Monday, 17 March, 2008

Let’s Talk About SaaS

Before I write a blog post, I spend some time on understanding the concept from a geeks perspective. The intention is to simplify the concept and make it easier to understand / imagine (abstracting hi-tech lingo).

Let’s talk about SaaS… SaaS stands for Software as Service, which is becoming very popular trend in the software industry. Let’s try to understand how it’s different from have we have now (& had in past).

Hotmail.com, one of the most used online email software that is delivered as a service to end users. Now what is wrong in the hotmail that stops me tagging it as SaaS ? Salesforce.com is offering in-the-cloud version of CRM software that can be accessed over Internet. Both salesforce.com and hotmail doesn’t require any installation at user side and serves multiple users from single instance.

Salesforce delivers CRM, a line of business application and changes $59.00 per user per month, with no upfront cost. On the other side hotmail is a generic free email service available to internet users. The nature of the service is what differentiates a SaaS applications with other internet based (consumer) applications. A line of business SaaS application is a paid solution that addresses a business problem and requires a customized delivery channel.

When you want to get a line-of-business (LOB) application like an ERP; Currently, you will have to check for an ERP vendor, finalize the best fit solution, buy the hardware to install and plan for maintenance and customization. In the SaaS world the software is paid as it is consumed and the end user required no software or infrastructure to buy, install and maintain.

Though the concept sounds very exciting, there are lot of challenges that needs to be addressed for achieving the SaaS delivery model. There is a complete lifecycle considerations starting from Discovery, SLA, Security, Performance, Deployment etc.; which is beyond the scope of this topic; I’ll only mention the key considerations.

On the top is the multitenancy concept. This is like you have tenants in different apartments of a housing complex, sharing some common facilities (Beside having their private amenities). In SaaS, each tenant is the customer/ consumer of the hosted service instance. The multitenant-efficient SaaS offering supports a data model that allows sharing of the database and resources, while protecting data access to each of the individual tenants.

Next thing to consider is the ability to provide customized service based on the tenant while running a single instance of the service. This can be achieved by using metadata that describes the attributes of a tenant and map it with service. In other words, the behavior of service is defined by the metadata associated with each tenant. The level/ effort of customization required for each tenant is reduced by having the metadata.

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