Just got back from my favorite neighborhood watering hole in Munich, the Cafe Wienerplatz, where I met with Soeren von Varchmin, who recently moved in next door after spending a few years in Seattle.
Soeren is VP SaaS at Parallels, a company that describes itself as "worldwide leader in virtualization and automation software that optimizes computing for consumers, businesses and providers". His job is to bring together Internet Providers and Services Providers (ISVs) by providing a common plattform to provision, manage and integrate applications and services over the Internet. His vision is to create a large-scale cloud computing ecosystem where software vendors and cloud operators together deliver a wide variety of services to businesses and consumers.
To achieve this goal, Parallels has written what they call the "Application Packaging Standard" (APS) which they describe as a new application packaging format designed to help implement a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business model. I guess you could call is "SaaS 2.0" (or maybe "ASP x.0"), because it enables almost all industry hosting providers - Parallels' traditional customer base - to team up with almost any application provider to offer their apps as a rental web service.
Once packaged in the APS format - basically just an XML feed - by a software vendor, an application can be easily "plugged" into an infrastructure of any hosting provider that implemented the standard "socket" for the APS applications.
Soeren thinks this is a real win-win situation, since it gives hosting providers a new, higher-value business model while providing a new distribution channel for ISVs. Parallels is touting their standard as an open plattform, and rumor has it that they will be founding a non-profit organization to push the specification in the public domain., so check out their website at www.apsstandard.org for updates.
The reason I was interested in APS is that it contains full-fledged IdM capabilities, from Single Sign-on through provisioning, payment & billing, and since recently even license management, too. Since everybody is heading for the Cloud these days, I thought it would be intersting to know if APS might be a quick fix to the IdM problem in web-based applications. Soeren seems to think so. And technically, he may be right. But of course, to make ASP a "real" standard he'll have to generate a lot more interest in the IdM community.
Right now, Parallels is big in the provider and hosting market. Their boast is that, out of about 200 million domains in the world, between 30 and 40 million are powered by their software. Or putting it another way, just aboiut every major Internet Provider in the business is a customer of theirs. But simple hosting and plumbing isn't all that sexy anymore, and big cloud operators like Amazon, Google, 1&1 or Strato are on the lookout for extra sources of income. By hitching them up with ISVs and SaaS vendors like Salesforce et al. they could conceivably tap into some pretty substantial new revenue streams, especially SMEs who find it appealing to rent IT infrastructure and applications instead of buying.
I asked Soeren if APS could also work as a platform for providing identity as a service, and he liked the idea. After all, if the platform can handle SSO and payment in a safe and scalable fashion, why not use it as a kind of universal identity provider for the Cloud instead of building IdM capability directly into the app?
On the other hand, Parallels still has its work cut out for it convincing the thousands and thousands of ISVs out there to plug their existing solutions - whether already SaaS-enabled or legacy - into APS.
Yeah, it makes sense businesswise, but anyone who has every tried to push a standard knows just how innovation-resistant people in the IT industry can be. But with Soeren living right around the corner now, I'll be able to check back every time we run across each other at Cafe Wienerplatz, so stay tuned.