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Software as a Service applications are loved by both software providers and users. For providers, it’s an efficient way of monetization while users benefit from extensive functionality and ease of use. The popularity and high demand for SaaS are the reasons why more and more software development companies started developing their own SaaS products.
However, the development of a SaaS app has its own pitfalls that must be considered. Otherwise, the app will not bring the intended profit and value.
A quick intro: what exactly is SaaS and why is it so popular?
Software as a Service is a form of software when users receive a completely ready-made product that does not require installation or download. All the users have to do is pay for its use and that’s it. Hosting, upgrading, debugging, and other issues are all handled by the provider. And if you need real-life examples, think of MailChimp, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft, Shopify, Salesforce.
So what makes SaaS so popular? Here are the biggest advantages of this software model:
- Low expenses for the users. When purchasing a SaaS app, customers pay only for the subscription, while the provider takes full care of maintenance, hosting, licensing, and upgrading. The customer does not even have to install the product and can freely manage the subscription (i.e. cancel it if needed) which is a really big benefit. As for the providers, they develop one solution for multiple users instead of developing multiple products in accordance with unique user requirements.
- Cloud storage. SaaS applications are usually stored in cloud which ensures security and efficient data management.
- Regular updates and maintenance. Users do not have to worry about updating their apps as providers roll out all the necessary updates on a regular basis. The updates are also available for all the users and on all devices.
- Limited access to source code. While users can customize their app to a certain extent (i.e. change the layout), they cannot access the source code. This, in turn, minimizes the risks of hacker attacks and fraud.
These benefits combined with relative ease of development make SaaS applications an attractive target for software development companies. However, SaaS development process has certain pitfalls that must be considered in order to build a high-performing and valuable product.
When speaking of SaaS, most developers immediately think of multi-tenant architecture and there is a reason for that. Because SaaS apps have a big number of users, all of them need their data to be stored securely and (preferably) in isolation. Multi-tenant architecture is the perfect solution for that.
The multi-tenant approach means that a single instance of software serves multiple tenants aka customers. With such architecture, each tenant is isolated and that contributes to better data security.
The biggest advantages of multi-tenant architecture are scalability, cost efficiency, and pay-for-what-you-need pricing model. Even though multi-tenant apps may not be so flexible as single-tenant apps and multi-tenancy architecture calls for stricter authentication, it still remains the number one choice for the SaaS app development. However, there are several ways to build a multi-tenant architecture. The preferred option will depend on the team’s skills, security requirements, app type, and complexity, etc.:
- Each tenant has an isolated infrastructure and a separate database. This approach ensures easy coding, does not provide high scalability and comes with high costs but shortest time-to-market.
- Each tenant has a separate database but the infrastructure layer is shared between the tenants while the application layer is not. Similar to the method above in terms of perks.
- Each tenant has a separate database and both application and infrastructure layers are shared between the tenants. Despite longer time to market and harder coding, this method implies high scalability and lower costs.
- All layers are shared. The highest scalability and the lowest costs come at the price of the most complex coding here.
Thus, when you start planning the development of your SaaS application, one of the first things to decide on would be the type of multi-tenant architecture.
As we already mentioned, users of SaaS applications cannot access the source code but they can customize the app to a certain extent. Therefore, when developing such an app, the developers need to consider the user groups and define the possible needs of the users in terms of personalization.
However, do not go over the top in terms of the app’s personalization. Remember that the primary goal is not to provide a custom solution for each client but a universal application for all the possible users.
Considering the average number of tenants of a SaaS application, it’s easy to imagine the amount of sensitive data that is stored and processed within such an app. Therefore, another key consideration for the developers would be data security. Here is what the development team can do to enhance the app’s security:
- Different user roles and corresponding access levels,
- Data encryption,
- Limitations to APIs data handling capacity,
- Backup of sensitive data with the help of encryption,
- Regular security testing.
Scalability is a signature feature of any SaaS application and can be divided into application scalability and database scalability. Let’s see the application scalability first. It can be achieved either through switching to a bigger server or by attaching additional servers to the application. In case you choose the latter option, consider the points below.
It is recommended that your application should be stateless. That means that the client’s data is stored on a user’s device and is passed to the server upon request. In this way, you can easily connect your app to another via the APIs, scale it out and redeploy if needed. As well, it is recommended to set up asynchronous input and output so the task completion will be more efficient.
Database scalability and performance
SaaS application will inevitably experience the data growth which, in turn, might affect the app’s performance. Therefore, when designing SaaS applications, developers should keep in mind the database scalability.
Some of the most common practices for database optimization are data partitioning and regular upgrades. As well, it’s a good idea to use the Application Management Tools so you are always timely updated about any upcoming or existing issues that need to be addressed.
Integration with third-party services
One of the most common requirements for SaaS applications is the ability to integrate them with third-party services. For that, you need to have a set of standard APIs so your app can seamlessly connect with the required services.
However, some of the industry experts state that a good SaaS product is not the one that just integrates with other services but the one that attracts other developers and users to come and experience it. Therefore, when thinking about the integration of your app with other services, consider the following:
- Provide real value both to the users and third-party developers
- Provide seamless development experience in terms of onboarding, deployment, etc.
- Provide a reliable technical environment
- Make sure the platform is easy to use
- Have a good marketing and sales mechanism in order to attract new customers
When creating a SaaS application, it is important to think about both the platform users and your potential collaborators. If you design with innovation and value in mind, you will attract platform users, third-party developers, and partners in no time. Therefore, invest time and effort into careful strategic planning and business plan development to ensure your product will fill the right market niche.