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Why is SaaS So Popular?Back to articles

Why is SaaS So Popular?

December 18, 2012 2:31 pm

SaaS, or software as a service, has become a trending concept in digital industries across the board. It started fairly long ago, in the 1990s on some level, but has only recently become a widely-discussed topic. Every month, more and more SaaS providers appear, offering service models of an increasingly diverse range of applications and purposes. It hasn’t slowed down, and few of these startups have had a bubble burst, nor even threaten to.

Even companies that produce traditional software, for which SaaS is an alternative platform, are beginning to take the concept tremendously seriously, and are developing their own models, rather than rebelling against change as they historically have. Why is this? Why is SaaS so popular, considering the obstacles it still faces in infrastructure limitations in 2013?

This is a question the naysayers of SaaS, as well as those reluctant to adopt it as yet, will often ask. It has been a question used in arguments that SaaS is a fad, or that SaaS is being widely deployed too soon in computing history. Are they right in this argument? The answer to this is in the answer to the question they so passionately put forth. Shall we, then, have a look at this question, for the greater good of understanding? Perhaps this will in its own way reveal the possible fate of SaaS as it stands, and reveal the ramifications of its success or failure in the upcoming decade … perhaps even further.

First, while this may be repetitive for some, we must understand what SaaS is by definition. There are many preconceptions about this, causing some SaaS constructs to be labeled as not SaaS at all. This can’t persist, if we are to look at why it is so popular, and what its ultimate ramifications are.

SaaS is any digital solution to a practical application that is delivered via subscription, free or paid, over an internet connection. It therefore does not exist on the client side, meaning the computer’s hard drive as a locally installed program or feature, like traditional software suites. This leaves some debate open on whether websites in totality are then SaaS, same for things such as email and the like. This is simply up to discretion and common sense. However it can be said for certain that dictionaries, encyclopedias, social networks and cloud systems are absolutely SaaS, but also websites.

Of mention in the public consumer sector, DLC, virtual console and other downloaded gaming products are also SaaS, despite being browser-based.

The reason its popularity is questioned as strongly as it is, especially in arguments against it, is its nature having to contend with some technological barriers, as well as some financial issues. Requiring a steady, fast and reliable internet connection is its biggest obstacle. Many people living in rural areas or less developed areas of the world are relegated to very slow connections such as low-tier DSL or even dialup. This sounds absurd in 2013, but it is a problem especially in the 3rd world and over the poor infrastructure of the USA.

They also argue that the frequently recurring subscription fees of most SaaS plans are costlier than one-off purchase of a software license, as the old traditions dictated. These two combined issues, they would argue, mean that it is too soon for SaaS. How is it, then, so popular with these issues plainly in sight and openly discussed as very real problems, even by SaaS proponents?

First, and as part of its popularity, we can dispose of the financial concern immediately. Considering it is not distributed on a productized disc, and therefore not installed finitely and locally on a machine, SaaS disposes of a greater recurring expense. No longer are new versions required to be purchased on a frequent bases, to access new features of fixes of existing ones. Since it is a streamed service, they are already there and automatic. The subscription fees, if the SaaS model is done properly, add up to far less than frequent upgrades.

This also, by effect, allows patches and updates, even if free by old traditions, to be automatic and not requiring any bandwidth from users nor pestering them to conduct update checks and application. This also reduces the bandwidth obstacle, but the bandwidth issue is a very real problem that just can’t be totally overstepped. It is a thing which must be addressed by the infrastructures taking the responsibility to modernize. They will, or perish in obsolescence, so this is just a matter of time. But it does lend, only slightly, to the “too soon” argument of SaaS opponents. Only slightly.

But, is this enough to justify the popularity of SaaS? No, it isn’t. But, there are more contributing factors to its wide acceptance. Continuing from a user end, the cross-patformity of this concept is a winning formula. A single delivery model being compatible with consoles, set top boxes, mobiles, tablets and all flavors of PC and operating system is a wonderful thing. No longer do multiple builds of software need to be developed to facilitate multiple platforms. Gone is the learning curve in using the same version of said software on platforms that would require it to think somewhat differently if designed for local execution.

It also eliminates to some extent (and more when cloud computing sees its full potential) limitations of a given device to use software, since much processing is offloaded to the server providing the service to begin with. This adds to the cross-platofrmity and reduces disparity in capacity between platforms running the same version/distribution of a construct to almost zero.

From a business end, it’s also far more secure, being difficult to reverse engineer and disassemble, unlike local binaries required in the old model. It’s also near impossible to pirate many SaaS types, gaming DLC excluded. Patching the software and delivering updates has far less overhead and fewer dire consequences when needed as well. Since it is a more affordable solution, it also makes it more accessible to wider demographics, making it an ideal concept for software companies to consider migrating to from a practical and a fiscal end.

It all boils down to ease of maintenance, platform independence and fiscal sense for both developers, users and businesses alike. SaaS is popular because it is easy, global and affordable from both sides of the fence. While connectivity is still a serious hurdle, the benefits to it are now plainly visible. So, are the naysayers right to question its popularity? Aside from their grounding of truth in bandwidth issues, no, they obviously are not. So, are they right in arguing SaaS is a bad idea? It would seem not.

In the coming years, we likely won’t see every type of software change to SaaS, as some things it may in fact be unwise to convert. But as cloud computing becomes more practical and the infrastructure and bandwidth issues that are currently severe problems are addressed … SaaS may very well become a standard for many practical software solutions and uses. Perhaps software retailers and gaming outlets should look for writing on the wall …