What is cloud-based digital signage software, and how does it differ from the alternatives? If you’re wondering this, you’re not alone – it’s one of the most common questions CrownTV customers ask us.
Firstly, the mysterious “cloud” is everywhere. Chances are you encounter it daily through social media, mobile banking, online shopping and popular file-sharing services like Google Drive and Dropbox. A majority of Americans, however, don’t know what the cloud is and that they’re using it regularly.
In a survey conducted by Wakefield Research for Citrix with over 1,000 participants, only 16% could properly define “the cloud”. 29% incorrectly defined it using a weather-related term. 51% – including a majority of tech-savvy millennials – thought stormy weather can interfere with the cloud (it can’t). And of the 54% of respondents who claimed they don’t use the cloud, 95% of them actually do.
“The cloud” or cloud computing utilizes a network of servers that host data and deliver services. An example of using the cloud for hosting data would be backing up the content on your iPhone to iCloud, or uploading files to Dropbox. The service delivery function of the cloud often consists of subscription-based software programs that are accessed online, otherwise known as Software-as-a-Service or SaaS.
Most modern digital signage solutions include cloud-based digital signage software. But before purchasing a cloud-based solution – like the one CrownTV offers – you may want to know:
- what it is and how it works
- how it differs from the alternatives
- its advantages and whether they fit your needs
Here’s a rundown of each of these points.
What is cloud-based digital signage software, and how does it work?
Cloud-based digital signage software, also called web-based digital signage software or digital signage SaaS, is a form of software used to deliver content to digital displays.
Cloud-based digital signage software delivers content to your displays via the internet, either over WiFi or through an ethernet cord. Your content is hosted on an external server maintained by your digital signage software provider.
Usually with cloud-based software, using a web browser or app on an internet-connected device (e.g. computer, tablet or smartphone), you log into a dashboard/interface/content management system (CMS) to manage your digital signage content. Through your dashboard you can control any of your displays in real-time, no matter where they’re located or where you’re located – as long as you’re connected to the internet.
Compare this method to saving content from your computer onto a USB stick and plugging it into a TV, and you should understand the difference: one method requires an internet connection and the other doesn’t. One method allows you to manage content remotely and in real-time, while the other doesn’t.
The exact mechanism behind cloud-based digital signage software can vary by provider, but the servers involved are always external (located off your premises and maintained by your provider). What we’ve explained in this section is the gist of it, but if you’re curious, ask your digital signage software provider to explain their mechanism in more detail.
How does cloud-based digital signage software differ from the alternatives?
Hopefully you now have a general understanding of the cloud-based model, but what other options are out there?
One alternative is what’s called on-premise digital signage, which may be referred to as a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) solution. With this method, your company houses and maintains the servers that deliver content to your displays. Content is delivered only when connected to an internal network, with all necessary servers being located on your premises – hence the term on-premise. The software that accompanies an on-premise solution may be third-party or built in-house.
Other alternatives/DIY solutions are using a USB stick or a digital media player like Chromecast, Roku or Apple TV. To avoid information overload, in this article we’ll stick to comparing cloud-based and on-premise digital signage.
The main difference between cloud-based and on-premise solutions is the latter is a primarily internal solution while the former is a more external solution. There are more differences but they’re best explained in terms of advantages and disadvantages, which we’ve done for you in the next section.
What are the advantages of cloud-based digital signage software?
CrownTV offers cloud-based digital signage software because we believe it is the most easy-to-use, effective, versatile solution. It has numerous advantages over an on-premise solution, which we’ve broken down below.
Setting up a cloud-based solution involves just a few plugs and clicks, with no technical knowledge or IT specialists required. It usually involves plugging a digital signage player device into a digital display (computer monitor, TV screen, etc.), following on-screen instructions to connect the device to the internet, then logging into your dashboard to begin managing your content. The process is similar to setting up a Chromecast, Roku or Apple TV. Setting up CrownTV’s solution is even simpler, as the digital signage player arrives with your business’ WiFi information already programmed in. It’s a true “plug-and-play” device.
Getting started with an on-premise solution calls for more technical expertise and equipment (i.e. servers). You’ll need to set up the servers and make sure everything is connected via an internal network, all of which usually requires IT labor. It’s also more time-consuming than setting up cloud-based digital signage software, which is easily up and running within a day.
Hosting servers for an on-premise solution doesn’t end with setting them up. They require heavy maintenance, often by a full-time IT department. Special facilities and equipment are required to house them, keep them cool, and physically and digitally secure them. If they break or go down, you’re responsible for getting them back up and running. You’ll also need to conduct software updates manually.
Maintaining cloud-based digital signage is a no-brainer, with automatic software updates, energy-efficient players and no need to babysit servers. If something goes wrong, you have technical support at your disposal. Not having to host the servers yourself makes all the difference.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of cloud-based digital signage software over on-premise is being able to access and manage your content remotely. You can be in your home, office, or traveling for a business trip and still manage your content on any display, just as long as you can log into your dashboard from an internet-connected device.
If you’re a business with multiple displays in multiple locations, this advantage is crucial to making your digital signage easy-to-manage and effective. It gives you the power to control and target your messaging instantly, when and where it’s needed. You have the freedom to change up your content whenever and as often as you’d like, allowing you to try out different strategies and adapt to the situation as needed.
With on-premise digital signage, for the most part you need to be where your servers and displays are. There are ways around it, but it won’t be as simple and flexible as what cloud-based digital signage allows.
With the heftier setup and maintenance required for on-premise digital signage comes higher costs. We won’t go into the numbers in detail, but it’s safe to say that servers and IT labor don’t come for free.
In particular, cloud-based and on-premise digital signage differ the most in upfront costs. When setting up the latter solution, you’ll need to:
- buy servers and all associated equipment (fans, racks, etc.),
- pay whoever is setting up your servers for you, and
- purchase the software you’ll be using to manage your content (a one-time, upfront fee).
Cloud-based digital signage, on the other hand, is paid for on a monthly or annual subscription basis, so your upfront costs are much less.
On-premise digital signage doesn’t require monthly subscription or licensing fees, but the costs of electricity, storage space, security considerations, and IT staff must be taken into consideration. Software updates also must be purchased and performed manually, while updates to cloud-based software are free and automatic.
In summary, cloud-based digital signage software is easier and less expensive to set up, easier to maintain, and has more remote management capabilities. If these are things you’re looking for in a solution, cloud-based is the way to go.
It should now be clear why cloud-based digital signage software is more popular and the only type of solution we offer here at CrownTV. Our clients wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would we. “The cloud” may be the tech buzzword du jour, but it’s nothing to be puzzled or intimidated by. It’s something that does what technology should do, which is make our lives easier.