In the Age of SaaS, a Lot of Lessons Can be Leveraged from the Past

Alison Conigliaro Hubbard

The recent announcement of the Riverbed SaaS Accelerator service gives us pause to really consider where we and our customers have been, where we are today in a digital age that’s only just starting to rev its engine, and the opportunities we have together as our joint customers make a full shift away from old-style technologies toward modern cloud infrastructures and SaaS applications to drive their businesses.

Think about it: distributed enterprise architectures and budgets used to be all about centralized datacenters and applications housed there; and deploying the right networks with optimization required to make sure employees at sitting at their desks in branch offices could use those apps for their jobs.  The idea of early WAN Optimization was about making sure BW costs for MPLS networks could remain manageable while also making sure far away branch workers could take advantage of apps that were managed and maintained in a central datacenter.

But the enterprise has evolved dramatically since those times.  In today’s digital enterprise, our customers have so many more choices available to offset the accumulating expense of managing and maintaining massive datacenter architectures at scale, and on-premises applications.  Today’s enterprise has multi-cloud environments deployed to address different workloads.  It also has a massive insurgence of SaaS applications driving the same business functions that were previously dedicated to on-premises traditional apps.

We’ve also evolved when it comes to how our workforce executes, and how and when each employee accesses the apps they use.  It used to be more about sitting at a desk, working in front of a computer screen and going home.  Today’s employees are more available and dynamic, accessing SaaS apps in the office, and then opening their laptop to work from home, a coffee shop, an airport, or a client site on the other side of the world.  I myself work from all of those places and a ferry in a given work day.  No matter where we are, because of the advances in technology over the last several years, we’re expected to be available and responsive, from any device, anywhere we happen to be.  Today’s digital business never slows down.

The potential benefits of SaaS applications are undeniable. For starters, they’re easy to deploy and scale, and the business no longer assumes the financial burden of owning and maintaining the hosting infrastructure. However, there are serious challenges.  One of the most significant of these challenges is around application performance.

42% of enterprises report that at least half of distributed or international workers suffer consistently poor experience of the SaaS apps they use to get their jobs done. (ESG Enterprise SaaS Survey, March 2019)

And when application performance suffers, the ability for an enterprise to stay ‘on its toes’ – to be competitive, to be able to transact or quickly act on an opportunity, to build customer relationships, to build pipeline – that ultimately suffers too.

So how does this tie back to the foundational principles that made WAN Optimization so critical 15 years ago?  It’s absolutely connected, and not dissimilar.  It’s just evolved.  And for those who understand those principles that made sure centralized applications could perform over distance, it can be opportunistic to apply those to the complexity we face as we rationalize cloud workloads and SaaS application performance today.  For many – it can have direct ties to a company’s ability to get ahead.

Let’s look at the reasons why SaaS performance may suffer.

When exploring why SaaS performance may suffer, it helps to consider the various ways companies deliver SaaS apps to their employees–variability that can lead to wildly inconsistent user experiences.

Here are a few typical scenarios:

  1. As you might expect – sometimes users have direct-to-net access and are doing their work from a branch or Headquarters located very close to a cloud point of presence (pop).  In those cases, most of the time, SaaS should run okay.  Incidentally, when your customer is dominant in this scenario, this can be a great opportunity for a conversation about SD-WAN.
  2. Another example though, are places in the business that are more remote.  Take a look at the global nature of a specific enterprise?  Where are their offices located on a global scale?  Are there far away branch offices in remote locations where latency is going to be higher? This is going to cause performance slow-downs – and a less than productive user experience.
  3. Of course adding to that, in some places in the world bandwidth is not so cheap, so the cloud traffic going through the available pipes slows down.  How will bandwidth be impacted when applications such as those in O365 move from an on-premises environment to the cloud?  Even in areas where bandwidth is relatively inexpensive, a change to SaaS can be cause for alarm, since new pipes will need to be significantly beefed up for application performance.
  4. Next, there are also a large percentage of enterprise companies these days who are backhauling SaaS traffic through a datacenter because of compliance with a firm security posture – and while there may be a plan to evolve from this, it won’t happen overnight.  Distance is distance and the speed of light doesn’t get any faster.  Backhauling creates more distance and causes longer delays, and that greatly hinders performance.
  5. And last but not least, as suggested earlier, now we have dynamic and highly mobile workforces logging on and accessing SaaS applications from so many different places and networks as they move through their workdays, many of those places out of IT control.  This makes predicting performance much more challenging. And this particular scenario is only grow in scope and intensity.

Of course, most of the enterprise companies we work with (and sometimes our own depending on the size and scale of your organization) have a combination of these scenarios that impact SaaS performance – and therefore, workforce productivity.

SO how do we help our customers get in front of this?

Well, we want to help IT leaders maintain that ease and scale they get from SaaS applications, but we also want to make sure they are in the driver’s seat to control how users are experiencing the apps that are taking such a significant role in digital business.  So we want to arm them with visibility on a global scale to users at any end point, and we want to give them an easy way to proactively turn up the performance for applications anywhere a user may need to stay productive.

If we understand the scenarios above, it’s actually not hard to do.  Today Riverbed has leveraged its founding principles from accelerating old-school data center applications and eliminating costly bandwidth and latency restrictions, and applied those principles to cloud workloads and SaaS applications.  This has resulted in the world’s first, cloud-based SaaS Accelerator service that is easy to spin up in minutes and deploy anywhere.

Combined with Riverbed end-user experience management (EUEM) technology (Aternity), and its proven (SteelHead) end point offerings for branch offices and laptops, you have the ability to offer an end to end SaaS Performance Management platform that can help your customers continue to experience the ease and scalability of SaaS, without the loss of control and questionable performance that has come with it.

And in today’s fast-paced, dynamic and competitive world where seconds and minutes count and can make the difference in millions of dollars, reputation, client confidence, and more, why wouldn’t everyone want to take advantage?



For Riverbed partners interested in taking the next step to help your customers advance in digital transformation, you can read more here:  When building a plan of action, the best place to start may be your SteelHead install base to shift the conversation from old-school apps and workforce behaviors, to today’s more relevant SaaS apps and dynamic workforces. Or if you focus on Aternity and end user experience monitoring, look at the customers you have to extend the conversation about end user experience of SaaS applications.


Refer to the Riverbed Partner Center for sales tools or contact your Riverbed Channel Sales Manager to build out a joint plan for success.