SaaSGrid: An Operating System for the Cloud?

SaaSGrid: An Operating System for the Cloud?

SaaSGrid: An Operating System for the Cloud?Imagine if you wanted to take a traditional application and re-write it for software as a service (SaaS) deployments. How would you handle provisioning, billing, subscriptions, multi-tenancy and other variables in the SaaS equation?

That's where Apprenda Inc.'s SaaSGrid enters the picture. Described as an "operating system" of sorts for SaaS applications, SaaSGrid seeks to give application developers and managed service providers a basic software foundation for launching SaaS applications.

To get more details, I spoke with Apprenda Director of Business Development Jesse Kliza (formerly an Autotask product manager). Here are some highlights from the conversation and the SaaSGrid implications for MSPs.

SaaSGrid Defined

First, what exactly is SaaSGrid? Kliza compares it to a modern-day operating system:

In the traditional software world, an operating system coordinates how software interacts with hardware. As a result, application developers can focus on their own core code rather than focusing on complex hardware support issues. (That's a super-simplified example, but you get the picture.)

Similarly, Apprenda's SaaSGrid is a software layer that shields developers from some of the complexities associated with on-demand applications, asserts Kliza.

According to Apprenda's Web site:
"Through SaaSGrid web portals, a software company can manage pricing structure, customer contracts, application updates and new releases, billing, and customer support. This power is delivered by SaaSGrid without the application code having to participate, giving unparalleled power with no time investment."
Does SaaSGrid live up to Apprenda's claims? Frankly, it's too early to say. The software is rolling out now, primarily through Web host companies. Pricing has not been disclosed publicly, but it's safe to say SaaSGrid involves a per user, per month fee. For example: If you used SaaSGrid to launch ACME application to 1,000 customer seats, you'd pay Apprenda a set monthly fee for those 1,000 users. What is the fee? For now, the simple answer is to ask Apprenda.

In theory, ISVs and MSPs will be able to leverage SaaSGrid by working closely with Web host providers that have partnered up with Apprenda. A list of such providers should surface in early 2009.

Based on my conversation with Kliza -- and my ongoing discussions with MSPs and ISVs, who are struggling to shift to SaaS models -- the SaaSGrid strategy sounds promising.

Open Source Alternatives?

I also need to play devil's advocate. Initially, SaaSGrid is based on a Microsoft .Net software stack. I know Microsoft has a massive following and remains an industry powerhouse. There are plenty of opportunities to build SaaS applications on a .Net foundation.

However, I can't ignore the fact that more and more SaaS applications leverage open source and freely available widgets (mini applications or small pieces of code) that quickly plug into larger applications. It's possible to imagine open source widgets for billing, provisioning and other services that are part of SaaSGrid's core mission. In fact, I suspect most of those widgets already exist on the Web.

Still, SaaSGrid is gaining industry buzz and making the rounds on cloud-focused Web sites. And Apprenda's own blog site -- called SaaSBlogs -- is a great read worth bookmarketing.

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