REALITY CHECK: Software hosting is causing tremors

REALITY CHECK: Software hosting is causing tremors

IBM’s OnDemand e-business hosting initiative is picking up steam. Case in point: Siebel’s partnership with Big Blue to sell CRM OnDemand and Siebel’s purchase of UpShot, a hosted CRM competitor of

If the concept of buying software as a service, also known as utility computing, takes off, the repercussions will touch every part of the IT industry, including the reseller channel, and particularly value-added resellers (VARs).

And if it changes how companies buy software and how software is supported, it affects IT. Or should I say it will affect those still left in the IT department?

Chief technologist for the Americas at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, John Parkinson, sees the early signs of a critical trend.

“There are a lot of companies out there that would like not to have to deal with the complexity and cost of running IT but had no real alternative,” he said.

The trend of software as a service will gather momentum for several reasons. Among them, the large application vendors such as SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM are gradually expanding their footprint in the enterprise, but provisioning one customer at a time may not be economically sustainable much longer.

At the same time, companies must configure for peak demand, not average demand, so they buy more stuff than they really need. Add to that the refresh cycles and constant care and attention required. It is all becoming too expensive. Hosting solves these problems.

“It takes the cost of infrastructure off the balance sheet and replaces it with an operational cost on the profit and loss statement,” Parkinson said.

If the trend is real, VARs have no choice. If they ignore the on-demand phenomenon they risk being taken out of the sales cycle, or disinter­mediated, as it was called in the dot-com heyday. Or they can sell products to the hosting market or offer to host applications themselves.

“VARs will have to go from selling systems to selling services,” executive vice-president at Siebel, R. David Schmaier, said.

Schmaier said that Siebel didn’t have a very large VAR channel and saw VARs as competitors to hosted service providers.

Siebel’s “primary bet,” he said, was on the hosting service providers.

There is enough evidence to indicate that Schmaier and Siebel are not alone in this reading of the market. Besides, there are at least one million smaller companies that giants like Siebel can’t get to easily. It’s a distribution challenge to reach them in a cost-effective way, Schmaier said. For Siebel, IBM’s OnDemand becomes its reseller channel.

Both Schmaier and Parkinson said hosting represented a sea change in the VAR network. And if the VAR elected to host software, it became the enemy to IT, promoting the value of hosting over in-house staffing.

Parkinson said hosting would, over time, reduce the IT head count by as much as 40 per cent.

In the short- to mid-term, hosting was another thing you hade to think about without being clear how it would work or whether it was right for you at this stage.

Will hosting reduce the IT head count? Will VARs be after your job? Will the hero save the fair maiden tied to the tracks?

Parkinson said until this thing shook out, “Everything you can imagine is going to happen.”

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