To Host Or Not To Host

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “To host or not to host” is a question technology leaders have faced many a time in their career. With Software as a Service (SaaS) as the norm, the choice may seem predetermined. However, since many SaaS providers also offer an option for clients to self-host, it is a question still worth considering.

The key factors that drive this decision aligned around five major themes:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Flexibility
  3. Scalability
  4. Cost
  5. Security

If you consider those five issues, the best answer to the host or not to host question becomes apparent.

Infrastructure

One of the most significant benefits of having the vendor host the product is that there is little to no hardware or software infrastructure for the client to maintain. Whether it’s a single client or multiclient service, the overhead involved with applying application patches, maintaining the hardware, software and the overall network is handled by the software vendor.

In addition to the reduced maintenance needs, SaaS applications tend to be more configurable and easier to implement – provided that the functionality offered out of the box meets your needs.

Flexibility

What we give up in return for the reduced overhead is the level of customization that is possible with self-hosting. We also give up the ability to make changes and updates on our own schedule. Any new feature requested by the client is somewhat dependent on the software vendors’ overall plans for the majority of its clients.

Though this is somewhat true even in a self-hosted scenario, (core base functionality of the systems can rarely be changed by the client dramatically), the latter gives the client more flexibility in prioritizing and implementing their business needs more efficiently.

Additionally, any existing applications in the client’s current tech stack need to play well with the overall solution. Integrating existing applications with new applications adds challenges to the mix. This is a primary reason why choosing the right software that meets the business needs as closely as possible up front is vital.

Scalability

Another key feature of the vendor-hosted solution generally is scalability. Given the majority of today’s software products are license-based, adding more user licenses is a matter of executing the appropriate agreements, paying more and clicking a few keys. Voilà – you now have access for more users with no additional hardware to be added or network strength beefed up.

Cost

Licensing agreements tend to differ widely, and that could be subject for discussion on its own. Suffice it to say, agreements that tend to increase in cost with additional licenses require more upfront planning to identify the point at which the pricing switches in favor of self-hosting. With hardware cost becoming competitive, this calculation is not entirely a moot point and should be considered a key point in the evaluation process.

Safety and Security

The good news is that in either self- or vendor-hosted options, the application tends to be hosted on a major cloud player such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform. For very sensitive data, limited and more secure private clouds are more the norm. We have come a long way from the initial days when Amazon AWS kick-started this movement and energized the cloud hosting space in general. The thought of leveraging all the security expertise available with these major players is a definite positive point that applies to either option.

Being a hardcore techie who likes to custom build the best user-friendly solution for the business, I tend to lean more toward self-hosted solutions. However, with excellent partnership and support from software vendors, companies can have a good mix of vendor-hosted solutions supported by custom integrations hosted in data centers. This approach has given our technology team the ability to be nimble, move quickly and deliver businesses the solutions that best fits their need.

Perhaps after all the best question to answer is not “to host or not to host,” but rather “when to host or not to host?”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policy, or position of Planet Home Lending, LLC.