I am old. I have been using computers for a long time. So I have been following Software as a Service with a grain of salt. In May of 2006 I had a blog posting:
The point of that article regarded how the personal computer was tied to a server for the convenience of the IT department. I lamented that my computer, with its own powerful CPU, was being turned into a VT100 terminal. But actually SaaS offers some advantages:
Delivery - A software service is typically delivered via the web. Oftentimes, an installation is not required. This eliminates the IT burden for the customer. This also allows the solution to reach a larger set of users – perhaps those running on different standards of hardware and different operating systems. This could be great for universities who need to set up hundreds of machines at the beginning of each semester – often machines not running on the latest and greatest hardware or operating system; or for organizations building large projects with several design, engineering, and construction teams across the globe who all need access to the same building information and processes.
Pricing - Software services are often sold based on usage. This opens a door for the occasional user whose usage is not sufficient enough to warrant purchasing a full seat of an application. Sticking with the drill analogy, a carpenter can either purchase a drill of his own or rent the use of one only when he needs it. SaaS is also attractive to large organizations with expensive data centers. With the rising cost of energy, virtualization and online delivery models become more attractive.
Updates - As newer versions of the software are released, customers automatically receive the updates. This relieves the burden of having to keep track of and install the updates. This is especially taxing for users who lack administrative rights to their machines.
Community – SaaS fully leverages the internet. It is possible to do things in real-time rather than have people work individually using their applications and exchange different versions of files back and forth. As my colleague, Autodesk Labs Senior Strategic Designer, Doug Look, likes to say: “Collaboration can encourage user participation, harness collective activity, provide an engaging experience, and enable use of diverse content.“ This approach reduces sales cycles for buyer and seller by enabling a fast evaluation process, enables application configuration as opposed to the need to customize code for finicky customers, and moves away from reliance on an IT infrastructure to a service level agreement structure.
Scalability – Since the service provider owns the hardware that runs the software service, the user can leverage a provider’s entire hardware arsenal for brief periods of time. For example, on a single machine, an analysis may take many hours to complete. By farming portions of the analysis out to hundreds of servers, the analysis may only take seconds. Having a large bank of computers is not practical for most businesses. Why incur the expense to do something so quickly if it is not done that often? It is better to rent a thousand computers for 60 seconds than to buy a thousand computers or wait 60,000 seconds for a task to complete.
Perhaps we can have the best of both worlds? Since SaaS de-emphasizes the power of the hardware on the client side and leverages the power of the server, in many cases treating the client like a VT100 terminal, why not minimize the power of the client? Many of these low cost "personal computer over internet protocol" portal devices do just that. It will be interesting to pay attention to this approach for computing. The mainframe is back. It's called the internet. Sun Microsystem's slogan of 1995 may come true - the computer is the Internet.