Monday, April 22, 2013

When The SaaS Ship Sinks

I, like many others, received a letter from OfficeDrop, telling it’s customers they were closing the doors on the company.  To it’s customers, this means an eventual shutdown of their web software as a service (SaaS).  OfficeDrop is a cloud SaaS company that allows it’s customers to upload PDF documents (normally scanned documents) and then search for them after they are indexed on the OfficeDrop cloud servers.  The OfficeDrop service also allows it’s customers to send them the physical documents and then scans them as a service.  

The OfficeDrop closure is a good example of one of the risks of moving to cloud computing and SaaS in particular.  If you ran the service locally, the vendor may go out of business but it doesn’t normally translate to a secession of that capability but it still means that you’ll never see another update.  If a company stops offering their service, what will you do?  My suggestion is that when you evaluate a SaaS solution, first evaluate the level of risk.  If the service handles a non-critical area of your business, and the loss of the service would have low impact, chances are you aren’t going to spend a lot of time researching the company and evaluating business continuity impacts.  If it’s a higher impact to your business, you’ll need to evaluate multiple aspects of the service provider as it pertains to this particular scenario.  This should be documented and reviewed at least annually as a company enterprise architecture standard.  For this scenario, these are some of the things that I would recommend be evaluated.
  • How easy is it to switch to another service?
    • Are there APIs or other ways to retrieve your data in a format that is transferrable?
    • Can the data be exported or reproduced another way that allows high enough information fidelity to transfer it?
    • Are there costs to export your data?  You should include consulting and other services that might be needed.
  • Where is your data stored so that you can gain access to it in case of a catastrophic failure?

I decided not to use OfficeDrop so I use another vendor.  My recovery in this situation is to maintain my own copy of the data that I upload and feed that into my local backup processes.  I happen to know that the software that OfficeDrop gave to it’s customers allows them to do exactly that (it allows storing a local copy of a scanned document).  If their customers didn’t think about this they may have never turned on this feature.  Although I can tag content that is uploaded, and put them in various folders, the real value to me is that I can access the data from any web connected device using pure search.  I’m willing to lose the work that I spent tagging my content, therefore,  I don’t have to think about how I would extract my content in a high fidelity manor.  This is a very simplistic example, but I think you get the idea.  

Obviously, loss of service due to a company completely getting out of the business is just one of the many scenarios.  Take a look at “Challenges and Risks of Implementing Cloud Computing”) to see what I mean.  


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