Facilities across all industries face an increasing number of security threats, from theft and vandalism, to violent crime, to terrorism. Whether a healthcare provider, school, university, or Fortune 500 business, it's critical to constantly seek new and inventive ways to improve security.
In recent years, the cloud has transformed how physical security systems are controlled and managed. Storing security data off-site in centralized data centers delivers several advantages, including automatic data backup and redundancy, robust cybersecurity protections, and automatic software updates without significant up-front capital investment. For mission-critical security functions like access control, these advantages alone are extremely attractive on many levels.
However, while many end users are embracing cloud-based access control solutions, there is a large percentage who still want an on-premise access control solution. What is the difference between a cloud-based and on-premise access control solution? What are the benefits and challenges with each solution? And is there a benefit to implementing some combination of both?
On-Site Access Control
Traditionally, access control software platforms are implemented locally, employing on-site servers that are managed daily by internal security, IT personnel, or both. While this option does provide direct control over access control operations in terms of management and control, it does require the internal adoption of the platform as part of the user's responsibility for regular maintenance.
In many cases, a security integrator will provide scheduled maintenance and updates via on-site visits or remote access to your server, which involves additional costs, but are often well worth the investment. There's no doubt that this traditional on-site access control model is proven to be a highly effective physical security solution and will continue to fulfill a core security objective for users around the world. However, it involves capital investment for software and hardware, as well as third party costs for ad-hoc or contracted services, which can put high performance on-site access control solutions out of reach for many organizations that need it.
Cloud-Based Access Control
Deploying access control via the cloud represents an increasingly important alternative to traditional on-premise access control solutions based on its overall cost and performance benefits. It is also flexible in terms of deployment options.
Option one is an on-site, user-managed, cloud-based system. The customer purchases or leases the equipment from an authorized reseller or integrator who installs the system and provides training. This option also typically includes a service and maintenance contract with the installing reseller or integrator as part of the hardware sale or lease. The end-user's security team is responsible for all programming activity on a dedicated PC (or multiple PCs), including entering, deleting, or modifying names; scheduling; generating reports; and running backup and software updates. The list of functions can also include ID badging as part of the cloud software offering.
Option two is a remote cloud-based, user-managed integrated system where the equipment is purchased or leased from a reseller or integrator who installs the hardware and provides training. The access control software is in the cloud, and is managed, along with the supporting infrastructure by the installing reseller or integrator. All backup, software upgrades, system monitoring, programming, scheduled door locking and unlocking, report generation, and other vital access control actions are performed remotely by the reseller or integrator around the clock. In this scenario, the user typically only manages the simple day-to-day functions of entering, deleting, or modifying names, and sometimes badging, through a Web portal that can be accessed remotely.
In option three, the user still purchases or leases the necessary hardware from reseller or integrator who also installs the system and provides training. The software resides in the cloud and is completely administered and managed directly from the access control solution provider or manufacturer who maintains the system remotely.
Both user-managed options above may work well if the user has limited or no IT personnel, as often is the case with franchise locations, smaller retail stores, K-12 schools, or property management sites. With these user-managed options, each location can handle the day to day functions, but reports, applying patches and updates, backup, and other group functions are all handled in the cloud by the host. These cloud-based solutions can also be accessed at any time and from any device by the user's security team.
One of the distinct advantages of cloud-based access control is that it requires limited, if any, initial capital investment. When implemented using leased hardware and software, all system costs are amortized over the duration of the contract, which eliminates many of the budgeting obstacles faced by both large and small organizations. Additionally, the low cost of entry allows companies with limited physical security budgets and resources to deploy highly sophisticated access control solutions that would otherwise not be affordable.
A Hybrid System
There are many security end users who are embracing a mixture of several solutions, deploying a hybrid access control solution that combines on-premise and cloud-based access control solutions. These solutions can be either remote or user managed and allow the integration of new or legacy hardware. There are several operational and cost benefits with this scenario because a hybrid solution offers the ability to keep costs low while transitioning from legacy systems to new access control solutions. A hybrid access control solution also provides opportunities for integrations with related systems such as alarm monitoring, intrusion detection, elevator control, badging, video verification, time and attendance, and more.
So which access control option is best for you? There is no one answer. The versatility of these new access control choices means you select what you need based on your terms.
Lukas Le is director of cloud services for Galaxy Control Systems.