Cloud & SaaS

Smart IT can assist you and your business in adopting a SaaS model allowing you to increase or decrease your operation from an IT infrastrcture sense completely at will.  We can also assist with the choosing and customisation of public and private SaaS deployments either as an outsourced IT infrastrcture / application management service or a combination of both with all of the benefits of a measurable service level agreed offering powered by best practice.

What is SaaS?

There are 3 main models of SaaS or Cloud computing  –

  • Community cloud (Public SaaS) – applications like salesforce and amazon accessible via the internet by everyone who subscribes to the service.
  • Private cloud (Private SaaS) – A private cloud / internal cloud emulates cloud computing on private networks typicaly entailing some element of virtualization of services.
  • Hybrid cloud (Hybrid SaaS) – A combination of public and private SaaS.

Like ASP before it, in the mainstream sense SaaS is really just the latest variant of outsourcing but with an Internet slant. SaaS is a step forward from ASP because it adds easy customisation of applications, and it has a critical ally in the widely available, low cost (relatively), high speed connectivity. 

Wikipedia defines Software as a Service (SaaS) as a model of software deployment in which a provider licenses an application to customers for use as a service on demand.  As such it can be applied to almost any software application.  However, like Cloud Computing, it is commonly thought of as having the following characteristics:

  • Web-native
  • WAN accessed
  • multi-tenanted
  • easily customised
  • professionally hosted
  • centrally managed (including upgrades; feature release)

Considerations – Pros and Cons

SaaS – native web applications, externally hosted and licenced on demand – is  taking an increasing market share.  The model offers customers the opportunity for service improvement, IT rationalisation and cost saving, and, whilst there are disadvantages that will restrict its adoption by some organisations, it is likely to predominate in small organisations over the coming years.

The opportunity to reduce internal IT resources needs to be balanced against the ongoing requirement for professional IT advice and support covering a wide range of disciplines. This may best be provided by an outsourcing arrangement.

Below are some detailed considerations before choosing to outsource major service elements.  To discuss any of the points raised here in please call 0845 508 5982 and speak to one of our SaaS experts.

Pros

Quick start.  One of the often cited advantages is the quick start companies get.  From payment to having the basic application available at the users desktop can be a matter of seconds.  Ease of customisation also trumpeted.  Your business might need to migrate data & perhaps parallel run legacy systems.  There is, of course no short-cut to user training. Many public SaaS providers often recommend several days of certified consultants to give you a flying start which can mean upfront costs.  Having your own people do the customisation takes them away from there duties.  There is still a need to think logically about the problem & put into steps. 

In general, true for smaller companies with a standard process or companies looking for a product with inbuilt process to follow.

Low initial investment.  There are all sorts of payment profiles for SaaS applications.  Commonly, payment is in advance for a given number of users over a given period.  Others charge per ‘result’, effectively agreeing an income share with you.  These profiles typically do result in a lower initial investment than conventional software with the equivalent functionality.  However, implementation, testing and training are rarely mentioned by public SaaS providers in the first instance but should be heavily considered.

Lower overall investment. Theoretically this should be true because of the economies of scale that are a natural consequence of the SaaS model. It depends on how the SaaS vendor slices the economies of scale pie, i.e. how much they share with you, how successful they are i.e. the degree to which they can realise the economies of scale, the cost to you of additional network bandwidth, the cost effectiveness of your existing IT arrangement and how costs ramp up as you use more and more of the SaaS application.  Again, probably true, but don’t take it as read.

No Capex; predictable recurrent expenditure.  This, we believe, is indisputable in terms of software.  What about time and consultation investment?

Reduced internal IT. Again indisputable if you outsource an application then less internal support, infrastructure and environment is required internally, but is this significant?  Removing one app may not let you save on staff (because they still have to look after the remainder) or infrastructure (because the application shared it) or space (because the app was collocated on say a virtual server).  Do you end up replacing support staff with development staff as the product develops?  Is this a good thing?

Upgrades handled for you.  Real advantage (mostly!).  Bigger companies with more specialist apps, or more customised with APIs may well find that forced upgrades to say new database versions are extremely problematic.  Need lots of warning, need lots of testing because no matter how much the SaaS vendor claims backward compatibility & scheduling we know from years of experience that is never 100%. Small organisation excellent, medium depends, large probably not.

usable anywhere (with network connectivity).   Sounds great but what if you havent got an internet connection?

embodies best practice – the argument goes that because there are multiple users this will tend to push the application towards best practice.  We don’t know whether this is really true.  What is special about SaaS?  Why shouldn’t it apply to conventional apps?  Isn’t it just a function of user population? 

more frequent, possibly cheaper, feature additions – true because introduction is much easier i.e. just updating one system, so features can be added much more frequently and with much less hassle.(larger user population).  This is good – often customers of conventional software packages are extremely frustrated with the waiting time on new features / fixes.

Cons

Business Continuity. As a customer of a SaaS vendor that goes out of business you’re up that creek without a paddle.  In the same situation with conventional software you get the paddle, because the application is still running happily in your own machine room. It is essential to do due diligence on the vendor as well as the application before procuring a SaaS service, and even more important than with conventional applications to include the risk of the software vendor going out of business in your business continuity planning.

No Internet connection, no application.  The distaff side of being able to use the application anywhere with an Internet connection is that you must have an Internet connection to use it.  So, if your WAN connection goes down for any reason, your whole business could grind to a halt.   Clearly, you need to be confident that your own devices connecting you to the WAN are robust, reliable, well configured and well supported, and that your SLA with the network operator is good enough to ensure that outages will not significantly impact your business.

Application Performance.  Because SaaS applications are centrally hosted you do not have any control over server performance.  The application is likely to be running on powerful servers but at the same time it is multi-tenanted.  Many factors can adversely affect performance:

  • the SaaS vendor has a conflict between running hot (i.e. more contention) to make more money and any performance guarantees it makes;
  • you do not have any control over the behaviour of other users which may temporarily hog server resources – you are reliant on the vendor to police this – and, indeed if the server is running internationally there may be restrictions on your ability to run heavy duty batch jobs over night;
  • you can be affected by network congestion and contention; and, of course,
  • you are anyway restricted to WAN speeds. 

Even if the extra delay is only 1 second on average every time a user hits a button that requires network/server activity, this can add significantly to the cost of employment and deflate user moral.  Proper capacity planning for your network connection bandwidth, careful assessment of network operator and SaaS service SLAs, careful configuration of your network devices and monitoring are methods by which you can help to assure application performance.

Security.  Because your company information, and possibly customer information, is passing across a public network and will be resident on a multi-tenanted server, and you may need to create holes in your firewall to allow the application traffic through, special care needs to be taken with confidentiality and customer data protection.  You may want permission from your vendor to run regular security scans, including ethical hacking, of the SaaS host and application and be given sufficient information to confirm that data protection rules are being obeyed, and you should be confidant that your own IT security infrastructure, e.g. firewall, VPN, etc, is bullet proof.  Equally, your business information is in someone else’s hands.  You must be very certain that backup is adequate, and you must understand how the SaaS vendor’s backup targets fit with your business requirements.  For example, is there any possibility of rolling back to, or re-instating, files or records, and to what level of granularity; do you need an independent backup/archive service for older data?

Integration.  It is unlikely that one SaaS vendor will supply all of a customer’s IT needs especially for larger customers. Thus, a SaaS service is likely to be only a part of a business’s overall IT solution.  It is essential to ensure that the SaaS service can provide the appropriate linkages to the remainder of both the current and likely medium term IT solution.  This is especially true for B2B requirements.  Many SaaS vendors promote their portals for B2B interaction probably because it promotes their service to the portal users.  But often using a portal means that collaborating businesses have to duplicate their work – doing it once on their own system and once on the portal. 

Lock-in.  In theory it should take no longer nor require any more effort to move from a SaaS service to some other solution than from a conventional application to some other solution. However, because so much internal expertise is lost when a business adopts the SaaS model, there is so much less flexibility in the service process during migration and the SaaS vendor has no particular incentive to co-operate, moving away from a SaaS service is likely to be more problematic. Thus, lock-in is potentially a more serious problem.

How can Smart IT help?

Clearly we have an excellent understanding of some of the doubtless benefits Saas and Cloud Computing can offer your business.  We also understand the pitfalls many organisations face when outsourcing to a SaaS model.  With our knowledge and expertise we can help you decide if a SaaS model is right for your business then guide you through the often troublesome initial implementation period as well as providing constant support along the way.  Call now on 0845 508 5982.