This is post #4 in my AirWatch week series which as grown from just being a week as I hit a bunch of roadblocks and couldn’t get out a post every day that week. No worries though, I’m back with post #4 and it’s a good one.  A question I get all the time is whether you should have an AirWatch on-premise install or AirWatch SaaS implementation.  I love getting this question, and while my answer might seem obvious to go with the cloud because of my employer, I don’t always think SaaS is a good option for everyone.  Both solutions have their benefits and both have some downfalls, lets look into both options and then you can decide which would best fit your organization.

AirWatch On-premise

The Good

Before the “cloud” existed or “SaaS” existed, there was only on-premise (on-prem) and that was okay then… and in my opinion, it’s still okay now, with a caveat.  The caveat being staffing and scalability.  How big is your IT staff?  Do you have dedicated AW admins?  Dedicated VMware admins?  Or maybe you rely on all VMware admins being AW admins also.  Maybe you just have a college intern that helps you out on demand and throughout the summer.  In most enterprise cases, you have a full on help desk staff and several tiers of admins that handle different aspects of the infrastructure.  In in these situations, I think having an on-prem install of AW just fine.  What it gives you is complete visibility into your infrastructure and complete control of all the moving parts.  The technology doesn’t change per se, it’s just more on your terms and your terms only.  You decide how and when to scale it, where to store it, how to back it up and where it’s backed up to.  For some organizations and most government entities, this is the only option due to the sensitivity of your data.  Here’s a summary of the good points of on-prem installs (taken from the AirWatch Flexible Delivery Guide):

  • Implement in days. Quick Start Installation Programs and custom programs available
  • Scale to any number of devices (may require additional hardware)
  • Choose your own hardware. AirWatch provides a comprehensive installation requirements guide so you’ll know what hardware you’ll need
  • Choose when to upgrade based on AirWatch release schedule and OS/manufacturer updates
  • Migrate to AirWatch Cloud at any time

The Bad

The downside to an on-premise AW deployment is that it’s fully on-premise, you’re location/building needs to be able to support the power/space/cooling for all of your components, which is likely more than just what is necessary for the AW deployment.  If you are smart and have virtualized most of your servers, then you have a rack of ESXi servers, some storage platform, networking gear, hopefully a large UPS and who knows what else.  Again, in some instances, you have to keep it all on-premise to ensure your data is safe.  Another downside to on-prem is that you can’t scale as easily as you would in a SaaS environment.  With on-prem, when you build it, you own it and in order to scale you have to buy more and build more.  Here’s a summary of the bad points of on-prem installs:

  • Inability to scale without purchasing more hardware
  • Cost of power/space/cooling
  • Datacenter footprint
  • Augmented technical staff

 Sample on-premise AirWatch diagram

AW on prem










AirWatch SaaS

The Good

The main benefit of a SaaS or Cloud installation of AirWatch is flexibility.  Having an AirWatch Cloud deployment gives your organization the flexibility to do things that might be impossible in a traditional on-prem deployment such as “Cloud bursting” or on demand scale out.  If your organization all of a sudden goes from 20,000 devices to 60,000 devices overnight, can you scale out that quickly to handle the load of the 40,000 extra devices?  With AirWatch Cloud, you will get AirWatch to handle the installation and deployment of your hardware requirements and they’ll do it with industry best of class hardware that you might not get in an on-prem deployment.  With the SaaS option you’ll have built-in high availability and disaster recovery/COOP, along with test and dev environments to play with.  The best benefit in my opinion is the 24/7/365 global support provided to AirWatch Cloud customers,  you can’t always get this on-prem, especially if Johnny the AirWatch admin has his iPhone set to “do not disturb”.  Here’s a summary of the good points with an AirWatch Cloud deployment (again, taken from the AirWatch Flexible Delivery Guide):

  • 24/7/365 global support
  • Automatic software upgrades and maintenance checks
  • Best-in-class technology from Cisco, EMC, Dell, F5, VMware and Riverbed
  • Unlimited scale with no hardware to purchase
  • Migrate to on-premise deployment at any time

The Bad

The only bad I see with SaaS is that you lose some visibility into your environment.  You no longer manage your own vCenter Server (an item I would have a difficult time letting go of), and you can’t simply go to your server and physically reboot it right when you need to.  There is a level of support with SaaS that you don’t get with on-prem, however you still must deal with phone calls and help desk tickets to get support.  Depending on the severity of the issue, you could get immediate support, but with most help desks, there are SLAs which can keep you from getting support when you want it.  With on-prem, at least in smaller environments, you can simply go to Johnny’s cube and bother him during his lunch break if you’re having a problem.  Here’s a list, albeit a short one, of the bad points of a SaaS deployment:

  • Loss of complete visibility into your deployment
  • Hardware is physically off site
  • Datacenter is multi-tenanted, you’re not the only customer
  • Possible help desk bottleneck

Sample SaaS Diagram

AirWatch Cloud















Your decision to go on-prem or SaaS should depend on the size of your environment and the number of devices you have.  I am an advocate for a SaaS deployment of AirWatch, I like the flexibility and for me, it’s all about the on demand scale.  Today’s world is focused on give me more, and give it to me now.  People don’t typically like to wait, and organizations don’t either.  Go SaaS and have unlimited scale without have to go through the painful procurement process that generally exists with most organizations.  If you would like more info on AirWatch’s SaaS offering, go to their AirWatch Cloud page.

Greg W Stuart
Greg is the owner and editor of He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He works as a Sr. Consultant at VMware and resides in Northern Virginia, 15 minutes west of Washington DC.

9 thoughts on “AirWatch On-premise vs. AirWatch SaaS

  1. Hi Greg, I am new to Airwatch. Can you share the installtion guide for Airwatch server? and any document that explains how airwatch server works and what all components and services are there.

    1. Hello Amy,
      Thanks for reading the blog! I will email you a PDF of the installation guide, it’s a great resource and it should help you understand what’s involved in installing AirWatch and all of the components.

      Good luck! Feel free to reach out if you need more help.


      1. Hi Greg, is it possible to send me the installation guide of airwatch to? We have an on premise installation and our VMWare partner responsible for the installation can’t figure out some issues. May be when I have the guide I can help from a different perspective.
        Thank you!

        Kind regards, Ronald

        1. Hello Ronald,
          I’ll shoot you the PDF to your email. Thanks for reading! Let me know if I can be of any help with your installation. What version are you running?


  2. Hi Greg,

    We have to do a transformation project from MobileIron to AirWatch SaaS environment.
    Could like to know what the necessary steps, hardware requirement, man hours required, implementation steps. could you help me with the resource please.


    1. Bala, VMware can offer a service to migrate large numbers of users from MobileIron to AirWatch. I’m not sure what the size of your estate is but if it’s thousands of users/devices there’s possibly a fit. Feel free to reach out to your account rep or me directly if you want to know more.

    1. I haven’t personally been involved with any AirWatch deployments in AWS, I know that you can go with an AirWatch SaaS deployment which is monitored and maintained by AirWatch. Do you know of any AWS deployments? Thanks for reading!

      1. I do not know of any in AWS. I have been researching it as an option. Would you be able to provide install and or infrastructure guides? Much appreciated.

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