This is it! The latest, newest,
brightest acronym has arrived; ASP (which in this instance does not stand for Active
Server Page which has now been relegated to the acronym second division) or
Application Service Provider is the new kid on the block, and it has arrived in no
uncertain manner. All the talk about ASPs is a clear indication of how with a bit
of tweaking something old can be made all shiny. Bright, and new. Application
Service Provider; the hosting and delivery of an organisations applications
any Rip Van Winkles would think that we are talking about outsourcing of IT, and they
wouldnt be far wrong. What we really have is a more structured form of outsourcing
a relinquishing of a certain amount of control in return for perceived benefits.
Perception, however, can be a tricky thing; it all depends on your point of view
thats why its perception and not reality. In order to look at ASPs in a
rational manner, it is necessary to consider the benefits against the possible risks
involved, and make no mistake, there are risks.
A cynical view
It is a comforting thought that we now have all these nice organisations who no longer
want us to create an expensive infrastructure, and to buy lots and lots of seat licences
to run applications. These nice organisations are now going to do it all for us
just think of the savings to be made on IT staff alone, never mind the additional benefit
of no longer having to listen to techies telling us why we need to spend
another £1 million to put right the stuff we have just spent £2 million on. Its
such a good idea that its a wonder we havent all been doing it for years. Has
it really not crossed anybodys mind that this wonderful new opportunity just
happened to occur as there was a growing disenchantment with many vendors
license-pricing policies? Now theres real cynical, but lets just take a moment
to see what hosting applications means from a vendor point of view. Guaranteed revenue
stream; thats what it means. What was the purpose of introducing the licensing model
in the first place? Guaranteed revenue stream. Do we perhaps begin to see some connection
A word of warning
I will now move from cynical to cautionary. There are some obvious benefits to be had from
moving to an ASP, not least of which is cost-saving, especially in management terms.
However, these services are not going to be provided without charge, so it is incumbent on
organisations to do their sums carefully. Included in these arithmetical calculations
should also be some what-if scenarios. What if the level of service which should of
course be backed up by Service Level Agreements (SLAs) does not come up to the
expected standard? Even with the most tightly constructed SLAs, there are always going to
be grey areas. If redress for a failure or perceived failure needs to go to
litigation, then are system management costs going to be replaced with legal overheads?
The whole issue of SLAs is a thorny one, as part of the delivery process will involve
parties that are not involved in the SLA, and what a recipe for disaster that could be.
The levels of expectation on availability and response times are also likely to be set too
high from the consumer point of view, and too low from the provider side of the fence; the
amount of horse-trading that is likely to be necessary before agreements get written up is
going to impact severely on time-to-market. Another concern is that the one-size-fits-all
model that is currently in operation, may become degraded as the take-up of these services
starts to increase. There is no guarantee that some ASPs might provide a premium service,
leaving the ordinary user to pick up the dregs of the available bandwidth.
Taking back control
One final area which I believe needs careful consideration is the ability to take back
control if things do not happen in the way forecast. Once an internal infrastructure and
management service is allowed to decay, how easy will it be to move anything back
in-house? All pretty negative Im afraid, something that may have been brought on by
the grey skies and the mood of the moment, or it might have been that my experience shows
that, in business, there are very few genuine win-win situations, and even with the few
exceptions there is still somebody who wins more than the other participant.
There is little doubt that over the coming years this model will find much favour, and
that many of the concerns I have raised will be met and dealt with to everybodys
satisfaction. There are many positive aspects of the ASP model as vendors are more
than happy to point out but it should also be remembered that according to
Shakespeare, Cleopatra died after clutching an ASP to her bosom.