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THE WEB ON A BUDGET : INTERNET ACCESS PROVIDERS HELP SMALL FIRMS BREAK THE CYBER-ICE.

Byline: Dawn Yoshitake Daily News Staff Writer

Marshall Whitfield wanted travelers everywhere to tap into his Resort Ratings Institute via the World Wide Web. But he didn't want to spend a fortune making the idea a reality.

Whitfield, vice president of Van Nuys-based Tracy Cabot Inc., which operates Resort Ratings, found his answer in an Internet access provider that would put the company's Travel4Lovers site on its Web server.

``I was interested in buying a Web server myself, but as soon as I found out the cost and the complexity, I ran - not walked, from that idea,'' Whitfield said.

Companies seeking a presence on the Web are faced with limited choices - buying a server or using an Internet access provider to host the site. Servers and software typically sell for more than $20,000, excluding the cost of the Internet connection and staff to maintain the server.

Access providers, meanwhile, charge several hundred dollars to launch a Web site on their server with a company's own Internet address and charge monthly fees from $65 and up.

A growing number of Internet service providers are offering corporate America more than a high-speed connection to cyberspace. They're tossing in features like Internet addresses that carry only a company's name to integrated databases. Such extras previously were available only to companies that purchased expensive Web servers.

``Two years ago, (the Internet service providers) weren't doing this,'' said Clay Ryder, a senior industry analyst with Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City. ``The technology to support multiple domains on a server didn't exist then. This capability only became available in the past year.''

InfoDial Inc., a small West Hills provider, jumped into the game nearly two years ago and has more than 200 customers. The company plans to move its headquarters to Malibu next month and triple its five-person operation to 15.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Earthlink Network Inc. began offering Web hosting services within the past year and has 800 customers. And ISP giants UUNET Technologies Inc. of Virginia got an early start in 1994 and has approximately 500 corporate clients and PSINet Inc. of Virginia rolled out its PSIWeb last May and weighs in with more than 1,000 customers.

Customer demand and a desire to find new revenue sources as competition heats up are leading many ISPs to offer Web hosting services.

``When AT&T and others began offering free Internet connections with their service to consumers, we went after the business market,'' said Rick Adams, UUNET chairman and founder. ``Even though marketing to companies is tougher to get into and it takes longer before realizing revenue, we'll see a higher profit margin and retention rate from them.''

One of the hottest features ISPs are offering companies is an Internet address using a company's name, rather than displaying its name with a portion of its access provider's address attached.

``People get the same presence on the Internet as someone with a $100,000 server,'' said Greg Way, InfoDial co-founder. ``The connection to a company's page appears seamless to the user. Standard ISPs will have a user locate a company through their subdirectory and their page will pop up before the company's.''

Integrated databases allow companies to perform such functions as maintaining reservations on their Web sites to offering catalog services. InfoDial is one of the few ISPs offering integrated databases and audio, but more are planning to follow.

``We're a young aggressive company,'' said Jane Palmer Way, InfoDial president. ``Some say we're on the cutting edge, or you could say the bleeding edge because we're ahead of the pack in providing Web hosting services.''

PSINet expects to announce in the third quarter it will offer integrated databases, audio and video, along with transactional features with its Web hosting service, said Sally Wigley, corporate marketing director.

Whitfield spent eight months searching for an access provider that offered integrated databases.

``I was getting frustrated trying to find an access provider that would allow us to run our custom software on their server,'' he said. ``Most providers are doing such good business providing access to the Internet that it's not worth it to them to risk crashing their system by having a customer's software on their system.''

He noted, however, InfoDial conducted many trial tests with his software and its server before his database was allowed on the system.

Travelers checking into the Travel4Lovers site can enter criteria for a desired trip and the database will kick out several destination suggestions.

``We'll see more more ISPs offering integrated databases, audio and video because companies are demanding it,'' said Sara Poole, UUNET's sales and marketing manager for the Web hosting division. ``They can do these things if they have their own server, but then they have to staff it and have the technical know how.''

Small companies are turning to access providers to host their Web sites because of the cost, convenience and technical expertise, while large corporations are using ISPs because it guards against hackers using their servers to access internal computer networks, Adams said.

``The single biggest selling point to corporations is the security. There's zero chance someone will break into the Web server and steal the crown jewels,'' he said. ``By using an access provider, it creates a fire wall between the Web site and the company.''

Tim Lucas, president of Granada Hills-based Web consulting firm Lucas Associates Inc., represents a small company that selected an access provider for convenience.

``We're busy. We don't have time to maintain a Web server,'' he said.

But Lucas added he may purchase a Web server in the future to enhance his Web page design business by offering Internet access services to customers.

``A Web server also gives you more control over the operating system, server software, tools and any other features you want,'' he said.

THE WORKING WEB

Companies looking to strut their stuff on the World Wide Web need to consider whether it makes more sense to pay an Internet service provider (ISP) to host their company's site or buy a Web server.

Web servers, which typically start at $20,000 for equipment and software, also require a technologically savvy employee to maintain the site.

Companies that don't have the budget, expertise or time to operate a Web server would likely choose an access provider. Start-up costs typically begin at around $300 for services that would give a company the appearance of owning its own Web server.

A few guidelines in selecting an ISP:

Ask the ISP whether its regional network has several connections to a national network, which guards against a shutdown if one connection goes down.

How fast are the network's links? For example, an ISP may have a super-fast T-3 node in the network and tout that fact, but fail to mention that the link between the users and their destination is a slower T-1 line. The network will operate only as fast as the slowest link in the path.

Are the touted high-speed connections in operation?

Does the ISP have technicians at its operations center 24 hours a day, seven days a week - or just on call?

SOURCE: Daily News research

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--color) Jane Palmer Way, president of Inf oDial, says her firm is ahead of the pack in Web hosting services.

(2) Internet providers are making Web sites more affordable.

Tina Gerson/Daily News

Box: THE WORKING WEB (see text)
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 15, 1996
Words:1234
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