Cloud computing has given rise to the software as a service (SaaS) model. Under SaaS, a business no longer needs to install software on their own hardware; instead, the application is hosted by the provider and is accessed over the internet. This has plenty of advantages, including the elimination of expenses related to acquiring, maintaining, and providing hardware for employees, and software licensing and installation support. Understanding what the SaaS provider does makes the value of SaaS even more apparent.
The SaaS Provider
The provider is a third-party that hosts applications, which are then accessed by subscribers using the internet. Although the provider is not always the developer of the software, this can be the case. For example, Adobe develops and acts as a provider for its Creative Suite of software products. Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and Salesforce are also SaaS providers. SaaS providers also manage subscription services for the applications.
The Role of the Provider
The major role of the provider is to keep the software available for users to access. This means maintaining the hosting site and ensuring that there is enough capacity to handle the user load. A provider that fails to keep up will end up with software that crashes or fails to load, leaving users unable to perform essential tasks.
The provider also keeps the software up-to-date. In the past, it was up to individual users to download and implement “patches” that were released for applications they were running. With SaaS, the provider automatically updates the program, which ensures that everyone is running the latest, greatest version. This means no more worrying about compatibility since everyone will be creating and viewing documents in the same version. It also means security updates can be applied to all systems immediately, rather than relying on individual users to ensure their security patches are up-to-date—which can lead to vulnerability for an entire organization. This also reduces the workload for your IT department, since they no longer need to worry about upgrading software on individual machines.
Working with the Provider
Businesses may have reservations about using SaaS; the model relies heavily on the provider to ensure security of sensitive business data and to provide reliable access to the software. Service and software options are also largely in the SaaS provider’s hands; if the provider decides to discontinue a certain program or introduces a new pricing model, users can be negatively impacted.
Businesses should attend to their service-level agreement with their provider to ensure the provider is meeting their end of the bargain. Most SLAs include clauses that explicitly state you own your data and that you have the right to export it should you terminate your subscription. Most SaaS providers prepay their data hosting centers as a safeguard for client data; in the event that your provider goes out of business, you can still access your data.
Aside from the possibility of your provider going out of business, SaaS does come with a few drawbacks. For one thing, using the software is reliant on having an internet connection. While you might be able to access a program on your smartphone, if you’re in the middle of nowhere with a poor signal, you’re going to have trouble accessing the service. Another complication can be the operating system you’re using. While most businesses run on a Windows platform, alternatives like Linux and Mac are becoming more and more common.
Luckily, providers are addressing concerns like these. Many have integrated offline functionality for their applications so that you can access the service anywhere; once you’re back online, the data will sync. And more and more providers are offering support for a variety of operating systems in response to client demand.