In today’s data-driven world, scientific laboratories are in a constant race to enhance their productivity while keeping up with ongoing changes in their laboratory data management needs. In order to face these challenges, organizations must determine the type of Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) that is most suitable for their lab and most closely oriented to the goals of their business.
When installing LIMS, one of the most crucial decisions to be made is how to host the system, as this dictates how the software is installed, managed, and maintained. Among the most prominent hosting options are on-premise LIMS, externally hosted LIMS, and software as a service (SaaS) LIMS (also known as cloud-based LIMS). Laboratories have traditionally utilized on-premise systems, purchasing LIMS software directly from a vendor and installing it onto internally owned and managed computers. In recent years, however, there has been a growing inclination to leave this traditional software model behind and transition to a web-based approach that allows users to access their LIMS software at any time and from any location in the world, provided that they have access to secure internet connection.
Despite the growing popularity of cloud-based LIMS across several industries, there is no universal approach to data management that will benefit all enterprises. As a result, many present-day laboratories struggle to determine the hosting solution that will best meet their business needs, not only for the present but also for the future. This decision involves numerous factors, including desired implementation speed, scalability, availability of financial and IT resources, data security, and the unique workflows of each individual lab, among others. Each laboratory must weigh its distinct business goals against its constraints in order to determine the hosting method that will provide the most business value.
In this blog, we will provide an overview of the different LIMS hosting solutions and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of applying each hosting method to laboratory operations.
How are On-Premise, Externally Hosted, and SaaS LIMS Installed and Managed?
On-premise systems are licensed from a vendor and hosted directly within the organization that purchased the system. Installing this architecture is a relatively involved process, as it calls for a skilled project team to configure and customize the software. The system is entirely managed by the company itself; this includes conducting continued maintenance on the database and servers, protecting the data’s security, and assuming full responsibility for restoring the system if a server failure happens to occur.
In contrast, externally hosted and SaaS LIMS are hosted outside the firewall of the organization. Unlike the on-premise hosting solution, in which the laboratory itself is entirely responsible for installing, managing, and upgrading the system as needed, the supplier has more control over the upkeep of the software. The supplier must provide sufficient support to the client for the setup process and maintaining the system after it is in place.
Despite the fact that externally hosted and SaaS LIMS both provide web-based access to the LIMS, they have significant distinctions between them that set them apart from each other and play a significant role in determining the solution that is best geared toward each laboratory. In the case of externally hosted LIMS, the system is purchased and functions in essentially the same way as an on-premise LIMS. The main exception is that it is hosted at a third-party data center, and the client accesses the LIMS through the internet. Similarly to on-premise systems, the client still owns the software. While the vendor provides support for managing the physical servers, the client retains the ability to customize and configure the LIMS.
SaaS LIMS, on the other hand, are owned by the vendor, meaning that the client is no longer tasked with the management and configuration of the application. Generally, one instance of software (i.e., multi-tenant architecture) provides service to several users at a time. The vendor handles issuing updated versions of the software at all times, as well as resolving any issues involving the failure of a server.
Pros and Cons of On-Premise LIMS
Because on-premise LIMS are hosted within the firewall of the company and the organization’s IT department is fully responsible for all components of the system, there can be more data security compared to the other hosting solutions. This is greatly beneficial for certain organizations, such as government agencies, that handle highly sensitive information and require complete control over their data. In addition, having full control over every aspect of the process allows for more customization of the LIMS to match the specific workflows of the company. On-premise LIMS typically offer higher functionality and superior performance as well.
On the other hand, on-premise LIMS demand significant IT resources. A skilled IT team is necessary for every phase of the installation process, administering the system, upgrading the software to correlate with the business’s changing needs, and the recovery of lost data. Furthermore, there are normally higher infrastructure and capital expenses. This can be attributed to various factors, including the greater need for IT labor and the bearing of all the costs of the systems required to operate the LIMS. In addition, on-premise software has a higher initial capital expense with fixed licensing and maintenance fees. Unlike SaaS LIMS, on-premise systems do not provide the flexibility to modify the cost of the license in accordance with the amount of software use.
Pros and Cons of Externally Hosted LIMS
Externally hosted LIMS, like on-premise LIMS, allow for higher-level functionality than SaaS LIMS. This LIMS architecture also has notable financial advantages, as the vendor hosts the software in their own data center and takes on the cost of the infrastructure for the LIMS, significantly reducing the capital investment of the customer. Furthermore, hosted LIMS do not require such extensive IT resources, due to higher levels of system monitoring provided by the external data center and greater capabilities for disaster recovery. Nevertheless, a skilled IT group is pertinent to the configuration and administration of the system.
Despite the numerous advantages to this web-based approach, there are other aspects to consider. Because the laboratory is no longer in full control of every stage of the management and administration of the system, the potential for a breach in data security may be higher than with an on-premise system. In addition, externally hosted LIMS makes the client dependent upon having a secure connection to the network, as this determines not only the ability to access the data but also the functionality of the system. A failure in the network connection could result in temporary loss of access to the software. Finally, integration of an externally hosted LIMS with other enterprise systems is dependent on the network architecture of the external data center where the software is hosted, potentially making integration more difficult.
Pros and Cons of SaaS LIMS
SaaS LIMS allows for a lower initial capital expense, as well as greater flexibility in ongoing expenses for the system. Because several users are supported with one instance of the application, the supplier is only required to install and configure one single instance of software. This allows the supplier to save money, which is passed on to the consumer, and, therefore, reduces the cost for the customer. While the other two hosting methods require the client to pay a fixed fee for the use of the software, the cloud-based hosting solution allows the customer to pay for only the amount of software they need.
On the con side, the monthly expenses for SaaS LIMS can eventually exceed the cost of on-premise LIMS, as the client does not receive indefinite access to the system with a permanent license as they would with an on-premise LIMS. In addition, because only one instance of software is used for various users, it is virtually impossible to customize the system to the needs of each individual organization. This issue leads to decreased functionality as well, as the client has little to no control over managing the system. Some vendors offer single tenant architecture for SaaS systems to address these issues, but single tenant architecture comes at a significantly increased cost.
SaaS LIMS provides greater scalability, a crucial characteristic for many organizations looking to enhance their business growth. The demands of each laboratory’s LIMS are constantly changing, and the rapid elasticity of the cloud permits the supplier to make adjustments at any moment in time to storage, memory, or other aspects of the software. As a result, the client does not need to take on large expenditure for growth.
With SaaS LIMS, all of the administrative support of the infrastructure is entirely in the hands of the supplier; as a result, this LIMS architecture requires the fewest IT resources of the three hosting solutions. As a quality SaaS LIMS will come with pre-built workflows, reports, and instrument integrations, it can be configured and deployed in a much more timely manner than the other hosting solutions. Once the system has been configured, it is simply a matter of using a web link provided by the vendor to begin utilizing the software.
SaaS LIMS can be accessed at any given time and from any location, greatly benefiting professionals that work remotely or wish to access the LIMS while traveling, as well as global organizations that have employees in various parts of the world. However, this ease of access provided by cloud-based LIMS brings about further issues as well, the most significant being that laboratories must have a constant secure connection to the network to access their data. In addition, by putting the data management into the hands of a third party, there is less guarantee for data security, and because the laboratory no longer owns the system, they must now carefully negotiate the ultimate ownership of the data for relocating the system in the future or archiving the data.
While SaaS LIMS are rapidly gaining popularity, there is currently a very limited selection of systems that can be delivered on the cloud. As such, SaaS LIMS may not be the most optimal solution for laboratories looking to integrate their on-premise systems with an SaaS application, as this can be a very involved process.
Modern laboratories face tremendous challenges on a daily basis when it comes to finding the best methods to drive their operations; selecting and installing a LIMS is a crucial step in this process. Therefore, it is imperative that companies put detailed consideration into their decision when choosing between on-premise, externally hosted, and SaaS LIMS.
Each hosting solution offers an abundance of benefits and drawbacks that will affect each organization differently, depending upon the resources it has available and the goals it has for the present and future of the business. One hosting solution may deliver immense business benefits to one laboratory and be completely unsuccessful for another. If careful planning is applied to the decision-making process and all necessary factors are considered when selecting and installing LIMS, organizations will be in a strong position to move forward with their goals and keep up with their ever-changing data management needs.