Most smart grid applications combine new data and functionality from devices like smart meters with data and functionality from existing systems like customer information systems (CIS), outage management systems (OMS) and the like. This means that IT projects to build applications used for theft detection, dynamic pricing, and proactive outage determination are not green-field exercises. Rather, smart grid is an exercise in building composite applications. For an analogy, think in terms of retrofitting a newfangled energy management system into an old home, rather than building a smart home from scratch.

This is where service-oriented architecture (SOA) comes in handy. SOA is both a style of programming and a set of enabling technologies. Instead of “hard-coding” applications to each other using programming interfaces (APIs), applications send messages through an enterprise service bus (or ESB) that acts as the postal delivery service that gets all the messages where they need to go. When you send a letter, you don’t need to give the postal service driving directions. Similarly, in an SOA world, you don’t need to include the network address where each application lives (this is handled by a registry that lists the services and where they live).

This type of loosely coupled architecture has lots of advantages, but the learning curve for utility IT personnel with experience in good-old fashioned API integration can be a little steep. Key rungs on the learning curve include web services, XML messaging and SOA tools (enterprise service bus, complex event processors, and so forth -- all technologies covered in GTM Research's recent Smart Enterprise report). 

Getting the first “Hello, world” SOA message is an undertaking unto itself -- it involves provisioning hardware, loading tools, configuring, coding, testing, and debugging. 

Is there a quicker and easier way to reap some of the benefits of the SOA world (and with a lot less investment)?

This is where Calico Energy comes into play. Calico has been on our radar for the past year. We originally covered them in our home energy management (HAN) report when we learned of their home energy management offering. They struck us as a little different from most of the other players in the HAN market, where dozens of companies are scrambling to put together a hardware bundle of home energy management devices.

Instead, Calico built out a software as a service (SaaS) offering for home energy management. Using a cloud-services approach streamlines solution delivery and enables Calico to play a connectivity role between organizations. This is useful for integrated multi-company programs like demand response and commercial building energy management.

Calico has also been rapidly building out a broader suite of services at a much quicker pace than their small size might suggest, including offerings such as head-end/load control management, commercial energy management, data collection for Energy Star filings, and DR administration. 

What makes Calico so nimble? SOA. Turns out that Calico has built its own products using an SOA approach and it integrates its software with the utility applications of its clients using SOA, something Calico refers to as application and services integration. To illustrate, here’s a graphic Calico uses to portray what it calls its “platform architecture.”

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