Archive for category SaaS

Types of ‘Cloud’

Everyone is talking about “The Cloud” which is a pool of shared computer resources. There are various types of Cloud depending on either the location of the infrastructure provided or on the type of services provided. There are advantages and disadvantages in each type.

TYPE I: Based on the location of Cloud’s infrastructure

Public Cloud: This is the most common type of Cloud used. The end user does not have any idea about the location of the cloud’s infrastructure. The Cloud is shared by users or companies spread across the globe. This is least expensive though there are security concerns.

Private Cloud: The cloud is located at the users’ premises and cannot be accessed by other companies or users. This is used less due to the cost, but is preferred by those who have a need for high security.

Hybrid Cloud: Some companies use both private and public clouds. They host critical applications on private cloud and non-critical ones on public cloud. Some companies use public clouds only to manage high loads.

Community Cloud: This is not so common. It is used by a group of companies. For example, companies within the same city or companies of same industry sharing a cloud.

TYPE II: Based on the services offered on the Cloud

SAAS: (Software as a Service) This is the most common form of service that is used over the Cloud. Various companies offer software which is hosted over the cloud. The end user accesses the software and pays as per use. For example, Salesforce.com, hubVirt’s products.

IAAS: (Infrastructure as a Service) The infrastructure or hardware is provided by the Cloud and the rest is managed by the users. This service is used by companies or individuals who do not want to get into maintaining data storage and servers. Users need to manage the software and applications by themselves. For example, Amazon EC2. 

PAAS: (Platform as a Service) Computing platform is offered as a service over the Cloud. Life cycle of building and deploying an application is facilitated and supported over the platform. The underlying hardware and software are managed by the Cloud. Users need to develop and manage their applications. For example, Google App Engine, MS Azure.

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SaaS Trends in Education

Educational institutions have benefited greatly by adopting technology in their operations. Now the trend is to offer courses online and thus reach out to global audience. Virtual universities, education portals, online courseware are some of the trends that are catching up in digitization of education. These trends give institutes greater reach in terms of offering their courseware.

Initially institutions adopted technology to run their operations smoothly. Enhancing the productivity of their administrative resources was the main aim. Lately, technology is being used to support their offline courses by providing a connectivity platform between students and faculty or to provide a global reach to their courseware. What has added to the appeal of online education trend is that no physical infrastructure is needed to disseminate the knowledge.

Extensive technical support is required to create and maintain such software infrastructure. Most universities rely on external vendors to provide them with the needed infrastructure. Few institutes have an in-house team which puts a strain on their finances and resources.

SaaS based softwares offer a viable solution to such institutes. The advantages include:

¨      Subscription based model as opposed to a license fee, which greatly reduce costs

¨      Maintenance free since it is taken care of by the vendor

¨      Service continuity and accessibility since no hardware infrastructure needs to be put in place and maintained by institutes

¨      Free continuous updates

 

In India, a large part of the digitization of education is driven by e-commerce goals. The industry is becoming increasingly learner centric and the trends suggest that market demand will force many more institutions to adopt technology to offer a flexible learning process.

 

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hubVirt Scheduler

For an educational institute it is important to utilize its human and material resources to the maximum. Infrastructure requires high investment and can only be put to optimal use with proper planning and scheduling. Resources like faculty and classrooms need proper planning to avoid overlapping of allocation. For an institute with a large influx of students it is important to keep track of students and the batches at all times. Huge paperwork is adding to the prevailing inefficiency of integrating multiple data points.

hubVirt Scheduler helps educational institutes/ coaching centers to plan and schedule their resource utilization. It helps keep track of the availability of each resource, utilization period, schedule of each resource, etc. This would help the institute in determining how best it can put to use its infrastructure and plan ahead for expansion.

FEATURES

– Centralized data with role based control for administrators and users
– Define resource types and manage them
– Manage student data and schedule batches
– Schedule resources like classrooms, projectors, etc
– Schedule classes for faculty
– Track the courses/ topics covered till date for a particular student/ batch/ faculty
– Check availability of resources at any point in time
– Check past utilization of resources
– Scalable for multiple users

BENEFITS

– Helps in planning, scheduling and optimal utilization of resources
– Easy to use interface that gives a standard experience across all functions
– Resource-wise reports generated which can be downloaded or emailed
– Reduced cost of technology – pay per user per application
– Reduced investment on IT resources – no installation or maintenance required
– Security and accessibility of data
– Instant access to new features and free upgrades

For more details, check http://www.hubvirt.com and register for a FREE TRIAL.

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SaaS for Educational Institutions

The education sector in India is poised for stupendous growth. Increasing demand for quality education has lead to increase in number of institutions. With competition came complexity in managing the institutions.

Apart from imparting education, they have to manage various activities like student placements, marketing their institute, managing internal operations especially if they are offering wide range of courses, managing finances, managing resource constraints, coordinating with regulatory authorities, tackling competition etc. A large staff is required to take care of such functions. Most institutions use a mix of paper records and Excel sheets to manage the large volume of administration information. Inaccessibility of previous data, inefficiency in maintenance and unconnected data management are some of the problems faced by them.

One of the major problems an institute faces is the utilization of internal resources like rooms and faculty. Infrastructure for an educational institute requires huge investment. Institutions are trying to expand their reach without increasing their capital expenditure. Quite a few educational institutes run multiple courses simultaneously. They are trying to put their infrastructure to maximum use by allowing others to utilize instead of keeping it idle. In such a scenario, planning and scheduling of resources becomes important.

Technology can help them utilize resources in an optimal way. So far institutes have adopted technology only in imparting knowledge. Yet we notice that not many institutes adopt technology to handle their internal operations. There are apprehensions about adoption and its costs. In most cases technology adoption is limited to financial operations. This outlook is changing as some institutes are willing to look at ERP packages to address their requirements.

Traditional software still requires upfront investment and continuous upgradation and maintenance. This is where SaaS based applications have an edge. The benefits offered include:

 No upfront investment required for procuring software or hardware
 ‘Pay-as-you-use’ model
 No need of maintenance or upgradation at the users’ end
 Accessible 24×7 from anywhere
 Data is highly secure at centralized servers
 Easily scalable and does not involve additional costs
 No limit on number of users

The downside is that there might not be too much of customization possible for the application, though some amount of configuration is allowed. Institutes have to adjust their internal processes a little bit to fit in the software. Since the institutes did not need standardization of their processes till a couple of years ago, the amount of change required to adopt the software is expected to be minimal.

Considering the benefits offered, educational institutes are open to adopting technology to help them manage their resources.

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Types of SAAS Architectural Models

Though SaaS as a concept has been around for quite sometime now, its applications and architectural models are still evolving. There are various architectural approaches followed by SaaS application providers. Four of them are detailed below:

TYPE I:

The first type is quite similar to traditional model of software delivery where each customer accesses the customized version of the software. There are various instances of the same application running on the servers. All users within an organization connect to a single instance of the application which is different from any other instance accessed by any other organization.

Most of the traditional client-server application providers are looking at this architectural model to enter the Saas market with their offerings. This architectural model would help them make the shift with little development effort and without re-architecting the application from scratch. This model does not offer the full benefits of a mature SaaS application, but it helps the vendors reduce costs by reusing portions of earlier code base and consolidating hardware resources. This would also help them in entering the SaaS market quickly with their existing application suite. The software administration still remains troublesome since any upgradation needs to be done for all the customized instances.

TYPE II:

The second model is one where the customers access their own instance of the same application which is configured to suit individual needs. The requirements are customized in TYPE I whereas the requirements are configured in TYPE II. Detailed configuration options are provided to the customers that allow changes in the way application looks/ behaves to its users. Each instance used by each customer remains isolated from others and hence requires the same amount of hardware resource space as that of TYPE I.

Architecturally there is a single code base for all customers, which reduces the software service costs for the provider. Any upgradation is easily provided to all customers. However, shifting from traditional model requires lot more developmental work.

TYPE III:

The third model is one where every customer accesses a single instance of the application, with metadata which is configured to give a unique experience to each user. Security policies and authorization procedures ensure that the information provided by each customer remains isolated from that of others. The end-user has no indication about the multi-tenancy of the data which occurs at the back end.

The vendor saves hardware costs since there is only one instance of the application running and hence not much storage space is required on the servers. Scalability is an issue since the server space and database space is shared among all users. As the number of users increases, upgradation of hardware resources becomes troublesome.

TYPE IV:

This is almost a fully mature model of architecture. The customers access identical instances with their databases separated and configured metadata to provide a unique user experience. The scalability issues of TYPE III are handled easily since the hardware and the number of instances can easily be increased at the back end to match the demand. Upgradation is also easy to roll out. Architecturally this is the most demanding of all the four. Cloud servers or Load-balancing servers are used by vendors to minimizze their costs.

Though ideally all SaaS vendors should seek to achieve TYPE IV, it is not always the case. The customer base and their data needs, type and complexity of applications serviced, costs and resources involved, developmental effort and time required and various other factors determine the architectural model followed by the vendors.

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SMEs ideally suited for adopting SaaS applications

SaaS as a business model and not just delivery model is catching up. While many people agree to the fact that SaaS has a lot on offer, there are many skeptics too who argue that it is yet to prove its mettle in a few areas like security, customization possible etc.

A different point of view would be to look at the target customer segment and see who is ideally suited to adopt this model. While some large organizations in different domains own and manage their own software, this is a trend mostly on the decline. Most of these organizations are seeing the benefit of outsourcing IT maintenance to established players who are best suited to do this while these organizations can focus on their core activity.

At the other end of the spectrum are the very small companies which can’t afford to own an IT department of their own, nor can they afford to invest huge sums of money upfront in acquiring software licenses. Even if they acquire a software for automating a particular business functionality, there are always other areas within the organization that are left out of the purview of automation. Often they are forced to buy different softwares that serve different purposes – one for accounting, one for their payroll, one for their email needs etc. The real problem starts here. These different softwares which are bought from different vendors have no integration whatsoever. The company is forced to hire an IT person(s) who can do the job of feeding the data into these applications as also extracting data from them. This IT person would then need to take the help of spreadsheets to prepare the reports that are needed for the management since these disparate applications from different vendors are not integrated. Often, this is a cumbersome exercise, most of the time leaving half-baked information on the CEO’s table while at others, providing wrong information.

Then there are periodic upgrades and patches to be applied to these softwares. All of these need a well trained and established IT department that can keep the information flow within the organization smooth, while having to grapple with software from different vendors and spreadsheets for collating and consolidating this information. All this leaves the organization grappling with problems that are outside their core activity.

This is where SaaS model takes the burden off the shoulders of the organization. There are no upfront costs involved in acquiring hardware and software licenses. They just have to subscribe to applications and start using them over the internet. While people who make use of these applications within the organization still need to understand the usage of the software being subscribed to, this is a lesser problem compared to maintaining a full fledged IT department. The role of the IT person also shifts from maintenance to that of strategic management of information flow and understanding the information needs of the organization.

Though, SaaS, just like any other technology which disrupts the market, could be received with some skepticism initially, the adoption rate is only going to increase in future. While, this is already evident in the way a lot of organizations are leveraging the power of SaaS based applications, SMEs certainly need more education and information dissemination to drive home the point.

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