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RightScale 2016 State of the Cloud Report
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Hard Lessons: 4 Reasons to Use SaaS for Cloud Management

Hard Lessons: 4 Reasons to Use SaaS for Cloud Management

Some years ago the company that I was working for was building and successfully selling application integration appliances as its flagship product. The product was available as a hardware appliance as well as a virtual appliance, but we were starting to see market demand for a software-as-as-service (SaaS) offering in the space. My company decided to invest in a SaaS form factor to provide customers with the choice of a SaaS or on-premises solution. In my role managing product, engineering, and operations, I led the effort to create a multi-tenant, distributed SaaS offering that had be compatible with our on-premises form factors.

Here at RightScale, we are a pure SaaS company (there is no on-premises delivery model for our Cloud Management product). In comparing a product suite offered as both SaaS and as an on-premises solution vs. the pure SaaS model, I’d like to share some observations on why I believe that SaaS is the best delivery model for cloud management:

1. Speed to Market: Start Right Now

One of the fascinating things for me when working with customers who had the option of SaaS vs. on-premises form-factors was observing their behavior. Initially, customers were more likely to express interest in the on-premises form-factor, then they would work out everything they had to do to get the product installed and operational before deriving value from it. And I don’t mean that our product, itself, required additional work —  being an appliance, it was pretty simple. What was time consuming for our customers was all the upfront procurement hassle.

The hardware form-factor was the toughest: It needed to be physically shipped, it required data center space (which typically was at a premium with regard to availability and cost), and you had to rack it and wire it up before you could start using it. The virtual appliance was easier because you could download it, and there were no shipping manifests and delivery receipts to deal with. But it did require space in an already-crowded VMware environment, which was challenging for our customers to allocate. In stark contrast to these on-premises options, customers would look at the SaaS form-factor and realize that they could log in and start using it immediately. And once they started, there was never any need to move.

This same speed-to-market advantage applies to cloud management as well. If you’re an enterprise with complex needs and are evaluating a cloud management platform, you’ve probably spent a good deal of time on your cloud strategy and you see the benefits of cloud for your business. Choosing to go with an on-premises cloud management platform is going to delay your implementation plans and extend the amount of time it takes to deliver the benefits of cloud to your business. With the SaaS form factor for cloud management, you get instant access to a cloud management platform that can deliver self-service to your end users, single-pane-of-glass management to your IT department, and cost management to your financial managers. And you can accomplish all of this across multiple clouds (public and private) and virtualized environments with the click of a button.

2. Access to Innovation: Keep Up with Fast-Changing Clouds

The application integration product that I formerly managed was focused on connecting SaaS business applications like Salesforce.com to their on-premises counterparts such as SAP. These SaaS business applications were evolving at a very rapid pace — monthly releases that in true SaaS style were available to all users instantly.

We found it very difficult to provide rapid updates to our on-premises appliances at the same pace that our SaaS product could evolve. With the on-premises form factor, we ran into the issue of multiple versions running in production that were invisible behind customer firewalls. If I released patches too frequently, it would cause a massive sprawl of version numbers with messy upgrade paths. And enterprise customers complained about so many versions  — it was a headache for them to continually upgrade the on-premises appliances to keep them up to date.

Very similar to the SaaS business application ecosystem of the past, the cloud ecosystem of today is also a constantly evolving and changing world. The SaaS model for RightScale Cloud Management allows us to deliver these innovations to you at a rapid pace, without your needing to download and install a constant stream of patches just to stay up to date.

For example, last year Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform significantly dropped their compute prices within days of each other, and AWS later changed its reserved instance pricing. Because RightScale is a SaaS product, we were able to incorporate these changes into our platform within hours and deliver them quickly to our customers so that they could get accurate data about their cloud spend and take advantage of the new prices as they planned for new purchases.

If RightScale Cloud Management were on-premises software, we would have been providing out-of-date price lists and pricing models until we patched and upgraded our systems. And not to mention that every time a cloud provider introduced a new instance type or changed a storage configuration, we would have been facing a constant stream of patches or otherwise resigning to an out-of-date platform.

3. Lower Operational Costs: Let the Vendor Pay to Keep It Running

When you are a vendor delivering software via the on-premises model and the SaaS model concurrently, the economic benefits of the on-premises model for the vendor become immediately apparent. As a vendor, it was much more profitable for me to ship an appliance to customers who were responsible for managing and maintaining it vs. managing an operations team that was responsible for maintaining the SaaS form-factor. Conversely, the SaaS form factor had much lower costs for the customer, since my team was responsible for monitoring all the running machines, ensuring that the deployment was fault tolerant, keeping the software up to date, applying security patches when required, and more.

At RightScale, it takes a large team to manage our cloud management platform at scale because our distributed and near real-time software is subject to frequent change. We are experts in managing pure SaaS delivery for cloud management because we have been doing it from day one since the advent of cloud computing. By choosing a SaaS delivery model for cloud management, you do not have to spend your precious DevOps resources maintaining the management infrastructure — instead you can focus on developing differentiated business applications and let RightScale absorb the operational costs.

4. Independent Control Plane: Stay Up When Clouds Go Down

Keeping a service operational and running requires good design and hard work. There  are many points of failure and you are trying to eliminate the dreaded “single point of failure.” When you build a service in the cloud, as I had done with the SaaS application integration product, you have to assume that the cloud itself is unreliable. One way to avoid single point of failure is by separating the control plane from the application plane so that the control plane can respond independently to application-plane outages.

I recall learning the hard way that if your control plane and application plane are geographically close to one another in the cloud, such as in two different availability zones or data centers within the same region, that independence between the two can be an illusion. A large outage close to your application plane can also affect your control plane, thus rendering the control plane useless when you need it most.

SaaS Independent Control Plane for RightScale Cloud Management

At RightScale, our SaaS platform functions as an independent control plane that is not affected by issues in the clouds it manages. If you have the sophistication and know-how to architect your systems for redundancy and failover yourself should you choose to do so, then you also know it will cost you valuable time and money if you decide to do it yourself with on-premises software. Instead, you can choose cloud management in a SaaS form factor and simply point it to your public clouds, private clouds, and virtualized environments with the confidence that the required control plane independence is built in to the deployment model. No extra time, money, or pain required — plus you can skip a painful lesson!

Summary

By using a SaaS solution for cloud management, you can more quickly provide IT services to your enterprise to support your go-to-market strategies, effectively eliminating the need to use in-house resources that could otherwise be allocated to core projects.

With RightScale Cloud Management, you can automate cloud provisioning to give developers and business units near-instant access to cloud-based resources for accelerating their application delivery. In addition to automated provisioning, you can also easily govern cloud usage across your entire organization and effectively manage workloads across multiple clouds through a single pane of glass. To try RightScale Cloud Management, sign up for a free trial.

RightScale 2016 State of the Cloud Report