Value of ArcGIS Enterprise in comparison to just using ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro

11-29-2023 10:45 AM
New Contributor III

Hey Esri Community, I'm posting this with hopes of gaining a better understanding of ArcGIS Enterprise and its capabilities. Currently, my organization is utilizing ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online, with Pro being our main tool for back-end development/updates/layouts/scenes. We utilize ArcGIS Online for the Webmap & Webmap App functionality to display our data to the public. As an organization, we are currently weighing the pros and cons of upgrading to ArcGIS Enterprise. I'm curious about the main functionality that Enterprise adds to the tools/ArcGIS applications that we already have. I don't see many differences from what I've read up on so far. I hear that REST services is perhaps one of the main selling points for Enterprise, however, despite all of the training and certifications I've gone through, I'm still unsure what a REST service actually is. Does anyon have any input/resources that could help?

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5 Replies
Esri Regular Contributor

This can be a very long discussion.

You can read the articles below to get started.

ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise? You don’t have to choose. (

Understand the relationship between ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online—Portal for ArcGIS | Document...

The Differences Between ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise | Summer 2023 | ArcNews (

| Marcelo Marques | Principal Product Engineer | Esri |
| Cloud & Database Administrator | OCP - Oracle Certified Professional |
I work with Enterprise Geodatabases since 1997.
“ I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them." Isaac Isimov
Occasional Contributor

If your organization uses a data lake/warehouse and multiple applications that consume the same data then you definitely want to go the enterprise route. For example, one of the most commonly used GIS resources we have is our parcel geometry joined with our assessing data and shared to a web map. With Enterprise, any GIS or assessing updates are automatically reflected in the published web service. If we used only ArcGIS Online, we'd be publishing a snapshot of the constituent data, and it'd be instantly deprecated since there's no connection to the data source.

If you have cross-application data consumption and want to use one source of truth for a given resource, then you want Enterprise. Otherwise you're stuck with a fractured data environment, with multiple versions of your data being used, possibly misinforming the public, decision makers, etc. It can lead to bad situations.

Occasional Contributor III

As for REST services, it is just the standard protocol that web applications use to access data.  Whenever you publish a feature layer item in ArcGIS Online, you are creating a REST service.   ArcGIS creates them for you.

When you create an ArcGIS Enterprise site, you are hosting a mini-version of ArcGIS Online on your own equipment.  The main advantage of having ArcGIS Enterprise is that it can connect to resources you have on-prem.   Resources like imagery that you have on a file system, File Geodatabases, and most importantly Enterprise Geodatabases (SQL Server, Oracle, etc).

There used to be a lot of other things you could only do in ArcGIS Enterprise and not in ArcGIS Online, like hosting imagery services, using a GeoEvent Server and more.   Esri has made many of those features available Online for an additional fee.  You can upload File Geodatabases to AGO, but you cannot connect to an EGDB from ArcGIS Online, so that is one of the key advanatages.

There are also aspects of security that can be considered, but that is a pretty big topic on its own.  The main pioint there would be you can put ArcGIS Enterprise behind a firewall for additional security.


Occasional Contributor III

This is indeed a discussion and is non-trivial. There are some important things that come to mind right off - Enterprise provides a higher level of security than AGOL does because it essentially operates behind your organizations firewall, the other has to to do with using ArcGIS Server to create services (the REST service you mention) that are consumed in a web browser in some fashion be it through a web map or some other query that returns a result. This is largely what the hosted feature layers you create in AGOL are, but in Enterprise they are hosted 'locally' (whatever that means in this day of Cloud based architecture) rather than in AGOL's cloud. Managing REST services is a bit of an arcane art that takes training if you haven't used them previously - its easier now than even a few years ago, but its still a different thing than just publishing a layer to AGOL.

One advantage that Enterprise offers is that you aren't paying for storage as you are with hosted services and other resources in AGOL - this can be an issue if you find yourself paying for a lot of storage (using Service Credits) in AGOL, so you'll want to do an analysis of what you are storing currently, how that is likely to change, and what the impact of large increases in your data are likely to mean.

While it sounds great to go Enterprise, I think there is a big hardware/network and infrastructure hurdle that a lot of organizations just don't have the technical chops to manage, so you really need to involve your IT section in planning this. I think if you are doing a lot databases that require multi-editor workflows, or you have very large databases you are hosting, then Enterprise is probably the way to go. Understand too that features available in AGOL are not 100% compatible with Enterprise, at least not when those are released, so if you want to make use of some new fancy capability offered with the most recent update of AGOL, that isn't going to be available to your Enterprise right away, there is always a lag between those features being released and then  updating to Enterprise.

Some planning issues you have to understand: can your org support the necessary IT infrastructure (servers, storage, network capacity, on-prem versus cloud, etc.) and technical management that Enterprise requires? Do you need to maintain an AGOL organization for outside collaboration or more public sharing? What are your security needs? How are your GIS data currently stored and managed, how will Enterprise change this?  What are your current day to day workflows and will those translate to an Enterprise environment. Will you be able to migrate existing AGOL layers/maps/apps to portal and how much time ($$) will it take to manually reproduce those items you can't migrate? Ultimately, you're going to have to sit down with ESRI (or even 3rd party vendor) to help plan this out and you'll end up talking about an Enterprise License Agreement which is a different level of hassle than the already complicated licensing ecosystem involving pro and AGOL.

MVP Regular Contributor

Everyone who's commented has made a lot of really great points. Here's a very small contribution to the discussion that may or may not be important to you: in AGOL, a viewer level license costs ~$100. In Enterprise, you have unlimited viewer licenses. If most/all of your maps and applications are public-facing this probably doesn't matter, but if you have a lot of license holders within your organization that need to see internal-only maps, you do get a small cost-reduction there. Probably a drop in the bucket when it comes to overall costs, but there you go.