The Developer Who Discovered an Uncharted Endemic Ecosystem

Building Management Systems (BMS) technologies diverged from other business and consumer internet technologies years ago. This has resulted in a complex set of software systems that make it difficult to integrate innovative devices and programs.

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A laptop with code on it and a map in the background
Illustration: © IoT For All

A discovery was made by a daring software developer who once ventured into the mysterious Building Management System IT territory. He discovered an endemic ecosystem densely packed with communication protocols, flamboyant gateways and configuration technologies who computer scientists thought to be extinct.

Endemism, as the Wikipedia definition defines it, is “the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location”.

Linking biology and computer science is a strange thing to do. Or is it?

It appears that around the ’60s and ’70s, the BMS IT industry made a fork from the master branch of IT for consumer and enterprise. When the internet appeared the divergence grew bigger.

A diagram that illustrates the discovery of the software developer – Credit: Wattsense

Since then, the BMS IT industry evolved into an isolated ecosystem, producing numerous IT technologies which, when compared to the master branch, look enigmatic and impenetrable.

Here are three endemic species which particularly caught the attention of the adventurous web developer in the land of the BMS:

  • BACnet, this is the king of the jungle! BACnet is the latest and greatest prominent communication protocol of the ecosystem. While the project was born in 1978 and was launched in 1995, it ignored the Internet Protocol and refused to match with the sacred seven Open Systems Interconnection layers. Its structure is fairly unfriendly as its different OSI layers are tangled with one another. Software companies who venture to talk with a BACnet creature are met with a framework of convoluted and esoteric technologies.
  • Confluens, this is quite something, really! This project was presented to the world at the end of 2016. It was the fruit of a shared vision between six large french BMS players, among those some prestigious names such as Schneider Electric and Delta Dore. The ambition of the initiative was big as it was meant to fix the issues of interoperability in the BMS. The new communication protocol (you probably already know the joke, just in case) was built on a founding principle that it shall only transmit 12 predefined messages, such as “bedtime” or “I will be out for a long time”, etc. If the simplicity of the idea seemed appealing to some, the tiny issue is that this isn’t how IT works. Actually, this isn’t how anything works. That was a strange species and the wildlife was not so graceful with the poor little creature.
  • BMS Configuration Engineer. If, in your world, connecting a keyboard to a PC is about figuring out the up and down of your USB connector, in the BMS realm this is the job of the configuration engineer. He’s the one you call when you need to connect a boiler to a PC. It might sound simple, but no; in the BMS ecosystem, this is an entire profession. Config files! They’re worth a lot of gold. Some config engineers, worried that a tough season might be ahead, dig config files deep under the sand and mark their location on an ancient scroll. Beware, building owners and building managers! Make sure to keep your dear config files safe or your building system might be frozen forever…

BACnet, LonWorks, Modbus… These protocols and all their fellow endemic cousins of the BMS sector end up being a significant barrier for software companies which happen to bump against them. For those companies that keep pushing, they pay a high technological price by building connectors and maintaining a connector infrastructure when scaling.

While the BMS land is a thrilling observation experience of an anachronistic ecosystem, this isn’t exactly the kind of technological foundation you would want to build your software bricks upon.

After embarking on such a wild adventure, the intrepid developer vowed that the discovery of this forgotten land would not be in vain. Its research laid the foundation so the rest of the computer science community could someday set the BMS sector free, and return it to the mighty IT master branch where it belongs.