EXCLUSIVE: Open architecture: the flexibility to be innovative

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Robert Brown, Solutions Engineer at Axis Communications explores why an open architecture for security systems is the right investment for integrators and end users.


A network video surveillance system comprised of hardware and software from various manufacturers and integrated through open architecture should work seamlessly.

A video surveillance system’s applications can operate in unity when a common framework standardizes their communication.

Open architecture embodies a philosophy that extends even beyond this functional framework.

Manufacturers embracing open architecture intentionally plan their products for seamless integration with those of other brands, emphasizing transparency, documentation and support.

This approach ultimately empowers systems integrators and end customers with the flexibility to craft a system tailored precisely to their needs by selecting the most innovative or suitable options, without the constraints of a single manufacturer.

Flexibility with applications

Ultimately, open architecture means giving end users access to a wide variety of applications that can be implemented where it makes the most sense: at the edge (camera), on premises (server), in the cloud or as a solution that utilizes more than one of these platforms.

One such example is license plate recognition. This category of solutions allows for quick responsiveness in real time, such as when an unwanted vehicle enters a property and you want an alert or software bookmark immediately.

It also allows for after-the-fact intelligence for an enterprise, such as analysis of recorded video across multiple locations deciphering crime trends.

The former application may run better on a camera because of the need for immediate alerting, while the latter may run in the cloud due to the need for more processing power.

Even working together, while the camera reads the license plate, it is the cloud server that will have the data showing a particular plate has been captured at 20 other stores in the past two months.

Open solutions provide options, so systems integrators and end users can select what works best for the task at hand.

While applications such as these aren’t necessarily dependent on open architecture, they become better because of it.

Think about cameras in a store monitoring stock on shelves, ultimately to determine if products are placed correctly and if levels are low.

It takes a lot of computing power to do that, so the application may be running in the cloud.

A retailer conscious about privacy because of local or regional regulations will want to ensure that a customer’s face never leaves the store’s network.

In this arrangement, the cameras at the edge work to classify people and then mask or blur them out; cameras only send images to the cloud that either have been verified to contain no people or where people are masked/blurred.

The camera does one piece of the task — the privacy part — while the application in the cloud does the other piece — analyzes shelves.

The same approach could apply to license plate recognition, where the cameras capture the characters on the plate with precision, passing off the data captured at the edge to another system that perhaps connects to a list of known offenders or a law enforcement registry of stolen vehicles.

Open architecture allows the integrator and end user to put the intelligence where it makes the most sense in a system, even if that involves a mix of edge, server and cloud applications.

It allows them to select best-of-breed hardware and software to achieve this configuration.

Open architecture also provides an ongoing benefit in lifecycle management.

If an end user needs or wants to upgrade, open architecture allows them to update products independently of one another.

Software can be upgraded separately from cameras and vice versa.

Over time, this gives the user more flexibility in not only which components they choose, but when they want to upgrade.

Staying on the open road – ONVIF conformance

How can systems integrators ensure they don’t get locked in with a vendor that doesn’t have this product openness?

First, by submitting a comprehensive Request for Information (RFI) to all of the vendors they’re considering purchasing from.

The RFI should ask about the different features of the hardware or software, as well as how it functions with other products.

Next, integrators must validate their answers by watching product demos at trade shows, visiting manufacturers on site or even setting up their own small lab to test products.

This will help integrators weed out products that just don’t connect with other components or provide the level of openness they need.

The primary specification integrators should look for in selecting an open architecture-based product is conformance to the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF).

This is an organization that creates standardized interfaces called “profiles” which ensure interoperability among IP-based physical security products from different manufacturers.

Each ONVIF profile has a fixed set of comprehensive features that enable a product to be built solely on the profile specification.

Conformance to profiles is the only way that ensures compatibility between ONVIF-conformant products.

Products that conform to one or more profiles are registered as ONVIF conformant and there are tens of thousands of them.

For integrators and end users looking for an open solution, they can be assured that when two products that conform to the same profile are used together, they will seamlessly communicate.

Additionally, while ONVIF profiles provide a baseline of interoperability, some manufacturers go above and beyond those levels.

The more ways in which manufacturers allow integrators, software developers and other technology partners to tap into and interact with their cameras, the better.

Looking toward the future

Is open architecture always the right choice for network video surveillance systems?

The alternative is choosing a single vendor for every application without the ability to go outside of that.

However, with open architecture, knowing that the best available option perhaps three to five years from now may be different than the end user’s initial investment is a sounder long-term strategy.

The ability to adapt to change is infinitely easier when dealing with open architecture.

Every aspect of open architecture network video surveillance is meant to make it easier for systems integrators and end users to choose the best options for their needs — and not be locked into proprietary interfaces, proprietary programming languages or a proprietary platform.

This article was originally published in the November edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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