Minding your online business

As the business of Internet service providers has grown beyond basic Web site hosting into a suite of services, agencies increasingly have used these companies as outsourcing partners when building e-government systems. Many agencies have begun to tap an array of new services, from managed security to database administration to backup and recovery.

"Managed Web hosting has blossomed," said Ted Chamberlin, a Gartner Inc. networking research analyst. "We anticipate the hosting market to grow from $3 billion now to $9 [billion] to $20 billion by 2004." On the industry side, one of the biggest stories of the past year has been the integration of Web hosting, also referred to as co-location services, with access to high-speed, long-distance network backbones. After a series of acquisitions and alliances, every major Web-hosting provider emerged either owning a network backbone or having tight relationships with providers who do.

For example, IBM Corp. doesn't own a network backbone, but it has strategic relationships with AT&T and Qwest Communications International Inc. to provide direct access to those companies' backbones. "Some of our e-business hosting centers actually reside right on AT&T or Qwest's backbone," said Chris Nicoletti, director of complex Web hosting forum.

Benefits of tight integration include reduced network latency for Web applications, fewer points for potential failure and better handling of data transmissions.

The marriage between the Web hoster and the network backbone has also raised confidence among federal users. For one thing, security is less of a concern. "Security was not a major differential factor during the competitive selection process, since all of the potential commercial vendors gave every indication of being able to comply with security requirements," said Capt. Kurt Hendrix, Naval Supply Systems Command (Navsup) One Touch program manager.

Using the NASA Sci.entific and Engineering Workstation Procurement contract, the command awarded a Web-hosting services contract to IBM last June to provide a commercially hosted Web site at an IBM center in Boulder, Colo. The site (www.onetouch.navy.mil) links Navy users to 20,000 suppliers and manufacturers in a commerce services network. IBM also provides application monitoring services and has integrated business-to-business software from Ariba Inc. and Vignette Corp.

Web hosters are also now able to offer agencies more advanced communications options. "Qwest's data centers sit directly on Qwest's fiber-optic backbone based on SONET architecture," said Bill Hoffman, national account manager for Qwest Government Systems. Synchronous Optical Network combines high-speed traffic from multiple sources into one stream on fiber-optic cabling at various Optical Carrier (OC) levels. The higher OC numbers represent more advanced capabilities, with services ranging from OC-1 up to OC-768.

"The U.S. Mint takes full advantage of the redundancy and speed of the OC-192 backbone," Hoffman said. Last year, after experiencing poor network availability and frequent outages with its previous ISP, Mint officials realized that the provider could not scale the service to the needs of the agency's growing Web site. "We wanted a site that would stay up with industrial strength," said Glenn Hall, director of the Mint's Office of Electronic Business. "Qwest has its own backbone of the highest capacity, and we needed massive redundancy."

"They started full-tilt with managed Web hosting right from the start," Hoffman said. Last year, Qwest installed the Mint site in its Virginia and California data centers in just 55 days. The two sites are redundant, with 30 servers each, including databases, graphic and media servers, load-balancing devices and firewalls. "We bought all the services — real estate, cybercenter, backbone, engineers, 24/7 technical support and account support, which means a dedicated team," Hall said. As the relationship between Qwest and the Mint has grown, other services have been added to the original arrangement. Qwest's Internet Solutions now provides application support services, including architecture and Web development.

With its exemption from federal acquisition regulations, the Mint did a standard procurement when it selected Qwest. But for most agencies, there are three General Services Administration contract vehicles for procuring Web- hosting services, said Linda Edmonston, director of strategic programs at BTG Inc. They are the Federal Technology Service 2001 contract; Millennia Light, a GSA FTS contract awarded to 12 companies in June 2000 with BTG Inc. as the prime contractor; and the Cinema (Commerce, Internet, E-Mail Access) contract.

The Voice of America used Cinema (see "Agency finds its Web voice"), which is a complement to the FTS 2000 and FTS 2001 telecommunications contracts.

Federal agencies can also obtain Web-hosting services through the Information Technology Professional Services contract. There are three ITPS billing areas: labor, travel and other direct costs. "This is one way we bid and bill Web-hosting services contractually — under "other direct costs' or "miscellaneous costs,'" said Cliff Cummins, vice president of procurement solutions for Leads Corp., Arlington, Va.

Leads works with Exodus Communications Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., and Digex Inc., Laurel, Md., which offer their Web-hosting services through Leads' GSA schedule contract. "We allow them to avoid the upfront costs and do what they do best — the technological stuff — while we take care of the government contracting," Cummins said.

Most Web-hosting providers today offer a tiered approach to their services. "We started out with basic co-location services and added managed services to that. Today, there's a long list of services," said Bruce Talley, Exodus' vice president of services marketing. Exodus recently purchased GlobalCenter, the Web- hosting subsidiary of network backbone provider Global Crossing Ltd., Bermuda.

Web-hosting service provider Verio Inc., Englewood, Colo., spent the past year creating a complete product line ranging from co-location to managed services. "We've added a lot of new services in the past year, including managed security, database management, load balancing, and backup and recovery," said Laura Zung, Verio vice president of product management.

Digex operates exclusively in the managed hosting space, adding services to meet customer demands. "In the past six months, there's been more desire for database management and application management at the middleware layer," said Steve Keifer, Digex' director of product management. "In the area of se.curity, we also have a new intrusion-detection service. But there's been a huge demand for support around middleware such as BEA Systems, ATG Dynamo or IBM WebSphere."

Gerber is a freelance writer based in Kingston, N.Y.

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