SaaS Tech Stack: Choosing the Best for Your Project
The SaaS model has become so popular that the value of the global SaaS market is expected to reach $344 billion by 2027, clocking an average Annual Growth Rate of 7.89% from 2022.
The US market, which has long held the number one position in the world, is projected to grow to $167.3 billion by 2027. This is almost half of the entire global SaaS industry!
These projections provide sufficient evidence that the SaaS model will continue to be a revenue goldmine for anyone who wants to get in, now and long into the future.
However, SaaS offers more than just financial gains. Its true power lies in its ability to cultivate a profound connection with your customers, igniting a passion for your product that surpasses mere consumption.
Cultivating this level of passion among customers has a lot to do with how you develop your product. To do this, you need to assemble the right tools - and this is what probably led you here.
Let’s get the answers. A few definitions will set the wheel in motion.
What is a tech stack?
A tech stack is the comprehensive set of technology tools that are needed to develop a product or perform a specific function, like marketing, sales, etc. A typical technology stack for a technology product, also known as a solutions stack, consists of tools such as the programming languages, frameworks, libraries, databases, runtime environments, etc.
The more contemporary stacks include additional classes of tools for functions such as project management, automation, analytics, containerization, and performance monitoring, among others.
Nonetheless, whether modern or not, the best tech stack is one that fits perfectly into the needs of a project.
What is SaaS tech stack?
Going by the definition above, a SaaS tech stack is simply the set of technologies that are required to build a SaaS product. A typical stack for a SaaS project may include the programming languages, frameworks, libraries, databases, DevOps tools, servers, automation, intelligence, and more.
The key components of a typical SaaS tech stack (plus examples)
Like most tech products, a typical SaaS product has two main sides: the front-end and the back-end. So most of the tools that will be required for a SaaS project will be used to develop either the front-end or the back-end.
The front-end component constitutes the tools used to build the client side of the SaaS application. “Client-side” here refers to the UI and UX — the part of the application that customers see and interact with, such as the application layout, links, text, images, buttons, and forms, as well as the script through which all these come to life.
The main tools in this category are the programming languages, libraries and frameworks. Let’s look at each of these.
i. Programming languages
HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is used to populate and organize the structure of the application. It is also used for accessibility and SEO purposes for web applications, with the latest version, HTML 5, offering more support for audio and video content.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is the language that determines the appearance of the content created through markup languages like HTML. Through CSS, you can create animations and change fonts, colors, and spacing. CSS is basically used to beautify the content and give it a responsive design that can be viewed seamlessly from multiple devices.
A framework is a blueprint with pre-written codes and established design templates that developers use as a guide to create software solutions. They have all the necessary codes and resources needed by developers to build full-scale applications. These codes are already set out in the text editor.
Developers cannot go beyond the resources and methodologies defined by a framework, making them less flexible.
Unlike a framework, a library is only a collection of pre-written codes without a predetermined template for their use. With libraries, you request for codes to perform specific tasks, such as codes on classes, functions, and subroutines. These pre-written codes are what you use to create the elements of specific features of your software, such as animations or specific UI elements.
Libraries make SaaS app development easier and offer more freedom than frameworks. Pre-written codes can be requested individually and can be used any way you want as long as the codes work with each other.
We can use the context of building a house to understand the clear difference between libraries and frameworks. In this context, libraries can be likened to templates for making furniture in a house, and frameworks as strict templates for building and furnishing the house. You can use blueprints for furniture (libraries) to create furniture pieces as you wish, whereas blueprints for the entire house (frameworks) strictly dictate not only the construction but also the furnishing.
The back-end component of a SaaS tech stack is the set of tools used to build and manage the server side of the application.
The server side refers to the part that users don’t see — the core foundation supporting the application’s functionality.
The back-end component can be divided into four main categories; servers, programming languages, databases, and DevOps.
A server is the computer system or cluster of computers that acts as the central hub that manages the processing, storage, and retrieval of data for the SaaS application. It receives requests from clients (users or other systems) and responds by performing the necessary computations, accessing databases, and returning the requested information or executing the desired actions.
The servers comprise two parts — software (Operating System) on which server-side or back-end code is written and the hardware that facilitates computation. The hardware is just a computer like the normal PC but with advanced capabilities and capacity.
Servers can be deployed on-premise, cloud or hybrid. Cloud servers offer the most scalability with SaaS projects. Some of the most popular providers of cloud servers include Amazon Web Service (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Services.
Think of a database as a digital storage system that holds all the necessary information for the application to function. It's like a virtual filing cabinet where data is stored. The database stores various types of information, such as user profiles, settings, records, and any other data required by the SaaS application. It provides a way to efficiently store, retrieve, and manage data, allowing the application to perform tasks like retrieving user information, processing transactions, or generating reports. Without a database, a SaaS product would struggle to store and manage data effectively. This will impact its ability to provide reliable services to its users.
Databases can be either sequential or nonsequential.
Sequential databases refer to a data access method where data is stored and accessed in a specific order. Non-sequential databases, on the other hand, allow for flexible data retrieval based on various criteria, such as using indexes or query languages.
The database stack comprises database management systems (DBMS) that cater to different data types. For instance, relational DBMSs such as MySQL and Oracle excel at handling sequential data, while No-SQL DBMSs like MongoDB and Apache Cassandra are more suitable for managing non-sequential data.
iii. Back-end programming languages
Back-end programming languages are used to develop the server-side of the application.
iv. DevOps tools
DevOps consist of all other tools through which the development team facilitates or manages operations. These include
- Project management tools like JIRA
- SecOps tools like Datadog or Sumo Logic
- Version control tools like GitHub or GitLab
- Container management tools like Kubernetes
- Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools like Appium
- Continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) tools like Jenkins, and
- Automation tools like TestSigma and Nagios.
The combination of all these front-end and back-end components is what makes up the typical SaaS tech stack.
Popular SaaS technology stacks
- MERN: Combining MongoDB (Database), Express (back-end framework), React (front-end framework), and Node (Operating System).
- MEAN: Combining MongoDB, Express, Angular (front-end framework), and Node.
- MEVN: Combining MongoDB, Express, VueJS, and Node.
- LAMP: Back-end stack combining Linux (OS), Apache (HTTP web server), MySQL (database), and PHP (programming language)
How to choose the right SaaS technology stack for your project
Now that we have a good grasp of tech stack in the context of SaaS, it is time to learn how to choose the right one.
Choosing the right tech stack comes down to this process;
1. Think through the product you want to build
The first step towards a well-curated tech stack is understanding the scope of your SaaS project.
By this, we mean understanding the solutions your SaaS application is expected to bring into the market: This could include details such as the number of users it can serve, the expected size of the application’s infrastructure, how long the solution will last, and the deployment medium.
For instance, if you intend to build an invoicing SaaS solution targeting millions of users, you are likely to find out that a cloud-based server working with a relational DBMS like Oracle may serve you better.
If you intend to build a mobile solution for low-end devices, the React Native framework may serve as a better lightweight programming option than Flutter.
Thinking through these nuances allows you to adopt a tech stack that will give you the best results for your use case.
2. Take into account the primary language (s) that your developers are accustomed to
Embracing the latest technologies in the market may help you stay ahead of competitors. However, it is crucial to consider the familiarity levels of the developers who will be involved in the project.
Introducing too many unfamiliar tools to developers poses a risk that can lead to project disruptions, delays, and confusion. This is especially critical when it comes to the core front-end and back-end languages.
If there are essential languages that developers must use, but they lack adequate familiarity, it is advisable to invest in training or consider adding more skilled developers who are proficient in those languages.
3. Review the community and support around each language or platform
Communities drive the world of programming. Not only do members provide materials and first-hand support to problems. These communities are also a treasure trove of resources for inspiration on best practices.The best communities are host to frequently updated frameworks and templates to bolster the development process.
What’s more, you may be lucky to discover that some members have already built a product that is similar to what you are trying to develop. Their experience can offer valuable insights into avoiding mistakes and achieving faster results.
For example, the ReactJS community boasts a larger and more active membership compared to the Angular community, making it a more reliable choice for a front-end framework.
The less community support a tool has, the lonelier the developers throughout the development journey - and this could pose a risk.
4. What is the learning curve like?
In the dynamic landscape of modern technology, the sheer breadth and depth of tools have reached unprecedented levels. It has become increasingly challenging for any team of developers to possess expertise in every facet of these expansive tools.
This knowledge gap necessitates the developers acquire skills in specific tools that may be crucial for the project but are not commonly utilized by the team.
To address this requirement, it is crucial to prioritize simplicity in the learning process. Go for tools that offer a gentle learning curve.
5. How easy is it to find skilled talent (developers) for your kind of project?
Many business owners and managers have had to shelve great product ideas because they could not locate suitable developers for the project.
Yes, this may sound ridiculous but it happens.
Developer shortage continues to be a huge problem worldwide, especially for the very high end skills that are required to build complex products. Often, the situation is that the developers may be there but occupied with other projects and therefore unavailable to take on more work.
How do you navigate this challenge?
Scrutinize the tech stack options and assess the feasibility of finding skilled professionals for each critical tool. In cases where you anticipate challenges in acquiring the necessary expertise, consider replacing those specific tools with alternatives that are more readily supported by available skilled professionals.
If replacing means compromising certain aspects of the project, then you could consider buying some time to find the right skills.
6. Are there prospects of long-term support around the SaaS technology stack?
Without long-term support, a tool may become outdated, leading to compatibility issues, security vulnerabilities, and the inability to leverage new features or advancements. On the other hand, a robust support system enables developers to benefit from timely assistance when troubleshooting issues.
We must be careful to mention that support may never be guaranteed forever. It really depends on the people behind a tool.
So you don't have full control over this, but assessing the support prospects from a long term perspective can help you avoid shaky tools. Sometimes a tool can have everything going on well with a very promising future, then something happens suddenly and throws all users into a jungle. You need to check this for each and every tool you want to include in your stack.
For instance, support for AngularJS has been halted since December 31, 2021, making it a not so stable tool to include in your tech stack.
7. Is the tech stack agile enough?
Any good project manager will tell you that it’s always important for a project to have the flexibility to adapt and respond fast to changes.
An agile tech stack will accommodate iterations, allowing the SaaS application to stay competitive.
8. Decide on the architecture: Monolithic vs Microservice
A monolithic SaaS architecture uses a large single-unit system to manage interactions between the front-end and back-end. This single-unit system is built on one code base. It is also indivisible, comprising a single database, data interface, business logic, and user interface through which all the features of the application are delivered.
Microservice architectures, on the other hand, make use of different units or “microservices” to deliver different features of the application. The entire architecture has multiple microservices. One Microservice unit will have its own database, business logic, code base, and the technology used to deliver a part of the application. This structure means all the key parts of the SaaS application will be independent of one another. A problem in one does not affect the performance of others.
Microservice architectures are the more adopted of the two in modern SaaS projects. Unlike monolith architectures that are difficult to make changes to and innovate with, microservices allow introduction of new features and technologies without affecting the entire system. They present fewer development risks as each unit is separated from the others, are more flexible to work with, and reduce the time-to-market.
Case study: how Spotify’s SaaS tech stack powers over half a billion users
Spotify is the popular digital audio and video streaming platform with over 515 million monthly active users worldwide.
For inspiration, here is a very condensed look into what makes up the billion-dollar company’s tech stack.
Spotify programming languages and frameworks
Spotify data management tools
To facilitate its data management workflows, the SaaS platform utilizes a host of appropriate big-data tools. The most important of these tools include Cassandra for data storage, Kafka for real-time data pipeline streaming, Hadoop for batch data analytics, and Storm for unbounded data processing.
Spotify adopted Google Cloud as its choice cloud server back in 2016, migrating over 1,200 microservices and 100 teams.
Spotify DevOps tools
The Spotify team makes use of Optimizely to manage and experiment with new customer experiences, Datadog for data security, Docker for containerizing codes, libraries, files, tools, and runtime environments.
Spotify customer engagement
Salesforce Desk is Spotify’s choice tool for customer support, while Adroll is used for cross-platform marketing and advertising purposes.
Why many SaaS projects are using the wrong SaaS technology stack and how to avoid the mistake
One prevalent mistake is being lured by the hype of new and trendy technologies without considering their long-term viability. It can be tempting to adopt the latest innovations at the expense of factors like maturity, stability, and community support.
To avoid this mistake, start by thoroughly assessing your project's unique needs. Next, transform the factors outlined in this guide into a checklist, which can then be employed to assess the available options. Compare the research findings with the project's needs, then select the tools that best align with those requirements.