Hewlett-Packard will begin selling managed IT and communications services next year to small and medium-size businesses.
It will offer internet access, servers, voice over internet Protocol (VoIP) and helpdesk calls at fixed monthly rates.
The service, called HP Ready Office, has been piloted in France since May. It will be rolled out there in the first half of next year, in partnership with France Telecom, which provides the communications services, and IP telephony equipment supplier Alcatel.
HP is also signing telecom partners in Asia and the US, where it hopes to start implementing the service in the second half of 2005, said Francois Mateo, worldwide programme director for Ready Office. Other European countries are also likely to follow.
HP is betting that smaller businesses - those with up to about 1,000 employees - would prefer to "lease" servers and IP phones for a fixed fee, and have their equipment managed remotely by an experienced IT provider.
Mateo cited having a single point of contact for all support calls as a key benefit. In France, France Telecom will receive the calls, with the IT queries handled by HP behind the scenes.
The services will be offered in a variety of packages. A helpdesk component is €24.90 (£17) per employee per month. It includes support calls for desktop applications, as well as remote management and diagnostics of desktop PCs, including non-HP systems.
For €48.50 per month, customers receive a HP Proliant Server with an 80Gbyte hard drive running Microsoft's Windows Small Business Server 2003. The price includes the hardware and remote management services. Customers must sign up for a minimum of three years. A similar server with two hard drives and RAID is €62 per month, Mateo said.
The VoIP component is €17 per line per month, with services hosted by France Telecom on Alcatel's PBX equipment. A DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connection from France Telecom's Oléane business is €59 per month.
HP is trying hard not to exclude its channel partners from the effort, which are its most important avenue for reaching smaller businesses. They will be enlisted to assess each customer's IT infrastructure before they can join the programme and may provide other services, Mateo said.
James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service