Few contemporary topics have led to greater debate among networking professionals than cloud-based networking and, by extension, cloud-based network monitoring and management solutions. 

From its niche beginnings with distributed organizations, cloud-based network management has been adopted by organizations ranging from SMB to large, carpeted enterprises. However, traditional on-premise (aka on-prem) solutions persist, helping give customers unprecedented choice when shopping for a solution. As a result, many organizations are rightfully exploring when it makes sense to move their network management to the cloud. 

💡Pro tip: Jump straight to the cloud vs on-premise comparison chart.

In a world where the on-prem vs cloud debate can be quite charged, it makes sense to take a critical look at why organizations are shaking up traditional IT management paradigms, especially in networking.

Common reasons for exploring cloud-based solutions include:

1. Organizations are more remote and distributed.

Traditional on-prem solutions typically require a physical footprint across each location. But these days, 86% of IT professionals support either a hybrid or fully remote workforce. Setting up this physical footprint can be expensive from a time, labor, and maintenance perspective in distributed organizations. In the homes, co-working arrangements, and public spaces that many of today’s workers use, it’s simply unfeasible.

2. IT infrastructure is more flexible/subject to change.

On-prem solutions are often based on physical appliances and widgets that have limited ability to be managed remotely. This worked very well for IT teams that rely on standard refresh cycles and have greater ability to manage devices in-person. However, today’s infrastructure is much more subject to frequent change. Distributed organizations desire the ability to accommodate those changes remotely.

Additionally, there are more network infrastructure devices that don’t follow a purely on-prem model. While the physical device still resides on-premise, management of it resides on the cloud or a virtual machine (VM). This complicates the conventional paradigm. 

3. Many organizations want to move from CAPEX-oriented solutions to OPEX-oriented ones.

While not true in every case, many on-prem solutions were purchased in the era of one-time costs and perpetual licenses. As organizations seek to add agility to their spending by reallocating dollars spent on capital expenditures to more flexible operating expenditures, some will look to SaaS-native solutions for network management and other core tools for their inherent OPEX-friendliness.

In this article, we’ll dive into what we mean by on-prem vs cloud-based network management solutions, explore the reasons IT teams consider both solutions, and list pros/cons of each.

What is on-premises or “on-prem”?

According to Technology Advice, on-premise software refers to applications that are installed, hosted, and maintained on a company’s own servers or data center. As mentioned, this type of software was traditionally purchased on a CAPEX-based perpetual license, although many on-prem solutions now have OPEX-oriented term license options. On-premise applications often allow for a more direct touch in managing and, for some, give a sense of tighter security as no outside parties will have access to the data contained within.  

For network management, an on-premise product often monitors the network via physical probes and sensors deployed directly on network devices. These probes use network communication protocols (such as SNMP) to collect information on devices and analyze them within the tool. This requires onsite management of the probes as well as the datacenter infrastructure needed for the network management solution. 

Although cloud computing reduces that direct workload, on-prem IT management isn’t fully going away any time soon. As of 2019, 98% of businesses still rely on on-premise IT infrastructures. However, because of the reasons mentioned above, many organizations are seeking to migrate many critical functions to SaaS-based solutions, while newer businesses are building in the cloud from day one. 

What is cloud network management?

hand holding an image of a cloud, representing cloud software
Businessman holding virtual cloud computing to transfer data information and upload download application. Technology transformation concept.

On the other hand, cloud-based management means you can watch and configure devices anywhere on your network, no matter where you happen to be physically.

Here, a software provider has taken on the responsibility of managing the datacenter resources and security, enabling an approach to monitoring all the devices on your network with  a smaller footprint. In most cases, a lightweight collector presence is all that is required to gather network device data and send it to the cloud for visibility and analysis. 

With Gartner predicting that 75% of organizations will adopt a digital transformation model predicated on cloud as the fundamental underlying platform by 2026, it comes as no surprise that many organizations are taking a fresh look at moving to the cloud.

Key similarities between on-premises and cloud

While many of the core requirements of network management feature prominently in both types of solutions, it is important to compare and contrast key similarities and differences.

Standards-based

Any effective network management tool must be able to manage all of the devices common in today’s network infrastructures,  communicating with devices by standard protocols such as SNMP, SSH, Telnet, and ICMP, among others.

While solutions may vary in their exact list of protocol support, most organizations will find tenable solutions in on-prem or cloud-based products. This allows for seamless integration with existing IT infrastructure and makes it easier to scale as the company grows.

Security

Both types of network management solutions must be secure. Both SaaS-based and on-premise solutions should offer robust security measures to protect against cyber threats and data breaches. With SaaS-based software, all network data is stored in the cloud, which is monitored and managed by the service provider. This centralized approach allows for real-time threat detection and quick response times to any security incidents.

On the other hand, on-premise solutions give organizations complete control over their network data, allowing them to implement their own security protocols and measures. While this can be a more desirable option for companies with strict data privacy regulations or sensitive information, network management cloud providers are generally held to strict security standards, devoting significant staffing to the cause.

Ongoing management

The network is an important part of the IT backbone that allows organizations to compete efficiently in today’s environment. That means no network management solution will be “set it and forget it.” Both types of solutions will require expertise to use them to their highest potential.

With SaaS-based software, all updates and maintenance are handled by the service provider, resulting in minimal effort required from the organization’s IT team. This can save time and resources, especially for smaller businesses with limited IT resources.

Similarly, on-premise solutions also offer a user-friendly interface and automated processes for managing the network. This makes it easier for organizations to monitor their network performance and identify any issues.

Key differences between on-premises and cloud

On the flip side, there are of course stark differences between the two solutions.

Infrastructure required

Being a SaaS-based tool, cloud-based network management allows users to manage their network infrastructure remotely with minimal software or hardware deployed onsite. On the other hand, on-prem software is installed and hosted locally on a company’s own infrastructure. This means that users have more control over their network management tools and data in a traditional sense. This can be useful or even necessary in business environments where there are strict data residency requirements.

Deployment

One of the main advantages of using SaaS-based network management software is its ease of deployment. Since the software is hosted on a remote server, users do not have to go through the hassle of setting up and maintaining their own infrastructure. This eliminates the need for expensive hardware and reduces the maintenance costs associated with traditional on-premise solutions. Furthermore, it reduces the amount of time lost to truck rolls for on-site maintenance, especially in distributed organizations. 

Knowledge required

As most of the ongoing management of the solution is contained in a “single-pane-of-glass,” SaaS based solutions trend toward point-and-click GUIs that are easier to learn, even for novice users. On-premise solutions often require management of more individual pieces, spread across the IT environment, leading to a longer learning curve.

Cost of ownership

CAPEX and OPEX differences are just the beginning of how the cost of ownership can differ between cloud and on-prem solutions. With on-premise solutions, especially those sold under a perpetual license, there can be a misconception that upfront costs are more or less final. However, users need to invest in hardware, software licenses, and IT personnel to set up and maintain their own network management infrastructure. These costs persist over time. This can be a significant financial burden for small businesses or organizations with limited resources.

Scalability

On-premise solutions may lack the scalability of SaaS-based solutions. If a company’s network grows rapidly, they may need to run into capacity roadblocks and be forced to invest in additional hardware and resources to keep up with the demands, adding to the overall cost. Conversely, SaaS-based solutions tend to scale more linearly.

Cloud vs on-premise comparison chart

Need a quick summary of what’s outlined above?

Check out our cloud vs on-premise comparison chart.

comparison table showing cloud vs on-prem pros and cons
Cloud	On-Prem
Standards-based	Yes	Yes
Security	Highly secure; largely self-managed	Highly secure; provider does heavy lifting
Ongoing management effort	Moderate	High
Hardware required	Zero to minimal	Servers, probes at minimum
Deployment speed	Hours – Days	Weeks – Months
Ease of learning	High	Low to moderate
Cost model	OPEX	More likely to be CAPEX
Scalability	Linear	Step-variable

Benefits and risks of on-prem

On-prem network management is often a good choice for organizations with strict data residency requirements and other industry or geography-specific requirements around compliance. In other words, on-prem solutions are well-suited for environments where public cloud technologies are prohibited or highly restricted. They may also be well-suited for single location organizations.

Other benefits of on-prem include:

  • Control and ownership of your data. The ability to have everything regarding network management happen within your four walls provides relief and assurance to many organizations, particularly those dealing with sensitive data.
  • Knowing that security is in your hands. Similarly, securing the data traversing the network management system will fall in the hands of your organization and trusted colleagues. 
  • Low latency and the ability to directly manage solution performance. The performance of a SaaS-solution depends on its cloud provider’s importance. Some organizations prefer to remain on-prem so that they can manage their own performance needs.

Risks of on-prem include:

  • Difficulties in scaling as the organization grows. As mentioned, as networks grow, adding on-prem management capacity can come at high hardware and labor costs while disrupting normal business operations. 
  • Maintenance and management requirements outgrowing organizational capacity. At the same time, on-prem software requires a much higher touch to configure, maintain, and troubleshoot. However, many IT teams find it difficult to add capacity even as overall needs amplify.
  • Unexpected maintenance, troubleshooting, and infrastructure costs over time. In a perpetual license model, some may view the cost of on-prem software as mostly a one-time hit, but many of the ongoing costs unfold and escalate over time. On the other hand, cloud-managed software typically has these costs built-in, with gradual increases over time. 

Benefits of cloud include:

  • Cost predictability. Cloud-managed solutions generally come with all aspects of the product, its maintenance, and high-level support rolled into the monthly price. This makes budget planning easier and is attractive to increasingly opex-minded CFO offices.
  • Linear scalability. At the same time, business growth won’t necessitate large capital investments in the infrastructure required for network management sensors, software servers, and databases as solution capacity needs increase. Even more, unit pricing for many solutions becomes lower with scale.
  • Ease of use. Many SaaS-based solutions are built with usability in mind. Leveraging trends in the “consumerization of IT,” these solutions are built to be easy to learn. This will lead junior technicians to become skilled more quickly. 

Risks of cloud include:

  • Ceding control of data and security. As with any SaaS solution, cloud-based network management requires trusting your solution provider with housing and securing your network data. Any reputable solution provider will share with you how they are protecting your data, and by extension, your reputation. It is imperative to ask the right questions and be informed about how your vendor is protecting you. 
  • Potential loss of performance. Similarly, with the cloud, you have less control over how your solution performs. You could be the victim of service outages and performance degradations that you ultimately can only sit back and wait for the cloud provider to resolve. Thus, it is important to be aware of your vendor’s promised SLAs and historical uptime data for the cloud provider. 
  • Having to fight organizational inertia. While cloud technologies have become more accepted, many IT leaders still must contend with organizational inertia when it comes to embracing the cloud. Some, needing to act fast, will overlook the potential benefits of a cloud-based solution just to avoid internal debates over issues like security and performance. 

At the end of the day, the decision to choose cloud-based or on-prem network management will depend on business, security, and compliance requirements. Regardless, it is important to build a solid, research-based business case supporting your network management initiatives focused on both current and projected future needs. 

Conclusion 

The debate between on-premises and cloud-based network management solutions continues to be a hot topic in the IT industry. While both options have their own advantages and disadvantages, it ultimately comes down to an organization’s specific needs and requirements.

On-premises solutions offer more control over data and security, making them a preferred choice for organizations with strict data residency requirements or sensitive information. However, they can also come with higher maintenance and scalability costs as the network grows. On the other hand, cloud-based solutions offer ease of deployment, cost predictability, and linear scalability. However, they require trusting a third-party vendor with housing and securing network data, which may be a concern for some organizations.

Whether cloud-based or on-prem, the key is to choose a solution that best fits the organization’s current and future needs. This will ensure efficient network performance and security. Regardless of your choice, prioritizing efficient operations, usability, and alignment to business goals will help ensure success.

For many organizations, cloud-based network monitoring provides an ideal combination of flexibility, scalability, and usability while meeting stringent security and compliance requirements. Learn how Auvik helps organizations across the globe support high-performing networks through the cloud. Sign up for a 14-day free trial.

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