Two technology trends that have begun to go hand-in-hand are the integration of access control or building management systems with video surveillance, and the trend towards using data networks to connect system components.

Initially data network connectivity for video systems focused on digital video recorders (DVRs), while cameras continued to be connected to those DVRs over an analog coaxial cable or fiber connection. More recently, however, some systems integrators have found value in using video cameras that connect directly to a data network. Such systems may be more flexible than traditional systems, in which each DVR supports a specific number of devices. Adding the 33rd camera to a system with a 32-port DVR, for example, would require adding another DVR. But in a fully networked system, “you can normally add things one by one,” notes Fredrik Nilsson, U.S. general manager for networked video camera manufacturer Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass.

On the access control side, it’s now commonplace for card reader controllers to be connected to the master access control system over a data network. But one of the challenges for both networked cameras and networked card reader controllers is that there has not been a standard protocol for communicating with the master access control or building management system. As a result, manufacturers have had to develop custom interfaces between specific camera or card reader controller models and specific access control systems.

A new alliance between HID of Irvine, Calif., and Axis hopes to change that. The two companies recently announced that they would develop an open application programming interface (API) aimed at providing a standard communication method between access control and building management systems and networked cameras, card reader controllers or other networked devices. “The API is a command language; the software is loaded into HID card reader controllers and into our products and the commands are the same,” explains Nilsson. Axis and HID hope that other companies will see the value in an open standard and begin working in the same direction.

“No software is needed on the application side,” notes Nilsson, referring to the central management systems for access control or building management networks. Instead, the goal is to get manufacturers of such systems to make sure they use communication protocols that are compatible with the software installed on the networked card reader controller or camera, Nilsson says. That way, he says, “It’s like they’re all speaking English instead of having to translate to English from German.” In developing the open API, HID and Axis tried to use as many standard protocols as possible. HTTP, the protocol widely used for Web site communications, is also the main protocol used with the open API, Nilsson says.

Another advantage of using common communication protocols is that it enables individual devices in a system to communicate with one another directly, using what is known as “peer-to-peer” communication, rather than having to communicate through the master system controller. As Nilsson, explains it, “The card reader doesn’t have to go through the central control to know someone went through the camera.”

Interested parties will be able to download specifications about the open API from a Web site at no charge. Companies planning products to support the open API are encouraged to join a software developers program, also at no cost. “That way we know who they are and can promote integration with our product,” explains Nilsson. Three levels of engineering support, based on a company’s business potential, are available.

Both HID and Axis have strong relationships with several dozen security manufacturers and Nilsson expects many of them to support the open API, which does not yet have a trade name. If HID and Axis are successful in making the open API a de facto standard, systems integrators would have a greater ability to mix and match devices from different manufacturers, which in turn, could help reduce equipment costs, Nilsson says.

“For integrators and their customers, the new API will provide an open standard for integrating digital physical security devices into IT infrastructures and IP networks,” notes Holly Sacks, executive vice president of marketing for HID. “We are essentially enabling all of the benefits typically associated with networking such as interconnectivity, ease of integration, plug and play installation, and scalability.”