A new Wiki appliance by Socialtext is putting new spark in SaaS, taking the benefits of Software as a Service and combining them with the security of the Appliance model; in effect delivering SaaS behind the firewall.
SaaS analyst and blogger Phil Wainewright sees both the Appliance and the SaaS models to be part of the same trend of making software easier to install and use. There are notable benefits to the customer for using SaaS behind the firewall. By offering a Managed Service Appliance, the software vendor takes full responsibility for the implementation, rather than holding the customer responsible for getting the software up and running. Another important factor is that most Applications typically run off of open-source software, making their up-front costs a lot lower than conventional proprietary software.
Vendors can also choose to retain responsibility for managing the software through an Internet link, upgrading it with patches and updates. This adds the SaaS-ish ongoing service relationship into the mix, another reason why the appliance model has been compared to SaaS behind the firewall.
Many of Socialtext’s customers are understandably nervous about the idea of hosting their wiki-based discussions and knowledge stores outside the safety of their firewall, and won’t consider any alternatives to on-premise deployment. The Managed Service Appliance model, however, allows them to remedy these issues while still receiving the benefit of the vendor managing the software. The only material being passed through the firewall relates to the vendor’s software code, not the customer’s data. This means that even the most security-conscious customers will have nothing to fear.
There are advantages to retaining management responsibility for the deployed software from a vendor’s perspective as well, because doing so means they retain control of when patches and upgrades are implemented. In general, vendors prefer to have their customers running the latest version of their software, but from an IT department’s perspective, the time taken out to perform an upgrade is effectively degradation in service. This inclines many companies to shy away from upgrades, even when they bring vital new features.
Luckily there are no such problems with Socialtext since they are able to push out a release to their entire network of vendor-managed appliances in a single operation -- which is down right convenient for all parties involved.