Atlassian Cloud vs Server, the definitive guide

Wessel Donkervoort

Wessel Donkervoort

Published: 20 March, 2019

Likely the question we get most often from customers who want to start with Atlassian products is: "Cloud or Server, what is better?"

If you don't know, Atlassian applications like Jira, Confluence and Bitbucket are available in two flavours: Server and Cloud. Basically, Server licenses allow you to install and run Atlassian applications on your own server (or on servers managed by a hosting provider), while Cloud licenses are subscriptions that give you access to the applications that are hosted by Atlassian themselves. In both cases, valid licenses include application updates and support.

(Ok so, in fact, there are three flavours if you count Data Center as well, but for the purpose of this blog, we'll just say that Data Center is very like Server, but with Enterprise scale features added)

Anyway, choosing between these products can be difficult as the best option is entirely dependant on your specific situation. Below, we tried to map out the main differences between both options. We hope this helps you to make an informed decision!

 

Feature
Cloud
Server
Costs and license model

Atlassian Cloud is a subscription model, so you need to stay subscribed or you'll eventually lose your data.

The Cloud license model offers two options: annualand monthly.

Annual means you pay 10 of 12 months (so a 17% discount), but this model also means you need to choose an existing user tier (10, 15, 25, 50, 100, 200, 300, 400, and so forth). 

Monthly is more expensive (by 17%) and implies more administration, but you can stop by cancelling the payments every month and you pay per user, per month (so if you have 7, 14, 26, 115, etc. you pay for that number of users for that month).

 

Server has an annual-only payment plan and is based on a perpetual license model. Theoretically, this means you could pay for the license only once. In practice however, you'll need to renew the license if you want to keep updating the product versions and accessing Atlassian support (which, believe us, you should).

If you are considering making a one-time payment, we strongly recommend making the applications inaccessible through the internet as, with time, vulnerabilities (that are fixed with version updates) would put your system at risk.

The cost of the license in year 1 is almost always more expensive than Cloud, but renewal is generally cheaper than Cloud as it is 50% of the price listed on the Atlassian website (or marketplace for plugins) at the time of the renewal. So after a few years, Server licenses are cheaper.

However, you have to keep in mind that there are other costs to consider here, like hosting, maintenance, technical support, etc..

  ✅ Although the Server licenses themselves become cheaper after a few years (renewals being 50% of the price), Cloud is almost always cheaper when considering overall costs (including hosting, maintenance and technical support)  
User upgrades

Adding users for Cloud is easy. For monthly subscriptions, you just pay for the extra users, per day, as they are added.

For annual subscriptions, upgrades are then calculated using the following formula:

((days between date of upgrade and end date) x (cost per day upgraded license)) - ((days between date of upgrade and end date) x (cost per day current license))

So basically, you pay the extra cost per day for the days left on your 1 year subscriptions.

Adding users for Server is a little more complicated. Upgrades are calculated using the following formula:

(price new user tier - price current tier) / 2 + renewal price of new user tier (this is 50% of the new price)

So basically, this means you should upgrade instead of renewing since you then only pay the difference in user tier price as extra. Upgrading soon after the purchase (within 4 months or so) can add considerable costs, so be sure to make the right user tier choice from the beginning.

  ✅ We like the 'pay-per-day' model of Cloud upgrades  
Hosting

Cloud is hosted by Atlassian. There are servers in the US and in Europe (Ireland) for the European market. Where you're hosted depends on where the majority of your user base is located. If the tools are used in the US and a European country and you have more users in the US, you will be hosted there.

Further, with Atlassian Cloud, you only have access on application level and no access on server and database level.

⚠️ Also, note that there is a 250GB disk space limit per Cloud product.

When using Server products, you are responsible for the hosting. This means that you need to set up a (virtual) server, install an appropriate OS (Linux is recommended here) and database (go with PostgreSQL)...

There is always the possibility to use server products as a service (SaaS) via a 3rd party. This is where our service Avisi Tools comes in

 

✅ We like the all-included nature of Cloud hosting

⛔ We don't like the access restrictions

✅ We like having full control of the environment

⛔ We don't like the maintenance and technical support that comes with it

Version Updates

Software, OS and security updates are done automatically, at night and are entirely planned and managed by Atlassian.

This means you're always up to date and you don't have to do any work. That we like!

In some rare cases though, apps or functionality you use may break and then you have to wait until Atlassian and/or the add-on vendor figure it out. That we like less.

To learn more, check out the Atlassian Cloud Update Policy.

You are in total control. You are responsible for scheduling and implementing all updates.

This means you have to do some work every now and then to make sure your environment is kept safe and up to date. We recommend to update every quarter, and to start with a test environment.

Want to outsource this? Check our Atlassian maintenance offer.

Self-hosting means there should be no surprises after a production update (if you did acceptation testing) and that you have the ability to roll back in case things go wrong.

 

✅ We like that there's no work involved for updates

⛔ We don't like the possibility of things breaking (although this is very rare)

✅ We like being in control and the ability to roll back to the previous version

⛔ We don't like the work

Performance and Stability

Cloud performance used to be pretty bad to be honest and today, it is pretty good. It's also getting better and better thanks to an entire team of dedicated Atlassians.

The software itself has been rebuilt from the ground up to offer better performance and it's certainly showing results.

Atlassian's platform architecture however does cause some performance and stability issues once in a while, since the platform (and it's containers) is shared by thousands of customers. There's certainly room for improvement here.

Note that tool configuration has a HUGE impact on performance, so that at least you can control, but you can't access logs or add resources yourself to tweak performance.

The Atlassian products were first built for Server and it still shows here and there. The software is easy to install, configure and to optimise. 

Like it has for Cloud, tool configuration has a HUGE impact on performance, but in this case, you can look at logs, monitor, tweak and add resources yourself - and that can make a noticeable difference for the overall stability and performance of your environment.

    ✅ We like access and control over the resources, so we choose Server here
Security and Compliance

Your data is hosted and secured by Atlassian.

Atlassian has a very good track record with regards to security. 

Next to that, they invested considerable resources in compliance in the last years (think GDPR, ISO, SOC, etc.) and we're confident that they are as compliant as any Cloud application vendor out there. More information on the Atlassian compliance can be found here: https://www.atlassian.com/trust.

One thing however is that when you install apps on your cloud instance, it may impact GDPR compliance. This is because for Cloud, add-on data is hosted outside your instance, by the add-on vendor and it's not always clear where they host their data.

Another compliance issue is that Atlassian will not sign contracts with individual customers and things like Audits can be difficult depending on your company's requirements.

When you host the application yourself, you (or your hosting partner) are in full control over the security and compliance standards.

This of course means work, but it also means you can adapt security and compliance to your specific needs and requirements.

   

✅ We, like many customers, choose Server because of compliance requirements

Apps

There are more and more apps available for Cloud. Atlassian states that there are over 800 apps (or add-ons as they used to be called) for Cloud and that number is growing every day.

That said, it is a lot less than Server and some of them are rather limited in functionality compared to their Server counterparts. This is because of the 'Cloud-Connect' architecture, which forces add-on data to be hosted externally.

There are more than 2500 apps available for Atlassian Server products and that number is also growing daily. 

Server apps usually offer richer functionality because of the depth of integration.

    ✅ We like the quantity and quality of Server apps here
Look and feel

There are notable differences between the Cloud and Server interfaces. At the moment for example, the main navigation of Atlassian Cloud products is vertical, on the left side.

Aside from that, Cloud generally has a slightly different 'look and feel' compared to the Server interface.

The main navigation is on the top of the screen. If you have ever worked with Atlassian products in the past you're probably more familiar with this interface. 
    ✅ We like the flexibility in applying and modifying themes
Functional

There are some small differences between Cloud and Server when it comes to functionality. Below a list of what Cloud has to offer compared to Server:

  • Jira Service Desk has (content) language support.
  • As an admin, you can log in as another user so you can check the user's permissions (you need an add-on for this on Server).
  • Jira Suite Utilities is integrated with Jira Cloud providing more options when configuring workflows (you need to buy the add-on for Server).
  • Jira Cloud now offers Next Gen projects which are easy to set-up without any shared configuration.

These are the functional differences that Server has to offer compared to Cloud:

  • Connecting to your AD is an out-of-the-box feature with Server (user management options are pretty limited in Cloud).
  • A lot more options to integrate external systems (integration options are pretty limited in Cloud).
  • Unlimited users (Cloud is max 5000 users).
  • Migrations from and to Server are much simpler.
  • Want to have different priority descriptions per project within Jira? Priority schemes are there to help you out.
  • Choose your URL (Cloud forces you to use xxxx.atlassian.net).
    ✅ All and all, we still prefer the flexibility and customizability of Server

 

These should be the things you need to consider when making a choice between Cloud and Server. Hopefully, we didn't miss anything, but please do let us know if that's the case and we will integrate your feedback!

So in conclusion, if you want a low-cost, minimal resource solution and don't have high compliance requirements or need Server-only apps, custom integrations and the likes, go for Cloud!

If you need more control, whether it's for things like integrations or compliance, or you need specific Server-only apps (and you're willing to invest the extra money and time), then by all means, go for Server!

(I feel obligated to add to this that if you want things like high-availability and disaster recovery, you should probably look into Data Center)

If you've made your choice and would like to see the benefits of Avisi helping with license management, let us know.

And if after reading all this, you're still unsure about what to choose or if you would like advice and/or help with hosting, maintenance, support, etc. don't hesitate to get in touch with us!

If you're planning on moving from one hosting solution to another (from Cloud to Server or vice versa), make sure to check out this blog: https://www.avisi.nl/blog/a-must-read-for-atlassian-cloud-to-server-migrations-and-vice-versa.

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