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When the Internet Becomes the Computer ...

aspnews.com Phil Wainewright

ASPs are just part of a much bigger trend, writes ASPnews.com's Phil Wainewright

Important though they are, ASPs are just one element of a much broader trend taking shape in computing today. The trend runs through many other emerging sectors, such as e-business, dot-coms and B2B marketplaces. All these sectors have one characteristic in common: they use network-based computing as a platform for delivering business services.

What is the trend driving every one of these new sectors? Very simply, computing is moving onto the Internet. Whether you call it application services, Internet portals or digital trading, the same dynamic applies. Computing is escaping the confines of individual enterprise data centres and migrating to the open spaces of the shared, global network.

To survive in this new environment, computing has to change — and businesses too must change the way they think about computing. On the Internet, every individual computing system is totally exposed to the entire outside world, and encouraged to link to it. That of course brings the threat of unauthorised interference, but much more importantly, it creates the opportunity for potentially unlimited access to resources.

Applications that can adapt to the Internet environment quickly evolve — in new and often surprising ways — by linking up with other resources on the network. The same applies to businesses themselves. Although it flies in the face of conventional wisdom about enterprise computing, businesses in this new era will gain competitive advantage through their access to Internet computing resources, not through their ownership of computing assets.

Competitive pressures

The same market dynamics that attract businesses to the Internet trading environment are at work at the computing infrastructure level. The inherently collaborative, globalising nature of the Internet creates competitive pressures that compel individual constituents to link up with each other to gain greater choice or economies of scale.

Some participants gain competitive advantage by accessing third-party services that supplement their existing functionality or help them perform more cost-effectively. Others gain an economic edge through replicating their services to multiple clients instead of serving just one. Both these trends are expressed in the current explosion of outsourcing and white-label partnerships in the ASP, portal and net market makers sectors.

Instead of the discrete islands of conventional enterprise computing, Internet computing thrives in the form of multiple collaborative components. These Internet application engines interact with their peers within the wider environment, irrespective of ownership or location.

How different does computing have to be in this new era? There are many design principles that developers will have to learn afresh. To be truly scalable, a system must be able to interact with whatever external resources are out there on the network. That requires conformity to open, commonly agreed standards for the exchange of data and transactions. It requires powerful, secure connectivity. And it requires a modular architecture that can easily plug in external services to supplement or replace internal resources.

Many of those ingredients are imperfectly available at present. ASPs are at the forefront of the effort to build the standards and technologies that will underpin this new architecture. Today we are just beginning to perceive the true nature of the task.

When computing moves onto the Internet, the end result is that the Internet itself becomes the computer. Each individual piece of computing becomes a component service — an Internet application engine — within the interconnected global infrastructure. The task that's now under way is the creation of an Internet operating system that allows those many components to interact seamlessly within the infrastructure. When the process is complete, the Internet itself becomes a shared global platform for the automation of commerce — along with every other form of collaborative human endeavour — built from millions of participating components and services.

This the first of a series of weekly articles by ASPnews.com founder and managing editor Phil Wainewright - appearing in the Analysis and ASP Basics sections of the ASPnews.com website - that describe the emerging Internet computing landscape. The material is based on Internet Application Engines, a new ASPnews.com special report available from our Premium Content section.

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