The term "open systems" means different things to different people. To some, it simply means you can share information between closed or proprietary subsystems. This approach, however, offers no cost savings and often leads to more expensive proprietary gateway solutions. Building owners and system installers must be wary of vendor claims of having more than one system "talk" at a high level to another, which is simply another way for system vendors to maintain their lock on their components. This is neither open nor interoperable. It's misleading and, in the long run, expensive.
LonWorks® solutions obviate the need for costly gateways. Standards exist for system-to-system communication and for interfaces to subcomponents. One of the most powerful aspects of a local operating network is that any device can share data with any other device, and that user interfaces are treated the same as any system controller - they're neither masters nor slaves, just devices on the network.
Sound familiar? It’s the same way the Internet works. Any computer can request information from any server anywhere in the world without restrictions as from whom or where the information is coming. Computers from any standards-abiding company can be added to the network without restriction. LonWorks operates the same way and follows many of the same rules as the Internet, but it’s designed for the more-real-time, demanding needs of control networks. It also simplifies the management and significantly reduces the cost to implement control devices. Manufacturers have the flexibility and freedom to implement both simple and complex devices without having to spend millions on development. Very low-cost solutions exist in chip-level form. For more demanding, higher-volume applications, manufacturers can add LonWorks to their devices by using their own implementation of the standard.
More than 4,000 products are available for the LonWorks market. LonWorks product manufacturers often sell their products through both closed channels and worldwide distribution. Anyone can buy open LON products - without high-priced, long-term contracts. Many other solutions don't support an open distribution model.
What does this mean for an owner? If your service contract expires and you need spare parts, you don't have to pay the high prices that some vendors charge for their products (unless you re-sign with their service department for a costly annual service contract; see Vendor Lock-In). Simply buy your product from any of the LonWorks distribution companies - and pay a competitive price.
Many owners find that LonWorks technology offers their staffs more flexibility and options when it comes to adds, moves, and changes. Staff members often become proficient in LonWorks so they can take on simple projects internally. Good system specifications always require that the installer train the owner on the system, as well as provide all the tools and software needed for basic system enhancements.
Who uses LonWorks?
Perhaps the better question is: who doesn’t? Owners who don’t use LonWorks are unaware of the vast pitfalls of closed, proprietary systems or those seemingly “open protocol” systems that some system vendors offer.
There's a growing need for information and training regarding the pitfalls and benefits in selecting a path. Building owners and system installers need to be sure they're selecting the right long-term solution by asking the hard questions:
- Will my system be open to competitive bids after the initial installation?
- Can I install a system with multiple user interfaces from multiple suppliers?
- Is there built-in security at the low-level network-infrastructure level?
- Can I maintain my system by myself?
- Will I receive all the tools I need to fully maintain my system?
- Can I choose multiple bidders for my subsystems and have their products all integrated into one enterprise system?
- Is my system designed for only a small portion of my integration needs, or can it work with all of the components?
- Can I select products from multiple vendors and distributors and not be locked into a single vendor or source?
- Will all of the products that I select be guaranteed to work on the same network infrastructure?
A 'no' answer to any of these questions, is cause to be wary. An open system is not just an open protocol; it must take into account all the aspects of the system, from the lowest-level devices to the highest-level enterprise integration. LonWorks was designed and is being implemented to these exacting standards and is fulfilling the needs of many different industries and markets. From buildings to utilities, homes to trains, semiconductor equipment to concert halls, LonWorks is the most widely used and accepted solution available.