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Conquering SaaS Around the World

By November 25, 2009Article

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors seeking to realize new growth quickly and successfully face a host of decisions when they plan for global SaaS deployments.

SaaS Adoption Grows Overseas

Looking around the world, U.S. companies remain the fastest adopters of SaaS globally. However, SaaS adoption and the customer base in Europe are growing steadily. Government buyers in Europe are especially active, as these organizations turn to various SaaS solutions to extend their budgets, stay up to date with technology and deploy innovative solutions. Government agencies are still working to understand which types of data can be stored in SaaS solutions. Personally identifiable information (PII) is the single biggest data set with which government agencies are wrestling.

In Asia, SaaS adoption is also growing but for different reasons. Buyers in the region don’t typically seek out an elaborate, best-in-class product. They tend to prefer a quality solution which delivers simplicity and cost savings – all hallmarks of the SaaS model and the basis for increased adoption.

As software companies look to expand to new geographical regions, many are forced to localize internationally – especially in Europe. There are two reasons for this; first, clients often prefer to have their data stored and managed locally – either due to corporate or governmental regulations. For that reason, SaaS applications would also need to be hosted locally. Secondly, performance and response times can be greatly improved by operating SaaS applications locally versus transmitting data from the U.S.

SaaS vendors wanting to expand globally face two options – set up internal operations in the new region or partner with a service provider. Lately, software companies wanting to capitalize on rapid growth internationally have found success working with a SaaS infrastructure service provider.

A key benefit of working with a service provider is achieving a faster time-to-market. By leveraging the regional expertise, facilities and staff of an infrastructure service provider, SaaS vendors avoid many of the headaches and hurdles of setting up shop internationally. Instead of buying colocation space, renting office space, hiring managers and staff, the software company can hire one or two local representatives and hit the ground running much faster than possible with a do-it-yourself strategy.

Key Considerations for Choosing a Global SaaS Infrastructure Service Provider

For any SaaS vendor considering a move overseas, there are several key considerations to keep in mind in order to find an infrastructure service provider that will help them meet the needs of today’s enterprise-class customers:

Privacy and Security

Privacy and security are critical concerns for enterprise customers. Software companies are deploying public and private cloud solutions, Web applications, firewalls, load balancing and more – all in a shared environment. However, vendors work hard to keep their databases private because that is where the personal and proprietary information is located.

SaaS vendors must work with their service provider so that they can offer their customers assurance that their security practices are compliant with industry-specific regulations like HIPAA, here in the U.S., or other regulations, like PCI.

Some service providers provide the additional benefit of being able to see emerging security threats on their global networks before other service providers or individual software companies can detect them. This enables the service provider to apply the appropriate risk mitigation strategy to protect customers before they even encounter a security compromise.

Disaster Recovery

The scary-but-true fact is that many SaaS vendors do not have a true disaster recovery plan. Many software companies operate in a single facility and assume that the cost of creating a new or standby environment is too expensive. However, as SaaS vendors mature, disaster recovery plans are a “must.”

Luckily, the cloud enables software companies to have a fully enabled disaster recovery site. For example, vendors can now host half of their companies in one cloud location, half in another and move both loads back and forth in case of disaster. This creates a worst-case scenario of needing to recover 50 percent of customer data at any one time. Additionally, data replication technologies are generally available and have been proven to reduce recovery times between geographically dispersed facilities in the unfortunate event of a disaster.

Data Retention Requirements

Delivering proper data retention is greatly dependent on the type of customer buying the application. For example, the needs of a financial services firm are different from those of an auto dealership running a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application. While software companies understand this, the cost of storage historically made it difficult for them to deliver proper data retention. The ability to deliver state-of-the-art storage lifecycle management innovation is setting the leaders in the SaaS service provider space apart today.

Service-Level Objectives (SLOs)

Today’s service providers and customers are using service-level objectives rather than service-level agreements in order to have a more productive partner relationship. A traditional service-level agreement might specify “five 9s of availability,” – a metric that literally translates into 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. If the system is only down for 5.26 minutes, when can maintenance, patches and upgrades take place?

The reality is that no vendor delivers 100 percent availability. Sitting down with a service provider to determine realistic SLOs is critical. Service providers must determine when maintenance can be conducted and the process and procedure for handling problems that may arise – and coordinate changes appropriately.

Infrastructure objectives are also important. Too many times, when an SLA is set, the appropriate redundancy is not in place to allow vendors to survive the issue. For example, if there is only one firewall and it goes down, the entire infrastructure goes with it. Good partners will ensure that there is no single point of failure – from the facilities up through and including the entire infrastructure stack – that can endanger a SaaS customer’s operations.

Genuine Cloud Offerings

In order to deploy cutting-edge, innovative SaaS solutions globally, service providers

must offer a genuine cloud model. Rather than just virtual integration, the cloud offering must include pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you-“grow,” multi-tenancy, rapid elasticity and self-service. These essentials will allow software companies to leverage the infrastructure, expertise and processes of a service provider to gain operational effectiveness, faster response times and automation without having to take the years involved to build it internally.

Cloud-Powered Consistency

Many software executives assume that all service providers that have implemented cloud services have the same deployments globally. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. One cloud vendor might have Dell servers in the U.S. and HP servers in London; Cisco routers in London and Juniper routers in the U.S. The ramifications of these inconsistencies can ripple across a SaaS vendor’s operations, from implementation to support to change management to bug fixes and enhancements. Data packets may do different things on different platforms.

Software companies must be sure that their service provider offers the same infrastructure process and procedures globally in order to ensure that customers can be guaranteed the same experience, no matter their location.

SaaS vendors looking to expand globally can only be assured of enterprise-class service by doing their homework on potential infrastructure service providers.

But, such research will certainly bear fruit – speeding time to market, reducing complexity, ensuring security and realizing innovation are just a few of the benefits a software company can realize by leveraging the expertise of a seasoned service provider to deploy a SaaS solution internationally.

Larry Steele is technical vice president, software-as-a-service, at Savvis, a leading provider of infrastructure services purpose-built for SaaS.

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