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Yes, Your Web Content Management System Should Run in the Cloud

Forrester Research recently published a report titled Should Your Web Content Management System Run In The Cloud? Download it here for free from Acquia. According to Forrester, the cloud Is finally coming to Web Content Management systems.

It’s true that nearly every web content management vendor now offers their product via some form of cloud delivery. But it’s important to looking beyond the simple cloud label to understand how vendors support the cloud. There are three common cloud deployment patterns:

Cloud hosting

The most common way for web content management vendors to address the cloud is to simply allow customers to host their products in places like Rackspace, Azure, and AWS. In this scenario, the hosting company supports the hardware and network, while the customer has to support everything everything else like security, scalability, reliability, etc.

Managed services.

Some vendors offer an additional level of support on top of hosting, either via partners or sometimes directly from the vendor. In this case, the vendor or partner supports the cloud hosting platform, and will manage elements of the application stack, including OS updates, product patches, some elements of security, etc. Managed services providers will typically offer a service-level agreement (or SLA) for their platform, usually at 99.95% uptime or higher. This sounds great, but it hides perhaps the most common causes of site issues - the WCM product, and your site code. In a managed services model, often there’s finger pointing between the WCM vendor, the managed services provider, and the customer to resolve an issue. Because of the lack of complete ownership, the real-world uptime of a site under managed sites is often will below the promised SLA

PaaS/SaaS

Only a few vendors, including Acquia, have created a cloud platform specifically tuned to the needs of managing digital experiences. The Acquia Platform is designed specifically for Drupal, and provides a number of capabilities to help customers deliver higher quality sites faster. The Acquia Platform provides elastic scalability on a highly secure platform, and we manage everything on the behalf of our customers - including support for the Drupal site itself. And our 99.95% SLA applies to the sites, and we help identify and resolve issues at any level of the application, from the OS all the way through your Drupal code.

Beyond cloud deployment types, there is a business model implication of shifting to the cloud that makes it very difficult for on-premise software companies to make the shift. In the traditional software license model, vendors would get paid immediately after selling the license. The customer took all the risk, and deployments often become “shelfware”, where the customer purchased products they never used or needed. Cloud companies operate on a subscription model, where customers usually purchase an annual subscription to use the software, and have the ability to choose whether or not to continue to use the software each year. This pricing better aligns the needs of the customer and the vendor.

Here’s how Forrester puts it:

The subscription model turns their license business model on its head. WCM vendors have built their businesses with software licenses — get paid upfront and hope that customers use the software. This led to a crisis of shelfware in which companies never deployed the functionality they purchased. The cloud destroys this wasted software because companies won’t renew the service if it doesn’t work or if they don’t need it. That’s why it often takes a disrupter like Acquia stealing customers to energize established vendors like Adobe and Sitecore to consider the cloud.

I’m happy to see Forrester Research address this topic, and candidly, it’s about time. The shift from legacy on-premise software to cloud is well underway, and the vendors who can’t keep pace with both the technology and business implications of this shift won’t survive. And look beyond the “cloud” label, because there are vast differences in how vendors address cloud delivery.

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