Friday, 13 July 2012

Pain in the SaaS?

Just like how the word 'cloud' cleverly took the internet based norm and made it sound a bit sexy, internet based software was given a name facelift and has is now known as SaaS.  For those of you not in the know that's a simple acronym for Software as a Service; which in layman's terms means the software doesn't sit on your computer it resides like a magical kingdom in the 'cloud'.  The question is whether or not it's better to live in a castle in the clouds or grounded like your computer; the answer is predictably that it depends.

When it works really well..

So cloud based systems are always going to be dependent on your internet connection so when you work in office based environments with reliable high-speed internet that's a good start.  When you add in to that a collaborative environment with several developers working together to put projects out or make elearning then there are going to be some significant advantages to being able to share via the cloud; these translate just the same for the software you use.  If you're using software and want to share without a SaaS type platform you have to have a copy of that software on each machine you want to develop on.  Of course if your offices already use a thin client approach (basically your computer is a terminal rather than everything contained on it) then you're already using SaaS for your key tasks whether you know it or not.  Under these conditions SaaS offerings are perfect for you.  A good example of SaaS is your Learning Management System (LMS).  If your LMS is not cloud-based you really would have to question why not if you have access to internet or even intranet.  This option is also great for sharing files.  I work with clients across New Zealand and Australia and sometimes the US and UK so we need to be able to move big files some times and email isn't the best way to do this. Services like Dropbox allow us to do this and access the files wherever we are.

When it's really bad..

When SaaS is bad it's really bad.  The frustrations that are caused when you can't access the site or the software crashes and throws you out are just that much more when you access them across the net.  The biggest issue is usually around the client end internet access.  Lets face it if you're still working in an organisation that believes internet should be throttled to the nth degree then you should probably steer clear of SaaS offerings unless your organisation opens the pipes up for that application.  Of course there's also the SaaS providers service and access.  If they don't have the proper hardware at their end (check out their scalability; how many 'big' clients do they have?) your bandwidth won't matter; you'll get poor service.  Fortunately most services will let you test-drive for free, this is a great opportunity to see how fast it runs, don't just check it at home, make sure you run it through your office too to make sure it's fine.  It does matter where it's hosted too, particularly if the software requires quite high bandwidth; as a general rule the closer the server is to you the better.  The last road-block for you is metaphorically speaking just that, if your organisation is firewall happy and blocks anything that looks remotely useful from coming through the web then think twice about SaaS offerings unless you have the backing of your IT department (hey, I need a whole article on dealing with those guys).

When it makes no sense

So sometimes we get a SaaS type offering just because it's trendy, if it's in the cloud it must be cool right?  Not really, sometimes it makes no sense because it's not the best option and we should make our decisions on what is the best option (with a little financial consideration thrown in for good measure).  A great example of this is when you have a single developer or someone who is dedicated to working in a 'deep' environment with minimal distractions.  It makes sense in these type of conditions to have a dedicated high-end development machine where the development takes place.  If you use a SaaS offering this then negates most of the benefits of the high-end machine and places the pressure squarely back on the internet connection.  You could say the same for small teams geographically located in the same place.  The most obvious example of where it makes no sense is where you have no internet access; believe it or not there are still places in the world where this is the case!

The future..

It's always hard to predict how and where all this will end up but the fact I'm writing this on a SaaS offering, work predominantly on LMSs and use SaaS tools more than I use the software on my computer makes me realise just how much things have changed in the last couple of years and I can't see the trend to the web slowing down.  Eventually internet connection shouldn't be an issue for anyone should it?  But if we all live in the clouds how will we keep grounded?  And how far can you see ahead when your head is in the clouds anyway?

As always all opinions expressed above are entirely my own and I reserve the right to be wrong without admitting it.  If you have a comment then please post it here or get in touch with me either directly by email: or through LinkedIn or Twitter