Software as a service (SaaS) and cloud delivery models are disrupting the world of traditional enterprise software. As IT organisations embrace agile infrastructure strategies to keep pace with the rapid change of the businesses they support, SaaS delivered applications have a clear advantage over traditional on-premises enterprise apps. As the forces of digital transformation reshape enterprise IT for the on-demand world, SaaS applications will be a driving force in reshaping how modern businesses function.
SaaS is a more efficient way to deliver powerful functionality and positive experiences to business users, as well as radically simplifies deployment. Users of SaaS solutions also don’t have to install and maintain servers, databases or scale data center infrastructure to add more storage or compute power – the SaaS vendors handle all of this for them. The SaaS model collapses the entire application delivery infrastructure into the software being delivered, which is why SaaS is so appealing to CIOs and line of business executives.
Some SaaS providers turn to public cloud vendors, though others may choose to build their own cloud infrastructure to optimise application delivery infrastructure as part of their core competence. Furthermore, providers want to optimise this to ensure seamless delivery when it comes to issues around customer experience, real-time analytics or privacy safeguards. For SaaS vendors, solid, flexible infrastructure can be a competitive advantage in delivering mixed workloads.
The four keys to success
In order for SaaS vendors’ infrastructure strategies to differ from enterprise IT and ensure it impacts the effectiveness of the service – the application “experience” they offer to end users –vendors should consider these four SaaS business drivers when it comes to impacting application infrastructure decisions:
- Customer retention is as important as a new customer acquisition – Because SaaS users aren’t invested in infrastructure and perpetual license outlays, the “switching cost” is low. As a result, SaaS vendors must provide consistently high customer experience in every area, including great uptime, superior application performance and general account management.
- SaaS vendors most grow to succeed – Vendors’ business models are based on low barriers to start (e.g. free trials) and network effects that deliver more value as user base grows. This means that SaaS companies need infrastructure that scales easily as they add customers, users, devices and data growth.
- Deliver real time analytics and decision support – SaaS solutions today are doing far more than just transactions—they need to manage real-time analytics. The era when online analytic processing (OLAP) was a batch function performed by specialists with niche data warehouse tools is now giving way to SaaS solutions that embed personalisation, intelligence and other analytics as part of the user experience. This requires infrastructure that can deliver consistently high performance and user experience under dynamic workload environments.
- Ability to scale – The cost of application delivery infrastructure is effectively the cost of goods sold (COGS) for a SaaS company. As a result, the ability to scale infrastructure in a cost efficient way is vital to profitability.
These four key business drivers map back to capabilities needed from cloud infrastructure. Scalability is table stakes – any SaaS vendor that chooses to build out its own infrastructure must ensure it can quickly scale its application and performance needs, even as its application workload profile evolves to include more rapid analytics and personalisation.
The infrastructure stack for any vendor building its own cloud has multiple layers – from virtualisation to security and disaster recovery capabilities – but at the end of the day, its foundation is storage. As a result, SaaS providers must consider these infrastructure requirements when it comes to choosing a storage technology approach.
The shift to all flash storage?
To power the high performance needs of the modern SaaS business, all flash storage is the natural technology selection. However, beyond choosing all flash, SaaS providers also need agile storage solutions that can seamlessly manage growth in data and users with a cost model that supports their business. Furthermore, storage solutions must evolve with the constantly shifting requirements of the applications they support.
The ability of a storage platform to handle SaaS solutions with real time analytics is the biggest concern. The platform will need an architecture that performs at the highest level for both transactional and analytics workloads. Not every storage array can deliver consistently high performance under both types of workloads. In order to deliver consistently high user experience in a cost effective manner, it’s essential that the entire infrastructure stack – from the bottom storage layer up – is tuned for real-time analysis, as well as transaction processing.
While much has been made of the SaaS business model – subscription-based solutions that offload the infrastructure concerns for users – the future for what will set one SaaS solution ahead of its competitors is likely to be how well it can deliver differentiated functionality like advanced analytics. Most SaaS providers have adopted agile development practices and incorporated DevOps into their thinking to stay responsive to customer needs and maintain a competitive advantage. At the same time, deploying an agile infrastructure strategy that incorporates flexible storage solutions is essential, so that it can evolve with changing demands of the application and market.
SaaS is already eating up the traditional software delivery model, and in order to succeed, vendors must focus on embedding real-time analytics to deliver a strong user experience. At the end of day, this means SaaS infrastructure not only has to scale, it must also handle complex workloads in a way that will support the most competitive end-user experience. The winners in the age of SaaS will make strategic infrastructure choices that best support their fundamental offering and business model.