Navigating the Data Analytics Landscape: Choosing Between Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud


Navigating the Data Analytics Landscape: Choosing Between Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud

In the dynamic realm of data analytics, making the right platform choice can significantly impact your business outcomes. With two powerful options on the table, namely Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud (formerly Tableau Online), the decision might seem daunting. Fear not, as we’re here to guide you through this critical decision-making process. In this article, we’ll break down the key factors that will help you identify which platform aligns best with your organization’s unique needs.

Allow me to introduce myself: My name is John Saunders, a seasoned platforms architect at InterWorks. My journey with this remarkable team began in November 2021. Since then, I’ve been immersed in the dynamic world of data analytics platforms, specialising in all things Cloud services and Tableau. A significant part of my role involves engaging with clients in the Asia Pacific region. These client calls are more than just conversations: They’re opportunities to guide our clients through the complexities of data analytics solutions. I take pride in helping them comprehend the intricacies, advantages and challenges presented by Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud. Navigating this decision-making process is crucial, as it directly impacts their present and future needs. As a Platforms Architect, my mission is clear: to empower our clients with the insights and knowledge they need to make informed choices and shape the trajectory of their data analytics journey.

Deciding Between Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud

While we cannot predict when we’ll reach a fully cloud-hosted data and analytics platforms globally, a prominent trend toward cloud hosting, exemplified by solutions like Tableau Cloud, has certainly emerged. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that your organization might not be prepared for this transition at the present moment.

In the pursuit of the optimal data analytics platform, several crucial decision factors come into play. By considering these aspects, you can confidently choose the platform that propels your data-driven endeavours forward.

Licensing and Accessibility

Tableau Server

Tableau Server accommodates both Core-Based and Role-Based licenses, offering Guest Access possibilities for Core-Based licenses. Let’s provide some quick definitions of the conventional Tableau licensing models:

  • The Role-Based license model grants access to the platform according to predefined roles, such as Creator, Explorer, or Viewer. Users are assigned roles with specific functionality and access levels, enabling organizations to match licensing with user requirements effectively.
  • The Core-Based license model involves licensing based on the number of processor cores in the hardware where Tableau Server is deployed. It is designed for larger deployments and offers flexibility in terms of the number of users accessing the platform.

Guest access (within the Core-Based license model) is best used when embedding your views into web portals with a wide reach or corporate multimedia screens for consumption by users with unauthenticated access.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud is tailored for organizations with Role-Based licenses. Note that Tableau Cloud does not accommodate Core-Based licenses and thus Guest Access is not facilitated.Organizations with a large user community with low usage may benefit from the new Usage-Based license model.

The brand-new Usage-Based license model is tailored for the Embedded Analytics offering within Tableau Cloud. This model suits organizations embedding Tableau Cloud analytics into external applications for clients beyond their organization. It involves licensing Usage Viewers based on the number of analytical impressions, which are interactions with embedded analytics. Actions like loading dashboards, downloading visualizations and more count as impressions. Site administrators receive usage insights for effective monitoring and budgeting.

Control and Management

Tableau Server

Tableau Server empowers you with complete control over infrastructure design, performance, patches and support. This is best suited for hands-on management.

As administrators, you have full access to all peripheral tools from the TABCMD utility, the full extent of the Tableau REST API and unrestricted access to the Tableau Repository. This allows you to automate, monitor and integrate Tableau Server into your business.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud provides the ease of a managed service, allowing you to focus on insights rather than infrastructure management.

As administrators, it’s our role to ensure our user community are in the loop and ready for upgrades that come with Tableau’s timeline.

Tableau Cloud Site Administrators will have access to the Admin Insights Starter workbook and curated, certified Datasources, providing essential insights to their site usage. If you’re interested in more detail, you may check out the “Tableau Cloud Admin Insights: Unveiling the Secrets Within” blog post.

Ownership and Responsibility

Tableau Server

Tableau Server caters to organizations that value the autonomy of full control over infrastructure.

Whether you want to allow unencrypted traffic with basic authentication on shared public cloud infrastructure, or encrypted SSL traffic with SSO enforced authentication on dedicated hardware, or any combination in between, you are empowered to design an implementation that suits your needs and your chosen infrastructure.

Tableau Cloud

As multi-tenanted SaaS offering, Tableau Cloud appeals to those seeking to offload infrastructure management with SAAS offerings on shared infrastructure.

Whilst you’ll pay a little extra per seat, you can reduce overall infrastructure and potentially internal staffing costs offloading your infrastructure management of your analytics platform to Tableau Cloud.

You can read about the Tableau Cloud security features here.

Scalability and Performance

Tableau Server

Tableau Server can be adapted to various capacity requirements, whether your needs are modest or expansive. You can choose when the time is right for you to scale up or scale out your Tableau Server Distributed Cluster.

Need to grow your Filestore? Simply add more disk to your Tableau Server where the Filestore process resides.

Want to provide High Availability (HA)? You can add some additional nodes and deploy the coordination service within your cluster.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud automatically scales with user demand. As the user community grows and usage of Tableau Cloud increases, so does the underlying infrastructure servicing Tableau Cloud.

When using separate extracts for each report and not reusing data sources across different dashboards, the 100GB Storage Limit of Tableau Cloud may become a major concern. With each extract consuming storage space, an uncontrolled approach can lead to rapid storage usage growth, potentially causing organizations to hit the limit faster. To manage this, regular data cleanup or deleting older extracts might be necessary. Optimal storage use can be achieved by reusing data sources and optimizing extract usage, addressing the storage constraints effectively.

Check out this and other Site Capacity limits defined in the Tableau Online Site Capacity support page.

Content Governance

Tableau Server

Tableau Server allows you to have multiple servers (one Production and two Non-Production) with multiple sites. A site constitutes an assembly of users, groups and content, encompassing workbooks and data sources. This distinct entity remains separate from other groups and content within the same Tableau Server instance.

Sites are often used to create a physical boundary between various business units and is commonly used to separate HR and finance from corporate datasources and workbooks, or separating internal content from external customer facing content.

You can also use these separate servers and/or sites to segregate Platform and Content DEV, QA and Production activities.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud is a single-site, per customer platform. As the content resides within a single site, there is no physical boundary to separate your content. This drives the need to segregate these activities into a project and sub-project hierarchy whilst using a structured permissions framework.

Note also that DEV and QA activities count toward your site usage and capacity limits.

Content Recovery

Tableau Server

Tableau Server has TSM Backup and Restore functions offer the ability to restore content in the event of disaster or unintentionally deleted content. This is achieved with content backup to and restore from your Tableau Server Backup (.tsbak) files.

You and your organisation can choose how often to backup your content, how many backups to retain and where to securely retain them to meet your Recovery Requirements.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud does not support individual site restores. Any deleted data or workbook is now permanently removed.

The platform retains backups for a 30-day period, primarily intended for restoring the entire environment in the event of a significant system-wide issue, rather than for recovering specific workbooks or content. The frequency and retention period is controlled by Tableau and thus a client will have no input nor control of backups.

Uptime and Availability

Tableau Server

Tableau Server can be architected to scale and customised to meet your uptime requirements and structured to cater for your Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs) and Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs).

Large enterprises have taken advantage of the Advanced Management License, allowing them to offload the availability, redundancy and recovery of the Tableau Filestore and Repository to services such as AWS Elastic File Store (EFS) and Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) for PostgreSQL, using cloud infrastructure to meet strict uptime Service-Level Agreement (SLAs), and aggressive RPOs and RTOs.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud’s SLA of 99.9% uptime is generally suitable to most organisation’s needs.

For some of us, 99.9 doesn’t mean much, so let’s convert that into something that we can relate too. An SLA level of 99.9% uptime roughly translates to the following permissible intervals of downtime or unavailability.

1m 26s
10m 05s
2h 10m 24s
8h 41m 38s

Data Connectivity and Integration

Tableau Server

Tableau Server offers robust connectivity, bridging the gap between on-premises and cloud data sources.

We encourage that your analytics platform resides closely to your data platform. Thus, we believe an on-premises Tableau Server is best suited for when all your datasources are on-premise, within your corporate network and behind your firewall.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud thrives with diverse data connectivity, particularly cloud-hosted databases such as Snowflake, especially when Snowflake is hosted within the same region as your Tableau Cloud instance.

Tableau Bridge is utilized to seamlessly access on-premises datasources and push the data securely to Tableau Cloud. Our great friends, Madeline and Sarah, wrote a wonderful blog series about Tableau Bridge.

Platform Specific Features

Tableau Server

Tableau Server is platform agnostic and can be hosted on most OS platforms such as Windows Server and Linux, anywhere from your own data centre to AWS, Azure or GCP public clouds.

Actually, our mate Henry wrote a great blog about comparing Tableau Server on Windows vs. Linux, and if you’re not running on Linux, this blog just might change your mind.

Tableau Cloud

Tableau Cloud is hosted on Linux within these highly sought after and specific AWS regions:

Asia Pacific
EU West
Europe West
North America

It’s important to note that Tableau Cloud does not support the following:

  • Data connections to any cube-based data source
  • Data connections that use Kerberos authentication
  • Extract refreshes to SAP BW data
  • Some data sources such as MS Access

Do You Think Tableau Server Is Right for You?

Are you deeply invested in harnessing the power of Tableau Server? We admire your dedication to data-driven insights. We understand that maintaining and administering Tableau Server can sometimes become a hefty task, diverting your attention from the strategic analysis you love. That’s where our ServerCare by InterWorks team comes to your rescue. Our seasoned experts specialize in shouldering the administrative burden of managing Tableau Server, allowing you to focus on what truly matters – deciphering the stories hidden in your data. Let’s team up to ensure your Tableau Server runs seamlessly and efficiently.

Your insights deserve this level of care and attention. Let us handle the rest!

Do You Think Tableau Cloud Is Where Your Future Lies?

Your choice to explore the possibilities of Tableau Cloud solutions shows your commitment to embracing innovation in data management. We recognize that migrating to the cloud can be a transformative step, and we’re here to guide you through this exciting journey.

To kickstart your Tableau Cloud Migration, we’re thrilled to offer you a complimentary questionnaire and 30-minute advisory session that will help us tailor our services to your unique needs. Our seasoned migration experts are ready to ensure a seamless transition, maintaining data integrity while optimizing performance. They’ve recently written this blog article that explores the considerations for migrating from Tableau Server to Tableau Cloud.

Let’s embark on this cloud-driven adventure together! Simply take a moment to fill out our questionnaire and let the transformation begin!

Still Unsure Which Platform Best Suits Your Needs?

Embracing the power of data analytics through Tableau is an exciting journey, and we’re here to ensure you make the right choice that aligns perfectly with your goals. We understand that you’re exploring both Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud options, and it’s completely understandable to feel uncertain about the best path forward. The good news is that you don’t have to navigate this decision alone.

Let’s have a conversation to delve into your unique requirements, discussing factors such as scalability, security and collaboration. Your insights deserve the best platform, and we’re here to guide you toward that choice. Reach out to us, and together, we’ll transform your data aspirations into reality!

More About the Author

John Saunders

Platforms Architect
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