Hosting solutions: two sides of the same coin

To host or to be hosted, that is the question

LimeSurvey offers different hosting possibilities.
  1. LimeSurvey Cloud, including free, basic, expert and enterprise survey product packages, is a hosted software version
  2. LimeSurvey Community (Edition), including optional 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 12 months premium package 'add-ons', is a self-hosted software version
The question at hand when committing to a software solution of the sort is therefore whether to go with a hosted or with a self-hosted software version. For those who are not familiar with software, hosting and servers, this brief article is aimed at shedding some light on hosting solutions by simplifying the subject matter.
I recently dicovered a nice exemplary comparison on Patrick's Programming Blog about the difference between hosted and self-hosted solutions.

What is a hosting solution?

Patrick's Programming Blog describes hosting alternatives in the following manner: deciding on a hosting solution is like deciding whether to take a bus or a car. The characteristics of these two transportation systems represent the available qualities of the two different hosting options.

If you decide to take a car, you have the ability to go anywhere you like at any time that pleases you. You can fully customise the design of your car on your own responsibility, for example change the colour of your body kit, decide on certain tyres and rims, choose a car with more or less storage space, mileage, horse power and technical equipment etc.

This option awards you full control and scope for accommodations which is comparable to a self-hosted software solution. Basically, it means that you install, run and maintain software on your own server (if you have one) or on a server you rented from someone else. This requires time and effort; however, the benefits are substantial as it enables full design customisation, robust functionality and full data security due to a lack of server access for unauthorised parties.

Bear in mind though that you have to pay for the car, parking and petrol as well as take care of maintenance and repairing.
The advantages of full software hosting control also include expenditures such as paying for server capacities, installing plugins, updating the software and in general handling technical problems by yourself. As this alternative is more technically demanding, we recommend it rather be used by developers or those with extensive technical knowledge.

If you decide to take the bus or any form of public transportation, it will take you where most people want it to go, thereby driving at a decent speed including automatic maintenance. There are no customisation possibilities for the bus; however, there are rules that have to be followed and in general, you have to see which bus to take to best fit your needs.

The bus option refers to a hosted software solution in which software runs on somebody else’s server and any changes made to it have to take place on that somebody’s website. Flexibility and control are therefore much more limited compared to the self-hosted version. Major point of criticism is the concern about data not being located securely enough as it is stored on somebodye else's server.

Nevertheless, due to a given web administration interface the setup to get started is achieved much faster and simpler from a technical standpoint with software updates executed automatically and bugs fixed by the software provider.

How does this manifest itself in LimeSurvey?

In the case of LimeSurvey - being open source software - also the hosted software solution allows for extensive customisation as the open source software license allows anybody to contribute in modifying the source code. Such modifications change the software product itself and are independent of the hosting options.

Furthermore, the self-hosted LimeSurvey Community Edition comes with 'add-ons', i.e. premium packages that offer technical support, hugely facilitate software updates ('one-click ComfortUpdates') and other design as well as template access possibilities. Hence, typical hosted solution elements can be used when working with a self-hosted solution to make it run more smoothly.

Concluding remarks

As shown in the previous paragraph and unlike most other survey software companies, LimeSurvey offers great flexibility for users from the start by providing a hosted software solution as well as a self-hosted software solution.

Moreover, users who prefer a hosted solution, but would also like to change things about the software using code can do so freely. As mentioned before, this is optional though.

In addition, users who prefer a self-hosted solution, but are not confident running it by themselves completely, can fall back on premium add-ons to facilitate the software use. Again, these premium add-ons are fully optional, i.e. the self-hosted version can be used independently of LimeSurvey servers.

For those that are concerned with data security in hosted solutions, LimeSurvey owns servers in several different countries (Germany, USA, Canada, Australia) to enable local and secure data storage. When starting to work with LimeSurvey, you can decide on a sever location of your choice.

Consequently, both hosting options have their advantages and their difficulties. In the end, when deciding on one of the two solutions, it depends on your needs and skills when operating a specific software product. No worries though, LimeSurvey can be tested or fully used for free, regardless of your hosting preference.