A technical comparison of cloud-based and traditional access control systems

While traditional, on-premise access control systems have been around for a long time, cloud-based solutions have started taking off in recent years.

If you’re curious about the advantages of each, be sure to check out our blog for a comparison. But how do cloud-based and traditional access control compare on a more technical level? Read on for a comparison based on a typical on-site and cloud-based application of the System Galaxy access control solution.

Traditional Access Control System

In the diagram below, everything on the left-hand side – System Galaxy (SG) workstations, web/database server, SG application server, etc. – would normally reside at the organization’s location, up to the firewall that stands at the connection to the Internet in the outside world.

Starting in the upper left-hand corner, administrative workstations are the day-to-day computers that system administrators would use to enroll and remove staff and others into or from the access control system, take action to set rules, and generate and review any neces­sary reports. These workstations are connected by the internal network infrastructure (LAN) to a server room, where the access control servers are located. System client software must be installed on these workstations, making them the only places where authorized staff can manage the system, enroll and remove authorizations, and perform other administrative tasks.

Three server functions must be supported. The first is a database server to store the system settings, enrollees, and rules. The second is the application server itself, which runs the access control system software, accepting instructions from the administrator and updating the door controllers. The third is an optional web server that allows for remote access to the system.

The servers are connected to the door control­lers through the facility LAN. The door control­lers respond to individual access requests at the doors and open the locks for authorized staff and visitors.

Remote access is provided by a combination of webserver or VPN connection. Webserver access requires a SSL certificate for data encryption where VPN access has encryption built-in. Both scenarios require firewall and port setup before remote access can be granted.

Cloud-based systems

A cloud-based access control system has some areas of similarity and difference compared with a traditional on-premise access control system.

As was the case in the previous diagram, everything on the left-hand side would normally reside at the organization’s location, up to the firewall that stands at the   connection to the Internet in the outside world. The door controllers and locks are always located on-site in both arrangements.

Note that in this case, in contrast to the previous example, there is no server room equipment located at the user site. Instead, any local computer with LAN connectivity can be used to administer the system. The user interface, and all the enrollment, rules, and other functionality is exactly the same as the on-site version.

Instead of making use of on-site servers, the cloud based system makes use of servers located at a remote data center to provide the same access control system functionality, so the same three server functions are shown: a database server, an application server, and a web server – but in this case the web server is not optional.

Also note that in this typical system diagram, a second backup data center is indicated. This second center mirrors the data held in the first center, in real time, to serve as a backup in case the first center has any type of failure. In practice, the level of backup redundancy can be set to match the business needs of the end user customer.

Lastly, note that because the system makes use of a web-based interface, remote users with proper authentication can access the system from anywhere they can reach the Internet, and do not require any specific software installed on their device beyond a normal web browser.

While either cloud-based and traditional access control systems can work well for different applications, it is first critical to understand the technical aspects of both from the ground up.

This article is adapted from our whitepaper: Understanding Cloud Services for Access Control. For more insights, get your free copy of the whitepaper on our website!

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