We’ve all read about the Windows Genuine Advantage server outage. Dvorak used the event to raise concerns about SaaS.

“All this proves is that these Web-based applications cannot be trusted.”

I am by far the biggest supporter of SaaS, but I do see it as a market inevitability.

The WGA outage proves that when you don’t design a system for five or six 9’s uptime, you won’t magically get that level of availability. As web apps move from “good enough” to “business critical”, these types of outages will be outliers.

Here’s another Dvorak conclusion:

“What is often lost in individual analyses of how to proceed with your data-processing needs is the concept of “being at the mercy of a single company.” “

If you work for a medium to large enterprise, it’s very likely that ADP, one of the oldest SaaS providers in the world, handles your payroll. Your company is very likely at the “mercy of a single company, ADP, when it comes to processing your bi-weekly salary and paying you on time”. And yet businesses choose to use ADP.
Staying with the ADP example: I find it somewhat amusing that “fear of data loss or risk of your data being mistakenly viewed by a competitor in a multi-tenant SaaS environment” are inhibitors to broader SaaS adoption. Isn’t your employee’s salary & privacy concerns just as important as your customer lists or sales records? Sadly, maybe the answer is no…..

In any case, SaaS isn’t going anywhere. It’s been here for decades. A few SaaS-related outages simply make the case for more mainframes! ;-)

Tim O’Reilly has an interesting post on why the GPLv3 took a pragmatic approach when it came to the “SaaS loophole” (i.e. SaaS apps aren’t redistributed; no redistribution means SaaS vendors can use GPLv2 code with modifications and keep the modifications to themselves).

Tim states in the comments to his post:

Having the source to Google or Amazon or eBay or CraigsList also won’t let you replicate the service, unless you have millions of dollars to spend on infrastructure, employees to manage the ongoing services, etc. etc.

I’ve found it amusing that OSS supporters calling for software vendors to open source all their software believe the future of the software market is SaaS+OSS. Let’s pause here for a second.

According to the FSF, here are the 4 freedoms that free software should provide:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Yes, free software and open source software is different (as RMS has often said). But OSS proponents rely heavily on the above 4 freedoms when describing why OSS is a better answer than Traditional software (…to what question?).

I’d argue that SaaS expressly prevents freedoms 1 through 3. Considering that SaaS delivers on only 1 of 4 freedoms that OSS proponents suggest are immutable, why the love between SaaS & OSS?

In a future with SaaS at the core of non-commercial user applications, I suggest that the key things that users will care about are the openness of:

The source to Gmail will not greatly help me replicate Gmail. But an open GUI api will help me (or someone else) create things like better Gmail without (messy & brittle) hacks.


PS: I doubt the success of SaaS in commercial user applications. I base this view mostly on the (un)willingness of IT managers & CIOs to cede control outside the walls. But I could be wrong here. Technology aside, we can’t overlook human nature.

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