One needn’t go far to find a juicy argument that pits Cloud-based (SaaS) digital asset management against on-site (on-premises) or installed solutions. The debate is everywhere, and it seems the primary arguments are always the same.

  • trophy_shutterstock_97099391.jpgCloud-based systems don’t require IT and they’re more affordable
  • On-site systems perform better and they’re more secure

These points have merit, but it’s easy to argue the opposite too. Let’s do that and see if we can’t lay this Cloud DAM versus on-site DAM contest to rest once and for all.

Cloud DAM Frees You from IT (and vice-versa)

Cloud-based DAM might not require a dedicated systems administrator, but all DAM requires planning and management, and that requires someone.

DAM is not software; DAM is an initiative that requires policy definition, procedure planning and end-user training. Cloud DAM might free you from having to install software, but it does nothing to free you from having to manage the process and policies that software should be supporting.

The virtually instant startup of Cloud DAM can tempt one into cutting these important corners. But managing Cloud-based DAM is not the same as managing a Facebook account. (On the other hand, onsite vendors don’t do enough to encourage their customers to adopt an “initiative” approach to DAM either.)

Cloud DAM is More Affordable

Cloud DAM is absolutely more affordable than on-site, assuming you plan to use the system for only a few years. But after your first four or so years of use, you’ll likely find you’re spending more for Cloud DAM than you would have paid for an on-site alternative.

Do the long-term math before you sign any contracts. Factor the following into your equation:

  • How much is the on-site license cost plus tech support and updates for five years?
  • How much is the monthly cost of the Cloud DAM for five years? (Is tech support extra?)
  • How much more will the Cloud DAM cost for increased storage and network bandwidth?
  • How much do you estimate you’ll need to pay for the hardware and OS licenses you’ll need to run an on-site DAM server? (Don’t forget the costs of storage, networking, electricity, etc.)

With just these few considerations, you’ll get a truer sense of the real costs of DAM ownership. Ask prospective DAM vendors for a 5-year cost estimate. Then, of course, make sure that estimate suits your five year budget estimate.

If you lose your DAM budget after the purchase of an on-site DAM, the worst that happens is that you’ll need to cancel your contract for tech support and updates. (Neither of which you might value much anyway.) On the other hand, if you lose your Cloud-DAM budget, you’ve got some fast thinking to do. Cloud-DAM will always require ongoing payment -- it’s a service, after all.

The cost of services is something else to consider. Some on-site vendors will promise that no services are required. “It’s a simple double-click install,” they’ll say. (Just like cooking a roast is a simple trip to the grocery store.) Cloud DAM customers typically require fewer services, but this could be skewed by the fact that customers who choose Cloud DAM are typically looking for a simpler experience overall.

On-site DAM is Faster

When it comes to file access speed between your DAM and your desktop, on-site DAM will usually offer better performance. After all, if your LAN is slower than your Internet connection, digital asset management is not your organization’s most immediate problem.

But as speedy as LANs can be, you might find that as more applications move into the Cloud, the only aspect of your workflow that’s not Cloud-based is you. The Google Drive integration for Gmail offers a great example of how one can create and share “files” that are created in the Cloud and never leave it. We’ll see the Adobe Creative Suite and other production applications there soon enough -- count on it.

And then there’s mobile access to consider. Unless your smart phone or tablet is connected to your DAM via physical connection, on-site DAM will offer no performance benefits. In fact, mobile access to on-site DAM can be slower because content must move through an extra ground-Cloud hop that’s not required by Cloud-based DAMs.

This extra hop becomes even more relevant for video. On-site DAM proponents argue that the Cloud will slow you down. And while it’s true that moving video from the ground to the Cloud will likely be slower than moving it across your LAN, this transfer usually happens only once per video. Once a video is inside your DAM, video processing and streaming should be your primary concerns.

Organizations that plan to edit DAM-based video might be an exception. In their cases, an on-site DAM might work better. But these organizations usually prefer to use their video editing software to manage work-in-progress video, moving it into the DAM only after a project is complete.

The Cloud is Insecure

An on-site DAM that has been modernized with Web access add-ons is no more secure than a Cloud-based DAM. In fact, these older DAMs can become even less secure than their Cloud-based counterparts, and for reasons you might not expect.

Pre-Web DAMs might not be properly configured (or even designed) to safely host the entire planet. Configuring permissions on these older DAMs can be confusing at best. Check the wrong box and a security breach could be your own doing. Worse, you might not ever know you’ve done anything wrong. 

Not all security breaches arrive with fanfare. Many are quiet, non-destructive and virtually undetectable. Unless you have people specifically monitoring for such activity, you might never know when, for example, a former employee who now works for a competitor still has access to your DAM.

Cloud-based providers expect trouble, so they watch for it. This certainly doesn’t prevent Cloud hacks entirely, but it does increase the likelihood that such a breach will be caught and managed in less time than it takes your IT buddy to return from Comic-Con to deal with your on-site break-in.

Don’t Let Cloud versus On-site Make Your Decision

Let your DAM initiative planning decide which option is best for you. As part of your planning you’ll determine things like staff availability, long-term budget estimates, technical resources and more. Once you have a clearer picture of your DAM reality, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right DAM software, be it Cloud, on-site or a hybrid of the two.

As a starting point for a discussion about digital asset management, arguing the merits of Cloud DAM versus on-site is like arguing the merits of a truck versus a cargo jet before you have any idea what you need to ship, or to where.

Image courtesy of jayfish (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: David knows his DAM. To read more, see Digital Asset Management's Missing Context of Discussion