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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

PSIA and ONVIF Discuss Standards Development at IFSEC

28 June, 2010
Senior members of the Open Network Video Interface Forum and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance were on hand at the IFSEC show discuss open standards development in the network video industry
The adoption of open standards in the IP surveillance market is moving at a steady pace with two organisations at the forefront having been set up as recently as 2008 and already causing a stir in the industry.

At the IFSEC show in the UK, I met with Tony Yang of ONVIF and David Bunzel, the Executive Director of PSIA to discuss their organisations and how the standards are affecting the industry.

Firstly, I wanted to know if there is room in the industry for two standard-making bodies and will there inevitably be a battle for supremacy at the cost of the other organisation. Both representatives were clear that the two bodies can exist side by side and that they didn't see a problem with that. As Tony Yang explained, "Its good to have two bodies as this drives progress through an element of competition. In the future, there might just be one standard but there's no reason why two can't co-exist".

David Bunzel went further. "Vendors should become compliant to both standards", he explained. "By doing so, they won't be excluding any markets." Drawing an analogy with domestic broadcasting standards, he continued "If the equipment is compliant to both NTSC and PAL, the user isn't going to care which standard he's watching"

This trend to become active with both organisations is one that can be seen from the list of those companies which are members of both PSIA and ONVIF. The list includes such important industry representatives as HIKVision, March Networks, Milestone Systems, IndigoVision and Genetec.

There wouldn't be two organisations if there weren't differences in approaches between them and although the two organisations set out with a common goal, it quickly became evident that there were profound differences in the way they were approaching the task. Although their approaches have started to converge more recently, there are still some significant differences to consider.

ONVIF was originally seen as specifically a camera integrator, focussing on IP video networking against standard protocols such as SOAP and WS Discovery, seen by some as being heavyweight protocols which aren't nimble enough for latency-critical tasks such as PTZ control but comprehensive enough to be able to deal with complex camera functions.

PSIA has taken a simpler approach using REST which requires much less overhead and is more suited to simple controls. In this respect, the two organisations are continuing to head along different routes and no convergence is likely to happen in this respect. PSIA also considers itself to be broader in its scope, encompassing other aspects of physical security such as access control and alarm systems. This is something which ONVIF announced at ISC West that it will also encompass in the next standard iteration.

As with any industry, being first to market is a key factor in gaining market share and this is something that PSIA has proven to be better at achieving than ONVIF. The first standard was published by PSIA and they were the first to widen the scope to take in other industry areas although ONVIF developed the first testing and conformance tools. ONVIF is slower at getting tangibles on the market but benefits from wider membership and the strength of its key members in the industry.

Other key differences mainly lie in the membership base. Whilst initially there was a strong geographical rift between the two with ONVIF having more support in Europe and PSIA from America, this divide has reduced as membership has increased for both organisations from both sides of the Atlantic. A senior executive from Dedicated Micros also made the comment at IFSEC that PSIA is represented by a much wider group of manufacturers whereas ONVIF is more focused on the needs of a specific group of manufacturers. DM isn't the only "one camp" follower although the trend now is for companies to adopt both standards.

In both cases, implementations of the standard can vary. This is a common problem with any standard which is why simply being compliant doesn't signify a high quality product. The standards include certain "must have" elements and some optional items which leads to the variability of implementation. Tony Yang told me that both PSIA and ONVIF are currently considering a certification process to ensure certain minimum requirements are met. Without this, the vendors self-certify based on the use of conformance tools and this is not a reliable basis for conformity.

I was interested in the levels at which integration could be performed and asked David Bunzel about integration across disparate systems using different video management systems. "It depends what's compliant", he told me. "If it's just at the camera level but the VMS' won't talk to each other, it won't work but if there is compliance at the VMS level, they'll interoperate".

Tony Yang continued, "Many VMS vendors operate their own standards also where they can integrate and it is often the case where the Video Management System is actually used as a bridge for non-conforming system components".

There is still some way to go before open IP video networks are able to deliver plug-and-play compatibility and it is still unclear which standard will become the dominant one. This may be defined by ratification of one or the other through an international standards organisation like the ISO or simply by becoming the de-facto standard through membership numbers. Meanwhile, David Bunzel's advice to become compliant with both standards seems the wisest move for manufacturers who value market share.
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