Cloud Computing For Dummies book cover

Cloud Computing For Dummies

Authors:
Judith S. Hurwitz ,
Published: August 4, 2020

Overview

Get your head—and your business—into the Cloud 

Cloud computing is no longer just a clever new toy in the world of IT infrastructure. Despite the nebulous name, it’s become a real and important part of our information architecture—and tech professionals who ignore it or try to skim their way through risk falling behind rapidly. The new edition of Cloud Computing For Dummies gets you up to speed fast, clarifying your Cloud options, showing you where can save you time and money, giving you ways to frame your decisions, and helping you avoid weeks of research. 

In a friendly, easy-to-follow style, Cloud Computing For Dummies, 2nd Edition demystifies the Cloud’s virtual landscape, breaking up a complex and multi-layered topic into simple explanations that will make the various benefits clear and ultimately guide you toward making the most appropriate choices for your organization.  

  • Know the business case for the Cloud 
  • Understand hybrid and multi-cloud options 
  • Develop your Cloud strategy 
  • Get tips on best practices 

The Cloud is everywhere, and it can deliver amazing benefits to our lives and businesses. Get a much clearer vision of exactly how with Cloud Computing For Dummies—and you’ll begin to see that the sky really is the limit!  

 

Get your head—and your business—into the Cloud 

Cloud computing is no longer just a clever new toy in the world of IT infrastructure. Despite the nebulous name, it’s become a real and important part of our information architecture—and tech professionals who ignore it or try to skim their way through risk falling behind rapidly. The new edition of Cloud Computing For Dummies gets you up to speed fast, clarifying your Cloud options, showing you where can save you time and money, giving you ways to frame your decisions, and helping you avoid weeks of research. 

In a friendly, easy-to-follow style, Cloud Computing For Dummies, 2nd Edition demystifies the

Cloud’s virtual landscape, breaking up a complex and multi-layered topic into simple explanations that will make the various benefits clear and ultimately guide you toward making the most appropriate choices for your organization.  

  • Know the business case for the Cloud 
  • Understand hybrid and multi-cloud options 
  • Develop your Cloud strategy 
  • Get tips on best practices 

The Cloud is everywhere, and it can deliver amazing benefits to our lives and businesses. Get a much clearer vision of exactly how with Cloud Computing For Dummies—and you’ll begin to see that the sky really is the limit!  

 

Cloud Computing For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Digital transformation is the mantra of many organizations. There is no debate about it: Cloud computing has changed the way businesses operate. Small and mid-sized organizations may be all in on the cloud, while large enterprises are a hybrid and multicloud strategy. The cloud is helping startups challenge industry stalwarts, while at the same time, traditional companies are changing. [caption id="attachment_271370" align="alignnone" width="556"] ©ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com[/caption] The first phase of cloud adoption was mostly about cutting costs and changing technology spend from a capital expense to an operating expense. For many years, cloud vendors were focused on reducing costs for commodity compute and storage. While reducing costs is still a major driver of cloud adoption, companies are now leveraging cloud services to transform their businesses. The focus of cloud computing has shifted from reducing costs to gaining business agility, providing developers with the tools they demand and ultimately providing excellent customer care. It’s safe to assume that your organization uses some kind of cloud computing, whether it’s a CRM (customer relationship manager) or HR (human recourses) Software as a Service offerings or Cloud native container-based software development services.

Articles From The Book

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Cloud Computing Articles

Planning Your Cloud Computing Strategy

Planning your hybrid cloud computing strategy is a journey, not a simple set of steps. The right planning strategy is imperative to getting your plan to be operational. So, you need to look at the technical components, the business strategy, and the organizational plan. You have to focus on bringing all constituents to have a common understanding of how the cloud provides an opportunity for success. Remember that cloud computing can offer a dramatic change in the pace and style of computing as well as business strategy. Therefore, although costs will, of course, be imperative, you also need to think about the benefits that may help transform the customer experience. Your overall strategy will include a hybrid of different types and models of computing, so planning will be integral to your path forward. Here, we give you an idea about what to expect as you begin your journey to the cloud, along with the important issues you need to consider.

At the beginning: the move to the cloud

In the initial decade of cloud computing, very few businesses had a strategy. Primarily, departmental developers tired of having to wait for IT to provide them with the resources they needed to get the job done turned to public cloud services. These capabilities were inexpensive, elastic, and based on a self-service model. This approach to computing caught on across organizations across the globe. While this ad hoc approach to using the public cloud was pragmatic, it began to cause problems. Because no planning occurred, financial managers began to see the cost of computing skyrocket. While an individual developer wasn’t paying much to build an application in the cloud, when all those bills were aggregated together, the costs began to spiral out of control. In addition, there was little control over security and governance. Business units began to use SaaS applications at an ever-increasing pace. IT initially ignored the cloud and assumed that its use would not last. Managers viewed the use of this third-party service as a threat to the role of IT in the business. In addition, many business leaders were concerned that security in the public cloud was flawed and would put the business at risk. Some managers tried to sabotage the acceptability of cloud services. This approach was typical of any new technology that threatened to change the status quo. What changed? In simple terms, the pace of business. Well established businesses began to notice the emergence of a new generation of companies that relied on the cloud and would therefore create new business models without having to requiring the lead time to create a new physical infrastructure. In many competitive markets, there was only one option: Move to the cloud. Many companies have either begun their move to the cloud or in the planning stages. It can be overwhelming to come up with a strategy that enables the organization to select the right services, the clouds that are best suited for the workloads, and create an environment where change is the norm.

It is not easy to determine what to do first. Do you pick a single product and select a cloud platform? Do you get rid of your data center and move all of your existing services to a public or private cloud? Do you select a single public cloud vendor to support all of your workloads? Do you hire a staff of experienced IT professionals to build a private cloud, or do you hire a consulting firm to make all the decisions for you?

There isn’t simply one option that will handle all of your business situations and all of your workloads. Therefore, there best approach is to come up with a staged plan that will help you achieve your business and technical objectives.

An overall cloud computing strategy is like any other business strategy; it must be planned within the context of your business goals and objectives. So, before you begin your journey to the cloud, we suggest that you take the five steps, outlined as stages, described in the following sections.

Stage 1: Assess your current IT strategy

Your first step is to assess the current state of your IT strategy and how well it serves the business. IT organizations have typically grown in a relatively unplanned fashion. Although they likely began as well-orchestrated sets of hardware and software, over time they have grown into a collection of various computing silos. You might think of them as being like a typical two-car garage. In the beginning, the garage held two cars and a few necessities such as yard tools. Over the years, the homeowner began to store lots of different paraphernalia in the garage, ranging from unused pots and pans to an array of old furniture. Suddenly, that well-planned, purpose-built space became crammed with so much stuff that it’s hard to use the garage for its initial intent — storing cars! Today, is your IT infrastructure like that garage, or is it a well-planned and well-orchestrated environment? Does it provide the type of flexibility and manageability that supports new initiatives and business change? Or is it an assortment of different servers, different software products, and a variety of disconnected tools? Do you have many different departments that are taking advantage of a variety of public cloud services from different vendors? Do you already use third party cloud services for specialized needs? Most likely your business has a combination of all of these environments. Your first step is taking an honest assessment of where you are today. What is working well and what is holding you back? You can’t undertake this process in isolation; you need to create a task force that brings together business and IT leaders along with those who will develop and deploy services across the business. You should look at what systems are critical to the operations of the business and which applications no longer support changing business needs. You need to consider the flexibility of your existing infrastructure. What happens when the business requires a change in processes? How does the IT organization support partnership initiatives? Take a look at the cloud services including SaaS applications as well as cloud applications built in different divisions. In addition, you need to assess the data that is critical to managing your business. Where does the data reside? Is it tied to a specific application? Do you store your data across various parts of the environment? Does some of your data reside in public or private clouds? You need to understand your data and the process that you use today to control that data.

Stage 2: Imagine the future

Once you understand what you have today and how effective your IT environment is in executing your strategy, it is time to look into the future. What will your business look like in six months and in three years? Who were your competitors two years ago and who are your competitors now? Do you anticipate that your industry is changing dramatically that will impact your ability to compete and collaborate? Are there technological approaches that your emerging competitors are starting to implement that you will have to embrace? Are there opportunities to offer new business strategies that are driven by emerging technologies? It may be that your industry is changing, and without new technology approaches you will not be able to sustain a competitive advantage. This process, which is imperative to planning for a hybrid and multicloud strategy. You will most likely have workloads that live in your data center or in the private cloud. You will need to prepare for your hybrid cloud strategy so that you are ready for †he unanticipated changes in your business. Through the planning process, both the business and IT organization will have a deeper understanding of both the changes to the business and the technologies that will help manage that change in a predictable manner. This process of imaging the future and tying that future to innovative technologies isn’t a one time effort. Rather you should assume that you will continue to update your plan as new competitors enter your market and as new innovative technologies emerge.

Stage 3: Explore what’s out there

Armed with the knowledge of the current state of your business and the supporting IT infrastructure and where it is headed, now is the time to learn and experiment with cloud computing options. Although plenty of organizations will be happy to do all the work for you, it’s important that you spend the time understanding the landscape of best practices, as well as different cloud computing options that can help the business. Spend time with your peers and see what type of cloud strategy they have adopted and the type of dividends it’s paying. What are the best practices that have worked well for companies in your industry or of your size? What are the new innovations coming to market from young companies? How can you offer a new approach to business that will allow you to effectively compete with much larger companies in your market?

The wonderful thing about cloud computing capabilities and offerings is that you are free to experiment. Almost every company in the cloud market offers free trials of their technology. There are many open source offerings as well that will give you the opportunity to test out whether different options will serve your business now or in the long run. This education process is critical so that you know what questions to ask. Even if and when you turn to a service provider for help, you will be able to make better decisions about how you approach your cloud strategy.

Stage 4: Create a hybrid cloud strategy plan

At this stage, you’re ready to start creating the actual plan. Again, this should be based on a joint effort between the business and IT. If your company has done planning for a different way to think about your technology services.

You won’t be building monolithic applications. Rather, you will be building microservices that will be building blocks to create new creative services that will keep you ahead of the competition.

While you are spending your time rethinking your business and imaging the future, don’t lose sight of what you actually know about your industry and business. Take advantage of the strategic planning you have already done.

Always leverage the knowledge and expertise inside your company as a starting point. It’s also a good idea to get your most strategic partners involved in the process. Your best partners, suppliers, and customers will help you better understand how they want to collaborate with you in the future. Use all this as the foundation for your hybrid cloud strategy. We use the term hybrid because more than likely you will not leverage a single deployment model for your workloads. You will have some public clouds, some private clouds and a data center. Your strategy needs to take into account where you want to run your workloads.

Where you deploy your workloads will depend on issues related to latency, costs, and reliability. At the same time, you need to take into account your security, privacy, and governance policies that your company needs to adhere to. These issues need to become part of how you approach cloud computing in your company. For example, different industries have different regulations that you will have to conform to. Some countries have laws that restrict where and how customer information can be managed and stored. This must be considered for your hybrid cloud strategy.

Stage 5: Plan for implementation

Now you’re ready for action. However, it’s not practical to try to do everything at once. Most companies will need a staged implementation of a hybrid cloud strategy in which they deploy parts of the overall plan in phases. For example, the first phase might be to support all of the existing public cloud workloads by working in collaboration with business units so they have resources for management and security, for example. You will want to determine, for example, how many departments and individuals are using various cloud services so that you can negotiate better financial terms. If your company is new to the cloud you may want to begin by selecting a few key projects that are well suited to the cloud. For example, select a SaaS application that is useful across various departments that has visibility. Begin experimenting with creating microservices and managing them within containers. You can also select a software development project that has a short deadline and build and deploy it in the public cloud. Whatever you do, think of your hybrid cloud strategy as a multi-year effort that will include everything from a set of private cloud services to support emerging internal development and deployment needs to a way to leverage public services in conjunction with your data center.

Cloud Computing Articles

10 Cloud Do’s and Don’ts

Many companies that have begun to move into the cloud don’t do a lot of planning. Executives in different business units began to use public cloud services out of frustration because of inefficiencies in the IT organization. Over time, the cloud has taken a front seat in the way the overall business is approaching their future of computing platforms. It is increasingly clear that it is no longer good practice to simply move ahead with cloud services without a plan. Without careful planning things will invariably go wrong. Here are some ideas about what you should do and what you should avoid as you begin your journey to the cloud.

Do Plan for Cloud Native

As your cloud strategy matures, you should begin to think about building services based on a cloud native architecture. One of the benefits of cloud native is that you are building services that are designed specifically to operate in the cloud. A key benefit of cloud native services are modular and are therefore built with microservices and packaged in containers. You will want to focus on a continuous development and deployment approach so that your applications and services are constantly evolving based on changing customer needs.

Do Plan for Data Consistency and Manageability

Ironically, one of the reasons companies look to cloud computing is to move away from the silos of data. In the highly distributed model of the cloud, data is stored across a wide variety of applications and services. There are many issues confronting businesses as they look for ways to manage data so that it can be effectively used to help the business understand results and plan for the future. Although many tools allow data to be integrated across silos, it is more difficult than it may appear. To be successful, it is important that there be a common catalog where data elements are defined and managed. It is important that the organization understands the nature of stored data — for example, can data be readily shared or are there restrictions based on privacy requirements? You also need to understand how the data can be used and who is allowed to access and change that data. You also have to consider where data needs to be located. For example, certain countries have rules that restrict where personal data can reside. When you need a fast response, you may want to place data near the source where queries are taking place. Security, governance, and manageability are top issues for managing data in the cloud.

Do Decide and Plan for Cloud Services

Public cloud services offer incredible ease of use and flexibility to add and subtract services as needs change. Increasingly, businesses are finding that they’re using more than one public cloud across the organization. For example, one set of developers may have standardized on a specific public cloud while another business unit may rely on a different platform. It is not uncommon for one company to use as many as five public clouds. In addition, these same businesses may be using hundreds of different SaaS applications. It can be difficult to keep track of all of the cloud services that are being used. It is therefore important to use tools that can discover what services are being used and by which departments. In some cases, you’ll be in a good position to negotiate advantageous financial terms with cloud providers. When selecting public clouds, it will be important to focus on those that are using standards such as Kubernetes, Istio, and Dockers so that you have a better chance of having some level of portability across cloud services. When you determine that you need private cloud services review the offerings that use the same standards as those available on the public cloud. Consistency will make planning and execution much easier in the long term.

Do Have a Service Management Plan

As the hybrid cloud that consists of many different services in many different deployment models, you need to prepare for multicloud and hybrid cloud management. You do need to start thinking about all your public cloud services, platform services, SaaS applications, private clouds, and data center services and applications as a unified computing environment. There are many different levels of management that you need to consider and plan for. Do decide what is practical to do right away and what you’ll do over time as technology matures. Initially, for example, you need to be able to monitor each service that you use for performance and security. Test new service management products and services as they become available so you’re ready when these services are mature enough to support your long-term plan. Begin evaluating management platforms that provide you with visibility across your entire computing environment. In the long run, you’ll want to understand performance across all services as though they were one computer.

The bottom line is that you want to demonstrate to your internal customers, external customers and partners that you can provide them with a well-managed computing experience.

Do Plan for Portability

Many companies that are using
SaaS don’t make plans for the future, including what happens if their SaaS vendor goes out of business or becomes too expensive. Another issue to consider for the future is what you’ll do if you discover a different SaaS vendor who is better able to meet your needs.

You do need a plan for how you can move your data from one cloud environment to another. Make sure that your selected vendors provide a simple and inexpensive way to move your data. You don’t want to be surprised. With the advent of microservices and containers, it’s becoming more likely that you’ll be able to focus on portability. It may not be as easy as you would like, but it’s an important practice to get ready for the future.

Do Plan for Security

Security can’t be ignored in a cloud environment. In fact, fear of security breaches is one of the primary reasons that management is hesitant to move key services to the cloud.

Security is more than simply putting workloads behind the firewall. Organizations have to make sure that they have security across all their assets across all the cloud services they’re using. One of the biggest risks is to make sure that sensitive data is protected through encryption techniques. Do make sure that you have a well-constructed plan to protect your data no matter where it lives.

Do Execute on an Overall Hybrid Cloud Plan

When you’re creating a cloud strategy, it’s important to think about an overall plan for the services that will live across the public and private clouds and the data center. Many cloud services will be shared by developers in your company and with contractors. These same services may become product offerings that you provide to partners and customers. It’s therefore important that services are well tested, monitored, and catalogued. At the same time, you have to know what your company’s IT assets are so that you can create a hybrid environment that’s accurate and efficient. Unless you control the quality of your overall environment, your company will be at risk. If you’re using a public cloud or a SaaS application, does your management care whether your application and data reside in a multi-tenant environment? In most cases, multitenant is a secure and well-managed environment. However, you may have circumstances where your management team wants to isolate your company’s intellectual property from those belonging to other businesses. While it may not be technically necessary, it may be a governance requirement demanded by the business.

Don’t Rely on Only a Single Vendor

It’s tempting to find a cloud vendor you like and stop. However, that can be a mistake. Do plan to work with more than one cloud vendor so that you’re not stuck if something happens. Anything can happen. A vendor can have a catastrophic failure and be out of commission for a few hours or a few days. For example, if you’re developing and deploying an important application, you may want to have it replicated in several regions or on several different clouds.

You won’t understand these distinctions until you have some experience with cloud computing. This is especially important when you’re working in a hybrid cloud environment. You may find that certain cloud services require the capabilities of a high-performance network. Other services may not require this type of sophisticated performance. You need to plan for all the different requirements.

Don’t Over Invest in Licenses

Many cloud vendors create packages to make it attractive for their customers to buy in bulk. So, it’s tempting to buy more licenses for more years because of price. However, this can be a trap if you over-buy.

For example, a vendor might offer you half the list price per user per month if you sign up for 100 users over three years. The price is so attractive that you take the plunge, only to discover that you really are supporting only 25 users. No vendor is going to let you scale down those licenses once you have signed your contract. At the same time, keep track of the tools you use to enhance your SaaS applications. Are these tools provided by independent vendors with well-defined APIs? Are the tools proprietary to that application? You need to determine which approach is going to service you best in the long term.

Don’t Overlook the Need to Manage Infrastructure

One of the reasons companies are attracted to the cloud is that they don’t have to worry about the details of managing software and infrastructure. However, don’t be fooled. Even if you’re using only a couple of public cloud services, you need to keep track of the performance of these vendors. If you’re using a customer relationship management SaaS platform and it’s unavailable for a couple of days, who is to blame? It’s quite likely that the sales and marketing team will blame the IT department, not the vendor. Increasingly, IT will have to provide performance, governance, and security oversight of cloud services.

Don’t Leave Your Data Center Alone

It might be a relief to use cloud services to get around some of the inconsistencies and complexities of the existing data center. However, it’s dangerous to assume that the data center should wither and die. The data center will remain viable for many years to come. However, you need to continue to transform it so that it can work in collaboration with cloud services. So, don’t leave your data center in the dark. Begin to plan a strategy to optimize the data center so that it handles the applications and tasks it’s best suited for.

Don’t Ignore the Service Level Agreement

All public cloud vendors, including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS providers, will offer some sort of service level agreement that explains what obligation the vendor assumes and what risks you have to assume.

No vendor will take on obligations it doesn’t have to. So, it’s up to you to read the fine print and understand exactly what reality looks like. For example, no cloud vendor will reimburse you if you lose business because the service is not operational. They may indeed give you the money back that you spent on a service, but that will be small comfort if you’ve lost an important customer.

So, you must decide how much risk is acceptable. This information will help you determine which services can reside with a commodity cloud service provider, which ones need to be with a provider that offers a higher level of service, and which services should remain in your private cloud.

Do Move Forward and Don’t Look Back

We think that the movement to the cloud is inevitable. However, it’s not a strategy that you should adopt without careful planning. You must deal with issues in the cloud that are very different than those you encounter in a traditional data center. Software license models are different. Vendors take some responsibility for protecting your data and the performance of your services. However, the responsibility will land with your own company. Therefore, you need to move forward armed with the right information and with the right level of caution. However, if you take the right steps, we think that the future can be quite exciting.

Cloud Computing Articles

How SaaS Fits into the Multicloud World

SaaS applications rarely operate completely independently. Companies often have an IT landscape that looks something like this: SaaS for CRM, a second SaaS for human resources, in-house analytics hardware behind a firewall, and AI for testing. Much of this information is fed into their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that may be housed in their data center. Providing processes that allow information to securely flow among these systems is critical. The figure illustrates this hybrid SaaS environment. The environment described here truly is a hybrid cloud, and it is probably a multicloud environment as well. It’s a hybrid cloud because the SaaS applications are in a public cloud while the analytics are on-premises. It may also be a multicloud because the SaaS applications may be in different public clouds. These applications ultimately need to work together to provide full business value. Of course, a hybrid or multicloud environment can be simpler or more complex than the one illustrated in the figure. Where do SaaS applications run? A SaaS vendor might run its software in the physical data centers it operates. Salesforce.com did this originally out of necessity because it was an early innovator without other options. Other vendors — for example, SugarCRM — run their SaaS offerings in public clouds, such as Amazon AWS or Google Cloud Platform. A SaaS running in a vendor’s data center isn’t necessarily more stable, but great software on an unreliable third-party platform is useless. So, it’s important to understand service level agreements (SLAs). The ability of a SaaS application to run in different environments is important for many reasons, just as it is for almost any other application. Consider these examples:

  • Physical location may make a difference. Some SaaS applications need to be close to their users. For example, a high-speed video streaming server will provide a better user experience if the data does not have to travel long distances. In addition, some businesses have governance rules that require that their data be located in the country where the company is based.
  • Software location may make a difference. When SaaS applications interact with other applications, performance will benefit if they’re both in the same cloud. This may not be necessary for simple interactions, but as data quantity and communication rates increase, it becomes more important. This is one of the reasons you may find the same SaaS application in different public clouds.
  • Flexibility may make a difference. Not all clouds are equal, and all clouds are constantly making changes to their offerings and prices. SaaS vendors should stay aware of each cloud environment and be ready to move their applications to the cloud (or clouds) that provide the best platform for their applications.
SaaS applications live in diverse environments, integrated with many services and other applications. Although this setup increases complexity, it also provides new opportunities.

So, when a division of your company wants access to all of an application’s data so that it can run analytics, it is no longer reasonable to say, “Sorry, that’s in the SaaS application.” Instead, you can now replicate the data onto your private cloud where the analytics team can make a copy of the golden master (a single version of the truth for the data — the reference model) to run its sophisticated number crunching, and other groups, such as development, can make a copy of the data and use it for testing in a public cloud.

Using SaaS as a cloud computing platform

In order to create a more feature-rich application, some SaaS vendors have turned their application into a
cloud computing platform upon which partners and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) can build applications that extend the SaaS platform. This model represents an ecosystem that extends the functionality and value of the SaaS application. Typically, these ecosystems are domain-specific, for example addressing healthcare, CRM, or other business focuses. This is how it works: A SaaS vendor with thousands of paying customers opens its APIs to ISVs. These ISVs can then build applications on top of the SaaS vendor’s infrastructure. Therefore, they don’t need to write and deploy an entire application, but can focus on their specific extension of the SaaS platform. By building general domain functionality into the platform, the SaaS vendor attracts other vendors within that domain. Further, the SaaS vendor that created the platform typically takes care of messaging middleware, business process services, and other complex programming. Note: A SaaS platform is fundamentally a PaaS provider to the partners and ISVs who build applications in the SaaS ecosystem. When an application is built on the PaaS platform, there is no need to specify an operating system as would be required if the platform offered an IaaS service. By offering only the services that are consistent with the domain addressed by the SaaS. the SaaS vendor exercises control over the applications built on the platform, ensuring that they address the SaaS’s domain. Perhaps the most significant advantage to working in the ecosystem is that the SaaS vendor already has thousands of happy and paying customers. After a partner creates an application, it can market its software through the SaaS vendor’s portal in addition to using its own traditional sales force. This has become a standard model used by SaaS vendors to build their brand and power in the market.

Who builds applications on SaaS platforms

In this section, we take a closer look at the types of application developers that are suited to building their domain-specific applications on a SaaS platform. Partners and ISVs can be broken into two general categories: smaller startups and larger, established companies. It might be clear why a small company with limited resources might be motivated to build on top of, for example, the Salesforce.com platform, but if you’re a large player with your own customer base, why would you be part of another company’s ecosystem? Established companies may want to join another company’s online ecosystem for many reasons. Software vendors with successful on-premises applications are receiving pressure to offer a cloud version of their software. One challenge that these larger ISVs face is that in order to have a successful, enterprise-class application, they must create and establish their cloud presence. Joining an existing ecosystem that has already established their business and attracted customers shortcuts the path to customer awareness. Both large and small companies benefit by using the PaaS environment of the SaaS platform, which can dramatically decrease the amount of software that must be created to form a mature application, thereby increasing time-to-market. Consider Veeva Systems, a software vendor that has developed a cloud-based CRM solution for the pharmaceutical, animal health, and biotechnology industries. Veeva built its software in the Salesforce.com ecosystem. Without Salesforce.com, Veeva would have had to create a completely new platform from scratch — a monumental and expensive endeavor for a small company. Salesforce.com can’t meet the unique needs of every industry, so where Salesforce.com falls short, partners like Veeva step in. For example, pharmaceutical companies must comply with specific regulations. Veeva has built-in functionality to track and report the required information. Because Veeva controls software and process updates, when reporting requirements change, it updates the application so that all its users have access to the most up-to-date offering and are in compliance with government regulations and industry practices. One might think that building a SaaS application in another business’s ecosystem would devalue the application. However, the opposite is often more likely. You have no doubt noticed how food vendors at a mall are all located in the same area. Sometimes called the food court model, related businesses can do very well when co-located, not least because the customers attracted to the ecosystem are all highly qualified to do business with the vendors there.

Developing on a SaaS vendor’s platform

Clearly, there are great benefits for ISVs that build applications in an established ecosystem, but these independent development companies may be at the mercy of the SaaS vendor. The SaaS vendor develops and maintains the platform, and the ISVs who have built applications on the platform are then dependent on it operating predictably. If the SaaS vendor does an update, the platform may possibly change its behavior in a way that destabilizes the ISVs’ applications. Of course, stability and consistency over time is important for any platform, from cloud infrastructures to operating systems. But SaaS platforms are relatively new, and SaaS businesses may not have as much experience in maintaining them. To protect themselves, independent vendors should have the opportunity to thoroughly test their application on a newly modified platform before upgrades are released to end users. ISVs should research a SaaS vendor before developing on its platform to verify it provides the stability required to safeguard applications. However, in practice, the relationship between SaaS platform vendors and their ISV partners is symbiotic — each needs the other for success and growth. A SaaS platform should document its APIs and state how long they will be supported. The success of applications on a SaaS platform will benefit the SaaS vendor, just as failures will be attributed to the platform. Applications built on the SaaS platform will be branded with the creating company’s name, and they will, therefore, also be credited with the application’s success or criticized for failure.

Examples of SaaS platforms

Like so many things cloud, SaaS applications have reached a certain degree of maturity — marked by users taking new SaaS applications for granted rather than marveling over every new SaaS application. In the following sections, we explore a selection of the major types of SaaS applications.

SaaS business applications

From accounting software to customer relationship management, supply chain management, financial management, and human resources, there are SaaS applications for all the standard business practices. Not long ago, many of these functions were custom-created and run in on-premises data centers. Now, they’re in the cloud and generalized to make them suitable for the vast majority of businesses. These products tend to have several characteristics in common: They’re designed with business processes built in that customers can modify; they have published APIs so that third-party vendors and businesses can add functionality. These applications have moved in great numbers to the cloud because customers found the on-premises systems too hard to manage, and users need access to the application while on the go.

SaaS collaborative applications

SaaS is very popular for collaborative applications. This area is dominated by software that focuses on bringing people together — and most people are already in the cloud — to work together on shared activities. For example, web conferencing, document collaboration, project planning, instant messaging, and email and all collaborative applications. In a sense, it was inevitable that these platforms would move to the cloud. These tasks exist throughout the organization and need to be easily accessed from many locations.

SaaS development services

With more and more companies building software for the cloud, it’s not surprising that many companies are building services that make it easier to build applications. Services means online software that is intended to be a part of an application, not an application itself. Examples of development services include
  • Monitoring as a service: SaaS applications usually work well, but even the best can run into problems. Issues can come from bugs in the SaaS, reactions to unanticipated situations, or problems outside the SaaS. In each of these cases, the SaaS vendor needs to quickly understand what is going on and remedy it. They’ll be lucky if they can fix the problem before customers start calling the support line. And if customers do call the support line, support personnel need to understand what the problem is so that they can help the customer work around the problem. Monitoring software examines many sources of information about the SaaS application and its operational context and delivers it to support, development, and other business units.
  • Compliance as a service: Compliance responsibilities are time-consuming and complicated tasks that large companies must perform. Because compliance is a well-defined activity, yet very involved with many special cases, many companies have implemented compliance solutions as a service so the SaaS company doesn’t have to.
  • Security as a service: Almost without exception, vendors providing antivirus software are offering their products as a service. However, security extends much further than looking for viruses in communications. Increasingly, security is an activity that is part and parcel of software development and must be designed into software as it is being designed and built.
  • Database (and other components) as a service: Every application works with data and needs to store it, and databases (in this context, DBaaS, or Database as a Service) are the standard tool for storage and management of data. Every cloud environment offers many types and vendors of databases. Typically, it takes only a short time, perhaps minutes, to provision and launch a database and start using it. Other components used to build SaaS applications are also available for use in the cloud, including identity management, credit card processing, analytics, big data storage and analysis, and so on.