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The Downsides of Software as Service 326

Posted by Zonk
from the with-a-little-ranting-to-boot dept.
JustinBrock writes "Dvorak's article yesterday, entitled Don't Trust the Servers, argues that the danger of software as a service was highlighted when 'the WGA [Windows Genuine Advantage] server outage hit on Friday evening and was finally repaired on Saturday. It was down for 19 long hours.' The whole fiasco raises an interesting perspective on the software as a service 'fetish'. Dvorak highlights it hypothetically: What if the timeline were reversed, and we were moving from online apps to the desktop. Hear his prophecy of the marketing: 'You can image the advertising push. "Now control your own data!" "Faster processing power now." "Cheaper!" "Everything at your fingertips." "No need to worry about network outages." "Faster, cheaper, more reliable." On and on. I can almost hear the marketing types brag about how much better "shrink wrap" software is than the flaky online apps. The best line for the emergence of the desktop computer in a reverse timeline would be "It's about time!"'"
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The Downsides of Software as Service

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  • by djh101010 (656795) * on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:33AM (#20384581) Homepage Journal
    I'm trying to think of the last time I read an article by Dvorak, and said "You know, he's got a good point". It's almost like he intentionally trolls his readership by stating the most outrageous possible point of view, just to stir up hits and discussion.
    • by omeomi (675045) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:39AM (#20384703) Homepage
      I, for one, can't think of a single upside of "Software as Service"
      • by timster (32400) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:46AM (#20384859)
        I can! It's a new funding model, necessary for the continued existence of giant software factories like Microsoft. The upside is that you no longer have to figure out ways to persuade your customers to buy the new version of your software, which has become more and more difficult (how many features can you add to a word processing app, anyway?)

        The upside to the customer is not so easy to find, unless you consider the possibility that with all this hypothetical easy money flowing in, Microsoft would be able to make a better product.
        • by Ironsides (739422) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:05PM (#20385211) Homepage Journal
          I can think of one, possibly two upsides to software as a service.
          1) Software provider has an 'incentive' to ensure the product is bug free or that the bugs get fixed quickly. With shrink-wrap software, they have your money and are providing fixes for free.

          2) This is an accounting style advantage. Say, you have the option to pay $300 for a software suite up front, or $5/month for as long as you use it. Most of us would go with the $300. Except, what if the $5 gives you free upgrades forever? Now, what if it was $1.50/month? Here we start getting into a grayer area about it being cheaper to pay per month than up front, due to about how much money you could make off of the base cost in interest on investments.
          • Here's a few more (Score:3, Insightful)

            by lottameez (816335)
            3) No desktop installation required - no screwing around with what build works on your particular OS. 4) IT maintenance - while not a big issue for most of us that post here, for all those mere mortals keeping the software up to date, or upgrading to a new version can be a major headache. With software as a service, its done for you. 5) Accessibility - what if you're outside the firewall and can't get thru the VPN? Again, a bigger deal for mere mortals that /.-ers. (of course the disadvantage is no wor
            • by lottameez (816335) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:27PM (#20385651)
              3) No desktop installation required - no screwing around with what build works on your particular OS.

              4) IT maintenance - while not a big issue for most of us that post here, for all those mere mortals keeping the software up to date, or upgrading to a new version can be a major headache. With software as a service, its done for you.

              5) Accessibility - what if you're outside the firewall and can't get thru the VPN? Again, a bigger deal for mere mortals that /.-ers. (of course the disadvantage is no working offline)

              6) less start up risk. If I can start with a couple of seats a month for $50/seat versus having to kick out hundreds or thousands of dollars per desktop copy, it's a better deal (well, legally anyways).

              7) Generally the Software as a service providers have better backup/recovery processes than the average SMB (think law firm, not software house).

              There's lots more reasons of varying importance. I think the parent's point #1 is probably the most relevant of all tho.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by fyngyrz (762201) *

                3) No desktop installation required - no screwing around with what build works on your particular OS.

                On the contrary, installation will be required every time. If the source is down, you have no software and you cannot work.

                4) IT maintenance - while not a big issue for most of us that post here, for all those mere mortals keeping the software up to date, or upgrading to a new version can be a major headache. With software as a service, its done for you.

                Good IT departments test VERY carefull

          • 1) Software provider has an 'incentive' to ensure the product is bug free or that the bugs get fixed quickly. With shrink-wrap software, they have your money and are providing fixes for free.

            You've got it backwards. When you sell shrink-wrapped software, you have incentive to get it right, because it is costly and complicated to fix it once it leaves your warehouse. This is why the quality of physical products is better - it is much cheaper to make sure things are working properly before you ship them out

      • by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:54AM (#20385037) Journal
        I, for one, can't think of a single upside of "Software as Service"

        Software as a service can be run locally by a company, rather than on the web. There are several (provided the server is maintained on site).
        Single point of failure should a catastrophe happen.
        User's can't go in and break the system.
        There is one system to maintain, one anti-virus package, one system to back up and so on.
        Files are much easier to share and keep updated. It is a nightmare to have a single spreadsheet that is updated by several people when they are updated on the own personal systems.

        When the server is remote, there are still advantages, just not as many:
        My step-dad uses quickbooks for his small business. He has architects and accountants that need access to the books. Originally, he had purchased a copy for each of them to run on their personal computers. Unfortunately, when one made a change, he had to call everyone else to tell them, or email a backup copy of the DB and everyone would have to manually update their own DB's. It was a nightmare and this was only with four or five employees. With Quickbooks Online, each user logs into the website, enters their data and everything is updated almost in real time. He's a roofer and does not have the knowledge, nor the time to keep up with the application. He only cares about the reports, not how they are created. This works very well for him.

        However, with all these advantages, I agree that it sux for the most part.
        It's slow... much slower than running apps locally.
        In the event of a failure, you're at the mercy of the tech folks that you do not employ and have not control over.
        You are not in control of your own destiny.
        • by pla (258480) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:12PM (#20385355) Journal
          Single point of failure should a catastrophe happen.
          User's can't go in and break the system.
          There is one system to maintain, one anti-virus package, one system to back up and so on.


          All of the benefits you mention depend on all software running as a service, not just MS Office and a few other "enterprise" apps. That simply won't ever happen, even if everyone buys into this scam-of-a-revenue-model, because something absolutely critical won't play well with others.



          You are not in control of your own destiny.

          And it all comes down to that one point. Every other fact or opinion aside, what does it mean when Microsoft EOL'ing a product means you no longer have any program with which to review the last ten years' worth of customer transactions or tax records? "Sorry, you'll have to cancel that audit, Microsoft cut us off. But no doubt the IRS understands completely and trusts that we filed accurately, right?"
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by ShatteredArm (1123533)
            The drawbacks also depend on all software running as a service as well. There are plenty of benefits to having certain components of the software as a service and other components run locally. I think any architect with half a brain could tell you that different techniques are better for certain situations than others.
        • Single point of failure should a catastrophe happen.

          This isn't necessarily a good thing you know. It's why we have redundancy in RAIDs.

          • One of my friends worked as a sysadmin for a small company many years ago once asked a budget allowance to upgrade the company's main server from single-disk to RAID5 to avoid losing it should the drive fail. Funny thing is he "discovered" a few months later that the RAID controller itself is also a single-point-of(-catastrophic)-failure: the controller went up in smoke and corrupted the array somewhere in the process. Granted, RAID controllers usually fail more than an order of magnitude less frequently th
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by billcopc (196330)
              That reason alone is why I've given up on RAID controllers entirely. Now I just get dumb disk controllers and use software RAID, which allows me to take my array just about anywhere, should something fail.

              Performance can be tricky in such a scenario, as you're abusing the system bus a bit harder, but I'd rather have a slightly slower array than a sudden-death array.

              One thing is certain: RAID controller manufacturers are well aware that their devices are the point-of-failure and it suits them, because hardc
              • by afidel (530433)
                Or, you use a family of RAID controllers that doesn't suck. I can take a set of disks from any of my HP server and stick em into any other server with the same technology disks and have it just work. This is true all the way from a pizza box with 2 drive up to a SAN controller like the MSA-1500 with a rack full of disk. I've only ever had a major problem caused by a hardware RAID controller. I had an old HP LH server which decided to rebuild the array FROM the hotspare rather than TO the hotspare, still not
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by neoform (551705)
          These are all the arguments for Dumb Terminals, but computers moved away from that years ago for good reason..
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ArcherB (796902) *
            These are all the arguments for Dumb Terminals, but computers moved away from that years ago for good reason..

            I agree completely. Unfortunately, the industry is trying to move BACK in that direction and it is not a good thing. Which was the point of the article.

        • "Single point of failure should a catastrophe happen."

          I've never seen this as a good thing for survivability. The classes I took, and my industry experience tend to support adding redundancy to elements identified as SPoFs. I think I know what you're trying to say, but still...

          Unfortunately, this can lead to additional single points of failure, including networking equipment, your ISP, etc. if you have failed to provision redundancy. The thing about the SOA is that these things are frequently glossed ove
          • by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @01:24PM (#20386649) Journal

            "There is one system to maintain, one anti-virus package, one system to back up and so on."
            Untrue w.r.t. the anti-virus especially. Once a user terminal is zombied, your server is directly exposed to application level attacks.
            I was speaking of an application based virus, like the good ol' Word Macro Virus. Of course, running your word processing apps on a remote server will not protect each terminal from other viral/trojan attacks, but it makes it easier to ensure that your sales team isn't sending infected Word docs to customers trying to sell them security software!

            "Single point of failure should a catastrophe happen."
            I've never seen this as a good thing for survivability. The classes I took, and my industry experience tend to support adding redundancy to elements identified as SPoFs. I think I know what you're trying to say, but still...
            Keeping an application running on a bank of redundant servers is still easier than maintaining that same applications on 20,000 independent PC's. While it does have its drawbacks, such as when the servers or network go down, everyone is SOL, it's easier to fix that single bank of localized servers than it is to fix every single machine if something really catastrophic happened, like a virus run amok on your network that trashes 20,000 copies of Office.

            I can see why it is a good idea to remove critical applications from the control of the end user, but the drop in performance does not justify the increased level of maintainability. And no matter how much we hate it, there are some applications that are required to have some or all of it run at a centralized location. Examples would be your Exchange server, your database server and any web based applications that simply can not be run on local PC's.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AbbyNormal (216235)
          I used to have the same qualms of any hosted application, until our company switched to Postini. After using that service to offload all the spam traffic to a different server and filter all of our mail with their processing time, I have yet to find a real downside.
          It all comes down to what your needs are and if you can live with the possible negatives of such a hosted application.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mcrbids (148650)
        I, for one, can't think of a single upside of "Software as Service"

        So, you NEVER outsource work that needs to be done to an outside vendor? You fix your own car, repair your air conditioner, etc?

        I do none of these. I have an insurance contract that I pay yearly for maintenance and repair of all my major household appliances that covers my A/C, stove, fridge, washer, water heater, and dryer. (sadly, dishwasher is not in the mix, I wish it was)

        So what we have is a form of "Hardware as a Service". It's a big,
        • by omeomi (675045)
          So, you NEVER outsource work that needs to be done to an outside vendor? You fix your own car, repair your air conditioner, etc?

          I didn't say that I don't see the upside of service in general. I don't see the upside of Software as Service. I do generally fix my own car, and have never had to have my AC fixed, but that's besides the point. I still own my car and I own my AC. I don't want Car as Service or AC as Service. Similarly, I don't want Software as Service.
          • by mcrbids (148650)
            I didn't say that I don't see the upside of service in general. I don't see the upside of Software as Service. I do generally fix my own car, and have never had to have my AC fixed, but that's besides the point. I still own my car and I own my AC. I don't want Car as Service or AC as Service. Similarly, I don't want Software as Service.

            Actually, what you said was: I, for one, can't think of a single upside of "Software as Service".

            Seems like you are contradicting yourself, since you see at least some upside
            • by omeomi (675045)
              I think it's pretty clear we're not talking about software licensing or hardware service contracts. I don't see why I would want to pay Microsoft a monthly or yearly fee for the privilege of using their word processor when I can just use an older version that doesn't charge me a recurring fee, or a free alternative like Open Office.
        • There is a big difference between SaaS, and simply service. Your examples (repair contracts on appliances, choosing a mechanic for your car) are pure services. You own your car, you own your stove, you pay someone to repair them or upgrade them. Those would be more analogous to buying a computer and paying someone to replace the failed hard drive, or perhaps buying a copy of Photoshop and hiring someone to edit your pictures with it.

          Software as a service is closer, analogy-wise, to leasing your car. Y

        • by tkrotchko (124118) *
          "I have an insurance contract that I pay yearly for maintenance and repair of all my major household appliances that covers my A/C, stove, fridge, washer, water heater, and dryer."

          I have that for some things, but here's the downside to that...

          If any of those things break, I have to take off a day of work. And most things are not covered by the warranty. So if I have to take off a day of work to wait for a repair person, I might as well do it myself, because it's cheaper and things get fixed to my satisfac
      • by Xtravar (725372)
        In addition to this other response to you: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=281591&cid=20 3 85037 [slashdot.org]

        Giant companies want software as a service. Right now, they're all using Citrix to emulate thin Windows clients. It still costs a good amount of money (see Citrix stock skyrocket). It's a lot slower and less responsive. It adds another place for failure in the chain of applications.

        If you design a lean web app, you'll never have to upgrade your company's computers again (relatively speaking). They cou
      • by Colin Smith (2679)
        I charge $100 per hour.

        There you go.

         
      • by Khuffie (818093)
        I don't see the point of software as a service simply to replace Office/Excel etc. However, I DO see a point for software as a service that can't be done easily by local apps. For example, there's lot's cool online collobaration apps out there (such as conceptshare.com, octopz.com, cozimo.com). Disclaimer: I work for one of the companies mentioned above.
      • Well, if your app is hosted internally and goes down for 19 hours, management can beat the staff until morale and uptime improves.

        With SAAS, no one is accountable, and the SAAS vendor is probably running the same bloated shiteware as you are internally. They can hire some feckless offshore firm to restart Tomcat every 15 minutes, instead of you doing it.

        Everybody wins!
      • SaaS offers manufacturers the ability to update every existing installation of their software.

        Whether open source or closed source, once you find a bug, you have to assume the "bad guys" know as well.

        At that point, you wonder about the guy who's on a fishing trip and has no idea his small business server can be randomly pwnt by a published exploit.

        If a major blog software author found they had a crucial vulnerability in a software version shipped two version numbers ago, they would like to be able to update
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ryan Amos (16972)
        There is lots of upside, especially for small businesses. At a company of 5-10 people you're not going to have an IT guy, or if you do, you're the IT guy. You don't want to spend your time being the IT guy for your own company, because it doesn't make you money. A full company wide suite of SaaS applications is almsot guaranteed to be less than the salary of a part-time IT guy (~$1,500 - 2,000 a month for a part timer buys a hell of a lot of SaaS apps.)

        Biggest upside: Your data is accessible anywhere, witho
      • I, for one, can't think of a single upside of "Software as Service"

        Oh, heavens, where to start...

        • No more installers sticking stuff in your registry
        • Upgrades involve changing your bookmark to point from "host.com/someApp/1.0/login" to "host.com/someApp/1.1/login"
        • Installing another copy of the app to use at home is as simple as mailing the URL to your personal e-mail account

        I'm not really a big proponent of "software as service" (especially for desktop productivity apps), but I can see it has a definite niche for some large-scale apps (see the rise of salesforce.com), especi

    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:39AM (#20384709) Homepage Journal
      A few months ago, I found an old article in an old copy of PC/Computing where he lambasted Microsoft for releasing a $90 bugfix called Windows 98.
    • How is this outrageous? If anything what he is saying is common sense.
    • by Toonol (1057698) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:47AM (#20384871)
      This article. He's got a good point.

      "Software as a service" should be viewed with the same suspicion as "Trusted Computing." Something so bundled in Marketing, with no particular benefits to the consumer, has to be a money/power grab.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Burz (138833)
        Software As Service also cuts to the core of personal computing itself. The whole idea and success behind PCs is that if you and your cohorts could get them on your desks, then you could finally route around the damage that is the centralized MIS dept. mainframe culture. The latter were rarely interested in handling your data in an accurate or timely manner, and it got so extreme that even SneakerNet became popular in the 1980s.

        Now we are seeing centralization of a different sort, where the mainframes and a
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hatta (162192)
        It's not that bad. I run an SSH server at home and all my software is available anywhere. It's especially nice with irssi and screen. Software as a service is wonderful, if you run the server.
    • by khasim (1285)

      t's almost like he intentionally trolls his readership by stating the most outrageous possible point of view, just to stir up hits and discussion.

      Well, aside from the "discussion" part. It's all about the page hits.

      Remember, the more page hits you get, the more important you are. And the more important you are, the more you can charge for advertising on your pages.

      Right now the big guns are 100% behind "Software as a Service" (SaaS). Which is the same as being an "Application Service Provider" (ASP) used to

    • by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:50AM (#20384955)
      > I'm trying to think of the last time I read an article by Dvorak, and said "You know, he's got a good point". It's almost like he intentionally trolls his readership by stating the most outrageous possible point of view, just to stir up hits and discussion.

      "This time." Centralization and decentralization has always been a pendulum sort of affair, varying with the relative costs of bandwidth, CPU, and storage.

      Once upon a time, there was the mainframe. Nobody ever got fired for buying (or more accurately, leasing) IBM!

      Then came the microcomputer. Decentralize! Applications run right on your desk! Buy Apple! No more monthly payments to IBM! (At 9600 baud, dumb terminal bandwidth is expensive. 8-bit micros are cheap!)

      Then came the dickless workstation. Oops, "diskless". Centralize! It's a client/server world! Buy Oracle, and run it on your Sun! No more huge capital outlays for PCs that become obsolete the day they're purchased! (Workstations are expensive, but this new ethernet stuff is cheap!)

      Then the PC-as-workstation. Decentralize! Don't rely on that expensive server! (Doesn't matter how much cable you run, if you have 100 users trying to render the Sistine Chapel on X Terminals, bandwidth and server-side processing power are shockingly expensive again, local storage and processing power are suddenly cheap again.)

      We're currently on our way back to the server. This time, the excuse is DRM. An application that doesn't exist locally can never be used locally once the vendor decides to kill it.

      But ultimately, the root cause is that bandwidth is relatively cheap again. Doesn't matter whether the application is Windows (which needs to call the mothership for patches every few days) or Steam (for the same reason).

      • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:59AM (#20385101)

        "This time." Centralization and decentralization has always been a pendulum sort of affair, varying with the relative costs of bandwidth, CPU, and storage.

        With Vista, the user has to buy a computer that provides all the ressources and is still depending on some server being available / working correctly.
        In this case the WGA server, which does not give any advantage to the user. The only one who has an advantage is Microsoft (from disallowing pirated Windows versions), and that is questionable as I doubt Vista will stay uncracked ;-)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BrotherBeal (1100283)
      I'm not so sure I see this as outrageous or even ill-founded. Unoriginal, perhaps, as all one needs to do is look at the history of computing to see that cycles such as these are well documented. Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) has a certain set of features and characteristics that differs from the features and characteristics of the installed-software paradigm, and I see no reason to suspect that we won't see this cycle continue for at least another few iterations depending on what's 'in' and 'out'. I think
      • by Retric (704075)
        SAAS works well for some games (MMO's) like WoW. There is a more fundamental way of looking at this if you are continuously exchanging data with large numbers of people use SAAS. If you are working by your self at one location and possibly submitting it to something else then SAAS gives you next to nothing. (Think playing solitaire or composing an email to your mother.)

        IMO: Some of the best systems are hybrids. You can use exchange on you home pc 90% of the time, but you can also connect over the internet
    • looks like you stopped reading them too soon, you should have read this article, or at least the summary, you might have been pleasantly surprised.

      I concur with the "software as a service sucks" sentiment he has in the article.
      • by djh101010 (656795) *

        looks like you stopped reading them too soon, you should have read this article, or at least the summary, you might have been pleasantly surprised.

        Sorry, but "I don't agree with his POV" does not equal "I didn't read it".

        I concur with the "software as a service sucks" sentiment he has in the article.

        It has its place. I see it as providing the same value as paying a hosting company to do the care & feeding of my webservers, rather than hosting them out of my basement (like I used to). Better infrastructure, remote/offsite backups of critical data - and more redundancy than I'll ever have to my own location. Capacity and upgrade concerns are also taken out of the picture. Specialization of services has value - if it didn

    • by pilgrim23 (716938)
      Dvorak missed one other point; A few weeks back in San Francisco a CO-LO lost power taking out many many sites. What if your data, your service, your servers resides ONLY AT THAT SITE? You are dead. If you keep stuff local, and staff local, and something dies, it is a matter of a sysadmin, a suitcase loaded with backups and a quick trip to a pre-arranged hot-site. I know, I have participated in enough disaster recovery drills (and one actual disaster). Do you trust YOUR people with your data, your apps,
    • It's kinda like whne slashdot's article summaries are the opposite of what the linked article says.

      Pissed off people tend to be more active than people who agree with everything you say.
  • by Wuhao (471511) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:35AM (#20384621)
    Let's imagine another hypothetical: one where Dvorak is a respected columnist who is taken seriously. I can see the Slashdot comments now: "Wow, another Dvorak article! Hooray!" "No one understands the industry better than Dvorak!" "This is one of the most insightful and valuable things I've read all week!"

    Of course, this is just a hypothetical, and like the one in the article itself has little to do with reality.
    • by Sique (173459)
      I would have mod this as "-1 Purely hypothetical".
    • Heh, if Dv. had written this article about a Linux server, the OP would have been just like you said. But it was about a MS issue, so it has to be a troll.
  • That being said, (Score:2, Insightful)

    That being said, application service provisioning [wikipedia.org] seems to be farther off than I had originally thought. If a company who makes the product being served can't keep their servers running, I can see businesses balking at the idea and electing for more traditional, desktop apps.
  • Why not both? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PMBjornerud (947233) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:40AM (#20384723)
    It's not like we'll move every single bit of computing into services. We're going to have a little bit of each. Huge growth in personal computing? More software for your PC. Huge growth in the network? Sure, more software as a service.

    We'll have both, need both, but will still have a lot of cases where people try to the wrong one and get burnt.

    Written without reading TFA (and boy, did it feel good!). I'll read it now. :)
  • Dvorak? (Score:5, Funny)

    by puck01 (207782) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:40AM (#20384731)
    Did anyone else have to do a double take on the author of this article. The more I read, the more I'm thinking it can't be Dvorak right? This is pretty sensible. Rechecked the author when I was done and said, "huh"

    • Did anyone else have to do a double take on the author of this article. The more I read, the more I'm thinking it can't be Dvorak right? This is pretty sensible. Rechecked the author when I was done and said, "huh"
      Stick a hood on him, what does he look like? That's right, Darth Plagiarism. Either that or he actually wrote a good article. Which do you think is more likely?
  • I never new there was an Upside!
  • by dtobias (262347) <dan@tobias.name> on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:44AM (#20384811) Homepage
    Hasn't this gone around in cycles already? First there was the mainframe batch processing era where everything was centralized, then the networked-terminal timesharing model where individuals could do stuff but it was all dependent on a central system... this gave way to the early PC era, where individuals could have totally separate machines and do things independently... then everybody got networked and we were back to a more central-controllable system. Because there are advantages and disadvantages of each model, things will keep going back and forth as people react to the issues of the currently-dominant model, whichever one it is.
  • by orionop (1139819) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:46AM (#20384847) Journal
    The article make the assumption that everything is moving from a local desktop computer on to the internet. It is the same with all of those webOS people. There is a time and place for both local and remote services on computers. The WGA has to be remote because windows is cracked so easily on a local scale (not that WGA poses to much of an obstacle). Things like google documents is useful for having a decentralized work environment for papers and makes collaboration easy. However, that does not make office suites extinct...it is simple another option; and since when are more options a bad thing?
    • Umm, read the article? The point was that you can't even use your desktop if WGA is out. He then extended this argument by wondering, if you can't trust M$ with keeping a server up, how can you trust other, smaller companies (Many running on M$ Server products)?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bwy (726112)
      While I agree, a wholesale replacement hasn't occurred, there is definitely a strong trend in play. I won't disagree either that choice is good.

      I've noticed it personally, as I'm a shareware author of an image publishing package. The software has gotten better and better but the sales have slowly been drying up. After second guessing my marketing, pricing, and a host of other things, I came to a conclusion.

      Few home users want to publish their own photos to their own web site any longer. In fact, l
  • by Applekid (993327) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:48AM (#20384899)
    Great. I happen to agree that putting things in networked services just for the sake of having it in networked services is a waste of resources. But since Dvorak came right out and said it now I haven't got a argumentative leg to stand on. It's like a child molester agreeing with me that we ought to have more public parks.

    Next thing you know he'll declare how much he likes pizza, completely undermining my fondness of it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by DynamoJoe (879038)
      If I had mod points, they'd be yours. Next thing you know, Dvorak will come out with a sensible and non-stupid article on Macs, and at that point I drop technology altogether and start farming for a living.
  • by DogDude (805747) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:49AM (#20384939) Homepage
    Software as a service is incredibly useful to smaller enterprises (like mine) that don't have the manpower, money and/or expertise to maintain our own servers. Mission-critical software isn't as simple as 1. install on computer 2. use software. There's uptime to worry about, backups, security, etc. For smaller businesses, it most certainly makes sense to farm this out to experts and take advantage of specialization of labor in terms of cost cost and skill.

    At this point in time, software is as complicated and as important to some businesses as say, vehicles are. Only the very largest of companies have their own in-house garage and mechanics to take care of their own vehicles.
  • by TheLazySci-FiAuthor (1089561) <thelazyscifiauthor@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:51AM (#20384975) Homepage Journal
    There are benefits to be gotten from both a served-software model and a standard local model, so why not use something like google gears and get the best of both worlds.

    Even if you are off the internet at large, we are getting into an age where a personal area network will become ubiquitous. Served-software would still be available from, say, your phone as the server (always keep the gears software on your phone ready for load) or maybe your bluetooth watch could maintain local copies of frequently used software.

    While at some remote location you might be lucky to find that a colleague has a local copy of a certain, rarely used software on their wristwatch.

    Then again, it is something to think about that within 20 years will it be as unusual to find oneself without internet access as it is to find oneself without electricity...perhaps it will be even more unusual than that (what with satellite communication).

    Just thoughts.

    It is interesting to note how much more bandwidth my internet connection has as compared to my first computer's bus speed.
  • by coolmoose25 (1057210) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:52AM (#20384979)
    Just like anything else, there is a time and a place for software as a service. Some things simply make more sense that way. What about UPS package tracking? Not much point in having that be a standalone application... At the end of the day, developers, even users, have to decide which services make sense to have online as a service or offline as a standalone app. I choose email as a service (gmail) instead of Outlook or Thunderbird. It works for me because I use lots of different computers, and, lets face it, email isn't very much good if you can't get online anyway. OTOH, when I'm downloading emails for Scouts at summer camp, I prefer to use a standalone email application, as I can get online, download all the mail for the day, and disconnect, thus saving the camp phone line (and minimizing my time on a dialup connection). Not only is there room for both, both models make sense depending on your application requirements...
  • by tom's a-cold (253195) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:57AM (#20385067) Homepage
    It has to happen by chance from time to time...

    SAAS has worse problems than server availability. It creates nasty integration problems since your critical enterprise data is not only crossing an interface, but the other side of that interface is not in your control. That's not just an integration problem: I'm waiting for a security breach against one of the big SAAS vendors. And not only is it closed-source, it's closed-source managed by a third party that doesn't have the same priorities that you have. So if you need to fix or customize anything on the SAAS side, you're well and truly screwed.

    The only reason SAAS emerged at all was as a response to the poor performance of most in-house corporate IT departments. Why wait for your own geeks to implement something badly in a year when you can go to an ASP who will give it to you in a couple of months? And of course there are the perverse incentives in how capital expenditure is accounted for versus externalized services. But the main motivation is that business managers just don't trust their own IT people. And based on the performance of most IT management, no wonder.

    • by arivanov (12034)
      You are almost correct.

      First was outsourcing IT, then came SAAS to compensate for the failures of outsourced IT. Most shops that have retained their IT in house through the whole outsourcing boom of the last 8 years are not looking at SAAS. The reason is that if an inhouse IT department is still around, it is usually delivering on time and on target.

      Now shops which have outsourced are a different matter. While most large IT outsourcing contracts have failed to deliver on all of their targets, the few that w
  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:58AM (#20385095) Homepage
    So once again, I'll read up to the first Dvorak mistake, and then stop.

    The first one I got: WGA can't "fail closed", otherwise pirates would just filter the communication to the WGA servers.

    Rather, what WGA needs is a signed "check back later" message, where Microsoft's public key is used to sign a "check back by day X" message, so that a server outage can be handled in the future. And I'd bet that there is, by next Patch Tuesday, an upgrade to WGA to support such functionality.

    And its not like people's home/office computers are so reliable, making this segque ridiculous.
  • Stating the obvious, repeats and transcripts in your next InfoWorld or whatever free magazine you get in your mailbox because you're an IT professional.

    I never understood the SaaS model and why anyone would want it. You might want it internally within a company in a physical location (kinda like the dumb terminal model) but internet connections and even private MAN or WAN connections are way too unstable in general (count the hours of your internet connection AND remote server AND local maintenance offline
  • by idontgno (624372) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:07PM (#20385257) Journal

    for startling insights into marketing. (Ok, duh, this is John Dvorak, but still...)

    Truly, marketing is designed to convince you that what they've got is much better than what you've got. If you have independent, localized computing, marketing will try to sell you distributed service-based computing. When you've had your fill of service-based computing, well, that's just an opportunity for marketing to sell you independent localized computing.

    It's like samsara [wikipedia.org] except that the marketers consider the cycle of rebirth to be good. (They are marketers, after all; enlightenment means that they no longer have anything to sell you!)

    I'd have to mod TFA "-1, Obvious".

  • by Random BedHead Ed (602081) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:09PM (#20385297) Homepage Journal

    His points are good, and they underscore why I rarely use the latest web apps, but nevertheless am amused by them (Flash-based image editing online!). Still, while we should show his level of skepticism toward many of these apps, the fact is that network-based app delivery still has many advantages. The main one is that you can update software for all your users in one place, and not care as much about the state of the client machines. As a recent Mac convert you'd think Dvorak would particularly like this, since he can do the same things as a web client on a Mac as on Windows or Linux.

    Despite the stupidity of some online apps, I can think of a lot of examples of software I would definitely rather have on the web - e-mail (think Gmail or other webmail, which almost everyone uses to some extent), a trouble ticketing system for a helpdesk, a custom database used within a company (most of these are centralized), etc. Onlime apps particularly make sense where the data is centralized as well. That's worth emphasizing: Google Docs and Spreadsheets may be nifty, as well as cheaper than MS Office, but they won't catch on until people see the value in storing the actual files centrally as well, just as they store e-mail centrally when using a service like Hotmail.

  • I don't know what pisses me off more, that somebody submitted it, that the editors posted it, or that I agree with him.

    Anyone else think Dvorak sounds like he should be the evil mantid twin of Zorak?
  • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:15PM (#20385403)
    As administrators drink the Kool-Aid® we see the SaaS fetish in action in labs, with online testing and content delivery, in text books, with DRM'd PDF files that must be read, or verified as "authorized", online, and I'm sure that more will come as marketers move to embrace the new paradigm.

    The obvious problem arises when the network goes down,

    But there are other "gotchas":
    • Students with no internet connection at home to "verify" purchased content
    • Students on *gasp* dial-up
    • Labs or onsite facilities unable to deal with separate installations of proprietary applications for each user
    • Bandwith hits taken when ebook download and validation peak
    • Lack of portability of purchased content
    • Students without printers unable to ... well, you get the idea

    Again, I'm sure there are more that will come up as time goes on.

    IMO, any time there's a move to vendor control, let alone remote, removed, vendor control, the end user will lose.
  • Servers sitting in the machine room don't go down? Of course they do. And they often go down for far longer than 24 hours.

    If you want real reliability then you've got to pay for it. And by that I mean a real data center, redundant servers, redundant networks and people competent to manage it all. You know what? It's expensive. The ASPs and SAAS people can do it for less, a lot less.

     
  • ... it's called Webhosting. We've been offering this stuff for years. "Software as a service" is just a new buzzword for people who want to offer ASP-style apps in a windows environment.

    Good webhosts have 99.99999% up time. The entire hosting industry measures success by uptime. If it didn't, the industry would collapse.

    Dvorak attacks the WGA server that went down, rightfully so. However, he then goes into hyperbole mode and subtly lumps googles offerings in the same category. After using google.com for years, and google maps almost since it was launched, I can tell you I can remember only once significant outage, and it was some kind of DoS attack, I think, which was quickly dealt with. I can remember no minor outages in my experience, nor am I aware of any other outages reported in any major online media.

    Yes, you have to be worried about losing your documents. The best ASPs should provide some kind of user data backup (I don't know if Google does this but if they don't they need to) or some kind of contractual obligation to users in case of data loss (more appropriate for Business to business apps). However, if someone provides you with excellent up time and reliability, why can't you trust them?

    Microsoft has a lousy track record of reliability. Also, tying hundreds of ASP apps into a single WGA server is ludicrous.

    Trust is about experience. Anyone using Microsoft based ASP apps is asking for trouble because the experience of most users is that MS is not reliable. If you want reliability, you need to look elsewhere, and there are plenty of options.

    That's what this outage is really telling us. As usual, Dvorak has completely missed the point.
  • by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:21PM (#20385521)
    He seems to be under the impression that WGA is a service Microsoft provides to Windows users.

    It isn't.

    WGA is a service which Microsoft provides to themselves, in order to protect themselves from said Windows users (AKA thieves).

    If the main purpose is to protect your profit center, a 19 hour (or 72, or 30 day) outtage where the failure mode is "more protection" strikes me as perfectly reasonable. It's not like "pissing off customers" has ever been considered a liability in Redmond.

    Sucks to be a Windows user, though. Should have got some sort of service agreement, I guess.

    c.
  • ...who hated software from servers as a 'service.' I want MY data sitting on MY hardware and I do NOT want to rent, borrow, or steal but OWN the software that's needed to use the data. Also, 'new' hardware and software MUST give me full and complete access to my 'old' data. Is that too much to ask?

    Note to Microsoft: I will NEVER use software that doesn't give me the above.
  • Dvorak is wrong if he thinks a WGA failure is an example of a "software as a service" failure.

    WGA isn't a service or a feature. WGA is a license enforcement mechanism. The purpose of license enforcement mechanisms is to prevent you from using features or services. If it didn't work the way you wanted it to work, that's normal -- it isn't supposed to. It's not there to help you. It's there to limit you.

    Google Reader and Google Maps are a good example of "software as a service". You can buy shrink-wrap
    • Does anyone think these apps are going back to the desktop?

      They're going back to my laptop as soon as I can manage it. A week ago last Friday I lost my internet link for the weekend, and was cut off from the software I was working on, from Google, from Wikipedia... and as soon as I got back online I started working on using the Wikipedia download (only 2.9 gigabytes compressed) to make that last less important.

      Local storage is growing so fast that keeping local caches of even huge online databases is reason
  • then it must surely be a good idea. That man ought to have the nickname "stopped clock."

  • The push for "software as a service" is nothing more than a push for centralized timesharing. Except for a few situations (e.g. call centers), the advantages of a thick desktop far outweigh the negatives. The computer manufacturers were saddened when everyone switched from million dollar machines with extensive maintenance contracts that serviced a couple dozen users to desktop machines managed in-house.
  • If you're centralized, decentralize. If you're decentralized, centralize.

    But seriously -- I'm not fond of SaaS without the infrastructure to support it. SalesForce is supposedly to support road warriors, but without offline access, and without broadband wireless cards, it's pretty much useless (and a real annoyance if you're dealing with people who calendar in a desktop app, and not your SalesForce calendar).

    However, TCO should be lower for many SaaS implementations: the client company doesn't need to keep
  • I really do respect him. But on this point (and several others in the past) I really don't agree.

    The different issues of one versus many are a never ending thing. But when you break it down to the BIG ones... Maintaining one set of data, the security involved, backups, redundancy, configuration management, change management and on and on. There is no question about it. Centralized is it.

    Just the security is huge. If I have an online store and you wish to purchase something from me - you need to dow

    • There is NO need to have an outage of a system that large for that long. We have CONOPS plans for a reason. And if these backup plans don't work - someone should be fired for not doing their job. There is WAY too much technology out there to prevent these kinds of things from happening.

      Maybe, but right now nobody's got reliable enough internet access to justify having anything critical ONLY available online, as a service, even if you're right. A week ago I lost internet access for three days because of a cu
  • One Word - Skype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gbulmash (688770) * <semi_famous@yahooBLUE.com minus berry> on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @12:38PM (#20385879) Homepage Journal
    Look at how many people were without phone service when Skype wen't down. Some were smart and either had a land line as a back-up to Skype or vice versa, but by creating a single central point of failure, thousands of businesses were inconvenienced and lost money.

    Software as a Service (SaaS) creates all sorts of ripe opportunities for hackers, crackers, and other cyber criminals. It's been a cottage industry to blackmail online casinos, threatening DDOS attacks if you're not paid off. Since a half-day DDOS could cost the casino in the high five figures (or more), they pay the blackmail.

    What if a large SaaS company had a 100,000 business customers... just 100,000? That's a ripe DDOS blackmail target if I ever saw one. And if you could hack the systems and gain access to the tax and banking spreadsheets of 100,000 clients? Can you say "low-hanging fruit" boys and girls? I knew you could.

    And what if the company is being run by idiots who fake their numbers to make it seem like a sinking ship is just "settling in the water" until the ship suddenly capsizes without warning, going belly-up in the space of hours. All your docs and spreadsheets are offline... indefinitely. And if by some graceful foresight, you backed up your docs, if you can't find a piece of software that can both run locally and work with the proprietary formats the SaaS vendor used for their docs, you're still SOL.

    Those are worst case scenarios, but you get the drift.

  • You don't have to use servers running 24/7 to provide a customer with a service. That's just how the less creative business marketing people think because they are unwilling to take personal risks.
  • If you're judging SaaS by the performance of M$ or if your opinions are driven by sensational media coverage and highly visible outages like Skype then you're incapable of sound judgment.

    There have been constant small and spectacular meltdowns by IS shops all over the planet but they don't get noticed by the press. I'd much rather trust my stuff to the grid and the "Googleplex" than the average IT shop. It's like more people are killed by lightning than by tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and

    • Why buy a CD when you can just tap the grid for an MP3?

      From the point of software-as-a-service these are the same thing. They both end up with the software, the music, in your hands or your computer, independent of the grid. I had all my music on hand a week ago when I didn't have access to my database servers I needed to use to test the code I was working on.... because the latter really WAS like SaaS. I'd have been happier were it the other way around. :)

      My daughter is kind of a space cadet and is rarely
  • In this instance, you'd start with server-based online applications, and then suddenly a new technology--the desktop computer with a quad-core processor and huge hard drive--appears. Now, you do not need to do all your computing online. The timeline is reversed.

    But that's what happened! That's the timeline we're on! You started with server based online applications. When I met my wife (online, mind you) I didn't have a computer... I had a good (for the time) terminal and a fast (for the time) modem, and I c
  • I'm involved in the engine room of a fairly large SaaS vendor. For a certain class of applications, it makes sense. For something like WGA, that had no customer upside anyway, it's a bit - well - where's the service? The only possible actions it can perform are "keep computer up" or "take computer down". How sweet is that?!?!? Um ... not.

    About general reliability of SaaS - the problems in SaaS happen everywhere regardless of them being in-house or not, and if you're a large multi-office corporation, you WIL

  • that's why steve^2 made pc - so you could have one
    without depending on the big guy.

    microsoft wants to be de big guy -- but when de main breaks down,
    all de dumb terminals go down. :(

    open source kills de wiked witch, and all the monkees go free. :) ;-}

  • I have to agree (Score:3, Informative)

    by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @05:28PM (#20390397) Homepage
    Software as a service won't be viable until the Internet is more reliable and more interactive.

    Right now, dealing with company's oversubscribed servers and under subscribed bandwidth makes response time as bad as it used to be when green screen terminals were attached to mainframes.

    The rule used to be response time should be no longer than two to four seconds. How often do you wait for considerably more than four seconds for a Web server to respond?

    Granted, the four second rule was more or less intended for more "interactive" activities (like data entry) than mere Web browsing. But the whole SaaS and Web 2.0 stuff is intended for exactly that - interaction with applications over the Web.

    And right now, Web response time just doesn't cut it.

    When the telcos get their head out of their butts - or someone does it for them - and we get 100Mbps or more speed to the desktop AND the people who offer SaaS learn what the words "load balancing" mean, maybe then it will be viable.

    Right now, every time I go to Superiorpics.com for my babe picture downloads, I click on a link to Shareavenue, I'm lucky they respond in less than thirty seconds to a minute. And twice this week they've been completely down. Not to mention the WGA outage which started this discussion.

    It's ridiculous.

    Add to that the mysterious ability of data transmitted over the Net to literally CRASH an application such as a browser. I've never understood that. Most desktop applications read files and other data and have mechanisms in place to treat that data AS data, no matter how malformed it may be. If it's wrong, they complain without crashing (usually - there are numerous exceptions, of course.) But when we go to network apps, somehow all that goes out the window - and crashes are regular. Maybe it's because network protocols have states and when data is lost, the states get corrupted and the network apps aren't coded to deal with that because of the rigidity of the protocol. There's the simple issue of knowing when the next network data packet just isn't coming and how to recover from that. But most network apps seem as fragile as glass to bad data. Firefox just grinds to a halt or bombs immediately when multimedia data coming in isn't as expected.

    The reliability just isn't there.

Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images. -- Jean Cocteau

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