22Nov/100

People, Not Machines: The challenges of choosing a web host – A whitepaper by Virtual Internet

One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men.  No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man. ~ Elbert Hubbard, The Roycroft Dictionary and Book of Epigrams, 1923

In June 2010, web users conducted over 926,000 searches for hosting-related terms in the United Kingdom (UK) and 110,000 for the phrase ‘web hosting’ in particular reflecting the growing pace in which businesses are pushing new products and content online while also exploring competitive hosting packages.1

In parallel, businesses and I.T. departments are faced with tough choices on whether to continue supporting on-premise dedicated servers or embrace the next phase in computing which suggests outsourcing the task to one of the many UK web hosts which offer cloud computing services over the Internet.

While cloud hosting has emerged as the biggest games in town, I.T. managers could also consider more traditional channels available through managed hosting, co-location and business-critical services such as corporate email, apps and content delivery networks.2

Gartner, Inc, a research firm, crystallized the necessity of a web host offering a full complement of services in its recent report “magic quadrant for web hosting” which concluded:

“Simply put, many of these vendors might be superb at what they do, yet still not rate very highly in the overall market represented by the Magic Quadrant (MQ), because they are good at just one of the five use cases encompassed by the MQ’s market definition, or even good at just one particular aspect of a single use case. This is not just a cloud-related rating; to excel in the market as a whole, one has to be able to offer a complete range of solutions." 3

This is one reason that Amazon’s cloud services –- while hyped publically –- did not emerge at the top of Gartner’s list.   Variety, it seems, is the spice of life –- even for hosting platforms.4

Finding an answer to these four questions below further exacerbates a decision-maker’s search for a world-class provider:

  • Does the potential web host have 24/7 round-the-clock customer service?
  • Is the quality of that service consummate to my expectations and rights as a business or enterprise customer?
  • Can they guarantee 100% network availability and uptime, especially if I explore a virtual dedicated server model that forms part of a future cloud computing strategy?
  • How far will the hosting provider go to meet my specific customisation and personalisation requirements?

Any I.T. manager not asking these questions could find himself constrained by a less agile web host who struggles to innovate and keep pace with the growing demand of his customer base who seek cost-savings, flexibility and world-class innovation.

Why customer support is vital

When a machine begins to run without human aid, it is time to scrap it - whether it is a factory or a government. ~ Alexander Chase, Perspectives, 1966

While most public debate centers on reliability, compliance, integration and cost, there is one piece to the puzzle that keeps decision-makers up at night: Customer support.5

Even as cloud based offerings such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-as-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) promise to lower costs and minimize support issues, the outcome is heavily dependent on the level of customer support and strategic guidance you receive from your web host.

The question of consistent, 24/7 world-class support is something, which has occupied the best minds at Virtual Internet since inception in 1996.

Early on they recognized that customer support should not be a separate add-on expense but a fundamental cornerstone of any managed server, co-location or virtual dedicated server solution.

VI-tal Support
This insight was translated into their trademarked VI-tal customer support policy, which has the following core features:

  • Each customer is assigned a technical manager familiar with your account and available throughout the life cycle of your term with Virtual Internet.
  • No recorded messages or call-handling systems when you phone in.  Qualified engineers and support staff will personally handle your call.
  • Stringent hiring and training process. For example only VMC-qualified engineers service and maintain enterprise-cloud servers.  Incidentally, Virtual Internet was the first hosting provider in the United Kingdom to roll out VMware enterprise cloud servers and have Xen based cloud as well.
  • All Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Server Management & Support Contracts are fully customisable allowing the client to define specific terms and conditions. These agreements are backed by a 100% network uptime guarantee in any given month.
  • Should for any reason a key system component stop or become unavailable the VI notification system will automatically send you a SMS.  Customised SLA’s also offer added piece of mind by ensuring that server engineers automatically step in to rectify a stopped service with no intervention required by the customer.   This service never sleeps, operating around-the-clock.

GROWTH AND INNOVATION

“The greatest danger in modern technology isn't that machines will begin to think like people, but that people will begin to think like machines” ~ Anonymous

An indirect influence on the quality and execution of customer support is related to the degree an established web host manages continued growth and introduces new technological innovation.

In a recent Gartner report on web hosting and hosted cloud systems, the research firm cautioned that one leading UK hosting provider’s “sales and support quality has become inconsistent due to its extremely rapid growth.”6

The report further stated that while the hosting provider appeared comfortable delivering specific formalised products it struggled with customised solutions.6

This illustrates the challenges facing I.T. managers and key decision-makers, especially as they explore web host virtualization strategies encompassed by the cloud.

While nearly all established hosting providers offer some form of private and public cloud services, they do not perform equally well in mitigating customer risk and offering custom solutions as suggested by the Gartner report.

Forrester Research also emphasized that businesses implementing private and public virtual dedicated servers should be ready for growing pains.7

The research firm recommends starting small and scaling private cloud services upwards as the I.T. department becomes more comfortable with the technology.8

This is one reason why Virtual Internet deliberately rolled out their new Sandbox Cloud servers powered by Xen hypervisors.

The new Sandbox Cloud offers I.T. departments a safe, secure playground to test and deploy new software applications at even lower price points.

These products are complementary tools to the previously mentioned VMware enterprise servers that Virtual Internet introduced to the UK market.

The Virtual Internet sandbox deployment is strategically sound and satisfies the conditions put forward in a recent eWeek article:

Undoubtedly, your hosting provider must have a reputation for successfully implementing hosted services. It also must be focused on addressing specific SAAS requirements, including capacity planning, compliance, visibility and new technology integration. In short, SAAS should be a natural extension of the host's core business and expertise —- not just a loose grouping of services packaged together to capitalise on the SAAS trend.9

In conclusion, it’s clear that customer support is not just important – it’s vital.   It needs to be the centerpiece of each and every action a web host performs in it’s daily interactions with clients on co-located servers, managed servers or virtual dedicated servers.

Currently a number of leading vendors have become victims of their own success, failing to keep up with the growing technology requirements of cloud computing and clients who demand a high degree of SLA customization and flexibility.

Decision-makers need to carefully analyze the competitive landscape to select web hosts who do not only offer 24/7 support, but also strategically guide them through new implementations and technology solutions.

By not selecting an agile web host with established world-class support credentials, I.T. managers expose themselves to future uncertainty and risk, as technology solutions are pushed further and further into the virtualized cloud.

REFERENCES
1.  “Web Hosting”
http://www.greenlightsearch.com/knowledge/sector-reports/web-hosting/ Greenlight Sector Report, Issue 3, June 2010

2.  “Hosting solutions” http://www.vi.net/managed-hosting/hosting-solutions.php Virtual Internet Hosting Solutions, n.d.

3. “Magic Quadrant (hosting and cloud), published” Lydia Leong http://cloudpundit.com/2009/07/02/magic-quadrant-hosting-and-cloud-published/ Gartner Inc. July 2, 2009

4. “The Magic Quadrant, Amazon and confusion” Lydia Leong http://blogs.gartner.com/lydia_leong/2009/08/20/the-magic-quadrant-amazon-and-confusion/ Gartner Blog, August 20, 2009

5. “How to Make the Cloud Enterprise-Ready: It's the Support, Stupid!” Jeffrey M. Kaplan http://www.ecommercetimes.com/rsstory/69993.html E-commerce Times, May 14, 2010

6.  “Magic Quadrant for Web Hosting and Hosted Cloud System Infrastructure Services (On Demand)”   http://enggtech.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/magic-quadrant-for-web-hosting-and-hosted-cloud-system-infrastructure-services-on-demand/ Enggtech blog, August 25, 2010

7. “Expert: Private clouds, cloud hosting and community clouds expected to grow in 2011” http://www.centerbeam.com/news/news_categories/Expert-Private-clouds-cloud-hosting-and-community-clouds-expected-to-grow-in-2011-CBOID71654065/View.aspx How to make money online CenterBeam, November 16, 2010

8.  “Cloud Predictions For 2011: Gains From Early Experiences Come Alive” James Staten http://blogs.forrester.com/james_staten/10-11-15-cloud_predictions_for_2011_gains_from_early_experiences_come_alive Forrester Blog, November 15, 2010

9. The art of SEO and other tips and tricks.  How to make money online, December 14, 2010

10.  “How to Choose a Managed Hosting Provider for Your SAAS Solution” Larry Steele http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Enterprise-Applications/How-to-Choose-a-Managed-Hosting-Provider-for-Your-SAAS-Solution/ eWeek, February 12, 2002

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