I announced that I was working on an upcoming article, and it is to be one regarding a general overview of the Tridium Niagara R2, AX, and N4 products. I asked for input, requests, or suggestions from anyone interested in this subject matter. I was inundated with a tremendous amount of interest, lots of information, and varying opinions. What is Tridium Niagara? Tridium is a brand co-founded in the nineties by John Sublett that specialized in integrating proprietary protocols. Tridium was bought in 2005 by Honeywell. Original widely accepted under the R2 framework, followed by the AX platform, and now being used is the N4 platform. The driving factors behind the adoption of Tridium Niagara by so many manufactures are a large number of third-party integration drivers, the open availability of the product, and the local access to development tools. Tridium consists of Niagara N4, which is a proprietary framework that is comprised of several open and proprietary protocols to provide a scalable platform from which building operators can design their automation systems. Tridium is typically delivered through smaller contracting outfits as a secondary product for the larger controls contractors (examples would be Allen Bradly, Andover, Carrier, E-Mon, Haystack, Honeywell, Schneider Electric, Siemens Talon, Trane, Johnson Controls Facility Explorer, just to name a few). However, some companies have thoroughly embraced Tridium as their sole product. There are the three foremost Tridium brands that I am familiar with presently widely available the market, and these brands are Tridium’s Vykon, Honeywell WEBs, and Johnson Controls Facility Explorer.
The Tridium Niagara platform has many passionate proponents, and also the platform also has a few detractors that brought up some thought-provoking criticisms. One of the criticisms was about how the product was changing so quickly and not supporting legacy products, some even less than a decade old. I have not had such complaints regarding legacy device support from my clients. Another complaint I hear is the use of JAVA, and this was true in R2 or AX releases, but the N4 release uses no JAVA in their graphics, the graphics in N4 can be delivered in a one-hundred percent HTML format. There had been complaints of hackers gaining unauthorized access into systems in the past, but addressing those known security weaknesses have now been resolved in the latest versions. I had been using the hacks myself to access Niagara databases when the owner of the database did not know the platform or station passwords; those previous techniques used by industry insiders no longer work on N4.5 or higher versions of Niagara N4.
The Niagara platform is described by Tridium as follows “The Niagara Framework® is quickly becoming the operating system of the Internet of Things. It connects and translates data from nearly any device or system—managing and optimizing performance from buildings to factories to cities and beyond.” source 1
These are only a few of the available drivers; there are many, many more not available that are not indicated in the illustration. There are many different proprietary drivers available to integrate dissimilar brands. See the following image.
Niagara has many ways of utilizing a vast array of drivers to connect a system of Building Management, Lighting, and security devices securely over the internet, creating an integrated system. VPNs are popular with many IT experts. See the following image.
Illustrated below is an example of a Tridium Vykon branded Niagara network.
The Niagara devices communicate via the Niagara Fox Protocol. An end user connects via a browser using the HTTPS protocol. See the following product model diagram image.
I have set up sites with a Niagara based supervisor (usually a Honeywell WEBs or a JCI FX branded product), and the JACEs can all located in other distant locations connected by a secure VPN protected network communicating over the internet. A network communicating over the internet is typical for larger entities with assets located at multiple physical addresses.
The system architecture is flexible enough to cover a simple single Air Handler Unit (AHU) or Roof Top Unit (RTU) with an array of Variable Air Volume (VAV) and Fan Terminal Unit (FTU) boxes utilized for zoning or a complete campus or portfolio of large buildings over a vast geographical area. The specific topics of networking and security will be covered in-depth in an upcoming article.
Below is an example from one of my projects, illustrating and AHU with an assortment of VAVs and FTUs along with two Liebert units for a small computer room.
Connecting a bunch of dis-similar pieces of equipment and creating a useable network is just one example of how powerful the Niagara platform is. The person managing all the various types of building systems like security, etcetera, along with the energy consumption and comfort of the occupants in the areas controlled by the Niagara based network, has a difficult job of addressing these often conflicting issues. One of the most useful tools to do this unenviable task of balancing occupant comfort against energy consumption is the graphics and reports generated by all the data available from an extensive Building Management System (BMS). The Niagara platform has its own graphics or is easily integrated into other graphics platforms like Fin-Stack or other excellent third-party packages. The specific topic of graphics will be covered in-depth in an upcoming article.
Programming in Niagara is a breeze. The wiresheet graphical user interface is intuitive to use, along with a large selection of programming blocks that make it a powerful programming tool that assists in optimizing energy guzzling systems. The linking ability of various points across different protocols is also easily achieved in the Niagara Fox protocol. The specific topics of programming and linking of data points will be covered in-depth in an upcoming article.
Many manufactures are using the Tridium Niagara R2/AX/N4 platforms in various ways. The widespread use by so many different companies is indicative of just how useful the product certainly is. I hope you found this article valuable if I have overlooked anything, please feel free to contact me with your suggestions or subjects that you would like discussed by my team or me in the future.
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Source 1 – Retrieved from the Tridium WEB site. https://www.tridium.com/en/products-services
Source 2 – Retrieved from the Tridium WEB site. https://www.tridium.com/~/media/tridium/library/documents/collateral/brochures/niagara%20compatible%20drivers%20and%20applications_jan%202019.ashx?la=en