Cloud LMS vs. On-premise LMS — Which One Works Best For You

In a world where useful knowledge is put out every day and professionals even spend personal time and money to grow their careers, a reliable LMS is a must. And it pays off: structured learning resources that can be accessed anywhere will equip professionals with the skills they need to succeed at a lower cost.

Everything looks good so far, but as soon as the decision to implement an LMS is made, another question follows: “How are we going to deploy it?” An LMS can either be hosted on the cloud (and here we mean private cloud) or on a business’s own servers. Deciding on the hosting method matters because it will cost you money and affect the way your LMS serves your needs.

There is no blanket answer to this question because different businesses have different goals in mind when they want to develop a custom LMS solution. Looking at successful cases can provide insightful inspiration, but they are not enough for a final decision. You don’t want to follow anyone else’s steps to end up with an expensive system full of features you don’t need or a simpler one that fails to meet your expectations — which amounts to wasted money anyway.

The wisest answer would sound a bit frustrating if it came in isolation: “It depends on your e-learning needs.” That’s why understanding our own needs and how certain features can help is fundamental. So here is how different features work in each deployment method:


Installing an LMS means attaching it to a certain device, something that cloud-based systems don’t require. That makes the idea of an on-cloud LMS more appealing if learning on the go, such as mobile learning, is on the table.

Learning platforms that are created with flexibility in mind are recommendable because they give learners freedom to study anywhere they have an internet connection. If a business plans on having mobile learning solutions for smartphones as well, deploying their system on the cloud makes the experience even smoother for the learner.

In this case, as long as an employee has a mobile device — they can learn. Their own phone and a decent 4G data package are all it takes for them to engage with the course while commuting, for example.


Because of their very nature, on-premise software solutions require infrastructure to be in house. Servers will be physically there. That means your IT staff will be able to keep an eye on the system to repair and adjust it as needed. The catch is they are going to have to do so because all maintenance will be up to them, which might leave them with their hands full.

Hosting an LMS on a private cloud means renting a dedicated physical server from a vendor who will make sure everything works smoothly without your having to worry about hardware. One of the reasons companies may opt for a cloud-based solution is because they lack sufficient IT expertise or want to keep their IT staff small. After all, whatever issues arise, the vendor will immediately fix them.

Costs (and hidden costs)

Choosing to install the LMS on premise will involve a steeper upfront expense. Businesses may have to invest in new infrastructure after all. But whatever spending is needed at this stage will not be repeated.

Deploying your software on a private cloud, on the other hand, won’t put a dent on your budget the same way on-premise will. The cost will keep returning instead. A cloud-based LMS involves the hosting fee that, while smaller than on-premise hardware spending, will become part of your operation costs.

So, in the end, the scenario here isn’t very different from a couple considering “Should we buy an apartment or rent one?” Well, just like the buy-or-rent dilemma, it’s all about determining what you can afford now and how it will serve you in the long run.

Before you go to the next topic, however, one thing needs to be clear: both options have their hidden costs.

On-site systems slowly grow outdated as the time passes, and the antidote is the necessary migration after, say, a few years. As far away as that might sound (really, that’s similar to buying a car thinking about selling it), it cannot be avoided.

Migrating from a legacy system to a new one can cost businesses a hefty sum depending on how obsolete their server has become. On-cloud systems entail no such problem because their servers are being migrated by the hosting service without the business having to worry. That’s already covered in the monthly subscription fee. Moreover, new features released can be added one by one.

But depending on cloud-based systems, especially when many learners use it, demands robust bandwidth. Slow or failing internet connection is the bane of cloud users; besides being disruptive to the learning process, they count as downtime. Installed software, on the other hand, ignores that. Is it raining so much the internet is out? Fine, keep on learning.


Simply put: customizing and branding your system is feasible regardless of your deployment method, but more easily done with a cloud-based LMS. The vendor will give a business full control over customization and features to be included — again, without needing a team to monitor it later.

On-cloud systems are the vendor’s responsibility, which means they will mind any issues that might arise. In fact, when the time comes that the system needs to accommodate new users, the business can change its plan and scale more easily.

What’s the best option for me?

Shall we go beyond the “it all depends” answer? Granted, it all truly depends on your needs, but some practical suggestions are possible.

An on-premise LMS might be the best choice for you if you want:

  • Absolute control over your system and data — no one else handles your LMS.
  • An extra layer of security — clouds are secure, but businesses that deal with highly sensitive information that must never leak might want to keep it all inside their own walls.
  • Self-maintenance — if you can afford a qualified IT team ready for work, maintenance and will be quicker.
  • Independence from the internet — unreliable internet connection will no longer be a problem.

A cloud-based LMS might be the best choice if you want:

  • Quicker deployment — not all businesses can afford to wait for their system to be ready, and a private cloud solution will be usable sooner than an installed one would.
  • More flexibility for the learner — being on the internet means any laptop computer with access to the internet can connect to it. Learning on tablets and smartphones can be added for maximum accessibility.
  • An LMS that’s ready for the future — the disproportionate majority of LMSs are now cloud-based — much software is too. Scaling is easier as well.
  • Fewer expenses and worries — leaving maintenance and operation details to other professionals decreases spending with IT resources. Your existing IT staff (which can be small) will have less to worry about.
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Elena Bondarik is a Technology Observer at Iflexion. Elena specializes in writing about technology and business innovation. Frequent areas of coverage include Healthcare, Elearning, Big Data, and emerging cultural/social issues affecting business.

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