Converting an on-premise software to SaaS

You have an offering that you provide to customers to download , install and maintain. However in recent times you have been losing customers since they prefer competitive offerings that are provided as SaaS . Your customers are telling you that they don’t want to install, configure, maintain and don’t want to incur the cost of infrastructure either. “Why can’t you just put it on the cloud and give me a SaaS offering?”

In order to stop the bleeding you decide you will host the application and offer it as a service. In this blog post I will help provide guidance on the key technical aspects that needs to be considered when converting your on-premise offering to a SaaS offering. I will follow this with a post on the business aspects to consider

There are three things to consider 1) Infrastructure to host your application 2) Changes in the application architecture 3) Changes in the development model -adopting DevOps

Infrastructure: To host your application you need a scalable and reliable infrastructure. You have 3 choices: public cloud , private cloud or a hybrid cloud.

If you are a large organization with centralized IT and they can offer you a reliable private PaaS use that. If you are a smaller company or a startup and don’t have any experience in hosting and managing a data center or cloud infrastructure, use public PaaS from one of the many vendors like Amazon, CloudFoundry, OpenShift etc. Almost any web application or mobile application stacks are available on public clouds today. I found this article very insightful on choices that can be made.

Application: Your product was written originally to be downloaded and installed on-premise scaling up to a 100 users maybe. Now you need to host this product yourself, support it to scale to thousands of users ensuring security and great performance. In order to do the conversion, you will need to address the following aspects of your product

  1. Communication protocols  – your product consists of many components or building blocks. If you have a component that is installed on the customer end which needs to interact with a component that you are hosting, then the communication between the two needs to happen over the internet using protocols such as https. So if you have other protocols that assumed all components will be in the same network, you will need to change those
  2. Loosely coupled integration – hard coded integration between components will absolutely not work. Expose APIs for all building blocks of your application and let them communicate with each other
  3. Multi-tenancy – the same application will be accessed by multiple users. Which means you need to make it secure such that one user doesn’t see the data of another user. You could start with a multi-instant architecture but in the long run supporting multi-tenancy is extremely critical in SaaS.
  4. Security – Since you will be receiving data from the customer over the internet, security and compliance is extremely critical to be preserved at every point of interaction
  5. Scalability and Performance- horizontal /elastic scaling is the ability of your infrastructure to automatically scale depending on the load or requests. Since your application will now be a public offering, you should be able to handle a significant increase in the number of users without degrading response time and performance. Use load balancing techniques to be able to achieve this
  6. Configurability – you need to provide the ability for customers to configure and customize settings over the internet – could be functionality or look and feel or preferences
  7. High Availability – you need to make sure that your application is running 24/7. Monitoring availability and having failover options are extremely critical
  8. Modern User Interfaces – if your product does not have a sexy UI and does not support mobile, you may run into adoption issues.

Development Model: The last but not the least important aspect you need to implement is a DevOps model for continuous delivery and integration. DevOps is essentially a software development method that requires collaboration between IT operations and application developers to enable continuous delivery. In this model application changes go into production multiple times a day or week to support the demands of customers. These upgrades and changes need to be non-disruptive with zero downtime and should be regression free.  Here is a great article on adopting DevOps

This checklist is a good starting point to discuss how to convert  an on-premise offering to a SaaS. Would love to hear your experiences ..

About itspi
Product Manager at IBM, Cloud and Analytics Geek, Mixed Media Artist, Traveler, Volunteer for Non-Profits

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