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What is SaaS? The modern way to run software

Bob Violino | Sept. 25, 2017
The era of installing software from a CD or from a datacenter’s server is coming to a close, as internet-delivered software makes applications available anywhere, anytime.

The pay-as-you-go model of payment lets enterprises shift costs to an ongoing operating expense (aka opex) for easier-to-manage budgeting. They can stop subscribing to SaaS offerings whenever they want and thus stop those recurring costs.


How SaaS allows greater flexibility for enterprise IT

Because the applications delivered via SaaS are available over the internet, users can usually access the software from any devices and locations that have internet connectivity.

The ability to run on both mobile devices and computers contrasts with many traditional enterprise applications’ computer-only availability. SaaS offerings also tend to support MacOS, iOS, and Android, not just Windows—as well as run on multiple browsers such as Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Mozilla Firefox, not just (the soon-to-be-discontinued Microsoft Internet Explorer).

Another benefit is easy scalability. Cloud services in general allow enterprises to ramp services and/or features up or down as needed, and SaaS is no different. That’s especially important for enterprises whose businesses are cyclical in nature, as well as for organizations that are growing quickly.

SaaS customers also benefit from the fact that service providers can make automatic updates in software—often on a weekly or monthly basis—so enterprises don’t need to worry about buying new releases when they are available or installing patches such as security updates. This can be especially appealing to organizations with limited IT staff to handle these tasks.


The risks and challenges of SaaS

SaaS comes with a set of risks and challenges that enterprises need to be aware of to maximize the benefits of the delivery model.

Similar to other cloud services, users of SaaS rely their service providers to be up and running at all times so that they can access applications as needed. They also depend on the providers to ensure that the software is kept up to date in terms of new features, security patches, and other changes.

Although SaaS providers take great measures to ensure continuous uptime and availability, even the largest vendors can experience unexpected interruptions in service. Companies that use SaaS can expect to lose some level of control when it comes to accessibility, which is one of the trade-offs of cloud computing in general.

This loss of control can extent to other areas, such as when a service provider adopts a new version of an application but an enterprise is not ready to make such a change or doesn’t want to incur the costs of training users in the new version.

If enterprises decide they want to switch to a new SaaS provider, they might confront the difficult task of moving extremely large files over the internet to the new provider. By contrast, changing locally deployed software usually doesn’t change the location of the files, which tend to reside in the enterprise’s own datacenter.


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