An application service provider (ASP) is a company that offers individuals or enterprises access over the Internet to applications and related services that would otherwise have to be located in their own personal or enterprise computers. Sometimes referred to as "apps-on-tap," ASP services are expected to become an important alternative, not only for smaller companies with low budgets for information technology, but also for larger companies as a form of outsourcing and for many services for individuals as well. Early applications include:
Remote access serving for the users of an enterprise
An off-premises local area network to which mobile users can be connected, with a common file server
Specialized applications that would be expensive to install and maintain within your own company or on your own computer
Hewlett-Packard, SAP, and Qwest have formed one of the first major alliances for providing ASP services. They plan to make SAP's popular R/3 applications available at "cybercenters" that will serve the applications to other companies. Microsoft is allowing some companies to offer its BackOffice products, including SQL Server, Exchange and Windows NT Server on a rental, pay-as-you-use basis.
While ASPs are forecast to provide applications and services to small enterprises and individuals on a pay-per-use or yearly license basis, larger corporations are essentially providing their own ASP service in-house, moving applications off personal computers and putting them on a special kind of application server that is designed to handle the stripped-down kind of thin clien workstation. This allows an enterprise to reassert the central control over application cost and usage that corporations formerly had in the period prior to the advent of the PC. Microsoft's Terminal Server product and Citrix's WinFrame products are leading thin-client application server products.