By Diane Wieland, special to TheContentWrangler.com
Shopping for a content management system (CMS) can be challenging. With hundreds of self-defined CMS vendors offering myriad solutions to choose from, it’s safe to say that selecting the right system for the job can be fraught with obstacles. Attempting to decipher and understand the CMS marketplace means mastering terminology and industry jargon used by software marketers, consultants and other industry insiders.
One concept that is increasingly associated with content management is Software as a Service (SaaS), sometimes referred to as “hosted” or “on-demand” content management systems. SaaS is an alternative to purchasing traditional software licenses and installing programs directly onto your servers or individual PCs. Instead, content management systems that follow the SaaS model are hosted remotely—by the software vendor—and are delivered to end-users on a subscription basis over the Internet. This model is being adopted by software vendors attempting to get their slice of the content management market. Analysts predict the on-demand method of delivery is the way most software will be provided to users in the future. They predict established CMS vendors will increasingly move away from traditional software sales models to the SaaS model. Some have already done so.
For organizations hoping to make the move to content management, selecting a CMS that is delivered as a service is an attractive option for many reasons, most of which are economic. Typically, SaaS solutions offer lower up-front costs, lower total cost of ownership, and much faster ramp-up and implementation cycles. Some experts point to other benefits, including the elimination of additional capital investments for functionality updates (your subscription is always current), to disaster recovery (all the information is stored and backed up off-site), and greater vendor accountability. SaaS vendors are responsible for their software working properly. They can’t blame software performance slowdowns or other snafus on your infrastructure, operating system, servers, nor your IT department. When something goes wrong, you know who to contact – you know who to blame. You have no responsibility for maintenance, upgrades, or system failures. You just log in and it works.
Depending on your company’s needs, hosted content management solutions can cost as little as a few hundred dollars per month, to a few thousand dollars per month.
A hosted software example: GoogleDocs and Spreadsheets
If you aren’t familiar with SaaS, a good introduction to this model is Google Docs and Spreadsheets, a free, hosted software solution that allows users to create, manage, and collaborate on documents and spreadsheets using a web browser. Google Docs and Spreadsheets work just like similar applications you might find on your workstation, but they free you from reliance on your PC. With GoogleDocs and Spreadsheets, all you need is a connection to the internet and web browser and your ready to work. You can use any computer, not just your own to access the software you need, when you need it.
Security: Keeping your content safe from harm and prying eyes
As you learn more about content management systems, trusting software vendors to sell you the right type of product gets easier. Trusting them with proprietary information? Not so easy. After all, you’ve got responsibilities. You need to be sure that your content is safe from hacking, system failures, man-made and natural disasters.
The security measures taken by SaaS vendors are impressive and might just surprise you. Hosted CMS vendors use methods that range from biometric scanning to on-site armed guards. Network protection is carried out though usage monitoring, reports and alerts, firewalls and encryption. Preventing system failures is usually a multi-pronged approach and includes such safeguards as redundant routers, diesel generators, and disaster management using back up and additional off-site storage facilities.
Photo © poco_bw – FOTOLIA
Dan Dube Managing Director, US Operations for DocZone.com says his company (and others) outsource data center management to Rackspace. “They are the industry leaders in data center management and security,” he says. “We let them do what they are best at so we can focus on providing the best software solution for our customers.”
DocZone.com offers XML-based content management and single-source publishing solutions to customers in the US and Europe. Their applications—and your data, illustrations, and multimedia—reside in Rackspace facilities that allow only data center operations engineers near routers, switches and servers. Security measures include 24/7 video surveillance and security guards. They use biometric hand scanners to restrict access to the data center, and Dube says, “Our data centers have full redundancy planning and meet the highest levels of security certification. We do daily full backups, which are mirrored in separate physical locations. In Dallas (the US data center location), the data center guarantees 100% uptime, and they have never been down in over 5 years!”
Reputable SaaS companies will work with your own IT security standards and can create parameters (like specified hours, browsers, and time zones) for using the software from your company location or anywhere you would like your team to work—from home, while traveling, etc., according to Robert Rose, Vice President, Marketing & Product Strategy for CrownPeak Technology .CrownPeak offers hosted Web content management solutions including full service asset management, and Web hosting, as well as value-added products such as e-newsletters, Web analytics, and customer relations management through partner software providers.
Any use outside the security parameters Rose mentions should raise a red flag. Much like your credit card company, hosted CMS vendors can track normal (and abnormal) use. Most vendors also provide monitoring and surveillance reports on system usage. CrownPeak goes a step further in their system reporting.
“We also have something we call our ‘system admin alert’ that is based on anomalies. What it does is actually look at the sum total of the things that have happened on the CMS, so if weird time zones are logging in or anything weird happens it can actually send an alert. For example, if a different IP address is trying to log in, multiple log-in attempts and failures occur, or different browsers are trying to log in that haven’t logged in before, we can send an alert.”
Finally, if you are running a mission critical web site, the protection of your data becomes a secondary concern if the site goes down. This is where the reliability of the power source comes in. Chris Adams, Director of Engineering and Co-Founder of Web content management provider HotBanana , suggests that companies looking at the SaaS option for content management “should choose one that uses a data center that has the full security of redundant backup for electricity in place.”
And preferably a data center (like the one HotBanana uses to service their North America customers) that is actually a point of presence, a physical location where multiple telecom companies’ data traffic flows into the country creating redundant connections. Those connections “share” internet fiber at that location so that if one were to fail, power would automatically switch over to another.
On the off-chance that something should happen to their redundant conductivity network, the best providers use diesel generators that can run until the power is restored. This protects your data in the event of wide-spread disasters or outages, but to protect you even more, the data centers back up your data and store it on tapes or digital vaults off-site at another data center in another region. So if you were to accidentally delete a file or a natural disaster strikes the data center, your data can be retrieved and restored.
Photo © Katrina Miller – FOTOLIA
Even though the chances are relatively slim that something could happen to your data, good hosted CMS providers use standard service level agreements that levy hefty fines and financial penalties against vendors for non-performance if systems should fail or data is lost. Those agreements are pretty standard and are usually based on industry best practices.
About the author: Diane Wieland is a technology writer who lives and works in Indianapolis. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org