Predicting the future of technology and business software development has never been more difficult, do I play safe and follow where others have gone before (and enter the world of ever increasing patent infringement!), or do I try something different with possibly higher risk?
I’ve been a follower of SaaS and Cloud since the very beginning and often reflect on where it will go next. I’ve said before that I believe Cloud will change our industry forever and now that bandwidth has caught up it offers some clear benefits. However, despite a decade of trying, real success is still limited to just a few vendors. But predicting Cloud adoption is the easy bit… how will SaaS develop in the future?
Some of the architectural patterns and technologies which were state of the art a few years ago are rapidly becoming long in the tooth and new breed of technologies and tools are emerging… Should I be restricted by the current world of SaaS, or should I go in pursuit of “Super SaaS” the next generation of SaaS?
To understand this better we first need to cut through the huge amount of noise, hype, and ‘snake oil’ from software vendors to understand where we are headed. But for the sake of simplicity let’s say SaaS its defined as accessing applications via a web browser running on a server in someone else’s datacenter.
So what might Super SaaS look like? Will browser based software stand the test of time? Does browser based software really deliver the claimed benefits? Are browsers really platform independent? Is the browser experience good enough for users of the future? Will the on-device ‘Appstore’ style connected applications accessing cloud based ‘back ends’ continue to evolve at lightning speed? Will we see a blend of both in a hybrid style approach? or will something else emerge in the meantime?
Questions, questions, questions… but no answers… so here’s a thought, what if we look at the real innovators of the computing industry… no not the Cloud or SaaS application vendors, but to the online gaming vendors?
Online gaming was with us long before online business software. How many of us remember playing Doom way back in 1993, the granddaddy of many of the networked multiplayer games we see today.
The gaming industry were using the web as a platform long before anyone else, they introduced online forums before anyone else, they had online chat before anyone else, they had monthly subscriptions before anyone else, and they embraced the concept of communities before anyone else. All of which are only now being touted as unique innovations in the world of business software today.
So, In the gaming industry why are the most successful games still ‘on device’? Why aren’t more successful online games delivered via SaaS? Is the desktop really dying? Is Client Server an obsolete architecture? Is multi-tenant the only answer? What of the Social Cloud? and can collaboration work outside of the cloud?
Things have moved on somewhat since the Doom years, and we now have Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) in which a very large number of players interact with one another within virtual game worlds.
The technology behind most MMORPGs is interesting, whilst they use the Cloud and the internet to facilitate play, they aren’t SaaS applications; these games are deployed using the more traditional client–server system architecture. The server software runs in the cloud and generates a persistent instance of the virtual world that runs continuously, and players connect to it via desktop client software.
Let’s have a look at this example, my son’s favorite online experience: World of Warcraft, is a popular online multiplayer game with over 12,000,000 (Twelve Million) subscribers as of October, 2010 and the fastest selling game of all time:
Why have the likes of Blizzard Entertainment chosen this model? Well quite simply the cloud isn’t powerful enough to provide the experience that players demand. They want high quality graphics and immediate interaction, a millisecond delay and they’re dead… not good!
So the online vendors have chosen a deployment model that provides the best possible experience to the player by harnessing the processing power and performance of 12 million desktop PC’s to run the game locally, and backs this up with the processing power of some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world.
This isn’t a SaaS application whereby the user runs everything from the cloud, but does go one step further than SaaS by harnessing the combined power of the desktop and Cloud and it shares many characteristics of SaaS at the same time:
- The software is downloaded and installed from the Web
- Players access the game via an online identity and account
- The game is consumed on a monthly subscription basis
- Upgrades are controlled from the server when purchased to allow access to certain areas of the game
- Updates are rolled out online to all users (and cleverly using each user as a peer to peer server for mass updates)
- It facilitates multi person (player) collaboration
- Game data are backed up automatically
So one might imagine a world where the Cloud and SaaS and the Desktop all come together to provide a better experience for the user, why would you rule anything out?
Continuing with the game theme for just a little longer… looking to the future, here are some really interesting developments which are present in gaming software today that might someday transfer to business software:
- Social interaction and in-game culture within the game – it’s here already
- The ability for players to sell an item to each other for in-game (virtual) currency.
- Bartering for items between players for items of similar value.
- The purchase of in-game items for real-world currency.
- Exchanges of real-world currencies for virtual currencies.
- Team working for parts of the game. These tasks usually require players to take on roles in the group, such as those protecting other players from damage (called tanking), “healing” damage done to other players or damaging enemies.
Tomorrows business software user is todays gamer, so wouldn’t it be good to transition some of these ideas from games to the world of business software? I’m sure Business Software vendors would love their software to be as addictive as games like World of Warcraft. Well, it may all come true one day… enter stage left the new buzz word in computing ‘Gamification’ …
Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications, particularly consumer-oriented web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications. It also strives to encourage users to engage in desired behaviors in connection with the applications. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, and by encouraging desired behaviors, taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, or reading web sites.
Food for thought? Yes indeed, but enough for one post… more later…