SaaS: A Double-Edged Sword

SaaS (Software-as-a-Service, Cloud Services, etc.) are a fact of life for most people and companies. If you are using Gmail, or YouTube, or Campfire, or Basecamp, or GitHub … you are using software housed on someone else’s servers.


This is wonderful on many levels. You don’t have to worry about the software, they’ve taken care of that for you. You can access the software from any relatively modern internet-connected computer from almost anywhere in the world. Your information is store, backed-up (hopefully), and watched-over by someone else on their own time.

These are all very cool things.

However, the power of SaaS cuts both ways, and recently that has been made abundantly clear by Google Apps for Education.

Google made the new compose feature the default about 3 weeks ago, and it has been rocky for some people. While a relatively minor change overall, it is still a change which affects how many people use email every single day. It had been there, of course, for a very long time as an option for people to try out, but they flipped the switch and no-one was able to stop them.

Google Apps also had a major outage this morning, with their Control Panel along with many services being down for about a half-hour this morning. This has happened in the past a number of times as well.

While it is nice to be able to tell people “it is a Google outage, nothing we can do about it”, it still stinks when that is the ONLY thing you can tell them.

The worst part is the loss of control. You can’t “wait” on features: they get rolled out constantly and sometimes, more often than I wish, they can break something in a really strange way.

As an example, Gmail recently would flash onscreen and then it would just go white. Every other webpage I tried would work, but Gmail just would not work. Came in the next morning and *poof* it was working correctly.


You are at the whim of your service provider, and that can be a little frightening when you are a small private college because you have no clout at all. When Google drops support for versions of Internet Explorer, you now have to carve out time to make sure everyone has access to their email by updating browsers or even whole operating systems so that they can have an updated version of Internet Explorer.

That might have been something that could have waited until the next hardware update, but not anymore. Email is too important.

SaaS is wonderful and it is not going away, but native applications with version numbers can be nice as well. The amount of control you have can be a real asset.

Remember that ceding control to someone else is just that, handing over control of some portion of your technological destiny. As long as you are aware of that, it can be very beneficial.

However, that blade cuts both ways. Watch out.

2 replies on “SaaS: A Double-Edged Sword”

I think that so many people put to much stock in control. I know that when I worked in house our email server had a ‘hiccup’ almost weekly. I’ve never even noticed almost all of the Google Apps outages, and I didn’t have to burn time trying to talk to IT or my web host to find out what was up. Have a coffee, get some other work done and come back to my email later.

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