Manufacturers and their product development teams need to take a very close look at how the term “open” should be applied – not only in the design and development of products and systems, but also in the explanations they provide to salespeople, channel partners and customers.
The word ‘Open’ is usually used in conjunction with other words, most commonly Open Architecture and Open Platform, in the physical security industry. They appear in product promotional materials, manufacturer Architect and Engineer (A&E) product specifications, as well as in the system performance specifications of design-build projects.
These terms are commonly used in IT and many other fields, and in each field their definitions are adjusted as people apply the concept of ‘open’ to their technology designs and strategies. This is why internet searches on these terms don’t lead to clarity for integrators, consultants, and end-user customers of the security industry. There are many valid variations on what these terms mean, but none of them help us if we don’t know and apply the right ones.
At this writing, a Google search for “open system architecture” (including the quotes) provided about 193,000 results—yielding a much wider range of definitions than I had expected. Yet the answers we need are there, buried in a hundred thousand articles and book references. Some of them are pure gold, including the IT definition of Open System provided later in this article.
Do all manufacturers mean the same thing when they say their product or system is ‘open’? Definitely not.
Can consultants and end users tell you exactly what they mean when they say ‘open platform’ in their specifications? Not when I’ve asked the question. And I have yet to find a product or A&E specification that includes a definition of Open Platform, Open Architecture or Open System in a specification’s PART 1 list of definitions.
As we begin developing and deploying security systems as evolvable intelligent infrastructure, there are several concepts of open system architecture that apply. I have extracted applicable concepts from two definitions provided to us by Federal Standard 1037C, the Glossary of Telecommunication Terms.
There are definitions of Open Architecture and Open Platform that are applicable to security industry technology because today’s security devices and systems are based on information technology (computing, database, networking and user interaction technology).
Definition: An architecture whose specifications are public. This includes officially approved standards as well as privately designed architectures whose specifications are made public by the designers. The opposite of open is closed or proprietary.
The great advantage of open architectures is that anyone can design add-on products for it. By making an architecture public, however, a manufacturer may be allowing others to duplicate its product.
Definition: In computing, an open platform describes a software system that is (a) based on open standards, such as published and fully documented external application programming interfaces (API) based on protocol standards and that (b) allow using the software to function in other ways than the original programmer intended, without requiring modification of the source code. Using these interfaces, a third party could integrate with the platform to add functionality.
Only the first part of this definition applies to current security industry systems that are being labelled as Open Platform.
One example of good documentation is Milestone’s Open Platform page describing exactly what Milestone means by Open Platform. It’s great when manufacturers also go one step further than documentation, by providing training and engineering support for integration projects, which is usually done as part of a partner program.
This is an extract from the fifth article by Ray Bernard in the “Real Words or Buzzwords?” series about how real words become empty words and stifle technology progress, also published on SecurityInfoWatch.com. See also http://www.go-rbcs.com.