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The Epicor Prophet 21 web version is almost at a point where it is the only way to access P21.  We are rapidly approaching the end of the line for the desktop client.  This is a big fork in the road for many companies, and represents a huge shift in the platform and the user interface.  The last major change to the interface was 6 years ago.  It was nothing compared to what shifting from Windows Desktop to Web is like.

Prophet 21 Web Version Hosting Options

To top it all off, there are now a lot more choices when deciding how you will serve Prophet 21 to users.   It used to be a very clear decision, buy a server, put P21 on it.  Things are not that simple now.   Epicor has a a very aggressive plan to host Prophet 21 Web in the Azure cloud with a full SaaS type implementation, you can host it on premise, you can build your own cloud, etc.

One of the biggest points of confusion we see is people not being clear that “P21 Web Version” and “P21 Cloud” are not the same thing.  Today, I will endeavor to clear that up.

P21 in the Cloud

When we talk about P21 being “in the cloud” that could mean a lot of different things.   Here are the most common definitions:

  • Epicor SaaS based Prophet 21 in Azure:  You are buying P21 as a monthly subscription in a shared environment.   Epicor is responsible for pretty much everything from hardware to application to licensing to database.   This also means that they have the most controls in place in this option, because they have to be able to tightly control the environment, meaning that the options for what you can do to modify are not the same as they would be on premise.
  • Self managed Virtual Private Cloud:  In this option, you would build your own cloud based servers (Windows based virtual machines) and then connect to Prophet 21 Web from wherever you are.  Remote users connect via VPN, and office users might have the benefit of an “always on” VPN so that the cloud is always connected to the office.  Think Azure or Amazon Web Services.
  • Managed Cloud Servers:  This option is similar to the self managed Virtual Private Cloud, but the difference is that another company is responsible for managing the performance of the infrastructure.

Prophet 21 “On Premise”

In the same way that cloud has many meanings, so does on premise.

  • Local Servers:  You have a server, or a rack in your building, and people connect to your Prophet 21 which is sitting on the server in your office.
  • Offsite servers: You have servers, but they are in a datacenter somewhere else (e.g. a Co-located environment).  You are basically renting rack space to get the cooling, electricity and internet services with extra fault tolerance than what you probably have locally.  There is an “always on” connection to your office so that users feel like the servers are local.
  • Managed servers:  You partner with another company that provides you space on their equipment in their datacenter.  They are typically responsible for the infrastructure.

How does the Prophet 21 Web Version Fit in?

That’s the beauty of it.  The P21 Web client can be hosted and run from any of the six options above.  There is no requirement that you have to be in the cloud to run the Web version.   It’s just a platform, no different than the desktop platform.  It is just delivered a different way.  The important thing to focus on is how you make your ERP system work best for your business, and you choose the delivery mechanism that suits that the best.

How Do I Choose?

I think there are several considerations to choosing the platform.  Price should be the lowest one on the list.   The reason for this is that your ERP system is the central piece of software in your technology platform.  It has to support you, and more importantly, not limit you.   If it costs a little more to make sure that your system will grow and adapt the way you need it to, that is a small price to pay compared to having to overhaul it when you find out your are hemmed in.  Below are the things I would consider:

  1. Extensibility:  If you need to make a lot of tweaks to the system to bend it to your will, then you are going to want the maximum access to the system and the maximum control over every piece of the puzzle.  In cases like this, some variation of on-premise is probably going to be a better fit. On the other hand, if you have no existing infrastructure, and you can use the system “As-is”, a cloud based system might be a very good fit for you.
  2. Performance: When you cede control of the hardware layer to another company, then you get what you get.  At best, you get to pick from a menu.   We know from experience that, for example, certain processor architectures are far and away better for Prophet 21 Web and Desktop versions.  That’s not to say all cloud processors are bad or all MSP’s give substandard hardware.  Consider this though, if you were in that business, would the performance of the P21 application be the driving force behind hardware selection? No, of course not.  You would buy something with the widest appeal across a range of uses.   Even in the case of Epicor’s Azure hosting, you have to bear in mind that Epicor can only select from what Microsoft Azure gives them to pick from.
  3. Security and Accessibility: If you have certain internal or regulatory requirements to control when, where, and how your IT systems are accessed, then you must spend some time thinking about where your IT infrastructure lives, and who controls it.   For instance, a pure SaaS based approach may not meet the test of requiring secure VPN access to access critical systems, if it is open to the Internet.
  4. Other IT Requirements:  We hear people saying “I want to get out of the server business, so I am going P21 Hosted”.   In the 4 or 5 conversations I have had recently about this, I always asked, “OK, so you are shutting your servers down then?”.  Every time, the answer was “Well no, we still have to have <insert other application here>”.  So ask yourself…can I actually get out of the server business?  Or do I end up double paying?  It’s a legitimate quandary; one of those things that sounds great on paper, but falls apart in practice sometimes.
  5. Financial:  ERP is a 10-25 year proposition most of the time.   You shouldn’t be thinking about the the upfront cost, you should be thinking about the all-in cost, and the “rainy day” cost.   If you go with an option with a higher monthly recurring cost, then you are in for that expense every month, whether business is up or down.   If you take a CapEx weighted approach, you can take the cash impact when times are good, and then time the next capital expense when it makes sense.  There are many factors here, and it is a complex decision most of the time.

Prophet 21 Web Version Cost

The single largest mistake I see being made is companies picking the low cost option strictly based on price.  In this article, I have laid out 6 different ways to host P21.  They are all very different in terms of features, access, control, etc.   There is no way to compare apples to apples.  It’s simply not possible, because the foundation of them are all very different.

I understand that cost is always a factor.  I have dealt with that as a business owner myself.   However, I strongly recommend that you start by disqualifying options that do not meet your technical and business requirements.  This should not be based on cost.  If you needed to purchase a vehicle that would haul a 20 foot trailer, it wouldn’t matter that a 2 door coupe is cheaper than a diesel 1 ton truck.   The coupe won’t to the job, so it’s not even in the running.  This decision should be made the same way.

Summing it Up

The most important point: you can host the Prophet 21 Web Version on premise or in the cloud.  Both of those paths have several options to make it work.  Your choice should be based on what fits your business requirements.  Your choice should also be based on what you project your business to look like over time.

When Atlas started out, we were 100% in the cloud.  Every application, every server, everything.   As we grew, and our requirements got more specific and complex, we started hitting limitations.  Some of the limitations were based on the platform, some were based on the application.  We found that certain business issues could only be fixed the way we wanted it by investing in servers.   Now we run a hybrid infrastructure, some things on premise, some in the cloud.

There’s no perfect answer here.  You pick the path that takes you the closest to your desired destination.   Remember, IT should be supporting your business, not limiting it.  Make your choice a good one!

Read More about P21 here