Self-hosted or cloud LMS? 5 questions to help you decide Des Anderson Published on April 28, 2016 Once you decide you need training software, it’s time to figure out how it should work. Choosing between a cloud LMS and self-hosted solution is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make. The result will decide how your training platform manages crucial technical things like data and user access. At LearnUpon, we’ve been sold on the benefits of the cloud from the beginning. Selecting a cloud LMS simplifies many of the other decisions you face. Most of the complex technical work will already have been handled by your vendor. If you choose a cloud based LMS, you won’t need to worry about costs accrued by purchasing and installing hardware and allocating resources to manage it. With a self-hosted solution, you’ll need to decide how major applications, like servers, databases and load balancers, will be resourced and budgeted. That doesn’t mean a cloud LMS is the right choice for every organization either. A self-hosted platform may be a better fit if every application in your organization must follow the same architecture. Still not sure? These five questions will help you decide. Question 1: How should your training software scale? One important decision will be based on the difference between your current needs and how you expect them to change in future. If the number of users your LMS will serve will remain pretty stable, you can focus on selecting the platform that’s the best fit right now. But most companies need an LMS that’s flexible enough to adjust as numbers of admins and learners rise and fall. In that case, you’ll need to ensure that your chosen solution is scalable. With a self-hosted LMS, that means your technical team must ensure that the platform is powerful enough to manage surges in usage patterns, for anything between 1,000 users per month to 1,000,000 users per day. Your in-house team will have a lot of work to do to ensure that your training software is robust enough to manage activity and storage as user numbers grow. On the other hand, most cloud based learning management systems are developed to be flexible enough to adapt to agile environments. But not all cloud LMS vendors manage scalability in the same way either. Cost is the most common factor you’ll need to consider. If scalability is important to you, research how the vendor’s pricing model will adapt as your needs fluctuate. Make sure that the platform you select will still seem affordable as you grow. And check that you can scale back costs if your usage needs fall in future. Learn more: 7 essential questions about LMS pricing Question 2: Does it matter how your LMS handles security and disaster recovery? All online software should be secure and your chosen LMS should be no different. Your organization must be completely confident in the ability of your vendor to manage things like user authentication, access permissions, data backups, and disaster recovery robustly. If your company is small or informal, you may simply need to ask the most technical member of your team to vet vendors on security issues thoroughly. Questions could include: Does the training software run over SSL? Are strong passwords supported? Are security elements configurable? Or are they available at launch? The same member of your team can be tasked with making sure that the vendor’s disaster recovery procedures meet your standards. All vendors should be able to share plans that show they've safeguarded the viability of your programs. If your organization has already defined security policies, the answers to these questions will impact the kind of LMS you can select. If you decide that a self-hosted solution is the best fit, it's crucial to charge a specific member of your technical team with full ownership of, and responsibility for, the security, backup and disaster recovery of your system. Learn more: Sold on a cloud LMS? Try LearnUpon Question 3: Which browsers and devices will you support? This decision will be based either on your organization’s requirements or the options your chosen vendor can deliver. If your company is pretty small, you’ll have more control over software installations and user options. In that case, you may choose to match browser and device usage to those that are supported by your preferred vendor. But if your company is large or complex, your selection may be more constrained. In that case, you’ll need to define exactly which browsers and devices are authorized in your organization. Don't assume that all LMS vendors will support the range of browsers and devices you require. At LearnUpon, many customers rely on older browsers that aren't supported by most vendors. In the past, larger organizations tended to have a corporate desktop that ensured almost all employees used the same browser. That made finding an LMS that supported the browser pretty easy. But today, even in environments with a corporate desktop, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend means that many employees work from a smartphone or tablet. That flexibility means that any software solution implemented within your company must be able to run on more than just the default browser installed on PCs and laptops issued to employees. You should also consider whether most users will be internal or if your programs will be delivered to external users, like partners, suppliers and customers. If the latter is likely, it's wise to implement an LMS that supports the widest possible selection of browsers. Question 4: Will your LMS integrate with other systems? Online training software shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. Before your search begins, decide how the solution should work with the other applications and systems used in your company. The level of integration you need may impact your final selection. In general, it’s useful if your LMS can collaborate with all other relevant systems. Integration with a HRIS is a requirement we're often asked about at LearnUpon. The integration makes it easy to seamlessly add users to your LMS as soon as they're created in your HR system. Your LMS will also then pass course completion data back to your HR system so that it can be stored against an employee’s HR record. Integrations like these help you to deliver a great user experience and increase the breadth and depth of reports you can generate. Some LMS vendors will be able to offer standard integrations out of the box. For more advanced customization options, you may need to explore the range of SSO and API services they offer. When deciding which integrations you need, make sure you have the technical resources required to deliver them. For many companies, deciding whether to invest in building a wide range of integrations with 3rd-party systems will be a key factor in choosing between a self-hosted or cloud LMS. Learn more: 10 LMS integrations you need for better eLearning Question 5: How will you access your training data? The answer to this question may depend on what skills you have available internally and how advanced your reporting needs are. A cloud based LMS should suit most organizations. A commercial platform will offer user-friendly features designed to meet basic to intermediary reporting needs. But the quality of reporting functionality will also vary between vendors. Your final selection should consider things like the range of filtering and export options your team require. If your team includes data specialists, you might need more extensive access to and manipulation of raw data than most cloud LMS vendors offer. In larger organizations, eLearning reports may need to integrate with data from many other applications, like HR and finance systems, or a CRM. In that case, the need to centralize all data in a warehouse to support the implementation of an advanced reporting tool like Business Objects, Cognos or Tableau, may be important. If that advanced level of reporting matters to your organization, look for a vendor that offers extensive API options so that the information can be easily pulled into your data warehouse. Once these five technical decisions have been made, you’ll have a clear idea of the kind of solution that fits your organization’s needs. From that point, you can narrow your search to the vendors whose answers best match your priorities. Much will depend on the level of control you need to exert over the most technical aspects of your eLearning programs. If you choose a cloud LMS, many of these decisions can be left with your vendor. That will be an advantage for many companies. But it's still important to do due diligence on your chosen vendor. Ensure that the decisions they've made in architecting their learning platform are sensible and follow recognized best practice for ensuring uptime, scalability, security, and ease of integration with other applications. If you decide that your IT department should have full control over how things like performance and data are managed, then a self-hosted LMS may be your only option.