Hidden Access Cost: The Database

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Mar 04, 2013

All decisions have a price, but some cost more than others. Choosing which type of database for your access control system can impact cost greatly, but many do not understand the full impact of their choice. In this note, we examine database selection, and how a fundamental up front decision can impact the system for years afterward.

Which Version?

Most access control systems are available in at least two versions:

  • Cheap: An option using a free or inexpensive database format (SQL Server Express, Microsoft Access, or DB2)
  • Costly: An options (typical offered as 'Enterprise' or "Multi-site') that integrates with a full-burdened instance of SQL.

Pricing between versions can vary by thousands of dollars, but understanding which type is best is more than just a question of cost. In the section below, we review the key considerations that must be weighed

  • Number of Cardholders: The cheaper options often have an upper limit to the number of cardholders they can contain. While this threshold may not be a constraint for small or medium sized systems, it may not be sufficient for multi-site distributed systems.
  • Integration With Other Systems: Because the card holder information often covers every member in an organization, the data is valuable to other applications. A variety of human resources or payroll platforms may need in integrate with the database, but the cheapest database may be proprietary and not allow for outside integration.
  • Dependencies: In other cases, a particular version may require additional database servers or software for use. The less expensive options typically can be installed and configured on a single workstation, but a full version of SQL is very seldom installed as a stand-alone machine. In addition, the maintenance and configuration burden of more complex databases could be markedly different than low-cost offerings.
  • Management Features: Less expensive options do not often include advanced features like backup utilities, failover management, report writers, or corruption recovery utilities.

Deciding which option is best also requires a full look at computing environment behind the access control system. Even when the need for more powerful features requires advanced database options, the end-user must understand additional skill sets needed to keep the system operational.

Using Full SQL

The largest 'hidden cost' of many access systems comes from requiring a full SQL database version, designated as Standard version or higher [link no longer available]. In all, expect an additional $4000 to $8000 even before considering the cost of labor to administrate and maintain it.

Typically, unless a user already employs an IT staff including a System Administrator, the decision to use Standard SQL can be expensive. The skills required to manipulate data tables and maintain the database are beyond casual users. Incorporating a full version of a SQL database solely for the use of the access control system is not common, and the additional labor costs of using SQL can venture into tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Free Options

The 'cheaper' options are built using standalone examples of MySQLSQL Express, Microsoft Access, DB2, or custom proprietary databases. While advanced features are limited and data stability is susceptible to individual implementations, these platforms are developed with the 'casual' user in mind.

Basic Reporting Only

One of the biggest gaps between the two options comes in the flexibility of developing custom reports. When a free or proprietary database is used, the selection of reports referencing the data is limited to a stock group. When full SQL is used, a report writing program like Crystal Reports or SQL Reporting Services Report Builder can be leveraged to develop non-standard queries.

Practical Examples

The examples below do not consider the cost of the extra server and software licensing for full versions of SQL if needed:

  • DSX [link no longer available]: Two versions of software are available, the Access-based WinDSX or WinDSX SQL version. Pricing differs between the two options by ~$1000 USD.
  • Lenel: OnGuard can be configured either as a standalone "SQL Express" version, or as part of a "SQL Standard" install. While pricing is the same for the base software, the upgrade process from Express to Standard is involved and  will require an experienced database administrator to successfully configure.
  • KeyScan: System VII offers two options , a free SQL Express version and an upgrade to Standard SQL. The cost between the two options is ~$1500, with the SQL version offering twice the card holder capacity of the free version.

1 report cite this report:

Access Control Server Guide on Sep 09, 2014
Electronic access control systems need to be managed. The 'server' though can range across: Panel based / 'serverless' systems Combo...
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