Which is better? Installing Koha on a cloud or local server?

So, you’ve decided that Koha library system is the best software for your library. The next question is “what’s the best way to implement it?”. There are two ways to setup Koha, either locally on a server/computer that is physically located somewhere at your premises, or on a cloud-based server using a hosting service like Koha Support. There are pros and cons to both approaches, and in this article, we will compare the main differences between the two.

Which is better? Installing Koha on a cloud or local server?

So, you’ve decided that Koha library system is the best software for your library. The next question is “what’s the best way to implement it?”. There are two ways to setup Koha, either locally on a server/computer that is physically located somewhere at your premises, or on a cloud-based server using a hosting service like Koha Support. There are pros and cons to both approaches, and in this article, we will compare the main differences between the two.

Local, Onsite Installation

Pros

1. Ongoing costs

If you are not on a budget and buy a high-end dedicated server, it will probably last you a decent length of time without needing to upgrade the hardware.

 

2. Fast networking

Cloud-based installations require a fast and reliable internet connection which means you need to have a really good ISP with broadband speeds. With a local installation, you only need to worry about stacking your local area network with top-of-the-line routers and wireless access points.

Cons

 

1. High setup costs.

With a local installation, you will need to purchase or acquire new, dedicated (ideally) server hardware that can bear the processing requirements of Koha and the underlying Linux operating system. This is even more crucial if you have a busy library. For example, the Midhudson Library System in New York estimated they would need to spend $150,000 on server hardware alone every 5 years if they were to host their library software locally. That’s a lot of money. Add on the likelihood that you will need to upgrade your LAN and find space for your new servers, you may well have a major problem on your hands.

2. Costs accumulate over time.

One of the main attractions of a local installation is that its costs seem to be once-off and predictable. But this is not necessarily the case. Your costs will accumulate over time. Hardware will eventually need to be replaced or upgraded. Servers tend to fail at some point -especially low-end servers – so you need to be prepared to buy replacement RAM sticks, fans, power supply units and hard drives. A physical server is also vulnerable to theft, fire, liquid or physical damage (there’s no shortage of clumsy people!). So you should probably have some insurance in place if you decide to go this route.

3. Staff costs.

A dedicated server isn’t all you need to run a local Koha installation. You also need competent IT staff who know how to install, maintain and upgrade/update both the hardware and Koha software, including the base Linux OS. They don’t come cheap – expect to shell out around $110,000 per year for your own pair of inhouse geeks.

4. Low reliability.

Unless your library is in a 1st world country, you will have to contend with power outages and internet cuts, plus the guaranteed hardware failure.  This means your library may experience long periods of downtime while you are trying to get things up and running again.

5. Loss of data.

If your server packs up (or is packed up by someone – i.e. stolen) you will need to buy, reinstall your base operating system and Koha software. Even if you have backups in place, you are still looking at days or even months of downtime depending on how quickly you can procure a replacement.

6. No remote/offsite access.

One of the key functions of a good library is to be able to provide access to your library resources (via the online public access catalog, OPAC) to your patrons. With a local Koha installation, both you and your patrons will only be able to use the library system when they are physically on the premises and connected to the same LAN as your server. This will hamper your patrons learning experience, as well as hamstring you and your IT guys from being able to manage the library and fix problems remotely.

7. Locked-in syndrome.

I once spoke with an IT admin at a library who told me they wanted to migrate to a cloud-based Koha system but couldn’t. Why? Because they had purchased expensive servers a few years earlier when they first installed Koha. It didn’t work out because of running costs and high levels of downtime but they were stuck with the local setup because they still had 3 or so years until their hardware end-of-life (EOL). In short, they were locked-in and couldn’t make the switch because it they had already spent so much money. 

Cloud-based Installation

Pros

1. Low-to-no setup costs.

Unlike a onsite installation, you don’t need to purchase new hardware. Your Koha software will be installed on a cloud-based server provided by a hosting company like Koha Support. Your service provider will take care of installation and you don’t need to pay for any additional costs other than the monthly or yearly hosting. Koha is a web-based library management system so this means you can access it using any of your existing computers, tablets or even phones.

2. No IT staff costs

Choosing to use a Koha hosting service means that you save on the cost of hiring additional IT staff since your service provider will take care of all your maintenance, troubleshooting, updates and upgrades. 

3. Highly reliable.

Cloud service providers typically have system image backups and multiple geo-redundant backups – if one server goes offline, you likely will never notice because another will simply take over. They also use high-end hardware that is not available or affordable to most people which means there is less likelihood of catastrophic events such as the hard drive crashing. You are guaranteed the peace of mind knowing that your Koha library system will always be available whenever you need it. 

4. Accessible.

Unlike a local installation, you can access a cloud-based Koha system from anywhere using any device (phone, tablet or computer) with a web browser and internet connection. The recent Covid pandemic has shown just how critical it is for your library to be online and readily accessible. Coupled with resources like e-books, e-journals and online help desks, your library will be available to your staff and patrons 24/7/365 even when its doors are closed.  

5. Rapid resolution of tech issues.

Whenever you encounter techincal problems, your Koha hosting service provider will be able to troubleshoot and resolve problems remotely. Unlike a local installation which requires a technician to be onsite to resolve any problems or do routine tasks such as upgrades, a Koha cloud service provider will minimize downtime by providing immediate support and scheduling regular maintenance during “graveyard” hours when the library is not in use.

 

Cons

 

1. Ongoing costs

You will have to pay monthly or yearly hosting fees to your Koha cloud-hosting service provider. However, this is more cost-effective in the long-run when you factor in the staff, hardware and maintenance costs associated with a local installation.

2. Security.

Because your system will be accessible via the internet, it makes it more susceptible to hacking and data leaks/loss. These risks can be mitigated by your Koha service provider if they use industry standard security measures such as firewalls, port security, ssh tunneling, VPNs and SSL certicates. 

3. Internet access.

You will need to have a fast, reliable internet service provider (ISP) if your Koha system is cloud-based. In my experience, when clients encounter issues with slow server access, their internet service is usually the bottleneck. However, you can lessen the impact of a slow internet connection by using Koha’s offline tools that will help you carry on with your core activities until you can access your server again.

The Verdict

Despite the issues with recurring subscription costs, security and reliance on fast internet, hosting your Koha library management system on a cloud-based server is the clear winner in this face-off. It’s cheaper in the long run since it has low-to-no hardware and staff costs. By outsourcing your Koha IT needs to a professional hosting service, you free yourself up to focus on more important activities like providing the best possible service to your patrons. 

If your library or institution is considering getting Koha library system and they are not convinced about doing it through a cloud-hosting provider, then share this article with them! And while you’re at it, why not get a quote to see how much it will cost you to host Koha in the cloud? Koha Support provides hassle-free Koha installation and cloud hosting as well as training, data migration, customization and technical support. Check out our packages and get a quick quote today. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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