When HCL bought the commerce software assets of IBM in 2018 we immediately got to work focusing on refreshing the roadmap of the product now known as HCL Commerce. The product had a strong architectural foundation (containerized, able to run in public cloud infrastructures or on premise) a solid core of functionality (esites, catalogs, promotions, high scalability, ability to customize, ability to run headless), and a loyal customer base who liked its flexibility and dependability.
However, we knew something was missing. Our competitors were offering multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) options, where they ran and hosted the software. This allowed customers to escape the job of having to host and manage the commerce software, at least to a degree
In November of 2020 we agreed with IBM to inherit their existing cloud commerce customer base, which brought a number of customers, and also importantly a close-knit team of professionals who knew commerce and had managed it for years. We now had the team, a vibrant and diverse customer base, and a desire to expand our Commerce product offerings.
So we set to work designing an alternative to a SaaS commerce platforms. We wanted to embrace our strengths – the reasons our customer base liked what we had to offer and stayed with us – but we also wanted to go “beyond SaaS”, and offer something that avoided the pitfalls of software as a service as we saw it. I articulated these in a previous article – 5 Drawbacks of Software as a Service (https://blog.hcltechsw.com/commerce/5-drawbacks-of-software-as-a-service). In summary they are:
- Vendor lock in
- Taxation effect of % of revenue (utility) billing
- Stuck in the box
- Ownership of data
- Updates on a vendors timetable
The result of that work is an offering we call HCL Commerce on HCL Now. We now offer the same commerce software that we sell to customers in a fully managed and cloud delivered way by the HCL Now team.
The HCL Now team is the close knit team of individuals I spoke about earlier. Their job is to run HCL Software products such as commerce on public cloud infrastructures. HCL is progressively offering ALL of our software products with HCL Now options to run and manage that software for you.
HCL Commerce on Now isn’t just another in a long line of SaaS commerce products however. It has been intentionally designed to avoid the pitfalls of SaaS, while yielding it’s the benefits of SaaS to customers. Some of those benefits are:
Highly scalable single tenancy
Multi tenancy is where a vendor creates a set of services and opens them up for shared use by a variety of customers. This has the benefit of allowing the vendor to maintain one set of environments for the service, one set of code effectively, which makes things simpler when it comes to updating that code/service. Examples in the commerce space might be catalog, payment, inventory or checkout services.
The problem with multi-tenancy is that it has to scale up to the demands of all the customers using it. In commerce, events such as Black Friday/Cyber Monday introduce peaks in traffic, and so the multi-tenant services can quickly become overwhelmed as many of these customers are experiencing peak traffic at the same time. Multi-tenant SaaS vendors often deal with this by imposing API limits (API throttling) – but its during peak that you often hit these limits, or pay big bills to exceed them.
Now while multi-tenant SaaS vendors have done a better job at dealing with peak traffic in recent years, the other consideration for customers of these platforms that experience peak traffic is that its during those times they earn a lot of their revenue. In some cases, we’ve seen retail customers who earn 30-40% of their annual revenue during November peak alone. Any slowdown or outage can cause considerable loss in revenue.
HCL Commerce has always played well with peak customers with large traffic volumes. Our customers demand high performance at busy times, and are reliant on our platform to perform at high volumes. So, we chose NOT to go with a multi-tenant SaaS approach for Commerce Now. Our environments are single tenant – where all of the servers and clusters are dedicated to a single customer. There are no infrastructure dependencies with other customers. This gives each of our customers a degree of independence and control. It places some overhead on us to upgrade instances individually, but in the cloud world where containers can be refreshed and deployed to servers within minutes this isn’t that difficult to manage.
Updates on Your Schedule
Single tenancy also allows us to be selective about when our customers receive container updates. This means we can work on our customers schedule as opposed to upgrading them on our (the vendors) schedule, and forcing them to react if any changes cause problems. We see this as a major benefit of single tenant Cloud Native software such as HCL Commerce, and it’s at the heart of HCL Commerce on Now.
Single Commerce software version for SaaS and On Premise
One key design point for HCL Commerce on Now was that we use the same software that we supply to customers to run on premise (or in their cloud of choice) as we run for HCL Commerce on Now. Many vendors have chosen to create new “SaaS specific” versions of their commerce software, which results in a fork between their on-premise products and their cloud products. The problem with this approach is that now they need to maintain two code bases, which dilutes their productivity and slows down the roadmap.
More importantly to customers however is that the code base for these SaaS vendor products isn’t available outside of that cloud. That creates “vendor lock in” – as you are entirely dependent on their service to run and be available to run your commerce property. You don’t have the choice of taking your commerce elsewhere.
Avoid vendor lock in
HCL Commerce on Now avoids vendor lock in as you can take your software and deploy it elsewhere. Our hope is that you are so happy with the service that you never want to do this, but just the fact that you can provides you with options that aren’t available on other SaaS services.
Run it in cloud of your choice
HCL Now currently offers products on a variety of different public cloud infrastructures including Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS. Our strategic goal is to offer customers choice as to which cloud provider they prefer. Many customers have a preference, and security teams that have vetted specific cloud vendors, so providing the software on the platform of your choice is another example of being flexible with our cloud native offering.
Retaining the ability to customize (to your hearts content)
One thing HCL Commerce customers like is the ability to customize – our customer rarely run it as it comes out of the box, they want to modify its behavior to suit their business, not change their business to suit how the application works. As we’re using the same software in HCL Now as we provide to customers to run on premise or in their own public clouds, their ability to customize remains intact. In fact, bringing existing customers into the HCL Now environment is easier because we can support all the customizations that already exist.
With HCL Commerce on Now we believe we have created one of the most flexible cloud commerce platforms on the market. We believe we’ve struck a balance between degree of customization, highly scalable architecture and feature richness of commerce capability. Combined with a lower the cost for running and hosting commerce, while detaching our pricing from the revenue that you can earn from your commerce operations, we’re helping you increase your return on your investment.