What are application services?

Application services are an interconnected pool of internal and external services businesses depend on to optimize, deploy, and manage applications.

As digital transformation continues to accelerate and reshape how the world conducts business, applications are taking on increased significance. Today, organizations large and small rely heavily on essential software solutions, not only to support and enhance, but to drive success. And this reliance on business software is only increasing.

But as innovation accelerates, concerns about application security, visibility, consistency, and performance are likewise becoming more pressing. After all, when software is central to a business, what happens when that software fails to perform optimally, efficiently, or securely?

In many cases, application services and application service management may be the answer. Application services support and enhance application use, configured to provide companies with specific software services. Application services are made up of applications and hosts that operate in tandem and may be designed either for business- or customer-facing app solutions.

Modern businesses rely on an increasingly complex IT landscape. In fact, Okta reports that the average business organization currently deploys 89 distinct applications in 2022—an increase of 24% from 2016. This mix of application systems may include legacy technologies, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, monitoring software, and more.

Unfortunately, supporting vital business applications and ensuring that the right governance solutions are in place is a massive responsibility—one that can easily consume the time, attention, and resources of existing IT departments.

Application services and related application service management solutions apply technology to take that responsibility off from the shoulders of beleaguered IT personnel. This empowers IT professionals and the organizations that depend on them to apply more of their resources towards building strategy and driving business growth.

Just as there are applications to address almost any business need, the range of application services is likewise extensive. Even applications that are designed for simple and singular tasks require many support apps and hosts, all configured to provide the intended service. Consider, for example, what it takes to create a financial report using a web-based application: web servers, databases, application servers, network infrastructure, and middleware are all vital services that operate together to make the report a reality.

Other examples of application services include credit card payment services, CRM systems, exchange rate services, online storefronts, order management systems, and inventory management systems.

With that in mind, here are five categories of application services and several examples of each:

Graphic lining out the types of application services.


Access application services are those that help verify user identity and enable access to secure applications, networks, platforms, etc. These services include:

  • App access
  • ID federation
  • Secure web gateway
  • SSO


Availability refers to services designed for effective routing and balancing of network and internet traffic to ensure that an application can perform its desired function. Availability application services include:

  • DNS
  • Load balancing
  • SDN gateway


A relatively new focus for application services, mobility application services support applications that empower mobile computing and its associated processes. These include:

  • Endpoint security
  • IoT gateway
  • VDI


Performance application services exist to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and performance of applications. These services include:

  • Acceleration
  • Caching
  • Compression
  • HTTP/2 gateway
  • SSL/TLS offload
  • TCP optimization
  • WAN optimization


Finally, application services that are part of the security category help protect vital data, secure sensitive applications, and prevent infiltration from threat actors of all kinds. Security application services include:

  • Anti-fraud
  • Anti-virus
  • Botnet protection
  • Firewall

In many cases, the terms application services and application service management are used synonymously. This is most likely an attempt to streamline the terminology—any discussion of application services is always going to include an element of service management as businesses work to gain improved control over and visibility into the services that drive essential software. That said, application service management and application services are not the same thing.

Application service management describes the strategies, tools, processes, and disciplines that exist as part of system management, and are designed to enhance an organization’s ability to manage and monitor the performance of business application services.

As the name suggests, cloud application services are those that exist to support applications deployed in the cloud. This broad range of application services includes SaaS, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), data storage, file sharing, data governance, big data analytics, and cloud security services. Cloud application services also relate to basic cloud-based software, such as email services.

Application modernization is a class of application services focused on the migration of analog and legacy data to newer applications. Application modernization also includes the integration of additional or enhanced business functionality.

Application modernization services include changes to application architecture, interoperability with third-party integrations, re-architecting, re-coding, re-engineering, re-hosting, re-platforming, and application retirement or replacement.

Given how expansive application services are and the potential impact they can have on business performance and efficiency, it is natural that many organizations would want to delegate or outsource application services and application service management to proven third-party providers. An application service provider (ASP) is a business that employs transactional pricing to deliver functionality and related services in support of specific applications via a network.

What role does automation play in ASP?

An application service provider allows organizations of all sizes and across all industries to manage their application services at scale, optimizing application maintenance and support while reducing cost. At the heart of modern ASP is the increasing prevalence of AI and automation technologies.

Correctly applied, application service automation turns difficult and error-prone manual service tasks into repeatable automated processes that produce highly accurate results. This move towards automation in application service management and ASP results in increased service uptime and effectiveness, allowing businesses to accomplish more while applying fewer of their finite IT resources to servicing applications.

What is the difference between ASP and SaaS?

Because ASP is hosted remotely via third parties, it is often grouped together with SaaS solutions. But while there are some similarities, the two approaches are not strictly the same thing.

SaaS models tend to service a range of tenants using the same version of the application, including all its features and upgrades. SaaS solutions provide access to their own proprietary software. The user does not own the license to the software, but instead purchases the right to use it on an as-needed basis. The provider hosts and runs the software from an external site and handles release management on behalf of the customer (usually a business or other organization) who accesses the application solely on the web via a standard web browser.

On the other hand, ASP is often considered a more rudimentary approach. The provider manages and hosts applications developed by other third parties. ASP may also require that clients install the third-party applications locally, maintaining a separate instance of the application from other users. As such, updating ASP instances can be much more time consuming and costly.

Modern application service management combines the functionality of ASP with the advanced capabilities, accessibility, and support of cloud-based SaaS solutions. ServiceNow, the leader in IT management, is on the forefront of this revolution.

ServiceNow provides the resources and support to optimize your applications to meet the needs of your business. Built on the award-winning Now Platform®,  App Engine Studio provides users of all coding skill-levels with a visual app-development and optimization environment. Build apps from scratch or employ powerful template options. Work with citizen developers and coordinate application strategy across teams and departments. Integrate your applications easily across your entire IT environment. And through it all, connect with experts to address challenges and learn new skills in the ServiceNow community. ServiceNow makes it all possible.
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