Like the start of most every software engineer’s journey from the era, Kevin Smith’s began with the 8-bit Commodore VIC-20 home computer. And before long, he found himself glued to the screen, teaching himself how to code.
“I was eleven years old and just fascinated by how you could write a computer program and make things move around and make sounds, and I did that for a while before I quickly maxed out the capabilities of that computer,” Smith says.
The VIC-20 laid the groundwork for a nearly 25-year career that took Smith deep into the government cyber security sector, building software solutions in Java and other languages to help agencies in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community securely share and protect information. Looking to join the private sector (and having known CTO John Sublett since college), Smith came to Tridium in October 2014.
Originally in charge of cyber security for Niagara, today he serves as the company’s chief architect, viewed as a focal point for Niagara architecture and Tridium’s deeper expansion into the Internet of Things, as the company pushes forward with the goal of moving from the edge to the cloud.
“At Tridium, we’re not just focusing on Niagara itself. We’re building solutions for the cloud, for edge devices, for enterprise security, for analytics,” the 46-year-old says.
“Part of my job is technology leadership and looking at where we want to take Niagara in the future. The Internet of Things is really the area Tridium has been in for the whole time, before the Internet of Things was a thing.”
“Our leadership team has a great vision for this company,” he says, “and part of my job is to figure out strategically where and how we focus on technology as we move into the future.”
Prior to his arrival, Smith’s career had been entirely as a government contractor, building mission-critical software to help secure information-sharing capabilities for the U.S. government. Given the initial duty to ramp up Niagara security, Smith dove in at Tridium by reviewing the state of the Niagara Framework® in anticipation of Niagara 4’s 2015 launch. Niagara 4 was a complete overhaul to the framework, built on open web standards and a mission to become a core technology running the global Internet of Things.
Despite not having worked with Niagara before, Smith had plenty of software engineering and cyber security expertise from his government days and was quickly able to dive in to help the engineers to design and develop new security controls. “From a cyber security standpoint, I was very familiar with everything that the Tridium team was trying to do,” he says.
Security, Smith and his team note, is a never-ending and constantly evolving journey.
Since Tridium’s 1996 launch, many great minds have helped evolve Niagara and its security features to the current “secure by default” stage (for specific Niagara 4 security features, see the sidebar). More features and components were integrated into Niagara over time, which required additional security controls.
“When you build any product, you start thinking about the core functionality of what you want the product to do. Initially, you’re not necessarily thinking about the security concerns in the back of your mind,” he says, “but very quickly you find that there will be security challenges, especially when you connect something to a computer network. That’s why providing security protection and security capabilities is critical, and it is something that is increasingly important to organizations and owners of these types of connected systems.”
Smith says his government days and understanding of fast-changing technologies expose the company’s engineers—many of whom have been with the company since inception—to new ideas and methods.
“The engineers here have a very deep and focused expertise in Niagara, and I was able to bring some expertise in cyber security and enterprise integration that I learned from building secure applications for the government,” Smith says. “So it’s been a great partnership of those specialties, and really exciting to work with the people here.”
Today more than 500,000 instances of Niagara run throughout the world, not only in building automation (Tridium’s largest market), but also in data centers, access control and security, aerospace, industrial controls and smart cities. Since Niagara 4 launched earlier this year, some users have begun integrating the updated platform into their legacy systems.
Beyond Niagara, though, a core focus of Tridium has been migrating to the cloud. “It’s going to be an exciting space for us,” Smith says. “In the cloud, there are a lot of things we can do for our current and future customers, and providing new capabilities there will offer a lot of value for them.”
And Smith’s skill sets don’t end at engineering. After his Commodore years, he decided to pursue a computer science degree at William & Mary, a Williamsburg, Va., liberal arts school that required writing classes.
“From that experience, I understood the value of being able to communicate effectively, particularly as an engineer, to a non-technical audience.”
Since then, he has written seven technology books.
The security of Niagara 4 was designed with the philosophy of “secure by default,” which means that configuration options default to the most secure configuration, so that configuring Niagara securely is easier to do. Designed with a “defense-in-depth approach,” some of the enhanced security features include: