Picking through the HailStorm

After remaining quiet about exact intentions for an enterprise version of HailStorm, Microsoft this week confirmed its intention to sell a server that companies can use to host Web services. The Redmond, Washington-based software giant is expected to introduce the server this spring, but would not commit to a time frame.

HailStorm, the code name for what is now .Net My Services, is a set of usercentric services including e-mail, contacts, calendar, and an electronic wallet, among others.

Although Microsoft has until now refrained from discussing plans for corporate use of .Net My Services, Mark Lucovsky, a distinguished engineer who was the architect driving HailStorm, said in a recent interview with InfoWorld that the vision from early on was to enable corporate knowledge workers as well as consumers to access data.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that the new server for hosting HailStorm will be targeted at enterprises that want to deploy the services either internally or among their partners, and service providers, such as telecommunications companies and ISPs (Internet service providers), that want to offer the services to customers.

"We anticipate that ISPs, telcos, and enterprises will host the data and run these services for users," said Adam Sohn, a product manager for the .Net platform. "We will certainly sell the infrastructure software to support this. That is something we understand very well," Sohn said.

"In the end, many -- or at least most -- of the companies that want to use .Net My Services will either need a server or have to subscribe to a host that uses the server," said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research.

According to Lucovsky, one example of how a company can host HailStorm services internally and use them is an insurance company that bootstraps a set of insurance-related services to track information about its clients such as whom customers use for auto insurance, what the policy numbers are, and what other types of insurance policies their customers have.

"The [insurance company] wants that information tied to your identity so they can make new opportunities," Lucovsky said.

For instance, if a policyholder moves from Washington to Texas, the insurance company wants to know that information so it can make sure the local Texas sales agent seizes the opportunity to transfer the policy over to Texas rather than losing the customer to a competitor.

On the other side of the equation, because the insurance company hosts HailStorm, the doctor's offices that deal with the insurance company will be able to have more current data because the information will remain in one location, from which the doctors can access it. So, when a particular customer's file is altered, the next time the doctor's office goes to look at the file, the changes will automatically be there.

In addition to selling the infrastructure for companies to run their own .Net My Services programs, Sohn said that Microsoft plans to eventually run datacenters attached to MSN that offer these services, but that the company will not set itself up as the primary datacenter for .Net My Services.

Sohn added that working trials of the software are not expected to surface until late this year or early 2003.

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