Technology Focus Part 1 To Host or Not To Host?
By Ernie Schell
What is "software?" The easy answer is a computer program designed to execute one or more specified functions. But in 2006, the reality is that there is no easy answer.
Over the past five years, there's been a revolution in the so-called "software as a service" (SaaS) arena. This is something of a throwback to the 1970s and before, when a centralized mainframe served selected views of software programs to a user's "dumb terminal." The terminals were "dumb" because they did no computing. You entered data into the interface and the mainframe did the computing, sending the results back to your terminal.
These days, your dumb terminal is a Web browser. Virtually everything you do on the Web behaves the same way as a dumb terminal (with exceptions such as cookie management that make use of your computer to streamline the experience). The "program" you're interacting with is on one or more servers over which you usually have no direct control other than through the interface that the program presents to you.
And with service-oriented architecture (SOA), the view you see may differ from the view anyone else sees, depending on your needs and permissions and past history of interactions — although virtually any program can include this kind of variation.
So what does this have to do with managing your e-commerce business? Plenty! Many say the days are numbered for the traditional order management and fulfillment system, which you pay for by seat license and manage in your IT department on your own servers.
Several innovative vendors have been offering hosted solutions for some time now. Hosted and SaaS solutions virtually are identical, although the term hosted is associated with an application service provider (ASP) and somewhat tainted today because of its association with systems that never were designed to be delivered over the Web but were retrofitted to do so.