Migrating your software to SaaS

And Everything that Comes With it.

Companies have been migrating their standalone offerings to SaaS offerings for the past decade. The advantages of a SaaS model are undisputed: The financial stability of a subscription model can even out the company’s cash flow. The centralization of code transforms the 3-4 week ‘upgrade’ cycle into a one day deploy. The lack of unknown physical variables enables support to be faster and easier. However, the switch requires a tip-to-tail company shift that many underestimate.

Our team recently finished a large-scale migration for Hero (formerly known as PlascoTrac). Hero has custom installs at schools across the country, but wanted to centralize all of the data to better scale with the customer demand. The process took several months of heavy collaboration between several different teams, vendors and stakeholders, and it went off (nearly) without a hitch. Here are a few of the insights we learned throughout the process that you should take into account if you’re thinking about moving your product to the cloud.

#1 – Ask the right questions before you switch:

Before making the jump, many hard questions needed to be answered. Here are just a few to consider:

  1. Can all of the individual customizations be rolled into one single offering? If they can’t, can the company culture handle saying no or saying that the feature might not make it into the product for several months?
  2. Can the current support team handle the transition and support the new environments? This is a major consideration as the skillsets for a SaaS product are drastically different than standalone offerings.
  3. Will current clients allow their data to be exposed to the world? Although many cloud infrastructures offer better security than internal networks, some companies simply won’t allow their data to be housed anywhere they don’t directly control.

#2 – Take a second and then a third look at security:

It is important to understand that SaaS security has many different facets that your current IT department might not be trained in. And outside of skill, employees must adapt to the speed at which security holes must be fixed in a SaaS environment. The recent HeartBleed vulnerability is a perfect example of the headaches that come with the SaaS territory.

Another area that is often overlooked when migrating and merging hundreds of clients into a single platform is shared data. While security may be tight getting in, it is important to ensure that individual data isn’t accessible or vulnerable to other users with access to the system.

#3 – Don’t underestimate infrastructure:

A reliable, scaleable solution on AWS (or any other business class provider) is not cheap nor is it easy to run and maintain. A typical setup, for example, entails a load balancer, two application servers, two database servers and a file server. Add to that a beta and development environment and you are looking at 10+ servers plus a few additional services just to get off the ground.

The cost of running and maintaining this type of infrastructure needs to be accounted for in your new pricing model.

#4 – Plan for the worst and break it before someone else does:

Even the best infrastructure will fail. And with double digit servers running your business, expect and plan for all of them to fail often. Netflix pioneered this idea with its Chaos Monkey, a tool used to randomly disrupt services in its own network. Now you don’t have to go that far, but shutting down a live server and bringing a new one online should be a bi-weekly routine for your staff. Besides just bringing up and down servers, it is important to have alternative servers at the ready that you can point to during an upgrade or major outage.

Overall, the switch to a SaaS model is well worth the effort and the benefits greatly outweigh the time and effort required to make the change. If you are looking to move your software to SaaS, give us a call, we are happy to talk more about it, and even just share our experience with you. If you have taken the jump and have some additional tips to share, please comment away.

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