Understanding Video Surveillance APIs

Author: John Honovich, Published on Aug 14, 2008

While APIs are key to 'open' platforms, they are a frequently misunderstood and over-hyped aspect of physical security. While APIs can provide great benefits, using them is much more complex than often mentioned in sales calls and magazines.

The goal of APIs in physical security is to allow different systems to work together. Examples include:

  • Integrating your IP cameras or analytics with your VMS
  • Integrating your DVR/NVR with your access control system
  • Integrating your alarm system with a central monitoring system
  • Building a PSIM system that integrates with all your security systems

You most commonly hear APIs discussed in pre-sales situations where a customer or integrator asks a vendor: "Does your system work with 'X'?" where X could be any number of security systems by any number of manufacturers.

The routine answer by the sales person is:

"Sure, we have an API."

This is one of the most dangerous and misleading statement in all of physical security. Because it is so common and so dangerous, it is a great place to start reviewing APIs.

Lesson #1: No such thing as 'an' API

There is no such thing as 'an' API. Numerous APIs exist. In larger systems, hundreds of APIs exist. Generally, there is an API for each function in a system. Want to watch live video, use the live video API. Want to change the time, use the time change API. Want to increase the frame rate for recording, use the recording frame rate API, etc.

Lesson #2: Not all Functions have an API

Here's the first gotcha. Not all functions have an API available. Let's say you need to get a list of all health alerts from another application. This application may have 'an API' but not a specific API for sending health alerts. As you can imagine because most systems today have hundreds of functions, it is common that dozens of these functions are not accessible via an API.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

Lesson #3: Having an API does not mean it will work with your system

Let's say you have Genetec for your VMS and Software House for your access control. Both of these companies certainly have APIs but there is no guarantee that these two products will work together. Both companies having APIs is a pre-requisite for integration but it is not sufficient. At least, both of these companies need to work together to ensure the integration works reliably. Many companies certify their API works with partners but frequently your product combination will not be included.

Lesson #4: Doing the Integration Takes Time

Vendors often claim a few weeks for integration. This can happen but often technical details need to be worked out that can take significantly longer. Be careful in the time and dollar amount you commit for such projects. This is the type of risk that is often unknown and unknowable until you dig into the technical details about how each vendor implements their APIs. Generally, these projects are ultimately successful, but the time and cost can vary.

Lesson #5: API Changes can Break You

Just like a product, over time, APIs change. The difference is with APIs, their change can break your system. Reasons for change include eliminating bugs, enhancing performance, adding in new functionalities. Other system depends on those APIs. Let's say your system works with "Vendor B" version 3.1. Now let's say "Vendor B" comes out with 3.2 but this version "breaks the API". In other words, the new version is not backwards compatible with the old version. Your system could suddenly stop working with "Vendor B" if you upgrade Vendor B to version 3.2. The result is your security command center no longer displays video or access or whatever the system that just got the upgrade.

Lesson #6: You are Stuck with what the API does

Unless you are a very large customer, you are stuck with whatever the API does in whatever way it does it. Often, for what you need, this works out fine. However, if you need some change for your specific use case, this can be hard to accomplish. Make sure someone on your technical team knows specifically what the API can and cannot do so you can anticipate any potential problems up front. If a change needs to be made, the change will usually take a lot of time and testing. This occurs not because people are slow but because the vendor must ensure that they do not break the 1000s of other security organizations using this API.

The use of APIs are certainly beneficial for physical security and their use will undoubtedly grow. Understanding the realities of using APIs will ultimately help us maximize our value of system integration.

3 reports cite this report:

Video Surveillance / Access Control Integration Guide on Mar 12, 2012
One of the most desired high end security system features is integrating video surveillance and electronic access control systems. In this report,...
Prebid Meetings and Walkthroughs on Mar 06, 2012
Integrators who fail to take prebid meetings and walkthroughs seriously can lose the job or lose their shirt when responding to RFPs. While prebid...
Understanding the Benefits and Limits of XML For Security Systems on Feb 02, 2010
While APIs and XML are useful for integrating security systems, their value and ease of use are routinely over-stated. This is nicely demonstrated...

Related Reports on Sales

Hikvision Attacks IPVM on Mar 20, 2017
Hikvision has attacked IPVM repeatedly over the last month, both in the international press and in its dealer communications. Attacks Listed On...
Dahua US Imports - Here Is Their #1 Customer By Far on Mar 17, 2017
We have been reviewing shipping records of both Dahua and Hikvision products coming in to the US. This is to help prepare the Dahua OEM and...
Burglar Alarm Screens Tutorial on Mar 14, 2017
Many residential alarm subscribers arm their alarms before going to bed at night. Wiring window screens allow these subscribers to leave their...
Axis: Minimal Made In China Products, Ending This Year (Except For In China Sales) on Mar 13, 2017
A member recently asked about where Axis is made because a school had raised concerns about the "security of Chinese manufactured cameras."  Here...
Nightingale Security Drones Profile / Gain Key Legal Clearance on Mar 10, 2017
Nightingale was the first drone targeted at security, and now they are the first drone security company to receive 2 key FAA exemptions, allowing...
OEMs, Dump Dahua on Mar 08, 2017
OEMs, get smart and dump Dahua. Dahua OEMs to many companies including some big brands (e.g. FLIR, Honeywell and Tyco). Dahua has proven to be a...
Amazon Distributor Favorability Results on Mar 03, 2017
Amazon is not a security distributor, but they often have more stock, better prices, and faster shipping on certain components than many...
Arecont Cuts 4 Rep Firms on Mar 02, 2017
Arecont Vision has cut 4 rep firms and will be replacing them with direct employees. Inside this note, we review the details of the move, provide...
Avigilon Shifts Strategy To Maximizing Profitability (Q4 2016 Results) on Mar 01, 2017
Avigilon had previously been known for big spending, hiring a large sales force and throwing lavish partner parties at tradeshows like ISC West....
Avigilon Favorability Results on Feb 27, 2017
One of the fastest growing companies has turned into one of the rockiest, as cooling growth, management turnover and a roller coaster stock price...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Everbridge Mass Notification Service Examined on Mar 24, 2017
Everbridge is expanding in the security space. In January 2017 Everbridge acquired PSIM platform IDV, and have also begun integrating with other...
Hikvision Removing Auto 'Phone Home' on Mar 24, 2017
Facing pressure over their cameras auto phoning home and their Chinese government ownership, Hikvision has begun quietly removing automatic...
Axis Camera Vulnerabilities From Google Researcher Analyzed on Mar 23, 2017
A Google security researcher has reported 6 vulnerabilities for Axis cameras, affecting multiple models and firmware versions. In this report, we...
OpenEye Takes Aim At Exacq on Mar 23, 2017
First Milestone targeted Exacq with a takeover offer, and now OpenEye is gunning for them with an offer to swap out Exacq for their cloud-managed...
Lock Keyways For Access Control Guide on Mar 23, 2017
Lock keyways can be the difference between a lock working or not. Understanding keyways is important for access control. Indeed, a member recently...
Broken Browser Support for Video Surveillance on Mar 22, 2017
Modern web browsers have left the security industry behind. Current Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge browsers do not support NPAPI plugins,...
ADI Favorability Results on Mar 22, 2017
150 North American integrators provided feedback on 6 distributors, and why they do (or do not do) business with ADI. ADI is clearly a big name in...
1 Million Dahua Devices Exposed To Backdoor on Mar 22, 2017
Statistics show that 1 million Dahua devices are publicly exposed and vulnerable to the Dahua backdoor. Despite this, Dahua has downplayed the...
Hikvision Hires Crisis Communication Writer on Mar 21, 2017
Hikvision has hired a crisis communication writer as the company ramps up its efforts to deal with the 'crisis' it feels it is facing. 'Crisis...
Glass Break Sensor Tutorial on Mar 21, 2017
Burglars often break glass windows to get into a house. Using glass break detectors in conjunction with alarm contacts is a good way to protect the...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact