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IBM moves in on ISPs

Big Blue becomes the latest company to unveil a strategy for winning over ISPs, which are likely to handle more outsourced Web apps.

IBM today rolled out a number of server software tools aimed at attracting Internet service providers looking to upgrade their networks and win more business in outsourced Web apps.

Set against the background of ISPcon, a trade conference for ISPs in San Jose, California, the new releases mark IBM's increasing emphasis on selling its products to ISPs and Web hosting managers.

The announcements included the release of an IBM Web Cache Manager, a product that reduces network bandwidth by delivering Web information from local storage instead of congesting the network. For storage, the Cache Manger uses an IBM 7133 Serial Disk System and high-speed IBM Magstar MP tape.

IBM also released products intended to promote its Netfinity Web servers, such as the Netfinity Server Accelerator. The accelerator speeds up the number of page requests it handles each minute by caching and storing content at the lowest levels of the operating system.

Big Blue will support other software packages that operate alongside its Netfinity products through its ServerProven program, which gives ISPs a list of compatible software applications from other companies.

With today's announcements, IBM joins the host of companies engaged in an ISPcon flurry.

Yesterday, Netscape Communications released a beefed-up edition of its Messaging Server 4.0 Hosting Edition (formerly code-named TroopersISP), in a bid to provide the infrastructure for ISPs and phone companies to outsource applications used in e-commerce. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard aims to wean ISPs off Sun hardware, while Silicon Graphics has scheduled a news conference tomorrow to outline its ISP strategy.

Several reasons explain the entry of some of high-tech's heaviest hitters into the ISP market. For starters, ISPs will spend $13.7 billion overall in 1999 to maintain and beef up their networks, according to IBM.

"We'd like a piece of this market," said Steve Oriola, IBM ISP segment executive. "We see more and more business applications moving into the network as opposed to being run by businesses themselves. We see the ISP as the business partner for delivering e-business solutions."

In addition, more enterprises are hiring ISPs to manage their networks, host their general Web sites, and host their e-commerce sites, rather than do it themselves. As a result, ISPs that sign on new customers will eventually need products to help them manage their loads.

"ISPs are providing a lot of services well above and beyond 'Here's your access,'" said Jim Balderston, an analyst at Zona Research. "Now all of a sudden [enterprises] are saying, 'We don't want to go through a learning curve and be experts on this. Why don't we outsource this? Why don't we let ISPs do all the work?'"

"Why reinvent the wheel every time you try to keep up with your competitors?" Balderston summarized.