One thing that Windows Vista has proven is that software upgrades can be very expensive, even for a small office. Software upgrades are very expensive.
And for many small and medium businesses that don’t have a single dedicated office the sharing of software can be even more difficult and expensive. This is especially true for companies that have individuals working in remote locations or those with employees who frequently travel. One business solution is an application service provider (ASP). These “on-demand” software applications are also desirable because of the cost is often less than traditional off-the-shelf software that needs to be installed on each computer.
With an ASP the services and applications are accessed over a network, and can even be built around a standard protocol such as HTTP. ASPs are typically easy to use and make for an affordable alternative to traditional desktop software.
One example of an ASP is how Google currently provides relatively straightforward office applications that can be used online to create text files and spreadsheets. These apps give users the option of saving their work to a disk somewhere in Google, as well as offering the option to save it to a local hard drive on your PC or laptop.
Another type of ASP is a service model in which the ASP provides a specific service, such as monitoring your local PC or storage structure from a remote location. This can be seen as a type of small office outsourcing. It can allow a small business to actually augment its internal IT staff or compensate for a lack thereof, by using a third party to do the work for you. The value-add of an ASP is what makes it so desirable for a small business, because it is hosted online and all of the management and updates are taken care of in the background.
One point worth mentioning is that many users won’t even know when it gets an update, because it is just there when you access it.
Of course experts say cost is the biggest factor for small businesses. If you try to buy something off the shelf like project management software, it could end up costing several hundred dollars a person. And depending on the software, you might even have to upgrade your PCs at the office to run these applications. The alternative is subscribing to an ASP, which can do essentially the same thing, such as Basecamp but for $30 to $50 per user annually.
Pros and Cons of ASPs
ASPs are not without their faults, however. One outstanding issue is that there is limited customization, so users will have to adapt somewhat to the software. The other big issue is security, which has been a concern since the earliest days of ASPs in 1999. Today, there is awareness that the problem has gotten somewhat worse. Vendors, say the experts, can only do so much to close the holes.
Experts often describe ASP software as being somewhat “porous” in that it can add many holes that serve as an open door in your network, and it doesn’t matter how many firewalls or intrusion prevention systems you have in place. The ASP can add holes, and this needs to be considered.