The Road So Far to Nonproprietary Systems

Three industry executives discuss the advancements, and struggles, the electronic security industry has experienced in efforts to move toward open architecture security platforms. While real successes are being achieved, the industry’s proprietary legacy can be a vexing creature to nudge.

It has been more than a decade since the intertwined topics of open systems, standards and convergence entered the physical security industry debate. But what does it all mean and how much progress are we making?

When we talk about systems as being open it is usually a matter of degrees. Products that are open are easy to integrate in order to build new or complex solutions. Generally, the more open, the easier it is to build solutions.

Standards are related to openness but one doesn’t have to adhere to a standard to be open. This is where the IP camera industry programming protocols are today: Most cameras have open protocols; they are published and often provided in the documentation that comes with the camera. But even though they’re open, the fact that each manufacturer invents its own protocol vastly increases the workload for video management system (VMS) software providers. This problem is solved by the adoption of standards.

In theory, as camera protocol standards emerge, some of the R&D investment that VMS manufacturers make today will go into developing new features rather than supporting new cameras. This is exactly what happened among IT equipment makers. Once standards take hold, manufacturer compliance is not optional. In IT networking, vendors that supported industry-wide standards flourished, while the old-school proprietary network providers disappeared — a cautionary tale for our industry.

Related to the whole open/standards discussion is the concept of convergence. Convergence is about moving security data using the tools developed by the IT world. It is not possible to leverage an investment in IT infrastructure without abiding by the standards supported by that infrastructure, and so the security industry is adopting those standards. As a result, the world of IT data and security data are converging.

This convergence is painful for manufacturers that developed their product lines before the standards were drawn. Hence, they are faced with having to reinvest in those older product lines in order to evolve them to work in the new paradigm of converged data communication. That reinvestment is significant, requiring research, development and recertification of the result. Products developed after the standards had taken root do not suffer that cost.

But more than the manufacturers’ burdensome efforts to adapt old products to new technologies is that convergence weeds out inadequate or outdated products. In many cases, products remain on the market not because of their competitiveness, but because they are the only products that integrate with a manufacturer’s proprietary (read: closed) systems. Once the consumer has a choice, the need to buy the inadequate closed product disappears.

As a result, consumers benefit and at least some manufacturers suffer, all of which creates a tension that forces progress while simultaneously resisting that progress. It’s all a very dynamic situation.

As part of its annual Technology issue, SSI invited me to examine the state of flux that is convergence in our industry. In doing so, I recently moderated a discussion with Dave Underwood and Dan Moceri and asked them to provide some insight. Underwood is CEO of Indianapolis-based Exacq Technologies, a manufacturer of VMS solutions. VMS manufacturers are clearly affected by IT standards because of their need for network bandwidth. Moceri brings the integrator’s perspective to the discussion. As CEO of Chicago-based Convergint Technologies, a national systems integrator, he is on the frontline of making systems interoperate in the new environment.

Do you agree that security manufacturers and their products have become more open?

Dave Underwood:
I do believe this to be true. In many ways the physical security industry is mirroring the IT industry. The IT market and even the consumer computer market have been embracing open platforms and open standards for years now, contributing to their tremendous growth.

Today our customers and end users in the physical security industry want to build best-of-breed solutions just like they do in the IT market. End users want to choose the best hardware, the best components and even the best operating system for their installation and they expect it to all work together.

Dan Moceri: The trend is clearly toward more openness. Most new product platforms are open and much easier to integrate. There are, however, many legacy systems still installed today that do not have the same degree of openness and they become a challenge to integrate to third-party systems. Many manufacturers have provided an upgrade path and tools to facilitate easier integration for their legacy systems.

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