Autodesk Labs Software Developer, Frederic Loranger, keeps abreast of Software as a Service (SaaS). He filed this report.
Remember the old days of the main frames and terminals? Remember when University labs where filled with X Terminals connected to "big" servers on a local intranet? Nobody could really tell that this love story would end quickly after the first IBM Personal Computer Clone was born. It was only a matter of time before the technology would catch up and make all its components pure hardware commodities. And with cheap hardware, Microsoft Windows helped speed up the success of the personal computer, which contributed to the decentralization of the computing power on networks. Nowadays, it is quite common to have enough CPU and GPU on a laptop to do some serious computing and simulations, and to play games with 3D graphics and surround sound. In short, personal computers are quite powerful.
So tell me why is there so much talk about software as a service? Why this push to offer software that run on a server and can be accessed with only a thin client if my machine is capable of finite element analysis and real time 3d graphics? Because of all the many advantages that this type of platform offers: convenience of having access to the service from any device, no installs are required, ongoing revenue stream for businesses, protection of intellectual property, and the ability to scale to serve as many users with a pay as you go model. With tens of thousands of servers available in server farms (e.g. Amazon EC2), the idea of infinite computing power opens the doors to a wide range of complex mathematical problems and real time finite element analysis. Regardless of today's personal computer advances, they are pale in comparison to what can be accomplished by a legion of servers "rented" for just a few seconds.
At Autodesk Labs, we have developed three SaaS technology previews that can be used in a browser at absolutely no cost to you:
Project Draw; A feature-rich web-based vector drawing application available at http://draw.labs.autodesk.com.
Project Freewheel; A pure web-based viewer for 2D and 3D designs available at http://freewheel.labs.autodesk.com.
Project Showroom; An example of web-based realistic rendering for 3D designs available at http://showroom.labs.autodesk.com.
Note that in addition to being used on the Project Freewheel web site, Project Freewheel can also be used within your own web page when using iframe tags, and support deferred or real-time collaboration. For example:
<iframe scrolling="no" width="800" height="600" src="https://freewheel.labs.autodesk.com/dwf.aspx?path=http://labs.blogs.com/articles/mouse.dwf">
You simply replace http://labs.blogs.com/articles/mouse.dwf with an URL to your own DWF file and paste the iframe into your own HTML page. How hard is that?
SaaS is here to stay, and it is only a matter of time until it takes off and rocks the software industry the way the PC rocked the main frame world. It seems that this is a push to transfer the processing power back to the server rooms where it came from. We are back full circle!
Pondering SaaS is alive in the lab.