Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The problems I see with SaaS.

SaaS (the camel case abbreviation for Software as a Service), is providing the concept of Leasing Software. Kind of.

Different kinds of Software as a Service I can think of, off the top of my head: Gmail, Blogger (where we are now), (CRM), Google Apps. In each of these cases, you can take similar software, and build a server. With virtualization you can put several of them on the same server at one time. I could go out and buy hardware; get sendmail and wordpress; and set up DNS. Then I could have full control over my mail and my blog.

However, I use services that run the software for me, and allow me to access what I want across the internet. That's great. It saves me hardware price, electricity, and space. I don't have to worry about upgrading or bug fixes, I don't have to worry about a lot of things.

Or do I? Here's the problems list, and why I came up with it. I started looking and thinking about this because of 3 things recently.
1: Yesterday I saw a job posting for a really good job. It was Linux administration, Xen Virtualization, MySQL administration, and playing with something called (which turns out to be a Saas based Customer Relationship Management (customer database)).
2: I was contacted by a recruiter I've worked with in the past about the same position.
3: A comment on this blog post / article. And yes, that is me responding to the post with some of the same information below.

Problem 1:
What happens when you have no network connection? It could be because you're traveling, natural disaster, accident (someone hit the telephone pole with their car and broke it, your ISP caught fire and burnt to the ground, someone got too happy with a backhoe and took out the local fiber --I've seen all three-- ), mistake (telco disconnects the wrong circuit --something else I've seen a lot-- or the DNS expires and the company can't get it back), or maintenance (isp has to upgrade a switch and its year end for your company). You've lost access to your email, docs or customer database. And the problem could be at the far end, where the SaaS provider is, not just where you are, or anywhere along the line between you and them.

At least if the data is on your hardware and equipment, you don't have to send your staff home, or have them waiting around doing nothing until they can get access back. You can also sit down and make modifications on data off line, and upload to central servers later. You can review old emails (something I can do when the mail server crashes, because I have a local copy on my desktop) and get ready for meetings you're about to go into. The list goes on and on.

Problem 2:
Where are the items stored? Are they on your computer, under your control or on someone else's hardware? If they decide to upgrade, do you have a say? When Microsoft comes out with patches or an update, I choose when to upgrade. When someone releases a new version of the Software, I plan it around when it will cause the least amount of chaos. That isn't the case when it's on someone else's hardware. They do things when they want to, because they think it's best for them, with no buy-in from the customer.

Another note in the same vain. I've had 2 friends (well people I know online and consider friends), who had their blogs and things stored on a community site. They lost access to most of their data when the site didn't renew it's DNS. One of these friends I was able to help and get her some of her data back. I couldn't help the other one though, because it was set up differently for him.

Problem 3:
Backing up and restoring data. When it's on your hardware, you do the back ups, and if you mess up, it's you that goofed. However, when it's on their hardware, you lose that right. They make the back ups. Companies do a good job of backing up, but they don't keep the backups forever. If they fold will they give you access to your backed up data so you can move it elsewhere?

Problem 4:
Who besides you have access to your data? In the case of, Wikipedia (another SaaS) talks about how was compromised in 2007. The attackers used a phishing scam, and then moved out from there.

Yes, there will always be crackers, but at least if it's my hardware, I would hope my monitoring software would catch them before they were able to attack to far. With SaaS, they just have to attack one vector because they know that's whats there. With your hardware, they have to figure out what you have first.

Going back to Wikipedia, their site shows something else just as good, although in a different fashion. Anyone can update it, which means if people don't like what is being said they can change what is said.

Problem 5:
Network overhead. Where I'm currently working, I have a decent network. Lots of switches, Gigabit links and all the fun that comes with it. However while my network can do 100mbit+ speeds from the desktop to the servers, I have a much smaller pipe going out of the network to my ISP. If my company were to use the SaaS tools, they would have to buy the next size pipe. Considering they ask me regularly if they have to have the one the size we do... I don't think telling them they would need larger would go over to well. Especially if it's because they have no choice but to get a bigger pipe, or wait longer to access the information they need.

Problem 6:
Cost and return on investment. It might cost less to do SaaS, since you're saving on hardware, software, cooling, space costs, and staffing. But it's a re-occurring bill every month to a year. What if you miss the payment? When I had Sprint / Nextel, they'd leave service on until you were 2 bills behind, then they'd cancel your service. That worked great for me when I was a contractor, and would go a month without income. AT&T, who I have now, if your 7 days late with your payment the only places you can call are customer service, and 911. What happens if you miss a payment to your SaaS because of an unforeseen problem? Also when you own the equipment you can write it off over deprecation. Can you do that with a Service?

Problem 7:
Staffing. Lets face it the economy sucks. We currently have a high unemployment rate too. If you don't have the hardware on the floor, you don't need as many people to run it. So there are less jobs and people get let go. I know I'm tired of working more than 12 hours at a time and 5 to 7 days a week (even if they're not all 12 hour shifts). If people don't have a job, they don't have money, if they don't have money, how do they buy your product? If they can't buy your product, where does your revenue come from? If you don't have revenue how do you pay your bills, including your SaaS bill? See problem 6.

I could probably go on if I wanted to, but I'll stop here. For now. While I think the concept is cool, and have no problem using some of it, knowing that things can get lost at any given time; I don't think it is what Businesses should be doing. I think the businesses that are using it, are being ran by people that are too busy counting beans and not paying enough attention to the larger picture. If they looked at the larger picture, they'd see that in the long run they could have a better Return On their Investment if they maintained everything in house.

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