ASPs Aim to Put Apps on the Phone Bill

VENICE, ITALY (03/20/2000) - Application service provision may not just be for application service providers, and Microsoft Office, measured by the minute rather than the megabyte, could soon join bundled minutes, caller ID and voice mail on our monthly phone bills, if some in the industry get their way.

"The future of software is as a service, as a utility, as simple as a phone call," said John Marchese, managing director of service provision development for software developer Citrix Systems Inc., speaking here at the International Data Corp. (IDC) European Telecoms Forum 2000 today.

Such a combination could finally put the seal on the long-running debate over convergence between voice networks (for which read the traditional telcos) and data (represented by the software industry, the cause of much of that data traffic).

"Convergence is about services delivered over an infrastructure to many devices," said Claude Florin, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s telecoms infrastructure division business development manager, speaking in the same conference session.

The rise of the application service provider is good news for companies like Citrix. Known for its Winframe software, which enables many users on a LAN to run the same application from a single server, the company is now betting on spreading this model to the WAN.

The logic of application service provision is inescapable, according to Marchese. "The pipes are there, the reliability is there. Permanent (Internet) connections are becoming commonplace."

"On the back end, the processing power keeps getting larger; it helps scale the server," he said.

That's the only processing power that counts for Citrix: its software enables many users to run enterprise applications on a single back-end server, leaving their client devices to run only the screen interface. The Citrix display driver software has already been built into hundreds of different devices, Marchese said.

HP has an ambition to see a little of its software embedded everywhere, too: the company's e-speak code, released to the public last December, serves to enable communications between clients and brokers, a sort of common language for negotiating deals. This would enable back-end servers to do the heavy work, lightening the load for users and their terminals, Florin said.

Telecoms operators have an advantage in the ASP (application service provider) market, according to Marchese. Not only are we used to accessing their services with the thinnest client of all, but "they are an obvious point of billing, that billing aggregation is very strategic."

However, they will have to learn to move quickly, warned Florin. "Incumbents are less flexible than new entrants," he said, adding that they may have to partner with younger companies that have the new skills necessary.

IDC's European Telecoms Forum 2000, in Venice, Italy, continues through tomorrow.

IDC is a subsidiary of International Data Group, the parent company of the IDG News Service.

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