The concept of cloud computing has been around for a long time, and recently the significance of adopting cloud services has been magnified as an important business issue, and one which is central to the business operation.

For instance, Web-based e-mail services have been used widely since the 90s but they weren’t labelled ‘cloud’ at the time, so they were embraced readily and without hesitation. Now, most corporate IT providers have made cloud a key part of their strategies and spend most of their time trying to maximise its potential for the business, while a plethora of companies are popping up specialising solely in cloud services.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) in particular has made a considerable mark, as everyone from start-ups to enterprises are urged to take the leap into the cloud and stream their software over the Internet from external servers.

The benefits of a SaaS model are tempting. It replaces the capital expenditure usually reserved for software and licenses with a predictable monthly fee. Upgrades can be rolled out quickly and simply, and software can be accessed wherever there is an internet connection. On top of this, IT support costs are reduced massively by outsourcing hardware, software maintenance and support to the SaaS provider.

It’s therefore not surprising that Gartner expects the SaaS market to be worth $32.8 billion by 2016. Its role is certainly going to become more important in the future. However in the rush to adopt SaaS, end user businesses may not realise they are actually buying into what is quite an immature proposition.

There are a number of pitfalls that organisations should be aware of. Firstly, by opting for the ‘as-a-service’ delivery method, organisations lose their grip on critical data and software. This forces them to put their complete trust in a third party which at best they may know relatively well, but at worst could be an unknown quantity. Thorough vetting of suppliers is therefore essential, to ensure they are up to the task of delivering and looking after business critical corporate IT.

And what if the cloud provider goes out of business? We saw first hand what can happen when data centre firm 2e2 went bust. Customers were asked to fork out in order to safeguard their own critical data, in what the media dubbed a ‘£1 million ransom’.

Having to pay to keep data alive is a alarming prospect, and an event that SaaS subscribers likely don’t envisage happening. But it’s an eventuality that should be considered and prepared for. Organisations should be asking cloud providers what their contingency plan is if the worst should happen. There should be a simple agreement put in place that allows a business to access another cloud provider in this scenario.

The trajectory of SaaS adoption shows no sign of slowing, and with the benefits on offer it’s understandable why. However organisations should examine all eventualities before entering into any cloud relationship with a supplier. End users should be opting for flexible contingency measures that enable a simple switch to an alternative provider if the worst should happen. When your head is in the clouds, transparency is key.