IBM offers managed services at customer premises

ITworld.com –

IBM Corp. launched Friday a new service designed to manage Web servers that are located at customers' premises. As part of the new offering, called Services Anywhere, IBM will deliver remotely a variety of managed security, monitoring and storage services.

These types of managed services are most often offered to companies that keep their Web servers hosted externally at the location of the services provider. Services Anywhere is aimed at companies that are interested in the services, but want to keep their servers on their own premises, or that have their servers located externally in rented space at so-called "colocation" centers and don't want to move them from there, said Stuart Bean, director of e-business hosting at IBM Global Services.

IBM decided to offer Services Anywhere as an option to its more encompassing and fully managed hosting offerings, which involve having the customers' systems at IBM facilities, when it started sensing demand for something like this late last year, Bean said. About five or six companies have signed up for Services Anywhere already, Bean said.

"We feel it's a good win-win option for clients caught in the middle," interested in the services but not in moving out the servers, he said.

Services Anywhere is aimed at companies with an installed base of between 30 and 1,000 Web servers, Bean said. To provide the services remotely, IBM will build a remote operations console at the customer's site that links the servers and IBM's central management facility via a virtual private network (VPN) connection.

Services Anywhere is available now in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, and will be available in Europe and Asia Pacific in July, Bean said. Prices for the service vary, but a ballpark figure is around US$25,000 per month, he said.

Analysts said that IBM would rather stick to its more traditional hosting services in which it manages customers' Web servers in its own facilities, but that customer demand has forced IBM to launch this service.

"If IBM had its druthers, it would never do it this way," IDC analyst Melanie Posey said.

IBM, in Armonk, New York, has had the capability to offer this middle-of-the-road service for some time, and is now packaging and marketing it, they said.

"IBM has put together this package to let customers know IBM isn't forcing them into the IBM data center," IDC analyst David Tapper said. "It's an IBM response to customer demand and concerns."

Demand is coming from customers that had their Web servers hosted off site only to have to bring them back in-house after their hosting provider folded or got into a precarious financial situation, analysts said. Those companies are often unwilling to move the Web servers out again, but still need the managed services, they said.

Other companies that may also be interested in this approach, analysts said, are those that haven't outsourced before, because this gives them a chance to get their feet wet; those that are concerned about security, such as those in the financial, insurance and government sectors; and those that want to get as much mileage as possible from the servers they own.

To be a good fit for this offering, companies must have a heavy-duty, in-house Web server infrastructure, Posey said.

Other hosting companies offer services similar to IBM's Services Anywhere, but it's significant that IBM has chosen to enter this segment of the market, because it gives companies the option of doing business with IBM, which unlike many hosting providers, is a stable and solid company, Posey said.

This offering may give IBM a chance to get its foot in the door with certain types of customers, give them a sample of the services IBM can provide, and convince them to move to a more traditional arrangement where the customer agrees to host its servers at an IBM facility, the analysts said.

A down side to the Services Anywhere offering is that IBM may be unable or unwilling to offer the types of service level agreements (SLAs) it offers when it hosts the servers at its own facilities, since in this case it has more limited control over the system, Posey said.

In fact, IBM's Bean said that the basic Services Anywhere package doesn't include an SLA, but it can be added if the customer pays extra for it.

Services available as part of this offering include:

-- security services, including firewall management, intrusion detection, vulnerability scanning and virus alerts;

-- performance services, such as load balancing and content caching;

-- application support services, including database and middleware support;

-- basic and advanced network and systems monitoring services;

-- storage services, such as back-up and restoration.

Virtela Communications Inc. will provide the VPN connection between IBM and its customers in the U.S. IBM will partner with other VPN providers outside the U.S.

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