In the Trenches at an ASP

By Dawne Shand, Computerworld |  Software

Reliability may be essential, but The Dress Barn Inc. in Suffern, N.Y., uses NaviSite because the clothing retailer can rent both hardware and software. Dress Barn has chosen to avoid a heavy investment in equipment as it gears up for Internet retailing. The clothing retailer rents four server licenses from NaviSite.

"It was the service which kept us coming back as we evaluated ASPs," says Chris Correia, Dress Barn's director of IT. NaviSite has kept Correia aware of new technologies and has helped define the software and hardware configurations it will need.

New Technologies, New Expectations

NaviSite has a track record of working with new technology, which company officials say makes it more attractive to customers. Chief Technology Officer Peter Kirwan worked closely with Cambridge, Mass.-based Akamai Technologies Inc. to integrate graphics-caching with NaviSite's service. He says that as Web applications become more complex -- requiring separate graphics and ad servers, streaming media and localized versions, for example -- companies will have no choice but to rely on a partner.

For example, Kirwan heads NaviSite's streaming media service, which customers can rent. NaviSite can arrange for satellite transmission of live events over the Internet. "Sometimes (customers) have no idea how complex what they ask for really is," explains Kirwan. "And that's the beauty of the managed services model. The partner shoulders the complexity."

Herein lies one of the thornier problems in the whole ASP model: the service-level agreement. NaviSite will repair problems in applications that are based on software it knows. By certifying and mentoring its staff, it develops deep expertise in commonly used products such as Oracle databases.

Jay Seaton, NaviSite's vice president of marketing, explains that the company and its customers hammer out the service-level details up front. "A year ago, everyone promised 99.9-something percent availability; it all seemed the same," he says. "If a piece of hardware goes down, we can't possibly replace it in five minutes."

And 99.99% reliability means just that -- only five minutes of downtime per month. Forty-five minutes of downtime are allowed with 99.95% availability. NaviSite is wary of making unrealistic promises in the thoroughly unpredictable environment that is the Internet, Seaton says.

The decision to use an ASP boils down to how well it can take care of an application when problems arise. To determine that, you have to visit an ASP's network operating center.

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