Are We Finally Enabled?
By Terry Hoffmann
Manager, FMS Marketing
Johnson Controls, Controls Group
Has the time finally arrived when the myriad benefits of the intelligent building can be realized by building owners and occupants? Can the promises of interoperability, flexibility and increased employee productivity finally be delivered in a form which makes them viable financial investments for both owner-occupied and investor-owned properties? Or for new construction and major retrofits? The unqualified answer is, "Yes." And yes comes at the right time for those who were caught up in the building intelligence fad of the eighties. We saw ads for intelligent elevators, intelligent roofing materials, intelligent drinking fountains, intelligent wiring systems, and intelligent HVAC control systems. Yet, someone forgot to check if the enabling, foundational technologies were in place and understood enough to be applied. That answer was a definite, "No." The results were uneven, expensive, usually late and almost always a disappointment. The few successful implementations of the concept were almost certainly the product of serendipity or a dogged refusal to stop until it worked. So how can we be sure the time is finally right to take the plunge? Can we be certain that we are finally on the verge of being enabled as well as empowered? Now is the time to rate the progress of applied technology and determine if the era of intelligent buildings is here. Factor One: Computers and Memory
The ability to distribute intelligence to devices within the building goes well beyond the advances in desktop computing. The availability of powerful , low cost processors for OEMs and systems manufacturers has made the greater impact. New, enhanced processes and algorithms which take advantage of this power require more memory. Fortunately, the cost of memory has decreased dramatically to the point where one megabyte is available for the price of a few kilobytes in the past. And where once it was necessary to insert and solder memory to the controller board, vendors now use standard sockets or SIMM/DIMM assemblies that can be purchased over the counter. With regard to desktop systems, they are processing 100 times faster than at the dawn of the intelligent building concept and they utilize the additional memory required to support that speed. It is estimated that by the year 2000 the average hard disk drive installed in new desktop systems will have multiple gigabytes of capacity. As an enabling technology, the grade for computers and memory is A+. There are no longer valid financial or technological reasons to avoid using intelligent devices at all system levels. Factor Two: Networking Technology
In order for multiple systems to run on a single data highway, networks were developed with enough bandwidth to handle worst case scenarios for each system simultaneously. Standard Ethernet, Arcnet and Token Passing implementations each had inherent limitations for this application. Linking multiple networks required expensive bridges, routers and gateways, which were not always capable of delivering a consistent solution to meet these interconnecting needs. Fortunately, this technology has flourished in the early '90s. We are blessed with standard, high speed networks capable of delivering a secure, reliable communications path to multiple users. Fast Ethernet and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) are good examples. But two others require more than passing mention. FDDI, Fast Data Device Integration, is a standard developed to expand the usability of individual networks by allowing them to coexist on a single, fault tolerant, common backbone. Usually implemented in a dual-ring configuration, FDDI provides 100 Megabits per second of throughput, which is configurable to meet all user needs via standard bridges, routers and concentrators. When Ethernet subsystems are employed in conjunction with FDDI, the bandwidth is usually...