Blog / Content Management

Beware of Cloud Washing—What Makes a True Cloud CMS


by Petr Palas

Aug 4, 2017

Looking at the recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management, most of the vendors offer some kind of “cloud option”. However, what they provide is mostly their old on-premise product hosted in the Cloud. Choosing an option like this will see you missing out on some of the important benefits of the Cloud.

Managed Hosting in the Cloud

The easiest way for vendors to catch the cloud train is to provide managed hosting, as it doesn’t require any bigger changes to their product. However, it requires lots of manual work and the vendor has to build an army of administrators to install and configure the CMS for their clients and to take care of upgrades, security, performance, etc.

The vendor will tell you “You don’t have to worry about our internal efficiency, that’s our problem.” But it’s not: at the end of the day, it’s you who pays for such inefficiency. Moreover, there’s always a minimum price to cover the cost of managing a single CMS instance, so if you want to start small and grow your usage later, you will overpay at the beginning.

The biggest drag, however, is the lack of agility. When you want to deploy new code to your website, it usually needs to be reviewed by the vendor in a test environment and then your code is copied to the production manually. This approach goes completely against the agile trends (such as Continuous Deployment) that most organizations aspire to today. It’s a complete step back!

Overall, this model is largely inefficient and should only be considered by companies who want to outsource the management of existing installations that need little and infrequent modification.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

This model is based on a unified CMS configuration that allows vendors to automate what would otherwise be a manually managed cloud hosting. 

The problem is, you’re typically limited by a pre-packaged environment and you may not be able to use certain plug-ins or make certain customizations. 

You also only have limited control over the hosting environment and you still have to test your website after each upgrade and hotfix to make sure it's not broken.

Although it’s more automated than managed hosting, the PaaS model still lacks the elegance and efficiency you would expect from a true cloud service.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

With a true multitenant SaaS model, the vendor provides all customers with the same up-to-date CMS, high availability, security, and performance. 

This means customers can fully focus on the content and on the development of their websites or mobile applications. 

Multitenancy Provides Highest Efficiency

They key attribute of SaaS is multitenancy. This means that the system is designed from the very beginning to handle dozens to millions of customers in a single cloud installation, instead of provisioning a new copy of the system for each customer.

Many vendors will tell you “You don’t have to worry about multitenancy, it’s our problem.” (Sound familiar?). But again, it’s you who pays for any inefficiency, so you should keep that in mind.

With SaaS, the cost of an additional customer in the system is typically marginal. From the vendor perspective, it does consume additional resources, but everything is completely automated and doesn’t require the human touch, which is typically the most expensive part. 

This means that the starting price can be much lower and you can easily try the solution for a smaller project first.

Headless CMS Enables True SaaS

In the past, the only SaaS CMS options were simple website builders that did not allow you to add your custom code. But this option was unsatisfactory for companies that wanted to customize their website with their own functionality or integrate it with other systems.

The traditional coupled CMS systems enable such customizations, but they do not separate the CMS code from your custom code, meaning they can’t be provided as a true SaaS solution because running the code for multiple customers in the same environment wouldn’t be safe.

The real solution is headless CMS. The headless approach is the only one that separates concerns between the vendor (running a CMS) and the client (creating a website or other content-consuming application). This model allows both vendors and customers to get all the benefits of the Cloud and achieve higher agility and lower operating costs.

Avoid Cloud Washing by Asking the Right Questions

Many vendors realize their cloud model is inadequate, so they try to market it as “PaaS”, “SaaS” or just “cloud” even if they do not fit the given model. 

Sometimes they may go as far as calling their on-premise solution names like “Marketing Cloud”. 

This is called cloud washing

To avoid falling into the wrong model for your business, use these questions to unveil the actual cloud model provided:

  • Ask this to verify the vendor provides a true PaaS model:
    • How do I deploy my code to the production environment? Can I do it completely by myself or do I have to wait for someone to do it?
  • How are upgrades and hotfixes performed? Do I need to talk to someone or is it done completely automatically?
  • Ask this to verify the vendor provides a true SaaS model:
    • Is there a copy of the CMS installation for every customer?
    • Do I get the same version of the software as everybody else at the very moment it becomes available?
    • How do I enhance the website with my custom code?

True Cloud CMS Makes You Agile

Now you may ask “Why does it matter? Isn’t it just a technical detail?” 

Well, the main reason companies go to the Cloud is they want to be more agile. They want to get rid of the inflexibility of traditional on-premise IT systems and be able to deploy new solutions much faster.

They want to use modern trends, such as DevOps or adopt the microservices architecture. 

True SaaS solutions provide just that and they may help you gain a significant advantage over less innovative competitors who got stuck with the antiquated models.