Microsoft Australia has announced a core group of "ASP Aggregators", the partners that will take Microsoft products to market via the application service provider (ASP) model. Cable & Wireless Optus, Peakhour, Telstra, Tequinox, Unisys and WebCentral have been trialling a pilot stage of Microsoft's ASP program for nine months and will now offer the service on to ASPs.
Microsoft's ASP solution offers partners subscriber-based software licences for Microsoft Office, BackOffice and Exchange Server suites. It has introduced a licensing model where the ASP partner, rather than the end user, holds a monthly subscription licence, and is based on the number of users billed by the partner. Those customers who would prefer to retain traditional licences have the freedom to do so.
Microsoft refused to detail how much it will charge each of its partners for the licences, but suggested the pricing is based on the same scale as Microsoft's existing "open-licence" scheme. According to WebCentral's Lloyd Ernst, while partners and end users are unlikely to find the pricing models all that compelling, the benefits of outsourcing the management of the desktop and the value-add each partner will provide is likely to attract customers.
"The cost-savings are marginal, what it will really come down to is service," he said. "And the applications on their own are not really the compelling reason people will look at this. What is attractive is the services the partners will build around them, like the management of connectivity."
As far as Ernst is concerned, the pricing Microsoft has set for the Exchange products is reasonably competitive, but the price Microsoft is asking for the Office suite is too expensive. Over time, he expects the service to become more widespread and Microsoft will offer a more suitable price.
The six aggregators will now look to ASPs like Com Tech Central, GlobalHost and Interpath to begin approaching the market with customised solutions. Ernst believes there are significant opportunities for channel companies to begin customising the Microsoft products and building new applications that run on the Microsoft platform for lease over a network.
"I think you'll see a lot of systems integrators developing applications for vertical markets on top of this and we'll just provide the building blocks," said Ernst. "It's been planned in such a way that there is a very low cost of entry for resellers to get involved."
Kevin Rodrigo, group manager for Microsoft's Network Solutions Group said the model has been set up in such a way as to not upset the vendor's traditional channel. The ASP aggregators will work closely with Web and application developers, systems integrators and value-added resellers to customise solutions and offer support services to the end user.
"We have worked hard to make sure our traditional partners are protected," said Rodrigo. "It is a great opportunity for traditional partners if they are working with the ASP aggregator."