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SaaS and the good old days of on-premise software

John Dvorak writes persuasively that for all the benefits of SaaS, being wholly reliant on a single vendor is a Very Bad Thing.

John Dvorak has a point. It's not one that the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers want buyers to think much about, but it's a valid point.

Responding to the downtime (19 hours) of the Windows Genuine Advantage servers, John writes:

All this proves is that these Web-based applications cannot be trusted.

Is he wrong?

Think about this. In a SaaS world, even more than in the traditional proprietary world, you are 100% helpless if something goes wrong. Not only do you not have the code (as you would if you had a on-premise desktop/server software), but you also don't have the IT staff to be able to go in to troubleshoot. You're completely reliant on the vendor.

I like the focus on service in SaaS. I like it quite a bit, in fact. And I generally think that SaaS vendors spend a lot of time and money in ensuring that they can maintain uptime.

But some things are completely outside of their control (a broadband link to your building goes down, etc.). Which makes John's later comments so appropriate:

To analyze the illogic of certain trends, I like to employ a trick I call the "reverse timeline." I ask myself, "What happens if the timeline goes the other way?" In this instance, you'd start with server-based online applications, and then suddenly a new technology--the desktop computer with a quad-core processor and huge hard drive--appears. Now, you do not need to do all your computing online. The timeline is reversed.

You can image the advertising push. "Now control your own data!" "Faster processing power now." "Cheaper!" "Everything at your fingertips." "No need to worry about network outages." "Faster, cheaper, more reliable." On and on. I can almost hear the marketing types brag about how much better "shrink wrap" software is than the flaky online apps. The best line for the emergence of the desktop computer in a reverse timeline would be "It's about time!"

Sadly, he may not be far off. That's why I think enterprises are best off owning their own data/content through open standards, and owning their own software through open source. Perhaps there's a good way to mingle open source with SaaS. Let's call it "Open SaaS." But until someone delivers on Open SaaS, any investment in SaaS should be done with a fair amount of prudence.