What the Heck's the Difference Between a Stand-alone and Cloud CMS?

By Bryan Soltis in Cloud
·6 min read

So you’ve probably heard a lot, recently, about Headless CMSs. Or Cloud CMSs. Or some other kind of CMS that has you baffled on what’s the difference. But what makes each type of solution unique?

There’s no shortage of options for companies looking to leverage a Content Management System (CMS) within their organization. From traditional, all-in-one platforms to micro service-driven solutions, CMS products can span the spectrum for businesses looking to implement a solution to their content management challenges. Well, I can tell you after talking to partners and developers around the world, you’re not alone. The evolution of the CMS industry is certainly a volatile one, where new services and solutions are being released all the time, with little explanation to the masses.

With these developments in the industry, it can be tough to know how these services vary. In this article, I’ll explain the differences in architecture, functionality, and pricing models between the two. When we’re done, you should have a much better understanding of what’s unique about these services and how they can help your projects. So let’s get to it!


When it comes to a CMS, how they are designed and implemented can have a significant impact on when companies use them. Stand-alone and Cloud CMSs often have a very different architecture, due to how users and developers interact with them. Because of the capabilities they provide, they require different components to function, both on the front end and back end.

Stand-alone systems are often a self-contained code base and database. The application is fully integrated with the back-end database, and all functionality is kept within the solution. Many platforms offer a number of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for developers to leverage when integrating with the platform and customizing the installation. Whether it’s integrating with a CRM or accounting system, companies will assimilate the CMS as part of their suite of business tools. These platforms are then updated and maintained by the company to ensure they are up to date and secure. The CMS may be installed locally or in the cloud, depending on the implementation.

Cloud CMSs are often much more simple, from an architecture standpoint. To an end user, they are just websites or portals where content is managed. This simplifies the process as these sites are frequently very focused in their functionality and allow the user to enter and update content quickly and intuitively. From a backend perspective, Cloud CMSs usually offer an API or another interface that developers consume within their applications. This means a much smaller footprint in regards to installation and maintenance, as nearly all the functionality is managed by the CMS vendor.  Because they are hosted in the cloud, the resources available are seemingly endless, which makes the platform extremely scalable.  


At their core, Stand-alone and Cloud CMSs do the same thing: allow you to manage content. But, in regards to functionality, that is pretty much where the similarities end. Because of their very different architecture and design, the two platforms go about providing this functionality in very dissimilar ways.

Stand-alone CMS platforms are designed to allow developers and designers to complete all their work within the application. This often means web-based interfaces and modules that allow for the creation and design of web sites, as well as the management of their content. The systems are feature rich, providing a large amount of functionality out-of-the-box. These features often include security and membership, workflows, automation, and customizable content management capabilities. This means that much of a company’s development will be focused on integrating and customizing, rather than building features from scratch. This can save a tremendous amount of development and time over a project timeline.

Typically, these platforms have rigid development models, requiring developers to work in a particular language or technology. This means companies need to have resources knowledgeable in the platform to use them.  This may result in a steep learning curve for your team to get up to speed on the best way to implement and use the platform.

On the other side of the fence, Cloud CMSs are all about flexibility and scalability. These systems often provide robust content management features, with the ability to assign roles and permissions, customize workflows, and support a wide array of data types. They are often built around a minimalist approach to providing functionality. What this means is that the CMS is going to give you a web-based interface to manage your content easily, without any sort of presentation layer. This type of solution is extremely flexible as your development will not be tied to a specific language or platform. You will be free to develop any solution you like and leverage the Cloud CMS to store and deliver the content.

As you can imagine, Cloud CMSs’ functionality is really centered around the management of your content. All the presentation of that data will be on your team to develop. This can significantly increase the amount of development needed, as every aspect of how you present information to your users will need to be built. While this may sound like a daunting task, this approach gives you a ton of freedom to develop sites, mobile applications, or any other system you can think of. With a Cloud CMS, all your content is stored and managed in a central location, so you can easily disseminate to your channels, however, you need.


Stand-alone and Cloud CMSs often have very different pricing models. Because of how they are architected and consumed, vendors will structure the model to match the needs of the clients while providing the best solution possible. This results in two very different cost structures, which can have a big impact on your project budgets.

Stand-alone CMSs often use a traditional license-based model. This means you purchase the rights to use the software for a specific configuration or time frame. This license usually gives you access to all the features for the level you purchased, as well as support for your development team. This model allows companies to plan out the cost of their CMS over the life of a project, which can help you forecast your development and maintenance costs. Many companies offer upgrades to the CMS as long as you have a valid license. This helps you ensure your system stays up to date and secure. Because the license is paid up front, this model provides a lot of security for anyone wanting to build their organization around a platform.  For enterprise projects, this model is a great fit and is a big reason the Stand-alone CMS industry has flourished.

Cloud CMSs often have a very different approach to pricing. Usually based on a subscription model, companies pay a monthly fee to access the system and manage their content on the vendor’s platform. This means there’s no commitment to stay with the service, as you are not locked into the platform. Because these are hosted in the cloud, your individual usage and traffic will determine the exact costs. This may mean a more fluid cost to your organization, depending on your implementations. Because Cloud CMSs are maintained by the vendor, updates and upgrades happen automatically. This allows you to benefit from product enhancements with minimal impact to your development and application. This can save a significant amount of maintenance costs over the life of a project.

The Future

Now that you know the differences between Stand-alone and Cloud CMSs, you hopefully have a much better understanding of the benefits of each solution. Knowing how these two services differ is critical in determining which is the best fit for your projects. As with any tool, a CMS platform is just one piece of the solution. You need to make sure it’s the best fit for your organization and development model before architecting your application around it.

Do you still have any questions or thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

By Bryan Soltis in Cloud
Time to see how Kentico's powerful marketing features can turn you into an online marketing powerhouse.
Schedule a Demo
We're named a Strong Performer in the Q4 2018
Forrester Wave™ for WCM!