The Freedom of Choice

Security consultant Jeffrey Slotnick, from Setracon Inc., knows first-hand what it is like to try to integrate network cameras, storage devices and encoders from different manufacturers. His clients, which include universities, religious facilities and transportation venues, to name a few, are often faced with that very challenge.

Slotnick's customers recognize the benefits of an IP-based physical security system, such as remote accessibility, flexibility, cost-effectiveness and future-proof scalability. And more often than not, they request a security solution that avoids single-vendor lock-in. But Slotnick and his customers also know from experience that unless interfaces have already been written to enable devices from different manufacturers to talk to one another, creating an interoperable system from multiple vendors can require them to invest in manual configuration and testing.

Creating an integrated IP-based system from different manufacturers' components to meet the needs of today's end-user can be an expensive and time-consuming task, even for the most knowledgeable, technology savvy professional.

For consultants like Slotnick and his end-user clients, the wait is over for being able to identify truly interoperable, IP-based physical security solutions among a vast sea of surveillance cameras, video encoders, video analytic solutions, storage devices and other related systems from hundreds of different manufacturers. The recent introduction of ONVIF-conformant products now provides end-users and the security market at large with a greater freedom of choice to select best of breed IP-based physical security solutions from disparate manufacturers.

A Path to Interoperability

Recognizing these challenges, a change has been afoot with the security industry making significant inroads towards interoperability. This is thanks in part to the inception of the ONVIF a little over two years ago. ONVIF, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to developing global standards for the interface of IP-based physical security products.

To date, the ONVIF specification includes core and test specifications to cover local and remote device discovery, device management, imaging configuration, media configuration, real-time streaming of audio and video, event handling, video analytics, PTZ (Pan, Tilt and Zoom) control and security. It is now beginning to work on expanding the core specification relating to IP-based access control solutions.

There are now more than 300 conformant products, identified with an ONVIF logo, that fall under categories such as network cameras, encoders, network video recorders and video management software. The organization boasts 240 member companies, which account for more than 70 percent of the network video equipment market share, according to a report released by IMS Research in July of 2010.

But despite this progress, several specific questions remain. Security professionals still want to know how interoperability will contribute to the design, retrofit and management process. End-users want to hear about the global benefits of standards and the potential cost-saving benefits for their companies.

Real-World Benefits

Few in the security industry would dispute that when an end-user implements a new or upgraded IP-based physical security system at a facility, the overriding goal is to install a best-of-breed solution. Not only does an end-user want a cost-effective system, but a reliable one that delivers the best performance in all areas.

If an API (Application Programming Interface) did not already exist between two different products from different manufacturers, it was not uncommon for an end-user to commonly stick with one product from a single manufacturer instead of mixing and matching, for fear of technological challenges.

Now, when an end-user sees an ONVIF logo on a product to indicate the product follows ONVIF specifications, it provides that end-user with the confidence that the product has been through a rigorous set of self-certification testing to ensure it works properly with other ONVIF-conformant products.

This level of product interoperability helps to remove much of the complexity of network video system design and product selection, as well help decrease costs in several areas of the design/build process. Many projects include costly field hours spent by integrators to conduct product acceptance testing, a crucial step to ensuring for the customer that components will work together as part of the overall system. ONVIF-conformant products can dramatically reduce the time spent in this process, since the devices have been pre-certified to work together, resulting in much faster results. In some projects, this line item can be dramatically reduced or eliminated.

The same benefit is true for end-users looking to expand, fix or upgrade their current security system. Instead of culling together an IP-based physical security system from a single manufacturer, the end-user can update and upgrade their IP-based security system by selecting best-of-breed products instead of using one type or brand of product.

This can also present significant cost savings to an end-user looking to deploy new video system components on a national or global scale. While there would likely still be benefits to a global system using identical components in all locations, now an ONVIF-conformant system can be built around existing ONVIF components - the Shanghai office, for example, can keep its 15 existing, ONVIF-conformant PTZ cameras because those devices are already certified to work with the new video management system being deployed to centrally manage locations around the globe.

Additionally, when it comes to replacing a broken device, such as an IP camera, end-users are no longer locked into replacing it with an identical match. An end-user can branch out and use a camera with higher image resolution, different capabilities or a more cost-effective solution, so long as it has the ONVIF logo. The overriding benefit is being able to select the solution that best fits your security needs and your budget.

Because of these benefits, the market has begun to see consultants and end-users incorporate the ONVIF name into specifications, instead of specifications identifying a specific brand as part of the RFP process. Currently, many end-users or consultants might specify that all devices in a security system need to be able to integrate with a particular brand of management software. But not all software has integrated with, for example, all camera manufacturers. Now, that RFP can say the interface between the management software and devices should be ONVIF-conformant, providing everybody with a greater freedom of choice.

The bottom line is that end-users want the flexibility to determine which products best suit their security needs and they do not want to be locked into using solutions from a single manufacturer. Standardization and interoperability, at the direction of ONVIF, has enabled the security market to make significant strides resulting in better product choices, connectivity and return on investment for the end-user.

Jonas Andersson is Director of Business Development at Axis Communications AB with the global responsibility for business development of Axis' standardization initiatives. Mr. Andersson is also Chairman of the ONVIF ( Steering Committee and leads standardization activities.