Today, we’re all connected via the Internet, and we do virtually everything on the Internet. Small wonder that more and more IT services are being pushed onto the cloud where they can be accessed on demand for a monthly subscription fee. Software, databases, and even whole computing environments are already available this way, and more are coming.
Welcome to “anything as a service” (commonly referred to as XaaS).
Where it all started – SaaS
Most smaller businesses are already quite familiar with software as a service (SaaS), when you basically “rent” the software from the vendor, paying a monthly fee for its use. You eliminate worries about upgrades and complicated installations on individual computers or devices, as everything is taken care of in the cloud. It transforms capital expenses (CapEx) into operational expenses, allowing you to scale on demand and easing your cash flow. Email, data backup, and customer relationship management are just a few examples of popular SaaS applications.
Other XaaS you should consider:
But there are many other IT services that are available “as-a-service” that offer the same benefits. Just about any IT function you can imagine is being delivered that way. Here is a sampling:
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): With IaaS, you get a supplement to your IT infrastructure. A third party provides you with access to scalable virtual machines that allow you to offload data, access temporary computing power, and enable long-term storage for disaster recovery or business continuity. The vendor buys, maintains, and manages the hardware, software, servers, storage and all other aspects of this supplemental IT resource. The vendor also handles hardware maintenance and redundancy, administrative tasks are often automated, and you can scale infrastructure elements, like CPU and disk space, as needed—more or less as your business requires it. This is different from simply getting an internet connection from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) because you get a complete computing solution—not just a connection. It saves you the trouble and cost of buying and configuring servers, operating systems and storage.
- Platform as a service (PaaS): PaaS delivers hardware and software tools—most typically, those needed for you to develop applications—to businesses as a service. As with SaaS and IaaS, PaaS providers host the hardware and software, freeing you from having to buy, install, and maintain that IT environment locally within your physical business location.
- Desktop-as-a-service (DaaS): DaaS is a very interesting XaaS service that SMBs are just beginning to be aware of. With DaaS, your employees’ desktops are virtualized—allowing users to log into any device and have their particular desktop set-up ready for them to use: applications, data, links to favorite sites—you name it. DaaS can be beneficial because users get the same access to everything no matter what device they use—no more worrying about which apps or which data “live” on certain devices. The DaaS provider takes care of all the responsibilities of managing PC desktops: the backend infrastructure, the data storage, backup, security, maintenance, and upgrades. However, we are still relatively early in the development of DaaS, and only limited operating systems are available in DaaS offerings from a limited number of vendors. Keep an eye on this interesting XaaS area, however, as prices are coming down and functionality is improving all the time.
- Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS): With DRaaS, you don’t have to worry about copying your data every night and storing it somewhere safe offsite, or fret about what happens if a server running an important application goes down. The DRaaS provider replicates and hosts your servers to give you failover in case of a disaster—whether natural, like a flood or earthquake, or manmade, such as a malware virus or arson. This is different from simply backing up your files—and either storing them offsite or in the cloud—since your whole environment is replicated, allowing you to recover operations and get back to work much faster in the face of a disaster. This XaaS service is especially useful for SMBs that don’t have the infrastructure, technology, or skilled personnel to implement a disaster recovery plan on their own premises. However, you might have compliance requirements to consider. Seek a DRaaS partner that understands your unique information compliance needs.
- Security as a service (SECaaS): SECaaS providers deliver all the security you want—firewalls, antivirus protection, antispam tools, and the like—in a single bundle for a monthly subscription fee. As with other XaaS services, this gets you specialized expertise and latest technologies without having to invest in expensive tools or infrastructure, or hire a technology specialist. However, many SMBs are struggling with compliance requirements like HIPAA, HITECH, and PCI, so getting sufficient data protection is now a critical business issue. Choose your vendor wisely.
- Business intelligence as a service (BIaaS): Also called SaaS BI, this type of XaaS connects all your data that is now fragmented among files, databases, applications, and social media feeds. For example, rather than having to manually pull data from various files, BIaaS synchronizes the data and analyzes and reports on it, allowing you to visually get insight into how your business is doing. This allows you to have a singular dashboard for all your analytics so you don’t waste time searching through different platforms to measure the success of your business.
Customer premises equipment as a service (CPEaaS)
CPEaaS providers give you all the communications equipment you need, and manage and maintain it, for a simple monthly fee. Because they always provide the latest equipment, you don’t have to have a large capital budget for continually upgrading your communications infrastructure as technology advances. You also are relieved of the burden of servicing and maintaining equipment that is past end-of-life.
When is XaaS Right for You?
To determine if a XaaS service is right for you, you need to ask yourself three questions:
- Does the service offer value to my business?
- Can a specialist provide this service better and cheaper than I can myself?
- Can the XaaS vendor integrate easily with my current applications and system infrastructure?
If the answer to both questions is “yes,” you should consider going with XaaS. For example, take customer relation management (CRM). Will a CRM system help your sales and marketing teams perform more efficiently? If the answer is “yes,” then do you have the personnel skills (and capital) to build a system in-house, or is it cheaper to get a more sophisticated system from a third party? Will that SaaS CRM service integrate easily with other business applications you depend on? If the answers to the latter two questions are “yes,” go for the SaaS version of CRM.
Small and mid-sized businesses should keep their eyes open for more and more innovative XaaS offerings that can take the burden off their IT departments and allow them to focus on more strategic issues that will help them remain competitive.