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The S-word

If you want to furrow brows in the security industry, mention standards.

While attending the ASIS International show in Orlando last month, I dropped the ‘S’ word a few times to get a feel for where people currently stand on the issue. Of course, it’s hard to expect people to form coherent thoughts after three days at a trade show, but it became clear that standards are firmly entrenched somewhere in the mind of most security-oriented professionals.


September 28, 2011
By Neil Sutton
Neil Sutton

The typical response to my query was a pregnant pause, a well considered sigh and something along the lines of, “Let’s just get on with it, because we know we have to.” It’s kind of like cleaning out your garage. You know you’ll appreciate the versatility and peace of mind that a well-organized space affords, but who wants to deal with all that clutter?

There are two leading standards bodies still out there: ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) founded in 2008 by Axis Communications, Bosch and Sony; and PSIA (Physical Security Interoperability Alliance), whose members include Cisco, IBM, Tyco, UTC, Honeywell, Stanley and others, which was established around the same time.

Mike Faddis, group manager for Microsoft Global Security, made a plea on behalf of the end user at a briefing held by the PSIA during the ASIS conference. “From the end user perspective, it can’t go on the way it has gone on,” he said, calling for “one system that makes sense for everybody.”

Faddis spoke of the cloud and it’s inevitable role as the virtual realm in which many, if not most, security services will reside. The fact that it’s taking the security industry a few years to get there was clearly frustrating to Faddis.

The issue for many people is not whether or not standards will play a role in their security designs — because they will — but which one will emerge as the leader. Speaking to one representative from ONVIF, it was evident that they already consider themselves the front runner in the field. It’s like Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, he said, with ONVIF clearly cast in his mind in the Blu-Ray role. Depending on how far back you like to go in the history of high definition disks, it took about six years for that battle to play out
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Others have already counted the casualties and declared ONVIF the winner. After the PSIA event, I tweeted a quote from its executive director David Bunzel: the groups are unlikely to collaborate or merge due to “philosophical differences.” Never one to mince words, respected industry analyst John Honovich responded with his own tweet: “Translation: PSIA leadership cannot acknowledge losing.”

According to Honovich, this battle has been over for a while. In late 2010, he posted some research on his site ipvideomarket.info indicating a strong market preference for ONVIF and two unequivocal statements: standards are here; ONVIF has won. Few would disagree with the first. I spoke to a company on the ASIS show floor that designs networked security solutions and they’ve created their products to be both ONVIF and PSIA compliant. ONVIF first, and perhaps PSIA as an afterthought, but the intention was clear: “We’re trying to be as widely compatible as possible.”

Perhaps that’s the most important message of all. Regardless of which standard is still standing in 2012 and beyond, the industry can only benefit from a desire to build technology that works together.