When it comes to selecting a new emergency alert and notification system, there are numerous factors to consider. However, the most fundamental decision to make is whether you want your system to be presence-based (often referred to as on-premise) or cloud-based.
The distinction between the two is simple. Presence-based simply means that your system is stored and implemented onsite via your own internal network. Cloud-based solutions deliver your system via the internet and host your data in the cloud.
At first glance, this may not seem too important. Emergency managers require the best possible system for their own particular needs and the location of that system shouldn’t matter. As long as that system is cost-effective, reliable, controllable, secure and customizable, every other consideration is moot.
However, the physical location of your system can have a huge influence on your emergency management plan. In this guide, we want to show key differences between the two as they pertain to emergency management.
With regard to cost, it can seem at first like cloud-based solutions have the upper hand. While presence-based systems will traditionally involve a significant upfront license fee, cloud-based solutions will usually operate on a subscription model. This can make the initial installation much cheaper and therefore more attractive. Data storage and maintenance costs also tend to be noticeably lower in the cloud.
However, this doesn’t take Total Cost of Ownership, or TCO, into account. While the year one savings may well be large, these subscription fees can quickly add up. In fact, the TCO of cloud-based systems tends to converge with that of presence-based systems over time. Long-term TCO notwithstanding though, cloud systems do have a definite short-to-medium-term cost advantage over their presence-based counterparts.
This may not seem relevant in the presence versus cloud debate but irrespective of the service provider, any cloud-based system is only as good as your internet connection.
Emergency managers are only too aware of the various issues that can arise during a crisis and oftentimes, internet connection can be vulnerable to disruption. If your system is entirely cloud-based, you may not be able to deliver emergency alerts to everyone who needs them. With a presence-based system, you’re not dependent on the internet for communication since everything runs on your own internal network. Good presence-based solutions also feature dual servers with automatic failover. This means that if one server or network goes offline, the system will still function.
Whether you do pick a presence-based or cloud-based system, it’s always advisable to know exactly what to do in the event of a technology issue and an IT disaster recovery plan is the best way to do this.
Another major advantage of presence-based systems is in the control they provide you. In any form of mass notification scenario, initiating emergency alerts from your own system can save valuable time. If you route notifications through the cloud, sending the commands through a third-party can result in crucial delays that may undermine your emergency management plan.
This comparative lack of control may also lead to problems with other facility operations. For example, many emergency alert and notification systems are programmed to open or close shelter doors in an active shooter scenario or shut off the HVAC to prevent exacerbating a spill or leak. The extra step of communicating with an off-site server to enact the required actions can be frustrating at best and catastrophic at worst.
A very common question among emergency managers concerns system security and how the different hosting solutions measure up. While cloud services have improved their security abilities immeasurably over the years, the simple fact that your system is hosted elsewhere may make it more vulnerable to hacking.
With a presence-based system, you always keep your data in-house and no third-party has access to your information. Of course, establishing and maintaining effective security protocols is essential for anyone considering a presence-based system. While this can be burdensome for smaller organizations, most emergency managers would prefer control of their own information rather than the back-and-forth element of the cloud.
That is not to say that there are no advantages of the cloud in this area. Cloud services have a clear edge when it came to data retention since crucial company information can be backed up in the cloud automatically. Plus, you can easily increase or decrease your cloud storage capacity as circumstances dictate. While backup services for presence-based systems are more readily available these days, maintaining and storing data is considerably more straightforward in the cloud.
This factor isn’t necessarily a pro or a con for either hosting type but depending on your organization’s particular circumstances, the ability to customize your system may be crucial. Whether you want to link multiple sites or various disparate sirens, many cloud-based solutions are “out-of-the-box” products with limits on their functionality.
With presence-based systems, the end-user can request unique customizations since during the installation phase. This is especially useful for an organization with multiple locations or for niche industries with very specific needs.
In conclusion, there is no right or wrong answer when choosing the best emergency alert and notification system. While there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, a certain amount of compromise may be required.
But maybe there’s a secret third option that offers the best of both worlds. And that option is…
…A Hybrid System
On the one hand, you want the cost, maintenance and data backup advantages of a cloud-based system. On the other hand, you desire the reliability, security and customization perks of a presence-based solution. A hybrid system offers you all of these advantages while removing most of the drawbacks on either side.
This hybrid option allows users to host their more sensitive processes locally while enabling them to utilize the scalability and cost-efficiency of the cloud. This approach is becoming increasingly popular and the interaction between these two formats can revolutionize any emergency management plan.
For those emergency managers who are focused on getting the most cost-effective, reliable, controllable, secure and customizable hybrid system available, CentrAlert’s Crisis-Driven Alert & Control (C-DAC) system can offer all of these features and much more.
In fact, Saudi Arabia’s Sadara Chemical Company needed precisely this type of system and CentrAlert’s engineers were able to design and install a new C-DAC system to fit their exact specifications.