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Is there an alternative to SAAS ? You may want to explore Self-Hosting your business IT infrastructure

02 June 2022 |

I am writing this for people who have been using “cloud” software services for years and they “sense” that there might be something “better” out there. Better could mean something technically more exciting, something cheaper, something that respects my privacy, including respect as a client.

When I speak about the “cloud” I mean digital services like team chat, document hosting, document editing and communications. Any particular task that a human being can do with software. The Dropboxes, Microsoft teams, the Zooms, the Slacks and Google Drives of this world. You get the picture right? We can put all those tools under the umbrella term SAAS Software as a Service.

What is actually happening when I hire a SAAS service? Like in every service, there are visible parts. Using my local machine💻, I am giving instructions to a remote machine and, let’s be honest, most of the time it works great:
I place a file in a Dropbox folder and it “automagically” synchronises with the files shared with the rest of the team.

There are also invisible parts of the SAAS service. There are plenty of tasks that need to be done so make that magic happens but we,consciously or unconsciously, depend on that SAAS company to do:

  • Taking care of the infrastructure. The servers are the powerful machines that are working remotely and always on 24/7 to deliver that service. Those machines need care. Also security…
  • Software updates. The source code I am using to run the app or service is evolving. Bugs are fixed and software gets better with time.

“Self-Hosting” is a transition in which I consciously decide to take on board some of those invisible tasks. This means a new relation with digital technology since I am becoming increasingly more conscious about the different layers that are behind the software services I use every day. At the end I am the one who manages the “whole thing”: the server, the data, the software that is running on those machines I rent for a monthly price.

What could be the advantages of doing such a move?

But wait. You are actually giving me more work to do. Why should I get me and my team in this “rabbit hole”?

Here are the reasons:

The tool is 100% mine

Many of the software services I can install in my private cloud are open source. When I copy the code and install it, I become owner, and I am independent from the people who made that software. I can be 100% sure that the software will be there in the long term👍. I also set the rules on how the software changes and when.

I am immune to policy changes or service “shifts” from big players.

GDPR related benefits

If I work with sensitive personal data, I want to ensure full respect of data protection legislation also know as GDPR (in Europe). Relying on 5 or 10 different software service providers increases my vulnerability (the surface that I need to protect). We have hundreds of cases in the media showing data leaks from SAAS and I am, as a company could be legally liable for data leaks .

With self-hosting, I know were the severs are. I can put all my company data in one single place👍. I can choose the physical location. And I can grant or block access to whoever I decide to API.

In line with my ethical transition

I may be feeling more and more unconformable with funding and paying for digital business that are too big, that treat me in a very in-personal way. I may want to work with smaller companies, closer to home and that are closer to my work ethics and values.

There are, in the open source ecosystem, many mature tools, whose source code is accessible and with business models that are not based on abusive data extraction or unfair work conditions.

Economic advantages

With SAAS model,If I add new people to my team I need to pay more. I normally pay a price per user. With self hosting, since my software is mine, there is no limit in the number of colleagues I can invite. I can scale from 10 to 100 to 1000: it does not matter. I just need to increase compute power in the virtual machines.

But computing resources are getting cheaper and cheaper, and cloud companies who provide the infrastructure like AWS, Google Cloud are giving away free packages so that at the very beginning those services are literally free. If you are not happy with the service you can always move all your data to another provider.

Getting the right tool for your need

I hear all the time stories like the following:

“my company bought a very complete Microsoft tool like Power BI included in Microsoft 365 licence but with an extra price of 9.99 per user per month. Hundreds of features. We paid 60.000 euros for a year and nobody uses it!💸💸

With self-hosting, if I set up a service, then I am not happy with it, I just need to un-install it. This could be as simple as uninstalling an app from your phone. See for example the app store from Cloudron, the list of self-hosting open source tools you can install and uninstall is ever growing. installing and uninstalling tools is free

For example I can start with a light tool and if i see my team gets good at it, i can install a more complex tool so that my team gets the right tool for the right need and level of maturity.

Brand Awareness and visibility

With self-hosting services, since the tool is mine, I have more room to visually customize and do interface changes so that it feels more like my company service.
This gives me more freedom to create and orchestrate digital experiences to my clients that they feel more as a service I am orchestrating. This is called brand awareness.

Add brand names in the url of the service you are using.

I can also create links that have my company name on the URL. This allows me to share links in emails and social media and my company name is in the URL link. This looks more professional.

Let’s take an example . Imagine I want to share a link to download a document, If i use Dropbox, the url would not include my name. If I choose a self hosted alternative to Dropbox like Nextcloud I can include my company name in the link.

What are the dis-advantages?

Basically I need to assume more responsibilities. The tools is yours you need to fix bugs, secure the servers, and do the updates.

This is more work, but I can hire an IT service for this, and I have the choice of the type of organisation I want to work with depending on your needs and ethical principles you hold:

  • a local IT freelancer I am going beyond the ticket, talking to a responsive human who lives in my region so that I can see his/her faces from time to time.
  • a remote but really professional company that is smaller and more agile than big SAAS corporations, like Magic Beans.
  • a software cooperative like gnuragistes or CoopITEasy: I am feeding the local economy and feeding and creating an ecosystem of open source system admins that might be more in line with with my values and vision.

Are you interested to know more about cloud and self hosting? We are running an event in Silversquare Stephanie Bruxelles on 21 june.

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Manuel Pueyo

Content Strategist with a legal background.
I combine several years of experience in online communication with an advanced technical expertise in web development and an in-depth knowledge of UX trends & marketing tools.