HP's e-commerce strategy promises quality of service

Hewlett-Packard has unveiled a new electronic commerce strategy focused on enabling businesses to allocate system resources to their most important customers and applications as a way of making their Web sites more user-friendly.

Outlining HP's so-called Web Quality of Service (QoS) strategy at a press conference here, HP executives said Internet users demand a predictable level of service from Web sites before they will be prepared to take the plunge into e-commerce.

"In order to provide a good customer experience you've got to have a predictable service," said Nigel Ball, general manager of HP's Internet and Applications Systems Division.

Web QoS consists of hardware, middleware and software products that allow companies and service providers to prioritize functions like online banking and sales ahead of activities like Web browsing during times of peak activity, Ball said.

The technologies also allow businesses to identify their most important customers -- by using cookies, IP addresses and other means -- and give those users priority access to server resources. Customers left waiting in a queue will have the consolation of an on-screen message that informs them how long they will be waiting to get access to a site, officials said.

The first product based on the Web QoS technologies will be HP ServiceControl, which HP plans to ship June 1 for its HP 9000 Enterprise servers and HP-UX Unix operating system. The product includes Admission Control, a policy-based system for prioritizing and managing the workload on a server; and Persistant Connections, designed to prevent server overload by limiting access to high priority users, HP said.

The company 1 August plans to offer a complete server platform -- called HP Domain Commerce-- which will include HP ServiceControl bundled with a handful of the most essential e-commerce tools and applications, officials said.

They include a tool for managing e-commerce applications centrally from a Web browser; payment software from HP's wholly owned subsidiary, Verifone, and HP's OpenPix software for viewing, sharing and printing high-bandwidth images over the Internet.

HP Domain Commerce has been designed to work well with electronic applications from partners BroadVision, iCat, Intershop Communications and Open Market, who joined HP executives at the event today to announce support for its strategy.

HP's initial QoS offerings were developed for its own HP-UX version of Unix. The company plans to port HP Domain Commerce to Windows NT, and possibly to other versions of Unix in the future, although no concrete plans for other Unix systems have been made, Ball said.

HP Service Control is priced at $US800 per CPU, while HP Domain Commerce will cost $US3,995, HP said.

HP also announced ongoing work with Cisco Systems to enhance its QoS offerings. HP ServiceControl includes a technology that improves load balancing using Cisco's LocalDirector, and the companies are working together to more tightly integrate Cisco's CiscoAssure Policy Networking with HP's QoS technologies, Cisco officials said.

HP hopes its Web QOS strategy will enable it to compete better against competitor system vendors IBM and Sun Microsystems, Ball said. In one of several jibes against IBM, Bell criticised the company for trying to decrease customer wait times by "throwing more hardware at the problem," rather than making better use of available resources.

HP's QoS will receive a public try-out over the next few months during the 1998 World Cup football tournament. HP is the IT hardware and maintenance supplier for the event, and a component of QoS that gives priority to users making online transactions will be used on the World Cup's online store, officials said.

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