Within the security market, hybrid environments are becoming more and more common. With a myriad of products from different manufacturers, wouldn’t it be nice, with little or no effort, to have these products work seamlessly with one another — a true plug-and-play scenario?
Standards-based interfaces, such as those offered through ONVIF, the open industry forum for IP-based physical security products, have addressed the issue of interoperability among products at a basic level. While true plug-and-play capabilities can be difficult to achieve across multiple manufacturers, ONVIF addresses this interoperability through the definition of compatible specifications known as Profiles.
At a minimum, certain functionalities must be supported for conformance with ONVIF’s profiles for video management, recording and access control. For example, Profile S for video streaming specifies how to stream video using RTSP, while Profile G for video recording specifies how to configure and start a recording.
The specific details are defined in each respective Profile Specification available from the ONVIF site.
While ONVIF provides a common definition that all of these conformant devices must follow, the challenge has been that while products may be in conformance with a profile, there can be some latitude in the extent to which various products achieve that conformance. Complying with the profile puts everyone on equal footing, but levels of performance may vary from meeting the minimum requirements to well exceeding it.
So how does a standards-setting organization such as ONVIF address this? First, ONVIF recognizes that by its very name being associated with a product, there is a certain level of quality and consistency that is expected. Understanding that the expectation is for a high-level of interoperability, ONVIF has invested additional resources in several areas, including: improving test tools, offering plugfests so developers can check out interoperability among products and requiring manufacturers to supply an interface guide for each conformant product to decribe how to configure and use their product for optimal use with ONVIF.
Improving the test tools
Because of these improvements, the reality is that products that passed the conformance test in ONVIF’s early years wouldn’t likely make the grade today because of today’s stringent test tools. While it is still up to individual manufacturers to implement the specifications outlined in the profiles, ONVIF’s Technical Services Committee are writing more and more test specifications to cover all areas of conformance, with the knowledge that the more tests available, the easier it will be to ensure compliance.
With Test Tool releases every 6 months, ONVIF has tried to make the development process more predictable for manufacturers while continually improving the conformance process. With each update, new tests are developed and vetted for the Device Test Tool. The December 2013 release of the Device Test Tool contains tests for each of the current ONVIF Profiles:
- Profile S – encompasses the common functionalities shared by ONVIF conformant video management systems and devices such as IP cameras or encoders that send, configure, request or control the streaming of media data over an IP network.
- Profile G – defines storage, searching, retrieval and playback of media on devices or clients that support recording capabilities and on-board storage.
- Profile C – encompasses physical access controllers, gateways and access control management systems.
For newer Profiles that are still under development, tests can be provided in “diagnostic mode” to help with development for conformance before the Profile is officially released.
What ever happened to “plug-and-play?”
While ONVIF has continued to refine its role, there is recognition that out-of-the-box, plug-and-play is difficult to achieve. Integrators or third party vendors are still going to be needed to write the software interfaces addressing those unique features that need to be made compatible.
ONVIF operates on the 80/20 rule, acknowledging that its core rules will cover 80 percent of a specification, but there will still be 20 percent that needs to be addressed independent from the profiles. This allows the integrators the freedom to innovate and differentiate their solutions in the security market.
By providing the core set of features as part of a Profile, ONVIF is freeing integrators and vendors to focus on bringing additional features needed to provide a robust solution. ONVIF also provides methods for integrators and manufacturers to develop extensions to employ custom features within the ONVIF framework.
ONVIF also enables products to support multiple profiles where possible, such as a camera with onboard storage implementing both Profile S and G, to further extend the interoperability features.
Putting ONVIF to use
At its twice-a-year developers’ plugfests, ONVIF has now incorporated scenario-based testing, which allows a client — connected with multiple devices such as IP cameras and/or NVRs — to verify its ONVIF interoperability based on end-user scenarios.
The plugfests have also given ONVIF the opportunity to introduce the newest profiles to product developers. At its most recent plugfest in San Diego, Calif., more than 300 hours of product assessments took place over a three-day period involving about 60 people. Along with continued testing of Profile S, developers delved into recording-related product tests for Profile G.
The newest improvement towards the focus on compliance, is the requirement for companies to provide an Interface Guide. These guides will provide a consistent set of information related to a device or client. The guide, which became a required part of the conformance process on Jan. 1, 2014 not only outlines what steps are needed to install and log in to the device or client, but it directs users on where to go to find additional support information. This information should help to ensure that interoperability is quicker and easier. ONVIF will make these guides available on their website.
Also coming soon, ONVIF is starting work on an ONVIF Client Test Tool. While ensuring interoperability among vendors’ products is important to the vendor community, ONVIF recognizes that integrators and A&Es are the ones creating and implementing the security systems, and ONVIF is committed to easing the burden of product interoperability and providing the standard interfaces the community needs.
Scott Hudson is the vice-chairman of the Technical Services Committee for ONVIF, and also serves as the Standards Lead at Pelco by Schneider Electric. He can be reached at Scott.Hudson@schneider-electric.com. You can also find out more about ONVIF here www.onvif.org.