Providing a truly comprehensive, long-term security solution today requires more than one manufacturer's state-of-the-art technology. It requires a way for current systems to communicate with each other now, and also with systems of the future. End-users want the flexibility to determine which products best suit their security needs both for today’s purchases and for tomorrow’s upgrades without being locked into using solutions from a single manufacturer.
Since 2008, a variety of initiatives in the industry have sought to devise a single, global interface for the interoperability of IP products. This movement is beginning to bear fruit, spawning new confidence in the end-user, consultant and systems integrator communities that compatibility between IP products from different manufacturers is a reality as part of a truly integrated, fully functional security system.
The Move to Open Standards
An open standard for the interface of all network security products would enable installers to integrate products from different manufacturers into a single system. The standard will also help software vendors ensure that their products support various brands of network products. For product manufacturers, an open standard ensures interoperability with other manufacturers.
In this environment, systems could be updated or upgraded with products from a choice of different manufacturers, rather than being confined to the product ranges of a single manufacturer. ONVIF is a global forum — membership of which is open to manufacturers, software developers, consultants, systems integrators, end-users and other interest groups that wish to participate. As of August 2011, the group had more than 300 member companies, producing nearly 900 commercially available products that conform to the ONVIF specification.
The ONVIF specification for video currently defines a common protocol how network video devices exchange information such as live video, audio, metadata and control information. Conformant network video transmitters (cameras or encoders), and receivers from different participating ONVIF manufacturers are able to communicate with each other by requesting and sending live view video streams. The specification also ensures that conformant devices are automatically discovered and connected to network applications such as video management systems.
While the growing popularity of IP video has captured the bulk of the attention in this burgeoning world of security industry standards, other segments of the market are beginning to see the benefits of this global standards approach. As end-users increasingly demand best-of-breed solutions, standards are being developed that would bring technologies such as access control into the interoperability fold.
The technology used by the existing ONVIF specification in network video — Web Services — is equally suitable for other technologies, such as physical access control, an area in which ONVIF is currently working to expand its scope. Standardization within access control has started with the definition of main application/use cases, establishing the basic technical architecture and the creation of interfaces for basic functions with the emphasis on system expandability. Main nodes in the drafted architecture are the Identification Point (a credential reader), the door infrastructure and an Authentication and Authorization Engine.
The move to standardize access control — one of the more traditionally proprietary segments of the market — will have specific benefits to various stakeholders. Not only will a global network interface ease the integration and simplify the installation of network video and network physical access control systems, but it will also facilitate the incorporation of physical access control functionalities into network video systems.
For companies in the video space, this enables manufacturers to extend the functionalities of their products with access control functions using the same ONVIF specification that governs the video technology. For end-users and systems integrators, breaking free of the proprietary hardware and software in access control will dramatically increase freedom of choice in technology, reduce integration costs and the overall cost of ownership of access control systems.
While access control has always maintained different subsets of standards — most notably the Weigand interface between the card reader and the door controller — the interface between the controller and the access control management software has been where manufacturers maintained proprietary communication protocols. Now, for the first time, a physical access control standard would enable IP door controllers from different companies to become compatible with one another. Breaking these barriers will create a level playing field in the access control industry, fostering the creation of new, feature-rich devices and enabling competition from new entrants to the market that can contribute unique functionalities to a system instead of another proprietary protocol.
The ONVIF specification, which is currently being developed in a working group, would provide common language, allowing a system that enables IP door controllers to browse devices, creating a list of types of readers and connections, and subscribe to card reader and door controller events. The same standard would also be used to control the outputs of the system, such as switching networked field devices on and off.
The same open standard would also aid in the configuration of a security management system overseeing cameras, other network video devices and IP door controllers and enable device discovery and event management, where the management system seamlessly receives motion events from the cameras and door events from the IP door controllers. Physical access control systems integrated with network video devices would use the standard to position a PTZ dome camera for recording a card swipe at a particular door, activating network video recording on an invalid card swipe or controlling and coordinating schedules and access rights of integrated networked video devices and the access control system.
The Benefits of Open Standards
ONVIF’s initial focus on video enabled the forum to work efficiently to have everything in place — core specification, test specification, test tool and conformance process — to achieve real interoperability of participants' products in a relatively short time-frame. Having such elements in place should make it easier for companies to develop other fully interoperable devices such as those used in access control. This, in turn, will enable end-users, integrators, consultants and manufacturers to take advantage of the possibilities offered, resulting in more cost-effective and flexible security solutions, expanded market opportunities and reduced risk.
For the end-user, it will create the flexibility to choose products from different manufacturers in order to create the most suitable, practical, effective and cost-efficient access control solution. For the manufacturer, it offers the possibility to enter new security areas by having the ability to interface with systems and solutions from various integrators. For the integrators, it offers greater flexibility with the ability to offer customer-specific solutions, rather than those based around the products of a single manufacturer.
The establishment of open standards within video is already helping to drive the migration from analog to digital solutions, bringing the benefits of network video available to everyone along with interoperability, flexibility, quality and future-proofing.
By expanding the ONVIF scope to include access control, the industry is moving a step closer to facilitating the integration of IP-based security and safety devices using a global open standard.
About the authors
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 (www.onvif.org) Steering Committee and leads standardization activities. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Michael Lützeler is Head of Innovation at Security Solutions, Building Technologies Division, Siemens Switzerland Ltd. with a global responsibility for emerging technologies for Security Systems and Products. Mr. Lützeler is member of the ONVIF Steering Committee. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.