Adobe quietly put an announcement on their blog this morning that Adobe Connect customers now have an option to use the product in a managed services context. If that phrase means nothing to you, stay with me and I’ll explain.
Web conferencing was one of the early successes in Software as a Service applications (aka: SaaS, hosted applications, cloud computing). Customers could sign up to use the application and instantly have it available via the web. Companies did not have to install or maintain the programs on their own data center computers. This is still the most common implementation of web conferencing (I am using “web conferencing” as a generic in this article to encompass web meetings, webinars, and webcasts).
But some companies (especially large enterprise customers) balked at this setup. They didn’t like being at the mercy of the vendor’s server status. They didn’t like having upgrades and patches applied to the software at the vendor’s discretion. They didn’t like having maintenance downtimes imposed upon them. They didn’t like the inability to pretest and alter integrations with other applications before changes went live.
So some of the larger web conferencing vendors started offering the option for corporate clients to license the software and install it on their own internal computer servers. This on-premise approach fit a traditional IT-controlled strategy. The licensee is responsible for implementation, customization (if desired), integration with other applications, load balancing, testing, and applying vendor-supplied fixes and upgrades. They control what will happen to their software and when it will happen.
But since no solution satisfies everyone, we have started to see a scenario where IT departments are shrinking while demands on the remaining data center staff continue to grow. How can companies stay in control of their own software packages while lessening the burden on their IT departments? Enter “managed services” as yet another software purchase option.
Managed services is a remarkably literal description of what it entails. A third-party provider manages the services associated with maintaining the software application, while the purchaser still maintains control over their own unique copy of the software itself. Sometimes the managed services company comes in and actually works at the licensing company’s locations, taking care of the software running on the company’s servers.
Adobe’s version of managed services for Connect is different and reflects a more modern computing environment that straddles the line between traditional on-premises and cloud-based solutions. A company buying the managed services version of Adobe Connect never takes delivery of the software code. They don’t install it on their own servers. Instead, Adobe installs that code for the company on a data cluster owned and operated by Amazon Web Services. The version of the software used by the licensee is physically distinct from the code used by the general SaaS user community. The licensee can request changes and customizations to the software, they can create special integrations with other applications, and they can determine their own maintenance schedule. When upgrades or fixes are released by Adobe, the customer can take as long as they want to create a test version and check it for proper operation before moving it into production for their users.
Adobe assigns a dedicated Customer Success Engineer to the client. This person is responsible for making sure that the client’s requests for their software are implemented correctly. Managed service customers also automatically get Adobe’s Platinum Support package.
I talked to Michael Londgren and Mitch Nelson from Adobe, directors in the Adobe Connect and Managed Services groups. They told me that the dedicated Amazon Web Services account offers advantages for managed services clients. Load balancing and resource scaling is automatic. A master image of the client’s software code is made after every customization or upgrade and is propagated to backup servers in the Amazon cloud. Customer-specific database contents are backed up and duplicated on a negotiated schedule. If a server fails, Amazon can automatically switch to a fail-over backup server quickly and automatically, preserving the company’s ability to continue web collaboration. Amazon also offers distinct physical deployment sites around the world, so an international company could elect to host their conferencing on a server located closer to operations in a specific geographic region if desired and could even make different customizations in the different regions.
Because of the highly customized implementation for each customer, there is no standard “rack rate” price for licensing Adobe Connect on a managed services basis. But you can bet that it isn’t a budget option. This kind of solution is appropriate for enterprise customers who are willing to pay for the particular advantages offered in this scenario. The benefit side of the equation is less oversight and work for the company’s IT team, less resource utilization for the company’s hardware, less bandwidth overhead for data flowing through the company’s server connections, and more control over the company’s implementation schedules.
Adobe is not the only web conferencing vendor to offer the option of managed services to its clients. But there is definitely a short list for companies looking for this alternative. It’s good to have another major player in the space.