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Evaluate on-premises vs. SaaS tools for IT systems management

While there are a lot of factors for enterprises to consider when choosing an IT management tool, the on-premises vs. SaaS decision can be a particularly tricky one.

Many organizations continue to use on-premises tools to deploy and manage IT infrastructure. There's also been a sharp rise, however, in IT management tools offered as software as a service.

In this case, the SaaS provider hosts and maintains an IT infrastructure management platform for its enterprise customers. For companies with on-premises infrastructure that do not specialize in infrastructure management, a SaaS tool provider -- which does have that expertise -- may be the only logical approach.

SaaS-based IT infrastructure management platforms are not entirely new. Services such as CloudPhysics, for example, have for years been able to identify issues in VMware vSphere server virtualization environments and provide recommendations to improve performance and stability. Another tool, Platform9, supports active administrative tasks across OpenStack, Kubernetes and serverless environments deployed on top of on-premises IT infrastructure.

Major IT software companies, such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, added SaaS tools to their offerings, particularly those for hybrid cloud management. Whenever a new platform is described by a CEO as "a science project" -- a difficult-to-deploy and disruptive project -- there is an opportunity for a SaaS provider to step in with a tool to manage it.

While SaaS tools for IT infrastructure management offer benefits vs. on-premises tools, they also pose some potential hazards.

The perks of SaaS tools for IT management

[With SaaS], IT teams no longer need to build, scale, update and maintain a server just for the tool to function.

With SaaS IT systems management tools, all the tool upkeep falls to the provider. The SaaS vendor handles the complexity involved to deploy, host and update these management tools, which frees up valuable time for the users to deploy, host and update the enterprise applications for which they are responsible. IT teams no longer need to build, scale, update and maintain a server just for their tool to function.

Usually, the SaaS provider offers and automatically updates a single virtual appliance that acts as a broker between the user's on-premises infrastructure and the SaaS platform. Because the provider updates the SaaS tool, users can run the latest version and receive access to new features automatically and immediately, without having to patch anything. These updates occur at the discretion of the provider, not the IT team, so improvements and refinements are based on averaged customer data.

In addition, SaaS tools offer a more flexible, pay-as-you-go subscription model compared to the upfront costs of an on-premises platform.

The risks of SaaS tools for IT management

The most significant risk with a SaaS-based IT management tool vs. an on-premises one is SaaS tools' reliance on a network or internet connection to the provider. If the network is down, enterprise IT teams can no longer access their tool, which means they cannot manage the IT environment. To mitigate this risk, vendors design the virtual appliance to take an active role; often, a SaaS tool consolidates multiple appliance consoles or adds more extended-term analytics. In this model, the on-premises appliance can operate in limited capacity without the connection to the SaaS portal while the network is down.

Data privacy and security pose another risk for SaaS vs. on-premises products. Security mishaps with consumer SaaS applications regularly make the news, and the safety of data inside a SaaS IT management system should be a concern for enterprise IT organizations. Look for statements about what data is sent to the SaaS console when you select a tool. Intelligence built into the virtual appliance reduces the need to send detailed data off-site to the cloud.

Lastly, there's a risk in keeping a SaaS subscription when better choices are available. The monthly or annual payment model of SaaS tools do not trigger a decision to evaluate alternatives, as installed and depreciated on-premises management tools often do. Re-evaluate SaaS subscriptions every two years or so, and consciously decide to continue or change to a new systems management platform.

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