Cloud-Computing Lessons using Software as a Service (SaaS)

Businessman drawing a CloudLong before anyone referred to “the cloud” as something related to the Internet, software companies began shifting away from expensive, customized, on-site software implementations to something we used to call Software as a Service (SaaS).  Now, “the cloud” is widely recognized as a place where Internet-based computing resources are shared, but SaaS is still out there.  In fact, it’s probably the most widespread type of “cloud” computing; you just don’t hear it called “SaaS” that much anymore.  But SaaS is, fundamentally, the same as it ever was – a type of Internet-based computing that provides shared computer device processing resources and data on demand. The SaaS software distribution model otherwise known as “on demand software” gives users access to application software and databases without having to manage and host those resources on their own.

In helping some clients who operate their business completely in the cloud, we’ve learned some things over time. The list below is not exhaustive, but four of the most important lessons are as follows:

Lesson # 1 – Your Network Is the Key Component

If you use a slow Internet provider, your cloud-based experience will only be as good as your transport service. Slow network, slow SaaS experience. IT staff must optimize the network for the quality of service required by the cloud provider. When your firm is supporting streaming (video or music), voiceover IP, large file transfers, and heavy cloud-based activity, then network optimization is critical. Slow networks can lead to time outs/drop outs, broken conversations, and lost cloud transactions, not to mention the number of user complaints about the service that may actually be network problems. Speed up your network so that utilization is less than 40% and generally, you will be better off.

Lesson # 2 – The Browser May Affect Your Experience

All cloud-based solutions are only as good as your browser is stable and working properly. Not all cloud-based solutions are created equal. The ideal scenario is when you do not need any components to be installed on your computer. However, some SaaS providers need you to download DLLs, Active X controls, or other executable files that must run on your system in order for their cloud-based components to work correctly.

These downloaded items must work with your installed browser, or browsers (i.e. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.), no matter which versions you have installed across your enterprise. This sometimes creates problems. Some providers optimize their systems to use Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox. Some want the latest version while others do not support the most recent versions of the browser.

Typically, when a cloud-based provider must install additional components on your system, those components will be more sensitive to the browser version and vendor. Make sure you know what browsers and versions are supported by your SaaS provider and ensure that your enterprise also supports them.

Lesson # 3 – Cloud-Based Word Processors May Not Work with Some SaaS Solutions

With the financial incentives to move the user base to cloud-based services handling word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, one issue that must be faced is the potential for incompatibility. SaaS providers that require download of add-on modules or plug-ins for locally installed word processing software and spreadsheets may not have a solution for word processors or spreadsheet programs that are cloud-based.  This incompatibility could leave your firm unable to take advantage of the cheaper pricing for cloud-based desktop software. For example, an annual cloud-based subscription to a leading word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation package is $99.00 for up to five computers or tablets.  This $99.00 is compared to over $200.00 to purchase the same desktop software package for one computer.  The savings would be significant ($20/user/year vs. $200/user) – it would take 10 years of cloud-based service to equal the purchase price for one license in the traditional model.

Lesson # 4 – Cloud-Based SaaS Solutions Save Money, but You Typically Get What you Pay For

Companies can save money over building their own systems or purchasing a cloud-based software package and the annual support subscription. However, not all cloud-based solutions are created equal.  The good news is that the move to the cloud means that there is a lot more competition than there was even 10 years ago, because barriers to entry have come way, way down.  Still, if there is a business critical solution you’re looking to implement via the cloud, and you find a vendor offering “too good to be true” pricing, there might be a reason for it.  Check out any super low cost vendors very carefully.  Often, the bigger, more expensive, name brand vendors have the reputations they have, and cost more, because they’re worth it.

Cloud-based solutions are here to stay.   These days, cloud is generally the first, best choice, if not the only choice.

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