Skip Navigation

Breaking Down the Differences Between On-Premise and Cloud-Based Access Control Systems

By Northland Controls, Jun 15, 2021

As one of the top trends of 2021, there has been a lot of discussion about the differences between an on-premise versus cloud-based access control system.

When comparing the two, it's easy to ask, "Is it best to stick with time-tested and traditional on-premise systems or jump on the SaaS train for a more streamlined and remote approach?"

The answer is not one size fits all. While on-prem systems can provide a more controlled and customizable security experience, cloud infrastructure can help manage systems remotely, maintain steady costs, and support scalability with ease. Here’s a breakdown of key differences between an on-premise versus a cloud-based access control system.

On Premise: Many legacy access control systems fall into the category of on-premise. These systems require on-site servers and computers to run key software powering your access control platform.

Cloud: Cloud-based systems are hosted on a remote, third-party server. The installation and management of these types of systems are handled remotely via the internet.

On Premise: Because the use of a physical server is required, the deployment of an on-prem system requires more time and manpower than a cloud-based system. To get your systems up and running, hardware and software must be physically installed by an employee or security integrator.

Cloud: Cloud technologies can be deployed in a matter of hours or days andare solely deployed through an internet connection. In many cases, systems can be completely configured remotely before going live on a site, minimizing disruption to on-going business operations.

On Premise: An on-prem system requires in-house dedicated servers to operate and store data. Because of this, there is a larger upfront investment in IT infrastructure, software licenses, hardware, and personnel required to implement and manage it. However, once the systems are in place, there are limited on-going costs including license renewals and security updates.

Cloud: While cloud-based systems do not require owned resources on-site, companies will need to budget for monthly, or annual, subscription costs to set up, maintain, and continuously optimize systems. These costs are usually based on consumed resources such as storage space and size of systems and will include things like break/fix and system updates. For small to mid-sized companies, this can prove to be more budget-friendly when looking to forecast their security costs over time.

On Premise: Security and compliance of an on-premise system is the sole responsibility of the company who owns it. Because of this, a dedicated team responsible for updating and managing each individual server to ensure software is updated and secure is crucial. Making sure you have a qualified and experienced technician is an important component of this type of system. Because companies wholly own their data, they are also responsible for remaining
compliant with policies like GDPR and data-privacy laws. For highly regulated industries, this may be a key differentiator.

Cloud: Third-party vendors are responsible for the management and security of their client’s systems. With updates being pushed via the internet, servers can be updated remotely, eliminating the need for an employee or vendor to physically visit the server’s site. As data is stored externally, third-party vendors would drive policy updates to maintain data integrity and compliance.

On Premise: Scaling on-premise systems to accommodate additional offices or employees within your corporate ecosystem may require additional servers and software to be purchased—and potentially additional staff to manage new locations. This could prove to be time consuming, costly, and complicated, especially if your company may need to oscillate between scaling your access controls up and back.

Cloud: Scaling your access control system with a cloud-based system can be as easy as adjusting the resources needed to meet the current demand with your provider. However, because monthly or annual subscriptions are based on the resources consumed, expect for your recurring fee to proportionally increase.

On Premise: These types of systems are wholly owned and operated by the company implementing them, allowing for a higher degree of control over their system. With that control comes the ability to customize each system to fit the company’s goals and desired specifications. Because on-premise systems have historically been an industry “norm”, there are many off-the-shelf third-party integrations available for everything from visitor to video management.

Cloud: Because the third-party vendor holds most of the control over the system and its operating procedures, there are limited options for custom configurations compared to an on-premise system. As of now, there are fewer off-the-shelf integrations available for cloud-based systems but as the migration to cloud continues to evolve, more are expected to become available.

While debating between these two systems, it’s important to keep your security goals at the front of the discussion. For example, while cloud infrastructure can provide a roadmap to regulating security costs, large companies may not realize those cost savings based on the size of their access control systems. Alternatively, smaller companies anticipating large growth may value the ability to quickly and affordably scale their systems versus well-established enterprise companies.

There is a lot to consider when picking the right access control platform for your business. Choosing between a cloud-hosted and on-prem system is just one piece of the puzzle. Check out our Comparative Guide to Access Controls for a comprehensive overview of additional factors to consider when picking the right system for your needs.