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Implementing a digital signage solution can afford most organizations with a relatively simple way to distribute information across the organization, whether that’s across a room or across the globe. Digital signage technology is maturing at a rapid rate, making hardware and software better, faster, and more affordable than ever before.

This shift has led to a rapid uptick in adoption, but it also means users have more choice and more decisions than ever before. While those begin with hardware with choices like screen type, media player, and operating system, they extend to how you want to host your network.

Previously, setting up a digital signage network meant installing servers to store, transfer, and serve media to players and screens. Today, it can also mean simply renting space on a cloud network of servers, seamlessly moving all information to the cloud and to wherever it’s needed, instantly.

On-Site Hosting

On-site hosting is traditional in that, up until a few years ago, it was the only option. Here, you install physical servers on-site and physically link them via LAN. On-site hosting can connect across geographical areas through technologies including VPN, LAN, and simple Ethernet, depending on how private you need connections to be. They can also be completely isolated, maintaining only a single server on a single computer, or several servers on a single local area network.

Pros of On-Site Hosting

  • You maintain complete control of deployment and technologies including security
  • Ongoing costs tend to be minimal
  • You scale at your own rate
  • Unlimited number of screens depending on the software (e.g., solutions like PADS4 offer modular server technologies allowing you to add an unlimited number of screens to the network)
  • Everything is behind your firewall and completely protected
  • You have full control over software and solutions used, because you choose hardware that works with what you want

Cons of On-Site Hosting

  • You are responsible for updates, maintenance, and security
  • Your IT team has to manage servers
  • Outages are your responsibility
  • High upfront costs
  • Building networks can be costly and complex, especially across geographic locations
  • Maintaining those networks can be a full-time job

On-site hosting has a lot to offer, especially for organizations with strong existing IT departments, or which already need to significantly increase the size of an IT department to account for monitor, media player, and network management.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud digital signage solutions can come in a range of “types”, in that they offer everything from basic platform hosting to a “plug and play” solution complete with content managers and digital signage players in the cloud. Which your organization chooses is largely up to you, because it doesn’t greatly impact the pros and cons of choosing a cloud solution.

Cloud digital signage hosting means connecting digital signage players to Ethernet or WIFI and to the cloud, where they access data online.

Pros of Cloud Hosting

  • Managing screens across geographic spaces becomes significantly easier
  • Cloud hubs offer full, real-time central management
  • “Plug and play” solutions greatly increase speed of digital signage deployment
  • Installations don’t require a large upfront investment
  • Users are not responsible for network or server maintenance, or security
  • The cloud solution is likely fully secure and certified to standards you might need for compliance
  • Cloud solutions typically scale up effortlessly, but this is limited by your provider and their capabilities.

Cons of Cloud Hosting

  • Higher costs over time, with monthly billing costs
  • You have fewer technologies and solutions to choose from
  • Switching digital signage solutions may mean changing your cloud solution as well
  • Cloud risks and breaches over Internet are a risk
  • You are not in control of deployment
  • Displays need access to Ethernet or WiFi. Lack of network connection means lack of display data. Ethernet outages result in display outages.
  • Content is not behind your firewall

Most organizations like cloud hosting because it allows them to set up a digital signage network in as little as a few minutes and start sharing content to a screen.

Hybrid Solutions

Hybrid solutions allow organizations to bring their own servers into a (private) cloud, sharing hosting between physical in-house servers and the cloud. This can be advantageous in some cases but may not add anything over choosing one solution or another.

Pros of Hybrid Solutions

  • Data can be split, keeping sensitive information on local servers and behind firewalls
  • The organization retains more control over deployment, updates, and controls
  • Scalability is easy, because you can expand to the cloud or to a physical server without a statistically significant increase in cost
  • You benefit from cloud deployment with server stability

Cons of Hybrid Solutions

  • Higher upfront and ongoing costs
  • Some of the risks of cloud deployment still exist

Hybrid solutions are a good fit for a small portion of organizations, primarily those with specific security needs or those that need the stability of “backup” physical servers.

Choosing Digital Signage Hosting

Most organizations can easily step into a cloud solution and completely meet all their digital signage needs. Others benefit from physical servers.

You may prefer a cloud solution if:

  • You’re heavily invested in rapid deployment
  • You expect network needs to rapidly scale
  • Your internal IT isn’t ready to take on a digital signage network
  • Deployment and management across multiple branches is desired
  • Central management is needed to maintain updates

You may prefer an on-site solution if:

  • Ongoing costs are a concern
  • Data is highly sensitive and must be kept secure
  • Networking and Ethernet access is an issue
  • Support structures, including networks and IT teams already exist
  • The solution is very large and scaling internally will be cost-effective over a cloud solution

Hosting is just one tiny part of implementing digital signage, but it is an element that will greatly affect the end deployment. However, many of the factors and advantages of choosing cloud solutions will be accounted for by choosing a cloud digital signage platform, so it is important to review all software and hardware options before making a choice.