Digital asset management has traditionally been a premise-based solution, meaning the IT department is responsible for setting up and maintaining the hardware inside of their server room or data center. While the buzzword cloud is relatively new, the idea of letting someone else host parts of your company’s IT infrastructure is not. Hosted services have been around before the dot-com bubble, which almost everyone uses to run their websites or other IT applications. Cloud services typically differ from hosting services by using multiple computers instead of one to provide a specific service or application -- in this case, Digital Asset Management.
I work for a digital asset management software company that sells premise-based solutions. You might think I’m biased towards premise-based solutions, but I’m actually more interested in helping people choose the right technology for the job. I’m better off in the long run when people use the right technology and are successful. Read on for some issues to consider when evaluating cloud or premise solutions for the right fit, and let me know in the comments section if you disagree or have other points of view.
An advantage of cloud solutions is that someone else (the vendor) is responsible for setting up and babysitting the servers running the DAM. This means your IT team doesn’t need to worry about setting up hardware and installing software. However, both types of solutions will require decisions about workflow as well as configuring the DAM to support those workflow decisions. Also keep in mind that setting up a cloud solution may take several days if all existing files will be uploaded at the beginning of the implementation.
An advantage of premise solutions is speed when transferring large amounts of data. Most commercial Internet connections to the cloud are not going to be faster than the local gigabit Ethernet between computers on your network and an on-premise DAM server. Slower internet connections can mean longer file transfers as well as higher latency -- how responsive the DAM interface will be to commands. Some cloud-based DAM solutions have addressed the bandwidth issue using caching software or network appliances that temporarily save commonly accessed files on local servers for faster access.
Regardless of the user’s physical location, both types of systems can usually be accessed from anywhere in the world. Premise-based solutions typically require another level of security like requiring users to connect to a VPN before accessing the DAM. Content delivery networks (CDN) can speed things up when multiple users around the globe need to access files. A CDN works by automatically synchronizing files between different servers in different geographic locations. When someone needs a file they can download it from the closest server, which is usually faster.
Premise-based DAM can work with your existing file servers and applications, while cloud may require “moving” everything into the cloud and changes to existing workflow. In either case, be sure to ask about tools for uploading files and migrating data from existing sources. Also consider how data could be migrated to or integrated with a different solution in the future if the need arises.
Some argue that cloud solutions are more secure because of vendor specialization and economies of scale, while others claim that premise-solutions are a safer bet because you have more control and the underlying infrastructure is less exposed. Unlike cloud solutions, premise solutions can be configured as completely internal system with firewalls preventing any type of outside access. Cloud solutions are more exposed because they are almost always accessible via the Internet and shared by multiple users and companies. A hacker posing as a legitimate user could potentially use their account or exploit bugs in the system to gain access to the data of companies using the cloud service.
The reality is that no matter who’s holding the data, there’s always the possibility a human somewhere will screw it up. Make sure the right security and backup precautions are in place. For premise this means verifying tape backups and tightening firewall rules if public access to the DAM is required. For cloud this means asking about the measures in place to protect your data.
Some organizations are prevented from allowing others to store their data due to compliance and privacy laws and regulations. Since cloud providers could potentially access any of your data at any time, the use of cloud-based DAM may not be an option for storing sensitive information. If compliance is an issue and you’re considering the cloud, be sure to ask the vendor how their solution addresses the laws and regulations governing the storage and use of your data.
What happens if something goes wrong? With premise solutions, your IT department works with the vendor to take care of the problem. With cloud, the vendor usually takes care of the problem. While this potentially means less work on your end, it means less control and options for troubleshooting without direct access to the system. If using a cloud solution, ask about historical up time and ensure that service levels meet your needs.
It’s also important to consider the long term viability of any DAM solution. In either case, consider how you would continue using the system and how you could get your data back if the vendor were to go out of business or discontinue the product.
With cloud solutions upgrading software is the often the responsibility of the vendor and updates are pushed out without any work on your end. For some cloud solutions you may not have much control over upgrades with users needing to deal with slight UI changes or the appearance of new features.
Cloud-based solutions often scale automatically, while premise based solutions potentially can hit a performance ceiling of underlying hardware. For premise, make sure your hardware has enough to support your planned needs or use a virtualized environment that can be scaled by allocating more resources to the service. For both solutions, be sure to consider costs related to additional capacity or bandwidth for future growth.
The cost of cloud solutions are often based on an initial setup fee and a required ongoing subscription priced on bandwidth use or storage. Premise solutions typically require a larger up-front fee, with optional subscriptions for technical support and upgrades. When calculating ROI for DAM, consider the total costs of the system over a 2 year period for an accurate picture.
The industry is clearly moving more towards cloud services, but still has a way to go to fit the needs of all digital asset management requirements. Bandwidth limitations are currently the biggest limiting factor in cloud-based DAM since slow connections diminish the primary benefit of DAM -- efficiency. Eventually technology will reach the point where Internet bandwidth is comparable to local network speeds, and by that time any other disadvantages to cloud-based solutions will have been solved.