Author: Simon Barnes 

Not too long ago, we all purchased applications for our respective organisations and then immediately requested servers to be built to house the database, front-end application, and various other components. Some were nice and compact, using a single platform; whilst others needed multiple servers to function. 

Nowadays, we are all comfortable with a subscription-based model; be it Spotify, Office 365 or cloud-based applications such as Dynamics 365, Xero and Business Central. Many organisations are now preferring and choosing to move to a SaaS (Software as a Service) based model. This article will shed more light on the various options that exist in the current day. Simply put, there isn’t a one size fits all approach; however, with careful planning and analysis – the right solution can easily be found. 

Common application topology 

Many applications utilise at least two tiers; the primary being a database where data is stored, with an application layer that performs the heavy lifting of translating the data into the relevant format, screens, reports and dashboards that we are all so used to viewing.  

There can often be even more to this, from data warehouses through to specific integrations that may be required. 

Do Server based applications still exist? 

Absolutely. There are still many applications that organisations wish to run either on-premise, in a cloud platform within a single tenant (e.g., Azure) or elsewhere; with the components fully dedicated solely to this customer.  

Application vendors, however, are generally moving away from this type of model, instead favouring centralised systems that they maintain, control, upgrade and protect. This has various benefits that are discussed in the next section, however; there are always going to be components that are shared at some level. 


Software as a Service (SaaS) has become a common method for acquiring applications for organisations. Typically, a set-up fee followed by a simple monthly recurring model, such as per user pricing, is used to provide a predictable spend. As part of a SaaS based offering, the vendor will typically maintain items such as the version of the platform (introducing new features as they become available), data security and availability of systems. 

SaaS applications may offer less functionality in places when compared to private server-based installations. For example, it is not uncommon that SaaS based applications may restrict the reporting that is available; either in terms of data retention or fields available. 

Servers vs SaaS – The middle ground 

Alternatively, applications can be hosted in public cloud platforms that offer elements of applications “as a service”. For example, if an application requires a Microsoft SQL database, this can be hosted, optimised, backed up and updated by Microsoft; with the front-end application server being directed to utilise Azure services rather than requiring a dedicated installation to be performed. 


When embarking on a project to add or upgrade an application, organisations have several different options for how this is brought into an environment. Each method offers various merits and potential restrictions too; work with your IT partner or team to analyse which is best for you. 

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