Blog / Content Management

CMS in the cloud sucks and why it's time for a cloud-first headless CMS


by Petr Palas

Nov 26, 2016

The big promise of CMS in the Cloud is that you just turn it on and it works. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complex. Fortunately, a new generation of cloud-first headless CMS products is coming.

Don't get me wrong, we love the cloud. In fact, back in 2011, Kentico was the first CMS certified for Microsoft Azure. In 2013, we launched the first .NET-based digital experience platform provided as a cloud service. 

After one year of running the service, we stopped it. Why? Our customers expected that we would take care of everything connected with running and maintaining the CMS. But we weren't able to deliver on the promise. 

We figured out that while our CMS could run in the cloud, it wasn't built to be used as a true cloud service. We had to manage every single installation manually, and it sucked for both us and our customers. We just weren't able to scale such a service to thousands of our customers without hiring an army of IT experts. And even if we had done that, we wouldn't have met the expectations of our customers: they wanted to be more flexible and self-sufficient. We wanted to provide Software as a Service (SaaS), but we got stuck providing managed hosting.

Back to the drawing board

We took a step back and thought: what are the elements that cause the most frustration and how can we remove them? The problem with running a traditional CMS on-premise or in the cloud is the number of things you need to take care of:

• Configuring a web server

• Installing the CMS

• Taking care of hotfixes, upgrades, backup, security, performance,

...and only after that, you can work on your website.


CMS in the cloud


Managed hosting won't save you

Some traditional CMS vendors offer managed cloud hosting for their CMS. While your first reaction may be "Wow, they just take care of everything for us!", it misses the flexibility one would expect: with every change of the code, you typically need to talk to the vendor and ask them to deploy it to your production environment.


Managed hosting


Platform as a Service: better, but still not there

So some vendors came up with the concept of CMS provided as Platform as a Service (PaaS). Unlike managed hosting, PaaS offerings usually come with highly automated environments that provide you with self-service configuration and deployment. Unfortunately, you will quickly realize the limitations of such a model:

  • your favorite plugins aren't available in the PaaS model
  • certain customization options do not work
  • you have only limited control over the hosting environment
  • and you still have to test your website after every upgrade and hotfix to make sure it's not broken

While PaaS is generally a better model than managed hosting, it still misses the elegance and efficiency you would expect from a true cloud service.


PaaS CMS


Can we have a SaaS CMS without losing the flexibility?

The last model we haven't mentioned is Software as a Service (SaaS). When you hear "SaaS CMS", you may think of products like Wix, Squarespace or WordPress.com. The problem is these website builders provide very limited flexibility when it comes to design and they won't allow you to run any custom code. That makes them a great choice for a mom-and-pop store that needs a simple template-based site, but not for a custom-built website.

Cloud-first headless CMS comes to the rescue

Fortunately, there's a model that combines the benefits of SaaS with unlimited flexibility for your presentation layer. And it's cloud-first CMS leveraging the headless CMS architecture. 

In this case, the vendor built the CMS with the cloud in mind from the very beginning—hence "cloud-first". The vendor runs the CMS as a true multi-tenant SaaS service, which means all customers run the same version of the CMS and the vendor manages only one standardized environment. While this may sound like a boring detail, it makes all the difference in the efficiency for both the vendor and the clients.

The second part of the story is "headless". The headless approach separates the concerns between the vendor (running a CMS) and the client (creating a website or mobile app that consumes the content). It means you can simply use an API to display the content on your website, in your mobile application, or any other channel.

As you can see, the cloud-first headless CMS represents the best way to create websites and manage content in today's multi-channel world.


Headless CMS SaaS Cloud


In the next blog post, we will look at the evolution of CMS architecture and why a cloud-first headless CMS represents the next generation.

In the meantime, you can try Kentico Cloud and see why cloud-first CMS is 10x better than any other model.