How to Find the Best SaaS Hosting Partner for Your SaaS App
In retrospect, the rise of software as a service (SaaS) was inevitable. Sending floppy disks and CDs and DVDs, rather than bits, was a nightmare. Supporting individual installations of downloadable bits was better, but still a customer service nightmare (what version?). With a single version to maintain, life got easier for software companies. But there are still nightmares to be had. Infrastructure is a complex problem, with hardware, software, networking, and security all competing for time & attention. And that lead to the rise of SaaS hosting companies that provide managed infrastructure for SaaS companies. So there arises an additional challenge: finding the best SaaS hosting provider for your SaaS app. As one of those potential technology providers, we wanted to share some ideas to help you when you ‘re shopping, to save you time, improve your outcome, and give you some peace of mind.
Identify Your SaaS App Needs
Your SaaS cloud journey starts with understanding what you have today. Obviously you’ll want to document your technology stack, including areas like servers, configurations, databases, platforms, external APIs, and dependencies. If you’re operating in on-premises or in a data center, you’ll want to initiate some background reading on cloud computing. Consider what your staffing requirements might be in a “new world” — do you have expertise and available resources to manage the setup, migration, and operation? That will impact both your external and internal budgets, which reveals another area to explore. What are you spending on IT resources in the status quo?
DIY vs. Managed
As outlined in identifying your needs, there’s a gap analysis at hand. If you don’t have adequate internal resources (manpower, know-how), doing it yourself is probably not advisable (the cloud isn’t the same…). You can pay for the steep learning curve with DIY, or you can outsource to a cloud provider who understands SaaS. Managed Cloud Service Providers (MSPs) are available worldwide — a search away, followed by some due diligence. More on that shortly.
Not all technology stacks play nicely in the cloud, so you’ll want to make sure you’re not tackling something impractical. That is, an aging monolith app in the cloud could really underwhelm and underperform. Factor in future requirements, such exciting ideas as FaaS and serverless computing, as well.
When you reach out to MSPs, you’ll want to determine if they understand (and preferably have experience with) your tech stack. You absolutely want to verify their cloud pedigree. Have they worked on SaaS before (preferably migrations and building cloud native apps)? Do they really understand and build infrastructure as a service (IaaS)?
Like to Like
In our experience, you want to work with firms that provide similar great service to firms like you. Large vendors chew up and spit out small clients. In many cases, you sign up, but you get minimal service because you’re not important enough. Small vendors can be challenged working with big clients. For example, a small vendor may not have adequate security expertise to manage a complex environment. Avoid getting the bait & switch, where a slick salesperson talks about how great the service will be, and then hands you off to a recent college grad (with no real-world experience) to oversee your cloud migration.
Cloud migration is a multi-step process, so ask potential technology partners what their roadmap is. During your cloud onboarding, you’ll have to tackle issues with databases, applications, security, compliance, training, and post-onboarding plans. Understanding the migration plan is essential prior to beginning any engagement. We recommend checking out our downloadable cloud migration checklist to start your plan.
What happens on Day Two? Once you go live, what are the terms of engagement? Is there an SLA? Is there a warranty period? Is there enough expertise available to respond quickly to hiccups? Are there additional costs? Know what your role and responsibilities are, and what the vendor’s are.
Reputation matters. Look for references — a reputable vendor will have testimonials readily available, but search deeper. Look at sites with external reviews, if possible, to find any unsolicited reviews (take ’em with a grain of salt, though – sometimes a relationship sours for good reason). Cast aside outliers. A key criteria in references is someone like you: company size, industry, platform, experience.
We mentioned fees as part of budget & support, but look for special charges in agreements. In the cloud, you can stumble into exorbitant bills if you’re not paying attention. Pushing a lot of data around? Cloud usage is metered. You need to know what the expected and actual expenses, and monitor them regularly.
Ready to Scale
When you deliver SaaS in the cloud, your aim is growth. Repeatable processes are mandatory, and an elastic, agile cloud platform enables managing sustainable growth. Your MSP should know the difference between elasticity and scalability (ahem), at a minimum. Build optimally…scale up to meet demand and scale down to manage costs.
The three most important provisions of any agreement are term, termination, and money. What is the minimum term of your engagement? Migrating your SaaS application to the cloud is a long-term strategy. You won’t be moving in 6 weeks. It’s at least a year – what happens at the end of the term? What if the vendor underperforms? What is the termination provision? It’s a hassle to switch, so make sure you have a pathway out if things get wobbly. On AWS, for example, you’ll want a way to maintain your own account — you should own your console (they manage, you own).
How to Find the Best SaaS Hosting Provider for Your SaaS App
Not all SaaS hosting providers are created equal, and not all are capable of solving your infrastructure challenges. Like your SaaS application, you’ll be best served by someone who fits your company profile, by size, technology competency, and budget. Having a foundational understanding of the process will help you. Knowing your own limits and capabilities is essential. Carefully considering how your agreement is structured for a long-term relationship is wise. In the end, being able to find the best SaaS hosting provider for your SaaS app is about looking at all these areas before signing a contract. Your development team, customer service staff, and company management will thank you.