In the early 1990s, a Finnish software engineer named Linus Torvalds began work on what would eventually become the Linux computer operating system. He released the first version of that operating system for free on the internet and it took the world by storm almost immediately.
More than 30 years later, Linux remains one of the most important and influential operating systems in the world. Millions of devices run on Linux – in fact, Android, the most-used operating system in the world, is based upon the Linux kernel. Even the field of supercomputing has been effectively monopolized by Linux, with all 500 of the world’s most powerful computers running Linux.
Linux’s open-source nature is at the core of what has made it so popular and what has enabled it to have such incredible staying power. The system is free to use and the thousands of developers and users who contribute to its upkeep and maintenance have kept the system both stable and secure for decades.
Perhaps best of all, the fact that Linux is open source makes it easier for developers to collaborate with one another. That, more than anything else, has made it one of the most popular and adaptable operating systems in the world and it serves as a lesson not only for manufacturers and developers, but for customers as well.
In the security industry, uses for cameras and other surveillance devices are expanding well beyond security and prioritizing open-source technology can put vast new capabilities in the hands of users while significantly extending the lifespan of their devices.
With all that in mind, it probably won’t shock you to learn that Linux is the preferred operating system for most physical security devices, including internet protocol (IP) cameras and other sensors. A modern security system might include dozens, hundreds or even thousands of different cameras, speakers, access control stations, intercoms and other devices.
While these devices sometimes come from the same manufacturer, or run software from the same developer, that isn’t always the case. Ensuring that those different devices can talk to one another is critical. The ability to combine data from different input sets is a major part of what makes today’s security technology click.
However, it isn’t always easy. Not all manufacturers prefer open-source development – some offer proprietary systems. Often, those proprietary systems will come with certain advantages. They may perform certain operations better than others or the manufacturer may be able to offer an added degree of support. While those benefits are certainly worth acknowledging, it’s also important to understand the drawbacks. Using proprietary technology locks the customer into a certain line of products and if those products no longer meet the customer’s needs, there is very little recourse. When a certain product is no longer supported, the customer has no choice but to upgrade. If a device does not support a certain analytics tool, the customer is simply out of luck.
This stands in stark contrast to open-source development, where product lifecycles can be extended by years, even decades. Thanks to their open architecture, even devices no longer actively supported by the original manufacturer can receive updates and improvements from developers with an interest in maintaining them. When it comes to security, that means that even older cameras can often be made forward-compatible with a new video management system (VMS).
Rather than being forced to “rip and replace” when it’s time to upgrade, organizations can keep their original devices and perform upgrades on an as-needed basis. Cybersecurity, too, benefits from this openness because code is constantly being revised and tested by users and developers, vulnerabilities tend to be discovered and remediated quickly. This means that patches will continue being released long after most first-party updates have ceased, keeping devices secure in the long term.
Potentially the biggest advantage of open-source technology is that of system integration. The more devices are able to talk to one another, the greater their potential capabilities. Imagine a remote solar farm, spread across several acres. In the middle of the night, a radar detector senses movement near the perimeter of the property. It quickly sends that information to the nearest low-light pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) camera, which shifts its field of view to observe the specified area.
That video is then fed into an analytic capable of identifying whether or not the source of the movement is a human. If a human trespasser is detected, that information can be automatically relayed to security personnel or local law enforcement. If, on the other hand, the movement is simply a lost coyote or curious deer, the system will simply file the metadata away without wasting time on a spurious alert.
This type of system integration has allowed businesses to gather and apply data in valuable new ways. Data is king in today’s world and the more data you can gather and correlate, the smarter the outcomes you can produce. From a security standpoint, this means bigger and better datasets on which to train analytics, which leads to more accurate incident detection and reporting.
Schools and government facilities can deploy highly accurate weapon detection analytics, keeping locations safe. Hospitals can detect coughing, cries of pain, a patient falling out of bed and other signs of distress and send help within moments. There are even analytics that can detect signs of aggressive behavior, allowing security personnel to intervene and potentially stop an incident before it has a chance to escalate.
Of course, these are just a few potential applications – but the point is that by prioritizing open-source technology, you don’t have to hope that your chosen manufacturer offers the capabilities you want. Instead, you can seek out the solutions that are right for you, based on your individual needs.
This has become even more important as video analytics have shifted away from security and towards operations and business intelligence applications. Retailers are using a variety of analytics to monitor foot traffic, track the movement of shoppers within the store, identify which displays are attracting the most attention and even detect empty shelves in need of a restock. Building managers are improving efficiency by monitoring occupancy, turning down HVAC systems and shutting off lights in unused areas to reduce consumption.
Manufacturers are using video analytics to maintain quality control and listen for signs of damaged machinery that might be undetectable to the human ear. Again, these are just a few examples, but they exemplify the way that businesses are combining a wide range of different analytics to generate positive outcomes.
The use of open-source technology is a major part of what makes system integration possible, allowing developers all over the world to create new applications to integrate with existing technology. It’s also important to note that open standards like ONVIF play a complementary role. ONVIF supports analytics configuration and query for metadata, as well as its filtering and streaming – which helps standardize the way data is collected and recalled.
It has interfaces for generic object classification, as well as things like geolocation, vehicle data, license plates and human faces and bodies. This makes it easy to share data, further easing system integration and making it possible for disparate devices and applications to talk to one another.
The combination of open-source technology and the emergence of open standards in data collection have – quite literally – revolutionized device and system integration. As the potential applications for cameras and other sensors rapidly increase, customers who prioritize open-source technology will find themselves in the best possible position to take advantage of those new capabilities.
The beauty of open source is in its endless opportunities for customization, giving users the opportunity to tailor their solutions to their specific needs even as they dramatically extend the lifespan of their devices. As adherence to open standards in data gathering grows more common, the opportunities to integrate wide-ranging data sets to generate added value will only increase.
This article was originally published in the April edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.