What is SaaS?
SaaS, or Software as a Service, describes any cloud service where consumers are able to access software applications over the internet. The applications are hosted in "the cloud" and can be used for a wide range of tasks for both individuals and organisations. Google, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr are all examples of SaaS, with users able to access the services via any internet enabled device. Enterprise users are able to use applications for a range of needs, including accounting and invoicing, tracking sales, planning, performance monitoring and communications (including webmail and instant messaging).
SaaS is often referred to as software-on-demand and utilising it is akin to renting software rather than buying it. With traditional software applications you would purchase the software upfront as a package and then install it onto your computer. The software's licence may also limit the number of users and/or devices where the software can be deployed. Software as a Service users, however, subscribe to the software rather than purchase it, usually on a monthly basis. Applications are purchased and used online with files saved in the cloud rather than on individual computers.
There are a number of reasons why SaaS is beneficial to organisations and personal users alike:
No additional hardware costs; the processing power required to run the applications is supplied by the cloud provider.
No initial setup costs; applications are ready to use once the user subscribes.
Pay for what you use; if a piece of software is only needed for a limited period then it is only paid for over that period and subscriptions can usually be halted at any time.
Usage is scalable; if a user decides they need more storage or additional services, for example, then they can access these on demand without needing to install new software or hardware.
Updates are automated; whenever there is an update it is available online to existing customers, often free of charge. No new software will be required as it often is with other types of applications and the updates will usually be deployed automatically by the cloud provider.
Cross device compatibility; SaaS applications can be accessed via any internet enabled device, which makes it ideal for those who use a number of different devices, such as internet enabled phones and tablets, and those who don't always use the same computer.
Accessible from any location; rather than being restricted to installations on individual computers, an application can be accessed from anywhere with an internet enabled device.
Applications can be customised and whitelabelled; with some software, customisation is available meaning it can be altered to suit the needs and branding of a particular customer.
Office software is the best example of businesses utilising SaaS. Tasks related to accounting, invoicing, sales and planning can all be performed through Software as a Service. Businesses may wish to use one piece of software that performs all of these tasks or several that each perform different tasks. The required software can be subscribed to via the internet and then accessed online via any computer in the office using a username and password. If needs change they can easily switch to software that better meets their requirements. Everyone who needs access to a particular piece of software can be set up as a user, whether it is one or two people or every employee in a corporation that employs hundreds.
There are no setup costs with SaaS, as there often are with other applications
SaaS is scalable with upgrades available on demand
Access to Software as a Service is compatible across all internet enabled devices
As long as there is an internet connection, applications are accessible from any location