Service Oriented Architecture: what is SOA?  And what are SaaS, DaaS and PaaS?

There’s a lot of unnecessary bumf out there at the moment and a bucketload of people who are sounding off about Service Oriented Architecture … unfortunately, most of them don’t know their SaaS from their PaaS, their PaaS from their SOA and their DaaS from their PaaS.

Hopefully I know my SaaS from my elbow so I’m going to try and bring together what some observers have said and add my own take on it; I’ll also try to avoid any corporate nonsense words and PAINSINTHEASS (The P and the A stand for Pointless Acronyms, you can dream up what the rest stand for…)

Hopefully, I shouldn’t have to explain too much as this diagram should help: (by the way, feel free to use the diagram if you want but please include a link back to this blog 🙂 )

DaaS, SaaS and PaaS

Service Oriented Architecture: DaaS, SaaS and PaaS

So here’s the run-down:

We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up.

Data as a Service is the outsourcing of data management.  Someone “in the cloud” hosts the data you need.  This can be:

  • “Public” Data, e.g. Geographic Coordinates, Business Data from Dun & Bradstreet, Addresses etc.
  • “Private” Data, e.g. your company’s personnel files, stocktakes, questionnaire results, whatever.

This Data as a Service may give you access to information like Dun & Bradstreet’s Business Data without you having to sell half your stock to use it.  In this respect people offering Data as a Service are like middle-men; they buy the licence for the information and let you use it for a reduced rate.

With private data, the incentive to take the data-hosting outside of your company’s hallowed walls is that the DaaS service provider will probably offer some way to hook software or interfaces up to your data more easily than if you had to fiddle with a SQL server.  So in short it stops your hands getting grubby with too much development.

I hope you’re still with me!  Now we move on to…

Software as a Service, or SaaS, which is the outsourcing of software.  Someone “in the cloud” has built a nifty piece of software and is hosting it on their server.  If you want to use it, rather than offering you a download or mailing you a CD, they let you use the software as a service: you subscribe to the software rather than “buy” it outright.

It’s the perfect partner for DaaS: one service company could both host the software you need to use and host the data that it uses: for instance, it could host address data (zip/postal codes etc.), as well as the software that hooks into this data – an intuitive data-lookup tool and form-filler, for instance.

A Platform as a Service is an effective way to roll out all these bits of software that people are making.  If a company has invested a lot of time, effort and money into developing a piece of software, they want to send it out into the world as quickly and efficiently as possible.  And with so many people out there making so much software, end-users like to have them delivered over familiar platforms.

Here’s a great example: look at Facebook and all of the programs you can add into it: poker, friend wheels, vampire games, etc.  Facebook is the platform; those cute little games are the software.  Imagine all those little games set up on their own websites… would you ever use them?  Would you even know about them?  The thinking behind a platform as a service is sound.  If anyone needs any more convincing, look at Scrabulous: after existing solely on its own website, attracting a (not unhealthy) 20,000 users, the application was launched on Facebook in 2007.  On the Facebook platform, it attracted nearly a million devotees, with 500,000 people playing daily.  Ultimately, though, Scrabulous had to be taken off Facebook for copyright infringement!  I doubt whether it still has 500,000 active users.

In the world of business enterprise, Salesforce.com offers a Customer Relations Management (CRM) platform that software as a service vendors can plug their applications into.

In the Software-and-Platform-as-a-Service model, the end user is divorced from the development of the application.  They probably don’t think for a second about how the service they use was developed and delivered to them; they just plug in and play.  But!  There’s more than one way to skin a cat.  As well as delivering their software through a familiar platform, software developers can offer their applications up for mashups.

A note on Mashups

If the end-user has the technical know-how, they can bundle up several bits of software together to make a new product with, say, a familiar interface.  They may wish to use this mashup themselves, or they may even wish to offer the mashup to others through their website.

A great example of this is Google Maps.  Let’s consider this scenario: a services company buys geographic data and offers it to users on a subscription basis (Data as a Service).  They develop basic hosted software that plans a route along roads from this data and offer this up too (Software as a Service).  Now, the user can choose to mashup this software with Google Maps to make a visual representation of the route the software plans.  Or they can create a mashup from any other programs out there; perhaps they don’t like Google Maps and choose to plug it into MultiMap instead.  Whatever.

So that’s a run-down of DaaS, SaaS and PaaS, as well as a mention for Mashups.

DaaS, SaaS and PaaS are all web services.  As has been explained, they are all services rolled out over the web.

This leaves Service-Oriented Architecture, or SOA.  In short, SOA is how any or all of these web services operate and interact.  The name, really, is quite self-explanatory.  SOA is not software, it’s not a computer, it’s not the internet and it’s not your neighbour’s dog.  It’s just a way of describing how the web services DaaS, SaaS and PaaS work together in a system.  To quote Bradley F. Shimmin (Principal Analyst of Application Infrastructure, Current Analysis LLC):

SOA is all about how software is structured and SaaS is all about how software is used.

The clue’s in the word “architecture” really, isn’t it…?  If we were talking about a house, we wouldn’t assume “architecture” to mean a brick, or a window.  “Architecture” is not specifically any of these things, but it is all of these things: it’s how the discrete individual elements form a whole.  To take the house analogy further, we could take Data-as-a-Service to be the foundations of a Service-Oriented Architecture; Software-as-a-Service is there with the bricks; The Platform-as-a-Service could be the housing estate the house is built on and marketed through.  If we were going to get needlessly complex we could say that SOAP and WSDL were like the mortar gluing the house together, but I said we’d stray away from PAINSINTHEASS.

So SOA is the term for the whole picture.

Of course, to make things a little bit more tricky, the architecture is seldom completely service-oriented.  Perhaps I subscribe to geographic data-as-a-service but build my own in-house software (say, a store locator wizard).  Or maybe I buy my data as a one-off acquisition on a CD (say, a list of local businesses), host the data on a MySQL server, but to use the data in an application (say I want to have a “local business lookup” feature on my website), subscribe to a software service (with perhaps a pay-per-lookup pricing model).  Both can be seen as having a Service-Oriented Architecture, but of course not every step on the road to delivering something to the end-user has to be provided as a service.

I hope this little rundown helps.

Here are some of the advantages of SaaS and DaaS.

It has long been my belief that the only reason more businesses haven’t been picking up on SaaS is because they haven’t really needed to.  After all, SaaS is about opening up new options to the SMEs (small-medium enterprises) who can’t afford traditional out-of-the-box software … but they’ve been doing OK up until now, so why should they adopt SaaS?  It’s something new and that comes with all sorts of scary stuff attached to it.

A typical example is route optimization as a service.  Who can benefit from this?  SMEs in the haulage industry who can’t afford the $90,000+ price-tag on traditional software that does the job.  So far they’ve got by without it… all the SMEs have got by without it.  This is an extreme example, of course, because route opt can reduce journey times by 30%.  A lot of SaaS apps make less obvious savings or increases in efficiency.

As EnewsMediaMagazine says:

With SaaS, the business pays a usage fee to access the same software over the Internet, with no installation, no upgrade costs and no maintenance or troubleshooting. What’s more, there are no up-front expenses for purchasing software, which makes it easier for businesses to access the latest and greatest business applications.

So what’s my point?  I guess what I’m trying to say is that now we’re facing a recession (ouch!  I said it!  Sorry, sorry, what we’re in is a cuddly, manageable credit crunch… credit crunch… sounds more like a chocolate bar than an economic crisis…) everybody is going to be forced to tighten their belts.  And the kind of software that Software as a Service is opening up to everyone is going to start looking ike less of an optional gamble and more like a necessity.

What’s the counter to that argument?  People will say that nobody is going to change their business practices in times of trouble.  The hatches will be battened and people will try to weather the storm.  While this might be true, all it takes is a couple of people to give SaaS a go (and let’s face it, it really isn’t much of a gamble, with most SaaS companies making the transition as easy as is humanly possible by offering free trials, etc.)  and when these people start trimming the corporate fat and suddenly become a whole lot more efficient, it’s going to create a vacuum that will suck everyone else into it… in short, business will have to adopt SaaS in order to remain competitive.

Is this first-grade economics a load of  baloney?  You know, I really don’t think it is.

Software as a service UK & USA, coming to SMEs near you very soon…

I would like to create a list of Software as a Service providers, with feedback on how well they provide their services, with the aim of creating a log of cloud computing reviews – so if you have a service you wish to submit for review by other users, or wish to contribute a review, please submit a comment (preferably in the format I use).  More than one review for the same SaaS provider is fine and should help to smooth out any bias… and talking of bias I will start with one that I know well, Postcode Anywhere, or TheWebService.com in the US.  Fortunately I used one of their products before I started working with them, so here goes:

Name
Postcode Anywhere

Country
UK

Services provided
UK address data (e.g. lookups)
International address data
Consumer data profiling
Route optimization
Bank and credit card validation
Data cleansing
Personal data hosting

No. Customers (if known)
>7000

Notable clients (if known)
Xerox, Rolls Royce

**Review**

Product
Address checker, Bank sort code lookup & credit card checker

Customer Service
It is pretty remarkable how good PCA’s customer service is… I was pretty hopeless when it came to installing all of the gizmos on my website (this was a couple of years ago) but I was walked through every step on the phone.  To be honest I don’t normally like talking to people on the phone (I like to tear my hair out on my lonesome instead), but I didn’t regret giving them a ring.

Price & Pricing model
I have to admit I didn’t like the pricing model at all at first… I don’t even like renting DVDs.  I prefer to have everything bought up and done and dusted,  But!  At the same time I couldn’t afford to do it any other way, and once I’d decided to give it a go it was child’s play.  What I liked about the service at the time was that because it’s pay-per-use, every time I had to pay the few pence for a look-up it meant someone was buying something off my site, so if you think of it that way it works out as a very small percentage of each sale.

Overall impression & Percentage rating
I’m not going to go into raves about how great PCA is because I work for them.  But this is where more non-partisan (or self-promoters, I don’t care) people can give their final overview and percentage rating of the Software as a Service Provider.

…According to BCS:

Software as a service (SaaS) does not feature in most businesses’ plans, despite the potential benefits, according to new research.

A survey by BT found that 81 per cent of its business customers did not know very much about SaaS and had not considered using it at their company, reports silicon.com.

Chris Lindsay, general manager of SaaS at the telecoms giant, told the website that firms risked falling behind by not adopting the technology.

‘It’s quite eye-opening really in terms of the lack of awareness but [also] the benefits are very clearly spelt out by the customers who have adopted the services,’ he said.

He cited other research from BT which discovered that 60 per cent of companies which used SaaS have seen costs cut and 50 per cent have reported a freeing-up of time.

Despite the seemingly negative attitude expressed by those who have yet to take up SaaS, Mr Lindsay believes it has moved ‘out of the innovators and early adopters to what we call the early majority’.

This isn’t really anything we didn’t know already, but it helps to quantify some of the thoughts about SaaS.  If we’re in the early majority for SaaS, where are we for DaaS?  If we’re behind on the chart, it would be pretty ironic due to the flexibility of DaaS over SaaS.

Ultimately, I just don’t think many people feel ready to have software or indeed anything as a service; there is no sense of ownership, and I think it’s really this (pretty silly but very human respnse) that *really* puts people off.  I predict that people will keep trolling along as best they can until market forces will make such services the only option in order to remain competitive.  And I’m not the only one that thinks SaaS is the future.

I thought I’d give a lightning rundown of the various benefits of SaaS and perceived drawbacks of SaaS and its little-understood younger brother DaaS.

Software as a Service (SaaS)
* No need to manage software – it’s outsourced
* Service not product payment model more affordable for smaller companies
* Any issues/upgrades as flagged up by one consumer can be implemented and the benefits shared by all
* Rolling payment model means SaaS providers must maintain a good relationship with their clients
* Licence for a range of devices, not one static machine – use the same software on different hardware anywhere you want

Data as a Service (DaaS)
* No need to manage data – it’s outsourced
* Data kept up-to-date on rolling schedule (very important)
* Lots of opportunity for customising the software that uses the data, or at least the UI – & lots of mashup opportunities
* Rolling payment model means DaaS providers must maintain a good relationship with their clients
* Data can be accessed by a range of devices, not one static machine – and different software and UIs, with different permissions

Perceived drawbacks of SaaS

“No customization” – you don’t get the software built specifically for your needs but have to instead subscribe to a universal service

Rebuttal:
The core market for SaaS is the small and medium-sized businesses that will benefit from SaaS’s easy-to-digest payment model.  These companies probably already have to use out-of-the-box software rather than custom-built offerings.  And if it’s the data rather than the software proper that’s outsourced (see below) then there’s a massive (and in fact greater) degree of flexibility.

“The pricing isn’t as transparent as a one-off sum”

Rebuttal:
Well, what could be?!  More clear and transparent pricing models are needed for this sector… but at the same time, consumers aren’t sure of how much they’ll use the service and whether it represents good value for money.  This is a justified concern for the consumer, but as ever, it’s just unfamiliarity with the system of payment that’s the final stumbling block.

“Complete reliance on the Internet to provide the service

Rebuttal:
More and more of a company’s infrastructure is dependent on the Internet anyway… it is, however, prudent to go with a SaaS provider with a track record and promise of 99.999% availability!

Perceived drawbacks of DaaS

“Lack of security when data is ‘in the cloud'”

Rebuttal:
There is no lack of security, only lack of control – and as you may have been told the last time you were automatically denied access from installing something on your work computer, lack of control is part and parcel of a tight security system; what could be better than data held in one place and looked after by true experts?

“Complete reliance on the Internet to serve the data”

Rebuttal:
More and more of a company’s infrastructure is dependent on the Internet anyway… it is, however, prudent to go with a DaaS provider with a track record and promise of 99.999% availability!

CONCLUSION

My conclusion is that while there are a few concerns about SaaS and DaaS, it’s more to do with unfamiliarity of the processes involved than any inherent problems with the solutions.  As we become more and more interconnected and mobile, these sorts of solutions will become the only viable ones. The apparent failure of earlier cloud computing models (namely ASP) was more due to limitations on the Internet infrastructure than anything else.

If you would like to try out any of TheWebServices SaaS and DaaS solutions, there are free trials available at The Web Service website.  They certainly don’t cost a fair whack.

Why are people only just catching on to Software-as-a-Service? I think I’ve cracked it, you know. People are suspicious of cloud computing because there’s nothing there for them to hold. REAL software, now that comes in a box. Put *anything* in a box and it looks appealing.

I’m going to try and explain that statement. Think about those Sun Maid raisins… now, nobody eats raisins. To be honest, I’m not terribly keen on eating anything that has, through some process of shrivelling, shrunk to a fraction of its original size.

But put the buggers in a box! Put them in a box and I’m scrumming those things down like they’re cream cakes. Suddenly I love raisins. I’m even turning the packet inside-out to retrieve any squashed detritus that might be stuck to the sides. I’m an animal.

I’m telling you, put a turd in a box and people will queue up to gobble that bastard down. Would you like fries with that? In a box, obviously.

No matter what it is, if you can find it in a box I’ll be there frothing at the mouth, slavering and cramming it between my hungry jaws.

This can be problematic (I came a cropper at nan’s funeral)… and it’s pretty clear how.

Box clever?

Box clever?

To drag this rambling nonsense back to web services, it seems clear to me that there’s something people have in them psychologically that makes them want to put everything into a box. Clear, well-defined boundaries are so desirable to people that it actually doesn’t matter what’s *in* the damn box, so much as they can pin something down to its limitations.

Web services are scary because they truly have no boundaries. Cloud computing is just that, “in the cloud”, with nothing tangible to define. Perhaps we need to change the way we market this new, fluid software, that’s hosted on a server on the other side of the world.

Any ideas?


So “Lawson Software’s chief executive, Harry Debes, doesn’t believe in software as a service.”

This guy’s a dinosaur. All of the most successful sites on the web have got to where they are through an ongoing communication with their users. That’s the way of the web – and it’s also the way of any successful business. Ebay united a community who wanted to exchange junk with each other. Even Amazon has what is essentially an open forum for the trashing of the very products they sell. How come Wikipedia is the top of the SERPs while the Encyclopaedia Britannica site generally languishes at something like a close 353rd? I’ll tell you why (if you haven’t already worked your way through what is now becoming an increasingly laboured metaphor) – because the EB looks like Hitler next to the divinely collaborative Wikipedia (we’ll ignore its questionable nofollow tactics for the moment).

So – Wikipedia is SaaS to Britannica’s Microsoft, and it’s going to be the next big thing.

When web and software developers realise the power of some of the mash-up possibilities sites like The Web Service are offering, it will become the industry standard. But far from being a developer-led revolution, small businesses will start to wake up and demand the kind of software that the SaaS “pay as you go” models can offer them. In fact, they’ll have to in order to remain competitive.

Harry Debes says traditional software is like “cocaine”… I don’t think so (but kudos for comparing your products to hard drugs… I would have settled at speed) I think people will realise how it might be just as unhealthy and ensnaring but not as addictive. People resent being tied to software. And where is the accountability? There isn’t any. You just have to take it as the program crashes again or takes 2 hours to update itself… this has become a sour and unwanted part of our information systems culture, championed by Microsoft and its ridiculously over-bloated Vista, the Mr Creosote of the operating system world.

While we’ll probably be stuck with the same cumbersome operating systems for the foreseeable future, SaaS opens up a whole new way to pay for software – small companies in particular will have access through “pay-as-you-go” models to the kind of technology that would have broken the bank before Web 2.0. It opens up a whole new world of profitability that companies would be mad to ignore. And if the web’s taught us anything, it’s that the little guys add up to something big.

Software as a Service might be just as easy to get out of as it is to buy into, but far from being a weakness, that’s the true strength of SaaS – software companies will be forced to have a relationship with their clients. No more CDs through the letterbox and no more software dictatorships. IBM’s taking an interestEven Microsoft is making some half-hearted concessions.

Let’s hear from this cocaine-endorsing joker again (and let’s remember he’s the CEO of a very successful company):

“Because all your costs are up front and your revenue is over a five-year period, the more you sell, the more you lose.”

Where did this guy learn economics? The sort of sophistry he is entering into here is pretty shameful. Remember his business model, folks: investing for a future return is classed as a waste of time; a loss. Better to become a millionaire before you even wake up, let alone get out of bed, enter the office or actually do anything worthwhile.

This guy rebuts Harry’s madness too, undoubtedly more eloquently.