Running Cloud-Free Social Software

Running business software in the cloud is still a relatively new phenomenon for many established businesses, but what if you prefer to run enterprise software the old fashioned way? What if you would rather license the software and install it on your own servers in your own data center -- or at least, on your own dedicated server in a contract data center?

The advantage is control. You control the upgrade schedule in a way cloud software providers make impossible by design. One of the ways Yammer simplifies its operations and keeps its costs down is by making sure every customer gets the same version of the software. Release schedules are often staggered over a few weeks.

Large customers may have the flexibility to request whether they will be among the first or the last to get an update, but everyone gets it in short order. That's a break from the tradition of allowing time for the enterprise IT organization to do its own testing on a new software release before deploying it to end users. It's also unacceptable to some conservative enterprises who don't want new features sprung on them.

Having the software running in your own data center also opens up possibilities for enterprise application integration that might be difficult to achieve (or raise too many security issues) if the cloud software were remote. If the software doesn't look or act quite the way you want, you may be able to customize it with your own programming code or run your own scripts against the underlying database.

There are trade-offs to this, too. The fancier you get with integrations and customizations, the greater the need to do testing whenever there is an upgrade to the underlying software, to make sure it doesn't break your integrations and customizations.

The decision to run social collaboration on premises or in dedicated hosting rules out some options such as Yammer, Chatter, and Podio that are available as cloud services only. In contrast, the providers of on premises software usually offer a cloud hosting option for the same product or a related version.

Popular options for on premises social collaboration include:

  • SharePoint-based solutions, such as NewsGator Social Sites or BlueRooster Sepulveda: SharePoint 2013 itself offers a more complete set of social features than any previous release of the collaboration platform, but since acquiring Yammer, Microsoft seems more interested in developing social collaboration features on that platform, in the cloud.

  • Java-based social platforms, such as Jive and IBM Connections: These are big enterprise favorites, particularly in enterprises with a bias toward Java and Unix or Linux as a web application architecture.

  • Smaller players who find offering an on premises option to be a selling point: This includes Atlassian Confluence, TeamSite, Telligent, and Tibco Tibbr.

  • Appliance options: Instead of a traditional software installation, Socialcast and Socialtext offer the option of running an image of their cloud software locally, on a virtual appliance. By designing their software to run on a virtualization platform such as VMware vSphere, these vendors avoid some of the complexities of supporting different operating systems and server hardware.

  • Open source software, such as Drupal, Liferay, or eXo Platform: Highly customizable and available to download and try for free on your own equipment. Businesses who make serious investments in using these platforms typically find it wise to purchase a support contract from a company that backs the software.

Hosting your own social collaboration network is arguably more work, given that social collaboration software and the cloud tend to be a good match. However, if self hosting is a better match for your requirements and you are willing to do the work, it is a fine option. For organizations that rank security and control paramount, it is the only acceptable option.

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