Asia Online rolls out ASP services

After testing an applications hosting service for months internally, Asia Online is muscling its way into the nascent application service provider (ASP) market. To kick off its regionwide initiative, the Hong Kong-based internet service provider this week introduced its first hosted desktop productivity applications, available now in Hong Kong, according to a company official.

The first application to be offered by CenoSuite, Asia Online's ASP service, is Microsoft Office 2000. The move represents the first time that such an application has been offered on tap to the Hong Kong market, according to Chan Siu-fung, director of the company's ASP Services. Asia Online will charge customers a flat monthly fee of $HK400 per user for the Office 2000 service, he added.

Additional applications, to be made available down the line, include Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino, as well as other accounting, human resources management, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and e-commerce applications, he said.

To guarantee the availability of its services, Asia Online will be signing service-level agreements with its customers, he said.

"We haven't finalised the level of guaranteed service yet. But we were able to maintain an industry standard of 99.7 per cent uptime during the pilot stage; the SLA (service level agreement) should be about the same level," he said.

Apart from software applications, Asia Online will also be renting out a paperback-sized thin client appliance, dubbed CenoStation. Produced by Wyse Technology, the appliance serves as a set-top box that supports an internet connection, Chan said. CenoStation, equipped with a built-in modem, a Fast Ethernet connection and sound ports, as well as a keyboard, mouse and 15-inch monitor, will be available for rent at $HK600 per month, he added.

Chan said the company's ASP service, targeted initially at small and medium-sized enterprises, offers the usual benefits of cost savings across software and server procurement, as well as system upgrades, support and maintenance. Since CenoSuite, running on Citrix's MetaFrame, emulates a Windows 2000 environment, users are spared the need to upgrade their operating systems to Windows 2000 in order to run the latest version of Microsoft Office.

"For many SMEs that are still using Windows 3.x or Windows 9x, this represents a considerable cost savings," Chan said.

In Hong Kong, CenoSuite will be initially available to hotels, business centres, schools and property developers. Asia Online "has already established good relationships with these segments [of the market]", said Chan. As more applications are added, services will be extended to other business sectors, he added.

Following its Hong Kong launch, CenoSuite will be rolled out in Australia in September and then in New Zealand, Malaysia, the Philippines and India before the end of the year, according to Chan.

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