Cable & Wireless Aims to Keep Edge

a-Services division, standing behind parent company's size, experience, offers Webtop hosting

Cable & Wireless Plc.s ASP division is bucking the trend of the slumping hosted industry and counting on new Web-based access and promises of wireless and legacy application integration to maintain its edge.

But while the London-based division, called a-Services and formed last September with funding and technical help from Compaq Computer Corp. and Microsoft Corp., has managed to attract customers, it is not immune to the client jitters that have dogged application hosts.

"Were big believers in the solution," said Brian Karlisch, an a-Services client and a partner at Buchanan&Edwards Technology Consultants, in Alexandria, Va. "What Im kind of worried about is the ASP shakeout. Will this service be around in a year, if they dont get the adoption they need? What will happen to a company like mine if that happens?"

In addition to touting C&Ws size and experience, a-Services officials point to new developments, such as the companys Webtop Productivity and Webtop Collaboration offerings, announced last week, as proof they are on the right track.

With the new features, users can access Microsofts Office and Exchange from any PC-based browser, said Simon Angove, product director at a-Services. Webtop Productivity will include about 1GB of online storage space; Webtop Collaboration will include 150MB, Angove said.

C&W has plans to bundle Compaq iPaq devices with certain service packages and to eventually support devices that run Palm OS. This fall, a-Services will announce legacy software integration, initially for applications hosted by C&W and later expanded to others. Personalization options and a larger applications catalog with choices like wireless messaging and document management are also planned, Angove said.

For future implementations of Web-based software, C&W is testing both Microsofts .Net platform and Citrix Systems Inc.s Vertigo tool kit, he said.

For Buchanan&Edwards, a-Services is the right solution—for now. "We really needed a solution. We just couldnt afford a full-time systems administrator in our office," Karlisch said. "We needed the redundancy and availability of a larger company, but its just so costly."

Karlisch added that the company was looking for a hosted solution to get its file services off the property and also to augment its support.

Buchanan&Edwards began working with a-Services in November of last year, after initially approaching the company about hosting a different application for a client. Last month, it signed up for the Webtop service.

a-Services boasts 230 partners, which receive tools for Web-based configuration, pricing and total-cost-of- ownership management, plus white papers on security and service-level agreements and technical support, officials said.

Users can access a-Services offerings from any computer or thin-client device. But a-Services offers better service-level agreements to those who opt for suggested Compaq hardware, Angove said. Of a-Services "more than 1,000" customers, about half of them use the Compaq gear, he said.