Tableau Server vs. Tableau Cloud (Online): What’s Best for Your Business?

Tableau is a leading data analytics and visualization platform that allows you to easily share drag-and-drop advanced analytics across your organization by the use of their Server product. 

Tableau Server can be deployed within your own environment, or by going the SaaS option with Tableau Cloud (previously known as Tableau Online). When organizations deploy Tableau, they need to decide which route they want to go.

In this blog, we’ll equip you with the right information to help your business confidently choose between Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud. 

What is the Difference Between Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud?

Tableau Server is the web-based sharing and collaboration platform that would be hosted and maintained within your company’s firewall. It can be deployed on-premise or in the cloud with Linux or Windows operating systems. Hosting Tableau internally allows for the most deployment flexibility, with full control over how the system is configured, secured, and optimized.

Tableau Cloud (previously “Tableau Online”) is the SaaS version of Tableau Server. It provides Tableau Server’s sharing, automation, and collaboration functionality without any internal infrastructure, maintenance, or upkeep required.

Either option will give you extensive functionality to share, organize, and automate your visualizations and dashboards, but there are pros and cons to both that are worth noting when determining which is best for your organization.

When Should I Choose Tableau Server?

Many large organizations decide to go with Tableau Server for its flexibility of deployment and ability to seamlessly integrate with their internal systems and on-prem sources. This flexibility allows for advanced administrators to performance tune to the specific needs of their environment and keeps a close eye on their server’s usage and health with administrative views in Tableau Server’s Postgres Repository. 

In addition, Server gives you added ability for front-end administration flexibility with the deployment of multiple Tableau sites on a single instance and license of Server. This control also allows you to schedule planned maintenance and upgrades around your company’s busy seasons.

Unfortunately, extra flexibility can come with some extra care. While the licenses per seat on Server are cheaper than Cloud, you will need to bear the weight of infrastructure hosting costs. Due to needing to deploy, upgrade, and maintain the server yourself, you will likely need to employ someone (or multiple someones!) to support the server. 

Due to holding the weight of maintaining both the infrastructure and system yourself, it’s also up to you to keep the system stable and troubleshoot should something go wrong.

Pros and Cons of Tableau Server 

Pros

  • Flexible deployment for performance tuning
  • In some cases, easier integration to your on-prem sources
  • Access to Postgres repository for simple and customizable administrative views
  • Multiple sites for the same licensing price

Cons

  • Infrastructure hosting costs
  • Need for back-end maintenance and upkeep
  • System stability dependent on internal system infrastructure and monitoring processes

When Should I Choose Tableau Cloud?

Tableau Cloud gives you Tableau Server’s functionality but has the added benefit of offboarding any internal maintenance, upgrading, and hosting fees. This isn’t to say that Cloud users will bear no administrative burden, as you will still want some front-end administration to keep the system tidy and secure, but a significant portion of the back-end upkeep will remain out of sight and out of mind. 

In addition, this also means that you will always have access to the latest and greatest Tableau features as Cloud is always upgraded to the most recent version. Candidly, cutting edge can come with some risks as bugs may be uncovered and your organization will no longer have the autonomy to perform a rollback, but overall this would be considered a big positive.

While offboarding administrative effort is a large burden to take off, you do lose some flexibility due to the software being hosted outside of your internal network. Having no access to the back-end server will also lose the ability to optimize your Tableau environment for the specific performance needs of your environment, or access Tableau’s Postgres repository to create administrative or governance views. If advanced administration does not appeal to your org, this may be of no concern.

Before going the Cloud route it will always be important to assess your organization’s security concerns and whether Cloud will be able to access specific systems in your environment. Security requirements permitting, you can utilize Tableau Bridge to access many internal systems, but some data sources may remain inaccessible from within your internal firewall. 

Finally, if you plan to leverage scheduling capabilities for Tableau Prep, be sure to consider your organization’s need for running concurrent prep flows. This may require purchases of additional resource blocks in under to support the load of schedules.

Pros and Cons of Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud Pros

  • No internal time required for maintenance or upgrades
  • System reliability and predictable downtime
  • Always access to most up-to-date features and functionality
  • No infrastructure costs
    • No need to scale-up hardware
    • Fewer people to work with to scale up
  • No need for back-end performance tuning

Tableau Cloud Cons

  • Limited support for identity stores
  • No control over upgrade schedules and any rollback required
  • No control over performance tuning
  • No access to Postgres for custom administrative reporting
  • Need to use Tableau Bridge for access to local systems
  • No current ability for release management through dev or test environments
  • Potential for network latency to your internal systems

Tableau Server vs. Tableau Cloud Cost Calculator 

Still can’t decide? Considering moving from one platform to another? To help get an understanding of some of the potential costs incurred, we have created a cost calculator to estimate platform and licensing costs between one deployment option to another. 

Keep in mind that if you’re working through a migration, the effort of migration cost would not be included here.

Conclusion 

Regardless of the hosting method you choose, the Tableau Server/Cloud platform will bring enormous value in report sharing and automation. Ultimately, the choice ends up coming down to the level of support required for the platform and the need for deployment flexibility.

Need help making your choice or moving from one platform to another? We’re more than happy to talk or help you through your deployment or migration.

FAQs

We highly recommend that any organization using Tableau Desktop utilizes Tableau Server to share their reporting. Tableau Desktop should be your go-to tool for building dashboards and data visualizations, and Tableau Server is where others can access and learn from those dashboards.

The three main products in the Tableau ecosystem are Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server/Cloud, and Tableau Prep.

Tableau has three main roles: Creator, Explorer, and Viewer. In addition to Server/Cloud, Creators have access to Tableau Desktop and Tableau Prep to create data sources and dashboards in the client tools. Explorers can use web-edit functionality to create dashboards off on the data sources published by Creators. Viewers are consumers of the dashboards created by the former.

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