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IT pros see AWS SaaS Boost as a rudimentary start

AWS SaaS Boost may give developers a place to begin, but the new open source project needs work to become more than a lock-in tool for AWS, according to industry observers.

AWS SaaS Boost is potentially useful in theory, but some IT pros aren't impressed with its initial execution.

The project, released under an Apache 2.0 license this week, uses AWS Lambda functions to link to third-party billing and payment partner services. Developers can also use its toolkit to add multi-tenant access mechanisms to monolithic legacy apps, and view reference implementations for common SaaS service functions such as metering and billing. An AWS blog post said the company received interest from hundreds of developers after the project was announced in December.

"It's glue code that will accelerate legacy app migration," said Jeremy Pullen, director of platform engineering at Vecima Networks Inc., and formerly an enterprise digital transformation consultant, who said AWS SaaS Boost might appeal to some of his former clients.

"It's designed to be used infrequently -- to stand up, provision and add users," Pullen said. "It will be useful to inexperienced developers for legacy apps if they're just trying to get something basic up and running."

Given AWS SaaS Boost is an open source project, someone in the community could swap out Amazon-specific services and resources in the code with those of other cloud providers. But in this initial version the tool is written to integrate with AWS resources, which carries the risk of locking such novice developers into an AWS SaaS implementation, Pullen said.

"There's the potential for it to benefit Amazon since it's all based on Amazon APIs," he said. "It lets people spin something up at the price of real vendor lock-in."

Identifying AWS SaaS Boost areas for improvement

IT experts said developers do generally need help with SaaS migration, and AWS SaaS Factory, the team that produced SaaS Boost, has created other useful tools for that purpose, such as the AppFlow data transfer service and a SaaS contract upgrade and renewal utility.

But among developers with the skills to follow their own approach to AWS SaaS design, for now AWS SaaS Boost is best avoided, said one AWS consultant.

I'm pretty sure your average dev team will do fine by integrating directly with the AWS products AWS SaaS Boost integrates with.
Ryan MarshCEO, TheStack.io

"I'm pretty sure your average dev team will do fine by integrating directly with the AWS products AWS SaaS Boost integrates with," said Ryan Marsh, CEO at TheStack.io, who said he was among those who requested early access to AWS SaaS Boost. "If anything, it just locks you in to their ... open source code, rather than building what you need how you need it."

In addition to multi-cloud support, AWS SaaS Boost lacks integration with the Cloud Development Kit (CDK), also open source, that many developers of AWS SaaS applications like to use, Marsh said. The CDK automatically pre-provisions AWS services via developers' existing IDEs.

Instead, AWS SaaS Boost has its own web UI, which comes with its own installer in the GitHub repo.

"The inspiration from AWS SaaS Boost came from the hundreds of engagements AWS SaaS Factory had with software builders [who] wanted an easier way to implement SaaS best practices for their traditional applications," an AWS spokesperson said in an email. "This is why we started with a web-based administration experience. We certainly see potential in the future to extend this into a code-based developer kit, as an open source project this priority will be guided by the community."

Until that happens, however, Marsh said he found it hard to envision most developers being interested in AWS SaaS Boost.

Ryan Marsh, TheStack.ioRyan Marsh

"Nobody is going to want to maintain this ... to do the same stuff CDK could do for them," Marsh said.

However, not every new developer will be able to or want to refactor their app on the fly to work in a more cloud-native way, Pullen said. A tool such as AWS SaaS Boost can at least accomplish the conversion piece, and the developer can iterate on the app later, he said.

"You don't want to make major changes to an app at the same time you're switching environments," he said. "There are too many moving pieces -- it's better to keep the app relatively stable and then iterate once you've done the migration."

Another area of improvement for AWS SaaS Boost can be found in documentation for the metering and billing reference implementation, which contains the warning, in bold capital letters: "This is not a production-ready application."

"There are likely several areas where exceptions, errors, etc., are not handled in a manner suitable for production usage," the metering and billing document adds further down the page. 

Until the project matures, wariness will linger about being locked into the AWS cloud via a tool like SaaS Boost, said one analyst.

"This offers a common set of capabilities every SaaS app has to have, but every deployment is different -- this is not a silver bullet for making SaaS migration really easy," said Stephen Elliot, an analyst at IDC. "This is also a way to seed the market with an open source story that involves AWS."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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