Conferences Highlight the Emerging SaaS Cloud

One of the things that keeps IT interesting is the same thing that makes it so maddening—change. Nothing changes as fast as hot technology in the early stages of the adoption curve. And while Software as a Service (SaaS) is actually the latest incarnation of application hosting, and therefore not strictly new, it has become a hot commodity in the past few years.

Open source, multi-tenancy, and service oriented architecture (SOA) have driven new delivery models that enable SaaS-based companies to provide quality applications at very reasonable prices. The outcome is that SaaS revenues overall are growing at an estimated 20% per year.

SaaSCon, one of the first SaaS conferences, has evolved along with the industry. 2008 was only the third year for SaaSCon, and the differences between the 2007 and 2008 illustrate how quickly the industry is evolving. While the rate of change within IT continues to escalate, SaaS is evolving particularly quickly. It has morphed from largely unproven technology to mainstream adoption in three short years.

Key Vendors Absent

One of the big changes in 2008 was vendors that were very prominent in 2007 were nowhere to be found. Three examples are, Microsoft, and Workday. 2007’s show featured keynotes and panel discussions showcasing the stars of the industry, including Jim Steele, president of Worldwide Sales and Distribution for Salesforce, Dave Duffield, CEO and co-founder of WorkDay, and Gianpaolo Carraro, director for SaaS Architecture at Microsoft. At SaaSCon 2008, none of the these vendors were sponsors or supplied featured speakers.

Where were they? Salesforce and Microsoft went to the show around the corner. There were two, count ’em, SaaS conferences on the West Coast within a month. SaaS Summit 2008, presented by OpSource, was conducted February 27-29 in San Francisco. SaaSCon 2008, organized by ComputerWorld, was hosted at the Santa Clara Convention Center March 25-26. Salesforce and Microsoft were both highly visible at the San Francisco show, Microsoft as a diamond sponsor and both with multiple speaker slots. In contrast, neither company was in evidence at all in Santa Clara (although Microsoft did host a “Heroes Happen Here” session across the same dates and at the same venue. The two did not appear to be related, and registration for the two shows was separate).

To be fair, SaaSCon and SaaS Summit each have a different focus. While vendors and end-user IT organizations were represented at both, SaaS Summit appears to be a more traditional vendor conference, with a speaker line-up very much reflecting the vendor constituency. SaaSCon was much more industry and end-user focused, with some excellent case study presentations by SaaS end users. Presentations by executives from Chiquita Brands International and Colorado Capital Bank were particularly intriguing, highlighting the fact that SaaS is being used very creatively in the enterprise space.

What about the defecting vendors? While it is certainly understandable that vendors might not want to exhibit at two west coast shows within virtually the same time frame, the proximity in time and space makes one wonder why there is a need for two relatively small SaaS shows at all. Does it have anything to do with the fact that SaaSCon is now affiliated with ComputerWorld, while the SaaS Summit is sponsored by OpSource?