“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” This immortal line uttered by Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride” perfectly captures my reaction to seeing a major backup vendor marketing a non-SaaS product as SaaS.
Buzzword co-opting is not new, and I’ve fought back against many instances of it over the years. Some vendors called snapshots “CDP,” even though they weren’t continuous. I coined the term “near-CDP” for what they do, but vendors kept co-opting CDP anyway. Several dedupe vendors called their products inline dedupe, even though they clearly were not. I tried to get them to use other terms, but the problem persisted. This particular argument even happened live on the air when I was a Tech Field Day delegate visiting Violin Memory systems. Oooh, that one got contentious!
The story is always the same. A feature gets popular and vendors who do not offer said feature start missing out on web traffic and sales. So they start referring to what they do as the new term, usually by redefining the term to mean something else. The result is customers who are looking for the benefits of the original idea can’t find them, because so many companies are claiming they have the feature when they do not.
What is SaaS?
The following are quotes from articles I found when I googled “what is SaaS,” each of which is linked to the article it came from.
- “software vendors host and maintain the servers, databases and code that constitute an application. This is a significant departure from the on-premise software delivery model”
- “network-based access to a single copy of an application … The application’s source code is the same for all customers and when new features or functionalities are rolled out, they are rolled out to all customers”
- “saves organizations from installing and running applications on their own systems”
Articles about SaaS list examples like Salesforce.com, Quickbooks Online, and Office365.
What is not SaaS?
If you think about how you use and pay for the previously mentioned services, this section will make perfect sense. Imagine the voice of Jeff “you might be a redneck” Foxworthy while reading these words.
- If you are paying for, configuring, upgrading, and managing physical appliances or VMs in the cloud –– you might not be using SaaS. (In a SaaS environment, the customer does not own or rent – nor are they responsible for maintaining – any of the infrastructure behind the service.)
- If you are responsible for upgrading or replacing a backup server in order to get the latest feature set – you might not be using SaaS. (New SaaS features are immediately available to you when they are released by the vendor.)
- If you have to buy/rent and install additional physical or virtual appliances to scale your backup system – you might not be using SaaS. (SaaS customers don’t even see the infrastructure behind the service in question – virtual or otherwise – and do not need to scale the back end if their needs grow.)
- If your costs do not go down when you lower your usage (e.g fewer GBs, VMs, or users), you might not be using SaaS. (A SaaS service and its cost will automatically scale up and down to meet your needs. )
Backup vendors are co-opting the term SaaS
I’m not going to mention which vendors here for multiple reasons, one of which is I don’t want to increase the places on the Internet where their names are associated with the term SaaS. What they are doing is they are offering their product with subscription-based pricing – but that is nowhere near the same as SaaS. Imagine if you could pay a fee each month and have all-you-can eat Exchange running on a server of your choice in your datacenter. That’s subscription-based pricing. Now look at Office365 Exchange Online. That’s SaaS? See the difference? It’s super easy to tell the difference if you know what you are looking for. Don’t fall for fake SaaS.
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Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Evangelist at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.