Are We There Yet? The Journey to Interoperability
End-user demand for interoperable systems and unified interfaces is a key driver in this evolution; however, it is also easing integrator challenges and affording manufacturers new opportunities.
Hybrid environments are becoming more and more common. With myriad 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 the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF), an organization focused on 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 Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), while Profile G for video recording specifies how to configure and start a recording. The details are defined in each respective Profile Specification available from the ONVIF site (onvif.org).
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 describe how to configure and use their product for optimal use with ONVIF.
Improving the Test Tools
Due to recent improvements, the reality is that products that passed the conformance test in ONVIF’s early years likely wouldn’t make the grade today because of more stringent test tools. While it is still up to individual manufacturers to implement the specifications outlined in the profiles, ONVIF’s Technical Services Committee is 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 six 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 release of the Device Test Tool in late 2013 contains tests for each of the current ONVIF profiles:
- Profile S – encompasses the common functionalities shared by ONVIF-conformant video management systems (VMS) 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 onboard storage.
- Profile C – encompasses physical access controllers, gateways and access control management systems.
For newer profiles that are still being created, tests can be provided in “diagnostic mode” to help with development for conformance before the profile is officially released.
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