Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fun with OSISoft's PI

has been a savior as a no-frills data historian, giving folks a free and high quality toolset to store and present time-series data. So when I first saw OSISoft's PI last year, my reaction was Oh no, not an "enterprise" version of RRDTool!

Many know that I'm very critical of expensive software that labels itself as "Enterprise", especially when it ends up not working as expected, assuming it works at all. When paying in the six digits for software, one expects it to at least be good, and provide value. But many times, it's a half-baked product, glued by imbeciles who are led by idiots, which is then sold by a dim-witted sales team who think their target customer base is a bunch of morons. That might be harsh, but it's the way I've felt for a long time with some software companies and their peddlers.

Needless to say, when I started architecting systems based on OSISoft's PI, I had low expectations.

It turns out I was wrong. PI (Plant Information), as its name implies, has roots deep into the Plant, not in the Enterprise. This is a significant difference that must have influenced its design a long way. I can't pinpoint exactly what makes it special, but at the base it's simply elegant and I feel perfectly comfortable when playing with their tools. Everything there looks like it has been put in it for a real purpose, not to show up well in feature comparison chart. A lack of buzzwords like "cloud computing" and "agile enterprise" makes me feel right at home.

There are some problems with OSISoft's suite of products, the top one in my list being the lack of good documentation. The documentation is either extremely high-level or very technical, with few images, there is no "in between" for someone like me who only needs to make a quick proof of concept then leave the implementation details to the IT team. Their vCampus subscription process is also hard to work it. And I'm getting increasingly frustrated with their support site which makes downloading each piece of software or document a tedious, three-step task.

But all these issues went magically away when I was able, in 15 minutes, to set up a mock operator screen for a mock reactor:

I like it when software lets you do things quickly, in a natural way. PI is exactly that. It comes built-in with a few data points, that can help someone quickly assemble a prototype to see its capabilities. I did this screen in PI Processbook. I can use it to show some of my colleagues , at a glance, what PI is all about; an image is worth a thousand words.

Sharepoint is currently being installed in another VM, and my next step will be to try to present data with PI Web Parts. I'd like to see if that Processbook screen can be converted as easily as OSISoft says it can. Geez, Sharepoint has just finished installing. Time to go see if I can pull it off in another 15 minutes.