The data center is the most important tool in a web host’s arsenal.
That might sound painfully obvious, and it is, but for those looking to get into this industry it’s an important item to remember. Competitors brag about which bits of software they use to push product out the door but they often forget to mention the necessity of maintaining a powerful, scaleable, stay-in-business-able data center to actually store that information.
After our most recent expansion into ServInt LA, I thought I’d share a few insights into the choices we had to make when building our infrastructure to give folks a better understanding of our corporate goals as well as offer advice to those looking to get into the hosting biz.
More after the jump…
Years ago, the usual stomping grounds for those of us in the hosting industry took an interesting turn as shady fly-by-night hosting providers started using the term ‘unlimited’ to describe their product plans.
These companies offered ‘unlimited’ bandwidth or ‘unlimited’ disk space as an enticement for customers to buy their products. There was a strong negative reaction within the hosting community and a sincere attempt among responsible hosts to make it known that ‘unlimited’ plans lacked credibility.
Last week it was announced that 1and1, an industry peer who I like and respect, has joined Verio, another one of the good guys, in touting ‘unlimited’ hosting plans.
I thought we had learned better.
ServInt’s hosting is based on CentOS, an open-source derivative of Red Hat Enterprise Linux that we’ve worked painstakingly on customizing over the years. We don’t generally offer Microsoft products simply because they aren’t as easy to deploy in our VPS and dedicated server implementation, and being new to this industry I simply assumed the same went for many if not most of our competitors and colleagues as well.
So I have to say I was honestly surprised last week when myself, Christian, Taylor, and Matt from ServInt all attended HostingCon at National Harbor, right across the river in Maryland, and I was first introduced to Microsoft’s resurgent presence in hosting.
The show was my first in this industry, and it was a fun and enlightening experience. I found that hosting, as a whole, was quite healthy, and most companies were using the economy as an opportunity to drive innovation and development.
If people aren’t buying the old, bring in the new.
Our good friend, Parallels Chairman and CEO Serguei Belloussov, gave the keynote last Monday outlining Parallels’ various products for the upcoming year. He also announced that Parallels was working with Microsoft on a series of new products and product enhancements to better connect the Linux and Windows worlds.
I looked around, nervous.
Here was a room full of people who, like ServInt, have built successful companies out of primarily deploying Linux-based solutions, and not only were they talking openly about working with Microsoft, but the Microsoft and Parallels booths were right next to one another! What has the world come to?
The attitude had changed, it seems that Microsoft no longer had the reputation of being the giant evil behemoth it was once assumed to be. It’s a softer, friendlier, and — dare I say — more open company today than it was just a few years ago.
Since 2007, Microsoft implemented open xml in Office 2007 (ironically leading to the famous injunction against Word last week), they open-sourced key linux drivers under the GPLv2, and they deployed the world’s largest, longest, and arguably most successful open-beta of a closed source product to date with Windows 7. Couple this with the terrific work in the company’s XBox division and you have a company that, at least at the surface, has fundamentally changed.
Of course, 1 Microsoft Way still has plenty of testiness left. CEO Steve Balmer’s claim in 2006 that Linux violated more than 200 Microsoft patents was absurd and the litigious spree they attempted shortly thereafter would be just as funny if it didn’t threaten to put people out of business.
Microsoft was successful because it discovered it’s strengths early, it made products that only it could make at the time. In the past decade, it’s business got a lot more competitive and the company branched into completely new markets. It soon realized that it no longer had to just compete with huge companies, it had to compete with free.
With that, I’m interested to see what comes out of Redmond in these last few months of 2009 and beyond. Is this a new attitude towards a world of open information or a way to embed proprietary standards under the guise FLOSSy cooperation? That remains to be seen.
In the meantime, I’ll wait it out on my Mac.
Photo by Thomas Hawk
Lifehacker, one of my favorite blogs of all time, had a great article earlier this week on the “hidden” dangers of cloud computing. I’ve been digesting it for a few days and thought I’d add perspective from a web host.
To me, the current frenzy over cloud computing reminds me a bit of the story of Icarus, whose haste in gaining flight pushed him to create wings of wax only to die after they melted mid flight.
Gina Trapani, a fantastic writer, was primarily talking about Cloud services as opposed to Cloud hosting, however there are parallels between the two concepts.
Gina’s article mentions privacy as a primary concern for cloud users. She quotes an Op-Ed by Jonathan Zittrain in the New York Times:
Thanks in part to the Patriot Act, the federal government has been able to demand some details of your online activities from service providers – and not to tell you about it. There have been thousands of such requests lodged since the law was passed, and the F.B.I.’s own audits have shown that there can be plenty of overreach – perhaps wholly inadvertent – in requests like these.
On the cloud service she’s right, however on the hosting side, things are a bit more complicated. Title II of the DMCA gives Online Service Providers (Including ISP’s and Web Hosts) a ‘safe harbor’ clause essentially protecting the host from having to monitor everything that is on a particular server.
Basically, a VPS server is treated like an apartment building. If the police are investigating a murder, the superintendent will neither give them the entire building to search, nor will he search for the murder weapon himself. With a warrant, the superintendent can allow the police to search a particular apartment, but he himself is not held liable for the murder that occurred on his property nor is he responsible for finding any relevant evidence.
The same idea applies to a hosting company and, say, a VPS. If the police have the proper court documents, we can give them ALL the information on a particular VPS, but we cannot and will not look inside the VPS and hunt a file for them, and we also cannot and will not give them every VPS on a server.
This is, of course, an enormous distinction to make, Gena writes:
To search your house or office (including documents stored on your computer’s hard drive), cops need to obtain a search warrant. To get to the information you’ve stored on a third-party’s web servers, they only need a subpoena, which is easier to obtain. This kind of search can also happen without your knowledge.
It is true that with an appropriate court order, authorities can gain access to a server without the user’s knownledge, they cannot however gain access without OUR knowledge. ServInt’s policy has always been that we will tell a customer everything that we can under the law.
On the cloud, there are still some serious concerns about the viability of the platform, in fact they are the same reasons why ServInt hasn’t yet implemented its own cloud solution.
Latency is still a huge problem, lack of command-line access continues to be an issue, and good luck to those who need to make changes to Apache…it might be easier to disarm an atomic bomb. All of these are compounded by the very real security and privacy concerns in current cloud implementations, especially cloud services. That doesn’t discount the technology, nor does it imply that cloud services are bad per se, they are just fledgling.
The goal of a technology company should be to create a product that provides a solution so great, that what it lacks seems wholly irrelevant. As cloud solutions continue to represent the future of the industry, providers and customers alike must heed Icarus and be careful not to fly too close to the sun.
Growing up in the Washington DC Metro Area has some unique advantages.
DC is built on a swamp, and thus has four very distinct seasons…the two most brutal being our unforgivably humid Summers and our frigid winters for which Washingtonians are almost always completely unprepared. DC is also home to the seat of international political power, a thriving tech community located primarily in Northern VA (Hi Mom!), and some of the most ruthless traffic congestion on the East Coast.
The District is within driving distance of staggeringly rural areas…areas that I would frequent regularly as an irresponsible kid. These areas had cows…
…I think you know where I’m going with this.
It is not impossible to tip a cow, but it is far more likely that the cow will tip the person.
Contrary to popular belief, cows do not sleep standing up, their legs do not passively lock, and their sense of smell and hearing is far superior to yours. They can reorient themselves if someone were to shove them, and if they fell and were not hurt in the process…they could get right back up and potentially hurt the attempted tipper.
Cow tipping is a myth, a myth that everyone who ever lived near a farm loves to say they took part in. It is a socially accepted falsehood because we find it funny and exciting, perhaps because we want to do it ourselves. The legendary act of cow tipping sounds eerily similar to the current implementation of cloud services. It is a socially accepted platform because we find it cool and sexy and because we want to do it ourselves.
While I, and ServInt as a whole, don’t discount the cloud, the fact of the matter is that there is no consensus over what cloud hosting, cloud computing, or even what the overarching concept of the cloud actually is. It’s a platform that hasn’t ripened but that is being pushed…hard…by many of ServInt’s competitors and the tech world as a whole.
So far, cloud services have largely been either cloud application hosting or cloud storage.
Some of the more popular cloud applications have come from Apple with its MobileMe service, Google and Google Apps, and Microsoft’s recently announced Office Web (I assume that’s a working title) just to name a few of the largest. On the storage front, you have Amazon S3 and SC2, Rackspace Cloud (formerly Mosso), and Windows Azure.
All of these services are cool, but they’re a prime example of what is wrong with this corner of the web right now…there is no focus. Both Amazon and Rackspace have released API’s that would allow developers to better tap into their services…however this strikes me as less of a benefit and more of a symptom. Building a platform is great, but there needs to be something built on that platform, otherwise it’s just there.
Despite the attractiveness of cloud services and the genuine potential the platform carries with it, current services have shown to be spotty and unreliable. This says that the cloud should play more of an auxiliary role in a server environment instead of taking over as the environment entirely.
In all fairness, that is something that both Microsoft and Rackspace have both publicly aspired to, namely the cloud as a support role in a traditional server set up, but I would argue that’s proof that now is the time to wait on moving everything to the cloud.
At the end of the day an enterprise server — whether it’s VPS or dedicated — will still remain the most important aspect of hosting. The future of this industry lies in supplementing that vision in order to evolve with a new solution entirely…not simply creating a weak platform and expecting it to perform the same way a rack would.
The enterprise server will evolve into the enterprise cloud server. It will grow and its voice will crack, but it will not go away.
It will also NOT be tipping any cows.
Photo used and altered under Creative Commons License, courtesy of flickr user akakumo.