🎧 #033: Ping Yao on smart building networks and the blurring lines between IT and OT
"It's not a technology question. It's not a performance problem. It's a people problem. If a new building is being built… and the owner says, “I want my OT system, security cameras, lighting, elevators… etc. to be on my IT network,” the simple question to ask is: is IT now going to be responsible for the construction phase and all the responsibilities of OT?
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Episode 33 is a conversation with Ping Yao, CEO and Co-Founder of Optigo Networks.
This episode is the second foray into networking that we’ve done on the podcast, and similar to the first one with Joe Gaspardone, I do not attempt to hide my ignorance or where I’m at on the learning curve here.
Ping doesn’t disappoint with his answers to my questions. He has some great ones, especially with IT vs OT and insights around BACnet that helped me wrap my head around where things are moving on the networking level of smart buildings.
Mentions and Links
Optigo Networks (1:41)
Boston Properties (11:05)
Interview series with Matt Schwartz - Part 1 of 3. (40:09)
Pixie example (53:43)
You can find Ping Yao on LinkedIn.
Thoughts, comments, reactions? Let us know in the comments.
Ping explains the impetus for founding Optigo Networks (1:49)
Answer to James’ favorite question (8:28)
The average building network (10:38)
Intro to IT vs OT, blurred lines (13:30)
Diving into Optigo’s services, how they’ve evolved, and where they’re headed (19:27)
Top three problems with BACnet (30:37)
Back to the world of IT and OT (39:53)
Understanding silos from a networking perspective, looking at industry trends (47:14)
Reflecting on how to close the skills gaps in the industry (51:05)
Music credit: The Garden State by Audiobinger
Note: transcript was created using an imperfect machine learning tool and lightly edited by a human (so you can get the gist). Please forgive errors!
James Dice: [00:00:00] Hello, friends. Welcome to Nexus, a smart buildings technology podcast for smart humans. I'm your host, James Dice. If we haven't met before, I write a weekly newsletter on the same topic. It's also called Nexus. Each week I share what I've learned, my opinions, and what I'm excited about in the quickly evolving world of intelligent buildings. Readers have called Nexus the best way to stay up to date on the future of this industry without all the marketing fluff. You can check it out and subscribe at nexus.substack.com or click the link in the show notes.
Since starting the Nexus newsletter, many of you have reached out to me wanting to talk shop, and we have. After a few weeks of those wonderful conversations, I realized I needed to record and share them with our growing community. So here we are. The Nexus podcast is born. This is our chance to explore and learn with the brightest in our industry together. Episode 33 is a conversation with ping gal CEO and co-founder of optical networks. This episode is the second foray into networking that we've done the podcast and similar to the first one with joe gaspar doni i'm not afraid to hide by ignorance or where i'm at and learning curve here ping doesn't disappoint with his answers to my questions he has some great ones especially with it versus ot and insights around backnet that helped me wrap my head around where things are moving on the networking level of smart buildings All right. Ping. Welcome to the show. Thanks for taking the time. Can you start by introducing yourself?
Ping Yao: [00:01:37] Sure. Thank you, James, for having me. Uh, my name is ping the, I am the co-founder and CEO of a company called optical networks, uh, based here in Vancouver, Canada. Awesome.
James Dice: [00:01:46] Cool. So we're going to dive into a lot today.
I'm excited. So can you take us through like pre-op to go tell us about your career first and how you kind of got into, uh, starting off to go?
Ping Yao: [00:01:56] Sure. I grew up in Montreal and, went to university of Queens university in Ontario, Canada. From there I studied mathematics and engineering kind of got put into, so semiconductors design is in the mid nineties.
When I graduated, I got a job with a semiconductor company here in Vancouver, Canada, that specialized in networking chips. So I spent 12 years with this company called PMC Sierra designing, developing, helping customers implement these networking chips primarily. 8:00 PM. Eastern saw it. These are our core networking technologies.
Our customers were the OEM, the vendors that made boxes for, to telcos. So to Verizon, to agencies of the world, trying to Telekom, to NTT in Japan, France, Telekom, orange telecoms, so on, these were our customer's customers. So I wasn't networking right off of graduation. Got to learn the bits and bytes.
And actually in this case were to see Moss and Moss P Moss inside the chip made networking in the world. Work got fascinated by just this idea that the whole world was connected in this digital fabric and became super interested in how networking work and continued to guide my career. And still is today in 2010 ish.
They was a big growth in, uh, technological machine commission, which could they basically translate it into the IOT internet of things. Machine and machine was more than industrial world. The idea of machines being connected as people became a fascination. The idea that it's, they're connecting with 7 billion people, perhaps everyone may one day get an iPad and a cell phone and a computer them in three devices.
To this idea that everything, whether it's a dumb thing or smart thing might be connected, fascinating. And so kind of got bit by a bug developed this idea in my head of a smarter networking. Solution, uh, spoke to a few experts. And in particular, one gentleman, his name is Anton Hoffman. He wrote a paper for real calm, actually.
talking about a dual network, a dual core network for banking in Bahrain using optical networking. Uh, I got super fascinated because that was exactly what I wanted to focus on. Okay. Let me out to him. And at first I was looking at the it space and well, how do we rebound the way we do networks smarter, cheaper, easier to use for connecting cell phones and desktops and bypass this point right away.
Anton said, forget that space. You've got to look at a space called smart buildings, smart buildings. What are we talking about? In 2012, I went to my first real call. Um, catching incredible people from, you know, the, the leaders that real calm to incredible CIO and, and other leaders. And then the street, lots of our friends between you and I.
and the moment I saw what smart building was realizing that every light, every door, every floor panel, every wall could be connected one day to make the space where we spend. 80 90% of our time inside a conditioned space smarter, better, just completely change my view, um, of my world, but particularly of networking.
So that's kind of the birth of optical networks. We, we came back or was super excited about bringing to this market, an enabler to allow technology, to be connected. In a smarter way. Uh, and again, that's basically the foundation foundational where optical became a reality.
James Dice: [00:05:50] So Anton had already started a company and you reached out and said, you know, I want to learn more about this.
And he just said, you know, focus on this
Ping Yao: [00:05:58] and you just joined him at that moment. No, actually Anton was the CIO of a bank in Bahrain. They were building a brand new bank, headquarter understanding. And they wanted, I think there were two backers of a technology company and they want it to use their technology.
So they ended up using optical networking inside of building, which at that time was unheard of. There may be some fiber optics really just in the backbone. They use fiber optics right up to the desks. And so he wrote a paper around that. That was the, the general premise and the very, very beginning of optical networks are, so you bring fiber all the weeks to reduce the amount of space, the amount of complexity, uh, provide more bandwidth.
That was the general idea. So I reached out to him again, he was, he had just left the bank at that point to start his own consulting company. I said, this article you wrote, I love to hear more. He on his own dime, flew from Austria to Vancouver, met with my partner and I in our little apartment. And just brainstorm what, three days on this idea of revamping this?
Um, wow. So he's one of our advisor. He was very virtuous. advisor and supporter to, what is now optimum notes.
James Dice: [00:07:14] Got it. Got it. Yeah, my question there reveals my ignorance around network. So optical is a type of network. Is that what you're saying?
Ping Yao: [00:07:21] So optical. So the word of the go comes the word.
Uh, we, we just use a sound of optic call, like fiber
James Dice: [00:07:30] IC. Okay.
Ping Yao: [00:07:31] And we just replaced a Cal with geo, but optical network is just fiber optics.
James Dice: [00:07:38] Okay. Everyone that listens to this knows I'm not, I'm not afraid to look dumb.
Ping Yao: [00:07:43] And then that's, that's the important thing here is we have to continue to be learned.
James Dice: [00:07:47] Yeah, for sure. Cool. Well, that's a fascinating history. Thank you. Yeah. So yeah, that would have been, like smart buildings were just becoming a thing. And, uh, how far we've come, I guess?
Ping Yao: [00:07:58] Oh my goodness. Yeah. It's and we still have so much to go. Yeah. Sarah are more of the babies of this industry.
James Dice: [00:08:06] Yeah, sure.
I'm very aware. I get a lot of, uh, notes in the emails. Like we were talking about this 30 years ago, just to let you know, it's like, uh, I'm sorry, I'm just bringing it up again. My bad. Uh, so, okay. So I have an episode coming over by the time this airs, it will have already aired. Uh, it is a mashup of everyone answering this question on the pod from past podcasts. So this is my favorite question, which is. Uh, why is technology in our buildings so far behind technology say in our pockets or in other areas?
And I'd love to, like you have, I'm sure you have a unique answer. So what's what, what do you think the reason we're behind?
Ping Yao: [00:08:42] Honestly, I don't think I asked it would be much different than most, but because the building industry came from brick and mortar, right. It came from pouring, cement, rebar, looking at window technology, looking at better paint, better wall material, colliding with technology.
It's a completely different world. Uh, those folks in our industry are very, very smart folks, but they're not looking at data digital data. They're looking at integration from a technology standpoint, they're looking at structure building hospice as a sample of 50 years. I think it's that history of where it came from.
Number one, number two. Inherently the technology. And when I say technology, I mean, cement, you are, I mean, pouring concrete the way we put up walls, which has tremendous investment going into, but this technology is designed to stand for 50 years. Yeah, no things are designed at the cost of total cost of ownership is estimated over 50 years.
You're not looking at replacing a cell phone. And it's not on the same scale. We replace a cell phone on average every two years, replacing buildings every two years or so. So those two things, I think one is the history of where it came from. It came from brick and mortar. Again, very smart folks, but their focus was long standing technology coupled with the fact that again, their schedules are very different.
So our industry has to collide with this fast changing fast paced, digital technology. You think that the iPhone is really not that old, if you think, you know, history, but the way we put up windows again, there's a lot of innovation there, but not at the same pace as visual technology. Totally.
James Dice: [00:10:26] Yeah. Well, the answer.
Cool. So let's, dive into Optico a little bit more. I want to understand, you know, you dove into this space and
well, so first of all, it's a networking technology. You guys are solving networking problems. That's about all I know at this point. Um, can you kind of paint the picture though, of like, what is the average building owners Building network look like how do you guys then help with that situation?
Ping Yao: [00:10:54] We'll start with the average building network. Again, there are exceptions. There's a lot of amazing building owners. And one of our director is Jim at Boston properties. They've done designs and buildings, very, very advanced, well, many, many years, but he's an exception.
The gold standard, the gold star of the industry. Most of our customers, customers. In our case, we work with consultants and system integrators put together systems. So their customers, their building owners goes everything from duct taping, a switch that they bought at a corner store, uh, with wires hanging with a strap to structured network, you know, well-designed it coming in.
And sometimes over-designed right. They spend a hundred thousand dollars connecting a building automation system is worth $200,000. Right. So everything in between it's extremely fragmented. Uh, and again, we have to keep in mind that in our case, the technology and buildings, when we talk about technology and digital technology, it's not new.
DDC, one of the D stands with additional, but I P based technology is relevant. Right? We, we talk, I'm sure you have lots of guests that come in and say, there are servers are running a windows 95 windows 98, right? That's the history. So digital technology, the way we collect data and put into a data Lake and process that perhaps with some big data technology or machine learning, that's very new in our industry.
So B systems are a mishmash. I wouldn't even say siloed. it it's, throwing spaghetti at a wall and if it sticks, you know, let's just put some duct tape on it and keep it, keep it there. Uh, it goes from that to, again, very over-designed structure networks, because it was called in and said, I heard that I need something called an IP address.
That's clearly an it function. Please come help me. It comes in and says, well, these are the best practices for it. We're going to do it this way. So I'm very, very strong systems. Very, very good systems. But maybe over-designed overperformance for the need of it.
James Dice: [00:13:04] Hmm. Okay. Yeah. So, big, broad, wide spectrum, just like any other.
You know, facet of a building, but you just, you just come across so much diversity, uh, you know, you can't make a whole lot of assumptions about our industry. So I want to just hit this theme real quick. And in my course, we spent at least a half a week on this. And so I, I'm not an expert in it.
I just know the basics, but we're talking about two separate sort of dichotomies here. So there's the it and the OT. Can you kind of explain. Just do a quick introduction on what people mean when they say it versus OT and like in that big spectrum, like that mess, where we're at right now, like where does that, fit in?
And, guess what I'm thinking about is, like you just said, digital has been around a long time. Right. So, digital on the OT side has been around forever. And then what you just said was connecting it to the it network, giving it an IP address. That's the new-ish part. Right. so can you kind of explain, and give people an intro to that?
those two different worlds, I guess.
Ping Yao: [00:14:09] Sure. So, first of all, let me just say that, obviously everything I'm saying here is generalizing. I realize that it probably only covers slightly more than majority by saying these statements. And especially every day, people are learning more and more progress in industry.
So the generalization becomes less and less true. Okay. so I just want to put that out there. Cause often when we make statements like these people are like going on, but this project we did that, that, that, yes, there are amazing projects out there to point to. But to generalize the way I define it versus OT.
It is a function responsibility of creating a system for communicating between people. So you and I right now are on this video chat. We are communicating one person in our person that's writing over eight it responsibility. OT is connecting machines. And then in our industry, we're going to focus on in the building, right?
So we're not talking about transportation law or healthcare, OT, or industrial with you. We'll kind of focus on the smart building commercial building OT. It's a communication between machines and these are sometimes very, very advanced machine goes sometimes very, very dumb machines and a dumb machine can be as simple as a sensor.
Right. All it does is collect pressure or it does is collect temperature all the way to very, very advanced systems. But this is a function of creating a system to allow these machines, community between very different types of data, divert different behavior out, very different. priorities.
Between you and I, if we knew someone else, cause listen onto this, that we don't want to, we're doing a podcast here. So the more you, have people listen to the better it is. Obviously we don't want that. We don't want facial recognition to be, to be done without our permission. We don't want a credit card information be stolen to use without our permission.
So security privacy has quick new risen to be one of the top priority. Um, of it functions fall by performance right now. Keep in mind. One quick note. I want everyone to understand is that when we talk about performance in general or it usage when I'm browsing the internet, when I'm looking at email when we were talking on telephone or video.
The human mind allows some jigger and some lack of performance. If there's a slight delay between you and I, right now, our brain wouldn't be able to catch them in the machine world machine runs in microseconds. So delays may not be as tolerable now, in some cases, it is very tolerable, very, very different functions.
But to come back to your question, it to me is a way of connecting and exchanging information between people OT. And to be more exact, operational technologies, all the technology around it, but what I'm going to focus on the communication aspect of what team is connecting and allowing the exchange of data between machines.
James Dice: [00:17:06] Got it. So this is fun because when we talk about smart buildings, just like as a whole, right, there are machine and machine use cases, right? Collect, collect data from the HVAC system, run analytics. Maybe even do some sort of cool, a new control sequence that can all be machine to machine.
Ping Yao: [00:17:25] Right. But
James Dice: [00:17:26] then when we talk about other use cases for smart buildings, there are like people related use cases, engage in occupant, get their feedback, do this other thing and do this other thing over here. Right. So there's, we're kind of blurring the lines already just with our use cases in that definition.
And so how are you seeing the lines blurring, I guess. And, and is that correct assumption that there is, they are blaring, I
Ping Yao: [00:17:49] guess very much, very much so the easy case is I'm a facility manager. I want to be able to change the programming. I go into a computer. I'm a human interrupting, the commission.
Is that it crossing over OT? In my definition, the answer is no, because I'm still, OT function our responsibility on the OT side. So I'm instructing me to 14 and 14. Now that case is relatively easy to deal with. I'm inside a control room on the side of the board of the room, and I need to interrupt the machines.
the case, the way it starts to blur a lot is when we start bringing that information into kind of the finance world into the business world. So if I'm a CFO of a building owner and I want to be able to bring up my energy consumption real time, be able to see where have leakage, where I have optimization.
Now, clearly this person is not an OT responsibility function. Now it's crossing from it to OT it, to OT, bringing data back in when there's optimization, that goes between your calendar and building automation, that's crossing over for sure. So there's a lot of blurring lines a lot, but at the same time, that's really no different than saying, you know, my internet is not working well.
Is that my problem was that my Telco's problem. Right. So, yeah. Blur of lines is just a normal function when systems get more and more complex and more connected.
James Dice: [00:19:16] Yeah. At different levels. Yeah, for sure. All right. So, are mixing the industry trends with your path, but so your path was, you said, uh, I'm going to start off to go take us through what you guys started with and kind of wherever you are today.
As far as the services you're offering.
Ping Yao: [00:19:32] Sure. When we sat down in 2012, we. Had this dream, our dream was to create this networking infrastructure or to smart building that would not only create a tunnel or conduit between point a and point B. That's relatively easy. That's already done. You can walk into a Cornerstore or your, your best of electronic store and buy a switch for $14 and be with connect point a to point B.
That was easy. But we wanted to provide first that infrastructure that allows people to communicate the second is we realized that again, remembering what I said, the thing that attracted me to this industry was the idea that everything could be connected. So now we're talking about going to building a modest size and connecting 5,000 devices.
Well, if your. Infrastructure is very, very dumb. It's just a bunch of roads would be no lights, no traffic signs. You're guaranteed that problems, same idea in IP networking and digital networking. If you don't manage how data is exchanged and that be able to see when there's collisions see when there's problems be able to block things off, you are bound out problems.
Coming back to the road idea. If you have a road built for 10 houses, you probably don't need star sign. You don't need chocolate nights and don't need yield signs when you're building a city with millions of cars. Now you need all this management exact same idea. So we wanted to create an infrastructure.
Not only dial, allow the communication, but allow to manage the quality of the system. Okay. Third layer don't we want it to do is. When you have a system with 5,000 devices and by the way, 5,000 is not that much anymore today, but 5,000 connected devices, the likelihood of having a mistake, having a problem is very high where it's a cyber hack or just a human error, right?
My, uh, I put the decimal point at the wrong place. I, you know, copy and paste a code and I typed the wrong you're bound to have mistakes. So. How can we find his mistakes? When you have 5,000 devices, it really is finding that needle in haystack kind of problem. because the infrastructure is the one thing that's common to disconnect a system, whether it's lighting system or building automation, uh, climate control system, or indoor positioning, it's all riding on this network infrastructure.
So we thought let's provide a network that can connect everything. That's a primary function. Two is let's make sure we can. Redirect direct to traffic so that it's it's working right. And third is being able to see when something is not going, right. So that was kind of a vision. And I can let you in long-term vision is we want to kind of close the loop and we want to auto tune.
Oh, if I find a problem and we can already control it, let's automatically redirect some traffic. We're not there. We're nowhere close to that. I can tell you that, but that was where we started. So we started in the early years, providing an infrastructure network, switches and routers so people can, connect our VAVs, their servers, their security cameras, their energy meters, and be able to manage it fairly easily.
Okay. Uh, one big aspect. Uh, we, we look at is understanding the skills, understanding the priorities, understanding the ownership of our customers, which we'll talk later. And then we layered on top. Uh, network analytics on top of networks to identify problems.
James Dice: [00:23:02] Got it. Okay, cool. So this is fun because so a lot of people that fall on this podcast are not it people including me.
So when you say network switches and routers, I don't think there's like a lot of people that fully understand what that means. They might act like it, but what is a router and a switch? And then how are those different than what like Cisco sells on the it side?
Ping Yao: [00:23:25] They're not different. a switch as a switch, a rotors around it. You can buy switches with $12. I'm not kidding you all the way to $10,000. $12 switch might have passports. And your $10,000 switch might only have 0.4 0.0, so the, the reason why you go from a $12 to $10,000, it's not because the number of ports or even a performance by the way.
So I switched to the switch and I'll explain what that is in a routers router, a switch, uh, we're going to consume the road idea. Okay. You can think of a switch being the roads that connect. that you S you could right now go into the car and go anywhere in us. No border check will no restriction a switch or network, a switch.
a series of switches creates an unrestricted network, basically. Okay. I'll come back to that. A router is basically a borders, so I'm in Vancouver, Canada, you're in the U S if you want to come over, you have to through a checkpoint and the border, you tick a passport and yes, they allowed him. That's basically what a router, the difference between relative switches, roughly speaking.
Okay. The example may be closest to a firewall, but, but roughly speaking, we can think of that. So switches, you can do a lot with just switches. But with those switches, it means you create this unrestricted network. And if your system has 5,000 devices, then the unrestricted 5,000 device network might be a little too chatty.
It might be too busy. Got it. Okay.
James Dice: [00:24:51] All right. So where are you at today? So you talked about those three levels. Are those the three levels that you're sort of bringing to market today as
Ping Yao: [00:24:59] it is? And I want to touch on one point that you mentioned, because a lot of your listeners are. They understand enough about it to apply what they need to do from the OT side, from building on show security or energy or whatever it is using it to do it just like a lot of us understand a little bit of programming to go to program or our TV remote, or maybe doing a little bit basic.
I have TTT . That is probably the single most important attribute that we. Look at ongoing to market. So as I said, uh, network switches, network switch, and network routers, network rotor, but we understand that our users, the majority of the cases are our building professionals are operational technology professionals.
They understand air pressure down the stent angle of camera down the stand lumens, Dan, the standout stuff. When it comes to IP address, Mac address multicast. You know, proxy of AARP, that's getting a little bit outside of their grasp. Okay. So what we want to do is we want to provide them a solution that they can use to create a scalable, secure networking infrastructure, their level of knowledge and skills and meeting their requirements.
So let me expand on that. If you buy a mid range, commercial level or enterprise grade network switch, because you need to manage it. As I said, you want it restrict certain things you're likely to be having to learn about. Command line interface or very complicated approaches to set up very basic network functions.
One very basic function is I'm only allowing this thermostat. That's connected that port to communicate nothing else. That's simple function sometimes can be applied using something called Mac filtering, not important, but if I gave you an it great switch. It would likely take you a couple of days to figure it out.
And then a couple minutes ones figure it out to apply it. Wow. Okay. What we try to do, we bring simplicity to our industry. We're saying that function is important. So we're going to do all the complexity underneath the hood, and we're going to give you an easy button. It, okay. So. We help our customers by creating scalable and secure networks with it's very, very easy approach.
We, I will tell you that a lot of a business model was taken and modeling, uh, the iPod and iTunes. I love to say that story. I don't know how old you are, but I remember when MP3 players first came out in the early 2000. Be able to get free of CDs, was magical, but these MP3 players would take. You know, you would have to rip the music off the CD and code it, load it.
It could only take 32 megs five songs. It was quick complexity. You were only targeting the hobbyist and the experts to people who were comfortable with computers. Yeah.
James Dice: [00:28:03] I had a Walkman, but then I didn't. Take that step. I just went straight from there to the, first iPod
Ping Yao: [00:28:10] and, and, and 95% of the world that, that probably higher than that included my dad, I came out and my doc thought was the most magical thing.
You download it. Every, Elvis song though was we paid a lot of money, but it was instantaneous. You knew what you wanted to do. And it appeared in your ears that that music was in your ears without having to learn all this complex thing. Same thing here. If I'm a project manager for lighting control system, I know that I need to assign IP addresses to these.
And I know that because my customer, the engineer or the building owner said, well, we have the securities. I know I need to do that. So how do I do it? We, provide you an interface that makes it much, much, much easier to do. Um, the, the second thing, We do is we focus on this industry. So we understand the protocols that are happening in this industry in particular.
Backnet we're not going to dive into that, but are when we say you want to identify problems in the network or so software's called visual backnet is to look at backnet issues, which from an it point of view backnet is just another protocol. can dive into it. They don't understand what a BBM D is.
And so on. Um, so to answer your original question, we do have now a network switches and routers we up the network management software to make it easier for you to manage and create and maintain the systems for your owners, for your customers for 10, 15, 20 years. And then we also have this network analytics to be able to identify problems in your system.
I didn't know what got it.
James Dice: [00:29:40] Got it. Fascinating. So it's like some sort of like taking some it concepts and making them easy for people that know about HVAC a hundred percent to implement them.
Ping Yao: [00:29:51] Exactly. That's that's exactly correct. That's exactly, uh, helps ending their language, understanding what they know, what they don't understand where to buy from.
The sourcing channel, where do you buy from a be able to have a products available through their channel and also partnering with, you know, or a Trillium, Jace and partnering with this tech and knowledge. Um, these are, the brands are using this industry and it's not IBM. I am sorry to IBM with their listening, but I, you know, maybe on the energy analytics side to maybe some stuff, but when it comes to the interconnected system, uh, it's the Johnson controls, Siemens, Honeywell, that the play in that space.
James Dice: [00:30:28] Got it. So your clients are, contractors and distributors,
Ping Yao: [00:30:32] right? Correct. Cool.
James Dice: [00:30:34] Okay. All right. Um, I do want nerd out on backnet just a little bit, so there's lots of people that listened to this that are in that world as well. So, it's like a top three list, a top five list of the ways that back that networks get
Ping Yao: [00:30:49] EFT up?
Uh, sure. I think it could come up with it on the top of my head. Yeah. I think the important thing to understand is there may be a lot of arguments against backnet Dar weaknesses and our promise and backnet, but the reality is backnet is the protocol of choice of our . At this moment, it's not going to go anywhere.
So, uh, without diving into it is the same story as beta versus VHS. It the same story as HDB DVD versus Blu-ray same story as Ethan at vs. ATM anyone who's listened to there. If you want to look it up, look it up. If you want more questions, reach out to me, but these are all stories where the superior technology lost to death, more popular technology.
Okay. So all three to, I mentioned there. Disappear technology to technology could do more, maybe more effectively, efficiently lost to the more popular technology. Okay. But back net as used in a belt, 80% of new deployment in building our mission uses backnet, uh, Mo our understanding is close to about 65% of smart building automation system as used back then today.
They're not all over it or IP to be exact. They're all visual. But they may not be it. Great technology protocols, right? Uh, back net, putting short is just a language to allow us to machines, to talk to each other. Be we'll say, what's the temperature you're on you off. If you're not on, please turn on.
It's basically that simple. It's just the language. The top three problems in Dragnet. Uh, problem number one would be the backnet is designed with a broadcast in mind. Uh, when a, again, there are ways to not do this, but let me put it in Simple terms. When a thermostat detects a change in temperature, it sends the whole world.
My temperature is 21 degrees or 79 degrees. It sends to the entire world, even though only one other device really cares about it. Right. So if you go into a building with a thousand thermostats and all reporting a change of temperature every 15 seconds, well, you have a lot of problems, a lot of noise on the network.
So that's the number one problem. And when the systems are small, If we're in a room of 10 people and we're all shouting each other, we probably could have a conversation. It'd be difficult, but we can have a conversation, but you put yourself in an auditorium with a thousand people. We all talk to sent out that wouldn't work the same idea here.
So backnet systems, they kind of work, work, work. And then after that, I did kind of fall off a cliff. And one, one problem is day. I'm going to broadcast the number two problem, um, which is more of a human problem. Is that because backnet is an open protocol, it allows interoperability. So if I'm a building owner, On the university of pharma and airport, I don't have to lock myself down to one vendor, which is a beautiful thing in business.
So I'm going to say, okay, you know what, I'm going to use this company for that part. I'm going to use that company for this part, but I want all of you to talk to each other. Cause I want to have it on this pretty dashboard, Lucy, everything. I want to use my one front end tool to program everything. So you have multiple vendors coming in, putting in their things.
They do all talk to each other, but then, you know, James comes in, he puts in the device. uh, variable air volume, you know, a duck basically, and you're going to call a device one, two, three, and then me paying I come in tomorrow and I'm putting in a VAV variable air volume, uh, in the next room next to you.
And wow. I'm also going to call one, two, three, right? It's not your fault. It's not my fault, but now you go into the system, you say, Hey, one, two, three, are you on? And they're both reply to responses and responses. Um, so big problem. You don't know which one you can control. That's what we call a conflict in ID or a conflict in address.
Okay. That's a common problem. and it. Can cause serious, serious problem in your system. A Dar very, very hard to find. Cause if you leave and I leave now it, because we say, who is one, two, three, your software is going to report the last person that replied. Uh,
James Dice: [00:35:08] okay. So you might not even realize
Ping Yao: [00:35:10] they don't even know a problem.
A third problem would be,
well, Because back then it's been around since the eighties. I thanks to, uh, fantastic guys in North Eastern us. BACnet started as a non IP protocol. So the transition from, uh, and it's over small MSTP a two wire, but not IP, fairly low performance, but, but use a lot in very, very good technology.
But now that transition to IP. So unless you go to a brand new building, the majority of the buildings, that 2 million commercial buildings we have in the U S the majority of them will be a mismatch of it. You know, you have done all stuff, some new things, and then that transition from one to do sometimes it gets pretty cumbersome.
James Dice: [00:36:00] Yeah. The way, the way I've seen that is I'll go into a building and you might have. Uh, and I've done a lot of just like collecting data for analytics. Right.
Ping Yao: [00:36:08] You go
James Dice: [00:36:09] into a building and you see, okay, I have newer supervisor controllers, they're on the IP network and then everything underneath them.
It's just like a mishmash of like, we did this network in 1994 and we did this, this network in 97 and it's just like, yeah, it's a mess.
Ping Yao: [00:36:25] Actually. I would add one thing to just continue on with just said that. The trend of analytics. Um, I'm going to call it environmental analytics, but energy analytics are, you know, you already old employers.
It's a very powerful concept to be able to identify areas that could be optimized. Yeah, but all of these technologies put more strain on the system, right? You went in, you applied and you want to collect data. The system was maybe already hanging by a thread, but it was hanging by a thread. So therefore it was working.
And then now you add. No 10 calls per second. And the whole thing goes down to the drain, right? These old, old systems where they layer on top of new technology and the old foundation can't handle it.
James Dice: [00:37:15] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I've had a lot of, uh, BAS contractors, Like here, what I want to do.
Right. And I think a lot of people that do analytics could, could sympathize with this and they just like trashed the project immediately. Like you're going to bring down the network. Right. And so how do you, how do you guys see that show up and how do you sort of handle it when you're involved?
Ping Yao: [00:37:36] I don't want us to turn it into a sales pitch.
Uh, if it's a backnet system, we recommended try our product, visual backnet again, and get a sense of the quality of the network. But the network is hanging bites read well before you go and apply some energy analytics, and let's bring a little bit of margin this, and let's make your system a little less chatty, make more room for the added strain that we're going to add on top of it.
And then when you do apply it, let's just analyze it again. Make sure that it's it's working right now. You didn't have somebody add some polls and it looks like it's working, but you just delayed everything by 10 seconds. So that graphics that the engineer is looking at is always reading things from like five minutes ago, especially in data center.
That will be a big one. Yeah. Go on to that.
James Dice: [00:38:23] Yeah. I think a lot of people are out there like, well, I'll throw in my gateway and I'll do some polling and if nothing breaks, I'm good. And then maybe I'll increase the pace of the polling or decrease the interval. Uh, if nothing breaks, then I'll just keep, keep seeing if I cause problems.
Ping Yao: [00:38:40] Yeah, I know you're doing a fun story. If you want to geek out, we often hear a story of, well, the system wasn't about performance. So we replaced all the switches from 10 megabit per second to a hundred megabit per second, or Giggy, a gigabit per second switches. Okay. Um, It may give you the knowledge of the road.
That will be the same thing as saying, I'm going to fix my traffic problem by making my lanes wider up to that intersection
right? Yeah. Right. So you get, you get there faster. Uh, again, it's a very complex problem, but if a network feels slow increasing the performance network may not be dancing.
Okay. It's the same thing as saying. And all my traffic is really bad in my, on my roads. I'm just going to widen my roads up to the traffic light. So you just get to the trap and make faster and sit there less time to get up, but you're still going to wait just as long.
James Dice: [00:39:33] It's like the people that like to tailgate when like the light is red and you're like, you're like, why are, why are we going to hurry up to this red light?
Help me understand this. Uh, cool. All right. That, that helps me understand kind of what's going on. I always like to ask these questions to figure out like what's going on out there generally.
Ping Yao: [00:39:52] Uh,
James Dice: [00:39:52] super helpful. So. now that we've painted this context and like the world that you guys play, like talk a little bit more about the it versus OT and how they're kind of yeah.
Uh, blending together. and the reason I want to bring this up is because just full disclosure for everyone, Matt Schwartz, and I did this series of interviews about the building automation system world. Right. And, you guys had emailed and reached out and said, Hey, I want to offer just a little bit different perspective on some of the it pieces.
And so I want to give you a chance to kind of like, give your opinion around this, but basically Matt's sentiment was, Hey, like we have this it team, let's just basically, I'm paraphrasing for all the networking related stuff on to them. It's their responsibility. Let them handle it. The manager, let them decide how we're going to do things.
And what I think what he's painting the picture of right is now that we have all these connected devices, they're all coming onto the IP network at some
Ping Yao: [00:40:49] level.
James Dice: [00:40:50] Why don't we just hand the responsibility over to the people that already are working at the IP level in this building, or he's already talking about the portfolio level too.
So centralized it groups, right? That are like, just, let's just hand it over to them, I think. And maybe he'll, he'll respond at some point and say I'm paraphrasing wrong, but what would you say, to the people that are saying, you know, why are we keeping things separate? right now,
Ping Yao: [00:41:16] Yeah.
First of all, I think it's important that we, I don't look at it as it versus OT for more the world of it and OT, right. That little line and understanding, understanding the two sides and make the right decision. So I will say, and full disclosure, we are a big supporter. We encourage people to separate OT, separate in network.
OT and then create connection to the two. Okay. So connection. Yeah. Yeah. So we're not saying arrogant. We're saying you create two systems and you create a bridge between them and you monitored at bridge new washed out bridge. No extra firewalls on that bridge. That's what we encourage to do, but, let me back up and explain why our view is that way.
First of all, It's not a technology question. It's not a performance problem. it's a people problem. Okay. if a new building is being built, okay, let's use that as an example. And the owner says, I want my system, my OT system, security cameras, lighting, elevators, indoor positioning to be on my team at work.
Fantastic. The simple question to ask is, is it going to be now responsible for the construction phase and all the responsibilities of OT? If the it director VP CIO says yes, I will take on, on the standing. What a BB MD is understanding what a VV is. Understanding the, my updates to my billing automation system might happen on black Friday and not on Monday.
Then fantastic. That's amazing. If an expert in information technology with the background and expertise of privacy, cyber security, networking, virtual machines, all that stuff is willing to take on the responsibility of all the infrastructure of OT. Amazing. And you should take that, that opportunity.
So let me Repeat that. If you're a contractor, for example, you've been tasked to build a building automation system, and now you need a hundred drops, network drops, and the CIO says, I will support you. I understand that you need to install this before my team is even present. I understand that I will support you so that when I update my windows servers, I will notify you.
And it may not happen when I want it to happen. I will support you when that black Friday program update needs to happen. Even though my team is all fine. If the dancers yes, pick them up on the offer, you will save a lot of headache. You would save a lot of costs, but if the answer is Whoa, hold on. You're saying that I cannot update a windows server when I want to update it.
You're saying that you need a thousand IP addresses. And I'm only giving you a pool of 256. You're saying that you need to drop a network drop on the rooftop. You're saying that you need the system to be operational before I even move in. I cannot do that. Then the consideration of having a dedicated OT network than an OT professional can manage, operate design with the help of the it counterpart now makes more sense.
So it is a pupil problem. It's a challenge. If the people responsible for the system fall and work of an OT side, amazing. If the it professionals cannot take on that responsibility and accountability, then you should look at either bringing expertise from the it side dedicated to the OT professionals, OT function, or growing that knowledge within the OT function.
James Dice: [00:45:03] Hmm, this is an area where I feel like we're, we're trying to make a little bit of a, like, people want to make blanket generalizations, but each building's different. So you go into the guts of the building, they're all different each organization that manages those different buildings is all, they're all different.
Right? So, yeah, that, makes a ton of sense. Um,
Ping Yao: [00:45:23] and, and if I can continue, I will also say we came up with this. argument seven, eight years ago. it was a tough argument to present and we lost a lot of battles.
James Dice: [00:45:34] What argument do you mean
Ping Yao: [00:45:36] separate OT to separate the T from it? There were many cases where they said, you know what, we're going to converge it.
What took care of it? Uh, and I can tell you factually that a lot of projects in the last five years now that are open yeah. Running now that they went through that journey, realize the next time, you know what, I'm going to get an it guy or gal to work with the OT professionals to get them what they need.
But it's an old T function now. Hmm is an operational technology function. So I can tell you factually that in last two, three years, we have heard a lot of evidence of organizations that went from one and now going to do either because the pain point was so high that they're shifting the way to doing it, including it groups are saying, you know what, let's separate the two, we're still responsible for the tunnel for that pipe, for that firewall.
But you put in the network that you need. If you need a drop in the rooftop, you bring it there. Okay.
James Dice: [00:46:35] I see. But they're going to then run all that through their other processes.
Ping Yao: [00:46:39] Yeah. So They can still choke everything that they can still do all their cyber security assessments from there, but it's one place to choke as opposed to this big web that everything goes in and out.
James Dice: [00:46:51] Interesting.
Ping Yao: [00:46:52] Yeah.
James Dice: [00:46:52] Cool. I'm just like noticing these like different opinions and this is a good education for me is to understand like the basics and then, then I can understand the different perspectives. So that's, that's kind of the road I'm on.
So, yeah. Cool. Um, anything else there?
Ping Yao: [00:47:08] But I think that's enough for now.
James Dice: [00:47:11] No, I think that's good. That's great. Um, cool. So. I did want to ask you about, so right now, what we have the state-of-the-art with buildings, right, is that we have all these different silos yesterday, HVAC lighting facts as control elevators.
And what we have as a smart building right now is like, We have smart silos essentially. Right? So we're getting smarter in each of our silos and the smartest of the smart buildings are then thinking about, okay, are there use cases for technology that start to connect silos together? Right. So no. Should we connect HVAC and lighting, like you said, should we connect my calendar with the conference room booking system with the HVAC system?
Like that type of thing. And so from a networking standpoint, this is something that I don't understand. How should that be implemented when we start to think about connecting silos together?
Ping Yao: [00:48:03] Yeah. There are a lot of silos right now. It is getting much, much, much better in, in general. Uh, I've done networking layer.
There are almost no silos anymore. And if there are cells, they are designed to be that way. Okay. I want an it silo. I want a security and surveillance silo, and then I'll put everything else operational a different salad. That's a decision that they make for again, responsibility, ownership and cybersecurity sake most of the time.
Okay. I want to say that again, it's not technology thing is a decision thing. Um, I think. Coming back to the theme of this part here. You're asking about trends. Probably the biggest trend we've seen in the last four or five years is this emergence of what people call MSIs master system integrators. I don't particularly love the technical name, but to me it's a, it's a building technology consultant, a fantastic idea.
Someone who can look at it from a holistic point of view and say, Okay. Let's not look at climate control just on its own. And let's not look at waste management just on its own. That's not look at Parkinson's just on its own holistically as an organization. What do we want to do and apply the technology to that?
Therefore, if you do need things to communicate with each other, shall we integrate a networking layer? Should we integrate different layers, integrate as in a flatten it out at different layers? so one of the biggest trends is using these technology experts at the smart building side. Okay. The stuff that you're teaching to understand a holistic view of the technology and buildings, then making that decision on what there's a correct architecture.
James Dice: [00:49:45] Yeah. So what's the use case. And then after what use case, how do we implement it?
Ping Yao: [00:49:49] Because there may be cases, for example, I'll use an example here. I'm going to put some solar panels on my campus. And the solar panel does not need to communicate with anything else. All I need is the. Vendor contractor does installing it to be able to it, monitor it.
And maybe I want to pull in data to know that financially I'm getting to savings on unexpected. If that's the case, bring it to the cloud and bring it back down. So intentionally make a different silo because that decision is saying, you know what, I'm going to silo it because then from a cost point of view, from responsibility, accountability, point of view, it's all in one box.
I can choose one NEC rate, basically. Right? Um, Whereas using the calendar example, if I'm going to do a lot of calendar exchange to my billing automation system and always going up and down to the cloud, it might be called number one might have yeah. Some security issues then listen to great.
Yeah. That the network leader or active database later on one month. So not answering your question directly. I, it, it comes down to really understanding the business needs here.
James Dice: [00:50:56] Love it. Cool.
Ping Yao: [00:50:58] So
James Dice: [00:50:59] we talked a little bit before we started hitting record about the course. I know this is something you're super passionate about too. So w what we need, in my opinion, is people that understand these different silos, right? So we have very, very siloed people as well in our industry. And. Well, we talked about before is like, we also need building owners to start to understand some of this stuff.
It's very complicated. And like you said, someone's neck to choke. Well, we also need some generalists skills as well, so that that's like one area of education I think is needed. Right. Uh, what are your thoughts around, like, where can we go as far as closing the like skills gaps in our
Ping Yao: [00:51:38] industry?
Yeah, we, we talked about this right before starting. I think one of the most important thing as an industry that we need to focus on is everything. Education is every owner, every business, whether you're a building owner, your consultant engineer, contractor, vendor, we need to spend more dollars on educating our staff.
We need to allow them access to courses. We need to help them learn. We need to create some exchange programs. Because it comes back to that conversation with it and OT, if we are hoping to, it will take over OT, then dismiss you. My goal. Okay. Alternative is we teach the knowledge necessary and OT to have that basic it function.
Huh? Let me back up a little bit. When you go to school, we take mathematics and in mathematics is so important. Now that no matter what track you take in university, there's some basic mathematics, right? Right. Whether you're going comics or teaching education, or you're going finance, whether you're going programming, software engineering.
There's some level of mathematics, same idea here. I don't think we need an it expert in every organization. I'm talking about small organizations that understands everything from VMs to OS updates and, and, um, throwing things because I'm expecting people not to understand these things, but we do need everyone to have that basic knowledge of it.
We need everyone to have that basic knowledge of finance. We need to have basic knowledge of programming in today's world. Everything has some level of programming, right? So the long story short is I think we, as an industry, needs to spend time perhaps together to create some sort of consortium help each other out grow knowledge, whether it's understanding finance and smart building or understanding what in Mac address is.
Uh, so that we can elevate the knowledge in this industry to our other industries, parallel about created educational bodies, uh, one in particular to IMR very much. It's called Dixon and the structural puberty side. You've done a fantastic job of creating curriculums. There's no reason why us as an industry cannot create some general curriculum without creating competition, but really opening up opportunities to help our staff young or old.
To learn more and advance our industry. So I don't have enough time, but I'm hoping with the help of others like yourself, that we can start coming together and create. And it doesn't mean that, you know, we have to start one organization that's paid and whatnot, but you know, you teach that, I teach this and maybe I'll move to my staff or a, to yours so that they can learn this part.
And that could be fantastic.
James Dice: [00:54:26] Cool. Yeah, I totally agree. It's like we can't expect the silos to come down and building to operate. Like we want to, without everybody kinda crossing the people, uh, gaps we have or the people around race, so, yeah. Cool thing. Well, I appreciate, uh, coming on the show, educate me and everyone else.
thanks so much and we'll talk soon.
Ping Yao: [00:54:48] Thank you very much, James. Keep doing what you're doing. It's awesome.
James Dice: [00:54:51] Thanks.
Alright, friends. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Nexus podcast. For more episodes like this and to get the weekly Nexus newsletter, please subscribe at nexus.substack.com. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. As always, please reach out on LinkedIn with any thoughts on this episode.
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