.  What do I need to know to do that?”   It’s not really a matter of ‘changing’ the OPC UA specifications to ‘make it simpler’, rather it’s presenting the specifications, documentation and code deliverables in a form that meets this important first step use case. 


That is the focus of the newly formed “Accelerated Adoption Working Group”.  This group is working to create the documentation, OPC UA Profiles and jump start code kits that allow product developers to quickly understand what aspects of OPC UA are required to duplicate their existing classic OPC functionality.  These implementations will still have all the core components needed for interoperability and for added extended functionality in the future.


Under the hood OPC UA is still a powerful ‘Swiss Army Knife’, but if all you want to do is cut something with the big blade, here are the steps you need to follow. You don’t need to know how the cork screw works or where it is.  However if you want to use it in the future, you don’t need to build a new knife, the functionality is there waiting to be opened.


My $0.02


Those interested in learning more of OPC UA should check out “OPC UA: 5 Things Everyone Needs To Know

OPC Ask the Experts – New Resource Section

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Based on the feedback I get both on and off-line, the audience of the blog really consists of two main groups of OPC users.  Those that know OPC and are interested in how others are using OPC in their systems and keeping abreast of what’s happeing with OPC and OPC UA.  The other large segment are those new to OPC and looking for general information or an answer to a specific question.  To better address the needs of the latter group, we’ve added a new resource section to the blog “Ask The Experts”

Here’s the list of the first ten questions, and others will be added over the next little while.

As always if you have any OPC questions, drop me a comment or an e-mail.

OPC in SmartGrid Security and Building Automation

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Just got back from the OPC Expo at Connectivity Week in Santa Clara.  It was a good opportunity to have some good conversations on a wide range of topics.  Some great presentations on how OPC, in particular OPC UA, fits into the SmartGrid story and plays in the building automation space.  One of the hot topics around connecting the grid is of course security, and the presentation by Tyler Williams of Wurldtech on their Achilles Industrial Cyber Security Certification Program generated some good discussions.  This is the Achilles certification program that our MatrikonOPC products are following.  As SmartGrid rolls out, the focus on communications security will become increasingly important.

I spent a lot of time talking with folks on the exhibit floor.  MatrikonOPC shared a booth with Cimetrics, whom we partnered with for the development of our OPC Server for BACnet.  What I did find surprising at the conference, is how many folks in the building automation space are still unaware of OPC and all that it offers.  Many of the larger vendors certainly know of OPC, and anyone who’s business models span across industry verticals are on board, but the message needs better penetration at the ‘grass roots’ level.  I suspect this lack is mainly due to the image of OPC as a ‘Microsoft’ technology. As OPC UA continues to gain adoption, the cross-platform and web service aspects of the architecture will begin to resound more in this area.


In the meantime, those in the building automation space that ARE aware of OPC have a leg up in connecting their applications to the enterprise, using solutions like those outlined in Extending Building Automation Data Visibility Using OPC.  OPC awareness in this space is growing rapidly, and with more OPC UA products coming out every day, and increased focus on energy optimization expect the pace to get even quicker. 


If you are one of those folks standing still, you might want to think about getting a move on to OPC J

Connectivity Week – OPC Expo. Be There.

Friday, June 5th, 2009

I hope to see many of you at the OPC Expo at Connectivity Week, Santa Clara, California: June 8-11, 2009.


ConnectivityWeek 2009 is the only event focused on the intersection of energy and information technology.  IndConn the Industrial Automation is part of ConnectivityWeek a focus on the application of information technology for solving critical energy issues across all segments of industries. The OPC Expo is an opportunity for end-users and vendors explore the interoperability possibilities between industrial automation and other domains , including building automation, security and the smart grid initiative. 


I’ll be doing presentations on OPC UA, the role of OPC in Wireless applications as well as Enterprise integration.  See you then!

See you at the OPC Expo

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Will you be attending Connectivity Week, Santa Clara, California: June 8-11, 2009?  If so, make sure to attend the OPC Expo.  (I’ll be speaking and am looking to pack the room with an attentive OPC audience J  )


ConnectivityWeek 2009 is the only event focused on the intersection of energy and information technology.  IndConn the Industrial Automation is part of ConnectivityWeek a focus on the application of information technology for solving critical energy issues across all segments of industries. The OPC Expo is an opportunity for end-users and vendors explore the interoperability possibilities between industrial automation and other domains , including building automation, security and the smart grid initiative.  Read more on the OPC Expo here


If you’re looking for a primer on using OPC with Building Automation, give “If These Walls Could Talk” a try.


Speaking of expos, save the date Aug 21st, for the MatrikonOPC Expo in Singapore.


Hope to meet up with lots of OPC readers in sunny California!

Upcoming OPC Events

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Things are relatively quiet on the OPC News front this week.  There are a few events happening in the not to distant future to be aware of:

  • ·        The OPC Expo / IndConn that is part of Connectivity Week, being held at Santa Clara Convention Center on June 8 -11th.
  • ·        The OPC Interoperability Workshop in Tokyo, Japan – June 16-18th
  • ·        MatrikonOPC Expo – Singapore 2009 which is coming up in August 21st

A while back we also made some small changes here on the OPC Exchange blog, that I forgot to point out.  The right hand column now has the Blog Topics and Categories section to help you find related posts.  If there are other categories you would like to see let me know.

We also added the Most Popular Top 5 Posts section.  This gets updated on a rolling 3 month window, based on the most popular posts.  Not surprisingly lately people are interested in OPC Advantage in Tough Times and Security Gateway and OPC UA.

One MILLION dollars…

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I just can’t say that without quirking one eyebrow and bringing my pinky to the corner of my mouth.  I blame Mike Meyers.  It’s been a busy few weeks, with lots of stuff happening on the OPC front.  Since I’ve been negligent in getting blog posts out, I’ll list them all now…

  1. The blog post refers to MatrikonOPC donating $1 million in kind to the NAIT Johnson Controls Centre for Building Environment Technology.  MatrikonOPC has always had a close relationship with NAIT, and it just makes sense that the technologists of the future are well versed in real-world tools like OPC that are used in industry today.  Could you consider this a stimulus package that helps students become successful HVAC specialists?  I assume this includes free copies of Extending Building Automation Data Visibility Using OPC for every student J
  2. The Live Multi-Vendor OPC UA Demonstration at the MatrikonOPC Houston User Group. This demonstration will showcase OPC UA and recently released UA components. Don’t miss it.
  3. The OPC Foundation TAC has approved the Charter for the “OPC UA Accelerated Adoption Working Group”.  This is the ‘working group for the second generation of the OPC Unified Architecture’ that was mentioned in the latest OPConnect newsletter.  More details on this very soon.
  4. OPC UA Java Software Development Kit now available:  The first beta for the OPC UA Java SDK is now available for download.  A lot of Corporate Members have been waiting on this SDK for some time now.  Let the Java fun begin.

That about brings everyone up to date for now.  On a personal note, this counts as the 199th blog post for OPC Exchange!  I’ll have to do something special for number 200.