The acronym SaaS stands for ‘Software as a Service’, a method of software delivery in which the software is hosted in the cloud rather than being installed on individual machines.
The cloud refers to remote storage of data on external servers which may be accessed over the internet by anyone given permission to share it, from any location, on any computer, rather than storing the data on one computer.
Many types of software can be provided in this way, but some common business applications include accounts, content management, human resources and service desk applications.
Software as a Service is usually designed to be used across as many different operating systems, for example Windows, Mac OS and Linux, as possible. This includes different versions of the same operating system. The most common way of ensuring compatibility is to run the software as a web-based application, through a web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. The application is designed to be compatible across a wide range of browsers and versions, a much easier task than creating software that will run across different operating systems.
It is usually possible to customise the interface, adding features or altering the look and feel, perhaps with different themes or skins. This may be done by the individual user or a corporation. In the latter case, a corporation may use logos, fonts and colour schemes that allow the software to fit in with company branding.
Payment for Software as a Service is usually made on a subscription basis rather than as a one-off charge. Companies using the software may pay per user or per transaction carried out, or simply pay a monthly or annual fee. Some software is available in a free version, with the option to pay for extra features.
Advantages and disadvantages of SaaS
Both the user and the software provider benefit from this system. The central location of the software means that it is easy for the development team to roll out software updates or security patches, to the advantage of both parties. The developers can also collect data on how the software is being used, and request feedback, which will in turn benefit the users as this data is taken into account and used to improve the service.
There are disadvantages to Software as a Service, however. It can be hard to assess how secure cloud storage really is, leading to concerns. The remote location of cloud-based data and applications mean there can be lag when attempting to access these, while a problem with the internet connection at either the server or user end means data cannot be accessed until the problem is resolved.
As applications become more complicated, taking up more memory, and businesses produce more data every day, users are turning increasingly to the cloud to provide storage solutions for both data and software. This reliance on the cloud is expected to increase as internet connections become faster and more reliable, making Software as a Service the solution of choice for more and more business users.