Last week we quietly launched the Socialtext Managed Service Appliance. Initially we thought this infrastructure innovation would simply give us some operational efficiencies. But as we ran it by customers, passing their security audits and discussing how it changes IT Operations -- we discovered it was something greater, the delivery of Software-as-a-Service behind the firewall.
When we first created the Appliance deployment option, we worked hard to streamline administration, from setup in 10 minutes to simplifying upgrades. Fedex a CD, have someone stick it in and type go for an upgrade. Admittedly, we had one notable failure. One customer put the CD on top of the server, got some coffee or something, came back and couldn't get it to go. Turns out CDs melt. So we started shipping USBs (download has always been an option too).
Practically, the Appliance model is halfway between the latency of SaaS (near zero) and Onsite deployment (near infinity). Even if you make tasks like a routine upgrade fast and simple, it doesn't mean they will actually happen. In some IT departments, particularly those who have outsourced IT with firm SLAs, an upgrade is considered a degradation of service level!
This means that even if the upgrade includes an important patch or desired feature, the vendor gets a scheduled window of opportunity, measured in months or quarters, which can be a lifetime. On our SaaS version we do upgrades measured in hours or days. Given the constraint to get our best stuff behind the firewalls of customers we developed the operational discipline and QA processes to really give them our best stuff. We will serve no wine before its time.
As is common practice for startups, eating our own dogfood (or drinking our own champaign) means our company runs on staging versions. Not the highly experimental branches you might find in our open source repository, but we bang on it before you do and sometimes it bangs on us.
With a SaaS Appliance, our general release process remains relatively the same, but accelerated. Turns out IT departments not only love how they don't have to touch it, it simply works, but they can realize a lower TCO -- and shift the SLA burden to the vendor.
"SOA's impact on SaaS has lead to development of the Extended-Enterprise Service Bus (X-ESB) as a managed-service appliance … We expect to see an increasing number of SaaS Appliances emerge over the next few years as SaaS becomes fully integrated into the enterprise."
One forward looking enterprise we worked with has the strategic version to move all applications off of their network and rely on SaaS across the public internet. Not everyone has this vision. And regulations dictate that some never will. But nobody is in a better position to take the pulse and manage the health of software than the vendor. A Managed Service Appliance is a model that meets security and regulatory needs, enables the service of SaaS while offering SOA integration within the enterprises' security framework. Not all enterprise software will be delivered this way, but it is an option on the rise for good reason.
SEE ALSO: Why Appliances Are Good