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Why Building SaaS is Challenging

Building software as a service (SaaS) in today's cloud environment can be likened to writing an application for an operating system (OS). Just as developers don't concern themselves with the intricacies of CPU scheduling or memory management when writing applications for Windows or Linux, similar abstractions are needed in the cloud. Let's delve into why this is the case:

When writing for an OS, developers enjoy several abstractions:

  • CPU scheduling: The OS takes charge of creating, scheduling, and terminating processes. This facilitates multitasking, enabling concurrent execution of multiple processes.
  • Security: Enforced by the OS, this involves access controls, user authentication, and permission systems to shield data and resources from unauthorized access and malicious intent.
  • Resource Management: The OS oversees the allocation of vital computer resources like the CPU, memory, storage, and peripherals, ensuring they are distributed efficiently and fairly among various processes and applications.
  • Memory Management: This is all about the allocation and freeing up of memory spaces for processes, including managing virtual memory, which lets processes utilize more memory than is physically present.
  • Device Drivers: The OS contains protocols for communicating with hardware devices such as printers and network cards. These device drivers ease the interaction between hardware and software.
  • Portability: The OS ensures that software applications can run on a myriad of hardware configurations, fostering software adaptability.
  • User Interface: Be it GUI or command line, the OS provides interfaces that enable users to interact with computer systems, manage files, and execute applications. And the list goes on.

Unfortunately, analogous abstractions in the cloud are largely missing or too rudimentary. As a result, building and maintaining services on cloud platforms often requires significant engineering effort. Here are some pressing challenges:

  • Fully Automated Deployments: Deploying infrastructure is a pain. We came a long way over the years but all the tools so far took a tool-assisted approach and required you to write your IaC using these tools. That might be okay for simple, one-time deployment applications but if you have to do repeated deployments or managing custom deployments per customer, it can be very challenging to build and maintain. We need a fully automated solution that can abstract all this complexity by simply taking a specification and seamlessly work across clouds.
  • Security: Essential security controls like authentication, Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), auditing, encryption, and network segmentation are paramount to fend off unauthorized access and potential threats.
  • Serverless Abstraction: Echoing the OS's automatic resource management, the cloud should offer services that expand or contract based on demand. For instance, a PostgreSQL service should scale up or down according to need, even scaling down to zero when idle.
  • Reliability: The cloud environment is not immune to failures. Robust mechanisms to rebound from diverse infrastructure mishaps are crucial.
  • SaaS Integrations: Analogous to device drivers, integration with logging, metrics, alerting tools, and more is essential. An automated integration layer would be highly beneficial.
  • Portability: Transitioning between different cloud regions requires setting up, testing, and maintaining the entire tech stack. Shifting between cloud providers demands even more effort, often involving an entire rebuild.
  • User Interface: A coherent and intuitive interface is needed to operate on top of cloud platforms and engage with them.

In many ways, what's needed is akin to an operating system tailored for the cloud. Such a system would provide the needed abstractions, mimicking the behavior of a single node. This would allow developers to smoothly shift their technology from desktop environments to the cloud as SaaS, preserving a familiar interface while maximizing the scalability benefits the cloud offers.