A few weeks ago, I stumbled onto Zoho. Zoho is a SaaS provider delivering many business targeted applications. Since we provide linux server management services, you would think we would just fire up our own software on any number of the servers we own. However, sometimes it is quicker just to outsource a function rather than deal with setting up software.

Project Management
We are currently overhauling our service offerings, launching a new marketing plan, and tuning up some items in the back office. When it was just a couple of us, those tasks were easy to manage, but with our growth, there are about a half dozen people involved with some working remotely. We then have about a dozen service partners that are helping us with marketing materials and development. To co-ordinate all of this, I started looking for project management solutions.

I looked around and found several options, but I wanted something quickly. Getting going with Zoho was quick and free (for 1 project). That’s a combination I could not resist.

I am still getting used to the software, but thus far, the Zoho tools are working well. You can have multiple projects with the paid version, each project has key milestones, and then specific tasks. The system sends out email notices for meetings, task updates, and other changes to a project.

As with any software, you have to get used to its quarks, but at little over $100 per year it is a bargain. Even if it does not serve our long term needs, the Zoho subscription model, low costs and easy sign up made the buying decision a trivial one.

Hosted Services
I think Zoho represents the future of “hosting”. No longer can we sit back and provide a “hosting” plan with megabytes of space and dozens of email accounts. Businesses want solutions.

When I talk to other small business owners, I rarely here them say, “I need about 500MB of disk space, 10GBs of bandwidth and 35 email accounts.” Instead they ask for a place to share documents, a place to conduct virtual meetings, a place to have a shared calendar or address book.

While Zoho may lake the popularity of Google Apps, they certain have a compelling suite of services. From document management to invoicing to remote desktop interaction, they have a wide range of services that will allow solution integrators to develop niche-specific solutions.

Building Blocks
I like Zoho because they provide the building blocks for integrated applications. This will allow tremendous flexibility for solution providers to deliver robust, customized applications to small business owners. I suspect I really like this approach as it is similar to the one we are adopting.

rackAID taps many service vendors to create building blocks for a robust IT infrastructure. We integrate solutions from backup, security, and hosting vendors to provide a single integrated product. You no longer have to deal with a half dozen vendors when a problem arises; you can just contact us and we handle the vendor relationships.

Zoho’s model may grow to be similar. Integrated solution providers will abstract their clients from the gritty technical details. They will integrate solutions from Zoho, Microsoft, Google and others to give the client what they want.

I know “cloud computing” is all of the rage now (and for the past year), but don’t count SaaS out. The company that makes SaaS building blocks that are portable, easy to use, and easy to price, will certainly see a bright future.