Protocol Wars–Vendors versus Standards

Protocol Wars–Vendors versus Standards

A couple of people commented on my protocol wars post I published yesterday. I’ll address a couple of comments and then push on toward some further enterprise level conclusions.

Satish wrote: “Nice summary Gary! Standardization is a double edged sword for vendors and always there is a cautious approach. You know what happened with Real time Ethernet, Field bus & ISA 100 standards. It will take its time to mature when customers demand it and vendors are happy with the ROI. I could see how vendors make money in integration through OPC by supporting the standard but adding cost when it comes to usage of it (fine letter prints?). Probably when automation system becomes COTS system it will be a drastic change – XOM’s project with Lockheed Martin is aimed at it, am not sure!”

Satish pointed out a couple of sore spots regarding standards. Actually standards sometimes get a bad rap. Sometime they deserve it. I don’t care to get deeply into any of them, but, for example, the wireless sensor network process was one of the worst examples in the past 20 years. Eventually the industry standard WirelessHART dominated simply due to market forces. From a technology point of view, there just wasn’t that great of a difference. We can think of others. Sometimes it is simply obfuscation on the part of one vendor or another.

However, he is correct talking about the tension of standards and suppliers. Suppliers think that they can provide a better end-to-end solution by keeping everything within their sandpile. Sometimes they can. All of us who have been on the implementing end know that that is not a 100% solution. Sorry.

Cynics think that suppliers simply wish to lock in customers with an extraordinarily high switching cost. All suppliers wish to have a customer for life, but I don’t take that cynicism to the extreme. It implies much better product development and coordination than is often the case.

That said, for suppliers working with standards will almost always be Plan B.

That brings us to the owner/operator or end-user community. They mostly like Plan B. For several reasons. First, this does keep the supplier on its toes knowing that competition is just around the corner. Good service, technology, and prices can keep the customer happy. Slip up, and, well….

Further, owner/operators know that they have many more needs than one supplier can fill. And they have a multitude of legacy systems that need to be integrated into the overall system-of-systems. This also requires Plan B—interoperable systems built upon standards.

This interoperable system-of-systems, however, does not preclude best-of-class technologies and solutions within the COTS product. It only requires exposing data through standards in a standard format. That would include the RDLs and Web Services Information Service Bus Model (ws-ISBM) on the OIIE diagram. The OIIE does not care about what is within the blocks of operations, maintenance, design, and other applications. Just that data can flow smoothly from system to system.

OIIE Architecture

System-of-systems

Aaron Crews of Emerson wrote on LinkedIn a little about Emerson’s work in the area. “Ok now draw a vertical line through your bus and call that a corporate firewall and it gets even more complex. Not pushing the approach as the be-all, end-all, but what Emerson has been doing with the ARES asset management platform is an interesting take on the reliability side of this.”

Let’s take Aaron’s thoughts about what Emerson is doing and consider on the next post what happens if many companies are doing something similar in different applications. Putting these all together looking at things from an enterprise point of view.