The rise, Fall, and resurrection
of software as a service
A look at the volatile history of remote computing and online software services.
One oF THe
mercial opportunities these
days appears to be software
as a service or SaaS. In this
form of computing, a cus-more hyped com-
tomer runs software remotely, via the
Internet, using the service provider’s
programs and computer infrastructure. One of the first and most success-
ful firms in the SaaS space is Salesforce.
com, which was launched in 1999.
Salesforce.com provides a customer-relationship management service. Using the service, a mobile salesperson,
for example, can access the software
from a laptop while on the road, and
the head office is relieved of all the
problems of infrastructure provision,
Salesforce marketing campaign.
the complexities of managing and upgrading software, and synchronizing
data from multiple sources. Another
big player is Google, which now offers
email and office productivity applications in its version of cloud computing.
Many people think that the future
of software lies in SaaS and cloud computing. They may well be right in the
medium term, but history shows that
one cannot be sure that the trend will
There are two main components to
SaaS: The software itself and the computing infrastructure on which it runs.
Customers are at least as concerned
about the quality of service as they are
about the software. Indeed, for providers who use freely available open source
software, quality of service is their only
Organizations use in-house computing facilities or SaaS largely according to the economics of the situation—
whether it is cheaper to own one’s
software and infrastructure or to buy
services on-demand. This dilemma is
not new. It is as old—indeed, older—
than the computer industry itself.
Before computers came on the scene
in the mid-1950s, the most advanced
information processing equipment
that organizations could buy (or lease)
was punched-card electric accounting
machines, or EAMs. The main vendor
of this type of equipment, IBM, opened
the first of several service bureaus in
1932. Customers brought their data
processing needs to a bureau and came
photograph by linda lane