A paradigm shift is happening in physical security. On-premises access control systems — once regarded as the gold standard in security — are being replaced with cloud-based access control systems. Cloud-based access control is a part of physical security which uses an internet connection to secure the doors, gates and other access points. From enterprises and schools to commercial real estate (CRE) firms and hospitals, organizations are adopting cloud solutions at a faster pace than ever before. However, some IT and security administrators are exercising caution when it comes to switching systems. 

Though the cloud offers a way to efficiently centralize security, there is a lot of misinformation making it difficult to determine the benefits and drawbacks of each system. In this article, we will clear up the confusion, so you can properly assess whether on-premises or cloud-based access control is right for you. 

Table of Contents

  • What is Access Control?
  • What is Cloud-based Access Control?
  • What are the Differences Between On-premises and Cloud Security?
  • What are the Benefits of Cloud-based Access Control?

What is Access Control? 

Commonly, access control is referred to in two ways. The first type, known as logical access control, restricts virtual access to data. For example, the login password or passcode on your computer restricts access to the device. The facial recognition or passcode on your smartphone is the barrier protecting your sensitive information from the outside world. To gain access, the user must enter the correct credentials so authentication can take place.  

As you probably guessed, logical access control security goes hand-in-hand with the second form known as physical access control.  

Physical access control is the mechanism that regulates who is authorized to access a specific facility, like an office, building or parking structure.  

Metal keys and door locks are one of the simplest forms of physical access control. However, today, many commercial buildings rely on electronic and internet protocol-based (IP-based) systems to secure their buildings. 

What is Cloud-based Access Control

Electronic physical access control systems come in two types: on-premises and cloud-based. Each of these names represents the location where the physical server used to store all the credential and door access information is kept. On-premises servers are housed within the premises of an organization. Cloud-based physical servers store information off site, away from the user’s facilities. 

Simply put: 

However, advantages and disadvantages exist for each type of system. Let’s explore how they compare.  

What are the Differences Between On-premises and Cloud Security? 

The differences between on-premises and cloud security can be grouped into various categories. These include functionality, flexibility, scalability connectivity and maintenance. Each aspect alters the expense, time saving and efficiency of an organization. 

  Cloud-based Physical Security On-premises Physical Security 
Maintenance, Upkeep & Upgrades The manufacturer is responsible for the maintenance of off-site servers. Common cloud-based servers include Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. Software is automatically updated and deployed through an internet connection. This can help protect against new cyber threats without any system downtime. The user is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of on-premises access control servers. Often, software comes on physical disks, and compared to cloud access control, takes a long time to install. 
Security Measures/ Data Protection  The manufacturer and cloud provider are in charge of encrypting and protecting in-transit and at-rest data.   Users must focus on securing their on-premises servers from outside physical threats. More emphasis is given to physical security elements that safeguard the physical servers, such as locks and guards, than to the cyber security of the server itself.  
Scalability Cloud access control systems are easily scalable. When a business expands to new locations, it can do so without buying new server hardware.  Scalability is more difficult with on-premises access control. When a business decides to expand, it must purchase servers and hardware for each location.  
Flexibility  Users have greater flexibility when combining cloud-based access control with non-proprietary hardware. If the user wants to switch, then they simply need to find another access control platform that functions with non-proprietary hardware. On-premises systems also may come with non-proprietary capabilities. However, integrating and adding new features to on-premises systems is time intensive and may require you to take your access control offline during the installation.  
Connectivity  Cloud-based access control uses API keys to quickly integrate with identity, video and visitor management systems, as well as other software. With this technology, it is easier to centralize otherwise isolated security systems. Integrating on-prem access control with a system from a third-party provider is more costly and time intensive. Consequently, parts of an organization’s security system will remain disparate.  

What are the Benefits of Cloud-based Access Control?  

Cloud access control has several important advantages when it comes to increasing efficiency. Many enterprises and others find that having a remote server is helpful for aspects like scalability. Additionally, the cloud allows faster automation and the deployment of advanced security benefits. 


Cloud-based access control systems can be easily scaled up or down as an organization’s needs change. This is particularly useful for businesses that have fluctuating user or device counts, or those that need to expand or contract their physical spaces. Enterprises, large school districts, commercial real estate portfolios and more have benefited from cloud-based access control’s easy scalability.  

For example, a global retail enterprise with over 145 locations chose to migrate from their on- premises system to the cloud. Part of their reasoning was due to the cloud’s easy scalability.  The new system also centralized each location under one system, making it easy to adjust the access privileges of more than 100,000 users. 

Remote access  

With cloud-based access control, administrators can manage access permissions from anywhere with an internet connection. This is particularly useful for organizations with multiple locations, or those with remote employees or contractors.  

G&J Pepsi, one of Pepsi Cola’s largest bottling companies, found remote access to be especially helpful. Hannah Holscher, Digital Technology Support Administrator at G&J Pepsi, mentioned that “Before, if working from home, you had to get on a VPN. Then, you had to log in to a remote desktop server,” she said about the enterprise’s legacy system. “We’re [now] able to easily get alerts from the system and simplify the login process.”” 

Lower maintenance costs 

Cloud-based access control systems typically require less hardware and maintenance than on- premises systems. This can translate into lower costs for hardware, software updates and maintenance tasks. 

Rapid Deployment 

Cloud-based access control systems can be deployed more quickly than on-premises systems, as they do not require physical installation and setup. This can be particularly useful for businesses that need to implement access control measures quickly. 

Integrations with Your Security 

Cloud-based access control systems can be integrated with other software services, such as identity and access management or video surveillance, to provide a comprehensive security solution. Additionally, it is easy to integrate with mobile credentialing like employee badge in Apple Wallet.  

The Minneapolis-based tech enterprise, Jamf, had 15 locations and over 2,200 users all using physical key cards. They wanted a mobile solution for their employees, so they decided to implement Employee Badge in Apple Wallet.  

For a complete look at how various industries have benefited from cloud-based security, see all of Genea’s case studies.   

What are the Benefits of On-Premises Access Control? 

Despite the benefits of cloud-based access control, some IT and security teams may still choose on-premises solutions. Benefits of these systems include:  

No Internet Connection Necessary – By using an on-premises solution, organizations can reduce their reliance on external networks, such as the internet or cloud-based systems. This can be particularly important in situations where network availability or reliability is a concern, such as in remote or rural areas, or in areas where internet connectivity is not reliable or available. 

Increased security – Though cloud-based security has come a long way in recent years, some IT and security professionals still trust on-premises systems more. Some still believe that there are significant security risks when it comes to the cloud.  

On-premises access control can provide an additional layer of security by limiting the potential attack surface for cybercriminals. By not relying on an internet connection, on-premises access control systems are less vulnerable to attacks that exploit weaknesses in external networks or cloud-based systems. 

What are the Disadvantages of On-Premises Access Control? 

Though on-premises physical access control systems offer some benefits, there are also significant disadvantages to consider. These include limited flexibility, high maintenance costs, limited scalability and a lack of real-time monitoring capabilities. 

Limited flexibility  – On-premises physical access control systems can be inflexible, making it difficult to adjust access permissions or make changes to the system. This can be a problem if there are changes in the organization’s personnel or if there is a need to grant access to new areas or resources. Additionally, unlike cloud-based solutions, on-prem access control requires IT and security administrators to monitor their facilities while on site. There are ways to connect remotely, however these are slow and inefficient.  

Finally, integrating with other solutions within your security system is expensive. Cloud-based systems offer fast, out-of-the-box API integrations, meaning once the manufacturer deploys an integration, it is ready for use.   

Unauthorized physical access  – On-premises access control systems may be vulnerable to unauthorized physical access by individuals who gain entry to the physical premises. This could include theft or damage to access control hardware or the manipulation of access control systems to grant unauthorized access. 

High maintenance costs – Physical access control systems require ongoing maintenance, such as repairing or replacing damaged hardware, updating software and managing access credentials. These maintenance tasks can be time-consuming and expensive. 

Limited scalability – Physical access control systems can be difficult to scale, making it challenging to expand the system to accommodate a growing number of users or devices. This can be particularly problematic for large organizations or those with multiple locations. 

Lack of real-time monitoring – Physical access control systems often lack real-time monitoring capabilities, making it difficult to detect and respond to security breaches in a timely manner. This can leave organizations vulnerable to both internal and external security threats. 

The Verdict: On-prem vs. Cloud Security

Overall, while both on-premises and cloud-based access control systems have their advantages, cloud-based access control offers more flexibility, scalability and cost-effectiveness for organizations with evolving security needs or those that require remote access and management capabilities. 

Yet, the choice between cloud-based physical access control and on-premises access control still depends on a variety of factors, including the size and type of organization, security requirements and budget constraints. Ultimately, making a checklist of your organization’s current and future needs is helpful. 

Genea Security for Businesses  

Genea gives users complete control of their security. With customizable features ranging from provisioning type to a vast selection of integrations, Genea can help your team create a unique access control experience optimal for your organization. 

For more information, visit our website or speak to a helpful customer service representative.  

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