The Evolution of a Standard
- By Per Björkdahl
- Apr 01, 2018
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.