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Net Neutrality and Web Hosting

14216382643_8662684793_oNot only do I head up operations here at ServInt, I am chairman and co-founder of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, or i2Coalition. The i2Coalition is highly concerned with Net Neutrality, so I want to put some context around things that you have surely been reading over the past few weeks, months and years. I want to explain a little about what Net Neutrality is and then put it in context with how the Web Hosting industry works. Let’s start at the beginning: Net Neutrality is important, and it needs to be preserved. Equally important, however, is recognition of the fact that broadband providers are unique in the Internet ecosystem. Saying they need to be regulated doesn’t mean we need to regulate the rest of the Internet.

The concept of Net Neutrality is actually fairly simple — when it comes to consumer broadband, every packet should be treated equally. But when you look at this from a technical perspective, it ends up being fairly complicated.

The truth in the web hosting field is that we don’t have Net Neutrality. When somebody puts up a website, there are a number of factors that dictate how fast or slow it goes. There are small shared hosting packages that don’t have a lot of resources and there are massive cloud arrays that (in the aggregate) have more power than any one user could ever consume. People put content on fast networks and slow ones. Those who want their content to be blazing fast make sure they put a ton of computer resources behind their website. They put it on a fast network and then probably invest still more into distributing their content on a CDN. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, so it makes sense to try to distribute your content as close to the eyeballs you think want to see it.

Speed is critical because studies have shown that 40% of all Internet users abandon a page if it takes even 3 seconds to load. We are already in a situation where speed can be expensive to deliver. Content providers buy services from people to deliver content using a concept called “sender pays.” The providers deliver that content as quickly as they can, investing in great infrastructure and a fast network, to paid “upstream providers” who deliver the content to end users.

Now let’s talk about end users.

End users generally don’t have relationships with web hosts. They are a different part of the ecosystem. Their relationship is usually focused on their broadband provider, to whom they pay a monthly fee. Their expectation is that this fee will get them any content they want delivered to them as fast as their provider can get it to them. Their provider owns the “last mile” the fiber that connects their home to a local central telecommunications office. The provider controls the driveway that delivers content from the Internet to the home.

The question at the core of the Net Neutrality argument is: Should broadband providers be able to charge different rates for delivering different content along that last mile? Should they also be able to charge content providers and web site owners for the bandwidth required to deliver content to the end user quickly?

We’ve covered that web hosting providers sell different services for different prices, so let me explain why what broadband providers are trying to do is not the same thing.

The broadband and web hosting industries could not be more different. Companies like ours work incredibly hard to thrive in an extremely crowded field, where by most estimates there are around 35,000 competitors — most of them small-to-medium sized businesses — pushing each other to be better in order to stay alive. ServInt is at the larger end of that competitor spectrum, but we face the same pressures. We need to keep our prices competitive and our services high quality or we won’t survive.

In contrast, according to the FCC, 67% of US homes have just one or two broadband service providers to choose from. Broadband is the opposite of a competitive market; it’s a market where a few major corporations build territories to service end users. To be honest, it’s kind of natural that the market has ended up that way. It doesn’t make sense for lots of different companies to dig up America’s neighborhoods to run their own last mile fibers to try and compete with each other. It wouldn’t make any more sense than having different electric (or gas or water or sewage) companies run extra lines to your home. And yet broadband isn’t treated as a utility the way gas or electric is. And they are seeking to convince the FCC that they shouldn’t be; they should be allowed to find new revenue streams.

In short, they want to take maximum advantage of the uncompetitive portion of the Internet they control by manipulating its speed so the content ServInt’s customers pay to deliver quickly won’t actually get to its final destination as quickly unless the customer is also willing to pay the broadband providers — potentially all of them — for prioritized delivery.

Broadband isn’t like the rest of the Internet and it shouldn’t be treated like the rest of the Internet. As we look to solve this huge problem, we need to make sure we protect the whole Internet ecosystem. We do that by standing up against things like paid prioritization, but also by teaching people how the Internet works. What we don’t need is FCC jurisdiction and new regulation across the entire Internet.

The i2Coalition brings together companies like ServInt and many others to support an open and competitive Internet. Because an open Internet is key to the economic benefits provided by the Internet as a whole, the i2Coalition believes the FCC should consider the presently non-competitive transmission portion of Internet connectivity separately from the Internet as a whole. The FCC would then be allowed to impose reasonable regulations on the non-competitive portions, while allowing portions of the market that are sufficiently competitive (like web hosting and the Cloud) to remain free from regulation and open to innovation.

Join i2Coalition in the fight for an open Internet at www.i2coalition.com.

Phot by Mike Licht

ServInt Receives “Best Migration Partner” award at 2014 cPanel Conference

cpanel awardI am very proud to announce that on Tuesday at the 8th annual cPanel Conference, ServInt received the 2014 award for Best Migration Partner during the keynote presentation. We were praised for ensuring quality migrations for all our cPanel customers, and for our migration team’s seamless integration with cPanel’s migration experts.

This award meant a lot to us. We know that moving can be hard, and we take pride in doing it right — and we’re extremely proud to be recognized as one of the companies that does cPanel migrations to cPanel’s exacting standards.

More websites are hosted on cPanel than on any other commercially available Control Panel in the world. They are quite simply the most popular game in town, and they are ServInt’s preferred control panel. ServInt was also cPanel’s very first partner to achieve 100% cPanel certification, but we took it one step further and had every single customer-facing employee get certified, including myself. I still don’t think there’s another mainstream hosting provider that can say that.

I want to thank cPanel for distinguishing us with this award. We at ServInt appreciate your partnership as well. I believe we make migration easier than any other host in the industry, whether users are migrating from a cPanel based account or any other control panel.

VPS or Cloud: What’s in a Name?

ml01blogIn the context of hosting, “Cloud” originally referred to a “next generation” of technology abstraction, something better than basic virtualization. Vendors proposed many conflicting definitions that included a mix of vertical scaling, horizontal scaling, automatic scaling, API driven provisioning, etc. Usually, whatever a particular vendor was offering was that vendor’s definition of Cloud.

There was never full agreement on what constituted Cloud, and then, over time various traditional, non-Cloud hosting platforms began growing Cloud features. So, did those platforms become Cloud platforms, and if so, when? That’s a question that’s open for debate. Read more

VIDEO: ServInt COO Speaks Out About the NSA

Last week I wrote about how ServInt was beating the NSA. Here’s a talk I gave on the same subject in TechWeek in Chicago last month. ServInt cares about protecting our users’ rights. The talk will explain why we care, and what we’re trying to do to fix the “NSA problem.”

How ServInt is Beating the NSA

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.37.33 AMYesterday I was interviewed by Bloomberg News about the effects of NSA surveillance on the Cloud.  They wanted to know if we had lost any customers specifically because of the Edward Snowden leaks. This, of course, is a hot topic: how is mass surveillance affecting the cloud, and can we quantify the damage that is being done? Is it costing us jobs and economic growth in the cloud?  The answer, of course, is “yes” — and ServInt isn’t scared of saying so.

I said that we had lost customers and even more potential customers — which is true.  ServInt has been one of the few players willing to speak up and say this and as a result we have been quoted in places like The Hill and the New York Times.  The cloud hosting field is a tough, competitive business and it is hard to talk about losses.  But ServInt isn’t afraid of calling out the problem, because we have been leaders in directly addressing the issue since it arose a little over a year ago.

The cloud in the United States has been badly hurt by the actions of the NSA.  These days anybody can relocate their digital business with just two or three clicks of a mouse. You don’t need to sign a long contract or tell anybody why you are making your choice, you just move. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have decided they want to move their business outside of the United States because they feel like the US doesn’t care about privacy. I’m quoted in the Bloomberg article about this being a “death by a thousand papercuts.” I was talking about the affect on the overall economy, not our business, which for the record has seen a 30 percent decline in foreign signups since the NSA leaks began, not a 30 percent decline in total foreign customers.

In fact, ServInt is actually weathering the Snowden storm very well, compared to many of our competitors. Why?  Because our clients trust us. They understand the cardinal rule of security and data safety:

It’s not where you’re hosted, it’s how you’re hosted.

Your business needs to stay up, online and fast. It needs to stay stable and secure. And your data needs to be protected. You need experts at the helm to accomplish all of those things — experts you trust. And earning the trust of small to medium businesses is what ServInt has been doing for 19 years.

The NSA revelations are just another hurdle to overcome in ServInt’s ongoing pursuit of being the most trusted name in the Cloud. We’re doing so by requiring warrants for content, and by responsible handling of data. We’re doing so by being thought leaders in the fight against NSA surveillance in Washington, through our leadership within the i2Coalition. And we’re trying to curb the misinformation about NSA surveillance.  Everybody tempted to move their content out of US datacenters needs to remember that the vast majority of all spying is done on foreign networks. “Move your site out of the U.S. to avoid spying” may be good marketing, but it doesn’t take into account the reality of how surveillance works.

Over the course of the last few months we’ve launched our most trustworthy product ever — the SolidFire VPS — which offers an industry-wide exclusive performance guarantee on all critical server resources. We’re working on major updates to our privacy policy, and other major enhancements are around the corner that will further augment our offerings, across all platforms and price ranges, to give you tighter control over your data than ever before.

We do all this because we want to win the day, and win it honorably, by doing the right thing  We win the day when we make customer trust our number one goal. We win the day when our customers know we have their backs when it comes to protecting their data, and we win the day when we fight for privacy and NSA accountability.

Web Hosting for Non-Technical People: A “Medium-Sized” Website?

wsj blog post imageLast week, a good friend who works at Google sent me a link to a Wall Street Journal story on the price wars that seem to be heating up in the cloud computing and storage sectors. (Editor’s note: WSJ hyperlinks only work once. To read this article run a google search for “A Price War Erupts in Cloud Services”)

I found the article fascinating, but I thought it did a surprisingly poor job helping the reader understand how the Cloud might affect real-world hosting decisions.

At the center of the problem was the effort the author made to demystify the cost of cloud hosting. In order to provide a common storage and processing task against which all the major cloud service providers’ fees would be measured, the author chose the following:

“(Hosting) a medium-sized website with about 50 million page views a month…” Read more

ServInt Goes Public With its Support of the USA FREEDOM Act — and So Should You

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 2.39.23 PMEarlier today, ServInt signed on to a letter, spearheaded by the Center for Democracy & Technology, that was sent to leaders in the U.S. House and Senate. The letter urged reform of U.S. surveillance practices “by limiting the scope of surveillance and by substantially enhancing…privacy protections, oversight, and accountability mechanisms” — specifically through the enactment of the USA FREEDOM Act, about which we’ve written here before.

Following is a transcript of the letter. Please take a moment to look it over — then contact your elected representatives to urge them to support it. If you’re looking for the Reader’s Digest version of what’s at stake here, it boils down to this: the USA FREEDOM Act would close a wide range of loopholes in previous homeland security-related legislation that make it easy for the government to gain access to your e-mail, data, and other private information, without warrants or the protection of other elements of basic due process.  Here’s the letter: Read more

A Short History of U.S. Internet Legislation: The Computer Fraud & Abuse Act

Aaron Swartz 1986 - 2013 The first casualty of CFAA?

Aaron Swartz 1986 – 2013.
The first casualty of CFAA?

For this final post on the history of U.S. Internet regulation, we need to look at one of the broadest pieces of cybersecurity policy out there – broad enough to hit just about anybody in the world. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) of 1984 and its increasingly liberal interpretation have led to a state of affairs in which most U.S Internet users — you and me included — could be considered felons.

Technology is changing far faster than any government could hope to keep up. One of the many challenges of setting cybersecurity policy is that if you set requirements that are technical in nature into the law they will be outdated by the time they are passed. The law can’t be prescriptive when it comes to cybersecurity, so it ends up turning to broad generalization.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is one of those laws that succumbs to broad generalization. Read more

A Short History of U.S. Internet Legislation: Privacy on the Internet

2650675938_4b0b3bee91Any discussion about PRISM centers around the concept of privacy on the Internet. For my third post on the history of U.S. Internet Legislation, I’ll focus in on the laws that govern our privacy online.

When attempting to ascertain the state of online privacy, there tends to be a lot of talk about law enforcement “abuses.” Having a basic understanding of the laws that serve as the basis for most law enforcement and Intelligence community programs that target online activity can help us determine how, and whether, things need to change.

Let’s start our brief look at those laws by imagining that I’m a U.S. Federal officer and you are an American citizen, and my goal is to go through your underwear drawer to look for suspicious activity. To do that I need a search warrant, signed off by a judge, and generally to get that I need probable cause. The Fourth Amendment to the United States constitution, which prevents unreasonable search and seizure, requires that. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was written to codify that these fourth amendment rights also exist online. However, certain laws carve out exceptions to the warrant requirement under specific conditions.

Discussion of our privacy rights online center around what the government has and doesn’t have the right to do with our online data. In the wake of PRISM I want to define two categories through which we can explore those legal rights:

  1. Surveillance that is made possible by the acquisition of a search warrant by law enforcement
  2. Surveillance that is made possible through an exception to the warrant requirement

Below are a few common legislative acts (not an exhaustive list) that empower law enforcement to get data they seek online. Read more

A Short History of U.S. Internet Legislation: The DMCA and CDA

7235553_1c54b3bad4With the U.S. government’s PRISM program, there has been a lot of talk recently about what the government can and will do with Internet communications. What the government can do is limited by the protections granted under various laws governing the Internet. Some of the most important laws governing protections on the Internet are nearly 20 years old and – when written – were ancillary to much broader legislation.

In 1996, when the Internet was full of promise but of questionable scope, two pieces of United States legislation were passed that helped form the basis of the commercial Internet:

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230)

The Safe Harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA Safe Harbor).

As the Chief Operating Officer of a web hosting company, I take a lot of pride in the work we do. Companies like ServInt are building tools for people who are using the power of the Internet to change the world. Without the protections we receive from laws like CDA 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor, this innovation would not be possible. These two laws are the pillars that hold up the U.S. commercial Internet. Read more

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