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The Case for Cerb5 On-Demand

Once you've decided to evaluate or deploy Cerb5 you're faced with a choice: On-Site or On-Demand.

Here's a quick recap of the difference between the two:

  • On-Site: The helpdesk runs on your hardware and network. You're responsible for the server administration and you can install the helpdesk on any domain you control (e.g. “helpdesk.mycompany.com”).
  • On-Demand: The helpdesk runs on our network. We manage the server and you have full control of the software at a personalized URL (e.g. “mycompany.cerb5.com”).

The On-Demand model is often referred to as “software as a service” because it lets you start taking advantage of software immediately, without concern for hardware or software requirements, installation, server administration tasks, or a large upfront investment of time or money. This means you can subscribe monthly to the benefits provided by various applications without having to consider if their technology conforms to the same choices your organization has already made. You can choose the best tool for the job at hand – not the best tool that also happens to be written in PHP, .NET, Java, Python, Perl, or Ruby.

Most evaluators that we talk to only consider the On-Site license by default because it's perceived as being cheaper when they simply compare the price tag. However, this ignores the total cost of deploying software.

When you run software on your own server you're responsible for:

  • Installation, Requirements, & Dependencies
  • Security
  • Hardware Failures
  • Troubleshooting
  • Software & Hardware Upgrades
  • Maintenance
  • Performance Tuning
  • Monitoring (even at 2AM on a Saturday!)
  • Backups & Recovery

Value: The Application

With all the services provided with an On-Demand account it's easy to forget that the monthly cost also includes the software license. There are no setup fees or minimum commitments. For a fixed monthly cost you can have an unlimited number of workers handle an unlimited number of tickets for an unlimited number of customers. You'll always have access to the latest stable version.

Value: Redundancy

C4 ondemand redundancy.png

Another benefit of On-Demand is that we maintain a network of servers that are occupied at less than half of their capacity when assuming every helpdesk is fully-utilized. This means there is plenty of growing room on each server; but it also means that in the event of any hardware trouble we can quickly redistribute the affected helpdesks to other live servers which always have standby capacity. When we bring new servers online we're often moving the largest helpdesks to the newest hardware which both speeds them up and prevents them from monopolizing resources on busier servers.

If you're considering running your helpdesk on your own dedicated server then you should consider the value of having several standby machines when evaluating the cost of On-Demand. What happens if a hard drive fails on your server at noon on a Monday?

It's also worth considering that your clients will want to contact you when there's trouble with your server, network, or website. A major advantage of Cerb5 On-Demand is that it's independent of your existing infrastructure -- especially if you have a backup mail server (a lower priority MX record in your DNS). Your On-Demand helpdesk can handle your primary and secondary mail.

If you're considering running your helpdesk in an existing shared hosting account then you should make sure your host isn't overpopulating your server. Commodity web hosting accounts are often so inexpensive because hosts assume most accounts won't fully utilize their resources and they sell the same peak resources to multiple accounts.

You should also ask your host what happens if your server has a critical hardware problem -- is it your responsibility to reload your files and database? If so, consider that the On-Demand service spares you from this responsibility. We'll make sure your helpdesk is always running on stable hardware with plenty of available resources.

Value: How We Protect Your Data

C4 ondemand backups.png

When we propose On-Demand to new evaluators, often as a solution to some installation or server environment headache they're experiencing, their next knee-jerk objection after price is data security. More specifically they'll say something like, "We want to host it ourselves so we know we won't lose data". We're completely sympathetic that data loss can be catastrophic, we're an information company after all; however, when we ask those same people what they do to protect their data they surprisingly often don't know. They simply assume that data closer to their side of the network cable is safer.

With On-Demand we maintain multiple copies of your data:

  • First, your live data is mirrored in a RAID (multiple hard drives operating as one to protect against hardware failure).
  • Nightly, we copy your live data to a separate local hard disk that's dedicated to backups (to protect against RAID corruption; and to protect against non-hardware-related data loss, such as accidental deletion in the helpdesk interface).
  • Twice a week (Wednesday and Sunday), we copy all of your data off-site into Amazon's secure and redundant S3 storage service (to protect against server, data center, or network failure).
  • Additionally, we don't just maintain the latest off-site copy of your data. We store multiple chronological backups for at least the past month; often longer (to protect against sneaky corruption or data loss that made it into the latest off-site backup before it was noticed).

All these backups should help you sleep soundly at night.

We'll also gladly give you access to your latest backup upon request so you can keep a local copy of your own data, just as if you were hosting your helpdesk On-Site.

We host our own corporate helpdesk on the same On-Demand infrastructure. We can't realistically promise you that there will never be an issue, but we can promise you that if an issue comes up we'll treat your data with the same care and sensitivity that we treat our own. Our ticket history stretches back to the very first working copies of Cerberus Helpdesk 1.0 over 7.5 years ago -- we plan to keep it that way.

Value: Performance

By running hundreds of identical helpdesks on the On-Demand network we're able to constantly identify and alleviate bottlenecks in both our infrastructure and our software. Users of our On-Demand services are often the first to benefit from these performance improvements.

Our On-Demand servers support advanced performance options for busy helpdesks, such as XCache and memcached. Shared hosting accounts from other providers may not have access to enable these features and many hosts will refuse to modify their configurations. Without these options your server will likely run less efficiently as your helpdesk traffic grows.

Total Cost

With an On-Site license you'll also be taking on server costs, labor costs, and product support/update costs. Let's do some basic math to look at the total cost when you consider the value of offloading your server management and troubleshooting headaches.

Labor Costs

With an On-Site license you'll probably spend at least 2 hours per month running backups, monitoring, upgrading, and performing other maintenance -- and if you aren't, you're probably neglecting something. That's about 4 minutes per day; which is quite conservative.

For the sake of argument, we'll assume the time of the person managing your On-Site installation is worth a modest $25/hr -- and your time is likely worth more; a fact which only makes On-Demand more compelling. At 4 minutes per day that maintenance work adds $1.67 per day ($600 per year) to your total costs. The same would be true for most on-site software that performs a role as important as Cerb5. We'll also liberally ignore the cost (software/services) for additional responsibilities like server monitoring, storage of backups, web hosting costs, bandwidth, etc. The $600/yr labor cost for running your own server is probably too low in almost every case. Some of those extra server costs are reduced if your server isn't exclusively dedicated to your helpdesk. However, many people project their On-Site costs based on their "shared hosting" costs (like $10/mo) which won't include any managed services like backups.

On-Site vs. On-Demand

Choice License+Labor Monthly Daily Employee@$25/hr
On-Site (5 seats) $500+$600 $91.67 $3.01 7.2 mins/day
On-Site (25 seats) $2500+$600 $258.33 $8.49 20.4 mins/day
On-Demand (5 seats) $600+$0 $50 $1.64 3.9 mins/day
On-Demand (25 seats) $3000+$0 $250 $8.22 19.7 mins/day

For 5 seats, the On-Demand total cost is already about half of On-Site. Keep in mind that we're also not including any of the extra costs associated with running your software On-Site (e.g. infrastructure), and the total cost for On-Site is likely to be higher.

We could compute the labor cost over an 8 hour work day or 5 day work week, but anyone who has done server management knows server issues have no concept of night, weekend, or holiday. Things always seem to break at the most inopportune time. We're certainly working for our On-Demand customers around the clock.

If you employ a full-time staff to manage your servers, then you're probably paying for the infrastructure and labor costs of running servers regardless of whether you install Cerb5 or not. That is one of the few situations where running software On-Site makes practical sense. Otherwise, what's it worth to not be woken up at 3am with a hardware issue or attack on your server? ;)

Our Not-so-Secret: Economy of Scale

We can take over your server management duties for pennies per hour due to economy of scale. While you're likely running and managing a single copy of the software, we're running hundreds of copies across our network. Our On-Demand network is dedicated to helpdesks, and consequently when we perform backups or upgrades it's for hundreds of organizations at once -- lowering our cost per helpdesk. Our server environments are designed to be interchangeable so that helpdesks are portable across our network in a matter of minutes for growing room or to route around any problems.

On-Demand Rates