Will Electronics

Online and Offline Locks: What’s the Difference?

Online Locks

Cyberlock, Medeco, Schlage, and SALTO are brands you are probably well aware of if you work in physical Security. Most of these will even integrate seamlessly with your Genetec system. Let’s start by talking about what online access control is and what makes it different from offline systems. Online Access Control has a centralized server, it could be cloud based or on premise and is connected to devices like access readers, doors, and locks throughout your building. These are usually called “fixed connections” that enable real time communication among devices. This means a system administrator can easily authorize an individual to gain access to an entrance. If the individual is using some type of credential such as a badge or fob to gain access to an entrance or building, that “event” is immediately recorded on the server. By immediately showing a record in the server, it makes it quite easy for system administrators to quickly react to whatever is happening.

Why is online access control so great, you ask? Well, it allows for access control functionality on entry points and doors in areas that may have otherwise been impossible to get wire to. However, there are a few limitations to online wireless locks. Because wireless locks require batteries and an antenna, the locking units can be less discreet and aesthetically pleasing than wired locks available today. Different manufacturers offer different functionalities, most all cover the basic requirements but critical features such as lock down and toggling may not be included.

Power usage is another consideration to keep in mind. A lock that is set to always be on will obviously consume battery life quicker, this can present many challenges from a maintenance standpoint. To combat this, many manufacturers have added a “sleep mode”. When an individual flashes their credentials, the lock will “wake up” into transmit-receive mode. Last, wireless online locks cannot be connected into Class E fire alarm systems. Meaning, you cannot use these types of locks on any door considered to be a fire exit due to the need for free ingress should an emergency occur.

Offline Locks

Offline locks are made up of two types. One type requires someone to manually extract data from the lock if they want to make any updates to their access control system. The other is touchless and able to establish either a data or network on card connection to the access control system. Ideally, offline locks should be used in situations where you may not need real time reporting of events. For example, remotely located cell towers or utility substations have historically struggled with the best solution for securing these sites. These types of operators have typically used mechanical locks with keys and combination codes. While affordable, this presents operational and security challenges.

Operationally, there is a need to provide physical keys to all persons who may service the tower or substation, outside vendors would also have to be escorted to and from the site- a costly and time-consuming challenge. In terms of security, there are many flaws to mechanical keys. Keys can be easily lost, copied, or stolen. When this happens you obviously must take on a serious cost with a re-key or lock replacement. Traditional mechanical keys also provide no audit trail capabilities, leaving the end user with no way to know who has visited a site.

Today’s systems can remove many of these limitations. Credentials can be issued and deleted inexpensively and on the fly. However, hardware and installation costs could be significantly higher than their online counterparts. Because the data is stored in the locks themselves, they are not able to store the same amount of user data as online lock system would. Online locks typically are deployed in environments where the user base can be unlimited, with offline locks the number of users with access is always going to be capped at a certain threshold. If the end users are not aware or at a full understanding of these user limits, they are likely to encounter difficulties. With offline locks, updating the user database requires the system admin to physically go to each lock. Most will update their databases on a schedule such as when batteries are being changed or after an emergency. Depending on the number of doors/entrance points, this method may be inefficient.

The Best of Both

If it was not already obvious, there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to locks. It is common to start with one type of lock to solve one pain point, where companies get into trouble is when they try applying that same lock system to a different pain point.  

There are certain criteria you should take into consideration when specifying your new system. For example… 
– Interior doors that require moderate levels of security, think of office and storage areas, are ideal for offline locks. 
-Banks, offline locks can be a direct replacement for safes, teller stands, or other equipment that utilize dial combination locks or digital keypad locks. 
-Perimeter solutions where instant control is needed, or potential emergency exits require an online solution
If you’re unsure about what solution is best for a problem you’re experiencing. Give us a call today or reach out out here and someone will get in touch with you.

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