Application service provider group formed

Twenty five companies including Compaq Computer, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems and AT&T announced on Tuesday at Networld+Interop the creation of a consortium to promote the application service provider industry.

The new Application Service Provider (ASP) Industry Consortium defines such providers as either companies, government bodies or nonprofit organisations that "manage and deliver application capabilities to multiple entities from data centres across a wide area network."

The group's goals include developing common definitions for the industry, sponsoring research, fostering open standards and guidelines, and promoting best practices.

The industry incorporates any use of an application over a network, including the use of telephones, computers, Internet devices, set-top boxes and PDAs (personal digital assistants), said Traver Gruen-Kennedy, chairman of the ASP group and director of the business products division at Citrix Systems.

"We've been talking about convergence. The convergence of data and the network. The ASP is the convergence," he said. "The real promise of net(work) access to applications, or the ASP, is universal access," regardless of a user's location.

Only a handful of the founding members of the group are actually application service providers, such as AristaSoft, FutureLink Distribution, IBM and Telecomputing ASA, according to Gruen-Kennedy. The others are players in the industry, including resellers, system integrators, network providers, ISPs (Internet service providers), ISVs (independent software vendors) and telecommunications companies.

The increasing complexity of applications, the prevalence of the Internet and the recognition that companies are working in a global economy are key drivers toward the outsourcing of IT service, said Cameron Chell, president of ASP and chief executive officer of FutureLink.

"Users don't want to (have to) know how to load or install and maintain" software, he said.

Application service providers can help companies lower their total cost of ownership and predict costs of managing IT, as well as free them up to focus on their core business, according to Chell.

"CTOs (chief technology officers) are the biggest champions (of outsourcing the service) in organisations," he said. That is because they often end up spending too much time fixing software problems instead of providing strategic IT direction for the company, Chell added.

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