Evidence Management – On-Prem VS. The Cloud
August 11, 2022
Tracker Products’ SAFE evidence management software is available as both an On-Prem and Cloud solution, which means we’re not motivated to sway your opinion about which one is a better solution. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have an opinion. And a strong one at that.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the topic of architecture – where data lives. By understanding how these types of systems intake, process, store, and communicate information, we believe you will formulate your own opinion long before we tell you ours.
The 4 Main Types of Computing
Computing is an umbrella term that basically breaks down into different categories: On-Prem and three main types of cloud computing services: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platforms-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
According to excerpts from an article by redhat.com, they wrote, “On-Prem environments are solely dedicated to a single end-user or group, where the environment usually runs [on a server] behind that user or group’s firewall.
IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) means a cloud service provider manages the infrastructure for you—the actual servers, network, virtualization, and data storage—through an internet connection. The user has access through an API or dashboard, and essentially rents the infrastructure. The user manages things like the operating system, apps, and middleware while the provider takes care of any hardware, networking, hard drives, data storage, and servers; and has the responsibility of taking care of outages, repairs, and hardware issues.
PaaS (Platforms-as-a-Service) means the hardware and an application-software platform are provided and managed by an outside cloud service provider, but the user handles the apps running on top of the platform and the data the app relies on. Primarily for developers and programmers, PaaS gives users a shared cloud platform for application development and management (an important DevOps component) without having to build and maintain the infrastructure usually associated with the process.
SaaS – (Software-as-a-Service) – Which is what Tracker’s SAFE Software is – is a service that delivers a software application—which the cloud service provider manages—to its users. Typically, SaaS apps are web applications or mobile apps that users can access via a web browser. Software updates, bug fixes, and other general software maintenance are taken care of for the user, and they connect to the cloud applications via a dashboard or API. SaaS also eliminates the need to have an app installed locally on each individual user’s computer, allowing greater methods of group or team access to the software.”
This graphic is a great visual explanation of who manages what…
The Brief History of Cloud
Some users are wary of storing data in the cloud, but little do they know cloud technology has been around since the 1960s.
In excerpts from an article by BCS, they wrote, “In 1967, IBM virtualized operating systems allowing for multiple users to timeshare the same resource.
By the 70s, research in virtualization, operating systems, storage, and networking advanced, thereby providing novel outcomes, such as networks that facilitated wire transfers between financial institutions. In 1976, advances in networking were demonstrated by Queen Elizabeth II by sending an email.
A couple of years later, the White House installed its first computers. In the early 80s, network operating systems were launched to allow computers to talk to each other.
The foundational technologies for the cloud reached a certain level of maturity in the 90s. This was epitomized by the launch of the World Wide Web in 1991 when more than a million machines were connected to the internet. This led to the dot-com revolution and e-commerce explosion.
The cloud alleviated the burden of maintaining servers, upfront investment on computer resources, and scaling web services based on demand – by renting resources that were concentrated in large facilities and maintained by trusted providers.”
Cloud Computing is simply a different term for using the internet. If you have ever used an ATM to get cash or check your balance, you’ve accessed cloud-stored data. If you’ve sent, received, and filed emails you’ve used cloud storage. CRMs (like Salesforce) utilize cloud storage. Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive are a few of the most well-known cloud storage solutions.
The cloud stores information in remote data centers that users access via an internet connection. But, it’s important to understand that not all cloud storage providers are created equal.
Each cloud storage provider offers different types (and levels) of encryption, scalability, backups, storage redundancy, disaster recovery, etc. Also, prices can vary widely. So it’s important to do your homework before choosing a cloud storage provider – within the context of evidence management and for your own personal data.
And while there are differences among providers, there are also some common benefits such as access to data from anywhere in the world, automated updates and backups, scalability, real-time information updates, geo-diverse/redundant data storage, and increased savings.
At Tracker, we know our customers work with sensitive data and regulated IT workloads, so we offer the best cloud solution to meet the needs of agencies at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as justice and public safety. Our cloud solution brings agility, security, and scalability benefits to customers who face stringent regulatory and compliance requirements, such as FedRAMP, FISMA, DoD SRG, ITAR, and CJIS.
***As a side note, cloud storage is browser-based, so you will need an internet connection to access your data.
A handful of our clients chose an on-premise solution, usually for 3 very specific reasons:
- They don’t want data leaving the premises
- They have already invested in an on-prem server
- They have an existing IT Department
The main (perceived) benefit of having an on-premise server is greater control over data and security. However, most security breaches are caused by in-house human error. Researchers from Stanford University and a top cybersecurity organization found that approximately 88 percent of all data breaches are caused by an employee mistake.
The study “Psychology of Human Error” highlighted that employees are unwilling to admit to their mistakes if organizations judge them severely. Understanding the psychology behind human errors helps organizations to understand how to prevent mistakes before they turn into data leaks.
Human Error Case-Study
In excerpts from an article by Cincinnati.com, they wrote, “More than two dozen Cincinnati police departments have their fingers crossed. They are hoping California-based Secure Data Recovery will live up to its name. If it doesn’t, police chiefs say pending criminal cases could be at risk.
The company is the third to attempt recovery of police records, accident reports, and other documents from more than 20 local law enforcement agencies that used the (now defunct) report software Pamet.
In 2018, a server and backup containing the police records were damaged by what police said they were told was a power glitch. The servers were offline for more than two weeks. When the servers came back online, the data they contained did not.
Electronic records including, police incident reports, daily logs, accident reports and property room inventories from Oct. 27, 2018 back to when each department began using the system (in 2006) were gone. Police are hoping Secure Data Recovery will succeed where other services have not.
Springfield Township Police Chief Rob Browder was in meetings with other affected chiefs, his law director, and IT people. Browder said his trust level is at an all-time low. His department was an early adopter and started with the Pamet system in 2006. The system failure lost 12 years of police records.
Browder said he is beyond frustrated with the situation. “My No. 1 concern is that this would affect criminal cases; that we would lose them because of this.” “I just have no trust at this point,” he said. “We were promised daily email updates. That hasn’t happened, either.”
You may be asking yourself what this story has to do with human error. What could they possibly do about a power glitch? Maybe nothing. But, if you can’t predict the unpredictable, you’d better be prepared for it.
How? They should have had a comprehensive, multi-layered cyber security plan in place – especially knowing they chose an on-prem solution. So, if you decide to choose on-prem over a cloud solution, here’s what you need to have in place…
***If that sounds like a herculean effort, it’s only because it is.
In-House IT Department VS. Software Developers
As we mentioned previously, on-prem servers require a team of IT Professionals that are available 24/7. We have no doubt that if you are an on-prem client, your IT Team is well-qualified to address the challenges of your server and devices, but they are pulled in a number of different directions.
They have to deal with hardware failures, software updates, viruses, backups, network security, vulnerability scans, etc., as opposed to Software as a Service (SaaS) providers who are laser-focused on one thing: constantly monitoring and upgrading their software.
At Tracker Products we have a team of software development professionals who are dedicated to creating patches, managing updates, and adding new features. When we roll out new versions of the SAFE software, our cloud clients see them in real-time. These updates are also monitored, reviewed, and measured in real-time. Our backups reside in multiple geo-locations and are protected by the strictest security and compliance protocols available today.
Those real-time benefits are simply not available to on-prem clients. When Tracker rolls out updates – that have to be installed on on-prem devices – the integrity of the software becomes compromised. Our development team has lost the ability to support your software in the same way that they can with cloud clients. We also have no way to know if on-prem clients are doing regular backups or whether their IT team is testing the integrity of them.
In short, when software updates – that are designed to adhere to strict regulations and protocols in the cloud – are sent into wildly diverse on-prem environments, we have absolutely no way of knowing whether the software was properly installed, functioning correctly, or adequately protected. In the world of law enforcement – evidence management specifically – this can be a risky proposition.
Other On-Prem Challenges
On-prem solutions, in the field of evidence management, come with a laundry list of other challenges…
- Upfront capital and ongoing costs associated with buying, managing, and maintaining an on-prem server are significantly higher than cloud solutions.
- An on-premise setup requires in-house server hardware, software licenses, integration capabilities, and IT employees on hand 24/7. It can take months to get up and running. Unlike a cloud solution, which only takes a couple of days.
- Updating on-prem servers is costly and very time-consuming. Whereas cloud solutions are constantly updating in real-time
- All software programs have to be updated manually updated on each device. Depending on how many software programs each device has, this can be very time-consuming. We find that our on-prem clients are regularly several updates behind on countless applications.
- On-prem servers are vulnerable to natural disasters, and structural failures. One lightning strike, fire, or broken pipe can wipe out all of your data.
- Users can only work at on-premise workstations, as opposed to cloud solutions that can be accessed on any device, from anywhere in the world.
- On-premise servers have a limited amount of storage space, and upgrading can be expensive and time-consuming. By contrast, cloud storage solutions are scalable, affordable, and instant.
- On-prem backups increase liability, especially if off-site, redundant (and automated) backups are not allowed.
- On-premise clients are responsible for the ongoing costs of the server hardware, maintenance, and malfunctions, plus power consumption, and space.
- The cost of an IT team can be exorbitant. A cloud-based evidence management solution has a team of professionals working behind the scenes to add new features, automate backups and updates, and optimize settings.
- Compliance rules and laws are constantly changing on a local, state, and national level. On-prem clients must have someone in a designated role to research these changes in order to ensure continuous compliance. Whereas Tracker’s cloud solution proactively safeguards your data and streamlines compliance with the most comprehensive compliance coverage of any cloud service provider.
Today, there are a lot of on-prem evidence management software solutions on the market that are 20 years old. In a traditional digital document storage system, files are stored on-site on computers, external hard drives, and other machines. These may be shared and retrieved through the use of a Local Area Network (LAN), which could be connected to the Internet, but not always. Only devices directly in the network can utilize this data, and if the hardware becomes damaged for some reason, the information could be lost forever.
Top 4 Advantages of the Cloud Over On-Prem
If you compare the cost of hosting your application and data on a cloud solution, you’ll find that it is cheaper than setting up the servers yourself. Hosting SAFE in the cloud allows you to forego the cost of purchasing servers and hardware for setting up your own data center. You also minimize the need for IT professionals to manage your servers and the utility bills that come with running a server.
Many people assume that browser and cloud-based systems are less secure than conventional computing methods. However, especially today, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course, storing vital case information on remote servers could pose certain cyber-security risks, especially with hacking on the rise. However, precisely because these concerns are so prevalent, providers have worked to make their systems as protected as possible through encryption, backups, advanced login functions, and other safeguards.
In the digital age, law enforcement agencies and police departments can collect more evidence than ever before. Smartphone videos, text messages, emailed documents, and other information could be crucial in bringing justice to victims. However, in a traditional LAN system, digital storage space can become a major issue. In order to avoid investing in yet another expensive external hard drive, officers might be tempted to erase old, seemingly useless information or keep only the clearest evidence from a case. Ideally, it would be easy to keep all the evidence ever collected throughout an investigation just in case it becomes pertinent. With a browser and cloud-based system, agencies and organizations can immediately and inexpensively add on greater remote storage capacity.
Instant Access and Updates
Another key benefit of these systems is that they are simple and efficient to use. Approved officers and investigators can log in and view evidence from any device at any time, so long as they have the appropriate logins. SAFE’s mobile application makes our browser and cloud-based software even more convenient and evidence tracking is updated in real-time. Officers, custodians, and other approved users in every facet of law enforcement are no longer tethered to their desks.
Not only can officers in the field enter evidence from their phones or tablets, custodians can perform audits, inventories, and inspections using the app on any mobile device. And, all assigned chain-of-custody users are updated in real-time no matter where they are. So, if your Chief needs information about a certain case, they can simply double-tap the SAFE app on their mobile device, and the information they need is just a couple of clicks away.
Additional Benefits of Using the SAFE Cloud App on Mobile Devices
Whether users are working from the field, their home, the grocery store, or while on vacation they can…
- Work from anywhere and on any internet-connected device to utilize the Tracker Products system
- Officers can submit evidence in real-time, thereby eliminating inaccuracies and distortions
- The SAFE app also has built-in barcode functionality, allowing users to easily tag and scan evidence
- Label items, review cases, read messages, add new items, search information, adjust your settings, and more
- Document evidence movement and transfer
- Generate data in real-time, share what you need at the exact moment
- Release or transfer documentation from the system
- Transfer items digitally and capture signatures or add attachments to the system
- Facilitate communication between investigators and property room personnel
- Evidence Custodians can grant or block access and privileges for: officers and investigators, PD senior staff, lab technicians, and prosecutors or defense attorneys
- Automate the disposal approval process
- Conduct accountability processes like audits and inventories
- Retrieve, view, and assess physical and digital data simultaneously
- Send alerts surrounding significant developments in cases
- Automate upcoming review dates so you and the officers don’t miss deadlines
- Create automated charts and graphs to give you a visual representation of your data on your dashboard.
- Use that data to ask for MUCH needed resources
- Save your organization time and money.
Today, the majority of evidence management software providers only offer on-prem solutions – including most of the well-known brands in the industry. In this day and age, browser and cloud-based programs are the gold standard. They are built to grow with future innovations in technology. They’re universal—your email, social media accounts, and other everyday programs are already on the cloud.
Tracker Product’s SAFE software is ahead of the game – offering both on-prem and cloud solutions. We were the first dedicated evidence management software provider to offer a cloud-based solution – our company was founded in 2001 – and we continue to be the leading expert in the field of evidence management technology.
Our team of developers is tirelessly committed to optimizing Tracker’s SAFE software evidence management solution, based on the needs of our clients nationwide. Our top-of-the-line security stack scales as our database grows and meets the strictest regulatory and compliance requirements, such as FedRAMP, FISMA, DoD SRG, ITAR, and CJIS.
***Still not sure which is best for your unit? This graphic may help…