Connectivity: The Achilles Heel of SaaS - InformationWeek

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Commentary
4/22/2009
09:42 AM
David Linthicum
David Linthicum
Commentary
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Connectivity: The Achilles Heel of SaaS

Those who push back on SaaS and cloud computing typically site security, privacy, and legal issues, but they almost never talk about connectivity... In the recent shenanigans surrounding cut fiber lines in Silicon Valley, those affected quickly understood that Internet access can be gone in an instant...

Those who push back on SaaS and cloud computing typically site security, privacy, and legal issues, but they almost never talk about connectivity. Perhaps they should. In the recent shenanigans surrounding cut fiber lines in Silicon Valley, those affected quickly understood that the Internet, which is required to gain access to your SaaS provider, can be gone in an instant. With their Internet connection down for most of a day, the affected businesses that use SaaS could not access any SaaS-delivered applications, including ERP, CRM, and Sales Force Automation.

For those of you who still believe that the Internet was and is designed by the military to get around the destruction of major nodes and will save you from situations like this, you are just plain wrong. If the fiber going from the back-bone is cut, not only is your connection lost, but any cell towers hooked up to the same fiber are lost as well, thus no air cards as an option.

"The outage affected thousands of users in the San Jose and Santa Clara areas of Silicon Valley, cutting off both landlines and cellular service, including services like Verizon, which used the fiber-optic cables as a backhaul. City officials were advising residents with medical emergencies to drive themselves to the hospital, as the 911 emergency services were also taken down by the cuts."

The technical fact is that when you use SaaS, you're completely dependent upon the Internet being active, since all information, interfaces and other aspects of the applications are all Web-delivered. Most don't consider this fact until they are, one, in an Internet outage, such as the one that just occurred in San Jose, or two, working in areas with no connectivity, such as a plane.

So, those who use SaaS for critical business applications in an area affected by an outage are "down" until the local telecom companies get the problem corrected. Those who have their own private enterprise systems on-premise won't be affected by the Internet outage, for the most part, and can continue to operate. The funny thing about this is that it's so obvious yet so often overlooked. It's a clear risk to the business that's not taken into account until connectivity issues arise.

The trouble really arises when the connection is down for days, perhaps weeks, during natural disasters such as hurricanes, earth quakes, and floods, and the business has to stop in its tracks, unable to book sales, track inventory or update ledgers. While they were sold on SaaS as a hardened system that has an amazing up-time record, the issues around connectivity are out of the control of the SaaS players.

So, should you remove SaaS from consideration as a legitimate enterprise system, given the risks around connectivity? No, SaaS is still a great option for leveraging enterprise applications that are as good or better than on-premise options. However, like any architectural component, you need to look at the risk of outages, no matter if the SaaS systems go down, your clients fail, or the connectivity between them somehow stops working, as was the case with the vandalism in the Silicon Valley.

You do have the option of establishing redundant connections, using services such as WiMax or even Satellite-delivered Internet. However those options, even when sitting at the ready but unused, are very expensive. You're probably using SaaS or cloud computing to reduce costs, so this may not make sense. SaaS clearly has some tradeoffs. This is another one to consider if you have not considered it already.Those who push back on SaaS and cloud computing typically site security, privacy, and legal issues, but they almost never talk about connectivity... In the recent shenanigans surrounding cut fiber lines in Silicon Valley, those affected quickly understood that Internet access can be gone in an instant...

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