Flash forward to SaaS success

The attraction of SaaS model companies is their inherent ability to scale to meet customer demand. Across markets and geographies, modern SaaS business are building highly scalable software delivery infrastructure that delivers high levels of service and maintains cost efficiency over time. To meet these requirements, SaaS providers are looking for smarter storage solutions to serve as the foundation of their application stack. Pure Storage VP EMEA James Petter discusses the perfect match that is flash and SaaS, and why this complementary dynamic is only going to improve in the coming years as the SaaS market matures.

1. What, for you, are the key drivers behind the explosion in SaaS adoption in recent years?

The explosion in SaaS adoption is really a response to evolving customer demands. The need for ever-greater agility and efficiency has driven massive growth in the SaaS industry. Meanwhile, customer expectations for the tools and services SaaS providers offer are at an all-time high. To meet these demands, companies that implement SaaS to support mission-critical business functions are reliant on the performance, uptime and capabilities of the underlying data platform on which the application is run.

Customers want speed, they want agility, and they don’t want to pay hefty upfront costs for something that may be outdated quickly. Legacy approaches to service delivery are clearly outmoded in this regard. Modern businesses are looking to build platforms that reach new customers and industries with improved service level agreements (SLAs) and faster time to market, as well as significantly reduce operational expense. The SaaS deliver model allows providers to meet and exceed these SLAs and differentiate themselves in the market. This in turn enables them to scale their business capabilities efficiently as their business grows and reduce customer churn.

2. Previously, flash and SaaS were the preserve of large organisations. Now it’s been adopted by businesses of all sizes and industries. What do you see as the driver for this change?

I think it really comes down to cost and agility. The combination of flash and SaaS produces best-in-class performance and allows SaaS providers to commit to SLAs that beat the competition, with confidence.

In today’s terabyte age, advance service levels are required by businesses of all sizes and industries, and not just large organisations. Rapid-growth SaaS companies are dependent on high levels of performance to keep up with scale and demand. Cost was always the Achilles heel of flash solutions, but as costs have fallen dramatically it really has become the natural choice for businesses that have the potential for a large and geographically dispersed customer base. 

For SaaS companies, the cost of IT can be significant. Fractional differences in the cost of IT can make a massive difference to the bottom line of a SaaS company. Flash technology improves efficiencies within the data centre to massively reduce power usage and space requirements. This allows SaaS providers to scale without an exponential increase in infrastructure spend. Fundamentally, smarter storage means fewer employees spending less time on storage management, and more on innovation.

3. Do you ever see SaaS replacing legacy software?

The answer to that really comes down to the objectives of the business. Not every product is a Salesforce or a LinkedIn, but to grow to that level of audience and scale data demands you need agility. That agility is best found through a SaaS model. Businesses that fail to adapt will likely be displaced by new entrants that are able to get to market in a faster, more efficient way.

We’ve seen a similar story in the storage industry. For decades the market was reliant on mechanical disks that stayed stagnant over a 20-to-30-year period. The all-flash array storage category was created because there were applications that needed greater performance and greater speed, and flash provides both. The information didn’t change, but the delivery model did. It's evolution, and the market required it. A different way of delivering that product and that information was required.

Look at what Netflix did to Blockbuster – we’ll continue to see that sort of disruption across industries and sectors.

 4. Why are SaaS, flash and cloud so commonly used in conjunction to boost business performance?

The current state of technology has allowed a new breed of business to exist. One that is fast and agile, that can scale up or down depending on requirements, and can be relied upon for fast performance. This type of company needs these three elements to be in union to exist. Without the SaaS model, user growth will stagnate, without flash data will bottleneck, and without cloud it loses the ability to scale on demand. When these three elements combine, the opportunity for growth is boundless. Just look at some of the world’s top SaaS companies and what they’ve achieved in the past decade.

Cloud has been a huge driver of this new paradigm. Take a company like Slack, for instance. It could never have achieved the scale it has without the ability to cope with the data demands of an exponentially increasing user base. The performance requirements of cloud computing environments, however, has led to has led to wider adoption of flash storage to make sure that speed and performance are optimised. This union of flash and cloud is ideal for SaaS businesses. It provides the room for fast and expansive growth, without being prohibitively expensive.

e’re seeing this across our SaaS customers. SnapLogic for example, a self-service application and data integration business, deploys flash storage to deliver a public cloud-like level of simplicity within a private cloud environment, which saves money and allows the IT team to spend time and resources on other strategic parts of the business, such as innovation. This allows them to automate many of the complexities traditionally associated with storage management, and drastically simplifies the resources required to manage its infrastructure.

5. Where do you see the SaaS industry in 5 years’ time?

That’s the billion-dollar question! The industry has undergone major change, and there’s still a lot more to come. SaaS has become a hyper-competitive market, driven by ever-increasing consumer expectations. As the world becomes increasingly more saturated with SaaS, a concurrent and rapid move to all-flash, hybrid cloud environments is also in process – a confluence of two massive trends, with one dramatically enabling the other. As we move further towards SaaS as the preferred model of delivery, and move away from an old technology, we simply won’t go back. It's like the record industry – we may produce a little vinyl, but Internet streaming is the way the next generation expects that medium to be delivered.

6. What are the most important considerations for SaaS businesses when managing data?

It’s really about what you want that data to achieve, and for most businesses that’s increase revenue, advance service levels and increase efficiency. Critical functions, like real-time access to shipment data, orders and demand forecasts, are dependent on the infrastructure SaaS providers use to function at all times. Flash can deliver three key things to SaaS businesses. First, there's the speed of the technology, and the way that you can manage applications, the response rates that you can get. Second, massively improved density. You can put a lot more information onto a flash array that you could on a traditional disk-based system. With that comes improved cost effectiveness, space usage, power consumption and more. The other areas are about manageability. We're now in a world where we want to understand how information is managed, and what meaning you can get out of it. SaaS businesses are no different – being able to move quickly on customer data is fundamental to the business model.

7. As the ‘as a service’ model expands to areas such as infrastructure and platform, what role does flash play in this?

 We’re seeing huge advances in ‘as-a-service’ business models, which provide companies with scalable and consumption-based services supported by analytics, cloud and automation and transform the way they do business. The common thread is the immense volume of data being processed by each of these service delivery models. Flash offers performance, simplicity and reliability, underpinning advances in these areas. I have no doubt that flash will continue to be the storage model of choice for businesses operating such models.

8. What are the main benefits for businesses of adopting a SaaS model?

You look at any of the major SaaS companies right now and the ability to disrupt established markets with a faster, more innovative approach to customer acquisition and delivery is plainly evident. In a global business environment defined by speed and agility, SaaS businesses will continue to excel and disrupt markets previously dominated by incumbents with expensive and cumbersome models of service delivery.

The SaaS model also benefits businesses by allowing providers to develop, test and distribute new features to market more quickly, which accelerates their time to revenue and helps drive increased levels of innovation. Thus produces significant cost advantages that make a massive difference to the bottom line of a SaaS company.

James Petter, VP EMEA, Pure Storage
Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock