Today’s modern access control platforms are providing simpler user interfaces, customizable alerts and reporting, and a deeper integration with wireless locking hardware. If you’re considering upgrading or adding an access control platform, another decision you’ll have to make is whether to invest in an on-site server-based solution or migrate to the cloud.
There are advantages to both, and it can be a bit confusing to know which solution to choose. This blog can help you better understand the benefits of cloud-based vs. on-premises server-based access control so you can make an informed decision for your organization.
Speaking with Shawn Crouch, Technology Department at Warsaw Public Schools in Warsaw, Missouri, we can get a unique perspective on cloud systems. Shawn says, “We actually saw two main advantages in choosing a cloud-based access control platform, which, I believe, probably holds true for most small organizations: efficiency and security.”
Shawn goes on to explain, “For a small organization, an IT department must be the ‘jack-of-all-trades,’ so to speak. As much as they may try and want to, they cannot be specialized and focus on certain things like security. Therefore, we feel like an access control platform hosted by a large, reputable company that is focused on security with dedicated security resources and qualified security professionals is the better choice.”
Continue reading to learn more about the benefits and differences of both types of access control systems.
When to Consider a Cloud Access Control System
Two of the many benefits of cloud-based access control are the reduced upfront expenses as well as the flexibility that comes with a solution that can be managed remotely.
With on-premises server-based access control, whether you’re looking to add an additional appliance or spin up a virtual machine, you’ll have significant upfront costs. The server will need to be updated with security patches, new drivers and new software versions (for both the OS and the access software). You will also need to consider how you will handle redundancy and backups. Of course, replacing aged hardware and drives will also be a big responsibility.
A cloud-based solution allows you to turn these responsibilities over to your security integrator or the software provider. They will oversee keeping the server up to date as well as patching security vulnerabilities. Redundancy and backups also can be managed for you in the cloud. This alleviates the burden of many time-consuming responsibilities and gives you back time to focus on other priorities.
Another advantage of the cloud is the server scalability; you only pay for what you’re using. Many cloud solution pricing models are based upon the number of doors you are using. There’s no need to worry about overbuilding a on-premises server to give you the ability to expand in the future. This typically results in a lower upfront capital expense, as well as lower operating expenses.
Trying to access an on-premises server remotely can be difficult because of firewalls and VPN requirements. With your access control software running in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about accessing this, as you can access the system from any web browser or a mobile app from virtually anywhere in the world.
How Cloud Access Control Works
If this is your first time considering moving a critical business function into the cloud, you may be nervous about system stability and maintaining uptime. The last thing you want is people locked out of a building or unauthorized people getting in. To better understand how cloud access control works, let’s look at the typical cloud-based hardware topology.
Each door will get a card reader, electronic lock and a door position switch. If a mag lock is used, additional exit hardware will be needed as well.
Access control wire will be run from each of the above devices to a controller and power supply. Depending on the manufacturer, a controller is a small- to medium-sized circuit board that can be mounted on a wall in an enclosure. It contains the ability to store data and has ports where door hardware can be terminated. Depending on the access control solution, you might put the controller above each door or in a central location, such as a data closet.
The controller then will connect directly to your network switch and, in turn, the cloud server via the internet. You then can access the access control software from any web browser or smart device. This will allow you to make changes to access privileges, update door schedules, pull reporting and more – all remotely.
The controller will hold a duplicate copy of all the users, their access privilege rules and also an unlock schedule. This controller will reach out to the server to look for updates periodically. The server can also force an update to the controller when you make changes.
So, what happens if connection to the internet is lost or your network goes down and the controller can’t talk to the server? The controller will continue to grant access to valid card holders and unlock based on the schedule you chose. From your card holders’ perspective, nothing has changed. They can continue to use the door as if the internet and network were still working properly.
Most controllers will continue to keep a log of all activity that happened while the network connectivity was lost, and then will update the server records once connectivity is restored.
When to Consider On-premises Server-based Access Control
It’s likely that you have a strong and stable internet connection on-site, but there are remote sites where this may not be the case. If the site where you’re considering installing access control does not have reliable access to the internet, then an on-premises server-based solution is advisable. You may want to consider a cellular device that could be added to provide an internet connection, so speak to your security consultant about that option as well.
Cloud-based access control solutions can still be used when network connectivity is lost, but if you are constantly losing a connection, you may end up frustrated with the cloud.
There are a few other reasons that you may need to consider an on-premises server-based option:
If you require active directory integration, some cloud systems do not support this.
If you need certain third-party certifications for your access control, make sure that the solution you chose supports these. Many cloud-based options cannot provide a certification.
Your door hardware, controllers and end-user experience are going to be the same whether you choose cloud or premise. However, your upfront costs, maintenance and time spent supporting your system will likely be much less with a cloud-based access control solution.
When speaking to your security consultant about your particular installation, don’t let the fear of having your system hosted off-site keep you from realizing its advantages.