Converting your app to the cloud can be really, really hard

Some apps are a great fit for SaaS, but most aren't -- and you'll have to work hard to succeed

It’s all the rage these days, and my job puts me in the middle of it: Both enterprises and software vendors take applications and try to turn them into SaaS clouds.

The reasons are easy to divine, especially as everyone expects to consume software on demand these days and shut down on-premises servers to save money. Thus, both software vendors and enterprises are tasked with figuring out how to turn single-tenant applications into multitenant SaaS versions.

Defining the goal is easy, but figuring out how to start is not.

Most applications, whether serving a single enterprise or an industry, have been built as multiuser (not multitenant) systems. They don’t focus on managing the allocation of resources on the platform -- which is essential in the cloud's multitenant architecture. (You also have new security models, new governance models, and usage-based accounting and monitoring.)

The difficulty in converting your application into a SaaS version depends largely on how well the source application was designed. In some instances, not a great deal is needed to redesign the application to effectively manage tenancy -- usually because the application already uses a distributed design that is easily decoupled.

However, most applications aren't designed that way. They are tightly coupled monolithic applications that have to be pulled apart and redone to become an effective and efficient SaaS app.

Most software vendors and enterprises figure this out only after they have declared the move to the cloud, so their projects often spin out of control because they didn't understand the enormity of the task they had committed to.

To avoid that fate, you need someone who knows what it takes to turn a traditional application into a cloud to assess what it will really take to convert that application to SaaS and create a realistic plan to do so. Even then, you’re bound to find surprises as you take the application apart, especially when dealing with older applications.

More and more companies will face this issue as the move to the cloud accelerates. The goal is easy to set, but the work of getting there can be quite hard. And each case is as different as the apps you are converting. Be prepared for what you'll really need to do.