Software as a Service (SaaS) enables users to access cloud-based applications, hosted and managed by a third-party, via an internet web browser. When you use a smartphone to check your email, accept a work meeting invite during your commute or collaborate with a colleague to live-edit the same document, you're likely using a SaaS solution.

Compared to Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), SaaS is increasingly the preferred application service model. It allows organizations to purchase software from cloud service providers (CSPs) on a pay-as-you-go subscription basis.

Three types of application service models
Three types of application service models

Software as a service removes the costs associated with building, installing and maintaining your own applications — effectively letting organizations rent cloud-based apps from CSPs, who host the applications in their own data centers and guarantee availability, performance and security.

How does the SaaS model work?

The most common examples of software as a service are web-based email applications like Gmail or Hotmail, accessible for personal use via web browser on any internet-connected device. The SaaS software that runs these programs, as well as user data and messages, lives on CSP-owned infrastructure.

Organizations often rent corporate versions of SaaS products that function in the same way.

Why is SaaS important?

SaaS can be crucial to reducing the cost and time it takes to manage IT infrastructure. Why? Because the software as a service provider is responsible for updating and managing app data, software, middleware and the underlying infrastructure. This means the cost and burden of hardware, maintenance and hosting are rolled into your software as a service license purchase.

SaaS is proving increasingly important as other technological changes continue to gather speed across markets. More and more organizations are investing in faster, more agile environments that enable rapid software updates. These agile environments are built on new technologies like cloud and edge computing5G, Wi-Fi 6, the Internet of Things (IoT)augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). These types of compute- and data-intensive technologies demand the low-latency and high-performance infrastructure offered by software as a service to operate effectively.

What are the benefits of SaaS?

The SaaS model offers plenty of benefits:

  • Reduced costs: SaaS providers offer subscription models that can reduce the upfront cost of applications and programs. Organizations no longer have to purchase the compute, networking and storage infrastructure required to run, host and manage applications.
  • Automatic software updates: Failure to patch and/or update software is among the leading causes of data breaches for organizations worldwide. SaaS models mitigate this risk as software as a service applications are hosted on a centralized server where apps update automatically, ensuring users always have the most recent version and access to the latest features.
  • More sophisticated applications: It can be costly to build, install and maintain the infrastructure required for sophisticated applications like customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human resource management (HRM) tools. SaaS makes it more affordable and straightforward to provide access to the resources employees need to be productive. With the ability to pay for however many licenses are necessary, software as a service solutions make it easy to scale up or down at a moment's notice.
  • Increased productivity: Using a SaaS model means you don't need complex hardware to run applications. The rapid deployment of this cloud-based approach allows users to access apps faster, ultimately increasing productivity.
  • Enhanced accessibility: Users can access software as a service programs anywhere there is an internet connection. Data is stored in the cloud rather than on a device, and applications allow version control, enabling teams to work collaboratively on documents. This improves user access and experience.
  • Improved integration: Managing multiple applications from various vendors creates challenges around application and data integration. Software as a service eliminates this complexity by removing the need to host your own applications.

What are the challenges of SaaS?

Despite the many benefits, there can be challenges with the software as a service model, including:

  • Lack of control: Relying on a CSP to provide the infrastructure for an application means you relinquish control of management and security. Each organization should weigh its need for security against the cost of running and managing an application.
  • Data security concerns: Most trusted cloud providers host their SaaS programs in highly secure and well-governed environments. However, placing your data within a third-party provider's infrastructure can present a range of security risks.
  • Performance issues: The SaaS model can sometimes affect the speed and performance of certain applications. If this is a concern, IT may need to prioritize software as a service traffic on the network to avoid such latency issues.
  • Low connectivity: SaaS apps rely on internet connectivity to run. If your CSP has an outage or your internet connection fails for any other reason, access to software as a service applications and data can be effected.

Taking full advantage of SaaS

As nearly all organizations use software as a service in some form today, chances are you're already relying on a software as a service model to run part of your business.

Looking to the future, if you think SaaS should play a bigger role in your company's IT footprint due to its many benefits, you'll be glad to hear there are a wide range of great software as a service solutions to explore today — with more being introduced every few months.

WWT is here to help organizations get the most out of SaaS. Just reach out and our cloud experts will be happy to answer your software as a service questions.