What’s Best for Your Software?

By Terri Roeslmeier

August 1, 2008

“To Host” or “Not to Host”?

It’s a topic that is constant, along with all of the other industry buzzwords, whenever software is mentioned. “Software on demand”, “subscription based software”, and “in the cloud” are all commonly remarked phrases. What does it all mean? Is server-based software simply an old-fashioned relic?

Many today would like you to believe that server based software is something in the past and that subscription based hosted software is the most trendy way to go. It’s trendy, that’s for sure, but may not be the right solution for everyone. As with everything else, hosted software has its pros and cons and server based software has its.

Any software can be run in an ASP based environment. Some of our clients choose to have their solution hosted, and some prefer to install on their own server. Often users have the impression that software must be subscription based in order to be hosted. That is simply not the case. If you cannot bring yourself about to own your own server, understand that your choices are not limited to “rented software”.

Having a server on location with a small network isn’t necessarily a huge responsibility. The cost of a server is relatively inexpensive and once it is set up, it runs. Automatic backups of your data  can be set up. Periodically, an expert network person should check to ensure that everything is running smoothly. For very larger networks with many multiple office locations it is advisable to have an expert on staff to manage the network. With smaller networks this is unnecessary.

If you decide to host your application at an ASP, the server is at their location. If you want exclusive access to a specific server, your monthly hosting fee will be more or you may be asked to purchase a server up front that you will exclusively use. Another option is to share a server with other users. Most users select this option as monthly cost is one reason hosting is selected.

In this type of environment, security is extremely important so that no one has access to your data but you. If you host your own application, any software upgrades are determined by you. Many times you are not ready for an upgrade and if you self-host, you can select when you wish to receive an upgrade. If you are hosted, and if other users are sharing the same server and software as you, then everyone gets a software upgrade at the same time.

Monthly cost is a common reason why users select to have their application hosted. This should be analyzed, however, as the monthly fee may vary based upon a number of variables and or options selected and could increase with time. There may also be hidden costs should you choose to terminate the hosting relationship. We spoke with an individual just last week who no longer desired to host and her hosting service told her she would have a $5,000.00 fee in order to acquire her data.

Running software over the internet can be challenging. It is often subject to network congestion and possibly outages. It is always good to have some plan in the event that internet access suddenly becomes unavailable. It is best to speak to the ASP about such an occurrence and ask what backup plan is available should you not have access to the internet but need to access critical data. If you host your own application with multiple offices, make sure that you have a plan in place should the internet lines go down. This is under your control.

When you run software over the internet, in a sense you are returning to the old mainframe model whereas “dumb terminals” accessed a mainframe and all of the processing power was placed on the mainframe, rather than the desktop. The computing power is not at your desktop. This canpresent some performance issues if the set-up is not ideal.

Security is another issue that needs to be addressed by your ASP should you host. What security is in place? What’s to prevent others from looking at your data? This is especially important if you are sharing a server with competitors that are using the same software. By contrast, if you have your own network in place, make sure your network was set up with the proper security so that only specific internal employees have access to certain information and that outsiders are not allowed in.

Much software that is hosted is sold on a subscription. Most server based software is purchased or leased but can be hosted by an ASP. The latter provides you with a license-based ownership of the software. A subscription means that you are more or less renting the software. It’s a “pa as you go” concept. Check contracts on this to ensure that once you are used to the software and committed to it, that the cost of the subscription cannot increase significantly. Imagine having your monthly fee quadruple? One of the attractions of subscription software is a low up front fee to get on board.

Last, if your on-line company goes under, so does your software. Ensure that you always have backup data files in your possession so that you are prepared in the event that this happens. If you have your own server, take back up copies off-site and store them in a fireproof vault so that your data is secure. This should be done at a minimum once a quarter, more often if you can.

The important item to note is that many choices are available for companies using software today. Before making a choice, it is best to assess what is important to you. Top on your list should be features you need in the software; accessibility; security and preservation of your data.

This article made an appearance in the August/September issue of staffdigest Magazine. www.staffdigest.com

Terri Roeslmeier is President of Automated Business Designs, Inc., software developer of Ultra-Staff software for the staffing and direct hire industry. Ultra-Staff is a staffing software business solution with components for front office, back office and the web. Terri’s email address is TAR@abd.net or for more information on Ultra-Staff go to www.abd.net