By Ryan Squires Posted November 6, 2018
The effects of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) revolution can be felt in just about every facet of modern life. But, there was once a time when the SaaS delivery model was nascent and industry people were simply trying to determine what it meant for software. Now that the model has penetrated transportation, food, and even dog walking we begin to see these varied offerings as on-demand services where service providers facilitate access to their property—material, intellectual, or otherwise. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the “as-a-service” model and move from the pre-SaaS days to our modern everything-as-a-service (XaaS) reality.
From ASP to SaaS
Back before SaaS as we know it, Wikipedia documents how companies were employing elements of the SaaS model that we can readily recognize today. Take companies such as FutureLink and USI, for example. Instead of creating software for customers to install and run, they hosted and managed third-party applications for businesses [Wikipedia, 2018]. These businesses were called Application Service Providers or ASPs. The reasons for hosting applications were quite simple: it reduced overhead costs and freed up businesses to simply work. [Reference for Business]. ASPs provided their knowledge of particular business applications while simultaneously centralizing the application’s management for a fee, or what we today might consider a subscription [Lifewire, 2018].
Where ASPs diverged from the SaaS model we know and recognize today was that ASPs sometimes required users to install a thin client on their computer. SaaS doesn’t require any installation, everything happens through a web browser. In 1999, Salesforce® opened the world’s eyes to the power of SaaS [Salesforce Ben, 2016]. They offered software for sales teams, but in order to use it, all a subscriber needed to do was open web browser, navigate to a URL, enter their credentials, and get to work. It seemed that as soon as Salesforce demonstrated the ability to provide business-class applications via a web browser, the market flooded with applications that followed the same model. Examples (some more recent than others) include Google Apps™ (now G Suite™), DocuSign™, Slack, Workday™, NetSuite, GitHub, and many, many more.
Hardware-as-a-Service and Beyond
With the effectiveness of the SaaS delivery model established, we began to see variations of what exactly could be provided by the “as-a-service” delivery model. The next giant leap forward was IaaS, or Infrastructure-as-a-Service. This time, Amazon led the charge by offering access to cloud-based servers. Initially imagined as a way to help foster growth of their Merchant.com platform, Amazon soon realized that the developers in their company were having to build out the same foundational database, compute, and storage components time and time again for each new project. [Tech Crunch, 2016]. So, realizing the opportunity at hand, in 2006 Amazon started to offer their cloud computing services, called Elastic Cloud Compute or EC2, to external parties who needed convenient access to pre-configured server instances [Network World, 2015]—no on-prem setup, configuration, or maintenance required on the part of the customer. As you can imagine, this freed up developers and creators to innovate and get to work, because they were no longer stuck with mundane setup and maintenance chores. Users could now essentially rent a server (or servers) to perform tasks they would generally need expensive on-prem implementations for.
The opportunity that Amazon uncovered, of course, led to competition. Where Amazon Web Services (AWS) stood alone, it now faces competition from industry juggernauts like Google™ and their Google Cloud Platform™ as well as Microsoft® and their Azure® platform. Each service offers database, compute, and storage components, like AWS, but they’re all expanding. Now, these companies, Amazon included, offer far more than what Amazon showed the world what IaaS could do in 2006. Services now include, under the umbrellas AWS, GCP, and Azure respectively, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) abilities that allow for developers to build applications without needing physical hardware, artificial intelligence (AI), data migration, internet of things (IoT), and more.
From Identity-as-a-Service to Directory-as-a-Service™
With all these varied offerings, there came varied identities – and a growing need to centralize identity and access management (IAM) across everything being offered as a service.
This challenge was first tackled by SSO providers, who you could think of as the first generation of identity-as-a-service. But SSO didn’t do much other than centralize access to SaaS apps. Microsoft has since tried its hand at cloud identity management with Azure Active Directory®, while Google utilizes Google Cloud™ Identity. But these solutions are either partial to their provider (i.e. Azure AD is great for Microsoft, not so great for AWS or Google) or focused virtually entirely on the web side of IT resources (e.g. Google Cloud Identity is great for Google Apps and web applications, not so great for Windows and macOS systems). Organizations in this predicament will always be held back because they will need to either accept reduced functionality or continue to pay for and maintain Active Directory on-prem to supplement these cloud identity management systems.
For those who need a complete directory or want to stray from on-prem instances, a cloud directory called JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service works with all major OS platforms: Windows, Mac, and Linux included. It embraces the democratization that comes with cloud computing by providing neutral, managed services to virtually any IT resource an organization may use. Directory-as-a-Service signifies the maturation of identity-as-a-service from its humble SSO beginnings to being robust directory services beyond on-prem incarnations.
Again, there is a democratizing effect with cloud-based identity management. Before, many would go without a directory service for the sake of cost. Now, those with little capital can benefit from robust identity management without the need to buy or maintain a domain controller.
XaaS: Software and Transportation
Clearly, the internet had shown it could support a multitude of cloud computing tasks. XaaS demonstrates how services like customer relationship management (CRM) via Salesforce, cloud computing (AWS, Google Compute Engine, Azure), productivity-minded tasks (O365 and G Suite), and directory services (JumpCloud) can each be delivered securely from the cloud. From these developments, now XaaS enters our lives in more physical, tangible ways. The first method that we start to think of is transportation. Companies like Lyft and Uber have revolutionized transportation for the masses. You no longer need a car to experience the freedom one provides. Just login to the app and select your destination—day or night.
In Southeast Asia, Grab has taken the model of “transportation-as-a-service” and used it to change lives across the region. Hailing a cab in one of the 8 countries that Grab services is now much safer, and customers no longer have to worry about assault or getting ripped off. Additionally, Grab has expanded to include micropayments to help people become more upwardly mobile. Again, this is an example of technology providing a way of leveling the playing field and allowing people who may not have been able to access certain resources to reach out and grab them.
XaaS: Transportation and Food
Now with the XaaS ball rolling, we’ve begun to see the intersection of food and transportation: delivery services. Apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub, and countless other food delivery services now use cloud computing to connect you to the food you need to maintain survival. In aiming to assist delivery-minded restaurants, a company by the name of Cloud Kitchens is also working to provide their own kind of infrastructure-as-a-service for restaurateurs who want to focus on food delivery. [Tech Crunch, 2018] The owner/operator of a restaurant simply pays Cloud Kitchens to use their facilities, which includes all the requisite equipment; the chef and cooks just get to work providing food to hungry people. Time and time again, we see this model influence capital expenditures. No longer does a company need a large upfront investment to take advantage of technology – whether its a kitchen, car, or server.
XaaS: Property, Entertainment, Dogs, and Doctors
Of course, there are many, many more applications of the XaaS model. AirBnb has turned homeowners into part-time hotel managers. Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now are all on-demand entertainment-as-a-service providers. Rover has allowed college-age kids or dog lovers to spend some of their time walking dogs and earning a little extra money. Doctor on Demand allows users to meet with a doctor face to face via their smartphone or tablet. Services offered by Doctor on Demand include treatment for all sorts of maladies like cold and flu symptoms, urinary tract infections, allergies, and many more – all over an internet connection
Three Benefits of XaaS
So, when you think about XaaS and its benefits to modern society, it encompasses pretty much anything you can think of… and things you haven’t. In short, the XaaS model ends up having a lot of the same impacts across industries. It decreases capital expenditures [Market Connections], which can democratize and enable those with fewer resources a way into the game. Access to the latest technology no longer requires a large investment or risk. Users and companies can just subscribe to the service they need. The same concept applies to people who want to leave licensing and maintenance to other people—whether it’s a kitchen or car. Gone are the days of applying and hoping for financing.
Second, because computing services can be accessed anywhere there is an internet connection, companies are more agile [Wall Street Journal, 2018]. They can think about using their space much more effectively, or because a lot of computing can be done remotely, companies can simply forego an office and its associated costs. XaaS essentially acts as a driver to get people working.
Finally, with more money to invest in people or ideas, companies are much more free to innovate. They can put their money towards investment opportunities, hiring new talent, or enacting new marketing plans instead of tying money up in on-prem hardware or software. With all these possibilities enabled via the XaaS delivery model, it will be interesting to see just how much the world changes from the mutation of what it means to own something. For a long time, possibilities were enabled via ownership. Now all you need is an internet connection.