|By Denise Dubie||
|May 17, 2013 10:00 AM EDT||
By Lonne Jaffe - You may have heard that cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models can turn software technology into a pay-as-you-go utility that businesses can “plug in to” and use like electricity?
Perhaps — however, software technology is far more varied, nuanced and diverse than electricity. You don’t win customers by having better electricity than your competition. Software, by contrast, absolutely is a competitive differentiator for any business today. Companies in industries as varied as retail and finance use software at the very core of their value proposition to customers. It lets them deliver a variety of services to their customers, improve operational efficiencies, create new offerings and a lot more.
That’s not to downplay the business flexibility that SaaS can bring. Being able to “switch on” software and infrastructure delivered as a service for a metered fee can be an attractive alternative to having to build and manage your own IT environments.
However, as with all shiny new things in technology, buyer beware. Business and technology leaders alike need to understand and balance both the benefits and the risks of SaaS. With this in mind, here are five potential risks technology executives should consider about SaaS and some thoughts on how to manage them.
SaaS Can Have Hidden Costs. The SaaS model typically involves pay-as-you-go, or term-based licensing, in which your organization pays monthly or annual fees based on some metrics (number of seats, number of queries, amount of data, etc.). There are certainly many situations in which this is more attractive than investing in servers, software licenses and IT manpower up front. The ability to keep cash on the balance sheet and to pay for software as it’s consumed (“by the drink,” as it were) can be helpful. For a growing business, the SaaS model lets you start small and scale up as the business becomes more successful over time. That said, don’t mistake this for “cheaper.” SaaS is not always cheaper, especially when factoring in the cost of learning and managing a new environment, and the often considerable effort of moving existing technology workloads onto a new SaaS platform. Make sure you consider all of these costs when you’re evaluating the total cost of ownership of a SaaS initiative.
SaaS Can Introduce Bandwidth Issues. Moving to a cloud-based app can have a tremendous impact on your network infrastructure. There are circumstances where the data is so massive that it has a sort of “gravity” to it. The amount of data that can be transmitted over the Internet and the reliability of the network connections have improved dramatically, but it’s still difficult to move these large pools of data over the public Internet . Because of this, companies might find they need to have their compute power located physically close to the data to get the scalability and performance essential for high-profile, enterprise-grade systems.
SaaS Can Accelerate the Rogue Cloud. SaaS can empower more tech-savvy business users, but it also encourages rogue software purchases. All it takes is a corporate credit card, and the business user is off and running with a new SaaS application, sometimes without consulting the technology leadership in the business. Of course, as my colleague Andi Mann has written about, this is not necessarily a bad thing and can be used to encourage skunk works innovation. But at the end of the day, the CIO remains responsible for the security, management and performance of the overall technology infrastructure. The breakdown in coordination caused by the rogue cloud adds complexity and risk to the job. I recommend investing in third-party software that helps CIOs: manage the performance of the SaaS applications; select ideal vendors based on price, performance, capability and quality of service; and secure the applications and data now seeping outside of the enterprise’s four walls.
SaaS Requires a New Take on Security. The old perimeter model of walling off the data center to keep the bad guys out simply doesn’t work in a world where IT infrastructure and applications increasingly reside on public, private and hybrid clouds. When your data and compute power are scattered across the Internet, you can’t put a walled perimeter around it to keep it safe because there’s nothing concrete to put a wall around. A better paradigm: use “identity” as the new perimeter. Wherever data and applications reside, they can be locked down and secured using sophisticated identity and access management solutions that continuously evaluate and manage who is accessing systems and data. And advanced data-level encryption can be used to ensure that data— whether at rest or in motion— can’t be read by the bad guys.
SaaS Has a Blindside. SaaS service providers do offer insight into the performance of their applications and platforms, but in many cases, their management capabilities are not good enough. As your organization increases its dependence on outside software resources, visibility into your technology environment’s performance could suffer. Look for management software that can help you monitor and proactively manage these critical SaaS applications across both cloud and non-cloud environments.
Businesses are reaping tremendous benefits from the use of SaaS services for a wide variety of applications, and the use of SaaS will only grow with time. Yes, it can be cheaper, faster, and more flexible than in-house implementations. But like everything else in life, SaaS is not without risks and needs a well-informed approach coupled with next-generation management and security software to ensure the benefits and mitigate the risks.
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