When it comes to hosting your digital signage software package, there are two options: Local hosting or Cloud based hosting.
Some Digital Signagesoftware applications are only cloud based while others require or only run on a locally installed server. There are some hybrid options between the two, for instance locally hosted servers that are set up within a Private Cloud. The goal here is to provide a perspective that allows IT to make decisions while knowing the best options for digital signage networks.
Cloud hosting refers to a server application that is hosted on a third party’s network infrastructure, often times in aNOC (network operations centre) somewhere in the world. Where it is hosted physically is somewhat irrelevant (barring a lot of earthquakes maybe) but the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model would apply, but without additional costs because hosting is usually enrolled into Digital SignageSoftware as a Service model.
What matters is that your Digital Signage media players are able to communicate with the server. When the media players are set up, they’re required to connect to the Internet and find a way to the server by way of the server’s Internet address.
The advantage ofa cloud hosted system is that it requires very little infrastructure from the client. This can be great news depending on your position. The client simply sets up the media players to connect to their existing network that has Internet access, and the system is ready to go because the server is already setup and running in the cloud. Cloud hosted servers are often hosted on well established, state of the arthosting environments that can be far superior to most corporate server environments. In addition, many servers are automatically backed up and kept in secure locations. Maybe this conversation was irrelevant in 2004, but in 2014 data centres are offering Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas) platforms with enterprise class reliability, space and scalability. Therefore Digital Signage providers can store the applications in these environments for a lower TCO(total cost of ownership) with security parameters in place, while passing the savings and security on to clients.
The scalability of cloud hosted solution is probably the strongest differentiation between the two models. Media players can be located anywhere in the world and run off the same centralized network provided they have an internet connection. The setup, configuration, maintenance and upfront cost are reduced significantly because of this. Media players are shipped directly and then configured into the cloud and can be online in multiple continents on the same day.
Cloud based systems often come with a subscription plan that requires the client to pay a monthly fee to use the cloud based server which can’t surprise any of us in IT.
This shifts a large part of the cost of building the network from capital expendituresto lower monthly operating expenses. In addition, the client pays for what they need. Don’t forget, in addition to capital expenses, setting up designated servers for digital signage is time consuming and can be challenging depending on certain variables. Overall, the cloud represents the future of network operations. But then end decision depends on the culture of your company and your direction as an IT leader on your team.Always get feedback from Digital Signage providers so you can make a well informed decision in the end.
A disadvantage of cloud hosted signage is that administrator loses some control over the network.
They rely on the Internet for communication with the web interface; therefore if the Internet connection is disrupted then the Digital Signage network is unreachable until the connection is restored. This means updates will not happen until connection is restored even though the screens will still play stored content provided the Digital Signage system supports locally cached media players.
The data is transmitted over the Internet and stored in remote places, often times unknown to the administrator. In some digital signage offerings, the data may also be transmitted over the Internet without encryption which may be an issue in cases where the Digital signage network is being used in corporate, public or sensitive environments.This can be a key decision in certain vertical markets. How to avoid this being an issue? Make sure your Digital Signage provider offers an SSL certificate for encryption. This should be a norm when dealing with Digital Signage companies that have existing corporate, public and enterprise clients, but doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed! So ask the IT reps in the company if possible, otherwise ask for a related reference from a client similar to you. If that is refused, maybe looking for other providers should be considered. But don’t let this be a barrier if you prefer cloud hosted, just make sure it’s encrypted.
Local hosting refers to the scenario where the digital signage server is hosted on the Local Area Network (or on a Wide Area Network within a corporation). This scenario ensures that the network is within the control of the administrator and on location. Historically, this was the traditional method in setting up Digital Signage networks. The solution included screens, players, receivers and extenders, and server(s) depending on locations and network configurations.
The advantages of local hosting are that the network can be contained behind the corporate firewall and all data kept private according the corporate security policies. Without much more needing to be elaborated, these two functions often separate the conversation between local and cloud. However, the last couple years have seen a huge shift to lower cost external hosted servers, and therefore there is a different attitude about the security concerns and higher costs of internal hosting. However, in organizations with intranet and /or high security offerings (defence contractors for example), local hosting might be the only option. In that case, setting up internally is neither an advantage nor disadvantage, but simply the only solution.
However for businesses in retail, education, hospitality, mainstream corporate or manufacturing, the primary business objective for Digital Signage often defaults to enhancing communication and engagement internally to employees or externally to customers or visitors. The content being presented and scheduled might not be of a highly sensitive nature; therefore using an open port 80 or SSL encrypted port 443 are both the standard (which very much apply to cloud hosted solutions as well).
A costly disadvantage of internally hosted networks is the addition and maintenance of IT infrastructure to support the Digital Signage application. IT has to spend resources in planning and building the network and setting up the server(s). The next disadvantage is the amount of time potentially maintaining and troubleshooting network issues. Although Digital Signage partners are there for support, it’s difficult to diagnose bugs or roadblocks simply through third party monitoring software.
However, many IT leaders can side step the above challenges, but it is truly the next disadvantage that poses the dilemma for some: scalability. The reality is that locally hosted environments are more difficult to scale than their cloud counterparts. Additional infrastructure investments can be required to handle multi location set ups and more media players. This is a particular challenge for multi nationals with plants or offices in various countries or even within national borders of the same country.
Whether you lean towards Cloud hosted or locally hosted, it’s important to be clear on the value propositions.