Microsoft moves into European ASP market

"The ASP platform will be launched this (northern) summer, as well as a refresh of SQL Server later this year, which will be designed with the ASP in mind," said Jeremy Gittins, group marketing manager, strategic business development for Microsoft. "We want to make the Windows platform the basis of ASPs."

Now is a better time than ever to launch, as well as adopt, the ASP model, Gittins said. There is a lot of excitement in the industry about application services, and internet standards are being developed in response to this, he said.

The attention being given to the necessity for increased internet bandwidth will also benefit ASPs. "Bandwidth makes ASPs possible," he said.

Small and medium-sized businesses are most likely to be early adopters of outsourcing to ASPs, Gittins said. "These businesses are already warm to the idea of outsourcing," he said. "They outsource today, so they already have the infrastructure in place."

Gittins said that Microsoft is dedicated to the ASP model, but would not neglect any other areas in designing the software. "We are designing our platform and launching new elements with the ASP in mind. Not solely focused on the ASP, but with it in mind," he said.

European service providers have been testing Microsoft's ASP software, and Microsoft was satisfied with the results.

One of the initial program partners, UK-based ASP NetStore PLC, currently has 14,000 contracted users from 525 customers, Sean O'Reilly, vice president of marketing for NetStore said. However, in just under three years of operation, NetStore has learned some lessons. "We have a record of approximately .0701 per cent planned downtime, and .001 per cent unplanned downtime," O'Reilly said. "Nobody can really offer the five nines (99.999 per cent uptime) they talk about."

NetStore began as an ASP offering two applications, backup and restore, and PC refresh, both of which focused on saving and restoring data from the computers of its customers. Since then the company has expanded to offer NetStore Exchange Service, which is an outsourced version of Microsoft Exchange, where the email client, along with all calendars, shared address books and storage areas for shared files actually lie on NetStore's servers.

"The most important key to our business is to go beyond what the customer could ever offer themselves," O'Reilly said. "We will always invest double in everything, double redundancy."

However, there is still some time before companies will be willing to completely rely on ASPs for software, O'Reilly said. "It will be between a year and 14 months before any company goes over to 100 per cent (of its applications outsourced to an) ASP."

Microsoft has not decided on pricing information for its channels yet, according to Microsoft's Gittins. "However, the pilot has given us enough data so that our channels can already make some compelling offers (to future customers)," he said.

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