Best Practices for SaaS Architecture

The architectural decisions in choosing an optimal technology solution like Software-as-a-Service or (SaaS) can have long-standing implications for an organization. SaaS is a buzzword today as organizations race to gain a competitive edge. It leverages the power of cloud computing infrastructure. It offers many benefits like lower costs, centralized operations, and updates that free the end-users from hassles and improve productivity.

In this article, you will learn when and why you should choose SaaS and the SaaS infrastructure best practices to take along in the journey. But first, let's understand the basics of SaaS architecture.

What is SaaS architecture?

SaaS architecture is a technical delivery model for software where a product or service provider hosts their application on a cloud server and makes it accessible to end-users through the internet, typically through web browsers.

What is an excellent example of a SaaS architecture application?

An excellent example of a SaaS application is your free email service like Gmail or Outlook. You have an account, and so do your friends and others, and they access their account from the central SaaS mail application hosted on the cloud. You may not need any infrastructure or software related to the email application!

Similarly, clients can access other SaaS business applications like Accounting software, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management software (CRM), or many other applications based on SaaS architecture.

Some unique features of SaaS architecture-based apps are as follows:

  • Shared resources: As the SaaS application hosting happens on the cloud, the application instance, hardware, networking, and other related components can get shared across multiple organizations and their users. Shared cloud infrastructure leads to lower costs.

In cloud computing, we have single-tenancy and multi-tenancy models. In the case of a single-tenancy model, a single instance of an application and its infrastructure components, like a database, dedicatedly serve just one customer.

On the other hand, in a multi-tenancy model, the SaaS application and related components serve multiple customers and users. Multi-tenancy, also referred to as a 'one to many' SaaS architecture model. In this model, since numerous customers share the cloud resources, it leads to reduced costs.

A dedicated instance in a single-tenancy case or spending on infrastructure for an on-premises setup is more expensive.

  • Integration: You can use the SaaS application as it is or enhances the functionality by customizing it or integrating it with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect to other internal or third-party systems.
  • Subscription model: The SaaS models work on flexible subscription models where they pay as per use of the applications, unlike buying a copy of the software.
  • Infrastructure maintenance: The SaaS vendor handles all the maintenance of hardware, updates, data, and infrastructure, and the SaaS application subscriber has only just to use the software and doesn't bother about any application maintenance.

How is SaaS different from IaaS and PaaS?

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) delivers computing infrastructure as on-demand services. It means that users buy servers, software, data center space, or network equipment on a subscription-based rental model.

PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) delivers on-demand access to a ready-to-use, cloud-hosted platform to develop, run, maintain and manage applications.

So, SaaS applications run on the cloud using IaaS and PaaS services, depending on the chosen architecture design.

What are the Top Advantages of using SaaS architecture?

Reduced time to benefit

Unlike traditional software you need to install on local machines, software as a service (SaaS) applications are available (installed, configured) and ready to use. One can provision the server for an instance in the cloud, and the application is prepared to use in a couple of hours. Businesses can save time in installation, configuration, and resolving issues found in traditional deployment.

Lower costs

SaaS architecture-based applications save costs as they reside in a multi-tenant (shared) ecosystem. Here the hardware and software licenses are low due to a shared model compared to traditional models.

Scalability and integration

SaaS solutions are cloud-based, leverage scalability advantage, and can easily integrate with other SaaS applications. Planning server capacity is enough to enable newer SaaS offerings rather than the traditional way of buying a server etc. Moreover, you can scale your SaaS usage up or down depending on your needs.

Delivering new releases

Upgrading the SaaS architecture-based solutions is quicker and instantly available to customers. The costs associated with new releases and upgrades are much lower than the traditional models, where you need to install it on devices or pay for upgrade installations physically.

Test features and POC

SaaS solutions enable users to do proofs-of-concept and test new features or software functionality. SaaS architecture offers a single instance with different versions, and one can perform smooth migration.

Now that you know the advantages, you must choose a SaaS architecture model or opt for on-premise.

Should you choose SaaS over On-prem?

In the case of the on-premises architecture model, you need to use a local data center or purchase your hardware and required infrastructure. You may also need IT staff to provide technical requirements like data storage, maintenance, networking, database management, and updates for your application.

Opting for a SaaS architecture model lets the vendor handle all these infrastructure-related activities and maintenance while you focus on your core business activities.

There is no right or wrong answer to choosing a SaaS cloud versus an On-premises software model, and it depends on an organization's requirements.

Questions like CapEx vs. OpEx - affordability for an upfront investment required in an on-premise solution, backup and disaster recovery provisions, cybersecurity measures, and frequency of application upgrades will help determine the right choice.

In choosing SaaS architecture, there are helpful best practices that we shall elaborate in the next section.

Best Practices for SaaS Architecture

1. Using microservices

Every business aims to grow, and it makes sense to leverage microservices. Microservices are self-contained, independent deployment modules where you can write, modify, deploy and test each independently.

Microservices enable multiple teams to work on independent services. Each service focuses on performing a specific task (shipping, payment, etc.) or any particular business function. Development can happen with a custom set of technologies or different programming languages and deployment on other infrastructures. Microservices help scale applications and fix issues in a particular service without having to modify the whole application or shut it down entirely for a single fix.

Famous success stories include the likes of Spotify, Walmart, Netflix, and others. Walmart was facing issues in seasonal peaks of customer activity on their systems and could not scale for 6 million page views per minute. During peak events, the system was down for most of the day, leading to revenue loss. Using microservices, they uplifted the company with zero downtime and increased conversions by over 20% and mobile orders by 98%.

You can leverage monolithic architectures for lightweight applications. Otherwise, it’s best to opt for microservices.

2. SaaS Self-service capabilities

SaaS self-service is a new standard in software development where users can help onboard themselves without manual intervention, have documentation and support available, and do some part of their account governance activities at a minimum.

Users should not need specialist support for essential activities. Customization of some features should be in a plug-and-play mode without requiring any coding. Ensuring the availability of APIs in your SaaS architecture will allow the integration of other apps to add more value to the user experience.

3. Building multi-tenant architecture

You can lower costs by using multi-tenant architecture-based SaaS applications due to sharing of cloud computing resources. Using a multi-tenant architecture, you can minimize resource underutilization compared to a single-tenant cloud environment.

There are two ways you can implement a multi-tenant approach.

Approach 1: Single app instance with a single database:

In this model, users will access the same database until it reaches its maximum capacity and then redirect new users to another database. Though this is a cheaper option, it impacts scalability with limitations and can potentially dent the application's performance at peak loads.

Approach 2: Single app and multiple databases:

In this approach, users simultaneously access multiple databases. The database accessibility is preset to a specific limit before automatically redirecting newer users to the following database. It offers resources for users concurrently, making your application responsive and scalable. However, you must note that this approach requires higher investment.

If a few users are always running heavy workloads, they will use most resources in a shared multi-tenant environment, leading to a poor experience for other users. In such cases, it is preferable to opt for a single-tenant approach for these heavy users.

4. Enhancing Data security with RBAC

Implementing Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) in your SaaS architecture limits data and application feature accesses based on user roles and limits their ability to change data. RBAC enhances cybersecurity and minimizes data breach chances.

5. Regulatory compliance adherence capabilities

When building SaaS applications, you must ensure it has regulatory compliance for critical ones like data protection (GDPR) and others. There might be compliance requirements in various geographies, and the SaaS architecture must be flexible to adapt to them and serve the purpose of being compliant.

6. Develop a scalable architecture

The ability of a SaaS architecture to scale up with business growth is paramount. When designing the application architecture, you must ensure it supports horizontal and vertical scaling to tackle higher workloads and deliver steady performance.

7. Personalization and customization

Today, customers prefer a personalized approach, and you need to ensure the SaaS architecture can offer it. In cases where apps require more personalization and have diverse customized goals, opting for the single-tenant model is better.

8. User-centric design

Usability is an essential feature in a SaaS application. One must ensure to include design with critical principles of user experience. The user's needs should be the central guiding point of the SaaS architecture.

9. Monitor SaaS performance with metrics

It is critical to check the performance of a SaaS application throughout its lifecycle. Performance can be driven from the SaaS architecture point of view and arrive at a selection of vital quantifiable metrics providing insights into the application performance and helping identify improvement areas. As the application changes, the metrics are also likely to change.

10. Provide easy integration.

Today, data is a goldmine, and businesses want to capitalize on it and seamlessly make it available across systems. The SaaS architecture design phase has to keep the integration aspect in mind to enable the SaaS application to integrate with popular platforms.

Wrapping up

Software as a service (SaaS) leverages the power of cloud computing and its advantages to a large extent. SaaS applications have a variety of services for a diverse audience. Scalability and performance are two of the most critical challenges in SaaS. Security concerns and data privacy add to the complexity, and it can get challenging, but using the SaaS infrastructure best practices can help you gain a foothold to develop a robust, scalable, and high-performance application.

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