The ability to design and install a truly comprehensive, long-term security solution for your organization depends on the technology of more than one manufacturer. The reality of deploying that best of breed approach also requires that current systems be equipped to not only to communicate with each other but also with systems of the future.

Ensuring that this open platform approach to security remains at the forefront is part of the work of ONVIF, an open industry forum that has led the charge for the past four years to bring standardization to the IP technology in the physical security market. Part of ONVIF’s mission is to eliminate IP video’s stumbling blocks — the interfaces that are still required for communication between devices from different manufacturers — and help today’s security professionals realize the benefits of an IP-based physical security system, such as remote accessibility, flexibility, cost effectiveness and future-proof scalability.

The introduction of ONVIF conformant products to the market has provided security directors with a greater freedom of choice in building IP-based physical security solutions from disparate manufacturers and has helped to drive the migration from analog to digital solutions.


Defining communications

First released in 2008, the ONVIF specification currently defines a common protocol detailing how network video devices exchange information such as live video, audio, metadata and control information. Conformant network video devices 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, making significant inroads towards solving overarching issues of interoperability within IP-based products.

As of May 2011, there are now more than 800 conformant products, identified with an ONVIF logo, that fall under categories such as network cameras, encoders, decoders, network video recorders and video management software. These products represent technology from the group’s nearly 300 members.

The scope of ONVIF’s specification will be expanded later this year to include physical access control devices, bring the industry one step closer to a global open standard for the integration of IP-based security and safety devices.


Eliminating APIs

Today’s IP systems still rely on the existence of an API (Application Programming Interface) written between different products from different manufacturers. Without an API, it wasn’t uncommon for security directors to stick with one product from a single manufacturer instead of mixing and matching, for fear of technological challenges. ONVIF conformant products ensure that the product has been through a rigorous set of self-certification testing to ensure it works properly with other products bearing the ONVIF logo.

This level of product interoperability helps to remove much of the complexity of network video system design and product selection as well as for repairs, upgrades or expansions to a current security system. Instead of culling together an IP-based physical security system from a single manufacturer, the system can be updated and upgraded by selecting best-of-breed products instead of using one type or brand of product.

This can also present significant cost savings in new video systems being deployed 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, security directors are no longer locked into replacing it with an identical match. Other technologies, such as new higher resolution cameras, can be deployed, 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 security directors incorporate the ONVIF name into specifications, instead of specifications identifying a specific brand as part of the RFP process. Currently, many security directors 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.