Rebirth of application service providers

I’ve recently been having a few problems with my various servers around the internet. I don’t know if you noticed, but Ejecutive had a bit of downtime yesterday afternoon, and my e-mail was down for most of the day. This lead me thinking about ASPs again, and whether it was time to reconsider our perceptions about them.

During the dot-com bubble, big things were promised by ASPs; why have all your data stored locally where it could all go up in flames, when you can have a it stored in a monitored, air-conditiontioned data centre in international waters? People and companies really did start jumping on that bandwagon, and to a certain extent, it should be a bandwagon people should jump on. How many users really have the expertise, equipement and resources to host their own e-mail server, when Hotmail will do it for free? And you can access it anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection that is.

That last point is where many companies felt the bite of the ASPs. What happens when the local builders dig through your ADSL cable down the road? What about your e-mail? What about all that data? The average home internet surfer probably would care if they lost access to their e-mail for a couple days, but if you rely on e-mail for anything important, it could be a disaster.

Bang went that bubble.

However recently, almost without noticing, I can now run all my sites and e-mails directly from ASPs instead of hosting them on my own servers. GMail provides a very reliable e-mail service, WordPress.com is capable of hosting this blog to a certain extent, and there’s always proven sites such as LiveJournal to fall back on too. The vast majority of my personal photograph collection is on Flickr, and now even my bookmarks can be handled by del.icio.us.

Given that, I still host my e-mail on my own server (which notably provides more downtime than GMail does), and I also host Ejecutive on that server. Still given the downtime, I’m still fairly happy with the service from UH Hosting, any problems are solved incredibly quickly. While no-one questions the flexibility of having your own server in which you can do whatever you want, getting dedicated ASPs to do the grunt work and just concentrating on the content sounds like a very appealing proposition.

Flickr, although still in beta, is very impressive. Its the most polished and refined photo blogging tool around, hosted or otherwise. The fact they also add into it a very impressive community system (one that rivals LiveJournals’), and there is no reason to use your own custom solutions or to host your own. Even the $25 a year they charge for pro accounts seems reasonable compaired to other solutions such as hosting your own site, and that doesn’t even take into account the community aspect.

In fact, once WordPress.com matures, I’d be very tempted to use them to run Ejecutive. Once they have support for custom themes, third party plugins and custom domain names, I’m sure they’ll receive mass exodus from standard WordPress hosting to their multi-blog community based approach.

Now getting to the point of this article, I believe custom hosting solutions are dying out. Just look around, 1&1 Internet now host about every Microsoft server (Sharepoint, Biztalk etc.). Theres a massive proliferation of online journals and web logs, with the vast majority being hosted by ASPs, and now redundancy is being offered for ADSL internet connections, a fair number of SMB are moving their e-mail services off site. Who hasn’t got a free e-mail nowadays? And even if you do have your own e-mail server, I bet you have free e-mail accounts and actually use them.

Hosting is dead, long live the hosted.

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