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More SaaS please, but easy on the clouds

Posted by terrosatechnologies on August 14, 2009

This Thinking about SaaS came out of a discussion I had recently with a colleague. He asked me the simple question, “Can an application really be SaaS without using a cloud based infrastructure such as Amazon?”.  While this question is straightforward enough, I realized how much generic cloud infrastructures drives the thought process around security, performance, reliability and other perceptions about SaaS. And yet more often than not they are unrelated. Most SaaS applications need not have any interdependency with cloud based platforms whatsoever.

SaaS is about the operational benefits of sharing a provider built application across many customers on a common platform via the Internet. Sharing infrastructure with other unrelated applications, as is done with Cloud Computing, is a separate issue. There are many benefits to Cloud Computing when talking about company specific applications but mixing the two discussions can really muddy the waters.

This article is in the context of a typical SaaS provider today, which provides a single application in their particular area of expertise. These folks are experts at building and running their application. They are highly reliant on their application working extremely well, with lots of features and functions, and a high degree of security. Otherwise they will not be successful as a company. They typically want the same degree of control over their application as would a company running such an application internally.

If you are a CIO, IT Director or business user evaluating software as a service for your organization, here are a few helpful guidelines:

#1: Using a generic cloud platform implies much about the overall service levels and security of the SaaS application itself.

Barring any major bugs or security flaws in the application itself, performance, reliability, and security are generally infrastructure issues. How a database is administered, how operating systems are hardened, how the network is secured, how disk storage is managed, how CPU power is allocated all hugely impact the uptime and security of one’s application. So while running on a generic cloud is not necessarily a bad thing, it just means that the SaaS application cannot have service levels higher than the underlying generic platform.

#2: There is no such thing as a general analysis of SaaS security, reliability or performance since most vendors do not run on generic cloud platforms.

Most SaaS vendors have created their own technology infrastructure inside a data center. Or they have contracted with an infrastructure provider to build a separate infrastructure only to be used for their specific application. If done well, this type of SaaS vendor should have a highly secure and highly reliable infrastructure. Possibly much better than most companies could provide for themselves. Of course they are dependent on the quality of the data center itself for power and cooling, but their application infrastructure is of their own design and managed to their specifications.

#3: As a prospective customer, each SaaS application you consider requires it own due diligence.

SaaS itself is just an acronym and does not imply anything in particular about the platforms the application is running on. Each application considered should have its own examination of the platform choices, operational procedures and security employed by the vendor. Understanding how the major generic cloud platform companies operate may give you little understanding of how most SaaS application providers run.

The good news in all of this is that by utilizing multiple SaaS applications, a company can have its software operations risk highly geographically diversified data centers, running on multi-million dollar platforms far beyond what they could afford to do internally.

Getting there means choosing the right SaaS providers. And choosing the right provider is all about extending the due diligence process beyond software features and functions to include vendor operations and abilities to deliver consistent and reliable services. Then once the vendor is found, including the right terms in your contracts.


This “Thinking about SaaS” article is one in a series produced by Terrosa Technologies’ President, Kim A. Terry. Each article addresses a different knowledge area of applications delivered via the SaaS subscription model.


About Terrosa:

Terrosa Technologies was born out of the recognition that software provided as a service produces greater efficiency, value and benefits over traditional site installed solutions. Enabled by a fast reliable Internet and the ever increasing sophistication of Saas offerings, many companies will be able to reduce their cost of operations and afford to do more with less. In uncertain and financially challenging times, it is more important than ever that Terrosa is helping our customers build, choose or deliver SaaS based products and services more efficiently and with less risk.


Posted in Cloud Computing, SaaS, Software as a Service, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »