- Open systems focus on ensuring there is appropriate communications among all devices within the security environment.
- Systems theory tells us that an open system is a system that is able to continuously interact with its environment.
The physical security industry comprises a collection of devices and technologies that security providers pull from to provide comprehensive solutions for managing, monitoring and maintaining the security and safety of people, property and assets. Getting these devices, built on different technologies and developed by different (and often competing) manufacturers, to work together as part of the larger system continues to be a challenge.
While proprietary systems might have simplified this task in the past, it has become increasingly difficult for one manufacturer to cover all aspects of the modern security system. As such, these implementations have given way to the broad device support and flexibility that open systems claim to offer. Industry standards help drive the adoption of open systems, by providing specifications for protocols and interfaces that create a common language for communication.
It is this integration of varying devices and technologies that drives much of the discussion with respect to openness and industry standards. Open systems focus on ensuring there is appropriate communications among all devices within the security environment. These “conversations” are governed by internal “language” definitions, often published externally to encourage wider adoption. Industry standards, in this sense, work to formalize and ratify common “languages” across the industry.
Language does have its limits, though. If we continue the linguistic analogy, we can relate the limitation to dialects or cultural differences across geographic regions that have standardized on the same base language, yet still require care when communicating. Consider the two popular industry standards, ONVIF and PSIA, for instance. Using these standards, compliant cameras often are not “plug-and-play” even with compliant storage devices or management systems. It is often not enough to agree on a “language;” it is also important to focus on how the conversation is conducted.
When we add to the mix other subsystems such as access control, visitor management and intrusion detection, it becomes apparent that integration requires more than just a set of standards. The linchpin of a seamlessly integrated, coherent solution is an open architecture, designed in compliance with accepted industry standards, producing a system that easily integrates with other applications and devices.
Open vs. Standard
The term “open system” is often misused and confused with the adoption of industry standards. Systems theory tells us that an open system is a system that is able to continuously interact with its environment. This imposes a critical requirement on any system striving for open communications. Every major component or device in the system must be able to clearly communicate its capabilities, state and system data. This can be defined by internal rules, accepted industry standards or some combination of both, and still be open. The system software must be hardware-, database-, network- and peripheral/device-independent. Moreover, the most advanced open systems should have the ability to interface with any external systems or devices through a common, published, bidirectional protocol, based on existing standards where possible.
In the security industry, the most popular integration method is through APIs, which simplify the integration by hiding all the complex mechanisms from developers such as authentication, decoding video and network protocols. APIs ensure ease of integration with different devices such as access control panels, IP cameras, D/NVRs, fire panels, intrusion controllers and intercom systems.
In particular, security management systems (SMS) software vendors offer various APIs so video management systems can receive, for example, access control events from their system. In many cases, a tighter integration can be provided by allowing video manufacturers to integrate their functionality inside the SMS user interface, reducing the need for the operator to learn multiple systems. In many cases, industry standards are the result of early internal standards agreed upon and published by technology partners of necessity.
Only a system that is both device- and data exchange-independent can be considered truly open. Open architecture allows for the creation of a security management environment that includes nonproprietary, off-the-shelf devices and applications, standard operating systems and databases within the existing network infrastructure. This flexibility is enhanced by incorporating relevant industry standards. For digital video solutions, open architecture provides support for multiple video compression algorithms, video recorders and off-the-shelf, network-based storage devices. In such an environment, when technology migrates, end users are not tied to a particular manufacturer and are free to choose from different vendors with minimal interoperability problems.