Software as a Service: Does it have anything to do with ‘the Cloud’?

By | October 10, 2011

In the run up to VMworld, which is taking place in Copenhagen later this month, pan-European Cloud SP (and EMC Service Provider Partner) Colt (www.colt.net) have been running a survey to get the views of their customers and partners on a few of the common questions around Cloud Computing. There are going to be more survey’s coming up soon as this is the first of series that Colt are planning to run before VMworld takes place. The surveys are being posted at http://colt-vmworld-survey.co.uk if you want to contribute. They are also going to be very visible at VMworld, so if you’re planning to be there, look out for them!

In this first ‘temperature check’ Colt have been been asking five questions:

  1. The term ‘cloud’ has been overused and is now meaningless – Almost 75% of respondents agreed, rather unsurprisingly.
  2. Cloud-based IT will be the operating model of the future – More than 75% of respondents agreed!
  3. Will your organisation be using cloud services extensively by 2014? – Over 90% of respondents agreed!!
  4. Cloud computing is not a cost-saving strategy – Almost 75% of respondents agreed.

You might have noticed that I missed a question out of that list. I think it’s the most interesting response of all the questions, and it’s stimulated quite a bit of debate.

Question 4 was this:

Software-as-a-service just means accessing content via the internet. It’s got nothing to do with ‘the cloud’

Responses to this one weren’t as polarised, but 55% of the people who responded to the survey agreed with this, which really got me thinking – Why did the results come out like this? Firstly, if you have a look at the most commonly agreed definition of Cloud Computing from NIST, the US National Institute for Standards and Technology, you’ll see that it it defines the five essential characteristics for Cloud as follows:

  • On-demand self-service
  • Broad network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured Service
Ask anyone who uses a SaaS service, or read one of the definitive books on the subject, like Behind the Cloud by Salesforce.com Founder Marc Benioff, who arguably ‘invented’ the concept of SaaS, and you’ll see that these are the exact characteristics of the SaaS proposition and, equally importantly, exactly how it must be delivered in order to be successful in the market.

So why did the respondents to Colt’s survey not see the link. I think the answer is is a result of two factors:

One: a self selection effect within the survey respondents – What exactly is this? I suspect that as content accumulates on this blog you’ll realise that I have a bit a passion for ‘unusual’ statistical effects both in the way statistics are gathered and the way the human brain processes them. Self selection effects results from the fact that the type of people who likely to answer specific questions or survey’s are more likely to answer in a particular way, often because of when or where the survey was asked, or because of the medium that was used. Simplistic example: if you have a survey on Twitter that asks whether people use the Internet, guess what – you’re going to get a very high number of ‘yes’ responses! Let’s say you asked Colt’s question exclusively amongst a group of SaaS operators (I believe the collective noun is a cloud!), I suspect you might get a very different response.

This is in no way a criticism of Colt’s survey methodology, you’re not going to spend a lot of time on ensuring your sampling is representative of a particular cross section of the audience for a quick ‘temperature-check’ like this, and neither should you.

Two: on top of the self selection effect, you’ve all got what I like to call the New Normal Effect, inspired by Peter Hinssen’s excellent book about the wave of transformational change that’s currently breaking across IT. What do I mean? I mean that SaaS has become part of the normal landscape for application delivery. No one cares what the characteristics are or how it’s operated. People want an application to support some process or activity so they source it from a Service Provider. They are completely unconcerned with how it is delivered. It’s in the final phase of the acceptance curve.
Strangely, if you do have cause to look under the covers of a SaaS operator and into the technology infrastructure and the delivery models that they use you find that the operators themselves are very concerned with the five characteristics that NIST set out in their definition. It’s just the good SaaS providers make sure that the customers they serve don’t need to know or care about that!
I’d like to thank Steve Hughes of Colt for his input in putting this post together. You can follow Colt’s cloud-related activities on Twitter at @ColtandtheCloud, a Twitter feed curated by Steve.

2 thoughts on “Software as a Service: Does it have anything to do with ‘the Cloud’?

  1. Chmarny

    Another reason, behind the result at question, is the fat that the poll was conduced amongst VMware enthusiasts. Certainly a crowd with a lot more appreciation for virtualization aspect of the Cloud, not traditionally a way SaaS is delivered. I suspect the split would be a lot of different if conducted against the Google IO conference attendees.

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  2. Unknown

    I agree that SaaS providers are looking to become more efficient, NIST definition or no. Certainly on the consumer front, many SaaS services run on cloudy infrastructure: anything Google, Amazon, some Microsoft, Apple iCloud and all the startups. Seems to be a mixed bag with Business SaaS, with some folks even harping on their single tenancy model (see Jive Software and Multi-tenancy). Thanks for the post!

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