Hands up anyone here who has a bank account. Anyone? How's about anyone who's happy to work for a company which uses a bank account, rather than storing all of its money as actual cash in a safe at Head Office.
Is that most of us? Really? So I guess we're all pretty comfortable about allowing specialists and experts in their field to look after our most valuable assets for us, rather than insisting on rolling our own solution every time. Benefiting from the economies of scale (easier for one business to look after the assets of millions than those millions to look after their own as effectively, sort of thing) and, frankly, the much improved security (because, again, the economies of scale make it easier to be properly secure once for millions than millions of times for one each.)
So next question: hands up if you'd reject the offer of working for (or with) a company or client for the sole reason that they didn't own their own office building, but rented an office, or a suite, or a floor, or a wing, or even a building from a managed services company (the prime example would be Regus, but I'm sure we can all name half-a-dozen more.) Anyone?
So it seems we're all reasonably happy about renting out services rather than owning and managing our own infrastructure from time to time, and again benefiting from the flexibility this offers ("You've taken on another hundred staff? You could take over the sixth floor, if you like...") and, again, the economy of scale that comes from using the same infrastructure to support many organisations.
I can't see that any of this is particularly controversial. Thing is, because I've framed it in terms of money and space, with analogies with which we've all been utterly familiar for centuries, it isn't particularly controversial. It's all very straightforward. Sensible, even.
So why do the very same concepts make Jake and John's blood boil when applied to something new*, like business software?
Well, would it be cheeky of me to suggest that, possibly, Jake and John might have some form of vested interest in the status quo? Actually, yes it probably would. I know neither of them personally or professionally, and would hate to be guilty of making assumptions based on little or no evidence. There must be a better reason.
Can it be security? I don't think so. It's pretty obvious that the major SaaS vendors take security very seriously. Follow me on this one: Look at the home page of a significant SaaS vendor. I'll be using Salesforce.com as an example, because they're the primary example with which I work**. Check out their case studies. Look at some of the clients that they have on their books. Now, if it were even a little bit easy for some hacker or industrial espion to break in and make off with their data, don't you think it would have happened by now? And if some hacker had managed it, don't you think we'd have read about it on the Reg? Every day for a month or so?
Nothing's 100% secure. Black holes excepted***. But I know I'd rather store my valuable money in a bank than in my own back pocket, and I'd rather entrust my valuable data to serious, experienced professionals than some of the bumbling (but good-natured) folks I've met running on-premise data centres down the years.
What about flexibility? Scalability? Actually, on both of those counts *aaS will win hands-down. Platform-as-a-Service will allow you to implement pretty much any form of business software in a fraction of the time required to develop the same functionality in-house and.or on-premise. It's the economies of scale again; most of the work's been done already, by some people who seriously know what they're about. And the major difference between a five-user system and a five-thousand-user system is four thousand, nine hundred and ninety-five user licenses. (Oh okay, and a more complex user profile heirarchy. Sure.) - no extra servers, or extra backups, or extra spare servers in case the first ones break, or...
And here's a scenario: You're opening a new office in Swindon. Or Sweden. Or South-east Asia. Where / how do you start setting up the infrastructure, data synchronisation, multilingual/multi-currency requirements for that with your on-premise solution? With SaaS, as long as they have an internet connection (and they will) then all you need is the extra licences for the new users. The rest has been done for you already.
Mobile users? No problem. Download the client. Log on. There you go. With all of your customisations, the relevant data, synchronised seamlessly whenever there's a mobile signal.
And there can be a significant advantage to putting power like this into the hands of the business user rather than their IT support team. The biggest advantage being the significantly reduced turnaround from business need to implementation. Where seriously useful, business-enhancing systems can be pushed out in weeks rather than months or years, there's more likelihood that they will reflect the current business processes (rather than the ones that were current when the system was first thought of) and that a ROI will be seen much sooner.
Okay, I realise that I'm probably a bit like a satan worshipper trying to preach to a choir here, but I figured a little balance wouldn't go amiss. It's not about undermining the IT department, or abdicating responsibility, or hiring "a second party to host applications and store data", but using the best tools available for the job. Frankly, if anyone needs re-educating round the back of the office bike sheds it's the die-hard stick-in-the-muds who'd rather mouth off about something and look good than spend a little time and effort seriously investigating a technology that could make a significant difference to their business's agility.
For those of you who are interested, a developer licence may be obtained for free from salesforce.com, and will allow you to play with the cloud to your heart's content. You'll also have access to any amount of help and documentation to assist you in your investigation. Be warned, your mind may be broadened by the experience.
For the rest, well, thanks for reading this far. Sorry you're unconvinced. It isn't for everyone, and there are certainly applications where "The Cloud" isn't the best solution, but they're pretty few and far between these days. You may be right. in your case. Might I take this opportunity to wish you a happy 1999.
*for a given value of "new" - as has been pointed out before, this concept's been around for a while. Only recently with this level of potential, though...
** Oh come on. Yes, I DO work in SaaS. I've drunk deeply of the cloud kool-aid, and with good reason. Keep reading.
*** No he doesn't. Hawking says black holes can evaporate over time, sure, but while they may lose their mass, any structure that falls in is lost. Nice try, though. If you really, really want to lose something forever, a black hole's still about your best bet.