Our Industry Needs To Support And Embrace ONVIF And PSIA

onvif and psia

During the TecSec security expo in Dallas in 2008, a great deal of attention was brought to the “convergence” of IP-based physical security and video surveillance over that of analog systems. A big promise of the IP-based systems was that being a computer system, having other “applications” work along with the primary physical security and video surveillance system. Other applications such as access control, recorded video storage systems, video analytics, and more. “Plug and Play” has been a concept in the greater I.T. market for years, even if some I.T. techies prefer to call it “plug and pray.”

Fast-forward to 2014 and two organizations have strived to work with the physical security and video surveillance industry as a whole in bringing true interoperability to the various technical segments of our market.


ONVIF, the Open Network Video Interface Forum was founded November 25, 2008. It was initially created to address the IP video market by a group associated with Axis Communications, Sony, and Bosch and currently has over 490 members according to their website. Its mission is set up to guide an open industry forum promoting and developing global standards for interfaces of IP-based physical security products.


PSIA, the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance was founded in March 2008 and currently has over 65 physical security manufacturers and systems integrator members according to its website. Its mission is to work with consultants, integrators and end users to develop interoperability specifications.

At first pass, one might look at these two organizations as competing but according to Per Bjorkdahl, the Chairman of the Steering Committee of ONVIF, the two organizations are “complementary.” “Our desire is to unleash the creativeness of the vendors,” Bjorkdahl stated.

David Bunzel, Executive Director of PSIA since its inception in 2008, added “there is a need to provide guidance for the interoperability of solutions across the entire eco-system that is physical security.”

Bunzel continued “today, there are still not enough companies implementing the specifications and profiles to deliver on true interoperability. But there are enough test cases with happy customers to indicate we are on the right path.”

ONVIF and PSIA, as organizations have working groups and committees that amongst themselves collaboratively work to create specifications or profiles (depending on the organization) that will provide guidance and direction on true plug-and-play inter-discipline integration. Manufacturers of IP-cameras, VMS software, video analytics software, access control hardware, and other physical security products whom wish to integrate with one another use these profiles and specifications to enable such interoperability without creating their own unique proprietary interface.

And as ONVIF’s Bjorkdahl envisions “provide all security systems the ability to share one communication interface.” This interchange of data between the various manufacturers’ products is really at the heart of both the ONVIF and PSIA initiative and if vendors/manufacturers can truly embrace these initiatives, everyone –especially the end user– will win.

For the benefit of the industry and end users alike, PSIA and ONVIF work to push manufacturers to adopt the profiles and specifications of the two organizations. As PSIA’s Bunzel stressed, “it’s about the whole eco-system and how the various products serve the end-user.”

“Think about the Internet itself,” continued Bjorkdahl. “If there were not these underlying protocols in place for interoperability, the Internet would not be as much of our daily lives as it is today.” Think about “The Internet of Things” and you will start to get a sense of what the ONVIF and PSIA organizations are out to help guide and promote with their various initiatives.

psia_integrationPSIA Integration

To get a better understanding of these initiatives, let’s look at the various profiles that are being presented by ONVIF:

Profile S — Describes the common functionalities shared by ONVIF conformant video management systems (VMS);
Profile G — Addresses reporting and storage functionalities; and
Profile C — encompasses access control and video integration.

And if we look at some of some of the Specifications developed by PSIA, we see:

Recording and Content Management (RaCM) Specification, Version 1.1a;
Video Analytics Specification (VAS) v1.0;
PSIA Area Control Specification V2.0;
PSIA Common Security Model v2.0 Specification; and
PSIA Common Metadata & Event Model v2.0 Rev 0.8 Specification.

[Note: also see the recently announced Physical-Logical Access Interoperability Specification HERE.]

To be sure, there is confusion in the industry from end-users about these Profiles and Specifications and from manufacturers who claim ‘ONVIF Compliant’ and ‘PSIA Compliant.’ But this should be expected from a nascent industry after only five years and working hard to keep up with the ever changing technology that it is attempting to assist.

For example, there are numerous manufacturers that have ‘ONVIF Compatible’ on their product spec sheets. But according to ONVIF’s Bjorkdahl those product need to clearly identify which Profile the product is compliant with. “Before ONVIF took a more ‘Profile’ approach to these specifications, manufacturers needed to determine some of the implementation issues on their own.” Bjorkdahl stated. “Now, ONVIF is urging all compliant products to clearly state ONVIF Profile Compatible on their product literature.”

PSIA’s Bunzel emphasized “PSIA focuses on ensuring standards-based plug-and-play interoperability among security and enterprise systems so that data and intelligence generated by these are easily exchanged and available to any system or device. As the ‘Internet of Things’ and the ‘Age of Machines’ advance, the physical security world will need to interoperate with a growing range of systems and tools, from business systems to personal wearable-devices.”

The PSIA and ONVIF organizations do seem to take a different technological approach in arriving with their respective Specifications and Profiles.

According to Bunzel, “There is a technology difference that matters between the word ‘specification’ and ‘profile.’ In the IT world, which heavily influences the PSIA’s development approaches, a ‘profile’ is a subset of requirements of a much broader standard or specification. The Bluetooth standard is huge; few vendors would be able to comply with all of it —but the standard’s many profiles enable vendors to comply with a subset of requirements— and be truly Bluetooth compliant. Similarly, the PSIA offers, for example, a rich Area Control Specification from which we have drawn two profiles (access control and intrusion detection) to date. Vendors complying with the profiles are creating truly PSIA-compliant systems and tools.”

The benefits an end-user would instantly notice, according to Bunzel, “PSIA-compliant systems and tools interoperate on a plug-and-play basis. That eliminates the need for developing expensive, time-consuming custom interfaces; greatly shortens implementation time; and reduces maintenance and management costs. Users can deploy best-in-class solutions quickly and cost effectively.”

Currently, ONVIF has a larger footprint of more than 2,700 conformant products providing a wide choice of available products that can potential interoperate and deliver on the true “plug-and-play” mission of these two organizations.

onvif steering organizationONVIF Steering Organization

In order to increase the transparency surrounding “conformance,” ONVIF has set up an “Observer Member” class of participation. This enables non-manufacturers, such as consultants and systems integrators, to actually verify the conformance of various products and be able to ensure that the physical integration works.

ONVIF.org is the portal through which the industry can search for ONVIF conformant products or identify whether a specific product is ONVIF conformant using the website’s search functions.

The actual organizational structure of ONVIF has varying degrees of membership for manufacturers and other industry stakeholders, each of which offers a different level of participation within the organization. A new member category, called the Observer member level, gives consultants, the A/E channel and other specifiers access to the ONVIF test tool so they have the resources to independently validate ONVIF conformance of specific products, if they choose to do so.

A PSIA spokesperson stated, “The ‘ultimate compatibility environment’ will build on and extend our current PSIA specifications, which enable systems within the physical security ecosystem as well as enterprise systems to exchange data and intelligence. Consumer technology, such as programming a home thermostat or cable box from a cell phone, is priming end users to expect disparate systems to communicate. The security industry won’t escape the effects of that consumerism—and security vendors who can’t meet consumers’ expectations will be displaced by new competitors who can. At the PSIA, we base our specifications on a flexible common language that will enable our members to build out new specifications and profiles of those specifications to encompass a wide and deep group of disparate systems.”

compatibilityTHE GOAL: True Product Interoperability

One of the dynamics from a manufacturer’s perspective is they would love to get an end-user organization “locked” into their product line. If you have a manufacturer’s VMS system, then you should buy their access control system; even if it is not the ideal access control solution for your organization. This “vendor lock” situation may be good for the manufacturers but typically less so for end-users who need flexibility.

Specifications do not prevent vendors from offering proprietary features and services that differentiate their products. What they do enable is a vendor that can ensure its software and/or hardware can interoperate easily in an I.T. ecosystem that now encompasses the cloud, mobility, data analytics, and even social networks. Forward-thinking vendors offering “all inclusive” solutions still realize the data and intelligence created by those solutions is likely to be shared with a non-security system. Specifications make that sharing cost effective to achieve and maintain. End users will reward vendors who can offer easy interoperability and data sharing, making standards compliance good business sense.

According to PSIA, “All PSIA compliance begins with three foundational specifications that ensure PSIA compliant systems all speak a common language for exchanging data. Further, all revisions of our specification are backwards-compatible with any previous version. We offer test and design tools manufacturers may use during product development to ensure their products meet our specification or profile requirements; end users and integrators may use these tools as well to verify compatibility. We set our compliance bar high, so users, integrators and manufacturers can be confident that systems and services labeled ‘PSIA-compliant’ actually do function with plug-and-play interoperability.”

SecurityHive encourages all uses and product manufacturers to learn more about ONVIF and PSIA, especially what constitutes an ONVIF or PSIA compatible product. Check out their websites at:

ONVIF: www.onvif.org
PSIA: www.psialliance.org

Our industry needs to embrace and support both of these initiatives so that manufacturers are held to the big promise of IP-based systems truly working together and integrating access control, recorded video storage systems, video analytics, and other applications as they come to market. “Plug and Play” in physical security and video surveillance becomes a win-win for us all.

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