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Hosting Option Decision Point

A change of hosting for your Blackbaud CRM is not something done lightly.

You don’t want to change hosting simply to save a few dollars. Or get a new feature.  The reason for a hosting change tends to boil down to one thing:

Something with your current hosting is not working.

Once you arrive at this conclusion, you should explore all possible hosting options. Here’s a quick overview of key features associated with different hosting options for Blackbaud CRM.

Blackbaud vs On-Prem vs Concourse

Key FeatureBlackbaudOnPremConcourse
Service DeliverySharedSharedDedicated
Network IsolationSharedSharedPrivate
Managed by a team experienced with BBCRMYesNoYes
Isolated CRM dev environmentNoNoYes
CRM environment refresh within 24 hoursNoNoYes
Integrate with other core systemsNoYesYes
Control over patchingNoVariesYes
Control over OS versionNoNoYes
Control over SQL versionNoNoYes
SQL access for authorized usersNoVariesYes
Use your own SQL licenseNoYesYes
Custom firewall rulesNoVariesYes
Multiple data centersUnknownUnlikelyYes
Replication to geographically distant data centerUnknownUnlikelyYes
Disaster recovery testing on demandNoNoYes
PCI DSS level 1 service providerUnknownNoYes
PCI DSS compliant with annual 3rd party audit UnknownUnlikelyYes
HIPAA/HITECH compliant with annual 3rd party auditUnknownUnlikelyYes
Signs BAAs UnknownNoYes

Choosing the Best Hosting Option for You

There is no such thing as “the best” hosting options for all Blackbaud CRM customers. Needs vary from one organization to another. Here are the typical needs most organizations have that drive a change in hosting for Blackbaud CRM.

Better integration with other systems

  • Host custom applications
  • Host third-party applications
  • Custom tunneling options

Direct access to SQL database

  • Special access for approved core team members
  • Protected by 2-Factor authentication
  • Typical access: read-only for production, read-write for secondary environments
  • Other stuff

Dev environment that closely mimics Production

  • Dev environment made to closely match production
  • Fast data refresh with production data
  • Isolated so as not to ever touch production

Access to error logs to better troubleshoot issues

  • Special access for approved core team members
  • Dedicated servers
  • Support staff experienced with Blackbaud CRM to help guide you

Having say over what things get updated and when

  • Control over patches and upgrades
  • Patches and upgrades applied for you
  • Timely environment refresh to support better testing
  • Coordinate upgrades to SQL and other back-end components

Performance

  • Industry leader Pure Storage all flash storage array
  • Factory new server host hardware every 3 years
  • Fast Internet with 7 different tier-one backbone providers

What is important to one organization may not be as important to another. For most Blackbaud CRM customers, at least one of these comes up as being a critical aspect of what is needed with an ideal hosting solution.

When is Blackbaud the Best Hosting Option?

What if control isn’t important to you?  What if your team has no desire for access to the SQL database?  What if you don’t do much, if any, custom development?

Hosting your Blackbaud CRM with Blackbaud may be the best solution for you!

If you’re an organization with simple needs that don’t extend much beyond what the “canned” software provides, you might be better off keeping your hosting with the vendor.

Here’s some common characteristics amongst organizations who find hosting BBCRM with Blackbaud to be a good match.

  • No special integration needs
  • No desire for SQL database access
  • No need for control over backend systems
  • No need for a development environment

For many such organizations, they have plenty to do just working within the core Blackbaud CRM software itself.  In other words, they don’t really care to bother with custom parts, special integrations and so on.

When is On-Premise the Best Hosting Option?

Many organizations are ditching their on-premise servers faster than you can say cloud migration. With the rapid move to the cloud, does on-premise remain a valid hosting option?

It can be.

Integration tends to be the primary driving force of organizations who remain committed to on-premise hosting. Typically, BBCRM is just one of many core systems. Organizations who opt to bring Blackbaud CRM in-house already host other core systems on-premise anyway. For them, this is just one more system to add into the mix. By having everything under one roof, integration of Blackbaud CRM with these other systems becomes much easier.

But what about the downsides of hosting on premise?

Actually, there are many!  Some have to do with the reason organizations move to the cloud in the first place – hosting is hard.  Doing it securely, that much more so!

The bigger downside is a lack of expertise.  Let’s face it, none of your on premise IT staff have clue one about the back-end inner workings of Blackbaud CRM.  And I’ll bet you a shiny nickel that learning Blackbaud CRM does not rank high on their career life goals. Sure, you can bring in professional services from Blackbaud. They will install and configure Blackbaud CRM for you.  However, who is going to maintain it?

Without some internal expertise, your environment will degrade over time. This is inevtiable. Here’s an example.

Let’s say there’s a new version of Blackbaud CRM that comes out.  Great!  But you’ll want to test it first, right? Good thing you have a staging environment to test with. Except there’s just one problem. The data in staging hasn’t been updated in 9 months. That’s because the last time you asked to have staging refreshed with production data, it broke staging for weeks. It finally got it working after much hair pulling and bringing in resources from Blackbaud.

Do you really want to go through that again? You know you’ll have to, but everyone is gun shy about refreshing staging.

What does that mean for your testing? Maybe the new release to production will get pushed back, perhaps by months. Unless somebody decides that it’s worthwhile to simply close your eyes and upgrade production without testing (oh don’t worry, IT will make a backup).

How do you know you’re in over your head? If you find yourself convincing your team that upgrading production without testing and dealing with any issues that come up will be less work than trying to get staging environment working right.

Welcome to a day in the life of on-premise hosting.

These are the common downsides with hosting Blackbaud CRM on-premise:

  • Lack of IT expertise in back-end of Blackbaud CRM
  • Inability to perform timely data refresh of secondary environments
  • Environments break and stay broken
  • Long delays in doing upgrades

Additionally, there are downsides to hosting on premise in general compared to the cloud.  Namely, that it’s very expensive to maintain a “cloud like” environment on premise that replicates data across geographic regions.

  • Security and compliance
  • Performance
  • Data and backup management
  • Disaster recovery

When is Concourse the Best Hosting Option?

Concourse is a hosting company that specializes in Blackbaud CRM. Blackbaud is a software company that also provides hosting. And on-premise specializes in neither hosting nor Blackbaud CRM software.

With private cloud hosting as a “core competency”, Concourse provides a number of features the others cannot. With Blackbaud, they host everyone pretty much the same. So if you need any kind of specialty “one-off” hosting capability, you’re likely not going to get that with Blackbaud. Whereas with Concourse, odds are that you can.

In other words, Concourse provides you with more control. But control alone isn’t entirely accurate.

Rather than blindly saying “sure whatever you want!”, Concourse gets to the bottom of the result you’re looking for. After all, there is security to take into account. Informed by security guidance from PCI DSS and HIPAA/HITECH, perhaps there’s solution that strikes a balance. You get the control you want and we make sure you maintain security compliance.

Perhaps a better label would be conditional control. Or maybe…

Control*.

For example, you may want certain users to have elevated permissions, even up to administrator rights to certain systems. Ideally, this entails granting only the rights you actually need. Not just full rights by default. This is a security concept known as “least privilege” which means granting only the rights you need. Additional security layers such as two-factor authentication to help protect these systems while still granting elevated access.

Control is a double-edged sword.  Some Blackbaud CRM customers have no control. They find their hands tied by their current hosting. Others have gone to the other extreme. Instead, they go it alone and host Blackbaud CRM for themselves on-premise or in Azure or AWS. In an effort to get everything working, they turn a blind eye to security compliance.

Some of our customers joke that our job at Concourse is saving them from themselves. Part of that has to do with not letting them cut themselves with that double-edged sword of control.

Another consideration is system integrity. Somebody needs to be mindful that the extra control isn’t going to break something. While this sounds like a no-brainer, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. After all , we’re talking about a highly complex enterprise level CRM system here. Think of all the different virtual servers, each with their own dependencies. You’ve got the Windows Server operating system. Then you’ve got the version and service pack level of SQL server, the .NET Framework and so on.

What Changes With Concourse?

First off, let’s talk about what doesn’t change when you host your Blackbaud CRM with Concourse. Blackbaud CRM itself remains the same. It may seem obvious to say! The point is that you don’t sacrifice any functionality.

All of the core database components associated with Blackbaud CRM are included such as the Blackbaud data warehouse and SSRS reporting services.  And regardless of whether you use BBIS or Luminate, either option works exactly the same.

Concourse understands how to install, configure and mange Blackbaud CRM — all without the assistance of Blackbaud.

What about PaperSave integration? No problem! PaperSave integration with Blackbaud CRM is fully supported in all Concourse hosted solutions. Most customers choose to use the PaperSave cloud whereby the actual PaperSave data resides in PaperSave’s hosted solution. This makes migration to Concourse quite simple as the PaperSave data itself doesn’t need to move.  Instead, it’s just re-pointed and re-linked.

SSO or Single Sign On options are also supported.  You can use Blackbaud’s remote AD authenticator, Zuri Group’s SSO add-on, or another SSO option. All are supported.  Concourse actually hosts customers that use the Blackbaud remote AD authenticator.  Concourse also host customers with Zuri Group’s SSO add-on for BBCRM.  So this isn’t just theoretical. Concourse has a working knowledge of how exactly these integrations fit into your Blackbaud CRM environment – including their quirks.

Finally, Concourse supports any customizations for Blackbaud CRM whether for the data warehouse, reporting services, BBIS or CRM itself.  Because you get your own dedicated virtual servers, you can rest assured that your entire setup will be built from scratch for you and remain dedicated to servicing your Blackbaud CRM instance alone.