Cisco And Microsoft Teaming Up!

The two heavyweights who have (not) revolutionized physical security are teaming up. What major initiative are they launching?

A PSIA ASIS showcase. That's right. Next month, you can hear how these two companies are working together to foster the PSIA, the 'other' standards body who has failed to have any material impact on surveillance.

"Join us and learn how security users like Cisco and Microsoft are using specifications from the PSIA to operate more cost effectively while creating innovative security solutions.

Scheduled speakers and demonstrators include Deon Chatterton, Senior Manager, Integrated Building and Risk Technologies at Cisco and Mike Faddis, Group Program Manager of Microsoft Global Security Operations Centers, with more to come. We'll also update you on developments within the PSIA, including new profiles and proposed specifications and an exciting announcement or two."

I love how Cisco and Microsoft use the "Hey we are just humble end users" shtick to position their sales efforts as being more authentic.

But really what's the _long term_ point of backing the PSIA?

This is typical of both companies. I would guess they don't want to play in the already-crowded ONVIF sandbox and think their ponderous weight will add cache to PSIA.

Deep pocket syndrome? Could be that the cost of doing this is a smallish blip for these guys, so they give it a shot, if it works, great, if not, oh well.

I second Carl's guess! And, yes, for them, it's not much money at all and they get to be the lead of a 'standards' group.

I spoke to the director of PSIA when they first started nearly 5 years ago (think Rockoff but without the social media component). He was incredibly arrogant, boasting how the presence of Cisco, GE Security, Honeywell, Pelco, were going to lead them to success. Despite the fact that none of then, nor now, had a large IP camera business while the ONVIF was led by 2 of the top 3 (Axis, Sony). The results speak for themself.

John, you already know that I'm on an advisory board of PSIA, that I have vociferously participated in ONVIF activities, and that I favor the success of both groups. They have different approaches and given the amount ground to cover in terms of standards development, I support them both.

It’s a Rocky Road to Success

When I was instructing in an ASIS technology workshop last year, several attendees voiced their dissatisfaction with the current state of ONVIF implementation. They had relied on ONVIF interoperability in their overall system designs and product selections (I don't know all of the details), and they had to abandon that approach. They were not happy campers. At the same time, I did know that ONVIF was very actively working on addressing several key trouble points they mentioned. But there is a vendor implementation period involved, and that meant that what the attendees needed wouldn't be available in time for their projects. It’s been a rocky road.

Having said that, I also have a client who has been able to very successfully deploy new brand name camera products this year only because the cameras' high degree of ONVIF compliance made it possible, as their VMS vendor only supported the products through the ONVIF interfaces. This is a real result. The client needed the vendors’ technologies to all work together to address a very major risk, and it is working.

War is Stupid

You declared a while ago that the "standards war" had been "won" by ONVIF, to which I immediately replied that it is the end user customers who should be the winners in standards initiatives, and that there are enough differences between ONVIF and PSIA that saying one must win over the other is a baseless assertion.

The camera space (just part of what ONVIF is doing) is very complicated and also rapidly evolving in its technology. It's an understatement to say that what ONVIF is mainly focused on is a significant challenge, and there are a very large number of vendors to deal with, which adds to the challenges.

To answer your "what's the point?" question, I think the long term point is for customers to have a very high degree of interoperability at both the device and the systems level, and I see a need for the work that both groups are doing.

There is nothing wrong with accurately reporting on the comparative status of the two standards groups, but declaring one a winner serves no purpose, as there is not really a war and both groups are carrying on in their own way. It is just stupid and undermines the valuable work they are doing. That’s not beneficial for end users, who need both groups to make even faster progress.


It took the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)a huge and highly technical user group8 and a half years to develop the BACnet interoperability protocol. After several major rounds of development and review, it was completed and finally approved as an ANSI standard 6 months after it was released by ASHRAE. It took another two years before major deployments could be done because the manufacturers had to implement support in their product lines and had been dragging their feet. Many big-name vendors opposed the interoperability initiative and were finally forced into adopting the protocol because large end users took a stance, including the largest landlord in the world—the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

Finally—Significant End User Support Appears

There is no equivalent of ASHRAE in the physical security world, and so the physical security interoperability initiatives were initiated and have been being carried forward by vendors, not by end users—until now. I say that because although Microsoft and Cisco both have security products, the support we’re seeing is coming from their security operations functions. This constitutes a high level of end user support by leading practitioner organizations.

I’m not in favor of trashing that support. Whatever you think of Cisco and Microsoft as product companies, they both have first class physical security operations and are leaders in that regard in many ways. Their security folks are end users and I imagine that for many years they have had the same frustrations as most end users have, only on a much larger scale due to the sizes of their security operations and their technology deployments. Good for them for getting involved.

So I’m reserving my comments about the ASIS 2013 Showcase event until after the event itself. You can discourage attendance if you want to, but I don’t see how that would really benefit anyone.

Ray, I don't care who goes to a dog and pony show. Personally, I wouldn't go to any - ONVIF, PSIA, SIA, etc. as I find them to all be a waste of my time, regardless of how successful or not the efforts overall are. If you go, let me know what you think :)

That said, let's talk about a central problem in the PSIA vs ONVIF comparison. The lack of support for PSIA. PSIA lists 25 vendors. ONVIF is way over 200+ (and over 3000 total products). It doesn't matter how 'good' 'technically' PSIA is (or is not). Without participants, it's pointless. Worse, PSIA has less momentum today than it had 3 years ago.

Ray, I suppose we will disagree on this point, but it's patently obvious to me that Cisco and Microsoft's end user usage is warped by their product sales strategies and their inability to influence ONVIF because of more powerful rivals within surveillance / security.

Cisco and Microsoft ... this seems to be a desperate move on both companies to stay in the security business. I see it as an attempt by two big gorillas to hijack the standards process. It's the more reason to stay away from PSIA!

Ray Bernard, whether you like it or not, by having two standard bodies working to develop standards for the same technology base, you have in fact, two competing interests. Some companies are in it to protect their interests/investments; some are in it because they really do want to have a standard so their market will thrive. Think VCR vs Beta Max. In the end, the commercial success of the VCR made it THE standard despite what everyone said about the superiority of Beta Max.

What I don't understand is why the two bodies did not merge just like the 802.11 committee did. There was a lot of competing hardware technologies back then (layer 1 and 2), but somehow everyone managed to work together.

I have talked to people who were intimately involved in leadership positions on both sides. My understanding that there was an attempt a few years ago to merge them but that it failed for political reasons. Then came PSIA's repositioning away from cameras and towards access, PSIM, etc.

Any trade group will go for as long as there are manufacturers willing to pay dues to fund the agents involved (hello HDcctv!) but PSIA is not going to gain any relevancy unless they get a large number of independent manufacturers to implement their specs.

Ed, I do remember the days when most of the folks I knew preferred 8-track tapes over cassettes, but casseettes won out. But I am not sure that comparisons like Betamax vs. VHS and 8-track vs. cassette are the right ones.

I have computer DVD drives that support a variety of formats and technologies, including -R, +R and -RW, +RW, RAM not to mention the various combinations of single/dual sided discs and single/dual layers. It's not the same as this vs. that.

I don't know what hijacking would mean as applies to the interoperability aspect. Either the specifications will enable things to interoperate well or they don't. Certainly software and networking are involved and so both companies would have expertise to contribute. To me the term hijack would mean that they turn things to their own ends and away from what would otherwise be the objectives, and I don't really see how would benefit the companies as manufacturers. The security industry markets are small compared to their larger markets.

However, there may be advantages for Microsoft in areas where the industry is lagging, such as identity and access management, which is an area where the IT industry is way out in front of where the physical security industry is right now. And there may be some ideas from Cisco's work on the Internet of Things that relates to PSIM and expanding the scope of sensor applications. Interoperability is required because these areas require multiple types of technologies to work together.

John is right about politics - there definitely have been various politics involved, and I think merging could have a lot of benefitsI haven't studied that out. But I have seen politics in play in all kinds of activities, and the BACnet initiative was not immune to politics either.

Maybe I'm being over-optimistic, but I see the MS and Cisco involvement as having greater potential upside than downside. I'll certainly have a better idea after the event.

New email from PSIA bragging about security end users presenting. There are now 3:

Ironically, all 3 of these 'end users' are manufacturers/vendors. Kastle bought out CheckVideo a few months ago.