OPC--Good for Today, Growth for Tomorrow

April 24, 2007
Tom Burke, president and executive director of the OPC Foundation, discusses how the new OPC Unified Architecture specification works with existing OPC products to promote interoperability today and in the future.
Welcome to the May 2007 edition of OPConnect, the official newsletter of the OPC Foundation. In this issue, I discuss the next-generation OPC Unified Architecture and how OPC UA leverages the existing base of OPC solutions. The Unified Architecture specification provides a service-oriented architecture that facilitates secure, reliable interoperability across corporate firewalls and platforms. OPC UA, which is the latest incarnation of the OPC connectivity standard, is a series of specifications intended to expand the framework for moving information among applications in the enterprise space. It works by unifying existing OPC specifications with Web Services as the key technology enabler. One of the important strategies for OPC UA is leveraging the existing installed base of the legacy OPC products. OPC UA expands the capabilities of the existing OPC products—and it expands the market space for OPC products—by providing an infrastructure as part of its service-oriented architecture. And, it supports embedded devices by providing built-in OPC functionality. The key to secure, reliable interoperability is not to reengineer the world, but rather to collaborate and take the pieces of successful OPC-based products and have them plug-and-play into the new OPC Unified Architecture. A number of the leading OPC solution providers have announced support for OPC UA, and are actively developing new products based on the OPC UA specifications. But don’t stop buying products based on the existing OPC specifications, such as Data Access (DA), Historical Data Access (HDA) and others, just because OPC UA is on the way. To insure a smooth migration path for users, as the available OPC products from OPC Foundation members evolve over time to include the new OPC UA solutions, the OPC Foundation is providing a wrapper that actually allows existing OPC products to seamlessly plug into the Unified Architecture without any changes. This will protect your current investment in OPC technology, while allowing you to take advantage of future developments. And what are these future developments? End-users have been clamoring for certified, secure, reliable interoperability to build complex systems for the exchange of information between the engineering control systems and the Information Technology (IT) and Enterprise space. OPC and the Unified Architecture provide a solid infrastructure to make that dream become a reality. The OPC Foundation is collaborating with the information model consortiums to facilitate the widespread adoption of the respective information model technology using OPC UA as the transport. The range of applications can extend from standardized diagnostics and configuration of devices on the factory floor using generic applications, to asset management solutions with real-time access to the physical devices and corresponding applications for optimum execution. Users will be able to leverage the large installed base of existing OPC products and the OPC UA rock-solid service-oriented architecture to get plug-n-play secure, reliable interoperability for information discovery and exchange between the historically disconnected worlds of devices, IT and enterprise applications. The OPC enhanced certification program continues to develop and provide more rigorous processes and tools as part of the overall adaptive learning process. The first OPC Foundation third-party labs are planned to be deployed starting on July 1, 2007. We plan to have OPC UA client and server certification tools available to the vendors as part of the initial rollout of OPC UA components and deliverables. The OPC enhanced certification program, and specifically the OPC Foundation third-party independent certification test lab, are based on the solid success and infrastructure of the existing fieldbus independent certification test lab organizations.  The OPC Foundation will also be providing many opportunities to vendors and end-users for training and education of the OPC and UA technology, processes and tools. We are continuing our educational seminars across the country, and are holding an OPC UA Developers’ Conference in June 2007 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Visit our Web site at www.opcfoundation.org, for more information or to register for any of these events. Please feel free to contact me with any suggestions, questions or even answers that you may have to help us all achieve the highest level of secure, reliable interoperability where we continue to measure success by the level of adoption of the technology.