ONVIF drives industry standards evolution

June 29, 2016
Organization’s scope and influence on security technology has increased dramatically in less than a decade

ONVIF has achieved a lot since its founding in 2008. The member consortium began as a small group of manufacturers that wanted to collaborate to accelerate the acceptance of systems based on network surveillance cameras. While ONVIF’s mission hasn’t changed significantly since then, its application and influence has: ONVIF is now an industry alliance for the physical security industry. ONVIF has become a well-known,  international organization with robust membership and there are more than 5,000 ONVIF-conformant products are in the market today. With members on six continents, our specifications for video and access control have also recently been adopted by the International Electrical Commission, one of the world’s most influential standards organizations.

Like many other standards, ONVIF has evolved incrementally and its development, use and acceptance have as well. The journey ONVIF is on is actually quite typical for a standards organization. Other standards such as IEC, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), HDMI and Bluetooth have experienced similar ebbs and flows, hurdles, successes and acceptance in many of the same ways that ONVIF has. Over time, these organizations have expanded the scope of their standards, changed their approaches to standardization when needed and have dealt with issues of false conformance, just as ONVIF has.

Building a Foundation

Standards organizations are often founded to create, at least initially, one specific kind of benchmark within an industry. ONVIF was founded by Axis, Sony and Bosch to create a global standard for the interface of network cameras and video management systems in order to be an alternative to the very much standardized analog CCTV industry. The organization sought to provide greater freedom of choice so installers and end users could select interoperable products from a variety of different vendors. By establishing a basic standard for video in its early days, the founders also hoped to simplify product development for manufacturers. The philosophy was that establishing a basic integration standard within the industry would allow developers to spend more time on creating innovative features and designs and less effort on creating multiple APIs for simple integrations between products.

Even in its early days, ONVIF made some significant achievements, most notably by creating and releasing its first specification soon after its founding. When the first specification was deployed for real world use, ONVIF realized it had to make some adjustments to its approach to creating a standard. Although members had agreed on how to specify APIs for video, the way the manufacturers actually deployed these in their products varied. All were following the specification, but there was not agreement on which features to support. For example, a camera manufacturer may have only implemented specific video functions to interact with another manufacturer’s VMS using ONVIF, but that particular VMS supports many additional functions of that camera. So when users of the VMS expected to be able to utilize a specific function in the camera, it was not supported through ONVIF. All of which gave room for some doubts regarding the usability of the standard.

A Broadening Vision

Less than a year after ONVIF was founded, members began to develop the profile concept to address the variance in supported features between manufacturers. The advantage of the profile approach was that a number of features and implementation specifics could be defined under one umbrella and with greater specificity. The idea was that if manufacturers developed products in accordance with the profile, their products would work together regardless of the manufacturer of the VMS or camera. ONVIF’s first profile, Profile S, was released in 2011 following two years in development. If a product is Profile S conformant, it will always be conformant, regardless of when it is manufactured.

Bluetooth experienced a similar chain of events when it introduced an updated version of its specification for headsets in 2005. Bluetooth’s new version of the specification for headsets didn’t initially support an older version of the specification and, as a result, conformant devices couldn’t always communicate. Because of this, Bluetooth introduced “Headset Profile,” designed to work regardless of when the device was manufactured. Once HSP was defined, it wasn’t to be changed. A new profile with a new name was created when future changes were needed, which is the same profile approach that ONVIF employs.

Changing the specifications of a product can be a long process, but development of a new profile can happen rather quickly and lets ONVIF and other standards adapt as market and member demands change. Adaptability is paramount to maintaining real world, usable standards and is an integral part of maintaining relevant standards across industries.

An example of this can be illustrated with ONVIF’s Profile S and an ONVIF profile that is currently in development. Profile S was released in 2012 to include support for PTZ, audio and metadata streaming, and relay outputs on devices; it also encompassed configuration, requests and control of streaming video data over an IP network by a client. Profile S bridged the gap between conformant clients and devices on a basic level.

In the four years since Profile S’s release, video technology has changed. To address new developments in video technology, ONVIF is currently developing a new video profile that will encompass H.265, the newest video compression standard. Once the new video profile is released, Profile S will most likely lose significance over time – both profiles will be in circulation, as not all products in use will necessarily employ H.265 compression standards. Profile S conformant devices and clients, therefore, will always be Profile S conformant, independent of the new video profile.

The Open Network Video Interface Forum, abbreviated as ONVIF, was the initial name for the ONVIF organization. Two years after its founding, however, ONVIF extended its scope to include access control, keeping ONVIF as a name, rather than an abbreviation. Because of the framework established on ONVIF’s formation, the group’s scope for standards can include any discipline within the physical security industry and is no longer solely focused on video. ONVIF has continued to use the profile concept to develop and release four additional profiles: Profile G for video storage, Profiles C and A for access control, and Profile Q for easy installation.

Like ONVIF, other standards organizations have also extended their scope of work over time. What is today IEEE and its standards body began in the 1880s as an organization for electrical engineers, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE), whose mission was to standardize electricity. AIEE’s scope for standards quickly grew to encompass other industries and after its merger with the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE), it is now considered one of the biggest and most influential technology standards in the world, encompassing energy, telecommunications, IT, robotics, transportation and many other disciplines.

False Claims

With greater adoption of ONVIF profiles and a growing usage within the industry, false claims of ONVIF conformance have also increased. In many cases, false ONVIF conformance claims are based on a company’s misuse of the ONVIF trademark or a member company’s misunderstanding of the requirements of membership. For example, because ONVIF conformance is specific to a product offered by a specific member, companies that offer rebranded OEM products must retest and submit new documentation to show valid conformance for each product, even though the original product is ONVIF certified.

ONVIF approaches false conformance claims by educating members and the industry at large about what the ONVIF name means through attending trade shows and conferences, speaking at events and holding online training sessions on an ongoing basis. ONVIF also has developed an online false conformance-reporting tool to encourage members and non-members to report suspected false claims. The organization maintains a current list of its members on its website so that the industry can easily determine whether a manufacturer is an ONVIF member and ONVIF conformant.

Other standards bodies that may span multiple, diverse industries often experience the problem of false claims of conformance on an ongoing basis, whether confronting counterfeit products or false claims of conformance. If a brand has value, chances are great that false claims will be an ongoing issue. Some organizations combat false claims with a multi-pronged approach where enforcement requires significant resources in the field, including a dedicated team to handle brand protection efforts.

Collaboration Between Standards

Standards bodies and the standards they create cannot operate independently – today’s world demands cooperation and collaboration. As the demand for interoperability between all devices increases and the concept of the Internet of Things becomes a reality, standards groups must work together on standards themselves. ONVIF and the IEC are working together in this collaborative way. The ONVIF specification has been included in the international IEC 62676 standard for Video Surveillance Systems, the first international standard for video surveillance systems.

The IEC’s standards have been extended to include Electronic Access Control and ONVIF’s newest access control specification will also be incorporated into the IEC 60839 standard. This type of cooperation between standards organizations from different industries, like that of ONVIF and IEC, must continue in order to provide the highest levels of interoperability, which ultimately benefits end users.

“IEC’s adoption of ONVIF’s specifications for video surveillance and access control is a perfect illustration of how standardization must be approached today,” said Frank Rottmann, convener of IEC Technical Committee 79 WG-12 for Video Surveillance Systems. “Prior to adopting the ONVIF specifications, working groups within IEC were formed to develop the standards. ONVIF was represented in both working groups, along with about 40 international experts from within the physical security industry and from other industries. It was a truly collaborative effort between IEC and ONVIF and we are very happy with the result.”

The working group that Frank Rottmann led, TC 79 WG-12, was recognized for its efforts in 2014 by the IEC with the 1906 Award, which honors IEC experts whose work is fundamental to the IEC and/or exceptional and recent achievement related to the activities of the IEC that contributes in a significant way to advancing the work of the organization. Several members of ONVIF were members of the working group and were recipients of the 1906 award.

Members Matter

ONVIF and other standards organizations are member driven organizations that operate on the basis of consensus. The next ONVIF profile will be developed based on feedback from ONVIF members and the physical security industry at large. It’s important to note that ONVIF is not only for manufacturers. We value input from all stakeholders, which is why we have developed four different membership levels that are geared to manufacturers, consultants, integrators, specifiers, end users, installers, members of the media and those outside the physical security industry, too. We need input from across the industry and beyond to continue to produce meaningful and effective standards.

Communication is essential in maintaining ONVIF’s integrity and usability. What that means is that if you think ONVIF should be doing something, you should tell us. You can do this by becoming a member, proposing a new development and participating in working groups that develop new standards. You may also answer one of our surveys that we circulate at major tradeshows. If you’re a member, you can use our developers’ forums and plugfests to contribute and collaborate. You can always send us an email as well, at [email protected], telling us what you’d like to see from ONVIF in the future.

The Future

The physical security market is predicted to experience tremendous growth in the next four to five years. Market research and business intelligence provider Memoori is projecting that the physical security market will be worth $42 billion dollars in 2020, while research house Markets and Markets predicts the security market’s compound annual growth rate will increase by 9.98% from 2015 to 2020. As additional products enter the market, the demand for interoperability will most likely increase as well; this has the potential to make industry standards more important than ever.

By examining the evolution of other standards, it is obvious how vital they are to industries, often beginning with a relatively small focus on one specific market and expanding to include others as acceptance and use grows. It is hard to predict if ONVIF will follow a trajectory similar to other standards like IEC. It is safe to say, though, that wherever ONVIF goes in the future, its path will be determined by its members and the physical security community, who ultimately are together at the helm, driving us forward as new technology develops and evolves.