Roundtable: A software and services alternative

Roundtable: A software and services alternative

Software-as-a-service is coming to the fore as organisations look to rein in their IT costs and gain better software efficiencies. ARN recently hosted a roundtable with a group of industry representatives to talk about the pros and cons of an on-demand world.

“The customer demand is there and the vendors have reluctantly got a model for it. The gap is for the partners to be able to glue it together and do things like single identity access, to offer best-of-breed applications and bringing it all together for the customer in a single point.” - Michael Bosnar, MailGuard

“The customer demand is there and the vendors have reluctantly got a model for it. The gap is for the partners to be able to glue it together and do things like single identity access, to offer best-of-breed applications and bringing it all together for the customer in a single point.” - Michael Bosnar, MailGuard

Nadia Cameron, ARN (NC): Why is software-as-a-service the way to go?

Stephen Chapman, AVC (SC): A lot of our customers, which are generally sub-500 users, have financial constraints around the amount of money they can invest in one lump sum. Software-as-a-service, in a monthly billing format and per user, provides a flexible framework for them to invest in technology and get access to it quickly. It also provides them the flexibility to be able to up and down numbers as the business increases and decreases, and that’s particularly important right now when you’re looking at businesses downsizing because of the global financial crisis. If they’re going to be investing in 100 users for a particular piece of software, but they scale down to 80, they’re still paying for 20 users that might not be fulfilled for a couple of years when the growth returns.

NC: Is that the key selling point for software-as-a-service?

Warren Nolan, NewLease (WN): It is probably the most talked about aspect of delivering software-as-a-service. What is also key if you turn it back to the reseller, is it enables them to get a greater breadth of product engagement with the client. Where there may have been a large capital outlay in one direction or product type, with SaaS’ lower upfront cost you can now deploy a greater range of products. You can look at an entire network, mail system or security and all different aspects of that business upfront. For the resellers and clients, they are able to strategically plan how to roll those things out in accordance to how they would like to.

Max McLaren, Red Hat (MM): The other thing, especially in small to medium businesses, but also moving up the chain, is it’s very difficult to run infrastructure effectively. The opportunity to outsource the infrastructure, not just procure the application, is great for businesses that require some type of on-demand or ancillary buffer to what they are using, to leverage software-as-a-service or hosting service.

Greg Boyle, Trend Micro (GB): So what is more important: Is it the fact that the infrastructure is outsourced, or is it the flexibility in payment of licensing?

SC: With most of my customers, they’d like to have the equipment in-house, but the flexibility is key. Many of our customers are project-based, so their staff numbers grow and shrink quickly. It does also depend on what products or area you are you looking at. So looking at security products: To do a MailGuard solution, or filtering solution effectively, often requires multiple layers. And it’s difficult for smaller organisations to manage that infrastructure. Organisations might not want to manage security either, but if you’re talking about SharePoint, they might want that in-house so it integrates with other products on the network.

Doug Tutus, NewLease (DT): That’s today, but I see this evolving. We are a perfect example as we live by what we preach and have outsourced everything to Wavelink. It manages the platforms and applications, and gives me an SLA that guarantees continuity of business. This also has the escalation procedures for my comfort. When I sat down and did the ROI, it was clear this was the direction we needed to go in. The limitations we have experienced over a short period of time are being eradicated – we are getting better bandwidth, the applications are better suited to delivery in that way.

MM: What about applications? Do you think there’s enough choice?

DT: It’s my choice. I tell them what applications I need, and they build a knowledge base around those applications and deliver them.

Rich Robards, Intrapower (RR): I think that’s a very valid comment. If you look historically at software-as-a-service/ASP, one of the challenges was how do I, as a provider of an application, make it available to the consumers of those applications? Quite often, the limitation was the need to make it Web-enabled. There are two elements that make that less of an issue these days. One is availability of high bandwidth over the Internet. In addition to that, we are able to make those applications available as a legacy application consumed over a thin client technology. I think that is one of the beauties of this technology today. The extension of broadband not just as speeds and feeds, but also mobile Internet availability to handhelds and laptops, and thin client technology with huge bandwidth that is highly reliable, has pushed us forward in terms of the applications you can deliver to consumers.

NC: What then is the definition of SaaS?

Phil Meyer, Microsoft (PM): A very pure definition of SaaS to us is the delivery of software as a browser-based experience. We take that further to say it’s software plus services, where applications are running on client devices, mobiles, PCs. If you then look at what Google is announcing now, it is saying we’re going to have intelligent clients. is releasing intelligent clients too. Why? Because people are becoming mobile. The benefits of SaaS is time to deployment, and access from anywhere. So you are going to need to have an intelligent device.

GB: Generally, there are two common schools of thought. One is the cloud client architecture – something is installed and connects to services-based architecture to provide more functionality or the componentry. Then there is pure software-as-a-service, which is the delivery of software through a browser. They are different because of the customer interaction. With the cloud client, you still have to install something, and there’s still something to touch, feel and use, and an on-site requirement. Software as pure SaaS, is that hands-off experience. The two commonly get overlapped and one can work with the other.

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