Interview: Leo Levit, Chairman, ONVIF
In an exclusive interview with a&s Middle East, Chairman Leo Levit charts the course of the ONVIF’s paradigm-shifting role in promoting interconnectivity, metadata processing, and IoT for the needs of the next-gen security industry
a&s Middle East
Mr. Levit, thank you very much for your time. At the very beginning, we would appreciate it if you could introduce yourself to our readership.
I am Leo Levit, Chairman of the Steering Committee of ONVIF. I am also the Director of Systems Integration for Axis Communications, a company I have been with for nearly 8 years. I am based in Lund, Sweden at the global headquarters of Axis. My background also includes positions at Ericsson and Sony where I also contributed to product portfolio and business growth.
What does ONVIF conformance mean, and how it works?
ONVIF develops and publishes interface specifications that manufacturers can implement into their products. Product conformance is based on at least one of the seven profiles developed by ONVIF. Manufacturers test the products using the ONVIF profile-specific test tools to ensure that the products meet the mandatory specifications of the profile. Only companies that are members of ONVIF at the full, contributing (including registered affiliates), and user levels are eligible to submit their products for conformance and have their products listed in the ONVIF conformant products database at onvif.org.
For system integrators and end users, the ONVIF conformance process provides a level of out-of-the-box interoperability between products that conform to the same profile. Today we have a database of more than 26,000 conformant products that the market can select from to build a security system from components of their choosing, regardless of manufacturer.
What are the mandatory features of a product to be conformant to the profile?
Each profile has its own set of mandatory features, and there are also different requirements for devices and clients for that profile, as the capabilities of software clients and hardware are different. For example, in Profile T, it is mandatory for both clients and devices to have media streaming ready out of the box, but PTZ control is mandatory only for clients such as a VMS, as not all devices will be PTZ cameras. The only mandatory requirement across all profiles is the ability for both clients and devices to perform queries to understand which features devices and clients support.
What is ONVIF’s role in deepening relationships between analytics, IoT, AI, and other technologies?
We have actually made great strides in this area in the last few years, with the introduction of Profile M, which address almost all of these technologies at a foundational level in terms of standardizing the handling of metadata and analytics events, providing access to IoT environments, and enabling cloud-based solutions. Bringing these basic capabilities into the ONVIF conformance process expands the choice of and accessibility to products and services for system integrators and end users. As the industry continues to adopt these types of solutions and as these technologies advance, I would expect future ONVIF profiles to address the needs in these areas.
Are you encountering inappropriate competition in this area or products claiming a non-existing ONVIF certificate?
ONVIF has been the de facto standard for IP interoperability for physical security for many years so it’s only natural that we have seen some false claims of conformance. This is fairly common among certification and conformance-based organizations. However, we take these very seriously and consistently monitor for false claims as well as enable the public to report false claims directly to ONVIF, through a reporting tool on our website. We are continually refining our processes to be as robust and reliable as possible.
How is the security industry using meta-data today, and are you satisfied with that direction?
I think the security industry and the greater technology sector are at the beginning of understanding how to truly harness the possibilities of metadata. Our industry’s video devices are some of the most powerful sensors, capable of collecting massive amounts of metadata. So right now we are very good at collecting metadata, but the need to analyze and interpret this information is in its infancy. This is where standardization comes into the picture, as this will allow for greater innovation in this area and the ability to scale the solutions that are developed.
Two years ago ONVIF adopted the GitHub open-source development platform. How has that strategic step been reflected in your operations since then?
The primary driver of moving specification development to GitHub was to reduce the administrative burdens on our volunteer members who oversee this process as well as to provide increased transparency to the ONVIF Core Specification development, which has always been publicly available on our website. Anyone with a GitHub account can now make suggestions on these specifications, including contributions from software engineers and developers from other disciplines, such as cloud services, AI, and IoT. This move to open source will enable us to bring new developments to market more quickly with increased accessibility to ONVIF specifications and because of the automation available via GitHub for the detailed, process-oriented work required to produce technical specifications.
Do you plan any upgrades to the existing profile-based model to improve interconnectivity?
Profiles are developed based on a set of features from the ONVIF Core Specifications that enable companies to develop a functional product solely on the profile specification. This profile concept will not change. What we have done is introduce a concept called an Add-on, which is centered on addressing a specific use case. An add-on, by itself, is not comprehensive enough to qualify as a profile. These add-ons can be developed more quickly and allow member companies more flexibility when bringing new features to market that increase interoperability and fall under the ONVIF conformance process. As an example, we expect our first add-on to support TLS configuration, which is scheduled to be released this year.
How do you deliver the full benefits to cloud-based ecosystems at the time of their surge in popularity?
The ONVIF value proposition is to expand interoperability between different technologies and accessibility to those technologies to market players of all sizes, using our standards. With the cloud, our mission here is the same. It is important that we address what is specifically needed to help the industry expand into this area and diversify from the traditional device-to-client scenario that is keeping things on-premise. Determining the most suitable way to standardize the method of communication within different cloud components will be key.
Will the meteoric rise of AI have any short-term impact on the way you approach your goals, or is it still too early to predict the outcome?
I would say that it is definitely too early to predict the outcome, but there is no doubt that the growth rate in AI and the need to address the impacts with standards have accelerated our pace and refined our direction in this area. We see this as a natural progression of our support for the industry and also an opportunity to grow the scope of ONVIF outside of the traditional physical security realm into cloud and metadata. This includes how this information is communicated and received, stored and analyzed, and how the cloud aspects of this integrate with other components as part of a hybrid system.
Your position sounds like a very unique one. You have a genuine overview of thousands of products available in the market. What is the big picture you see? Where is this industry of meta-data processing devices and IoT as a whole heading?
Technology is developing at warp speed, much faster than the industry can adapt to on both the manufacturer and end-user levels. This includes AI technology and the shift from moving boxes to selling services and everything in between. From an ONVIF perspective, this will only continue as systems gradually migrate to the cloud, offering increased computing power for metadata and analytics and growing accessibility to larger IoT environments.
We have already set the stage for this transition in Profile M in two key areas. Profile M conformant “devices” can now be physical hardware or a cloud- or server-based service or software, moving away from the traditional hardware device-to-software client paradigm. And because Profile M leverages MQTT, a common communications protocol in the IoT space, this opens up possibilities for new integrated applications and the ability to connect to different entities in an loT or automation ecosystem.
What will the main focus of ONVIF be in the following five years?
It is likely that working in the areas of metadata, IoT, cloud, and analytics will be at the forefront for the next five years, and probably many more after that. However, the work of ONVIF is driven solely by its members, and it is up to the members to determine new profiles, add-ons, or other similar initiatives. As these technology areas will be major drivers of the physical security industry, we can see areas of potential work, such as standardizing measures that ensure video integrity, as well as further support for metadata and cloud connectivity. One thing that is certain is that we will continue with our mission, which is to provide standardized interfaces for the interoperability of IP physical security products. This has guided us since our founding in 2008 and has led to the increasing number of conformant products that the industry can select from to build systems with components of their choice, regardless of manufacturer.
The Impact of ONVIF Conformance
ONVIF’s conformance process allows system integrators and end users to select from over 26,000 conformant products to build a security system tailored to their needs, regardless of manufacturer.
Out-of-the-box interoperability between products that conform to the same profile provides ease of integration and seamless functionality.
The ONVIF conformance process ensures adherence to mandatory specifications, promoting reliable and standardized communication between devices and clients.
Embracing Cloud and IoT with ONVIF
ONVIF’s adoption of the GitHub open-source development platform enables increased collaboration and transparency, fostering innovation and development in cloud-based solutions.
Profile M opens up possibilities for leveraging metadata, analytics, and IoT technologies, enabling the integration of cloud- and server-based services in addition to traditional hardware devices.
Standardization in communication methods within cloud components is a key focus area to enhance interoperability and drive the growth of cloud-based ecosystems.