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Complex & Often Confusing
The sheer volume, scope, and diversity of available computing options can confound the decision about which computing option or options will achieve the greatest benefits. These days, corporate leaders must determine whether their organization would benefit more from building additional on-premise capacities, or by accessing the growing scope of cloud functionality, or perhaps by creating a proprietary combination of both on-premise and cloud capabilities.
Because the needs of every company are unique, leaders must assess the configuration possibilities of the technical tools needed to meet them. The potentially high cost of any technical upgrades or changes to corporate computing capacities requires leaders to be very specific about what they need their technology to accomplish before they make the final decision to buy.
Beyond Software designed this guide for leaders considering expanding their corporate technological footprint but who seek additional information about the factors they should consider in the process. Their inquiry should follow two courses: assessment of the types of computing options available in general, and assessment of the functions to be performed in relation to the technology.
Assessment by Type: Two Major Choices
Although the configuration options are virtually unlimited, today's enterprise computing universe is based primarily in two fundamental structures: the on-premise servers and computers (on-prem) owned and operated by each individual business, and the cloud, an off-site computing center that connects users through the Internet to a variety of programs and services.
Each infrastructure offers its own unique benefits and drawbacks, and, in some cases, one format is highly preferred over the other, depending on the function it needs to perform. Accordingly, it is helpful to consider how each separate computing option functions before deciding if it is right for the work it is expected to perform.
Today's enterprise computing universe is based primarily in two fundamental structures: the on-premise servers and cloud computing.
On-Premise Infrastructure Considerations
Almost all companies already have on-premise systems that have been installed incrementally over time as computing capacities and corporate demands evolved. Consequently, there is an unlimited variety of on-premise configurations that can act as models for future on-premise additions:
- Many small businesses often function simply with a desktop computer assigned to each employee, with all the computers running the same programming.
- Other organizations may have a dedicated in-house server with all company computers connecting through it to corporate data and systems.
- Larger companies may have invested in a proprietary data center, which stores data, provides processing functions, and may even manage exclusive company apps.
On-premise computing assets are usually wholly owned by the company and often represent a significant capital investment to purchase, install, and deploy. Ongoing costs and maintenance are also wholly assumed by the company, so many companies add a dedicated IT department or technician to keep their computing processes in working order.
Cloud Computing Infrastructure Considerations
Cloud computing takes place on a server located off-site from its client's or owner's business. Because cloud computing is malleable and can be programmed to provide virtually any computing function or process, cloud-hosting companies can offer a variety of computing processes that are designed specifically to match the needs of their customers and clients.
Many cloud providers break their offered services into categories related to the functions they perform. One such category is the “Infrastructure-as-a-Service” (IaaS), which requires a marriage of both the on-prem assets and the cloud resources to achieve proprietary goals. Many companies, especially smaller entities, often find this configuration to be too expensive and technologically intricate for their needs. The “Platform-as-a-Service” (PaaS) option can also be unwieldy for small or medium sized businesses because of the higher technical demands it makes on a business that is not a technology-specific enterprise.
Requires the marriage of both the on-premises assets and the cloud resources to achieve proprietary goals.
Platform-based cloud computing that tends to require higher technical demands.
Offers clients an entire computing infrastructure as well as the applications they need to perform their work.
However, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) option offers clients an entire computing infrastructure as well as the applications they need to perform their work. Users simply log into the system and access the necessary programming for the function at hand. SaaS users are not required to purchase any additional equipment to access the cloud-based SaaS capacities. Because SaaS providers offer all the computing but none of the costs or demands associated with maintenance or upgrades, SaaS is one of the most popular forms of available cloud services.
Because this article is directed at small and medium sized businesses, it will compare how on-premise computing options compare to SaaS options.
Assessment by Function
Cloud servers process data differently than on-prem servers so, most of the time, it's not possible to simply move the on-prem programming into a cloud configuration. Ergo, when considering how to achieve with the cloud the same functionality delivered by on-prem machines, it is helpful to assess the full scope of both the anticipated function and the possible deployment options when considering which structure offers the optimal resource for any particular computing process. For this assessment, leaders can consider how each technological option addresses setup, functionality, and access concerns.
Comparing the Setup
Setting up or modifying an existing on-prem system is often a complex project that begins with the same considerations as any other physical construction project:
- Servers, computers, and other components need dedicated physical space and often need to be located in climate-controlled environments.
- Larger systems also often involve complex wiring and connections to ensure every employee has access to all the functions they need.
- When designing the location for a new or updated on-prem configuration, it is also recommended to consider the possibility of future upgrades. Adding staff or expanding production may require additional physical space to house the necessary computing capacities.
- The set-up also must include an adequate resource for both current and future security requirements.
"When comparing [SaaS & On-Premise], we must also consider utilization, which is a key parameter. On the public cloud, you only pay for what you use."
The first and perhaps biggest challenge to adding new on-prem processing is gauging the scope and capacity of what is needed then choosing the programming to fit those needs.
The larger the corporation is, the more intricate this process will be, as each incremental addition will impact the enterprise as a whole. Another consideration at this stage is how to manage the possibility of future needs. Often, on-prem configurations include software or functions that won't be used immediately and will sit dormant on the servers until demand arises. Sometimes, this extra capacity may not be used at all if anticipated corporate circumstances change.
After establishing the physical facility and selecting the new digital assets, the company will finally be ready to add the new software by making the connections necessary to marry existing digital resources to the incoming technologies. The integration process can be intricate and may reveal needed upgrades for or changes to servers, Internet protocols, proprietary programming, or any other aspect of the legacy system that is not compatible with the new processing opportunities.
Finally, the newly renovated on-prem system must go through a period of testing to ensure that each element processes as expected and integrates with the whole as anticipated. Sometimes, the testing process takes as long as the planning and installation of the new system.
When compared side-by-side, setting up SaaS programming is both faster and more comprehensive than setting up an on-prem configuration.
The major setup difference with SaaS is that the entire enterprise simply plugs into the cloud server, often through a single, proprietary portal designated just for that company. SaaS providers configure their software as per their client's needs, so their customers (usually) require no additional hardware or software other than that which is already in service in-house.
The primary technological consideration for the company is to decide which SaaS programs are needed to accomplish their current levels of productivity. Once they log into the SaaS system to access those processes, the customer's enterprise is up and running exactly as it was while using its now-outdated technology.
Because the SaaS is already integrated within the cloud environment, testing compatibilities and integrations are already complete, so there is no downtime required to determine that the system is working as intended. With most SaaS providers, the time lapse from initiation to full functionality is often a day or less.
Comparing the Functionality
Perhaps the most significant challenge to the on-prem option is that its programming often limits its functionality. Most businesses typically purchased their corporate technology one program or suite at a time, then installed those programs onto their company servers and machines.
Over time, updates improved individual programs, although patches might have been needed to integrate each separate application with the corporate network as a whole. Fundamentally, there was no opportunity to implement an overall corporate digital strategy because the whole system was the culmination of diverse programs added on as needs arose. Therefore, adding another layer of new technology may exacerbate existing or reveal new technical challenges.
"For most companies, they simply don't have the tools yet to get a full-picture of all of their software, and the result is a bit like a single person trying to be in two places at once: there's always going to be something you're not seeing completely."
Budget concerns may also limit the scope, and therefore the functionality, of the current digital system. Gaining improved functioning through growing an on-prem system may require significant investment in the software and hardware needed to make that function with the legacy system. And adding new software may also require attention to each individual machine, which itself requires (expensive) time and attention to ensure the proper integration of each separate program into the rest of the system.
After that, the entire network might need reworking to ensure that the old and new digital processes are integrated and providing exactly the functions for which they were purchased.
The SaaS service reduces the cost of adding functions by providing precisely the function needed, and not its ancillary hardware or installation costs. SaaS servers are warehouses of software for any number of purposes, which is programmable into whatever function is necessary. Clients who need new programming can find it within their providers existing stores, have it configured to their specifications and deployed almost immediately. And the deployment is organization-wide immediately.
The converse is true as well; programming that is no longer needed is easily disabled and removed from the client's programs and functions inventory.
Just like the rest of the corporation's assets, the on-prem servers and programs require protection from intentional or inadvertent breaches or intrusions. The resulting layers of passwords, firewalls, and VPN barriers can make it extremely difficult for employees to access the on-prem databases and programming when they need to. Additionally, logging in from remote locations may be virtually impossible as local servers may not recognize the incoming IP addresses, which might negatively impact the capacity of remote workers to do their jobs.
The SaaS software is hosted in the cloud so it is accessible from any device that can access the Internet. The SaaS provider provides and is responsible for maintaining the security features necessary to keep information safe and intruders out. The ease of accessibility is especially valuable if the company loses on-site power; workers can continue to access enterprise data through their mobile devices.
The flexible availability of access to company information from virtually any location on earth also facilitates a more mobile workforce in general.
Many companies base their decision to move some or all of their operations to the cloud on their relative ability to keep those operations safe and secure from internal and external intrusions.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to on-prem computing is the owner's control over those assets. On-site IT management controls the programs installed; the access to those databases, and the functions that the programming performs. Management can change any aspect of the technological profile as the company's needs demand.
However, perhaps the biggest challenge to on-prem infrastructure is the threat and cost of security breaches. Most companies are not 'technology companies' in the sense that their business does not involve the creation of and/or management of technology for its own sake. Instead, most organizations use technology to facilitate their core functions, whether those are in manufacturing, services, or other industries.
Benefits to On-Premise
Owner maintains control over on-premise assets. Management can change any aspect of the technological profile as needed.
Consequently, companies that maintain a primarily on-prem digital system must also invest in the IT capacities to sustain it and keep it secure. Sustaining it requires ongoing investments in hardware and personnel; keeping the system secure poses other challenges:
- Technological security is only as good as the programming purchased for the purpose, and even add-on software that runs regular scans is effective only if its internal threat database is current. The speed by which digital threats manifest, however, means that, often, single-program security options don't have the scope or depth available to detect or respond to the newest threats as they emerge. Larger systems also often involve complex wiring and connections to ensure every employee has access to all the functions they need.
- Internal intruders can also more easily manipulate on-prem capacities to avoid detection of their activities.
- Finally, significant investments in security technologies may also be required for the enterprise to keep its barriers sensitive to current and emerging security threats.
Challenge to On-Premise
Threat and cost of security breaches. Most companies do not have the in-house knowledge to properly secure digital systems, requiring ongoing investment into external IT resources.
Recent research reveals that the physical location of corporate data isn't as important to keeping it safe as is the means of access to it. Data indicates that both on-prem and cloud services are targets for hackers but that on-prem sites are attacked more than three times as often as cloud providers. Fundamentally, cloud providers focus more of their efforts on security and governance issues than do enterprises that generate their own security walls and barriers because it actually is their business to create and maintain top-level technologies, so they spend no corporate time pursuing other agendas.
Further, as technology experts, cloud providers have systems in place that are faster at detecting potential intrusions and that quickly narrow the scope of an incoming attack before it reaches the critical assets of their clients. And, because their business is technology, cloud providers are constantly upgrading defenses in response to constantly evolving cyber threats so their clients don’t have to.
"I feel like a great majority of the cybersecurity
challenges faced by large and small corporations is caused by trying to protect an architecture that was not designed to be defended in the first place."
Growing a company requires short-, mid-, and long-term planning, as well as the investments necessary to facilitate each milestone along the way to those goals. Corporations that plan to manage growth internally must be prepared to make the technological investments that will respond incrementally as growth occurs.
At the very least, to grow an on-prem capacity, budgets should include adding over time additional servers, CPU's, storage capacity, and application functionality, as well as the time and energy needed to build the additions into the existing system and migrate workloads across it when needed.
Note also that it is not recommended to implement the newly configured environment until after resolution of every new security and compliance challenge introduced by the new hard and software.
Because SaaS providers already harness the capabilities of many servers and databanks, they can swiftly supply the systems and programming upgrades needed when their clients require additional computing capacity. This flexibility offers two major advantages over the on-prem setup:
- Companies can add programming, processing, bandwidth or other added services as their industries demand, and the cost of doing so includes only the functions added, not the software or hardware needed to facilitate the growth.
- Scaling down is equally easy because customers pay only for the services used, which makes cloud provisioning an excellent tool for companies that operate of a seasonal basis.
Comparing Backup and Recovery
Disasters happen, and organizations that have invested in comprehensive backup and recovery functions will weather the storm as well as prosper after it dissipates. These days, recovery is rising over back up as the more critical capacity; after data loss or breach, while companies must be able to regain lost information, the recovery time must also be a short as possible to ensure a swift return to full operations. Basing each disaster recovery plan on the fundamental processing needs of the individual organization assures accommodation for every function, regardless of whether the recovery program is online or on-prem.
The most significant challenge with on-prem backup and recovery systems is their cost. The most effective strategies will provide duplicate data storage and functionality, so there is an option to turn to when then central processors fail. Companies that don't make this investment risk losing not just their day-to-day operational capacity, but also the trust of their customers and clients if (or when) their computer crash also puts consumer data at risk. Not surprisingly, in-house duplication of machines, programming and access is expensive and requires additional investments in real estate, security and licensing.
The cloud offers a growing advantage for backup and recovery processes because its scope, depth, and flexibility can manage almost every iteration of technological disaster. And, like the other services offered, the customer pays for the backup and recovery services rendered; the client shares the cost of the hardware with the provider's other customers. Services can be limited to simple data storage or as complex as a full failover that transfers all functions to the recovery programming until repairs are made.
Equally valuable is the capacity of the SaaS provider to manage all the backup and data protection processes, which relieves in-house IT personnel to focus on more important company needs.
Comparing Cost Considerations
Often, businesses must balance their preference to keep things in-house with their economic ability to do so. Cost considerations play a critical role in determining the short- and long-term value of a potential on-prem or cloud investment.
Keeping all computing capacities and resources on the premises and in-house requires extensive investments in both hardware and software. As such, launching and maintaining an on-prem system is often a capital expense. Keeping those systems current and upgraded also requires an ongoing investment in both the processing capacity as well as the hardware and real estate to house it.
And growing the business will need yet more investment in the internal capabilities to accommodate both the complexity and the functionality of the more substantial demand. Finally, the on-prem system depreciates over time, losing its value while requiring replacement costs.
On-Premise Cost Considerations
Maintaining an on-premise system is a capital expense due to ongoing investment into keeping the system current and upgraded.
Future business growth should be taken into consideration, as this will likely result in the need for more system functionality, and in turn complexity.
On-premise systems depreciate in value over time.
For most small and medium-sized businesses, the cloud offers the least initial investment requirement for corporate processing as well as the most comprehensive set of options for the future.
- Because each company purchases only the service used, cloud services are operational expenses, not capital expenses, so the organization doesn't have to deplete its cash reserves to improve its technical capacities, and it generates an ongoing business expense deduction.
- Growth is accommodated as needed by simply scaling up the demand for services.
- The talents of in-house IT professionals remain focused on business needs and demands, while the cloud provider maintains the mundane routine of technology maintenance and repair.
- Cloud providers must offer optimal security services or lose their business. Consequently, their customers often experience the highest levels of data and processing security as well as up-to-the-minutes safeguards against emerging threats.
- Corporate transformation is available as customers access their cloud provider's store of innovative technologies. As each client's needs change over time, the professional cloud services provider can provide programming unique to those needs and specifically in response to those consumer demands.
In businesses of all sizes, computers and software programs assure consistent organization, speedy responses to business demands, and critical insights into corporate and industry trends and developments. Recent innovations in automation of many enterprise functions ensure accuracy across mundane transactions while leaving the human resource free to pursue more important corporate goals.
Today's cloud computing captures these innovations for enterprises of all sizes, leveling the playing field and providing an unmatched competitive advantage. At Beyond Software, we tailor your cloud-based SaaS needs to your specific purposes, keeping them maintained and up-to-date, while ensuring the highest levels of security for your business and consumers.