Define ‘Disconnected’

In a paper released this month as sample work from Springboard Research, I was struck by the comment that "Organizations will [likely] seek a mix of options when it comes to software hosting… Even the most vocal SaaS providers, Google and Salesforce, have tacitly acknowledged that online presence is not possible for users at all times and have begun delivering offline variants of their applications."

I felt impelled — or even compelled — to challenge some of the assumptions that seem to be built into this statement.

  • First, I find that it’s ever more irrelevant to have a computer even turned on if it has no working Internet link. At this point, about the only things I can usefully do without a live feed are simple proofreading, image editing, or condensation of a presentation or a document down to a smaller size for use in a different setting. If I’m actually generating any new work, or taking any meaningful action, I need to be on line. Music composers and pure mathematicians are likely to disagree, but they’re not the mainstream market.
  • Second, I find that the number of places where I’m not on line is rapidly shrinking. I recently acquired an iPod Touch, and find that one of its most useful functions is as a pocket-size full-screen Wi-Fi sniffer. I find that if I’m not particular about briefly borrowing some bit-rate from an open access point, we live in a really packetful world — and without much effort at all, I can even be fully legitimate almost anywhere.
  • Third, I feel as if it’s sort of inside-out to talk about being disconnected in terms of whether you do or don’t have live Net access. I feel a whole lot more disconnected when there’s something I need, right now, but it’s on a particular laptop or desktop hard drive and I’m not in the same room as that particular machine. I’m getting ever more conservative about keeping things on a memory stick, or on a portable hard drive, or — best option — somewhere in a well-secured slice of the cloud where I can use it anywhere, anytime.

Finally and most generally, it’s not the problem of any single technology provider (or even any particular subset of the tech provider ecosystem) to solve the problem of staying up and running even if your public network link is intermittent. Google Gears, Adobe AIR, and any number of solutions yet to emerge are narrowing the gap between reality and full-speed always-on — and in a standards-based community, everyone gets better together. That’s the kind of connection that benefits us all.

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  • Geoff Aldridge

    I can see that your comments are both 100% right and 100% wrong – depending upon what your work is. For you, and many others like you (even me), the Internet is indispensable.
    However, for 100,000’s of others whose jobs are administrative (i.e. heads down functions like Accounting) they don’t ‘need’ the internet. Speed of handling the work load (keyentry) is a top priority and (today) I don’t believe SaaS can provide this consistently like an inhouse dedicated system.
    Although, I see the power and potential of SaaS, I also see that there are areas that don’t need it – but – still could use it.

  • Even in administrative tasks, haven’t we reached a tipping point where most information arrives at the workstation as much by electronic means as it does on paper? Many large enterprises now scan documents at an early stage of the process and work with electronic representations thereafter — and even if the work is mostly transcription of paper forms, don’t the transcriptions have to go somewhere else via network connection?
    In either case, I suggest, a working network connection almost trivially implies public network access as well — and the interactive response of the Internet today is considerably better, in most cases, than the responsiveness that we used to find entirely acceptable on (say) an IBM 3278 terminal.
    The counter-point that I want to make is that the costs of *not* using SaaS are clearly rising, while any drawbacks of SaaS are either already in the past or dramatically on the decline.

  • I understand where you come from and it feels exactly like that for most of us who are ‘always on’. But ‘always on ‘is not a luxury in many parts of the world especially in many parts of Asia. The document was an assessment for organizations in Asia Pacific where Internet connectivity is still poor and so we expect organizations to use a combination of both SaaS and on premise applications to have their businesses running until we reach a state of connectivity which is ‘always on’.
    Internet penetration in India was in single digits in 2007 at 9% and broadband subscriber base was just 3.13 million, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Although Internet penetration in China is much higher, broadband connectivity is an issue. Business applications will not work well in the absence of satisfactory speed and the speed of doing business cannot depend on the speed of the Internet.
    Besides it is not possible for one to be ‘always on’. Imagine a scenario when you are working on your spreadsheet and have to board a flight for the long haul which is why some applications like productivity tools will be both on demand and on premise.

  • Thanks very much for the chance to discuss this. Perhaps I did not put sufficient emphasis on my point that many able providers are improving the ability of a cloud-based application to provide continued service during periods of network link disruption — Google and Adobe among them.
    Even more than that, however, it’s important to recognize that “software as a service” does not equate to “software only available when the Net is up.” As I pointed out in a blog post almost exactly a year ago ( ), the real benefits of service-model delivery are that
    – you don’t have to install and configure an application, but simply use it by logging in.
    – upgrades become available to the user transparently, without application breakage resulting from fat applications demanding incompatible versions of fat client platform components.
    – back-end workload is handled by someone else’s infrastructure, without an end user or a user organization making wasteful investments in peak-load capacity that mostly goes unused.
    That’s what the SaaS model is all about. Adding the ability to continue using a SaaS application during brief or extended periods without a live network link is an enhancement, not a capitulation.
    Again, thanks for taking part in the conversation.

  • Michael Barnes

    Hi Peter,
    Just to follow on from Balaka’s comments.
    You stated…
    “Adding the ability to continue using a SaaS application during brief or extended periods without a live network link is an enhancement, not a capitulation.”
    I must respectfully take issue with your choice of wording. It’s not a question of enhancement or capitulation. It’s a question of necessity.
    As Balaka pointed out, SaaS is not currently a viable option in many parts of Asia due to lack of reliable broadband connectivity. The ability to provide ongoing service during periods of network disruption is a fundamental prerequisite for many Asian organizations to even consider SaaS.
    Once this fundamental issue gets addressed, I agree with you that all other benefits you outline above become not only valid but compelling.

  • Sorry, perhaps I wasn’t clear: I meant that adding off-Net operability to a SaaS application makes it a better instance of SaaS, not something other than SaaS.
    I acknowledge that in many parts of the world and in many occupations, operability with intermittent Net links is a necessity: I’m delighted that by playing nicely with others and relying on industry-standard interoperability, in particular and application developers in general can look forward to being in the vanguard of a trend in that direction.

  • Michael Barnes

    Thanks for the clarification Peter (and for the dialogue).
    I believe we’re in total agreement that off-Net operability is a core part of SaaS and ultimately helps increase your value proposition.