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What are software services?

Plain English guide to what software services are and how they work

When you run a program on your computer, everything is straightforward. You know where the program is and where the computer is. Hosted services - also known as software services, or software as a service - like Microsoft Exchange and Windows SharePoint Services don't work in this way

It's something to do with the internet

At its most basic, software services describes the situation when the computer you are using is not the computer running the program. Typically, the program is running on a distance computer and you are connected over the internet.

It sounds peculiar but actually you do this every day when you browse the internet. A web page appears in a browser on your computer but it is delivered by a web server elsewhere.

Traditionally, you only had the option to run Exchange and SharePoint Servers on a dedicated computer in your office.

Now you have the option of letting someone else take care of all the hardware and use them as a 'service' delivered over the internet. Hence: 'software services.'

Microsoft Exchange Server

Hosted Microsoft Exchange server is a good example of software delivered as a service. Companies quickly outgrow the kind of basic email service provided by most internet service providers - they want their own internet domain name, proper backup, document routing by email, remote and mobile access, shared calendars and contacts and more. As businesses grow they also need better security: the latest updates, regular backups, as well as anti-virus and anti-spam protection.

The problem is that providing these features requires special email server software usually running on its own infrastructure. Many companies use Microsoft Exchange Server to do this - and it's a good option for many businesses - but there are others options worth considering.

Outsourcing to experts

Thanks to software services and specialist hosting providers you can outsource all of this giving you 'big-company' email functionality without big-company costs. A reputable company like BT, Cobweb, Pipex (Webfusion) or Star will run Microsoft Exchange Server on their computers and let you connect over the internet.

It works the same way as if the server was in your office, but since their business is about running these services they deal with all the administrative hassles like virus protection, spam filtering, backups, upgrades and patches, hardware maintenance and so on which means you don't have to. In effect, you are outsourcing the technical work to experts allowing you to focus on your core business.

Safe and sound

Quote�Hosting companies go to great lengths to look after your data.�End Quote

Security is assured by encrypted internet links - just like the ones that protect online banking and credit card numbers on ecommerce sites. Access to your company and personal data is protected by secure authentication and access controls.

Hosting companies go to great lengths to look after your data. For example, they'll have secure, resilient, alarmed data centres with 24/7 failure monitoring, fire protection and disaster recovery, all backed up with technicians to ensure all the software is properly maintained.

Hosted Exchange is only one of the programs that are available today as a software service. Other examples include customer relationship management programs, accounts software and secure instant messaging.

What next?

Hosted services case studies
Stories of how real businesses use hosted services

Microsoft's hosted services
Read about how you can get advanced email, diary management and more from Microsoft

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How to buy

If you've decided that hosted services are right for you, or just want information about a specific solution, contact one of these suppliers for more information:

- BT

- Cobweb

- Webfusion

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