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Douglas Nassaur imagines many scenarios for using his company’s hosted solution.

“Try opening an e-mail with a file for a program you don’t own, renting the program for the day and installing it on your desktop in seconds, all while running Windows from your Mac at a Starbucks,” he spells out. “With our technology, you are no longer tied to a single PC, with the applications on that PC.”

Nassaur’s True North Technology Inc., a Duluth, Ga., VAR turned service provider, used Sun Microsystems technology to develop their patented Northstar Utility Computing Switch, similar to those used by telephone companies, to allow users to log in to a desktop and turn on and off applications at will from any PC with a browser. Their C-drive sits on a mainframe in one of True North’s seven data centers, where it is maintained, protected, updated and backed up continuously.

Click here to read more about IBM extending Tivoli’s on-demand capabilities.

Nassaur’s vision is one of a complete hosted solution on-demand, where users have a menu of applications, from the routine (Microsoft Outlook and Adobe Acrobat Reader) to advanced (QuarkXPress and custom programs), that may be added instantly by subscription, for single use or indefinitely.

True North, said Nassaur, is a paring of the collective IT infrastructure, allowing users to share the cost of hardware, software and integration.

“You don’t own your telephone infrastructure; you don’t generate your own electricity, why would you want to build your own IT infrastructure?” Nassaur’s asks. “You don’t need to and it’s silly. Eighty percent of IT is the same at every home and business in the world. Even between your desktop and laptop. Why duplicate that across the board, when you can share that on our mainframe and turn it on and off when you need it.”

True North, which began offering the Northstar switches in January, provides the solution to ISPs to offer to their customers; resellers who make it available to business customers along with customized solutions; and through their own online program that’s available to consumers and business users for $24.95 per PC per month.

For VARs and solution builders, True North provides a unique opportunity to sell a solution with very little overhead.

“We don’t intend to have a sales force of our own,” Nassaur said. “We don’t believe in duplication there either. So we intend the channel to market our product.”

Channel companies will likely be integral, Nassaur said, in offering value added solutions and customizations to Northstar for customers in vertical markets.

Northstar advantages and uses vary

Some of the uses and advantages of the Northstar solution are:

  • File sharing, because all files are already the mainframes network.
  • Controlled access – because the switch controls access to applications and files, it knows and controls who and what use them (added security and regulatory compliance).
  • Session portability – the PC can be turned off while the desktop continues to run on the main frame.
  • Worldwide printer access – users have access to print to any printer connected to the internet (and aware to True North).
  • But the technology’s true advantage, in Nassaur’s mind, is the on-demand aspect. The Northstar switch is designed to allow users to choose a program from an ever growing menu and have it appear on their desktop in seconds, without installation concerns or the threat of a virus. The switch should also control the users’ access based on their subscription choice.

    Software manufacturers and ISVs have sought True North as an avenue to easily reach a mass audience, Nassaur said.

    “Imagine it’s tax time and you have a tax program you want to get to users,” Nassaur said. “They might be skittish about a full purchase for something they use once a year. Now they can download for the afternoon or the month and you’ve got business you never would have had otherwise.”

    Unlike Web-enabled hosted applications, such as, True North is built to deliver standard applications through the Web.

    Expense is likely to be the most attractive feature to customers, who can reduce their hardware to almost nothing and share the cost of licenses, maintenance and security among many users sharing the True North’s grid.

    “Like the telephone company, you don’t have any hardware dedicated to you, so you’re not paying for it,” Nassaur said. “You are on the grid and since you don’t need it all the time, we oversubscribe and you share that cost with everybody.”

    “When you turn on your cell phone at a Starbucks there is a lot of magic that happens behind the scene to deliver your service to that cell phone. The phone is just an appliance,” Nassaur said. “I asked why can’t you do that with IT? Why can’t you make the PC the appliance, and let the IT infrastructure sit somewhere where it is safe and protected and oversubscribed (by multiple users) so the cost is shared.”