PSIA and ONVIF go head-to-head

Sept. 21, 2011 -- Talk to many people involved in the security industry about IP standardization, and the prevailing question is, “Who's gonna win?” After all, the PSIA and ONVIF are in a race, right?

Whether it was by design or not at ASIS 2011 on Tuesday, the two leading (and competing) standardization bodies both held update conferences at the identical time in separate hotels in front of packed audiences. Despite that seemingly competitive timing of the two bodies' events, PSIA staunchly maintains that this is not a race, fight or competition. In fact, PSIA (the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance) said it is fundamentally different than its competitor.

“We are more likely to co-exist because of our differences in philosophy,” PSIA president Dave Bunzell said of the two bodies. “We have had a number of conversations and keep an open dialogue with ONVIF.”

So, what's the difference between them?

From PSIA's point of view, they take an overall systems approach to interoperability and standardization. “We take a systems-level approach,” PSIA Board Chairman and vice president of product management for Proximex Larry Lien said. “We are tackling head-end systems to drive a better end-to-end experience.”

“This is not just about device-level communications,” he continued. “We are taking a more holistic approach across all the different systems out there today, and we already have full specs for video, access, intrusion, VMS, storage and more.”

PSIA standards will be adopted at the systems level, which Lien said makes communicating between systems easier across all levels, thus creating a better solution and experience for the end-user.

The group also introduced a three-person customer panel moderated by James Connor of N2N Secure. The panel consisted of Bill Minear, senior security consultant for Trusys; Mike Faddis, group manager of the Microsoft Global Security Team; and Carlos Pinel, a technology program manager for Cisco.

“We have a great relationship (with PSIA) and we certainly want to take a lead role in helping to craft these standards,” Microsoft's Faddis said. “We are looking forward to partnering with all the groups out there. We want to help lead the conversation and be a part of this process.”

According to Minear, there has been some progress toward this goal, but more work is certainly needed. “I remember when you could build a system and nothing would work together no matter what you did,” the 35-year veteran of the security industry recalled. “As a system designer and specifier, all devices really need to work together.”

Microsoft is not yet an official PSIA member, but Lien said the group will be forming a customer advisory board in the coming months to help get more end-users and others involved in the standardization process. Cisco counts itself among the 90-plus PSIA companies and is a board-level member.

But if you ask ONVIF leaders about a race to create unification among product manufacturers around a specification that could create interoperability, the answer is clearly "Yes, there was a race and we won." That winning mindset was even part of the group's presentation on Tuesday morning.

The organization cites some 330 members and over 1,000 conforming devices as indicators of the group's dominant role. At the group's meeting this morning during the ASIS tradeshow, there was even a strong presence from the Security Industry Association, which showed its support for the ONVIF organization.

And to clarify for those persons who think ONVIF is only video, it's important to know two things. First, ONVIF is no longer video centric and has dropped the former "open network video interface forum" from behind its name. ONVIF is no longer an acronym; the organization stands for nothing now except for IP security product interoperability. Second, the group is already working up an access control interoperability specification that has gained the attention and involvement of major access players like Hirsch (Identive Group), Honeywell, Siemens and Bosch. The specification is due out in 2011, with a conformance testing tool to follow.

Why did these firms get involved in a group that formerly had been focused solely on video standards? Rob Zivney, co-chair of SIA and the vice president for government and standards with Identive Group, said his firm had to consider global business drivers.

“It [ONVIF] is the most global standard I have come across. As a manufacturer, you can't build products for one market, you have to build it for a global market, and ONVIF's global nature helps.”

Going further, ONVIF Chairman Jonas Andersson from Axis Communications said it is natural for the group to pursue intrusion systems interoperability in addition to access and video. That follows the same line of thinking from PSIA, which already has specifications for video, storage, analytics, access control and intrusion.

But winning the race to having a widely adopted specification isn't everything. For specifiers, end-users and architects, it doesn't matter who won the race if no one adopts the specification.

Now, says ONVIF's chairman, the organization is out to find adoption. It announced its ONVIF OutReach group led by Steve Surfaro from Axis Communications. The group will seek to network with specifiers and architects to help provide training on the ONVIF specifications, but is also designed to acquire feedback from the same community so it can continue to improve specifications.

So while it's probably more enjoyable to think about this search for interoperability standards as a prize fight, that vision -- at least according to PSIA -- is clearly off-base. But one thing is certain: Whether one standardization body is left standing, or if two different interoperability standards rise to the top, the security industry -- its end-users, installers, consultants, integrators and vendors -- will wind up the winners. It’s the one opinion shared between both PSIA and ONVIF -- both of which proclaimed the high value of standards for the end-user and the integrator. “We just want to create a better end-user solution and experience,” Lien said.

In the meantime, the reality is that both organizations compete for the technical R&D efforts of the industry’s member companies, and until our industry is willing to fully fund two standards efforts, it’s likely the race will continue.