My 0.2 eurocents on SaaS

I was there some eight years ago, when ASP was glamoured as the Next Big Thing: I saw it horribly failing, I witnessed entire datacenters going belly-up and I danced on the ashes of what was back then a solution looking for a problem, with a wrong proposition and a sheer cultural and infrastructural gap to overcome. Fast forward almost a decade: we are now confronted with ASP v2.0, known by the sexier name of SaaS, and I’m convinced this could just be the right time for a huge success. I can see at least three factors that will drive SaaS to a major blast:

  • Much better connectivity and technology. High-speed Internet access is reality now, Moore’s law has moved from CPUs to bandwith, and connectivity is only going to get better (modulo issues on network neutrality, of course). Being online is the default case by now, whereas just a few years ago it was stuff for early adopters. Meanwhile, the browser has become a real platform, with some interesting contaminations from the field of Rich Internet Applications and the like. I know I’m stating the obvious, but still this is a major change if you compare it to the Citrix-based ASP offering we used to see.
  • The business case for real on-demand, scalable, managed and secure IT solutions. Sure, there is a lot of inertia to get the ball rolling, but once the fear of giving data away is gone (see below), there is no real blocker for SaaS to get huge. There are just too many IT scenarios that would be much better served by a service-based solution: it’s just a matter of time before enterprise realize that there is little use in maintaining complex hardware and software infrastructures with little value to the business side. If you disagree, chances are you would have been in the camp that, just a few years ago, didn’t believe organizations would have moved their servers to colocation facilities, or outsource key business processes to India.
  • The huge cultural shift. The whole concept of data and application is getting ethereal, bringing an entirely new view on software. SaaS has won by far in our private lives: we are getting less and less software on our hard drives, and we are slowly moving data outside as well. Our relationships happen on social networks, and even our beloved telly is going away. Where is the software? Do we care anymore? In Geir‘s words, do we know or bother about what version of Amazon are we using? And it’s getting even better: the next generation will have a much different mindset than ours: youngsters have no idea of where they data are, they use IM much more than email and PCs much more than television. We’re in for a big change once those guys hit the job market.

Just for completeness sake, let me add a fourth and somewhat far-fetched ingredient to the mix: the computing industry has a huge carbon footprint and energy consumption is becoming a major cost for enterprises. It’s easy to imagine that sooner or later some hard decisions will be tabled, such as computing carbon taxes and, in general, increasing energy charges. I’m not saying this is going to happen overnight, but I can clearly see how centralized datacenters with optimal load distribution and smart power generation facilities can do a lot to ease carbon emissions and avoid additional pollution costs.

SaaS will bring a cultural shift to the IT industry, and Open Source will be no exception. There will be good news and bad news, but the outlook looks interesting indeed. It will take a very long post (actually several ones) to try and figure out at least the major implications and challenges, but given how SaaS is going to affect our lives, this is a worth debate to have. More later.