Web Apps Failure: A Pain in the SaaS - Page 2

By Polly Traylor
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2. The Contract: Focus on Uptime

At the end of the day, you want as few business interruptions as possible. Should you trust the ubiquitous 99.99 percent guarantees for uptime? “What does it mean to offer four 9s of uptime—what time zone are they guaranteeing?” said Greenbaum.

Find out exactly what the vendor means by uptime—such as, whether vendors include routine maintenance as part of its uptime calculations.  Fortunately, SaaS vendors are used to these negotiations, so there should be few if any surprises for a well-established partner.

"There are a lot of security and reliability discussions in contracts, but I rarely see it holding up deployments," said Wetteman.

3. Include Clauses for Downtime and Losses

Wetteman advises doing an ROI calculation about the cost of a security breach and/or data loss, and sharing that with your vendor:  "We don't see any vendors writing compensation into contracts, but make sure that the vendor sees what your loss could be," she said.  "A lot of this is about peace of mind.  Allow the vendor to make any extra assurances for you [based on your risk]."

Chen, however, said that companies should include clauses requiring credits or some form of financial payout for downtime or data loss.  And, he suggested, make sure that you, not the vendor, retains ownership of the data at all times.  "If [something] happens, you are going to pay the price with customers, not the vendor."

4. Ensure Offline Access

Outages are bound to happen on the Web, and your company will need a backup plan so that employees can keep mission-critical work going and still service customers.  "You have to make sure there is access to some functionality and data offline," Greenbaum said.  "A warehouse management firm I know has a system to capture externally-stored data into on premise system.”

Added Chen: "Offline access is something a lot of customers ask for, not just for downtime but if you're somewhere without network access such as an airplane."  See what your vendor offers and how much of this offline capability they can handle for you.

5. Require a Communications Process for Bad News

When suddenly you can't access an application or its data, there's nothing more aggravating than being left in the dark.  "Vendors really need to be proactive about providing information," Wetteman said.  "Before you buy a service, ask what happens if the vendor's data center goes down, and how you can extract data from the vendor if needed." Ideally, said Chen, the vendor will have a portal to communicate status updates to their clients immediately.

6. Test it First

One of the advantages SaaS offers is the flexibility to quickly adopt a new application but still have an easy exit if everyone hates it.  Many vendors will even offer a free trial with no commitment, said Laurie McCabe. “Kick the tires and take it for a test drive,” she suggested. If your vendor doesn't offer a free trial, perhaps they could give you a month-to-month service agreement for a period of time. 

There's another advantage here: if reliability and performance do become an issue, dump the vendor and do some more shopping. After all, for now anyway, it’s a buyer’s market for on-demand applications.

Polly Schneider Traylor is a freelance business and technology writer based in San Mateo, California.

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This article was originally published on September 23, 2008
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