Riding the Web Wave

Web application delivery represents a fantastic chance to fundamentally change the economics and accessibility of IT services. Simon Paton, managing director, CommuniGate UK asks is the market, from ISPs to corporates, ready to make the shift?

Organisations globally are poised on the edge of a seismic technology shift that could transform the way applications are delivered to the desktop, slashing support costs and providing secure access to the corporate application portfolio from anywhere in the world.

As Adobe, Google, Apple and Microsoft begin the delivery of Web 2.0 enabled services to support the development of corporate applications that are delivered via the web browser, the market is standing back to assess the viability of the new model. Will enterprises and ISPs grab the chance to drive down costs and improve service offerings with highly functional web based applications? Or will competing technologies and architectures result in a rush of products to market that fail to deliver the essential highly intuitive interfaces required to gain widespread acceptance across the user base?

Traditional Approach

The web has undoubtedly engendered a fundamental change in the way businesses operate and communicate. And yet, organisations are still reliant on highly expensive and resource intensive desktop applications to deliver core services and applications to employees. >From word processing to email, the cost of deploying, upgrading and supporting these essential applications is a major corporate overhead.

Unfortunately, early attempts to leverage the low cost of ownership associated with web based application delivery failed. The Application Service Provider (ASP) model offered web hosted applications to businesses to replace the traditional desktop solutions. Unfortunately these rather clunky applications simply could not replicate the functionality or ease of use demanded by users; and waiting for web pages to periodically refresh did little to boost productivity.

The arrival of Web 2.0 with its rich media experience has removed this problem and paved the way for a raft of web based applications that have already gained significant following in the consumer marketplace. From Google Maps to social networking sites, the look and feel, the ability to zoom in and out and drag and drop within these applications marks a sea change in online functionality.

As a result it is now becoming possible for organisations to deliver core desktop applications, from email with integrated voice and IM to core finance and CRM, via the web with the same level of functionality and ease as use as the traditional desktop solutions – yet at a fraction of the total cost of ownership.

More Choice

So, given constant complaints about ever escalating IT costs, why are analysts and businesses alike still hanging back from offering a full scale commitment to the Web 2.0 model?

Few organisations would deny the cost and resources currently dedicated to mundane tasks such as ensuring security patches are delivered to every desktop results in less budget available for new business implementations. And, with most companies running multiple operating system versions across the IT estate, every software upgrade demands extensive testing in diverse environments and creates significant upheaval for both users and the IT teams.

But there are some valid concerns about the viability of the web service delivery model. What happens when mobile workers do not have web access, for example? How secure is key customer data accessed via the web?

Unlike other ‘revolutionary’ changes to the IT infrastructure, the shift to web based delivery is actually being spearheaded by some of the largest companies in the world – Google, Adobe, Apple and Microsoft. As a result, this is no flash in the pan, untried concept. This is a proven technology model based on robust technologies, including Adobe Flash Player, Active X and AJAX.

Indeed, since over 750 million Internet-connected desktops and mobile devices in the world already have Adobe Flash-Player, making the shift over to this model does not require a major infrastructure overhaul.

And all of these vendors are working to ensure the effectiveness of the web delivery model, such as Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), that enable remote workers to run a web based application on the desktop when not connected. Web service delivery can also remove some of the security problems associated with sensitive data being stored on laptops that have become prevalent in recent years.

With the web application delivery model all data is held centrally on a secure server – either hosted or within the organisation’s internal web infrastructure. Furthermore, users can securely access the information from any web enabled location: home, client site or office, increasing flexibility.

Evolutionary Approach

The tipping point for the move towards web based application delivery will come, undoubtedly, once organisations have a clear idea of the potential return on investment (ROI). Few are likely to opt for a wholesale, big bang approach to replacing applications. Instead, it will be the exorbitant cost of the next Microsoft Exchange upgrade, for example, that prompts an assessment of web based alternatives.

At this point, organisations will discover that the Web 2.0 based options deliver an alternative mail server with the same ease of use at a cheaper total cost of ownership (TCO). Furthermore, these solutions can also maximise the rich media experience to add unified communications facilities at the same time, demonstrating the true viability of the web model.

In fact, it is the ISPs that look set to be in the van guard of web service delivery. With margins on broadband sales being eroded to unsustainable levels, ISPs are desperate to create and deliver a range of subscription services that will both boost customer loyalty and increase average revenuer per user (ARPU).

Leveraging Web 2.0 based service delivery will enable ISPs to provide consumer and business customers with integrated web mail, IM and VoIP as well as innovative solutions such as dating and gaming, all within one highly intuitive, familiar web interface.

Conclusion

Delivering applications to users via the web has the potential to fundamentally transform the ease of use, accessibility and, critically, TCO of technology. It offers ISPs access to lucrative subscription services that could form the backbone of a new, more profitable business model. And, with the support of market dominating companies, the web services bandwagon is gaining momentum. So are UK businesses ready to ride the new web wave?