Cloud helps education startup Saasyan bootstrap its business, securely

SaaS and IaaS allowing innovation-hungry businesses to work around risk-averse IT

Many small and innovative companies struggle to access security expertise, but building on a cloud platform from the beginning has helped fast-growing Australian educational tools developer Saasyan quickly ramp up its business while tapping cloud-hosted security and other services.

Marketed at educational environments, the firm’s flagship Saasyan Assure product is designed to monitor students’ use of IT resources, then report on potential behaviour around bullying and students who are potentially at risk of harm.

Some firms have previously addressed this issue by implementing security tools to control and monitor applications at the firewall level. However, the complexity and core role of such tools led Saasyan to take a higher-level approach.

“We are not reinventing the wheel,” founder and managing director Greg Margossian told CSO Australia.

“We are not creating a firewall from scratch, or a web filter from scratch as many alternative solutions have done. We decided to complement established enterprise firewalls, which provide good levels of security but have never been designed to be school friendly.”

Although this remained a core architectural decision, working securely in an educational environment required Saasyan’s team to manage scalability as each customer win added thousands of users to its platform – and maintain a range of security controls while doing so.

A cloud-based solution seemed the logical choice, and the five-employee team quickly settled on Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the platform on which it would build its business.

“From Day Zero we didn’t have to worry about managing infrastructure,” Margossian said. “We could use a combination of services – including data warehousing, machine-generated data processing, data archiving and so on – to achieve different objectives in the software.”

Peaky demand in schools also allows the platform to be dialled down at nighttime, saving costs and allowing Saasyan to use those funds to build its business around potential new wins across Australia and New Zealand.

“If one of these deals lands, all of a sudden we multiply the number of users by 10,” Margossian said. “It’s one less thing we have to worry about: we have people to support the additional users, but infrastructure won’t be one of those bottlenecks.”

The cloud’s ability to shoehorn small companies into relatively solid security and infrastructure positions has become a key enabler of rapid growth for all manner of startups.

Yet many companies are still struggling with perceptions that cloud – and, in particular, its security – remain obstacles for core environments.

SaaS and cloud infrastructure “are fundamentally changing the decades-old dynamic between business and IT groups,” analyst firm IBRS noted in its recent State of Enterprise Software survey of senior executives, who said that finance and HR units continued to drive IT procurement far more frequently than operational and IT units.

Interestingly, IT is seen by many business units as a strategic blocked. “The software as a service business model removes a risk-averse IT group from the procurement decision, since the provider has subsumed the risk,” the report’s authors observe.

SaaS was named as the preferred approach for enterprise solutions by 27 percent of respondents and that 27 percent prefer a cloud-infrastructure approach.

“With cloud services, IT can stop being solely focused on avoiding failure and instead focus more on improvement and innovation,” the report’s authors noted. “If they don’t, business units will work around them.”