What Distinguishes a SaaS Platform from Regular Software Applications?

SaaS Platform vs. Regular Software Applications

In recent years, the software industry has seen a major shift towards the software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery model. But what exactly makes SaaS platforms so different from legacy software applications? This article will break that down.

What is a SaaS Platform?

A SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platform is software that is centrally hosted and accessed by users over the internet through a web browser. Instead of installing software locally, it is delivered on demand with a subscription-based pricing model.

Features of a SaaS Platform

Some key features of SaaS platforms include:

  • Cloud-based delivery over the internet
  • Scalable on third-party infrastructure
  • Regular, automatic updates
  • Subscription-based pricing per user
  • Accessible from any device and location
  • Centralized databases

Advantages of a SaaS Platform

Benefits that SaaS platforms introduce include:

  • No large upfront license fees
  • Easy to scale the number of users quickly
  • Access from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Quick deployment without lengthy setup
  • Regular delivery of updates and fixes
  • The platform handles security and availability

Disadvantages of a SaaS Platform

Some potential downsides to weigh include:

  • Subscription costs continue indefinitely
  • Functionality relies on consistent internet connectivity
  • Limited customizability in multi-tenant architecture
  • Vendor manages data privacy and protection
  • Access tied directly to vendor viability

What are Regular Software Applications?

Regular or traditional software applications are programs that are downloaded and installed directly onto devices. They utilize a fixed, licensed-based pricing model.

Features of Regular Software Applications

Typical features of conventional software applications include:

  • One-time purchase and installation
  • Hosted on the company’s own servers and hardware
  • New versions involve manual updates
  • Users pay the large upfront license fee
  • Access from specific machines only
  • Data remains within the company

Advantages of Regular Software Applications

Some perceived pluses of regular software involve:

  • Owning perpetual licenses without recurring fees
  • Ability to fully customize features and code
  • Keeping data infrastructure completely in-house
  • No reliance on internet connectivity

Disadvantages of Regular Software Applications

Some pronounced difficulties related to conventional software systems:

  • Large capital outlays for licenses and hardware
  • Time-intensive to scale and release updates
  • Limited accessibility from different devices/locations
  • Dated capabilities as technology advances
  • An internal team must handle all security/compliance

What Distinguishes SaaS from Regular Software?

SaaS and traditional software have very distinct delivery models, capabilities, and tradeoffs across critical dimensions like infrastructure, pricing, accessibility, upgrades, customization, and security.

1. Delivery Method

SaaS software is designed specifically for cloud hosting rather than on-premise servers. The application logic, data, runtime, middleware, operating system, virtualization, servers, storage, and networking are all handled transparently within the vendor’s data centers. This enables access from any internet-connected device through a browser without IT infrastructure setup.

In contrast, regular software typically relies on users purchasing licenses and then installing the applications directly onto company-owned servers and devices. Delivering the desired performance and compliance requires in-house configuring compatible hardware, operating systems, drivers, databases, security layers, storage, and backup systems.

2. Pricing Model

As a cloud service, SaaS uses a pay-as-you-go subscription model based on the number of users and features per month or year. Subscription fees scale up or down flexibly. While recurring, the incremental cost is far lower than traditional software.

Traditional software involves large, complex license purchases tied to specific machines and resources. Additional fees for maintenance, upgrades, and user expansions must be paid upfront. Limited license portability and transferability lock users in.

3. Access and Usage

A key SaaS benefit is providing access to the application from any device, anywhere, using a web browser over the internet. This supports use across laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones equally. Users can seamlessly get work done from home, on the road, and on-site.

Regularly installed software is confined within company premises and fixed machines with the required client programs deployed locally to function. Remote access outside the office may require complex virtualization setups. Access is limited to specific licensed computers only.

4. Scalability

SaaS solutions scale seamlessly through the availability of flexible subscription tiers. Adding more user seats simply requires purchasing additional licenses that provision automatically. The cloud-native SaaS architecture readily absorbs rapid usage spikes or growth.

Scaling traditional software capacity involves time-consuming and disruptive IT projects to upgrade internal servers, storage, databases, operating systems, and software licenses. Scaling outside the current infrastructure requires license transfers, fresh installations, and migrations.

5. Updates and Upgrades

The centralized hosting model of SaaS ensures instant availability of bug fixes, new features, and version updates by rolling out changes directly on the vendor’s infrastructure as soon as they are tested and ready. This provides users with continuous delivery of innovation automatically without any effort.

Regular licensed software relies on packaged periodic major releases that companies must deliberately purchase, download, and install to see improvements. The upgrade process causes notable downtime and productivity impact across the organization.

6. Customization

Multi-tenant SaaS architectures have some tradeoffs around limited per-client customization compared to traditional software. While configuration options and personalized dashboards are readily available, code extensions are difficult due to shared infrastructure touching many other tenants simultaneously.

Conventional software can be deeply customized to each company’s needs with personalized workflows, screens, data structures, reports, and integrations coded by internal developers or third-party partners. However, this advantage comes at a steep cost and effort.

7. Security

In SaaS, the provider holds responsibility for fully securing the core application, underlying infrastructure, network traffic, access controls, and activity auditing capabilities according to industry standards. Users must secure integration points to internal systems and authenticate end-user logins appropriately, leveraging SSO.

With traditional software, the organization is accountable for all details of security policies, password rules, authentication protocols, encryption, patching, antivirus, data leakage prevention, and upgrades. This heavy lifting falls directly on internal IT teams with the need for vigilant, disciplined execution.

Aspect SaaS Traditional Software
Delivery Model Cloud-based, accessible via web browser Installed locally on devices
Pricing Structure Subscription-based, per-user fee One-time license fee plus support fees
Upgrades Automatic and seamless Manual download/installation
Accessibility Use on any device from anywhere Limited to specific machines
Scalability Easy to support more users Hardware-constrained
Iteration Pace Continuous delivery Packaged major releases
Support Model Tiered self-service and direct support Customized enterprise support
Security Controls adapted for multi-tenant cloud Physical barriers and access limits


SaaS solutions diverge from regularly installed software across architecture, delivery, accessibility, scalability, pricing, customization, and ongoing operations. While SaaS provides simplicity and flexibility, traditional software offers more control and customizability. As with most technology decisions, finding the right balance for your specific organizational needs is key when assessing SaaS vs. regular software platforms. Consider both the technical capabilities and business factors to determine the best fit.

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