The Evolution of a Standard

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 the mission of ONVIF hasn’t changed significantly since then, its application and influence has: ONVIF is now an industry alliance for the physical security industry to which most of the industry’s major manufacturers belong.

With members on six continents and nearly 10,000 products that conform to our specifications for video and access control, ONVIF specifications have been adopted by the International Electrical Commission, one of the world’s most influential standards organizations. Not bad in ten years.

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, adopted their approaches to standardization when needed and have also dealt with issues of false conformance.

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 long standardized analog CCTV industry.

The organization sought to provide greater freedom of choice so installers and end users can 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 rationalize 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 basic integrations between products.

Although members had agreed on how to specify APIs for video, how different manufacturers deployed ONVIF in their products varied. All followed 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.

A Broadening Vision

To address these variations in supported features between manufacturers, ONVIF implemented the Profile concept, which defines groups of individual features and implementation specifics under one umbrella. The 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 was manufactured.

Bluetooth experienced a similar chain of events in 2005. Bluetooth’s newer version of the specification didn’t initially support an older version of the specification and, as a result, conformant devices did not work with newer devices. In response, Bluetooth introduced ‘Headset Profile,’ designed to work regardless of manufacture date. Once HSP was defined, it wasn’t to be changed. A new profile with a new name was created when future changes were needed—the same profile approach ONVIF employs.

Two years after its founding, ONVIF extended its scope to include access control. Because of the framework established, 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 five additional profiles: Profile G for video storage, Profiles C and A for access control, Profile Q for easy installation and the Release Candidate for Profile T for advanced streaming, due for final release in mid-2018.

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 misunderstandings of 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.

Similarly, even standards bodies that span multiple diverse industries 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. We educate members and the industry at large about what the ONVIF name means by 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. ONVIF maintains a current list of its members on its website so the industry can easily determine whether a manufacturer is an ONVIF member and ONVIF conformant.

Collaboration between Standards

Standards bodies and the standards they create cannot operate independently. Like many other established standards, ONVIF incorporates into its specifications a number of accepted networking standards—think communications protocols such as HTML, XML, IPv6, SOAP, Web Services—to create a common language for security devices and systems to communicate with one another. Leveraging these existing networking and IT standards enables ONVIF to harness the collective development power of these other standardization bodies, which are working to continually harden and improve their individual protocols to the benefit of the industry at large.

With the rise in demand for interoperability and the expanding Internet of Things, today’s world demands cooperation and collaboration ONVIF and the IEC are working together in. The ONVIF specification has been adopted by the international IEC 62676 standard for Video Surveillance Systems, the first international standard for IP-based video surveillance systems, and have been extended to include Electronic Access Control, as well as the newest access control specification of ONVIF.

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.

Members Matter

ONVIF and other standards groups 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.

The Future

The physical security market is predicted to experience double digit growth in the next three to four years, with research firm MarketsandMarkets projecting the market to top $112 billion by 2021. As more new products enter the market, the demand for interoperability will undoubtedly continue to increase, making industry standards increasingly more important to the future of this market in the interconnected world.

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.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Security Today.

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