Sensors in Building Automation (BA) systems that monitor and manage the operation of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) products are capturing more complex data. The need by end users to analyze this data has turned software into a more integral component of BA solutions. However, this trend has also led to a system design issue for BA equipment vendors: as the functionality and complexity of building automation applications has amplified, software suppliers are debating whether to rely on hosted services through the cloud, or locally hosted software on the edge, as a focal point for BA system analytics.
Advocates on each side of the debate have claimed their approach to be the preferred option. Broader industry adoption of either a cloud or an edge framework would extensively affect the role of BA equipment in these systems.
The future of cloud and edge system architectures in building automation is bright, but use of each technology is currently in its infancy. A small amount of the BA equipment installed in the most complex commercial systems today is connected to cloud services, but most of these systems currently only rely on the cloud to support fault detection and diagnostic capabilities related to system maintenance. Meanwhile, several HVAC equipment manufacturers are just beginning to introduce edge devices in their product lineups.
The latest research from IHS Markit anticipates that using cloud and edge architectures, as well as hybridized frameworks relying on both strategies, will become increasingly common. While these trends will be strongest in North America and Western Europe, use of both architectures will intensify on a global level. These technologies will be present in BA solutions for both complex and mid-market building owners.
In a cloud computing framework, system data is processed and analyzed remotely in a provider’s data center. Information is then transmitted back to local hardware through the internet. This centralized approach to system analytics enables immediate and up-to-date remote data access, allowing end-user access through any authorized device. In addition, cloud architectures offer greater flexibility, with services that can readily scale up or down, as business needs change.
BA systems employing cloud services are less reliant on supervisory controllers and other local hardware to process analytics and manage building operations. In the short-term, however, installation of supervisory controllers will continue to act as intermediaries between sensors, actuators and the cloud. Cloud applications will generally exercise primary control over analytics, while supervisory controllers will provide lower-level support. However, supervisory controllers will also continue to be relied on as an ancillary administrator, when cloud services are unavailable.
Edge computing architectures localize decision-making processes through the use of specialized devices placed alongside hardware that generates the data to be analyzed. This distributed model for system intelligence offers numerous advantages for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. First, edge computing architecture ensures quicker response times, as it is less affected by network latency issues. Furthermore, edge devices with analytical capabilities can be selective in determining if data should be sent to hubs or managerial applications, or if the data is extraneous or unnecessary.
In a building automation context, edge devices attached to HVAC equipment can transmit collected data to an in-building network device. This hub or platform for system analytics could then be the only device connected to a company’s internet protocol (IP) network, reducing cybersecurity concerns, since fewer individual pieces of equipment in the system would be exposed and vulnerable to cyberattacks. In addition, using equipment on the edge allows integrators to avoid proprietary software in the cloud, ensuring greater potential to integrate these BA systems with other building systems.
In the near future, the cloud services approach to system analytics will generally be preferred by building automation software suppliers and providers of BA controls that do not also manufacture HVAC equipment. By contrast, HVAC equipment manufacturers that also supply BA controls will lead the trend toward building automation equipment that offers more functionality at the edge. These manufacturers will have an advantage in developing edge architectures, as they can design edge devices that work intuitively with their own HVAC equipment.
Competing building automation solutions will rely on either the cloud or the edge as focal points for their system analytics. Eventually hybrid solutions using both cloud services and edge devices will collectively support many BA systems.
As the need for BA systems to process more analytics instantaneously intensifies, the advantages of both technologies will be recognized and local hardware will work alongside hosted networks to process various types of analytics. Equipment on the edge will tackle automated procedures and respond to sudden issues requiring rapid responses. Cloud services, on the other hand, will provide a managerial overlay, providing building owners and facility managers with flexible mobile access to a relevant subset of data they can access and modify from external locations.
The 2017 Building Automation Equipment Report examines the global market for building automation (BA) equipment and analyzes significant trends, threats and opportunities for growth impacting the market through 2021. BA systems utilize sensors, controllers and actuators to automatically control a building’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. These systems reduce the energy consumption and operating costs of buildings and improve occupants’ comfort and health.