Sunday, July 1, 2007

HVAC Interoperability? Forget about it...

"The Home Plug and Play Specification represents a strong first step towards unifying the industry behind a common open industry specification and accelerating the deployment of smart interoperable devices in the home," stated Kevin Kahn, Director of Intel's Communications Architecture Lab and Intel Fellow. "This will enable new applications for the PC bringing increased convenience and security to the homeowner."

This inspiring quotation comes from a press release dated... January 10 1997. Over 10 years ago.

So, what do we have today?

The Home Plug and Play Specification never materialized.
Same is the fate of CEBus, for all practical purposes.
BACnet, Modbus, and LonTalk never made it down to residential applications.

Up to this day, there is no sign of existence of a unified diagnostic interface across residential HVAC devices.

Only the very advanced and recent systems such as Carrier Infinity have remote access, but even for that you have to pay a hefty $100 annual fee, and it does NOT have a simplest possible thing - the Ethernet interface. Yes, instead of providing an ability to plug a CAT-5 cable into it, it goes across the SkyTel pager network, quote, "because it didn't require a computer network to operate".

Side note: forgive me for being blunt, but I don't really understand why two pieces of equipment, both of which reside in my house, keep nagging for money and require a roundtrip across the world, rely on complicated and expensive infrastructure, absolutely refuse to talk to anything that hasn't been paid for and/or thought of by the designers? Two answers come to my mind:

  1. The manufacturers want to milk the customers and make them pay for most number of upgrade modules they can (market segmentation in action, also, see Carrier Infinity vs. Bryant Evolution);
  2. The designers didn't know about the fact that an Ethernet connector hardware costs pennies to implement and the computer network in a strict sense is not even necessary (hint: static IP, DHCP, zeroconf, Ethernet hub).
You pick the answer you like better.

Let me skip the rest of the long list of arguments that lie just beneath the surface, and state the fact as it appears from a consumer standpoint: Interoperability between commercially available hardware appliances is effectively nonexistent.

One of possible reasons for this is that the residential HVAC industry hasn't reached maturity - technically speaking, we're barely at introduction stage yet. None of the manufacturers seem to have realized that with drastically shortened product development and obsolescence it is much more profitable to play nice together than to rip the sandbox apart trying to get the biggest share of toys.

Related is the fact that the explosive growth of IT, achievements in hardware and software interoperability and the benefits they can yield are mostly being ignored.

Yet another fact is that most probably the manufacturers are stuck in the middle of the hardware development pipeline - and they still can't wake up and realize that unless they manage to shake off the illusion that they can pull it off, cut the losses, drop the pipeline and start working as the present day demands, they will be overrun by smaller, more agile companies that are able to utilize all these nice things referred and alleged to above.

Mark my words.

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