Cloud ComputingThe buzz has been crazy. The marketing, blogging, and pre-sales professionals are sinking their teeth into software as a service (SaaS) but why SaaS and why now? By the way, you may have also heard the term ‘cloud computing‘ used with SaaS or even ‘on-demand’. Some software vendors describe and advertise their SaaS solutions in different ways but don’t be fooled, they’re all based on the same principle resulting in application or service level hosting in the cloud. While attending CA World 2010 this year, it was obvious SaaS was going to be a topic of today and a topic of tomorrow.

The recent economic downturn has put many businesses in a difficult state. Poor choices in IT can now spell disaster when at one time they could have been a slap on the wrist or just a lesson learned. With the continued pressure on service delivery, the momentum of virtualization, digital data archiving abilities, smartphone technology, and network availability and throughput, we’re now in a position to embrace the cloud. What the cloud does is saves you a chunk of standard application expenses. Applications need servers and databases, in fact, when you’re low on capacity, you may need to add additional servers to the load to improve productivity or performance. Let’s also not forget that most applications have maintenance costs attributed to them as well. SaaS can roll all of that up into a sweet package.

How many companies out there have installed an enterprise level application and had to upgrade it the next year or even in the second year of it’s life? Think about how much your organization is spending on project costs to install and maintain that application. Imagine you now don’t have to pay for four virtual servers, two database servers, four web-tier licenses, disaster recovery expenses, and labor upgrade costs. Imagine finally being able to focus on your business problems and IT solutions the way you’ve always wanted to. That’s a bit of what SaaS is all about. I think InfoWorld said it well below:

Cloud computing comes into focus only when you think about what IT always needs: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’s existing capabilities.

A SaaS solution may not always fit your company’s specific needs. It is important to involve your existing IT support group as well as the vendor when you begin researching the pros and cons in having either an on-site or cloud hosted service. In my opinion, moving to the cloud is definitely a financial decision but it’s also a culture decision. Many organizations like knowing exactly who to run to when there’s a problem. They know there’s a face at the other end of the phone or email and they can run to see that person if needed. When you encounter a problem in a SaaS product, if it’s not already automated, you’ll need to notify your support contact and sit back and wait. Many IT cultures aren’t fond of waiting, then again, who is? I’ve seen some managers literally sit in people’s cubes and watch them work on an issue but sorry, can’t do that in a SaaS world. When you talk to your vendor, make sure their service tier is by the book, systematic, and thorough. Understand exactly who is responsible for what and what the communication frequency is as well as the channels being used. Don’t be surprised if you continually hear the “99.9%” uptime. Those numbers often mean that outside of the planned maintenance windows, you may experience 45 minutes of downtime each month. Know your app, know it’s criticality to your business, and make sure the vendor’s support group is top notch. If you’re going to move to a SaaS product, it’s only going to be as good as the group behind it. Ask around, check with other companies who employ that same application, and ask how their service has been.

Video: Software as a Service in under 3 Minutes!

Why SaaS, why now? It’s going to save companies millions of dollars over the next decade. Is it changing how we look at IT from a baseline and usage perspective? Absolutely. Not in a complete sense of fewer resources needed to support a specific service but improved resource alignment and availability to help in supporting additional services. The cloud isn’t going to just change the business’s approach to solving problems with software, it’s going to change how IT professionals work in the field. Many organizations might not need the capacity they have today, might not need as many system and network engineers, might not need as many database engineers, who knows really. Every situation is different. I am willing to bet though that in some way, the cloud is going to affect you. Cloud applications should lead to faster user adoption, first impressions and the amount of functionality out of the gate are usually impressive, level 1 support engineers will become more valuable, integration specialists and web service pros will be needed in an abundance, and may A/V will join text in product documentation, updates, and release notes. Love it, join it, live it, SaaS.