On-Premise versus Cloud-Based Access Control Systems – Which is Right for You?

If you’re looking at access control systems, then you’ve likely heard the terms “on-premise” or “cloud-based”. What does this mean and which one is right for your facility?


On-premise systems require a computer server onsite to run the access control software. In addition to the hardware (i.e., door readers), the customer also purchases a license that allows them to run the necessary software on their own local servers. With an on-premise security system, the company is responsible for managing their own servers.

Cloud-based systems run on remote servers over the internet. The cloud-managed service provider is usually available as a SaaS (security as a service) model with a monthly or annual subscription. The subscription fee covers services such as troubleshooting, monitoring, and supervision of network servers, cloud storage for data, encryption updates, and system optimization (i.e., performance checks and backup recovery).

Cost analysis of cloud-based security vs. on-premise physical security

There are many different factors that impact security system costs, including the hardware purchase price, installation costs, software fees, and personnel requirements to manage the system.

With on-premise security solutions, 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 security software. While on-prem security solutions do not have a monthly subscription fee, there are other costs that should be budgeted, such as regular server maintenance and labor to install new software patches or features. Additionally, each new software upgrade puts more demand on local hardware, so server upgrades may be needed over time. With some systems, there may be a minimal annual subscription cost to cover software upgrades.

With cloud-based security solutions, there are initial installation and setup fees, as well as monthly or annual subscription fees. Server maintenance, software upgrades, and licensing are all built into the recurring subscription fee, therefore there are fewer surprise costs down the road. Additionally, because cloud security solutions have remote access to the entire system, all locations can be managed from a single location, lowering administrative and personnel costs.

Benefits of on-premise security systems

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 security system of choice for organizations that have strict security requirements, such as financial institutions.

Full system control—Because the servers live onsite, on-premise security technology gives businesses full control over their security. 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 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 fewer data leaves the company system.

Maximum uptime—A cloud-based system relies solely on an internet connection, and interruptions in connection could cause loss of access to cloud data and possible security breaches. On-prem data remains on-location and does not require an internet connection for access. Data is secure and always accessible, leading to increased productivity and efficiency.

Disadvantages of on-premise security solutions

While on-prem systems offer greater control over the security system, they can require a lot of dedicated physical space that must be temperature controlled with a robust HVAC system. These requirements can be cost-prohibitive for smaller office spaces.

Compromised security— 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— All configurations, including setting permissions and issuing or revoking credentials, have to be done onsite. And, if there is a problem with the hardware or a software update needs to be conducted, someone must be physically present to let the security integrator into the building to perform the necessary maintenance/repairs.

Limited flexibility—Many 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 replacements to keep up with the latest technology.

Benefits of cloud-based security solutions

A cloud-based solution offers greater flexibility thanks to web-based management platforms and open API architecture. They are also a good space-saving option for organizations that don’t want to dedicate square footage to a server room, and they are easier to maintain because much of the backend management is handled by the vendor that hosts the server.

Remote management— All locations are configured and managed from a cloud-accessed dashboard, which is available 24/7 from anywhere. This provides useful features such as a remote unlock option in which admins can open the door for people without having to be onsite.

Enhanced scalability—With a web-based management system, admins can easily add new locations and doors to the network in just a few clicks. Cloud access control also enables multi-location enterprises to centralize their IT and security management teams, reducing administrative burdens and costs.

Future-proof technology— Many companies struggle with outdated systems because legacy systems are not fully forward-compatible and a complete redesign is too expensive. A cloud-based system can more easily accommodate IoT enhancements and enables the service provider to install system upgrades remotely.

Disadvantages of a cloud-based security technology

Generally speaking, businesses with specific compliance and high-level security requirements, such as law enforcement facilities, will need to ensure that their 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—The SaaS model does require monthly or annual costs which may not be a good fit for some organizations. Also, SaaS models are based on usage, so the cost may fluctuate depending on the number of users and types of features enabled.

Limited customization options—Cloud-based systems offer more limited choices, which may work for small businesses that do not require complex IT infrastructure. For larger organizations, customization options might be the deciding factor in choosing between on-prem and cloud-based.

Compliance restrictions—Businesses that need to comply with government regulations, such as health insurance providers and private schools, might be hard-pressed to find a cloud-based system that meets these requirements.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to unpack when choosing between cloud vs. on-premise security. To determine which is the right type of access control security for your organization, 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 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 can be the better solution.


Content for this blog was provided by OpenPath. CM3 is a proud systems integrator for the OpenPath Access Control System.