Cloud-based access control vs. on-premise legacy systems

With many organizations currently reevaluating their spaces, budgets and work policies, safety continues to play a vital role in every industry. Access control systems are a big investment for any business. Because access control is the core of many physical security strategies, understanding the pros and cons of the different types of access control software will help businesses improve their security posture and future-proof their spaces. 

What is the difference between cloud-based and on-premise access control? 

When choosing an access control system, businesses are usually given two options: an on-premise system, or a cloud-based system. Traditionally, legacy providers only offered an on-premise option. However, with the increasing popularity of Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud computing, many businesses are now opting for security systems that take advantage of this new technology. While many access control companies offer similar features, there are some key differences between cloud-based and on-premise access control systems. Which access control system is right for your business will depend on your unique needs and preferences. 

On-premise systems

As the name suggests, on-prem systems require a computer server onsite to run the access control software. In addition to the hardware (such as control boards and door readers), a company purchases a license that allows them to run the necessary software on their own local servers. With on-prem systems, the company is responsible for managing their own servers.

Cloud-based systems

Cloud-based services are hosted on a system of remote servers over the internet, meaning you don’t need a dedicated server specialist to maintain them – it’s taken care of for you. This also eliminates the need for a local server at each location. The cloud managed service provider is usually available as a SaaS model with a monthly or annual subscription. The subscription fee covers services like: 24-hour troubleshooting, monitoring and supervision of network servers, cloud storage for all data, information security and encryption updates, and system optimization like performance checks and backup recovery.

Cost analysis of cloud and on-premise systems

There are many different factors that determine how much an access control system costs, including the hardware purchase price, installation costs, software fees, and personnel requirements to manage the system. To determine the key difference in cost between on-prem and cloud access control, look at the initial cost of setting up the system compared to the return on investment over time.

With an on-prem system, the up-front fees are usually less expensive, consisting of a one-time licensing fee for each local server. If you have multiple locations or sites to secure, each one will require its own license fee and computer server to run the access control software. While the on-premise access control system may seem less expensive since there is no monthly subscription fee, there are some long-term costs to factor into the budget as well. Onsite servers will need regular maintenance, as well as in-person upgrades to install new software patches or features. These can become costly, especially for large enterprises that will need to pay for separate service fees for every location. Because each location needs its own server, most on-prem access control systems require additional IT personnel to manage the local security platform, which also means spending more to train new employees. Additionally, each new software upgrade puts more demand on local hardware, and could potentially decrease system performance over time.

The cost of a cloud-based security system depends on the subscription you choose. There are still initial installation and setup fees for a cloud system, as well as the monthly or annual subscription fee. Compared to an on-premise system, however, the long-term ROI is often higher. Because server maintenance, software upgrades, and licensing are all built into the recurring subscription fee, there are fewer surprise costs down the road. Additionally, because cloud-based systems have remote access for the entire system, all locations can be managed from a single location, lowering administrative and personnel costs. A third-party cloud management provider lets you bypass the hiring process and streamline staffing requirements to save your business a lot of money.

Benefits of legacy access systems 

Many organizations prefer the on-premise options from legacy access control providers. Companies often choose the onsite option when they want full control over every aspect of the system. With all hardware and software installed locally, the company can fully customize the system to fit their needs. On-premises systems are often the access control of choice for organizations that have strict security requirements, such as financial institutions.

  • Full system control—Because the servers live onsite, on-premise access control gives businesses full control over their security system. On-prem systems can normally accommodate system customizations once the license is installed. In the event of an internet or service outage, most on-prem systems are connected to local backup power to ensure they still function properly. 

  • Local data storage—A key benefit for many businesses is that all data is stored locally on the on-premise server. The business controls its own data storage and security, without any third-party interference, meaning less data leaves the company system. However, businesses with on-premise systems should perform regular backups to ensure there’s no data loss in case of an outage or system failure.

Disadvantages of on-premise access control 

There are also a few drawbacks of on-premise access control solutions worth considering before choosing this option. While on-prem systems offer greater control over the security system, they are usually less flexible, and require a lot of dedicated physical space that must be temperature controlled with a robust HVAC system. These requirements are often cost-prohibitive for smaller office spaces, or organizations that may want to retain property value for lease turnover.

  • Compromised security—On-premise access control has been the traditional method for many years; hackers are already well-acquainted with the decades-old technology used in these legacy systems. Because each location is in charge of its own security, there’s more opportunity for vulnerabilities. Additionally, each server must be individually updated to the latest security software every time there’s a patch or upgrade.

  • Onsite management and maintenance—On-premise systems don’t have the benefit of remote access. All configurations, including setting permissions and issuing or revoking credentials, has to be done onsite. Any time there’s a problem with the hardware, or you need to update your system, you’ll have to roll up a truck and be there to let the service staff into the building.

  • Lacks scalability—On-premise systems are not a great option for businesses that need to scale their access control up or back. Every additional location will require a new license, new hardware, new setup, and new dedicated IT team, with limited options for connecting disparate systems. Data also has to be manually synced with on-prem systems, which makes implementation a time-consuming process.

  • Limited flexibility—Most legacy hardware products will only support a limited number of third-party integrations, and only allow certain types of credentials. Legacy on-prem systems cannot accommodate as many automations with IoT devices and applications, as they don’t run on truly open platforms. This makes them less future-proof, requiring expensive upgrades and more frequent replacement to keep up with the latest technology.

Benefits of cloud-based access control

A cloud-based solution offers many benefits as a component of an integrated security system. In comparison with on-prem systems, running access control software in the cloud offers greater flexibility thanks to web-based management platforms and open API architecture. Plus, cloud-based systems are a great space saving option for organizations that don’t want to dedicate square footage to a server room. Cloud-based systems are also generally easier and less expensive to maintain, with much of the backend management handled by the vendor that hosts the server.

  • Remote management—One of the advantages of cloud systems is the ability to make changes remotely. All locations are configured and managed from a cloud-accessed dashboard, available 24/7 from anywhere in the world. Some access control providers like Openpath also have remote unlock, so admins can open the door for people without having to be onsite.

  • Increased ROI—Do more with less investment. Less hardware makes cloud solutions more cost effective for both small businesses and multi-site enterprises. Most cloud-based access control systems run on an open platform, which enables integration with third-party systems and platforms. These integrations create the ability to automate processes across the enterprise, helping organizations adapt to evolving needs with more flexibility.

  • Enterprise scalability—The cloud is an excellent tool in successfully scaling business operations. Thanks to the web-based management system, admins can easily add new locations and doors to the network in just a few clicks. Cloud access control is also a great way for multi-location enterprises to centralize their IT and security management teams, reducing administrative burden and costs.

  • Future-proof technology—Cloud management is key to future-proofing a security system, meaning the technology will never be obsolete. Many companies struggle with outdated systems because a complete redesign is too expensive. They also have trouble keeping their IT staff trained and up-to-date on the latest technologies. A cloud managed service provider will automatically install system upgrades, so the networks and application stacks never fall behind the times.

Disadvantages of a cloud system 

As with any new technology, access control that runs in the cloud may not be right for every organization. For example, businesses with specific compliance and high-level security requirements will need to ensure a cloud-based provider can meet those needs. Another consideration is that organizations will need to ensure all users follow best practices when it comes to accessing the system remotely. Good communication with administrators is essential to maintaining the security of a cloud-based system.

  • Monthly or annual cost—For some organizations, the SaaS model may not be a good fit. However, subscriptions provide a clear expectation of costs, with fewer hidden fees or surprise costs. SaaS models are also based on usage, so the cost may fluctuate depending on the number of users and types of features enabled.

  • Service interruptions—If there’s a problem with the third-party server, it could affect the access control system. However, most cloud access control companies eliminate this concern with a backup power source to ensure you don’t lose access in the event of a power or Internet outage.

Is the cloud more secure than on-premise systems? 

Access control systems are an important component of physical security strategies, and can help improve cybersecurity as well. However, without best practices in place for protecting data, access control providers and customers may be vulnerable to data breaches and threats. While having all data stored on locally hosted servers may seem like the safer bet to reduce cloud security vulnerabilities, on-premise access control systems are not necessarily more secure than their cloud-based counterparts. The fact remains that even on-premise solutions are subject to breaches, with insecure VPN networks and human error both contributing to many recent security incidents.

While a system that runs in the cloud is equally vulnerable to hacking without the proper processes in place to protect data, there are some key benefits to cloud-managed security systems. Because cloud networks are decentralized and often monitored by a third party using automated software, it’s often easier and faster to mitigate potential threats as they occur. When your access control platform can be accessed securely from anywhere, you can monitor the system, recalibrate the space, and address issues in real-time without having to be on the property. Eliminating the dependency on physical space also makes cloud-based solutions more flexible for scaling up and back based on business needs.

One of the key differences between on-premise and cloud solutions is the ability to sync data quickly and automatically. With new standards of privacy compliance now in place around the world, infringement could cost businesses thousands per year. Organizations can avoid those fines with a system that employs end to end encryption and addresses privacy compliance through their own internal processes, such as applying the principle of least privilege, requiring MFA, and using SSO to prevent unauthorized logins.

It’s impossible to anticipate and protect against every single hack, whether your system is on-premise or in the cloud. The most important factor in determining access control security is how the provider monitors, tests, and protects against the ever-evolving threats new technology presents. In this regard, cloud-based security systems tend to give businesses the edge, as the dialed-in communication and automation across devices and sites reduces reaction times, and makes it easier to roll out system upgrades to protect against the latest vulnerabilities. 

Which access control solution is better? 

There’s a lot to unpack when choosing the best access control system for your building security. To determine if cloud access control is better for your organization than a legacy on-premise solution, first consider what’s most important for your security posture. If you’re looking for a system that prioritizes storing data locally, without using a third-party provider, an on-premise access control system is likely a better fit. However, if you want flexibility and the ability to integrate with other building systems, a cloud-based security solution like Openpath is the way to go.

Openpath’s mobile access control has a feature-rich cloud software platform, with an open API architecture to seamlessly integrate with video surveillance cameras, identity management platforms, and building management tools to create safer, more secure spaces. The cloud-based system comes equipped with remote access to manage the entire system from anywhere. Supported by scalable hardware options, Openpath offers a complete access control solution designed to secure anywhere from a single door up to thousands across an entire enterprise.

If you want to experience top-of-the-line security without sacrificing convenience and affordability, a cloud managed access control system is the best choice. Contact the team of access control experts at Openpath and let us help you with your questions today. 

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