What is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)?

Written by Natalie Bluhm on July 15, 2017

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Twenty years ago, it would have been hard to predict the impact cloud applications have had in transforming the IT landscape. It took a major leap of thought to envision Microsoft Office being delivered from the cloud or CRM software functioning on a mobile phone.

But, here we are and it’s an exciting time to be in IT. The innovations are coming quickly and making a transformational impact. One of the key innovations over the last decade has been the movement to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications.

What are SaaS Applications?

SaaS applications are delivered from the cloud and generally leverage the browser as the application container. Some applications still have separate clients – especially heavier-duty software like the Adobe Creative Suite– but most providers of software have moved to building their applications inside of the browser.

Software-as-a-Service Benefits

The benefits of this approach are pretty significant. The independent software vendor (ISV) is able to control the backend of the solution and really only have one version of the software. Updates can generally be made whenever the ISV wants and as often as they want. The ISV isn’t reliant on the customer to update or upgrade anything on their system. Because the browser is the UI, ISVs don’t need to build for a variety of end user platforms, saving them time and money. Updates to the UI can also be pushed as often as the ISV wants.

Control over licensing and use becomes very easy, so software piracy is largely irrelevant. From a business model perspective, the customers and ISVs benefit because the software is licensed on a subscription, time-based model. Customers can more easily predict their expenses as well as manage their cash flow. The software-as-a-service approach to software has been a game changer for ISVs and customers.

Popular SaaS Applications


Salesforce SaaS

Salesforce was one of the early popular software applications being delivered from the cloud. At the time, Salesforce was competing in a very crowded CRM market with behemoths like Siebel, Oracle, and more. Salesforce really only changed two major things – it delivered it’s solution from the cloud so that IT didn’t need to purchase and deploy servers and software; and, it used the browser as its front-end UI.

Even with just those two changes, Salesforce took off. It started with small to medium-sized enterprises and startups. Over time, they won over larger and larger accounts. They made such an impact that the rest of the competing vendors in the space largely went away.

G Suite
google apps

Google made waves in the mid-2000s as they introduced Google Apps (Now called G Suite). The concept started with hosting email services for organizations and then expanded to include the productivity suite of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software.

Similar to Salesforce, startups and small organizations flocked to the Google Apps platform. These organizations could avoid purchasing Microsoft Exchange and in some cases also Microsoft Office. In addition to being cost effective, Google Apps also optimized workflow.

So, with the ability to help a company save time and money, it is no surprise that G Suite now has over 5 million business customers.


microsoft office 365

Microsoft began to feel threatened with Google’s success, and over time they built out their own cloud approach. Their approach was to have a hybrid solution called Office 365. O365, as it became to be known, would let IT organizations distribute Office as either a web application or an on-prem installed software solution. O365 also gave IT the option to host email servers in the cloud, and users gained a choice in how they would like to use their suite of productivity software. O365 has stemmed the tide and is extremely competitive with G Suite now. In comparing Microsoft and Google, it comes down to more sophisticated apps (Office 365) versus a lower price point (G Suite).

G Suite and O365 have Changed IT

The great thing about G Suite and O365 making the impact that they have on the IT market is they have largely eliminated a number of pieces on-prem hardware and conventional software. This includes Microsoft Exchange for email services, the file server, and Microsoft Office. Decreased numbers of on-prem software has allowed IT to save on server costs and reduced the time needed to maintain them. The time once spent installing, updating, and otherwise managing software can now be devoted to more valuable pursuits in IT.

Software-as-a-Service Challenges

But the move to cloud applications has brought its challenges – how does IT control user access to each of these applications? Legacy directory services such as Active Directory® and OpenLDAP™ do not offer the best methods for authorizing and authenticating users to these SaaS-based software solutions.

This led to the emergence of  web application single sign-on solutions. These solutions worked well when Active Directory was the core identity provider. Unfortunately, many organizations either don’t have AD or are replacing AD with cloud identity management. The move to SaaS has put significant pressure on organizations to critically reevaluate their identity management strategy.

IAM Solution for a SaaS-based World

DaaS JumpCloud

Our cloud identity and access management (CIAM) solution might be the missing piece in your identity management strategy. Not only does Directory-as-a-Service® integrate with Salesforce, G Suite and O365, but also offers SSO with 150 other web-based applications, leverages MFA and password management to improve your security, and centralizes system management for Windows, Mac, and Linux endpoints.

If you would like to learn more about how you could enhance your identity management strategy with our cloud based directory, drop us a note. You can also start testing our user and system management, MFA, and SSO capabilities for yourself by signing up for a free account. Your first ten users are free forever.

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