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What to Consider When Implementing Software as a Service (SaaS)

Jan. 07, 2016
John Hales


There are many considerations in deciding on whether to provide Software as a Service (SaaS) to others or whether to become a consumer. This white paper will explore what questions and factors you should keep in mind as you seek to implement SaaS. Considerations include deciding how your application will be accessed, implementing disaster recovery, scheduling platform maintenance and upgrades, handling service outages and creating a security plan. This knowledge can be useful whether you are provider of SaaS applications or are planning to be a consumer using software for activities like accounting or project management.


When deciding to deploy your Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud solution you need to decide if you will be a provider of SaaS services, which method to use, and/or if you will be an end user to an existing solution provided by another vendor. In this white paper will first examine your options as a SaaS provider, which include Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

With deploying SaaS, your customers don't choose any of the server, storage, or networking specifics, and they don't choose an operating system, or even a language to develop new tools in. Rather, they get an application, such as email, a customer relationship management (CRM) application, or a word processor. They can't choose anything other than the settings allowed by the application, possibly including things like the amount of storage desired, default font, or things of an application nature.

You, as the provider, however, will need to consider all these issues, and many more, in developing your application. In order to provide a simple experience for your customers you will need to think about providing all the tools end users will need to use your application. This is a lot of work - probably more so than deploying an existing application on IaaS or PaaS.

In this white paper, you will also receive some guidance around being a SaaS consumer for various aspects of your IT infrastructure needs. We'll talk about the reasons why organizations use various SaaS solutions. We'll also give some examples of common SaaS solutions to get you started, as we have with the IaaS and PaaS white papers in this series. Before we get started, though, let's briefly review SaaS cloud computing at a high level to set the stage for our discussions.

When you become a SaaS consumer you'll expect the same level of ease of use, self-service support, etc., that you will want to provide your own customers. Keep in mind that it's possible that you may be both a provider and a consumer, such as providing an email platform and using a SaaS provider for your CRM needs. This is the most familiar scenario to most people today, even if they don't know these applications are SaaS applications. Things like Gmail and MapQuest are ubiquitous today.

Note that SaaS applications can be accessed via a browser where the great majority of the processing is done on the cloud provider's infrastructure, or via an application, such as one that runs on Android or iOS, or even a Windows or PC application, where the processing is shared between the cloud provider's infrastructure and the consumer's device. In either case, data is typically stored on, or at least synchronized with, the cloud provider's infrastructure.

SaaS is at the top of the pyramid of aaS choices, where the customer gets to make very few choices beyond the application settings such as font, text and background color, and content to cache locally as previously mentioned. Be sure to read the terms and conditions and service level agreements (SLAs) provided by the cloud provider to ensure that your needs are met, especially with regard to any backups, uptime guarantees, etc.

The advantage of SaaS from a consumer perspective is that you don't need to worry about any of those decisions - you just use the application and let the provider handle all the details. The downside is that you have no control over most of the configuration, performance, or reliability of your application. You'll need to trust (hopefully, after carefully reviewing the SLA) that your provider has all those issues covered. You'll also need to consider how to get all of your corporate data from the existing application (if any) into the new SaaS application, and more importantly, how it can be pulled back out of the provider's system if the provider does not live up to their promises and/or they go out of business. Remember, you're betting the success of your business and all of your corporate intellectual property on the provider and its security controls, backups, etc., so choose carefully.

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