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How to become SaaS savvy

Tips for having those tough conversations with potential SaaS providers

By , Network World
June 06, 2011 12:07 AM ET

Network World - As cloud deployments increase, so too does overall understanding of how best to approach this new computing model and work with service providers.

10 SaaS companies to watch

It's about developing cloud smarts, if you will. The savvier you are about the cloud, the less prone you are to focus only on basics such as cost, back-end infrastructure and security provisions. Yes, even the latter has become a bit of a no-brainer.

"Originally everybody worried about security. But reputable cloud vendors have incredible security stats, and are able to provide potentially much better security than most corporations have right now because of the way they've designed their software," says Julie Smith David, director of the Center for Advancing Business through IT at Arizona State University. She also wrote a recent cloud integration report from the Society of Information Management's Advanced Practices Council.

This doesn't mean that security isn't a critical asking point, but one that's easily enough satisfied with proof of SAS-70 certification and the like, as well as through interviews with existing users, says Dave Strasser, IT infrastructure services director at Sterling Savings Bank, in Spokane, Wash. Strasser recently put Proofpoint, an e-discovery, compliance and e-mail security software-as-a-service [SaaS] provider through its paces. "We look at published success rates of the solution, and validate those with customer references. It's important to make sure what the sales channel at these vendors are telling us is really the same thing as customer experience."

Have the tough talk

On the flip side, Smith David says, as security concerns lessen and enterprises lock themselves in with a SaaS provider, the greater the risks associated with that vendor. "Vendor survivability or changes in vendor strategy are becoming much more important," Smith David says.

As you evaluate providers, you've got to look not only at the here and now, but also weigh potential futures. The idea of being a big fish in an upstart SaaS provider's small pond may be appealing, but what happens if that company gets acquired and suddenly you're a little fish in a big pond? Not only does your influence diminish, but you're likely paying the same rates for less functionality, cautions Smith David, citing the experience noted by a case study subject she recently profiled.

"Because the functionality was in a proprietary data set, the company was unable to transition to a different SaaS vendor. It had picked the original provider because it had some unique capabilities -- and it still has those -- but the risk of vendor lock-in has proven greater than it would have with on-premises software," she says.

It comes down to having the hard discussions with potential providers about worse-case scenarios. "Every time you adopt a new solution you need to have in place a roadmap of how, if the vendor were to disappear or be acquired, you would be able to take your data, transport it to another platform and be back up and running in how much time," Smith David says.

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