Software as a Service - myths destroyed

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to the Software as a Service concept. The basic idea behind this catch phrase is that rather than paying a lot of money up front for a piece of software and/or server combination you subscribe to the software online and have it hosted remotely. There's obviously a couple of concerns over such a model, firstly you have got to trust that these companies do not go out of business plus you have to be confident that your Internet connection (and theirs) will be working whenever you need the service. A lot of these myths have been put to rest as this Business Week article illustrates, but for hard-core (old school) network administrators the idea of out-sourcing essential software sends cold shivers down their spines.

The concept really got stuck in my head when a friend of mine sent a general email asking for people to help him convince a small business to purchase a general purpose (mail/calendar/file/print) server. After having my share of bad server experiences and over demanding clients I eventually came to the conclusion that installing a new server in a small/medium business is a really difficult thing to justify when pitted against the new Software as a Service model. For example if you were to sign-up for the GMail hosted email service (where they host your email domain) you get email, calendar and instant messaging services all for just a few only slightly annoying adverts. Alternatively you could go the Microsoft Office Live path which does not provide as much storage space and costs more but could get very interesting as these services are integrated into the traditional Office suite. For data there are some pretty interesting looking NAS (Network Attached Service) devices available that provide local network storage without the hassle of running a full blown server. Then as long as you purchase decent network-enabled printers you have a complete small/medium office solution for a lot less setup and ongoing support costs than a conventional Linux/Windows/Netware server.

From a network administrator's perspective this model is at first scary (on one likes being out of a job) until you realise that you can now spend your time working with users to get these services working for them rather than just simply working, which is their current (and only) ongoing concern.