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As-a-Service Approaching Parity with Traditional Offerings

by Steven Robbins on Mar 13, 2008 |
Phil Wainewright brought up the concept of the serviced client to encompass SaaS applications that reach beyond the browser and go to the desktop. The key ingredient in a SaaS application is that it must still be managed and controlled from the Web. Recent big name vendors like Adobe, with AIR, and Microsoft, with Silverlight, have embraced this concept.

But SaaS outside the browser is not the exclusive domain of the big players. Phil said
RightNow Technologies was one of the first vendors to develop this kind of client, and yesterday the on-demand CRM vendor launched its 08 Release, which takes advantage of new capabilities in Microsoft's .NET framework to do things on the client that have only previously been seen in traditional Windows-based client-server applications.
RightNow joined several others in the trend of providing more "as-a-service" offerings to vendors and clients alike. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) was promoted by CogHead CTO Greg Olsen while other offerings from vendors like Rackspace subsidiary Mosso have shown up in the "cloud computing" space. CohesiveFT recently announced their Elastic Server On-Demand product. The CohesiveFT product claimed to provide a
SaaS platform that allows virtualized applications stacks to be dynamically build on-demand from component libraries incorporating ISV components, open source software components, and customers' proprietary code.
These stacks could then be deployed to any of the major virtualization formats, including Amazon's EC2.
OpSource, a SaaS application delivery company, initially released their as-a-Service product, OpSource On-Demand, in 2004. On February 25th, 2008 OpSource announced the transition of AVOLENT's paperless billing and settlement solutions to the On-Demand offering. This transition allowed AVOLENT to offer SaaS applications without a big infrastructure footprint of their own.
These on-demand applications enable customers to consolidate multiple billing systems into single-view invoices, as well as reconcile payments to multiple accounts receivable systems. The combined robust capabilities of AVOLENT software and OpSource's SaaS infrastructure will enable customers to scale to millions of transactions per day and thousands of concurrent users with maximum performance and reliability.
Alex Barnett and Dave Mitchell of Bungee Labs recently attempted to define Platform as a Service (PaaS). Barnett and Mitchell listed 6 things that they feel define PaaS:
  1. Develop, Test, Deploy, Host and Maintain on the Same Integrated Environment
  2. User Experience Without Compromise
  3. Built-in Scalability, Reliability, and Security
  4. Built-in Integration with Web Services and Databases
  5. Support Collaboration
  6. Deep Application Instrumentation
Mitchell described the first item in the list,
It's time to stop developing "here" and running "there". Today, most applications are coded in one environment (usually custom-built for that project by a developer), then tested in another, and redeployed to yet another for production. In addition to the costs of building, configuring and maintaining these separate environments, applications almost always need to change and get re-factored to overcome roadblocks as they proceed through the software lifecycle, which incurs even more costs along the way. In the conventional on-premise model, these cost and attendant risks fall on the application owner, and are considered part of the cost of deploying a web-scale application. In a completely-realized PaaS, the entire software lifecycle is supported on the same computing environment, dramatically reducing costs of development and maintenance, time-to-market and project risk. A PaaS should let developers spend their time creating great software, rather than building environments and wrestling with configurations just to make their applications run - let alone testing, tuning and debugging them.
No discussion about "as-a-Service" would be complete without including Salesforce.com and their Force.com Platform as a Service offering. Salesforce.com ratcheted up the push for PaaS with recent deals with Walt Disney Co and Japan Post. Renee Boucher Ferguson of eWeek said:
Japan Post is probably Salesforce.com's most well known Force.com customer win at this point. As Japan's largest financial services institution (which also provides the nation's postal services) Japan Post is transitioning from a government-owned agency to a privately run company. And it's using Force.com to build and deploy a number of applications to help it sell financial products to its huge customer base. The key with Japan Post: It's not using Salesforce.com's CRM applications. Likewise The Walt Disney Co is using Force.com to build homegrown applications - a deal Salesforce won against Microsoft's .Net development stack.
As more vendors enter the as-a-Service space and more innovation appears, the options a customer has to choose from will continue to increase. Wainewright summed up the serviced desktop client model,
[I]n my view this is increasingly how SaaS vendors are going to deliver clients - especially for complex enterprise applications. And it's how SaaS vendors are going to show that they're every bit as sophisticated as the on-premise client-server applications they aim to replace. People seem to think that network applications have to sit in the middle of the network but I'd say that serving code that's centrally managed but which runs on the client counts as a network application. After all, the client is part of the network too.

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