A. Computers are one of the few aspects of our modern society that we don’t expect to work. If cars operated like computers, no one would buy them and there would be product liability lawsuits aplenty. But we’re not seeing that with computers. This will eventually change. It has to; computers will eventually become as simple and reliable as telephones. And computers will have to deal with product liabilities, just as any mass-market product. But I’ve given up predicting when.
Q. As you note, the arrival of email-borne malware has escalated security challenges hugely. Part of the problem is the spam deluge that assails nearly everybody’s inbox: what is your preferred solution for dealing with spam?
A. I use a service called Postini, and I love it. It cleans spam out of my mailbox before it hits my network, so I don’t have to worry about it at all. Sure, there are some false positives, but after a few weeks of configuring my white list, I hardly get any.
Spam filters aren’t an ideal solution, though. I publish a free monthly newsletter: Crypto-Gram. It’s subscription-based, and I have over 75,000 subscribers. Again and again my newsletter gets flagged as spam, even though it isn’t. That’s the real problem with spam filters: they fail to differentiate between solicited and unsolicited bulk e-mail.
Q. Another aspect of the problem is people’s apparently irresistible desire to open attachments: what can be done to discourage them from giving in to this urge, and to minimise the damage when they do?
A. Education and containment. Some people still open attachments, but more people don’t. That’s education. Containment would be efforts to limit what attachments could do. Right now, when you open an attachment in Windows, it can do anything on your computer. That ...
Q. What type of customers are most interested in the blended hosting environment, and how are they using it?
A. Customers who use Microsoft FrontPage to design their pages but also want to run enhanced web applications which utilize PHP, Perl and MySQL are the ones who activate their free Linux account. They combine the power of ASP.Net and PHP on their native environments to create the best website possible.
Q. You used to work at Microsoft, and have been a strong proponent of Windows hosting and the .net initiative. At the same time, you were recently quoted in Business Week as saying that Microsoft has “lost its perspective, concentration, and vision in operating systems.” What’s your analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Microsoft’s hosting products and strategy?
A. Unfortunately, I feel so passionate about Microsoft that I can not be politically correct when I criticize my friends at Microsoft. After all Mr. Gates is the reason why I got into the IT industry in the first place. I think somewhere up at the ranks of Microsoft executives, there was a decision made that the shared hosting market was not their top priority. Nobody at Microsoft will publicly accept this, but I think it’s the truth. Microsoft wanted to concentrate on dedicated Windows hosting, which drives more revenue per customer, and is also much easier to support in a technical way. I can clearly see that Windows Server 2003 was designed to support dedicated hosting, and shared hosting was not a priority in the total design.
As an example, you can not run Microsoft Access databases for shared hosting environment under the fully secure option of ASP.Net environment. This is driving many of our customers mad. Many hosting companies disable full security just to enable Access support under ASP.Net, ...
At the other end of the spectrum is the impact this has had at the executive level. I don’t think there was ever a doubt that open source licenses themselves were legal, enforceable documents; but I think the SCO lawsuit has shown that what felt like a solid case against Linux floundered not just on technical grounds (the claims were false) but that by trying to take on something with as much momentum as Linux, the suitor is nearly guaranteed to fail. The array of resources, be they technical, archival, legal, etc., available to fight these suits were more than anyone could have predicted. It’s a good rebuke to the cynical but widespread notion that all it takes is a big pot of gold to litigate your competition out of existance or otherwise win a legal challenge. Good did prevail in the end. Hopefully it won’t make us too cocky, because the next challenge could be much harder to fight.
Q. Are the questions raised about the GNU Public License likely to lead to significant changes in how open source software is created, improved and distributed?
A. If you’re referring to SCO’s challenges, I think it’s becoming clear that it’s all been hogwash. I suspect the claims that the GPL “violates the U.S. Constitution” will get recorded in some historical analysis of corporate Tourette’s syndrome. While there are slightly different interpretations of the GPL, they all vary by nuance; the basics still are understood well, and can be explained clearly enough that the FSF still hasn’t needed to resort to a lawsuit to compel conformance when they’ve been notified of a company possibly violating it. That may change – there may yet be another company interested in challenging it, or v3 of the GPL may shift the boundary between ...
A. I think that Microsoft overdid what .Net was. Initially, the message was extremely confusing because .Net meant too many things. It meant a set of server products, it meant a special edition of Windows, it meant a development platform. When we refer to .Net we call it the .Net framework, which is what it actually was – it was only one of the components of .Net. And the .Net framework is actually a fairly good development platform. At least it has stopped the migration of people who were sick and tired of MFC to Java. Now they have a much better solution if they go with the Microsoft-based technology and there’s a nice migration path. So I think they’ve been successful.
You probably don’t hear too much about .Net because now it’s not hot news, it’s just something that developers have. And the other reason might be because they’re going through another rebranding exercise within Microsoft – I think it’s going to be massively complex. They’re trying to rebrand .Net framework into WinFX – not to be confused with WinFS . WinFX is basically the new version of the .Net framework with things for Longhorn, so it includes WinFS, it includes Avalon, it includes communications. The whole Longhorn thing is built on top of .Net.
Q. One big change since Mono started has been Novell’s acquisition of Ximian; how did it come about?
A. We had a product for Linux called Red Carpet. It’s something for maintaining the software and software updates on Linux machines on servers and clients. We had a fantastic GUI, we had a command line tool that allowed administrators to schedule things so it can be completely unattended, you could centrally manage things, roll out deployments, back out, undo. We basically had ...
Q. The Planet has experienced a monthly growth rate of 20-percent plus in both January and February, after selling 1,500 dedicated servers in December. Even by The Planet’s standards, this is very strong growth. What’s behind these numbers?
A. The Planet created a separate division called Server Matrix in March 2003 to cater to the needs of the entry level server market. Since its creation, Server Matrix has seen growth from 50 servers in the first month to over 2,000 servers sold and provisioned last month. We firmly believe the coupling of enterprise-level managed services with the entry level dedicated server has produced a product unique in the industry.
We expect Server Matrix growth to continue with an average unit deployment of 4,000 units per month by the end of this year. On the enterprise side of the house, The Planet has gone to market with a Total Control server line that encompasses everything needed by the SME enterprise host. Hardware, software, bandwidth, security, backup and managed services are all bundled together with a starting price of $299 – a very aggressive price structure aimed at the SME masses. We are already averaging 300 units per month and expect growth to somewhere around 1,000 units per month by the end of 2004.
Q. In the last two months, more than 37,000 hostnames have moved to The Planet from other hosting companies, a net gain of more 31,500 hostnames. Are you taking any specific steps to market to customers of other providers, or is this all word of mouth?
A. Being an engineer myself, The Planet has always been a very technology driven company. To date, we have taken the monies most companies spend on advertising and invested in our network, datacenter infrastructure and hardware. The result has been the best ...
Q. How did you first get involved in working with databases?
A. My primary interest had been in theoretical computer science – I got a PhD in computer science at Berkeley. I went to work at IBM and I was working on a variety of things, but they all more or less revolved around operating systems and programming languages and applications.
My boss came to me one day, and he gave me some career advice and said, “you know, IBM has more operating systems than they need ” – this was about 1971 – “and we have more programming languages than we need. We also have more operating systems and programming language researchers than we need. If you have an interest in making a contribution, as opposed to just polishing a round ball, you would be well advised to work on networking or databases because those are areas where we are completely clueless.”
Q. How did your work on transaction processing come out of that?
A. We were a group working in the general area of database systems. And so we were sitting around in a room and the question came up, who is going to do what? Since I was the operating systems guy in the group, I got to do all the operating systems stuff. It so happens that that includes things like systems startup and shutdown, security and authorisation and the basic issues of concurrency control execution and so on. When you get involved in startup and shutdown, you also get involved in restart, what happens when things fail. So I fell heir to the whole business of cleaning up the mess after programs all crashed and bringing the world back to the state it was in before the crash.
Q. Did fault tolerance arise in a ...
Q. Did maintaining multiple hosting units complicate the task of integrating Affinity’s acquisitions and capturing the cost savings and efficiencies available through these deals?
A.To be totally honest, complications were kept to a minimum. A big plus for us was our unified billing system. This allowed us to focus on the seamless integration of all our customers on to a single platform – which we have successfully completed. We understood the complexity involved in the integration and approached it in very calculated, methodical way. The migration went well and I am very pleased to say we hit all our milestones.
One of the challenges, and our main focus, was to maintain integrity as it pertained to customer offerings, especially customer service. In the rare instances where customers had less features or a slightly higher price, we upgraded them so they ended up with more than they had previously.
Q. How about marketing? Is it more complex or costly to help users differentiate between the different Affinity brands, compared to competitors?
A. Offering multiple brands is a definitely a marketing challenge. It requires excellent resources to execute but the benefits are enormous – we are seeing this through our customer uptake, up selling and a reduction in churn. It is imperative brand consistency remain intact and we pay great attention to this. There’s also complexity in executing the brand proposition; the various brands offer the ability to focus messages to a direct demographic and relate specifically to the customer.
Q. Affinity has been a significant acquirer of hosting companies. Is the industry consolidation nearing an end? At this point, which segments of the hosting market do you see offering the best opportunities for growth and profitability?
A. The web hosting market is a very competitive, constantly evolving market, and based ...
Q. Your company sponsored the EV1.net Houston Bowl on Dec. 30, which drew 51,000 fans and put your company’s name in the headlines of sports pages across America. What led you to sponsor a college bowl game, and can you quantify how this will translate into benefits for your Internet businesses?
A. The EV1 Bowl is much more than just a sporting event. I see it as an opportunity to bring the EV1 community together. We organized a small gathering during the 2003 Bowl, which was attended by customers from as far away as Germany. I think “invaluable” is the only way to describe the face to face interactions that the event made possible. We’re planning to host a much larger group in 2004; several vendors, including Dell and GeoTrust, have already agreed to get involved.
Q. EV1Servers gained attention within the hosting industry with promotions where you resold domains and SSL certificates at extremely low prices (seemingly below wholesale) to attract new customers. How do you assess the success of these promotions, and how did the “bang for the buck” compare to other marketing avenues, such as pay-per-click or banner advertising?
A.When I started EV1’s dialup business in 1998, my goal was to bring a much-needed service to the mass market at an affordable cost. This is a philosophy that I still very much believe in. With low cost domains and SSL, my focus wasn’t merely on “bang for the buck” marketing. These services are essential to our customers and their end users, and I found it outrageous that some of them paid as much as $35 for domains or $300+ for SSL. I introduced more affordable alternatives because we are one of very few companies that have the bulk purchasing power and market reach to do so. ...
Q. Some hosting professionals express concern about the “commoditisation” of hosting and its impact on business models and profit margins. Tell us about your philosophy on pricing and how it has influenced 1&1’s business model.
A. It is true that there has been rapid growth in the global web hosting industry and indeed some markets appear to be saturated. Whilst this may mean less profit for vendors, ultimately, lower prices will mean more people using the web and so the industry will be stimulated to grow and develop new advancements in hosting technology. The more visionary companies such as 1&1 will use low prices to encourage as many customers as possible and reinvest profits into future developments. Companies such as 1&1 can increase profits by developing new features that generate more sales and increase revenue.
Q. 1&1 offers very low prices, yet is quite profitable. What are the key issues and strategies for 1&1 in managing costs and retaining a profit margin?
AQ.1&1 Internet has successfully implemented strategies that increase efficiency and flexibility within the organisation. We have benefited from automation, scalability models and mass production methods, which have made it easier to manage costs and pass on the savings to the customer. A key benefit has been the development of our own software to automate the processes for domain name registration and hosting.
Q. 1&1 has been a huge success in Europe. How do you assess the current competitive state of the hosting markets in the US and Europe? How do they differ?
A.In Europe one has to address the unique market of each country separately. Most European countries have two or three dominant players per country, mostly based within the country. In the US there are no dominant players as yet, but I believe that in ...