Key differences between on-premise and cloud-based access control systems

  • Jun 29, 2023   
  • by Robert Chamberlin, the founder and President of Security 101 – San Francisco Bay Area & Sacramento. 
  • Security 101 is an ASAP Identification Partner

When it comes to securing a building, there is a wide variety of security systems to choose from, with different devices and software providing varying levels of security and convenience. While some businesses are likely to gravitate to an on-premise system when choosing a commercial security system, the popularity of cloud-based access control systems has been rapidly increasing due to the convenience offered by the systems.

More and more businesses are also incorporating security cameras into their properties. Businesses that prioritize visual security are more likely to choose a cloud-based system for its ability to seamlessly integrate the system with other security platforms. Many are also opting for a cloud-based access control video solution because the system typically comes with more advanced features like AI analytics.

A traditional on-premise access control system relies on the presence of a computer server on-site to operate the software. A license is needed to run the software on a company’s local servers. Aside from the responsibility of purchasing the license and devices, a company is also responsible for managing its own servers with an on-premise access control security system.

On the other hand, cloud-based access control security systems use remote servers over the Internet, eliminating the need for a dedicated server specialist to maintain the system. Because cloud-computing servers are hosted and maintained by a third party, there is also no need for a local server to be housed on-site. If you opt for a cloud system, keep in mind that the service is usually provided as a monthly or annual subscription. While this may seem like an ongoing cost that could add to a security budget, the service covers many benefits, from 24-hour support and monitoring to maintaining the network servers, data storage, and automatic updates.

Which access control system will work best for your organization will depend on the unique security requirements of your building. This guide outlines the differences between on-premise access control solutions vs. cloud-based access control solutions and explores the benefits, disadvantages, cost considerations, and practical applications for each system.


Advantages of on-premise access control solutions that are not offered by cloud-based systems include:

  • Compliant security. An on-premise access control security system is ideal for organizations that need to tailor security according to building requirements. Because the system runs on thick client software, it can be customized. This is one reason an on-premise access control for business is often the security system of choice for organizations that need to comply with government regulations and strict security requirements, such as big tech companies, and educational and financial institutions.
  • Full control of security. Having devices and software installed locally allows operators to have complete control over their security system. When a potential issue arises or when a technical difficulty occurs, security personnel are able to inspect the system on-site and mitigate the situation quickly. Additionally, most on-premise access control solutions are connected to backup power. In the event of an outage, the system can still operate without interruption, and no data is lost as it is all stored on local devices.
  • Minimal service interruptions. Unlike cloud-based access control solutions, an on-premise access control system does not always require an Internet connection to operate. Disrupted Internet connection in cloud-based access control solutions could lead to loss of data and security breaches without the proper precautions. With an on-premise access control solution, data is protected and can be accessed at any time on the local network.
  • Control over data storage. With an on-premise access control system, data is stored locally on the server located on-site. This means that organizations are able to control data storage without third-party intervention, preventing data from leaving the system. It is advised to perform backups regularly to ensure that no data is lost when a system failure occurs.

Although on-premise access control solutions have notable benefits and can meet security compliance requirements, the system comes with some drawbacks, such as:

  • Lack of remote management. With on-premise access control for business, security is primarily managed on-site. Issuing or revoking access credentials, setting permissions, and observing activities cannot be done remotely unless the provider offers cloud-managed services. In on-premise systems with browser-based management, some tasks can be performed offsite, but functionality is often limited. Without an internet connection, the system does not support automatic updates. The service staff needs to visit the building to update the system, and the time spent performing this task might disrupt business operations.
  • Limited integrations and access methods. Most on-prem systems can support other on-premise access control video solutions and on-premise access control equipment but do not support automation with IoT devices. The number of third-party integrations is also quite limited. Additionally, on-premise access control systems only support specific types of credentials, making the system less flexible than cloud-based access control systems.
  • Restricted scalability. If your business has multiple locations or needs the flexibility to scale up or back, on-premise access control solutions might not be right for you. Each site will require a new license and hardware in addition to dedicated spaces to house the servers and personnel to operate the system. With each new user or location, data needs to be manually synced to the system, which can be a time-consuming process.
  • Known vulnerabilities. Because older organizations have commonly used legacy on-premise access control security systems that have been around for many years, hackers are more familiar with the technology, making the system more vulnerable to attacks. Because each server must be updated manually to the latest software, it makes it easier for hackers to filter through the system.

When analyzing security system costs, there are many factors to consider, such as hardware price, installation costs, software subscription, and whether dedicated personnel is needed to operate the system.

While there is no monthly software subscription fee with on-premise access control security systems, up-front expenses are usually higher, with the costs of purchasing hardware and installing the system to consider. There is also the cost of hiring and training dedicated IT personnel to operate the local servers to add on top of the hardware and installation costs.

On-premise access control systems require regular maintenance, along with on-site upgrades for new software features. The cost of regular maintenance and upgrades can easily snowball, especially for large organizations with multiple locations that need to pay service fees for each location. Plus, with multi-site businesses, each will require a separate license fee and servers to run the software, quickly adding to the organization’s security budget.


Because an on-premise access control solution is customizable and can meet compliance requirements, the system is more commonly used for large businesses and organizations in specific industries.

Organizations such as educational and financial institutions, law enforcement, government, and big tech companies require a system with the ability to process large data as quickly as possible and house sensitive data. Healthcare facilities are also often required to use on-premise solutions, as housing sensitive patient data on the cloud may lead to breaking government and privacy regulations if the cloud provider is hacked and data is compromised.

Additionally, businesses that operate from only one location are more likely to choose on-premise access control solutions, as they do not have to worry about the extra costs associated with purchasing servers, as well as license and service fees for several locations.


Many prefer a cloud-based access control security system for its flexibility and ease of use. Other advantages include:

  • Easy integrations. As most cloud-based access control security systems come with an open API, the system can be integrated with a wide range of hardware, software, third-party apps, and platforms. This makes cloud-based access control migration effortless and allows buildings with an existing security infrastructure to easily adopt the system. For organizations that want to enhance security with video, it is easier for a cloud system to work with cloud-based access control video security solutions that come with features like full analytics and operational insights.
  • Convenient serverless management. One of the appeals of a cloud-based access control system is the ability to remotely manage security. With a cloud-based access control software’s management dashboard accessible from a web browser, operators are able to issue and revoke credentials, adjust permissions, open doors and observe activities in real time from anywhere in the world, 24/7.
  • Flexibility in scaling. If your business is expanding to multiple locations, cloud-based access control for business makes it easier to scale, with a centralized management system that allows operators to add new users, security cameras, locations, and doors to their security network with just a few clicks, and no hassle with installing servers in each location.
  • Reduced maintenance costs. Because a cloud-based access control solution does not require physical servers that need to be housed on-site, it reduces the cost of purchasing servers. Having less hardware makes a cloud-based access control system more cost-effective than on-premise access control for businesses.

While cloud-based access control for business is touted for a wide range of benefits, there are several disadvantages to note, such as:

  • Limited customization and compliance restrictions. Unlike an on-premise access control system, a cloud system lacks customization options, which are required for organizations that need to tailor their security to comply with government regulations. A cloud-based access control solution may be right for businesses that do not require complex IT infrastructure.
  • Annual or monthly subscription fees. Some businesses might find that the SaaS (Software as a Service) model falls outside of their security budget. Although the annual or monthly subscription can make the cloud-based access control system costlier, the subscription covers maintenance, upgrades, and monitoring services.

Although a cloud access control security system might come with a heftier operating price tag, the system comes with many benefits. There are up-front installation costs to consider, as well as monthly or annual subscription fees. However, licensing, software upgrades, and server maintenance are usually included in the subscription. The subscription also has the ability to adjust fees based on usage, so users are not paying for the features they don’t use, leading to more long-term savings. Plus, because cloud-based access control systems have remote management capabilities and can be managed from one location, it helps reduce administrative costs.


A cloud-based access control security solution is best for smaller organizations that do not have to adhere to strict compliance requirements or government regulations. The simplicity of the system makes cloud-based access control security systems ideal for organizations that need the flexibility of integrating with other platforms. Adopting a cloud-based access control solution is a foolproof way to strengthen security for most businesses without the hassle of housing local servers and building a security system from scratch.

Additionally, the cloud-based access control security solution might fit the needs of a growing business planning to expand to multiple locations. The system’s scalability makes it effortless to add new locations and users to a network, and features like remote management helps streamline security procedures. For this reason, cloud-based access control solutions are ideal for properties with high turnover rates, like multi-tenant office complexes, multi-family residences, hotels, and retail stores.

Businesses that want to connect their security camera system can also benefit from a cloud-based access control system. For example, a large commercial building can leverage footage from an integrated cloud-based access control video solution, and view it alongside video from across the property. AI capabilities can then allow them to accurately search by appearance, events, objects, or images to recover lost or stolen objects and detect unauthorized visitors, based on time-stamped entry activity. Government agencies, schools, cities, and hospitality spaces can also take advantage of features like instant alerts, people mapping to locate persons of interest, and anomaly detection to identify intruders.


Is a cloud system more secure than on-premise solutions?

Both systems are considered secure, but how on-premise systems are configured can potentially affect their security. Storing data in the cloud helps protect against data loss and theft compared to data stored in local servers. When data is stored in the cloud, it is stored in multiple data centers. If one center is down, the data will be transferred to another automatically, while on-prem systems may just have two servers. Additionally, cloud providers offer encryption right out of the box, which helps prevent data exposure.

That being said, without the proper cybersecurity measures in place, both at the organization and host level, cloud-based access control systems can also be vulnerable to misuse.

How often does an on-premise access control system need to be serviced?

It depends on the system, but some might require monthly maintenance. Because a security integrator or service staff has to visit the building every time the system needs an upgrade, the cost can quickly add up and the process could interrupt business operations.

Why are some users reluctant to adopt cloud-based access control solutions?

Cost is the main reason users are not switching to cloud-based access control security systems. While up-front costs might be higher for on-premise access control systems with the purchase of servers and licensing fees for each location and regular maintenance fees, the system does not require a monthly or annual subscription like a cloud-based system, significantly reducing ongoing costs.

However, the subscription fees of a cloud-based access control solution cover the cost of licensing, software upgrades, and server maintenance, which relieves the burden for businesses that find the resources needed to perform these tasks could be allocated somewhere more productive.

Can I combine an on-premise with a cloud-based access control system?

If you want the flexibility of a cloud system but also need to operate an on-premise system, it is possible to combine the two systems. With an on-premise and cloud hybrid system, the infrastructure is supported by an internal data center but can be tied to cloud hosting services.

A cloud-connected hybrid solution gives organizations the benefits of a cloud system without having to rip and replace existing hardware. Simply replace readers and add AI analytics to security cameras. Aside from enhancing visual security with features like anomaly detection, proactive notifications, and smart search capabilities, AI capabilities will also give users insight into how to optimize space usage and control traffic flow.

Hybrid solutions also allow on-premise users to take advantage of a cloud management platform’s remote management capabilities, making it more convenient to control security.

Choosing a security system that works best for your business

There are some factors to consider when deciding between a cloud-based access control for business or an on-premise access control security system. If your business prioritizes storing data on local servers, an on-premise access control solution would be a better fit.

However, if you prefer a system with the flexibility to integrate different security systems into one holistic platform, ease of management, and greater scalability, a cloud-based system is likely to better serve your needs. Businesses that utilize security cameras might also benefit from using a cloud-based system, as unifying access control with cloud-based access control video solutions is more seamless with a cloud system.

However, if you prefer a system with the flexibility to integrate different security systems into one holistic platform, ease of management, and greater scalability, a cloud-based system is likely to better serve your needs. Businesses that utilize security cameras might also benefit from using a cloud-based system, as unifying access control with cloud-based access control video solutions is more seamless with a cloud system.Depending on what you prioritize in terms of security, it is important to choose the right system that can meet your specific requirements, in order to improve security and future-proof spaces.