Thursday, October 2, 2008

Are you confident in SaaS tools?

Image by lumaxart

Recently I was discussing with a friend about Software as a Service (SaaS) tools. Teamness is such a tool, hosted as a service and provided to customers across the Internet.

My friend expressed the concern of storing his data in an online tool. Me, on the other hand, I feel dependent on online tools, using them for email, todo lists management, collaboration, notebooks, documents storage etc.

I tried to list a few of the advantages of this type of service for him:
  1. No upfront investments in infrastructure, server investment, training, support personnel, and installation.
  2. The provider of the service takes care of the scaling. If there are more users in the system, you don't need to buy more hardware.
  3. You only pay for how much you're using. Different plans in the SaaS are tailored for different needs.
  4. You only pay for how long you're using. If you decide to quit, you're not tied to any contract.
  5. Security might be better with SaaS. These services usually offer SSL encryption, backups, database management etc. Also, they invest in vulnerability testing from security companies. Teamness uses the McAfee Secure service.
  6. No worries about updates. The version you're using is the last one available.
  7. High availability of the data. The tool is the provider's business, so they strive making it as available as possible.
I would like to read your thoughts about SaaS tools. Also, what are the disadvantages in your opinion?


MCA said...

True, SaaS has many advantages, ranging from easy and carefree up scaling of hardware resources to effective cost management but, a few questions rise up from the very definition of SaaS.

Do all your users benefit form around the clock 100% up-and-running guaranteed connection to the server hosting your service? Can you use the software just as effective off-line?

Is your data stored securely on the server? Of course, the connection itself may be protected by SSL and other encryption methods, but is the actual data on the server safe from curious eyes? Would you trust a top level project on the hands of on-line based software?

In my case, I have been using Teamness for quite a while now, with no complaints whatsoever regarding security or stability of the platform.

Paul Marculescu said...

MCA, SaaS tools are usually intended for online use, but some can also synchronize the data with your computer. This is a feature dependant on the service offered. When you go offline, you're basically not using the service anymore.

I understand your point regarding the privacy of the data. This can lead to a long and separate discussion, regarding how much you're willing to go with the security, as to not connecting the computer to the Internet at all. As you said, it also depends on the data you're storing. For instance I don't store my passwords in an online tool, but instead I use the simple mechanism described in the end of this post.

Thanks for the comment and for the nice words about Teamness.

FlorinV said...

Saas is generally good, but there are of course a few things to talk about.

I read your Terms of Use and there are 2 items which makes (at least your) Saas a good tool as long as you do not provide real sensitive data and you do not rely too much on its availability.

1.Your use of the Service is at your sole risk. The service is provided on an "as is" and "as available" basis.

"As is" and "as available" means to me that I cannot rely 100% on it from availability point of view. Also, I cannot ask for any compensation from the software provider if, for example, I cannot access the Saas in the most critical week of my project.

2. You understand that Bitground Software S.R.L. uses third party vendors and hosting partners to provide the necessary hardware, software, networking, storage, and related technology required to run the Service.

Securing sensitive information topic can come into play not necessarily because of you, but because of the hosting partners: how do I know that they do not use my data?

Personally, I would use Saas as long as I do not disclose sensitive personal data and the Saas is just a non-critical tool and I must not rely on it.

A kind of exception from the rule above is web-based email services (and your Saas, fo course ;) ), where I chose to disclose personal data, but believe me that I do not feel too comfortable when doing this.

Maybe I am a reluctant person but, hey, this is me.

Andrei said...

I've read the comments above. The feeling is that there is one Big Brother that is watching us. There is a big conspiracy in order to collect our trusted data, so SAS sucks!

The problem with SAS is there is there is no problem if the SAS Provider is a trusted organization and the services provided are correct designed and implemented.

For me, because I know the guy that is behind the project, I'm very confortable with Teamness.

cteodor said...

I think SaaS tools have to be evaluated in the context of the potential users and within the scope of their use.

That is, if somebody does use Google mail/calendar/docs - that is personal information management and to some extent sharing notes/working on a document - what is the common profile of that user? How sensitive is the date published? How sensitive is the individual of disclosing personal data? What about company policies? So on.

On one hand is the perceived reliability and efficiency, on the other is the security concern, namely the business sensitivity of the data.

I for one am reluctant event to sync my addr book with .mac because of the personal data of so many individuals in there. If I were to work on projects on which any detail is to be confidential, for sure I'd no go for an SaaS, unless hosted on intranet and accessed over VPN etc.

I see SaaS tools used in projects where the most important aspect is rapid communication and quick deliveries with confidentiality not a top concern.

MCA said...

Paul,perhaps I was a little bit misunderstood.I was not talking about the well known potential risks of a computer once connected to the Internet (these issues being partially resolved using different methods such as VPN and so on).
I was referring to the privacy of the data stored on the servers using third-party software solutions for remote management and back-up.
It is well known the case of a Romanian large files transfer web-based service that had for over a week the contents of all transfers (including the actual files) publicly available on their web page.
Who can guarantee that once in a while a system administrator doesn't go browsing through the contents of the projects stored on the server for fresh out-of-the-box ideas?

-h said...

I think Andrei summarized best the concept of SaaS: you may trust it as long as you trust the provider, because you have no control over what happens to your data at the provider's end.

You may use Gmail for personal email, but you'd think twice before migrating that Exchange server to the same provider. When it comes to corporate data, confidentiality and integrity are paramount. And while you may not suffer too much when you lost pictures on Flickr (you have them on your HDD or on DVDs anyway; you do make back-ups, don't you?), if your customers database goes public things get quite nasty no matter how many backups you had.

In the end, it boils down to trust. And in these times when the Internet is not quite the safest place, SaaS has a long way ahead before reaching mainstream status (and trust).

Paul Marculescu said...

FlorinV, it's the availability and the reliability of the service that keeps the business running. There is no 100% perfect system, but the closer to this value, the better the offer. Every SaaS provider strives getting close to 100%, but I don't think there is one who can guarantee that. The SaaS provider guarantees for the hosting provider. We chose SoftLayer because it's a well-known to be reliable on-demand hosting provider. It's like going to a dentist who uses good new medical devices.

Andrei, thanks for the nice words about Teamness. That's why you first should be able to try the service.

cteodor, I agree with your opinions. Assessing the context and the type of data stored is important. A governmental organization would probably use MS Exchange instead of GMail for email. There isn't a general solution for all the needs, but rapid communication and data centralization are some strong advantages of a SaaS solution.

MCA, as cteodor said, it's a matter of how much you need to go in terms of security, in the context of usage and the type of the data. We rely on tools everyday and sometimes a matter of trust is necessary. Besides, the providers of the service usually struggle to make the system as opaque as possible for external eyes.

-h, it also comes back to what cteodor mentioned, context and confidentiality level of the data. And yes, I backup my photos. :)

Nicusor said...

I must say I’m a big fan of Saas and I think you all catch very well all the advantages of using this.

Still, there are couples of things I still consider as restrictions that must be considered for the future of Saas.

First one is a serious one in my opinion, and is about confidentiality of the data. For sure I will not use any online service for documents or any kind of media that involves NDAs or nasty legal stuff. I include here all the corporate/enterprise activities and communications.

The second one is more a personal wish and is about accessing the services from the mobile devices. I feel that I cannot use them on full power of their capabilities and I consider this must be part of their future.

I know personally the fellows behind Teamness project and I'm confident these nice features behind their service will be soon available ANYWHERE and from any device.

Sorin Ostafiev said...

FlorinV, we are constantly monitoring the system in order to respond promptly if a problem occurs and the service becomes unavailable.

Although our uptime reports are not (yet) publicly displayed on the website, you can sneak a peak here:

We had a small problem with SoftLayer two months ago: an unexpected (and unexplainable) power outage made Teamness unavailable for around 10 minutes. Despite of this, on overall we are quite satisfied with them. Their services are great, the customer support is very responsive; the guys are true professionals.

Stacey said...

Our clients see a great deal of value in SaaS, because it offers flexibility and efficiency that they would not be able to get elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Sorin, 10 minutes is almost nothing, I was thinking about hours to days of unavailability. I know the probability of such a failure is pretty low, but I cannot neglect it. That's why I said I would use Saas for non-critical projects.

Eduard said...

Saas is a concept that is evolving despite the concerns of many of the analysts and CO's of "Fat" Companies witch predicts its end in almost tow years. In deed, the success stories are not so many and the structure of the income from this business I believe is still pyramidal. I tend to agree at some point that for now we are not on the edge of Internet access anytime/anywhere and this might be a drawback for this type of business. Also the concern of data privacy and security might exist but, in the Era of Facebook in which I have to update my status if I'm going to the bathroom this is the smallest issue :). The main thing that is important here is the targeted population. If we agree that Teamness is addressing to "small to middle class" business users and non profit organizations then this is a good start. Also, we are most of the time amazed of what we consider now as "overnight success" business breakthrough like Amazon, Google, Facebook or Flickr and so on but we tend to ignore the fact that behind them are some good years of failures. I think that with a little patience Teamness is on the right track. The look and feel is above the similar products on the market (which doesn't mean that it cannot be immproved :) ) and the functionality is quite comprehensive. Good luck :)

Catalin said...

What I don't like at some SaaS are plans.I prefer a dynamic scalable application to fit my needs at a certain time.And i want to pay for what i use not for what i could use.Something like how Amazon with its services(ec2, s3 ...) does.

Teamness it's free for now.This is good :).But it's storage limited which (maybe) makes it a choice only for small projects.For this kind of projects i'll definitely use it.