Sun Microsystems is launching an apps-on-tap software testing service in a radical departure from its hardware roots.
The server giant and two partners involved in the Test on Demand service claim that it will slash software testing costs for applications right through to middleware and operating systems, at a time when many companies are struggling to come to terms with the ongoing skills shortage.
Analysts predict that other hardware giants are likely to follow Sun's example to beat the slump in hardware spending and grab a slice of the fast-expanding software services market.
Maxine Holt, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said the new service should be good news for users. "This is really interesting. It proves that just moving boxes is no longer a viable option," she said.
"The economic downturn is pushing companies into services which offer additional value to customers."
Holt added that hardware rivals were likely to launch similar testing services.
Companies will pay a retainer of £3,000 a month for the service, plus fees of up to £30,000 for software systems testing. The partners involved in the service say that the ASP model could cut up to 50% off current software testing budgets.
Some industry estimates claim that the average city finance firm currently spends 40% of its annual development budget on software and systems testing.
The service can test software running applications and middleware from all major hardware platforms, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard.
Keith Roberts, iForce marketing manager at Sun, said, "It's not necessarily 'what is in it for us?' It is a question of how you can go the extra yard to support the customer."
Roberts added that the service may eventually evolve into a utility-style ASP offering. "It could become more like an electricity system or water system, that is permanently on tap," he said.
Sun strenuously denies that the move is prompted by the global economic slowdown but analysts see the service as a positive turning point for both suppliers and users.
Martin Hingley, vice president of the European systems group at analyst firm IDC, said, "I think this is an excellent move, it goes some way to solve the huge skills shortage in this area."
Sun will provide marketing for the service, which is a joint offering with software testing specialist DeRisk IT and a yet-to-be announced third-party supplier. Testing will take place at a purpose-built centre within the M25.
Test on Demand offers users a range of testing options, employing Mercury Interactive's LoadRunner technology as its key testing tool.
A web-based service uses secure virtual private networks that companies can access to see their software tested in real time.
Client-server testing is also provided, in addition to a mobile testing version that can be taken to customer sites.
Sun was keen to play down suggestions that Test on Demand is the result of fierce competition in the server market but admitted that the scheme could help it to poach new customers and hold on to existing ones.
Educational agency City & Guilds of London Institute is among the organisations currently looking into using the service.
ASP-style service - the shape of things to come?
- New ASP-style software testing service could slash software testing costs for users by up to 50%
- Sun's aggressive move into testing is a clear sign that hardware giants are set to diversify in the future, said analysts.
- 'Test on Demand' service offers a range of testing, including web-based virtual private networks for real-time analysis. Client-server and mobile testing also offered.
- Service could evolve into utility-style ASP offering with Web-based software testing available 24/7.