Standards discussion heats up

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DALLAS--The closing panel here at TechSec Solutions, led by Rob Zivney, VP of sales and marketing at Hirsch, and someone who’s been active with standards efforts for SIA, BACnet, and the federal government, seemed to capture a discussion that’s being had throughout the industry: Are standards really going to happen for IP video? When? Which body will end up driving the leading standard? Are competing standards as bad as Betamax versus VHS? What’s a standard and what’s a specification?

With Zivney on the panel were Jonas Andersson, chair of the ONVIF effort being led by Axis, Bosch, and Sony; Rob Hile, chair of the PSIA, a group of companies brought together by David Bunzel of Santa Clara Consulting after the last TechSec; Roger Roehr, head of the government vertical at Software House (active with FIPS 201/HSPD-12/NIST activities), and the chair of the Smart Card Alliance’s Physical Security Committee; and Hunter Knight, generally known as the father of SIA’s standards efforts, which have resulted in the OSIPS body of increasingly ANSI-recognized standards.

“2009 is a year of standards,” Zivney predicted in opening the panel. “You’re going to see a lot of new standards, where we’ve been an industry without standards up until now. We’re going to see an unwanted abundance of standards, a plethora; you’re going from nothing to a lot.”

Is this a problem?

Andersson and Hile think not. “I don’t think you should exaggerate that you’ll get several standards,” Andersson said. “There’s been a lot of communication between organizations here, between SIA, and ONVIF, and PSIA ... And this is quite early days for standards, even though there’s been quite a lot of work being done by SIA for a long time.”

“It’s interesting,” Hile agreed. “I keep hearing this over and over again, and I think it’s just an excuse: ‘Oh, my God, we’ve got all these specifications and standards now!’ We had none. We had none a couple years ago. And now we’ve got four people sitting up here, four groups that are passionate about standards. Okay, so we get our specification approved, and it’s based on REST for its architecture. And you [turning toward Andersson] get your specification published and it’s based on web services. We have another one that’s based on SOAP. Okay, we’ve got three! As an integrator, I’m damned excited about that! I had none!”

However, Knight was concerned  multiple efforts might confuse or split the industry: “We’re Balkanizing the industry, ensuring the failure of standards to unify and achieve open system integration and predictable performance,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s a good thing. But it speaks to the standards process in general. They’re making great intellectual contributions, but we’re doing it in a Balkanized way, and so we’re not getting the aggregate harmonization of these in the ANSI process that has very strict rules for consensus-based development, no pay to play, public review, all those things that are fundamental to the development of standards that will actually work.”

In the audience, Bob Beliles, vice president of enterprise business development for Hirsch, agreed with Knight. “When there are competing standards, they tend to retard growth and adoption by customers who will, or may, wait for a ‘winner,’” he said.

Pete Jankowski took the Hile/Andersson side. As director of product marketing at Cisco, and Cisco’s liaison to the PSIA and ONVIF, both of which Cisco has joined, he has a unique perspective. “Having the two standards is better than having multiple standards for every camera manufacturer out there,” he said, echoing Hile. “I’d like to get PSIA and ONVIF together, get their models together, maybe eventually getting one standard, getting that through SIA, and that’s eventually going to an ANSI standard.”

And there is overlap between the PSIA and ONVIF efforts, he noted. “If you ask for the stream for the camera, it’s the same with both, an RTSP stream. The cameras are putting out the same thing, just over a different community request, but the end result is exactly the same. So eventually I’m hoping that we’ll get the data models pushed together and come up with more of a unified standard, but I don’t think that will happen right away. That will take a little bit of time. But either one is pretty good ... This is not Betamax versus VHS, or blu-ray vs. HD - it’s just a way of talking to the devices, and currently the industry doesn’t have a standard, so this way there will only be two.”

Hile said there has been talk of merging the PSIA and ONVIF device discovery specifications in version 2.0 of the respective documents, and that might happen very soon. The two groups will meet at ISC West for further discussion.

Meanwhile, SIA continues its standards work. In early March, the industry group identified three standard communication protocols it will recommend manufacturers use going forward: Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for streaming audio; Real-time Transport Protocol/Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTP/RTSP) for streaming video; and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) for non-streaming content. These will now become part of the OSIPS standards family.