SaaS platform gives Market6 multi-tenancy and identity management

Why build when you can buy? Market6 chose a SaaS platform to transform its single-tenant software into a multi-tenant cloud offering packed with sales support.

Software as a Service (SaaS) might be here to stay, but that doesn't mean it is easy or fast to develop. Independent software vendors (ISVs) and CIOs deploying private clouds could benefit from a SaaS platform that turns existing applications into full-bodied, multi-tenant programs.

That's the route Market6 LLC took in deploying a SaaS for its supermarket customers. The Walnut Creek, Calif.-based data aggregator provides predictive analytics so that stores know the quantities of food they have in stock and the amount of movement to expect.

"Our core business is generating data," said Niall Murphy, director of engineering at Market6. "We need to be able to easily provide that data to end users, but don't want to be in the business of building a better distribution tool."

Market6 chose SaaSGrid from Apprenda LLC in Clifton Park, N.Y. The software decreased the vendor's development time dramatically by transforming its single-tenant application into multi-tenant software with all the cloud-y bells and whistles, Murphy said.

Although Market6 sells industry-specific software, the SaaS platform approach is equally applicable to enterprises that are building private clouds or that plan to enable customers to access internal SaaS applications, according to analysts.

At the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week, David Cearley, a Gartner Research vice president and Gartner Fellow, told one session's audience that "everyone in this room will eventually become a cloud computing service, whether it's providing information feeds or applications through a website."

NCI Building Systems Inc. in Houston might have considered a SaaS platform if it hadn't already engineered a multi-tenant private cloud, to which it provides access by partner architects and builders, said Eric Brown, executive vice president and CIO at the company. "We give them access to download specs and computer-aided design drawings and run engineering apps so they can estimate for their customers what the total cost will be," he said.

Companies that develop in .NET, which SaaSGrid supports, will find it a highly useful tool, according to Yefim Natis, a Gartner Research vice president and distinguished analyst who in 2010 included the product in a roundup of cool technologies. "Alternatively, [enterprises] could develop the SaaSGrid-like cloud functionality themselves, which can be a serious, and now unnecessary, challenge for many developers."

The road to a SaaS platform

When Market6 decided to offer its SaaS, "we had very tight timelines," Murphy said. "I was being asked in April or May last year to have a portal up and running by August. The thought of having to build that from scratch was horrendous."

We had very tight timelines. I was being asked in April or May last year to have a portal up and running by August. The thought of having to build that from scratch was horrendous.

Niall Murphy, director of engineering, Market6 LLC

The advantage of a product like SaaSGrid -- or Force.com, which also provides a SaaS platform -- is faster time to market. Developers can focus on core business applications instead of the underlying multi-tenant architecture.

Murphy had read a blog post about SaaSGrid, which provides such cloud features as subscription management, billing and metering; as well as additional sales support. A product manager can use Apprenda's price books, for example, to determine gold and silver offerings, or to honor a number of free units on a subscription plan, after which the customer must pay.

"SaaSGrid offers great flexibility in terms of how you sell your service," said Murphy, who also evaluated software from Jaspersoft Corp. and Pentaho Corp. and MicroStrategy Inc. business intelligence suites before determining that "we would be better served by using SaaSGrid to build our platform."

The latest version of SaaSGrid, released last month, includes federated identity management to provide clients with single-sign-on capabilities. The addition was driven by a Market6 customer that insisted on it, according to Murphy: "They basically made it a requirement that we would have to support single sign-on," he said. 

Market6 secured a commitment from Apprenda to use Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) 2.0, a standard for exchanging authentication and authorization data between security domains. Market6's retail partner uses IBM's Tivoli to verify users, while SaaSGrid has linked to Microsoft's Active Directory. "The great thing with SAML 2.0 is that it's completely interoperable," Murphy said.

SaaSGrid validated by Microsoft

SaaSGrid's support for developing SaaS-style products far exceeds the features available with the Windows Azure software development kit, according to Gartner Research's Natis, who said its support for fine-grained and adjustable-use tracking and billing is particularly valuable for ISVs.

Recognizing this, Microsoft has selected SaaSGrid for its Windows Azure Technology Adoption Program and BizSpark One programs, according to officials from Apprenda, which is integrating the SaaSGrid application server with the Windows Azure platform.BizSpark One, an invitation-only program, is designed to help accelerate the growth of startups that use Microsoft products and services.

"Building on top of Windows Identity Foundation, SaaSGrid takes identity management and federation to a whole new level," said Eugenio Pace, senior program manager for patterns and practices at Microsoft, and co-author of A Guide to Claims Based Identity and Access Control. To discuss the partnership, Apprenda will conduct a webinar with Pace on March 30.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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