Novell, Sun woo ISPs

Service providers prodded into selling high-margin services

On Thursday, both Sun Microsystems and Novell urged internet service providers to shift their businesses into selling high-margin services.

It's a task that Sun acknowledges will be tricky. In separate keynote speeches at ISPCON in San Jose, California, officials with both companies predicted that the consumer market will ultimately drive demand for such services, and said ISPs could become a channel for delivering them. "It's all about the quality of services delivered--you've got to find a way," said Sun VP and chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos. "Everybody today is trying to build the biggest, baddest private network, with fast quality of service and have their own services hang off this thing. The more aggressive and bigger ones will start buying up access methods [cable, DSL, wireless, etc.] and erase the differences between them. It's a way of holding on, but people still have to get to the Internet."

Papadopoulos said part of the challenge to ISPs will be to win customers' trust, which requires building a brand and delivering secure, high-quality services. He endorsed the concept of Novell's DigitalMe, which gives customers a network identity along with authenticated rights and privileges. "When I pick up the phone and turn it on, the network knows me," he said. "A phone number will track and stay with me, while a Web browser doesn't know anything about me. I don't log onto the network or get authenticated to an IP network. That's why I think the convergence of telecom and IP networks has the telco principles surviving on top with IP underneath."

Papadopoulos gave almost no plugs for Sun products, although he did mention he will be driving a Java-enabled electric car next year when California begins allowing electric cars into commuter lanes. He also talked about the opportunity for ISPs to intimately understand their customers' devices, such as the resolution and print speed of printers, and called online digital photography and wireless digital cameras "the really big app that's just over the cliff and about to come down on top of us".

Meanwhile, Novell VP Dave Shirk demonstrated Novell's Internet Caching System--which he said helps enable different levels of access--and its application-leasing software.

"Security in any system is the weakest link," Shirk said. "It's no longer good enough to have password authentication. You need a flexible model and single sign-on... and every customer must have the ability to manage their identity and have a personal and professional view of what information they want to share with others. Plus they have to synchronise data. You can only do this through a directory."