The idea of hosting software off-premises is not new. In fact, software as a service (SaaS) is just a rewording of an older term referring to companies providing the service, application service provider (ASP). ASPs were a very popular investment target during the dotcom era, but not much ever came of the business model. Like so many Internet-based startup ideas in this era, most of these companies disappeared.
In fact, the only major exception to this rule was Salesforce.com, which used to refer to itself as an ASP, before the SaaS term became popular. And indeed Salseforce.com is often taken as an example in discussions of the future of BI as a service, or cloud BI.
But why was the ASP wave a failure and why should cloud computing be different? Even the often quoted success of Salesforce.com is far removed from the company’s once loudly trumpeted goal of replacing all the ERP features of SAP and PeopleSoft. Furthermore, do the forces that could make SaaS more successful than ASP also apply to the BI market?
The main argument offered by vendors in favor of cloud BI is that it is less expensive than the more typical on-premises software. The upfront capital costs of hardware contribute to these savings. The other major factor is that the company is not required to operate separate servers for the BI application.
However, both of these savings result from the investment required to own and operate the hardware for BI software. Similar savings can also be realized with strictly in-house approaches such as server virtualization. Furthermore, the use of Web technology has already eliminated one of the key costs of BI initiatives, which is the cost of rolling out the front-ends to large numbers of users.
Another argument is that mobile devices are driving SaaS BI, but as HTML5 spreads, it is hard to see why mobile devices should require a cloud solution.
We a conducting a survey to find out more about BI in the cloud. If you take part you could win an iPad 2.
I'd also be interested to hear any comments on what I have talked about here.