This approach also gives you the chance to implement dynamite software that would otherwise be too immediately expensive for your company.
There are plenty of transitional steps between managing an in-house application and hosting a fully outsourced one. To save money while in the building process, you should buy refurbished equipment and upgrade your existing servers with more memory and larger, faster disks. If you need more space, create a cooperative data center and split the cost with another business.
And before you make the final leap toward outsourcing, remember that a less costly alternative to ASPs is co-location -- buying new servers but paying a hosting provider to house them and connect them to the Internet. This is a good solution for resource-challenged companies that are looking for a middle ground between internal application management and complete outsourcing.
Under the microscope
Once you've decided that outsourcing is the proper approach for your company, it's time to find the most appropriate and reliable provider. This step is key. Hiring the wrong company can spell death to your business. Make a checklist of your requirements and go over them in detail before signing a contract. Do a full background check on potential ASPs and take on-site tours to get a firsthand look at their security procedures.
And remember, you'll be sharing your provider's resources with several other businesses, so make sure the ASP can handle your needs in harmony with those of its existing subscribers.
If your application relies on an Internet connection, your ASP should have redundant, high-bandwidth circuits (preferably 45Mbps or better) to at least two Tier 1 backbone carriers. In addition, the provider's data center should meet exacting standards for power, cooling, and fire prevention.
If application availability is crucial to the success of your business, make sure your provider has sufficient battery power and a backup generator. You should also demand around-the-clock emergency assistance to ensure that your applications are operational at all times. Furthermore, look for an ASP that gives you a direct-dial number that rings the lead administrator on site. That way, you won't get passed between operators and voice mail boxes when your applications are in a crisis situation.
Of course, you should receive all your terms in writing and check out a couple of the ASP's long-term references. Ask the provider for the names and contact information of some clients with operational needs similar to yours and who have been with the provider for at least a year. Make sure to pick up the phone and actually check out these references. If the ASP is reluctant to help you with this step, politely move along to another company.