Software as a Service Can Be Fun

The terms “hosted applications” and “software as a service” typically conjure up images of IT managers looking for ways to outsource applications and applications management to improve efficiency and lower expenses. While enterprise software may be critical for the long-term success of hosted software, for application infrastructure provider Exent Technologies and broadband service provider Bell Canada, it’s all about fun and games.

Bethesda, Md-based Exent Technology announced yesterday that it is working with Canada’s largest communications provider to deliver games on demands to Bell Canada’s 800,000 DSL subscribers. Bell Canada will implement Exent’s EXEtender technology to deliver Gamesmania, a subscription-based games-on-demand service.

“Games could be the killer application for broadband,” Bruce Lawhorn, Exent’s vice president, told ASPnews. According to Lawhorn, DSL providers face a high churn rate as some people decide the increased bandwidth doesn’t offer enough to justify the extra expense. “This answers the the question ‘why would I get broadband’,” Lawhorn said.

Exent EXEtender technology encodes any Windows-based applications for delivery as a service. Lawhorn said that the encoding process splits the software into 32K bits of data for streaming. The software is then delivered in a fashion similar to how Real Media delivers audio and video content. While a small amount of code is downloaded to the client PC, the vast majority of the game, which Lawhorn said runs in the gigabytes in terms of file size, is streamed from the host servers.

The Exent technology operates on two layers, said Lawhorn. In addition to the streaming layer, there is an administrative layer for billing, load balancing and other service management features. “Our software recognizes load demand and adjusts dynamically.”

The Bell Canada/Gamesmania launch is Exent’s largest and its first deal with a North American service provider. The company has focused on ASP and ISP partners in Western Europe, Lawhorn told ASPnews, because that part of the world was ahead of North America in terms of broadband acceptance.

While the EXEtender technology is the backbone of the company, its role isn’t strictly as a technology partner. “We act as a facilitator between content providers and service providers,” Lawhorn told ASPnews. In exchange, Exent shares in the revenue. “Usually there is also some type of upfront fee, but we are very flexible in our negotiations.”

Exent has yet to make a major push in the U.S., but the company says it plans to follow the Bell Canada announcement with other DSL and cable provider partners in the next few months. Lawhorn said that “productivity software and educational applications” represent the kind of software that makes sense for delivering software as a service to consumers. “For example, you may want tax preparation software only during tax season and garden software only when you are planning your garden.”

To Exent, there is no major technological distinction between ASPs and ISPs; however, from a business perspective there is a difference in the types of software they tend to want. “ASP tend to look for longer-term fees, but the process of encoding the software is the same,” Lawhorn said.

Exent boasts an impressive list of investors including America Online and Comcast. Lawhorn said the company is well-funded through 2002. It has completed two rounds of funding and is undecided about whether or not it will seek another round of capital. “We are in good shape.”

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