If 2012 was the year that many government agencies began moving in earnest to the cloud, 2013 promises to be what might be called the year of cloud disillusionment.
Innovation, cost savings and efficiencies within the cloud are simply more complex than most technology providers promised initially, but with at least 18 months of evolution, agencies now have a better understanding of cloud computing and its benefits.
One of the first disillusions is that ‘everything is SaaS.’ Some custom applications are being acquired ‘as-a-service’ but are being touted as ‘software-as-a-service’ (SaaS) cloud solutions. An application customized to an agency can be creatively purchased as a service or ‘by the drink’ but should not be confused with SaaS cloud solutions. The SaaS economic model is based on many users that can reuse the same application and therefore also the underlying infrastructure platform, usually in a multi-tenant environment. The SaaS economic model drives vendors to invest in profitable commercial solutions that have wide usage. Much of what the government does is very unique – like issuing passports or tracking specific data for national security – and thus will never be offered commercially as SaaS.
The confusion between an acquisition model (i.e. purchase-as-a-service) and an industrial model (i.e. commercially driven multi-user applications) is dangerous. The strengths of SaaS, whereby an application becomes better and more popular as its scale increases – for example, Google Apps with millions of users – doesn’t occur with one-off applications outsourced to the ‘cloud.’ A customer will be sorely disappointed if they expect a robust application, lower price, improved security, monitoring, and shared service innovation that true SaaS delivers, when in fact it is an application in “SaaS” clothing. The potential for mismatched expectations and cost reduction becomes evident with each upgrade cycle and leads to vendor-customer conflict.
Custom applications can benefit from ‘cloud’ via platform or infrastructure-as-a-service but they can never be SaaS. The sooner this cloud disillusion is nipped in the bud, the better. The best way to tackle this issue is to define and plan a roadmap for the application portfolio. An agency’s portfolio of applications should be assessed with only the most appropriate selected for a shared services (cloud) environment – whether using SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS capabilities.