10 things software vendors should consider when going SaaS

Choosing the best cloud platform for your application requires you to evaluate a long list of provider capabilities. Here's what to look for -- including uptime, security, performance, scalability, and management features.

Beyond the business challenges of serving customers in new ways online, independent software vendors (ISVs) planning to take their applications online must make critical architectural and platform choices to ensure they deliver the best customer experience possible. Consider these 10 things before you make the move.

1: How much do you really need to rebuild?

Must you rewrite your application to achieve a multi-tenancy application layer -- a costly undertaking -- or are there easier and less expensive ways to achieve multi-tenancy in the cloud?

2: What kind of uptime and disaster recovery do your end customers need?

Many cloud environments are built for economy and scale but as we've seen recently, they lack the fault tolerance and redundancy to enable you to pass an enterprise level SLA to your customers. Make sure that your cloud platform is built for the enterprise -- five 9s availability SLAs should cover not only servers but also network and storage (all the layers to power the full environment). In addition, when outages happen, ensure that the mean time to recovery track record is strong. How fast the cloud can recover is key.

3: How can you keep your customer data secure?

Your customers expect you to protect their business data with the same level of security and compliance you would offer on premise. Be sure that your cloud platform is SAS 70 Type II-audited and HIPAA and PCI compliant and that your provider offers dedicated, custom staffing based on your requirements and security policies.

4: What application performance do you need?

If you have a high performance or database intensive application, look for a cloud platform with performance that's comparable to or better than on-premise SANs. Don't settle for 20 percent less. Ensure that your solution can handle unplanned spikes and operational loads intelligently -- and better yet, can do so predictively.

5: How will you support growth?

As you grow your customer base, can your infrastructure quickly and easily grow with you? Your provider should offer deployable, optimized business environments that can be tailored to fit your needs within hours, not weeks or days. Look for both automation and best practices for quickly setting up and scaling infrastructure services as you bring on new customers.

6: Can you achieve the level of transparency and control you want?

With the right provider, you can retain full control. An easy-to-use management portal should offer complete control of servers, configurations, policies, performance analysis, billing, and more. Or choose an API for a transparent interface to your own management software. Automatic monitoring and reports should keep you apprised of process, memory, disk, and network performance, as well as support events, ticketing, hourly costs, and predicted monthly costs.

7: How will you manage billing or allocate your cloud costs to your customers?

Utility-based pricing can allow you to allocate costs back to customers based on their actual consumption -- a real benefit to them -- but only if your platform provider gives you the tools to manage it. Look for a platform that lets you manage your multiple customer accounts as hierarchical sub-accounts to your master account. You get one bottom line view and the ability to know and allocate your true COGs by customer.

8: Does your provider have expert help on call?

Do you need assistance evaluating how to architect your software and systems for the cloud, managing the move to a truly virtual datacenter, and preparing your customers for the transition? Be sure you choose a provider with staff that understands architecting strategies and can help you fully realize the capabilities of a cloud environment.

9: Will your cloud implementation reduce your total cost of ownership?

When calculating TCO of private cloud or even IaaS, companies often fail to consider real costs -- expensive expert staff, access to cutting edge intelligence and virtualization technologies, and disaster recovery. Your cloud provider should include all of the above in its service -- and your TCO reduction should still be 30 percent or more.

10. Why stop at your customer-facing app?

Consider where else the cloud can enhance your business agility. With an enterprise cloud, you can operationally offload your productivity infrastructure, such as Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint Server, and Lync in the cloud, run your back office business and financial applications in the cloud, or gain access to on-demand labs for application development, proof of concept, and pilots -- all with the same level of performance, availability, security, and compliance you've come to expect from your in-house systems.

Jared Wray is chief technology officer of Tier 3 and the architect of the company's enterprise cloud platform.