Heavyweights vie to define the ASP model

Things heated up last week in the application service provider (ASP) market, when Microsoft and Compaq jointly made duelling announcements with Sun Microsystems, with each vendor jockeying to have the application outsourcing market grow up in its own image.

The week began with Sun's announcement of the SunTone Certification Program, which bestows the SunTone Certified logo on qualified vendors. The announcement included a list of 100 certified service providers, ISVs, and network equipment makers. The program is a single-company initiative by Sun.

"I'm not going to wait around and try to figure out what our competitors are doing," commented Ed Zander, chief operating officer at Sun. "Years ago, when we were talking about the network being the computer, they were still focused on desktop PCs. Right now, I'm into market share mode. There is nothing to say that Hewlett-Packard, or any of our other competitors, won't take this specification and work with their service providers or develop a specification that is very similar."

Sure enough, Microsoft and Compaq retaliated the next day by announcing a $US100 million investment -- $50 million each -- in Web-hosting company Digex. The investment will be used to develop suites and services for ASPs and ISVs to enable the rapid deployment of "ASP-enabled" applications on the Microsoft/Compaq platform, which Digex will market.

Both programs are intended to spur the acceptance of the ASP model and quell the concerns of large enterprises that are considering outsourcing their mission-critical applications. And both are designed to establish a standard way for applications to be hosted.

The SunTone program has three qualification levels. Level One deals with service-provider infrastructure and operational practices. Level Two, which will be addressed in the SunTone Specification 2.0, will focus on availability, security, and scalability and will apply to software applications and system integrators. Level Three will detail manageability guidelines.

Similarly, the Microsoft/Compaq alliance has four tenets that define standards for the ASP server platform, ASP application platforms, ASP partner interfaces, and ASP solution certification.

"We believe that the marketplace is looking for these solutions," said Thomas Koll, vice president of the network solutions group at Microsoft. "Corporations both large and small want to take thousands of Windows apps and move them to a very different model to allow for easier, more cost-effective management."

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