Burton cautions architects on SaaS

SaaS may be the ultimate form of SOA but a new Burton Group study cautions enterprise architects to proceed with care when considering bringing remotely hosted applications into their IT environment.

Service oriented architecture (SOA) and software as a service (SaaS) offer promising paths toward component-based services, according to Burton Group Inc., but the analyst firm is cautioning architects not to rush down the SaaS path.

smart companies will find value in waiting for the market to mature before making a decision.
Guy Creese
Senior AnalystBurton Group Inc.

In terms of career moves for enterprise architects, it is smart to study and become knowledgeable about SaaS. But it may not be a good move to implement it before knowing the ramifications, according to a 55-page research report written by Guy Creese, senior analyst at Burton Group Inc. The new report, Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects? suggests caution when contemplating SaaS.

While focusing on the SaaS products Google Inc. unveiled earlier this year, the report also discusses the SaaS strategies of other vendors including Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and Salesforce.com.

Because of its popularity, Google's entry into SaaS may add to the momentum for that software delivery model, but the Burton report says it is still unclear how successful the ubiquitous search engine pioneer will be in this new market. Creese also notes that the current GAPE offering, which combines portal, e-mail, instant messaging (IM), calendars, document sharing and concurrent document creation, were originally developed for Google's consumer audience and may not be ready for enterprise application.

The Burton report is not negative on the overall SaaS model, noting that in the past five years SaaS offerings have "proven themselves in the market." But it notes the SaaS model is different than the one most enterprises are accustomed to with packaged applications.

The report lists three examples of how the SaaS model may take some getting used to for the enterprise. Making use of Web services technologies, the SaaS model assumes there will always be an Internet connection. Companies, especially financial institutions that have always kept their data behind a corporate firewall, may be cautious about having information moving in and out on the World Wide Web. Also, the handholding and face-to-face support an enterprise may have been used to when buying packaged software, is often replaced in SaaS with a Web site users can visit if they have problems.

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SaaS as well as SOA and agile development principles have all come about because of the business demand that IT be more nimble in dealing with changing business requirements, Creese notes. But he cautions that architects should not get carried away by the need for speed.

"The risk is in letting the speed of technological change override business prudence," he writes. "Just because an enterprise can quickly change system behavior doesn't mean it should. A 'simple, quick change' can wreak havoc if the company doesn't think it through -- if, in the rush to make the change, the enterprise doesn't consult the affected divisions or check the appropriate regulations. A more apt -- and less dramatic -- precept would be, 'fast is better than slow, as long as implementation speed doesn't outrun the business need.'"

Creese concludes his report by saying that Google and the other vendors, including Microsoft, Oracle and now Cisco Systems Inc. with its WebEx acquisition, will be improving their SaaS offerings. In the meantime, he advises that "smart companies will find value in waiting for the market to mature before making a decision."

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