In Spring 2013, Virtual Global, Inc. released a new version of its SaaS Maker platform as a service. At the time of this writing, SaaS Maker is not a particularly well-known PaaS offering, as Virtual Global is a self-funded startup venture founded in 2003 and owned by Cary Landis in the West Virginia University college town of Morgantown, WV. The company gained early customers in Government. The underlying product platform was engineered as a modular Web-based platform for a NASA project for managing virtual teams, and was later adapted for the cloud service delivery model under private funding. Albeit an obscure venture, SaaS Maker has apparently developed an early following in India as reflected on the company’s community page on Facebook (http://facebook.com/saasmaker).
SaaS Maker is an ‘App Dev’ PaaS for building multi-tenant business application. It is natively hosted on Amazon EC2 as a public cloud services. The data center edition is available to enterprises as a portable virtual machine appliance that can be installed on other data center and infrastructures as a service. The underlying technology that powers SaaS Maker is .Net, and therefore Virtual Global recommends in its literature that enterprises deploy the platform in conjunction with Iron Foundry to support scaling on private cloud implementations. The relationship between SaaS Maker and its use of Iron Foundry has led to some confusion about the relationship between App Dev and runtime PaaS offerings. The platform as a service (PaaS) space has been historically plagued with confusion. Even within industry analyst circles, the term PaaS varies from report to report. NIST describes PaaS as “The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools supported by the provider. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, or storage, but has control over the deployed applications and possibly configuration settings for the application-hosting environment.” In the context of the NIST definition, SaaS Maker provides “programming languages, libraries, services, and tools” to support the development of SaaS applications; whereas Iron Foundry assumes much of the responsibility for managing the underlying infrastructure. The two PaaS offerings essentially cooperate in that way. SaaS Maker appears to be in the same subcategory as more popular PaaS offerings such as Force.com or Workday.
SaaS Maker includes a wizard (the SaaS Maker Factory) for building applications. You can go through the motions step by step by clicking the next button, which will take you through each of the areas represented on the left side of the screen, or you can pick and choose. Each area offers different functionality where you can access different tools to customize the functionality of the application. The areas that you’ll likely be using most are User Experience, Forms, and the Report Designer, which can be found under the Other section on the left. User Experience is a simplified GUI where pages in the application can be created and modified. You’ll be able to create custom web pages with the tools in the application, but you can opt to throw in other web design techniques like HTML should you so choose. The Forms section is where you as the developer will define templates for collecting information. Forms are essentially like spreadsheets. A wizard-like tool walks you through building a data retention tool that will be used by users of the application and by the Report Designer that will be used to compile the information. The “Factory” requires a learning curve. Although the Form designer was easy to use, we were surprised to learn that it does include support for business logic. Developers who need forms with business logic are required to develop plugins (referred to as Gizmos) using platform’s Software Development Kit.
The SDK is based on .Net. As a .Net veteran, this was refreshing, given that most PaaS offerings are promoting Java these days. Virtual Global claims that it’s API is open – allowing for web service integration using a variety of languages, however the company has not yet released Java or PhP SDKs. At present, this means that developers must either develop .Net “wrappers”, use the API web services directly, or wait until Java/PhP SDKs are available. Otherwise, the SDK performed well for our test plugin. It was easy to learn and use to support basic platform integration. The resulting Gizmos are well akin to WordPress plugins in how they are installed, configured and implemented.
However, the WordPress comparison ends there. We were able to publish our application for sale to businesses or to individuals. The resulting applications are “blessed” with a <sign up> button, which subsequently allowed customers to provision an instance of the application on demand. This is where SaaS Maker shined in comparison to other offerings that we reviewed. As a young up-and-comer, SaaS Maker may provide value to anyone building or migrating software to the cloud-based model.