Our Open Systems Paradox
by Security Electronics and Networks | @Analysis Articles | February 26, 2012, 8:00am AEDT
MY starting point for these maunderings was ONVIF’s recent release of Profile S, a series of introductions designed to help end users, integrators and designers in their battle to establish truly interoperable components of proposed electronic security solutions.
Given ONVIF’s reason for existence is to ensure interoperability between products regardless of their builder, it’s telling that there’s a need for a series of standardisation initiatives like Profile S taking place 4 years after the organisation was founded.
To me, this initiative highlights the internal contradictions pure interoperability poses to electronic security manufacturers who define their differences in terms of disparate technical smarts born when the first code writer starts laboriously interpreting a design team’s schematics into noughts and ones.
As a result we see electronic security manufacturers attempting to open up their technologies to leverage open platform solutions being demanded by end users. Yet at the same time we see these manufacturers trying to distinguish themselves, their products and their interpretations of multiple layers of IP-based standards from their competitors. The result of this pushmi-pullyu wouldn’t surprise Dr John Doolittle. It’s a lack of any real progress at all.
Set against our manufacturers’ individual business imperatives are the demands of an IT industry that over the past 2 decades has embraced open architecture through the paradoxical expedient of a dominant supplier utterly obliterating all competitors, thereby establishing the hegemony of its proprietary operating system. I say this with all due deference to OpenBSD, OPC, Siemens SCADA machine language and all the various dialects of the richly-painted Linux warriors out there.
The points I’m stalking are that open architecture cannot be extracted from real world business models of profit and loss and that rationalisation of some manufacturers and some proprietary systems is inevitable if the concept of interoperability is truly to be achieved. In the IT world, interoperability was imposed, not agreed upon. This cannot be ignored in our sub-universe of networked electronic security.
I can’t pretend there’s not something morbidly fascinating about the market forces and the raucous interest groups sucking our cottage industry into the singularity of IP. Nor can the industry deny its latent resistance to this process. The viscous pace of convergence attests to a fierce resistance to the ubiquity that threatens all our electronic security devices in the future.
Yet from the point of view of some manufacturers – the successful cross-overs – this is exactly what is required to allow their management solutions to support IP-hungry clients.
There’s a safe avenue available to our manufacturers, or so it seems to me. That avenue is the endless development of intelligent devices in the manner of Apple. Hardware so flexible and reliable, software solutions so clever, that the market finds them irresistible. Higher levels of integrated processing, memory and wireless communications all spring to mind.
Only in this way but perhaps never entirely, can the electronic security industry arrest the spiral of price falls that are the result of the globalisation of education, intellectual property and manufacturing.
And regardless, the potential anonymity of open platform beckons.
Those solutions that fail to align themselves with some management supplier, or fail to develop and successfully market their own management solutions, are going to find themselves written out of an IP-based future the hostile nature of which is clearly written in the sediments of IT history.
In simplest terms a really open electronic security device or solution is one in which the application programming interface is freely available for modification by third party software developers. Building solutions that retain their brand individuality and sales impetus while putting their intrinsic capabilities in the hands of the market will be the big challenge for manufacturers in our industry’s next decade.