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Cloud + Open Source = OpenSaaS

OpenSaaS means you can have all the benefits of a SaaS solution without having to make big tradeoffs

One of Cloud's little secrets is the lack of portability for applications delivered using the "Software as a Service" (SaaS) model. Many companies sign up for SaaS applications with the belief that it'll be easy for them to migrate to another if they need to. But that runs against the plans of the SaaS vendors, who look for long-term agreements to lock customers in by providing no exit strategy. A new model, called OpenSaas, is the answer.

OpenSaaS is software delivered as a service, with open source principles at its core. There's no lock in. When you want to leave, you export a copy of your application - code, database, and design - and move it to wherever you want.

OpenSaaS is about freedom, as in speech -- or, as they say in French, "libre." It means the option to leave has to be more valuable than actually leaving: Services have to deliver tangible value and exceed customer expectations. If it doesn't, customers will (rightly) fly the coop.

OpenSaaS means that buyers can obtain business value from the software delivered as a cloud service, while retaining the control they'd get from running software themselves - but without investing in the hardware, resources and overhead that comes with managing a data center.

Why SaaS?
This lack of portability has existed in software for as long as there have been incompatible file formats. However, it's grown in the last few years with the proliferation of SaaS applications, which have introduced a complication for portability. In the old-style, self-hosted software model, you could (usually) continue using your old software as long as it ran. For SaaS applications, however, you lose the software as soon as you stop paying the host's monthly fee.

Why use SaaS applications at all? Typically they fulfill business needs that aren't easily met in other ways, for example, for accounting, social collaboration, and customer relationship management (CRM). Often they're content management systems (CMS) or web content management systems (WCMS). In some cases the software isn't available or easy to run as a self-hosted package, making the cost and complexity of system administration prohibitive.

Sometimes companies turn to SaaS because they don't want to perform all the updates and maintenance themselves, or need to synchronize data among multiple servers. SaaS applications boast high availability rates, are easy to adopt widely throughout an organization, and are available from almost any computer or device at any time. And they generally have a lower cost of ownership. What's not to love?

The problem arises with proprietary SaaS applications. Because the software is owned by someone else, you usually can't make a copy of it - as you'll probably have to do to run it on your own servers. If you can't run the software, you can't get off of the host and you're trapped.

Further, SaaS solutions are often limited in the amount of customization that can be done. This is especially true in a multi-tenant architecture, where customizations aren't well segregated among tenants.

Once you've invested, you're invested. What will you do when your organization changes or grows? How can an organization both leverage the SaaS applications in the cloud,while still future-proofing their solution? The answer is OpenSaaS.

A SaaS model enables accelerated feature delivery, as all users have access to new features the moment they're pushed to the server. But no matter how many features a solution has, none can solve all needs. There may come a time when an organization may need to, in essence, part ways from its provider to achieve its new goals. There is little that is more powerful than having the knowledge that when you choose your SaaS solution, you know that you have options if your requirements change.

And this, at the end of the day, provides a roadmap for scale and for change and a way to future-proof your solution, something for which proprietary SaaS vendors can't always accommodate.

OpenSaaS is software delivered as a service, but the difference is that OpenSaaS uses open-source solutions at every level that could be a pinch point to prevent portability. That means there's no lock-in - when you want to leave, you export a copy of your application - code, database, and design - and move it wherever you want. You then have as much flexibility to use and change it as if it had started on your server in the first place.

Let's look at Drupal as an example of how this might play out.

Drupal is one of several open source-based frameworks for creating websites. It's built, used and supported by an active and passionate community from around the globe. Drupal already powers millions of websites and applications in a variety of server environments, from shared hosts to multi-tiered cloud architectures.

Not only is Drupal open source, many of its supporting technologies are as well. Like many server-based PHP applications, it typically runs on an AMP stack, comprising the open source Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Its thousands of modules (listed at drupal.org/project/modules) are all licensed under the highly permissive, open source GNU Public License, as are hundreds of graphic shells ("themes"). Further, Drupal integrates well with accelerator technologies such as Varnish and memcached as well as proprietary systems. Developers have combined such compatible open source projects into packages designed to meet specific needs, such as OpenPublic (http://openpublicapp.com) for government and Drupal Commons (http://acquia.com/drupal-commons) for social business software.

Because the entire stack is open source, cloud providers can choose to allow export of the entire package for hosting elsewhere. However, it takes a special provider, one that recognizes the value of OpenSaaS, to allow that to happen.

Drupal Gardens (http://drupalgardens.com) is a perfect example of OpenSaaS. It provides Drupal as a Service and enables rich web experiences, but also allows for site portability. Organizations can launch a site in seconds, with no software to install and no servers to manage - it's a true SaaS solution. It gives organizations the opportunity to create socially smart websites that help launch a product, promote an event, or engage a community. It gives organizations a way to accelerate their businesses with open source Drupal hosted in the cloud without being locked in to proprietary vendors.

If an organization's website needs change and the feature set provided through Drupal Gardens is no longer robust enough, organizations can easily just export their entire site. That means there's no lock-in. That's the Open part of OpenSaaS.

Organizations then have the option to move the entire site to a Drupal optimized PaaS such as the Acquia Cloud or to some other third-party hosting platform, or even choose to host it themselves. Wherever it ends up, they can then freely customize their sites - add modules or custom code, and integrate with enterprise systems to best achieve your organization's goals. It's software delivered as a service, with open source principles at its core.

At last, a SaaS solution with options, OpenSaaS.

The Payoff of OpenSaaS
Regardless of industry, organizations must always ask themselves: Are they in the business of managing servers, or something else? If the former, they need to understand website operations in addition to their "day jobs" as entertainment companies, publishers, technology developers, or public servants. If the latter - as is true with most organizations - they still have to guard the solutions living in the cloud to ensure portability.

OpenSaaS lets them do that. It enables organizations to focus on their core competencies, without sacrificing control over the web experiences that propel their business.

OpenSaas is about freedom, as in speech - or, as they say in French, "libre." It means the option to leave has to be more valuable than actually leaving - services have to deliver tangible value and exceed customer expectations. For business buyers, OpenSaaS means they can obtain business value from the software delivered as a cloud service, while retaining the control they'd get from running software themselves - but without investing in the hardware, resources and overhead that comes with managing a data center.

OpenSaaS means you can have all the benefits of a SaaS solution without having to make big tradeoffs around flexibility and futureproofing.

More Stories By Bryan House

Bryan House is VP of Product Marketing at Acquia. He came to Acquia from EMC, where he managed product and outbound marketing for Documentum’s knowledge worker business. Prior to EMC, he worked in product marketing and product management in the social business and collaboration technology space, after brewing beer professionally for seven years. Bryan is an ardent Red Sox fan and earned his MBA at Harvard Business School.

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