Using Infrastructure as a Service for your SaaS application

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has come a long way and I believe some of these services are now equipped with the tools and features needed to be the platform for delivering Software as a Service (SaaS) applications.  I used the recent announcement of Amazon’s additional premium service level as an excuse to review the tools that they provide for managing delivery of an application.

First, for problem resolution, they now have 4 levels of premium support.  The primary differences across the levels are the response time ranging from 12 hours to 15 minutes, the number of people who can contact them for support, and how quickly access can be given to technical and account specialists.  This range of support allows tuning the support model of the underlying IaaS service to the application level support a provider is giving for their SaaS application.  15 minute response time for an infrastructure problem is a very good level of responsiveness and is sufficient for most any SaaS application.

Second, for monitoring and proactively looking for potential problems, they have the Cloudwatch option.   The basic monitoring provides for 5 minute intervals for monitoring the computing, storage and database instances in use.  For an additional fee monitoring intervals can be brought to 1 minute levels and both levels have substantial alarm capability.  This monitoring frequency and coverage gives excellent coverage to anticipate and resolve potential future problems.

Third, the autoscaling feature is useful in resolving the most typical kind of performance problem, lack of capacity for some period of time.  This automatic feature, both increases and decreases assigned capacity as needed and sends out the appropriate kinds of operational alarms when it occurs.

Finally, now that AWS has achieved PCI Level 1 compliance, security is strong enough for any but the most security demanding SaaS applications.

Although I still have concerns about very large database performance in a SaaS application using RDS, I believe that with all of these features and ability to manage the features that AWS can provide a strong IaaS platform for most SaaS applications.

There are many IaaS services available and Amazon is by no means the only high quality service.  You should look for the one that has the features you need now and in the foreseeable future at the right price point for your business.  If you are starting a new SaaS service or making significant infrastructure upgrades to your current service looking at an IaaS makes a lot of sense.

When you are looking at a potential IaaS for your SaaS application what should you look for?  The areas below are key.

  • Security certifications such as ISO 27001 and PCI compliance – even if you’re not certifying your application these certifications provide a baseline kind of capability you can rely on.
  • Tools to be able to tell what is happening on a regular basis with the infrastructure including automatic notifications and auto provisioning of additional resources.
  • Tools and response times that allow quick response to any problems which occur.

Remember it is not just the features and capabilities that are available but it is how easy it is to use these features and capabilities when service delivery challenges inevitably occur.  Remember, the middle of the weekend when you’re dealing with a customer issue, is not the time to discover the tools aren’t what you thought they were.


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