Study: Half of developers plan to work on SaaS in ’09

More than half of all developers worldwide on average are expecting to work on software as a service, or SaaS, applications within the next year, according to a new survey by Evans Data Corporation.

The highest percentage of developers actually working on SaaS projects now is in North America, at 30 percent. Evans Data conducted the survey in late 2008, polling more than 1,300 programmers around the world.

The data is strong evidence that enterprises are widely beginning to believe in the perceived benefits of SaaS over traditional on-premises software, such as lower cost and easier deployment, said Evans Data President and CEO John Andrews.

If anything, the numbers show that SaaS is clearly “not a trend that is going to go away,” Andrews said.

Ben Hoelting, a software developer with Colorado Technology Consultants, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, custom application development shop focusing on the Microsoft .NET platform, said he has a foot in both the Web and on-premises worlds: “For what I do here, I’m definitely a hybrid.”

One application Hoelting maintains involves a pair of Web-site front ends, a system for warehouse workers, and some back-end services.

Overall, “the line between Web developer and Windows developer is starting to blur,” he said.

A major benefit to SaaS applications is the browser-based delivery method, which reduces the need to support multiple operating systems and makes it easier and less expensive for users to work with the programs, Hoelting added.

Meanwhile, large SaaS companies like Salesforce are going beyond selling and developing stand-alone SaaS applications and instead are trying to sell the notion of cloud-based development.

Programmers are beginning to treat various online services as application “meta-components,” said Peter Coffee, director of platform research at Salesforce. For example, programmers might use Salesforce’s Force.com platform as a core user interface and application logic engine, Amazon Web Services as a scalable hosting platform and Google Docs for collaboration tools, he said. Salesforce recently announced partnerships with both vendors.

However, Evans Data’s report found cloud services haven’t had major uptake among developers, with less than 10 percent using them. But more than 25 percent overall and nearly half of Asia-Pacific respondents plan to use them “at some point.”

Cloud and SaaS development may have created additional possibilities, but developers must also acquire new skills and weigh certain considerations, suggested Redmonk analyst Michael Coté.

“Things to pay attention to are: data transformation and access between different data sources and your SaaS application,” he said via instant message. “Then there’s worrying about security. … How do you establish secure network connections across firewalls to your SaaS, but also between SaaSes?”

There are also certain architectural choices to make in building a SaaS application. Some toolsets allow the creation of applications that span the browser and the desktop, taking advantage of client-side computing power.

Developers must decide if they can “move processing down to the desktop and keep [the] SaaS backend weak, or do you need huge power-horses on your SaaS backend that essentially treat every desktop/laptop as a dumb terminal?” he said.

Overarching issues, like customer support, are another consideration, he added.

“If you’re hosting the application yourself, you have a lot more access to diagnose problems in the application. Conversely, users have a lot less access to things like, say, logs,” Coté said. “This could be beneficial—it’s easier to support something like a SaaS application where you ‘own’ the deployment environment—but it can also be problematic: Customers may expect things to be resolved more quickly and delicately.”

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