Matt Jones Matt Jones | 18 Jan 2021

With so much talk at the moment about CMS cloud-hosting and shifting ever more services onto the cloud, it’s easy to believe that the next must-have technology to stay on track with your competitors is a cloud CMS. But it’s not. In fact, there’s no cloud CMS at all.

Defining the cloud

That’s a big claim considering nearly every reputable CMS vendor seems to be offering a cloud CMS at the moment. But the cloud is simply a metaphor for the complexity of global connections behind the internet. It is the internet. To be fair, it’s an apt image. Trying to map how servers communicate, how data is retrieved and how it is protected as it travels across the world quickly results in an expanding nebula. 

Where, how and how much a CMS interfaces with that cloud varies depending on the CMS itself—what it’s designed to do. There is no CMS architecture out there, however, that is ‘cloud’ or ‘not cloud’. Any CMS can be on the cloud, and most are. So what options are available, and how do they actually interact with the cloud? 

CMS classification

There are three main models of CMS: traditional (or highly coupled), headless and decoupled. The primary differences among them has to do with the relationship between frontend and backend. In a traditional CMS, the frontend and backend are intrinsically linked. In other words, how it works and how information appears to the user function together—you can’t have one without the other. 

Generally speaking, traditional CMS models have traditional licensing models to go with them. You buy the software outright and install it on a physical server where the CMS is hosted. This is usually a capital expenditure with a monthly maintenance contract to keep security and development up to date.

Headless and decoupled are similar but not exactly the same. In both cases, the backend and frontend are developed separately. Headless CMS, such as Kentico Kontent, has no frontend attached to the backend. The backend is developed on its own, and the content there can be sent to any frontend. The developers can create many frontends if they want to, and the content can appear in all of them in different ways. 

A decoupled CMS comes with a backend and a frontend in one package, like a traditional CMS. But they are developed separately and communicate the way a headless CMS communicates with its frontends. This allows for flexibility in development while still having some frontend templates in place. Headless and decoupled CMS is most often offered as a subscription service, with cloud hosting, security and updates included in a monthly price, and no big upfront licensing cost. 

Finding your place

Crucially, this taxonomy isn’t a ranking. ‘Traditional’ isn’t a synonym for ‘old-fashioned’, and a newer type of architecture isn’t necessarily the right fit for a newer business. A Digital Experience Platform (DXP), for instance, which encompasses many more digital assets than just traditional content, is nonetheless an example of traditional CMS. The way it is structured is what gives it this classification. 

Any or all of these CMS types can be a cloud CMS. They may be hosted in the cloud or developed on a cloud platform. Their content can be pushed onto various cloud-facing frontends, such as a website or eCommerce sites. The point is that the CMS itself is not a cloud product. What you choose to do with it once you have it determines its interaction with the cloud.

Overall there is a definite trend in the last year or so away from traditional CMS models, both in architecture and licensing, toward headless/decoupled and subscription licensing and cloud hosting. But traditional CMS isn’t going away entirely. It certainly continues to serve industries and individual organisations for whom the other models simply don’t suit their business or project. And that’s what choosing a CMS is all about—picking the right type and license to match your needs.

If you want more information about what CMS model is right for you, then please get in touch.