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The SaaS and Cloud Quandry

The SaaS and Cloud Quandry

What’s the differentiator between SaaS and Cloud?  A very common question because not all hosted applications in the cloud necessarily make SaaS solutions.

As cloud computing is the big buzzword in business technology these days, it’s no wonder that most of the larger software vendors, as well as several new kids on the block, are jumping on the momentum by releasing cloud versions of their otherwise standard software applications.  Delivering software as a service (SaaS) from the cloud has great benefit both economically and technologically for businesses of just about all sizes.  But does making an application available in the cloud make it SaaS?

Not always!

Fueling the confusion fire of a market already filled with hype and jargon is making it harder to figure out exactly what product, service, or both, that you are buying into.  So how do you know when an application is a true SaaS offering or not?  Read on to help differentiate between a hosted application and Saas.   The following section will outline key things to observe when making the decision to go with a Saas or Hosted application.

Sharing – no islands here!

By several definitions, a true SaaS model is when there is only one copy of the application (single instance) which all customers use (share or commonly referred to as multi-tenant) and can customize to meet their unique requirements. Customers can augment certain parts of the end-user interface to meet their needs, but all of the base functions, capabilities and general software operations are standard across the board.

A non-SaaS version may indeed be hosted in the cloud, but the application is provisioned separately for each customer – they have their own dedicated instance of the software.  The common name for this service would be multi-instance, single tenant.  This effectively mirrors the ASP model of more than  decade ago.  The use of virtualization technologies does make a multi-tenant application.

So, why does this matter to me?  In a true SaaS environment, a single application requires maintenance.  A single application requires development.  A single version requires support.  In the ASP-like hosted application model, single tenant-based, the vendor must maintain versions of the application for each customer – so there are many applications that need development, support and maintenance.  This is the primary reason why SaaS services can be offered at a much easier to swallow cost.

Self-service Station – less to no full service here!

SaaS is all about automation.  The system should allow for you to subscribe to services, test services, customize services and use the system without much, or any at all, customer service or sales personnel being involved.   Services should be on-demand – your demand that is!

For the hosted application side of things, ‘someone’ needs to configure and provision your services.  Free trails need approval and provisioning as well.  If you are prompted on a website to submit a sales request, then you are almost 100% guaranteed that your solution is not a true SaaS implementation.

There’s a Virtual Community that Drives Development!

Another SaaS-based ‘tell’ is the smart use of a user community forum and user experiences.  The larger the user community, the better the products tend to become.  When more users want or need new modules, functionality and capability, the company is far more likely to implement and develop those changes.  In the hosted environment, virtual communities like this are not nearly as helpful .  As most users  are technically on their own island of software services, sharing any kind of assets or collective wisdom is extremely difficult, as there can and will be, a different solution or implementation need for each customer, for the most part.

Imagine visiting iTunes or Expedia or other sites and only seeing what you download or purchased.  What if you never saw at the bottom of the screen or on a side-bar, what others who downloaded or purchased also looked at or considered before making their decision? 

Servicing and Enhancing Product

This item is a hard one to fake.  If you subscribe to a service as upgraded or maintenance releases are not deployed globally, it’s not SaaS.  Ask the company how many versions of their software are being maintained.  The only SaaS answer is “1”, with a ‘next’ version under development.  Maintenance and service costs go way down when a provider only has to work on a single instance of their software versus 100’s or 1000’s of them.

SaaS vendors work on making their products better rather than supporting many versions and holding off on development and enhancements.  All customers on the SaaS service have access to all enhancements and features, and there are usually many of them that happen in a given year.

Check references

As with any major product decision, talk to existing and past customers, if you can get that information, as you can’t replace recommendations based on actual experience with anything else.  Don’t only look at the ones the vendor sends you, or the ones they may have posted on their websites either.  Look at their forums or blogs and talk with people there to get the real story.

Does all of this really matter to me, or anyone, really?

Application delivery not only should matter to you, but it should drive the reason you choose a particular solution.  There is a big reason why SaaS has virtually done away with conventional ASP products services and has become king in application delivery.  SaaS is a better architecture for developers and software companies from the overall capital and technology costs to scalability and consistent user experiences.

Multi-tenant operations is what makes it all happen – from speedy subscription to live operations timing, deployment, enhancements and product innovation, and scalability that is seemingly endless. The SaaS vendor has the upper hand and advantage due to reduced cost to operate and maintain their product, thereby giving them increased longevity as well.  They have the competitive advantage – hands down. 

Once again, if it’s in the cloud it’s not automatically SaaS – and now you know why!  If you want more information or would like help in determining your best rout in cloud computing, do not hesitate to contact us for help.

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