In the Trenches at an ASP

By Dawne Shand, Computerworld |  Software

Paying a monthly fee to have someone else buy, configure and manage all the equipment your business uses, maintain your company's network connection to the Internet and troubleshoot the inevitable glitches in both hardware and software sounds like a way to eradicate many information technology headaches. At least that's what application service providers (ASP) are banking on.

During the past year, the nascent ASP market has attempted to take on the hosting and management of many complex applications, for both small and large enterprises. The number of headaches they've alleviated, however, has yet to be determined.

Renting can have its downside, too: Customers don't define how an ASP avoids trouble, and they don't control its responses to problems; that happens in the data center. So if you're going to use a service provider, you need to carefully check out its operations. With this in mind, Computerworld visited NaviSite Inc.'s data center in Andover, Mass., to see what we could learn about the ASP business.

Row upon row of black racks and boxes are arrayed inside NaviSite's 20,000-square-foot data center. The center, which opened in January, will eventually grow to 52,000 square feet, according to company officials. NaviSite, just three years old, outgrew its first center last year.

NaviSite started out as the internal IT department of CMGI Inc., a venture capital group also based in Andover. Back then, the group hosted and managed many of CMGI's Web businesses and gained expertise in finding and solving problems in Web applications that were becoming increasingly complex.

CEO Joel Rosen says the company is capable of performance management because "NaviSite cut its teeth working with sophisticated businesses."

NaviSite specializes in e-commerce applications. It provides a fixed-network architecture that's built using routers and switches from Cisco Systems Inc.; FireWall-1 from Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.; storage equipment from EMC Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp.; and load-balancing equipment such as a switch from ArrowPoint Communications Inc. or Cisco's LocalDirector product.

Customers can rent whatever equipment is appropriate to their needs, leaving management and maintenance to NaviSite. A few customers rent the equipment from NaviSite but choose to operate and maintain it themselves.

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