Mike Starkey is a good friend of mine. He has been at Heliodyne for nearly a decade and has worn many hats during his tenure. His current title is Product Manager and Chief Engineer.
Heliodyne designs and manufactures solar thermal heating systems; in other words, they make products which heat water from the sun’s energy. Their systems can be used for heating residential water, showers, floor heating, pools, commercial uses, etc. Their designs of solar panels, heat transfer appliances, installation components and shipment methods are unparalleled. The quality of materials and engineering is combined to make shipment and installation of the products among the most popular.
A while back, Mike asked me about software his company needed. The software would be used to pull in lots of data and make pretty graphs for easy digestion. Mike had designed a controller, a device which monitors the solar hot water system, which would be able to provide data about the system in real-time. Confluence, our enterprise wiki, immediately came to mind. I introduced him to Rob of CustomWare, and here we are a year later with a great case study.
Please watch the video to learn how Heliodyne has used Atlassian’s wiki software to display the information produced by their solar hot water systems. It’s a very unique use of Confluence which we are stoked to be a part of. At the 3:50 mark, there is a demo of Confluence at Heliodyne and the 7:12 mark starts a cool tour of Heliodyne’s shop where their products are hand-made.
Tell me about Heliodyne
We are a solar thermal equipment manufacturer. We make collectors and equipment for heating water with the sun. We are definitely the oldest solar thermal manufacturer in the US, but probably not the biggest.
How did Confluence make its way into Heliodyne?
We have a unique line of solar controllers that monitor the energy for our solar systems and we wanted to find a way to display the energy production and system parameters on the internet, so we worked with CustomWare (Atlassian partner). They suggested using Confluence because all of the good interactive features, and also because of the opportunities to extend it by writing your own plugins and customizing it.
How does your system work with Confluence?
Someone will buy a solar controller at their house or business and put it on the network – like a printer. The controller will talk to our Confluence instance, register and assign users to it. We made it mostly for the professional installers so they can login and see all of the systems they have installed for their customers and check to make sure they are working properly. If there are alerts — like pumps not working — there is a summary screen in Confluence with all the system address information. On each system, you can dig down deeper and see the system performance, the temperatures and energy use and extrapolate out dollars saved. Further, you can also adjust system settings through another page – turn pumps on earlier in the day or off if you need to. We built everything mostly with the installer in mind, but it is usable by a homeowner. You can go on and see your system performance and see how much energy you have saved each month.
What plugins do you use with Confluence?
Most of the plugins we user are basic from Confluence. The plugins that we use and rely on primarily were written by CustomWare and Helidoyne to communicate with the controllers and display the things we want. We also use Theme Builder by Adaptavist which can make everything look like your home website pretty easily.
The main principle we developed with CustomWare was our controllers would communicate over a TCP/IP socket layer to our server. There is the ‘handshake’ and if the controller is registered, it will send some of its informational data. We have expanded it to add the features like the graphing capability and changing system settings and displaying each system has a line-item. We also have other plugins that run. We have a free portion of the heliodyne.com website which has several case studies where we have contacted a system owner and got their approval to display their energy data on our website. We’ll use a plugin to run a case study job which takes data out of the database and puts it in an xml format so our website can access it without any login. We also have part of our website which talks to a weather service to get the weather for that location and displays it on the website.
What do you think of Confluence so far?
I didn’t know much about what an enterprise wiki did, other than collaboration. I had no idea it could do all this stuff for us as well. CustomWare really showed us the way. It has blown me away with all the stuff – you can do anything you want. You can extend it and create whatever webapp you want.
I think that it is a super powerful tool and I recommend it to anyone that wants collaboration and anyone that wants to create a special plugin. We have found it useful to go with a full hosted provider who handles all the upgrades so you don’t have to worry about it. It’s super powerful, easy to use, easy to extend.
What about pushing forward with Confluence?
I think moving forward we would like to integrate it with the team we have and use more of the collaboration features as far as our product’s warranty items, or stuff that works and not works. It makes it a lot easier than the old school ways of having all your files on one file server and people have to go in on Windows Explorer and no one knows where anything is and your server goes down and you can’t get any information out of it. I’d like to move us more towards that and take advantage of the other products.
Reviewing code with Fisheye is super useful with the ability to back up your code right away. The issue tracking software is currently only used by me and few other people, so I’d also like to have that as a company wide system.
For more Atlassian case studies, please go here.