Your Network and the Cloud: Understanding SaaS

It’s time for the third part of our cloud computing series (see part 1 and part 2 here). Cloud computing is now an essential part of business, making it crucial for you to optimize and customize your network to run the cloud services that make most sense for you.

Today we are looking at software as a service (SaaS), the third part of the cloud computing pyramid. SaaS is what most people think about when they think about cloud computing. This market is growing rapidly, with Gartner predicting a 20% annual growth rate through to 2016, with spending scheduled to reach $32.8 billion by that time. In business, the Gartner shows that office suites are the fastest growing SaaS segment, with digital content creation apps second. The largest business segment currently is the customer relationship management (CRM) segment.

SaaS Explained

Here are two explanations for what SaaS is. The first is from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

The capability provided to the consumer is to use the provider’s applications running on a cloud infrastructure2. The applications are accessible from various client devices through either a thin client interface, such as a web browser (e.g., web-based email), or a program interface. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, storage, or even individual application capabilities, with the possible exception of limited user-specific application configuration settings.

And here’s a shorter version from Techtarget:

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet.

Many of the applications you use and that you supply over your network (such as Salesforce, Google Apps or Dropbox) are SaaS apps. With SaaS, all you have to do is make sure your network can handle the bandwidth needed to run the apps; everything else is managed by the vendors. With SaaS users get online (web and mobile) access to applications which are charged on a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis.

This model has significant advantages for enterprises because of the lower cost of delivering applications to users. Instead of having to expand network capacity to enable the use of services you might not always have to use, and to buy software licenses on the same basis, enterprises pay for the level of service they need.

SaaS Issues to Consider

In order to successfully implement SaaS applications IT administrators must consider how they can best integrate cloud data with their current network infrastructure, as network architecture has to be pretty robust.

SaaS is useful because you have an almost limitless number of applications and services at your fingertips, with little need to worry about infrastructure. In addition, it frees IT administrator from the need to change settings on individual computers. With the multi-tenant model that SaaS operates, each person accesses a uniform and identical version of the software. In addition, it’s always up to date – and that’s the vendor’s responsibility. With most SaaS apps mobile ready, that also allows companies to provide mobile applications for use by employees without needing to fund their development.

SaaS applications are usually presented in packaged format, with different services depending on the option you take. That’s part of the reason they are cost effective, which is why they work well if you need an out-of-the-box solution (something we never advise for your network, but which might work well for the apps that run on it). If you need customization, which many SaaS vendors offer, then you will probably incur more cost.

With so much responsibility devolving on vendors, IT administrators must assess SaaS providers in terms of service level agreements, communication and, where necessary, compliance with any regulatory requirements for the security of SaaS apps running on your network and for any data stored by the vendor.

SaaS isn’t going anywhere and if you’re not using these cloud based apps yet, you soon will be. Make sure your network is ready for the move to the cloud. Ask Lumos how we can help.

Additional Resources

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