Service providers looking for better ways to slice and sell server space have new options from two vendors offering comprehensive hosting management tools.
Sphera Corp., an Israeli developer, this week plans to unveil its service automation package for ISPs (Internet service providers) and ASPs (application service providers). The HostingDirector software lets service providers create virtual dedicated servers and offer customers advanced service provisioning, software installation, billing, reporting and security.
Ensim Corp., a pioneer in end-to-end service automation tools for service providers, is taking its flagship product, ServerXchange, beyond Web hosting. The Sunnyvale, Calif., company is forging alliances with network service providers, caching and content tool vendors, DSL (digital subscriber line) carriers, and even OEMs to expand the role of its management and provisioning tools.
HostingDirector and ServerXchange are based on the concept of virtual private servers. By using the tools to build virtual copies of an operating system kernel, service providers can segment any number of customers on a single physical server, with each partition running independently.
The reduced hardware and rack space, along with the provisioning tools, lets the service providers offer more services-and make more money-than in traditional hosting arrangements.
“We’re trying not to decide for our customers how to run their businesses,” said Sphera CEO Tamar Naor in Tel Aviv. “Everybody is trying to get into more managed services.”
HostingDirector’s features include user-deployed plug-ins for a variety of popular applications, such as bulletin boards, counters, e-mail forms and guest books.
The tool also automates billing and reporting and provides a firewall with each virtual server. “We did our best to cover all the major pains,” said Sphera’s CTO (chief technology officer), Raphael Salomon.
Features such as automated software upgrades, which will let Sphera push updates and patches to service providers, are set to begin beta testing in June.
“We’re looking to do hosting in a way that’s cost-effective but also that is on the leading edge of technology,” said Richard Fren kel, general manager for Web hosting at Bizness Online Inc., of Wall, N.J. Bizness Online is evaluating Sphera’s tools.
“We’re still in testing, but I like Sphera’s concept,” said Frenkel, adding that customer trials using HostingDirector are set to begin at Bizness later this year.
Another benefit of Hosting Director, Frenkel said, is that it’s largely open source, enabling service providers to alter the look and feel of the user interfaces.
Officials at Ensim, meanwhile, said the company is moving ServerXchange beyond simple hosting solutions in an effort to win over high-end ASPs offering bulky enterprise resource planning applications. Ensim is also making deals with network providers, such as Digital Island Inc., along with caching and content specialists, such as Inktomi Corp. and Akamai Technologies Inc.
The combination of content caching and on-the-fly virtual servers at the network edge will enhance performance of hosted applications and streaming media, among other things, Ensim officials said.
In addition, Ensim is negotiating with two hardware makers-officials would not specify which ones-to offer hosting appliances loaded with ServerXchange. The company also plans to market ServerXchange to DSL providers so they can offer outsourced intranet applications as an alternative to traditional-and expensive-dedicated servers with dedicated connections.
With ServerXchange and broadband access, the corporate applications “appear just as if they are in-house,” said Ensim’s CTO, Srinivasan Keshav. “This is unique. Nobody in the world can come close to it but us.”
Sphera charges service pro viders $4 per month per virtual server on their system. Ensim still offers its original pricing model of around $30 per virtual server per month, but the company is exploring revenue- sharing agreements as it grows, company officials said.
HostingDirector runs on Unix and Linux. Support for Windows NT and Windows 2000 is due later this year. ServerXchange is available for Linux and Solaris; support for NT and Windows 2000 is due in the third quarter.