One of my own earliest involvements in the tech field was working as a webmaster for a small Internet service provider in my home town. I learned a lot about networking and server technologies doing this and it created a love in me for things that come in small packages — like TCP/IP packets and Ethernet frames. Fast-forward several decades later to today and the world has become radically different as a result of Internet and computing technologies expanding into every aspect of our life from commerce to entertainment. I’m no longer involved in the web hosting business but instead use AWS and Azure to host my own business workloads in the cloud instead of deploying them on-premises.
While much of the news these days about hosting services focuses on who’ll come out on top in the cloud wars between Amazon, Microsoft, and a few other major players, focusing solely on this can make you miss out on where the hosting business may be heading in the future. To gain some insight into this I sat down recently with John Martis, who was recently appointed president at Bigstep, one of the top bare-metal cloud providers around in the marketplace. John previously served as president and CEO of Hostway Corp. and then Codero Hosting before making the move to Bigstep Metal Cloud. That means he has spent most of his career at the forefront of the transformations happening in the hosting industry and has helped companies stay ahead of the curve by adopting these new technologies at the right time. In other words, John knows from experience a lot about the hosting business, where it’s come from, what’s happening today, and where it may be headed. And for those of us in IT who need to try to stay ahead of the curve, what he has to share on this subject is important for us to pay attention to.
The early days of web hosting
I started by asking John what the hosting business was like when he first began working in it. “The early days in hosting were like the Wild Wild West,” he replied. “In the mid-90’s I was running a small ISP/Hosting provider in Southern California when the Internet was made up of somewhere around 50,000 domains. The Internet was so new that we found ourselves building networks and custom online multiplayer games (which wasn’t even a thing back then) for huge global events like the Super Bowl and many other cutting-edge organizations and government agencies.”
Ah yes, I miss those days, they were great! But what about the hosting business today? I asked John what some of the big changes he’s seen happen in this business along the way. “Some of the biggest changes along the way started with the born-on-the-web companies. The early days of hosting were mostly made up of brochureware, meaning that we would just host a digital version of a traditional company’s marketing material.” I remember that era well as I was asked in my own position to come up with a plan to help a government agency put all of their consumer reference materials on the web as a big online brochure, converting thousands of .doc files into HTML format, something that MS Word in that era was messy and bloated at doing.
But the evolution of the web didn’t stop there. “With the advent of e-commerce in the late 1990s and the birth of amazon.com,” continued John, “people then looked to the web as a source of income and that’s when things really took off. As volume ramped up and more people got connected with higher speed connections, shared hosting became e-commerce hosting, which then became dedicated server hosting and now today we have cloud hosting.”
The hosting business today and tomorrow
What’s it like today to work in the hosting business? What are some major things that are happening nowadays? I asked John these questions next, and he replied as follows: “Today the hosting business is hyper-competitive and highly complex. The public cloud companies have dominated the headlines as they build their massive datacenters to host millions of customers. With the launch of 5G networks just around the corner now there is a rush to get compute resources to the edge in order to handle the massive amounts of data that will come with it. Containers and virtualization have changed the landscape by allowing an API-driven approach to deploying and scaling infrastructure all throughout the datacenter.”
But where is this going to take us in the future? When I asked John to highlight any trends he sees developing, he quickly replied that “the future is all about hybrid solutions. Public clouds are great for some things and terrible for others. The best solutions will revolve around placing the proper workload onto the proper platform and providing seamless connectivity between everything. And with the advent of 5G, latency will become a more critical component of every design and hypervisor-based solutions will not be able to compete with bare-metal clouds like Bigstep.”
It’s a view I’m inclined to agree with: hybrid solutions are here to stay, and bare-metal clouds like the one Bigstep offers may be the best approach to implement. “The Bigstep Metal Cloud," says John, “takes the best features of the cloud — scalability, flexibility, and instant provisioning — and combines them with the raw power of dedicated single-tenant bare-metal servers. This means that businesses benefit from the unmatched security of being the only user on their server (vs. clouds that can host hundreds of users on a single server) while also enjoying the ability to instantly scale their infrastructure on demand (something most dedicated server providers simply can’t do). In addition to enhanced security and scalability, Metal Cloud customers enjoy predictable costs, which is an area that plagues the current cloud providers with all of their hidden fees and confusing pricing models.”
That last point about hidden fees and confused pricing models is something that’s bothered me a lot as well in my involvements with AWS and Azure as their plans and offerings keep changing according to “we reserve the right” clauses of their service contracts. The biggest players are often the ones who put the hardest squeeze on the small guys when things get tight and more profit is needed to keep their market valuations high. And let’s face it: multitenancy isn’t about serving customers better, it’s about the provider getting the most bang for the buck from their compute and storage resources.
So maybe single-tenant bare-metal servers are the next stage in the evolution of the online hosting business. What do you think?
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