The web apps are coming, the web apps are coming! This has been the mantra in the Internet space for years now. And the truth of the matter is that yes, the web apps are coming. In fact, there are hundreds, if not thousands already deployed. Many of which were designed specifically for browser based technology and are used by the masses every day. YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace are entrenched as the debutants of social networking with applications like Twitter on the quick road to mass adoption. In the business world, Saleforce.com is the clear leader in CRM while products like Microsoft Live, Cisco TelePresence and Citrix Online top the list for web conferencing and team collaboration.
And then there are those applications that have a dedicated connection to their original designs which are not browser based. Intuit and SAP are two companies that come to mind. Giants in their own right, they have yet to cross the chasm from Operating System dependency to fully web enabled delivery. To be sure, both of these companies have products in the browser space, but the bulk of their revenues still come from non web enabled applications. The challenge for these companies (and hundreds like them) as well as the opportunity is in their ability to quickly expand their license penetration and hold the cost of doing business down. Enter Virtualization and subscription services.
Citrix is the best kept secret in the web space from a software delivery perspective. Many ISVs don’t think to offer their products through Citrix server based computing technology mainly because there is no association between what SBC is and how an ISV sells to their customer. Or at least that has been the problem in the past. Now, Amazon is creating the Elastic Compute Cloud (or EC2) and the ability to offer data center functionality using the utility company model. Pay as you go and only pay for as much (data center) as you use. So imagine taking an existing model today for data centralization in the large enterprise, transfer the architecture to an uber-data center in the Cloud and offer software applications through a (virtually) secure, (virtually) redundant network. And voila, a new age is born in which any here-to-for O/S dependant applications can be run on any desktop in any location by simply using a virtual environment to get it there. Sounds pretty futuristic, huh? Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s futuristic in the sense that it hasn’t been proven from a mass adoption perspective. But then again, thirty years ago no one ever imagined driving down the road with a wireless connection to a head set which allowed voice communications (aka the cell phone) to emerge as a mass market delivery network either.
But what about today? Is it possible to host applications that are not web based and serve them up to a mass market? Wanna know another well kept secret? The answer is YES. If you don’t believe me just take a look at the following web site, http://www.microsoft.com/hosting/findahostingprovider.mspx. In here you will see that Microsoft has not only embraced the concept of hosting applications that were not originally designed for web delivery, but support an entire network of hosting providers who generate income from these services. What’s even more surprising is they have been doing it for over 7 years… long before the term Software as a Service was dreamed up.
And are there really hosted service providers providing Software as a Service outside of the Salesforce.com hype? Yep! They are right in your backyard most of the time. In fact several of them are already a part of the Citrix Partner Program and the focus of their business is in hosting applications. One in particular, a company called Nasstar ( http://www.nasstar.com/) is taking the concept to the next level in the way in which they offer up an application delivery model to the SMB. Charles Black, CEO of Nasstar had a vision that the mass market SMB would not only accept this paradigm of subscription based software applications, but would generate enough revenue to substantiate an ongoing business concern. That was five years ago. Now Nasstar is thriving and growing the business of subscription based software delivery (or SaaS) utilizing products like XenApp in their infrastructure. I had a call with Charles today and he underscored the SaaS model saying, “Citrix is indeed a pioneer in this space. [Our approach is] Citrix powered desktop and application delivery for the SMB and XenApp is the delivery platform.” Futuristic? Not anymore.