Preparing for the SaaS/PaaS Wave

by Tim O'Brien

Today, Michael Podrazik writes about a new "generational shift" to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Michael's a Java architect who is considering using EC2 and S3 instead of colo machines for his next project. In his post he captures an idea that's quickly becoming obvious in light of the recent announcements in the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) space. Here it is (emphasis mine)...

We're entering into a new generational shift in computing. I'm not speaking of generations of people but rather an uplift of paradigmatic abstraction as has occurred so many times before. This is not a shift from static to dynamic languages, although that trend will surely continue. It's not that Java developers are all going to start using Rails or everyone is going to switch from template to component-based ways of developing webapps. The new debate is not going to be between X and Y framework but between X and Y platform, and if platform used to mean Mac-Windows-Linux, the shift I'm talking about is: 's/Mac-Windows-Linux/Google-Amazon-Salesforce/'

There has been an undeniable series of developments in the hosted-platform, managed-environment, I-don't-even-know-what-you-call-it, SaaS? that have until now resisted full-blown, critical mass, hype-factor. I think that that all changed on Tuesday with Google's App Engine announcement.

Like Apple, no matter what Google does it gets attention, and App Engine is undoubtedly going to get lots of it. People will love or hate the choice of Python, love or hate the persistence API, or lament the lack of filesystem access, or OS access, or inability to link to C libraries. All of that is irrelevant though, because the real story is that they will have done for this new hosted-app space what IBM did for the PC-space years ago, which is push it over the top into general acceptance. It validates the concept. read more...

I've been thinking about this for a while in light of Amazon and the newer, more developer-focused products coming out of We're approaching an inflection point where the arguments over whether a project should be done in Rails vs. Java vs. PHP will be trumped by foundational questions about whether an organization should invest in infrastructure and development at all. If you are like me, and you make your living developing applications and managing infrastructure. What can you do to prepare? I don't have the answer directly, I think we're going to see a dramatic shift in the job description of the "computer programmer" over the next few years. There is a brewing discontinuity in most organizations that engage in software development, and I think that this discontinuity is the first sign of this generational shift. In terms of technological revolution, I think the business user is leading the technologist.

On the one hand I speak to developers and architects who downplay the feasibility of SaaS solutions. Are they really secure? Don't you yield any sort of competitive advantage on a platform like Salesforce? Are you not locked in to a platform like Google? It seems that there are a host of convenient and self-interested observations from the people who have the most to "lose". I'll sit in meetings where a room full of people are discussing how many machines to buy for a new system, when it is clear that the answer is "buy no machines at all, use EC2". On the other hand, I speak with managers and executives who will happily testify to the millions of dollars they've saved by using products like Salesforce. At the Salesforce conference yesterday the logo was the word software with a red slash through it, and often a room full of business users would applaud when someone boasted of reducing headcount in the IT department. If you are a software developer, you can't help but feel a little out of place. No?

Taking a step back, I see two groups, an emerging industry, and a gigantic, uncontrollable economic wave. The two groups are technical administrators and developers used to maintaining hardware and deploying applications, and business users who are eager to cut costs where they can. The big wave is the weakening economy (at least in the US) that is either at the bottom of a small recession or at the beginning of a depression unlike any seen since the 30s (depending on who you read). Add to this an emerging industry of Platform-as-a-Service. Just like the recession in 2001 and 2002 pushed many organizations to offshore development, the weak economy of 2008-2009 might just be the force that pushes many organizations to forgo heavy investment in hardware and custom software development.

What are you doing to prepare for this "generational shift", this wave?