There’s a new AAS (as a service) in town. What, another acronym service? Why another acronym service? Actually, it’s Website as a Service (WaaS). Is this some new Elon Musk created future tech?
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The truth is much much less exciting. It’s an acronym wrapped around stuff that we’ve been using for decades. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to understand the “as-a-service” space.
I’m going to lean on, of course, Wikipedia, as well as this great post at Process Street, The Needlessly Complex History of SaaS, Simplified: “In today’s world, the majority of businesses and consumers use software-as-a-service (SaaS). If you define SaaS [as] an application that can be accessed through a web browser and is managed and hosted by a third-party, then Facebook, Snapchat, Google — and many things that most people would just call ‘websites’ — are SaaS products.” And from Wikipedia (look at all those “aaS”s in the second paragraph!):
Software as a service (SaaS /sæs/) is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. It is sometimes referred to as “on-demand software”, and was formerly referred to as “software plus services” by Microsoft. SaaS applications are also known as on-demand software and Web-based/Web-hosted software.
SaaS is considered to be part of cloud computing, along with infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), desktop as a service (DaaS), managed software as a service (MSaaS), mobile backend as a service (MBaaS), datacenter as a service (DCaaS), and information technology management as a service (ITMaaS).
SaaS apps are typically accessed by users using a thin client, e.g. via a web browser. SaaS has become a common delivery model for many business applications, including office software, messaging software, payroll processing software, DBMS software, management software, CAD software, development software, gamification, virtualization, accounting, collaboration, customer relationship management (CRM), management information systems (MIS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), invoicing, field service management, human resource management (HRM), talent acquisition, learning management systems, content management (CM), geographic information systems (GIS), and service desk management.
I love that the Process Street post goes into time-sharing as really the beginning of what we see today. I could not agree more that the business model was forged at this point, you’re renting resources for some benefit. Exactly what we see in today’s web applications, just that your not only taking advantage of computing power, you’re also getting a complete software program that provides value.
There’s some talk about the bits and pieces over 30 years that go into what we know as SaaS. I’d actually like to say that the modern PC from the late 1970s through mid 1990s was actually a big speed bump in the evolution of SaaS. Certainly PC’s became a requisite portion by becoming the new “client” in the client-server relationship, but for 20 years we became very dependent on installing from floppies. I’m going to lay this more on the lap of infrastructure (i.e. the internet) not being a common medium, but I think there was also a bit of business inertia and lack of critical thinking that stymied adoption. I mean, even in the 1980s people were upload and downloading software via bulletin board systems (BBS) so it wasn’t that SaaS couldn’t be possible to some degree, albeit probably text only.
Birth of SaaS
It really take the internet revolution to get the idea of SaaS (even if not named at the time) to occur. In fact I would go so far as saying that the day the internet was born, SaaS was born. Think about it. There were chat tools, and command line applications that would return data from a server that wasn’t local. Gopher was hugely popular way for a minority of the human population to browse content.
Tim Berners-Lee made this much easier on December 20, 1990. From that point, the initially slow, migration to a SaaS world began. I have to disagree with Process Street being the first SaaS. Search engines like Alta Vista, then of course Google, predate Salesforce. I have absolutely no problem calling Amazon a SaaS (SSaaS? Shopping Software as a Service?). I think very few things on the internet today can be regarding as anything but a SaaS.
So now we have Website as a Service (WaaS) as the buzzword du jour. I think this is just the latest in a list of AAS that tries to create a niche where none is really there. Very few of us are building or running websites on our own computers with software we’ve installed and hosted in our closets behind coats. I know I know, there are die hards, just like people who like changing the oil on there non-electric cars, but that’s not most of us.
WaaS has been here for decades. Someone builds a site, someone hosts it, and someone maintains the whole stack. I have not self hosted and fully maintained the stack for ANY site in at least 15 years. Hosting was the first component of the WaaS stack, then the agencies to put the pieces together (and likely to maintain), and software was pre-developed (i.e. WordPress, Joomla, Drupal). Heck, we even had the likes of GeoCities that provided this stack.
The way I see agencies and WordPress developers talking about WaaS is interesting. I read it as the actual agency becomes the stack. This is very much in comparison to what I would initially think of as a WaaS … Wix, Squarespace, etc. So an agency or company provides a similar experience to Wix or Squarespace but with possibly more variables behind the scenes.
Really the “new” WaaS could be using any platform, of course WordPress being most likely, any host from something like Cloudways, to Convesio, to WP Engine, and tools and/or services like GoDaddy Pro, GoWP, in conjunction with discreet tools like iThemes and a million other plugins.
What I really think WaaS is today, is the ability to simplify the website “purchasing” process and monetizing on a monthly recurring basis. A lot of word to get here but ultimately WaaS is something we are all used to (or even expecting) today. The acronym is fun for the moment but I think will disappear very quickly as expectations for everyone will be that “that’s how websites work.”