Frontier Blazes ISP Connectivity Trail for IBM

IBM's recently formed Internet Service Provider (ISP) business unit and Frontier Communications (Rochester, N.Y.) announced the first of an expected series of partnerships between IBM and ISPs. The partnerships are aimed at helping IBM customers quickly establish e-commerce hardware and software infrastructures.

As a result of the July announcement with Frontier, the ISP will be recommended as an Internet access provider when IBM customers purchase AS/400, Netfinity and RS/6000 servers along with IBM's Net.Commerce, WebSphere and other e-commerce software.

Frontier Communications, a business unit of Frontier Corp., is a provider of integrated communications services including Internet access, IP and data applications, as well as long distance and local telephone and teleconferencing. Frontier's geographical coverage expanded worldwide when it merged with Internet and long-distance telecommunications provider Global Crossing Ltd. (Beverly Hills, Calif.) earlier this year.

By linking with IBM, Frontier officials say they have found a high-profile e-commerce business partner that can only increase the ISP's customer base.

"We needed to partner with a company that has brand recognition in the e-commerce space," says Brain Covney, VP of market management at Frontier Communications. "When IBM's business customers need to implement high-bandwidth sales strategies like e-commerce, IBM sales representatives will bring us in to provide the Internet access. We'll provide the connectivity to the outside world."

Frontier will initially offer dedicated Internet access and frame relay connectivity services, but plans to expand its offerings to include Web hosting and application hosting. While officials at IBM's ISP business unit view Internet connectivity as an integral part of any e-commerce system, the company intends to focus on its server platforms and software and let its partners handle Internet access.

"Our strengths are our middleware and server hardware and software, and that's partly why we divested our Internet Global Network and began to partner with providers like Frontier," says Dr. Scott Penberthy, director of solutions at IBM's ISP business unit. "We'll continue to focus on providing reliable, rock-solid server software, while ISP providers will make the investments in connectivity, Web hosting, email messaging and audio and video conferencing."

Penberthy explains that programs such as IBM's Start Now, announced in July, which bundles its Net.Commerce software on AS/400, Netfinity, RS/6000 and other server platforms, are designed to let its customers get their e-commerce systems to market quickly.

"We have also started a program with VARs and VADs to offer Frontier connectivity with a Netfinity box installed with WebSphere and other software on the customer site," Penberthy continues. "WebSphere is also tested and rock-solid on the AS/400, so those customers can get their e-commerce systems started for $30,000 to $40,000."

Although IBM officials readily describe the benefits of the Frontier partnership, clearly it's a deal that will have its greatest impact on the ISP, according to Lance Travis service director for application architectures at AMR Research (Boston). "This partnership is a good starting point to get companies up and running in e-commerce. It's a nice play for Frontier, but for IBM it merely provides a new channel that's a blip on their radar. It's more of a feel good story for IBM, since they can say, 'We're not locking you into our own ISP.'"

One key benefit for e-commerce first-timers is that the partnership will help eliminate technical snafus when it's time to go online. An ISP company probably has a clear understanding of connectivity, but may have little knowledge of a particular server platform. Travis adds that by forging a relationship with Frontier and other ISPs, IBM is helping customers by providing a completely configured package.