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Akamai, Riverbed Shrink SaaS App Latency

One of the dirty little secrets of software as a service (SaaS) is how long it takes to get the service. A request for access to a SaaS application travels from the client device, across the corporate WAN, across the public Internet to the SaaS provider's data center where the app is hosted--and back--so a lot of time is spent making the connection, not to mention the hundreds or thousands of round trips made in just one session in which the app is being used. Application delivery platform provider Akamai Technologies has partnered with WAN optimization provider Riverbed Technology to include their technologies in each other's products to improve the performance of SaaS applications.

The Akamai-Riverbed solution is going to be made available to SaaS subscribers for three of the most widely used SaaS offerings--Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365 and possibly more added later.

A 10-Mbyte PowerPoint file took 2 seconds to load when accessed on a local network, but 2 minutes to load when accessed via Microsoft's Office 365 SaaS service, says Rick McConnell, executive VP of product marketing and business development for Akamai, during a demonstration this week of the combined Akamai-Riverbed solution during the RSA Conference 2012 in San Francisco.

SaaS traffic follows a "suboptimal route," adds John Martin, senior VP of product management at Riverbed, citing the example of an employee accessing a SaaS application from a branch office in Miami to a SaaS data center in Boston, back and forth across the country to the corporate network in Los Angeles and back through Boston to Miami.

"This is the situation that 80% of enterprises are in today," he says. "[SaaS] is introducing a degree of latency and application performance degradation that hadn't been there before."

And this latency is going to become more pronounced as SaaS adoption grows. The companies shared an industry forecast that the percent of software revenue that comes from SaaS subscriptions will more than double to 17% by 2013, from just 7% in 2010.

And while application performance is a relatively low priority for companies contemplating SaaS adoption, it suddenly becomes a major concern after adoption, states Andrew Bartels, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. In a 2010 Forrester survey of enterprises evaluating SaaS, the top concerns were security (40%), integration with on-premise apps (32%) and total cost of ownership (30%). Application performance was way down the list with only 19% concerned about it. But when people were surveyed about their SaaS concerns after adoption, performance shot up to 45%, though still below security and integration, he says.

"[They'd say,] 'I'm running a SaaS application, and performance is not particularly good. I'm getting complaints from my users around this,'" says Bartels. "For companies who are thinking about SaaS, there are many factors that go into that consideration, but performance needs to be one of them."

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