Cloud-Based vs. Server-Based Veterinary Software

These days it seems like every veterinary hospital is rethinking its practice management software. But searching for new software can land you in a sea of choices. Overwhelmed, you may feel like the only way to pick is by hitting the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on Google.

If that sounds familiar, this article is for you.

There are endless considerations when it comes to choosing new software, but you’re busy—so let’s stay focused on the most common concerns we hear:

🌁 Access: Where can my colleagues and I access our patient data?

💲 Cost: Can I avoid breaking the bank?

🔐 Security: Is my data safe?

📀 Backup: What happens when things go wrong?

🎛️ Control: Who owns my data?

Usually, the question comes down to what the techy nerds call cloud software vs. self-managed software (which you probably know as “server-based” or “on-premise”).

Cloud software is fully managed by the company supplying it—you may have heard it called “on-demand software.” That usually means you pay a subscription and log in, and everything else is handled by the software company.

In contrast, server-based software is managed by the customer—you! That means the installation, hardware, management, security, backups, speed, and reliability of your software are up to you.

So now that you understand the difference, here’s how they stack up.

Access 🌁

Winner: Cloud

As we write this during a global pandemic, accessing your critical software from outside of the clinic has likely never seemed more important. Cloud software gives your team the best access to patient information without the need for an entire IT security team in-house—because nobody wants to be in the news for releasing customer data onto the internet.

What does that mean for you?

In this day and age, you and your team are striving for work–life balance more than ever.

With cloud-based software, you can securely access patient information anywhere an internet connection is available—think home, the soccer game, even on the moon! 🌚

With server-based software, to get you access from home, your IT staff would have to create workarounds to allow access, install complicated tools on personal computers, and continually ensure only the right people are able to view patient information.

Cost 💲

Winner: Cloud

Cloud-based software offers you a simple pay-as-you-go solution. With cloud subscriptions, you spread risk across years, rather than facing a large up-front cost and the risk for large and unexpected upgrade costs down the road (ever had a server die?).  

Let’s break that down.

If you choose server-based software, there are typically large up-front hardware and installation costs, as well as hardware and software upgrades necessary to maintain a stable solution. These upgrades mean you are likely to periodically receive enormous, unexpected bills—and not paying them results in the inability to use the software. 😱

On the other hand, good cloud solutions offer simple and predictable subscription-based fees. These can be structured a few different ways but in short, they remove unexpected expenditures and the need to hire entire in-house IT teams.

Smart hospitals still maintain a contracted or in-house IT expert to help, but when evaluated over the long-term, the two costs don’t even compare.

Security 🔐

Winner: Cloud

It’s no secret that veterinary teams are tremendously knowledgeable. But keeping up with the latest medical information for your patients is hard enough. Do you really want to be responsible for keeping up with the latest trends in cyber security too?

On the other hand, we love nerding out on new trends in data security and continually updating our software to keep our customer’s data safe. And good thing, too—it’s our job!

You don’t have to be an IT expert.

Cyber security is complicated, ever-evolving, and carries a lot of risk. The last thing you want is to lose client information to hackers who want to steal their identity.

Good cloud software providers should be experts that keep up with all the latest trends and keep your clients safe—so you can focus on your patients.

Backup (and Recovery) 📀

Winner: Cloud

When a digital disaster strikes, what do you do to keep your business going? In the world of software, this falls under the topic of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR). You do this for other parts of your business—mainly through insurance.

Here’s what data backups really mean.

BCDR is a complex topic, so we’ll just focus on data backup and recovery.  

Backing up data seems fairly straightforward: just make a copy (eg, nightly backup of your servers or databases).

In reality, though, this is fairly complicated. Making a copy seems like a great idea, but what happens when the copy has bad data because of a virus? Or no data at all because an employee who was about to quit deleted everything? (This doesn’t happen often, but we’ve seen it.)

With server-based software you—or your IT staff—will need to spend a lot of time managing your backups (multiple types at varying frequency), verifying the data is usable, and testing the recovery process.

With cloud-based software, on the other hand, all of this is handled for you by a team of people who focus on these tasks and build—reliable and reproducible—automation around them to ensure you can continue treating your patients with minimal disruption in the event of a digital disaster.

Again, you can try to be an IT expert or hire a team to do it, but at the end of the day, do you want to manage your practice’s technology or help your patients?

Control 🎛️

Winner: Tie

There’s no clear winner here. Both server-based and cloud-based software can offer control over access to your data—because an intern should not be able to modify sensitive hospital data on their first day.

Let’s break this one down, too.

Some people feel that if they can see the server in their office, it—and the data inside—is protected from the world. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

You can certainly spend hours learning the best practices for document access control and backup systems and read through technical manuals to learn how to configure them, but it’s likely you’ll decide you need to hire an expert.

Alternatively, you can trust details like security and control to teams of nerds who obsess over keeping your data safe and sound from peering eyes. 👀

Plus, great cloud software companies believe you own your data, and will typically offer a way for you to download that data if you ever choose to cancel your service and try another solution.

“Choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” —Aristotle

Perhaps now you’re no longer thinking your only option when choosing software is “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Instead, maybe you’re leaning toward “Choose Your Own Destiny.”

In today’s software landscape, cloud software is the future. Embrace it, find a partner you can trust, and it will serve you well.

With the time you save, maybe you could squeeze in that well-deserved vacation (or staycation, these days). 🏝

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