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Archive for the 'DDE, ODBC, Mobus or other Standards' Category

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

Mountain of SQL Power

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Just saw this announcement on the Register, Iron-pumping Microsoft SQL Server due this summer regarding the new SQL server, code-named Kilimanjaro.  One of the most popular topics on the blog is OPC vs SQL.  A common argument in the whole ‘historian or relational database’ discussion is the speed of SQL databases.  Seems like these new puppies have lots of power. The technical gap between historian and relation databases gets smaller every day. Also, there are many folk who end up using both.  When relational databases and plant data historians are deployed together, companies have access to all the data they need to improve performance, integrate the plant floor with business systems, and reduce the cost of meeting industry regulations. If you’re using OPC HDA to pull data out of your system, it doesn’t really matter what’s under the hood.  Anyone pumping up their relational databases this summer might want to look at how OPC fits into their plans.  Just because the new database is codenamed after a mountain, doesn’t mean implementing OPC connections should be like climbing one!


OPC Gets Relational with Databases: Accessing SQL Server, Oracle and other Relational Databases Using OPC

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.

Introducing Coffee Break OPC

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

This is the 200th posting for the OPC Exchange blog, so I wanted to do something a little different.  We’ve been kicking around the idea for ‘Coffee Break OPC’ for a while now.  Everyone is very busy, and few people have much time to spend on learning new things, or even the time to find out what they should be making time to learn!  Everyone takes a few minutes a day for a coffee break, so why not use that five minutes to learn a little bit?  The animation format lets you read along if you want or just sit back and listen, and hopefully enjoy it a bit.  I did my best to keep things more interesting than a powerpoint bullet list.

Let me know what you think, and what other topics you’d like to hear 5 minutes on.

01. Coffee Break OPC by MatrikonOPC

 If you do have more time to spend and would like to get more in depth information, here’s a list of resources:

We’re not talking peanuts…

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Well we are talking peanuts, in particular the deadly salmonella outbreak traced to a Georgia peanut processing plant early this year. According to the Associated Press, the effects of the widespread peanut butter recall could cost rural America’s peanut producers $1 billion in lost production and sales.  That’s far from peanuts, particularly in the current economic climate.  What do peanuts have to do with OPC?  I’m glad you asked, since ensuring safety and quality control of food and beverage facilities hinges system traceability and accurate real-time data. 


Any food product requires some type of tested and approved raw materials.  Once raw materials have entered the factory’s internal supply chain, critical control points are required to minimize the risk and scope of any product recall that might result from the raw materials.(like peanuts in a chocolate bar). These controls consist of identifying, auditing and tracking raw and work-in-progress materials as they pass through each processing points. Tracking material movements through the manufacturing control points at a discrete level provides benefits like:

·          Raw materials and WIP items are identified and tracked at each processing point and identified as a unique batch.

·          WIP items can be tracked as they move from process to process or as they are re-blended in the manufacturing process.

Traceability and auditing of these critical control points and product movement by using accurate data capture, provides real-time measurement of quality standards. These measurements may even mean substandard or contaminated materials can be caught before entering the finished goods or distribution stream. In any case, if a company knows exactly what went where, then the scope of a product recall can be accurately determined and followed up on.


Of course OPC can help provide this access to real time data, particularly since often manufacturing equipment is specialized and may have proprietary interfaces. You can read how OPC helped the Stretch Island Fruit Plant or check out how OPC can be used to tie into other system databases.

Bright Green Buildings

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I just read an interesting report from Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) entitled “Bright Green Buildings”.  The premise is that today people thing of ‘green’ buildings (more efficient, less waste, more recycling) and there are ‘smart’ buildings (integrated control systems, continual monitoring and metering).  A ‘bright green building’ is the convergence of smart and green.  I’ve blogged on the smart building and green IT topics before, but this paper pulls them together nicely.


Of course OPC would play a major role in the Integrated Building Controls section of things.  Using OPC Servers from the Building Automation suite, including the recently released OPC Server for Johnson Controls N2, means system designers can ensure complete interoperability between the various manufactures and BAS and BEMS vendors.  Beyond the obvious use of OPC to connect the control systems, another key point the paper makes is on continual monitoring and metering in order to earn “Green and Sustainable” certifications.  As it states in one section “The ability to track utility use on a real-time basis will increase the ability of the project team to document compliance with LEED.”  OPC would play a big role here as well.


For those interested in smart green buildings, the CABA article is worth a read.  For more on how OPC fits in with smart IT you can check out the paper “Energy Saving Solutions – Building IT with OPC”. 


I’ve seen numbers saying the recently approved economic stimulus package has nearly 10% of the entire bill providing funding and tax credits for green energy related projects.  It will be interesting to see if this will keep the ‘bright green’ momentum moving forward.  Anyone have addition thoughts on things?

An obvious D’oh moment about SNMP

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Ever have one of those ‘D’oh’ moments?  You know what I’m talking about.  One of those moments when you realize something that is intuitively obvious to the most causal of observers, yet seems to have eluded your razor sharp observation for an unconscionable amount of time. For me it was realizing the important role of SNMP in the building automation world. I’m sure the term SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) is familiar to many of you who have any interaction at all with the IT world.  SNMP is the de facto standard for monitoring IT type equipment like switches, routers, repeaters and such.  Of course there are many Network Management System (NMS) applications that are designed to monitor and manage this vast sea of IT assets. I’ve always been aware of the fact that companies that have a high competency in HVAC and BMS protocols also provide products with SNMP capability. I just never bother to connect the dots and ask WHY? The D’oh moment was the realization that many BMS systems are SNMP enabled which closely ties the management of IT and building assets.  Many building control devices, much like IT assets, are equipped to communicate via the SNMP protocol.  Therefore the building devices can be recognized and managed with standard, of-the-shelf NMS applications, like IBM Tivoli, HP OpenView, Aprisma Spectrum, and Micromuse Netcool.  After all managing a sea of PCs and routers is really no different from managing a cloud of building controls. 


All well and good, but why are we talking about SNMP on an OPC blog?  Good question.  Since connecting the enterprise is allow about integration, many users are pulling information from their control systems, security systems, building automation controls and IT assets into the same place.  Sometimes that’s an NMS console; sometime it’s a HMI/SCADA system or a historian.  Users need to be able to integrate both OPC enabled and SNMP enabled devices and applications.  That’s where products like the MatrikonOPC Server for SNMP (which connects OPC clients with SNMP agents) and the MatrikonOPC Agent for SNMP (which exposes OPC DA and A&E servers as SNMP managed devices) come in.  Using OPC and SNMP as complementary protocols, users can easily integrate OPC-based automation systems within network or Enterprise management environments, building and process automation systems.  This is becoming increasingly more popular as companies try to ‘get greener’ and better manage their production and building systems.


So did everyone out there know that SNMP and building automation were so closely related? Was I the only one who just thought of SNMP as an ‘IT’ protocol?  I’d be interested to hear from anyone who is using SNMP and OPC as part of their building automation solutions.  Do you use OPC-in-SNMP-out or vise-versa?

Green Data Centers

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Some more thoughts on Green things.   When you start talking about Green and large scale businesses, the topic of Green Data Centers always comes up.   I saw this article on the Globalspec blog about how a single Google search burns about 2-8 Watt-hours of energy, which they estimate to be 1.8 Million KWh/day.   Don’t know where the numbers come from since the article doesn’t cite any sources, but no matter how you look at it, mega data centers go through a lot of energy.

After burning a few Watt-hours on Google myself, I came across this article on “Seven Steps To A Green Data Center”.   A few pages along is the step called  Break down internal business barriers”

“While IT has carefully tracked performance and uptime, most IT organizations aren’t held accountable for energy efficiency due to the separation of IT functions from the facilities group. The former generates the load, while the latter usually gets the power bill, says Uptime Institute’s Brill. “ …

Now how can you bridge the communication gap between IT guys that understand SNMP, and the facilities guys that understand BACNet and, Johnson Controls?  Hmm….  Maybe OPC?

While I’m on the subject of OPC and energy management, a reminder that ConnectivityWeek 2008 – “Empowering The Energy Revolution” is happening next week (May 20-22nd).  It includes the two-day IndConn, which focuses on industrial IT and automation and is organized in partnership with the OPC Foundation and Open O&M, so a lot of the topics will center around OPC and OPC UA.

Green IT and OPC: Rest of the Story

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

My last post on Green IT spurred some off-line conversations with folks.  Once you get talking about OPC and Green IT, being able to access the IT assets in a standardized way is really only half the story.   Real savings come from also being able to access and control the building management systems.  The concept of integration is expanding to encompass the management of energy demand in the building, energy supply to it, and control of the entire process.  By knowing how the heat generation of the machines affects the building temperature lets higher level applications optimize the cooling equipment.  The key requirement is access to data from the energy management system and control of equipment.  OPC has that covered too with OPC Servers available for a wide variety of building management protocols like Modbus, BACNet, LonWorks, Johnson Controls and others.

One of the problems people face when trying to create an Energy Management and Control System (EMCS) is integrating building systems into the network.  The Building Management Systems (BMS) have all the tools and applications for dealing with building networks.  IT has access to very powerful Network Management Systems (NMS) and SNMP connectivity to the various network assets.   OPC is an obvious way to bridge the gap.

Industries in the Automation world such as refining, chemical processing, manufacturing, utilities, etc already know the value of energy optimization in their process, particularly when dealing with heating and cooling systems.  They already use higher level optimization applications, calculation packages or analysis tools to take monitored data and take the appropriate actions in the control system.   Using OPC, the BMS and IT applications can easily leverage similar systems.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone out there with EMCS systems.  Do you make use of OPC today?  Are your BMS and/or IT systems part of the equation?  Why or Why not?

Green IT and OPC

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Going Green is always a popular subject these days.   One my RSS feeds to the Green Blog pointed me to this ComputerWorld article on ‘green data centers’.  As the opening paragraph nicely sums up “Rising energy costs and the need to consolidate IT infrastructure will force business managers to re-evaluate data retention policies and learn how much power every device in their data center consumes.”  According to a quote from the piece, getting that data is a big job.

“Mark O’Gara, vice president of infrastructure management at Highmark Inc., said the health care provider is already tweaking optimization across its two-year-old green data center and 28,000-square-foot raised-floor space used for IT. After the new data center was built, O’Gara said his next major task was to measure energy consumption for every piece of IT architecture in the facility.”

It got me thinking, would it really be that big a job using OPC?  You could use the OPC Server for Windows Performance Monitor to capture the ‘Power Consumption’ parameter on any machine running a Microsoft OS.  For all the other IT network pieces you would use the OPC Server for SNMP, since many of those devices provide a ‘Power Consumption’ OID.  Once you have OPC access to the data points, it’s just a matter of archiving the data for analysis.

Going ‘Green’ is much more than a buzz word or a stand on social responsibility.  For companies and data centers that are running thousands of IT assets it is becoming more and more important to figure out how much energy each device consumes and to find ways of cutting down on energy usage.  Industry advancements in server processor power management present an attractive opportunity to lower average server power consumption without impacting server performance or availability. Each new Microsoft platform offers more in the way of power savings options. Administrators can take advantage of these options to lower power and cooling operating costs that are made possible by processor power management technologies.

See you really can do more with less.