HOSTSEARCH: Tell us about your company's history and philosophy. What do you do that differentiates your firm from your competitors?
JOHN MARTIS: Aplus.Net's history is one that is intricately weaved with our philosophy, that of customer-centrism. Aplus.Net has been around since before the dot-com days, and had it not been for the overall company philosophy, I think we would have died out along with a lot of the other companies in that era. As it turned out, the company remained profitable even in that dark time. So, this sort of pervasive thinking defines our initiatives and what we work on.
In a very real sense, I think that philosophy differentiates us from our competitors. Another key difference is the fact that we own and operate our own data centers, whereas many competitors are essentially just resellers. We also do a lot of in-house development which allows us to constantly provide original, innovative products for our customers.
HOSTSEARCH: How many staff do you employ, and how many hosting customers do you have?
JOHN MARTIS: The numbers are impressive, but we prefer not to disclose them at this time. However, I can tell you that Aplus.Net is among the five largest privately held web hosting companies in the world.
HOSTSEARCH: Your new Smart Console software allows a user to remotely manage a non-responsive server. How is that possible?
JOHN MARTIS: Well if your server is stone dead, it's not possible! But what we're specifically referring to here is that we provide an out of band solution to deal with the most common issues that cause a server to choke. So, in the case of low level failures -- where the server stops responding, or where it gets hung up with a frozen application or process, or when it's under attack and being flooded -- Smart Console gives server administrators remote access at the kernel level. So they can kill processes, reboot; almost anything text-based that you can do from a command prompt. In the case of a Windows 2003 server, you would get access to Windows EMS.
HOSTSEARCH: How did Aplus.Net get started?
JOHN MARTIS: Aplus.Net was computer network system integrator and consultant since its inception in 1992. The Company moved into the Internet services in the very early days of the Internet back in 1995 and has provided Internet related services since then.
HOSTSEARCH: Panix.com recently had their domain name hijacked and Cisco routers were found to be vulnerable to attack. With Internet technology ever expanding there seems to be a broader target for hackers to hit. What is Aplus.Net's security strategy and what should the industry be doing as a whole to combat hackers?
JOHN MARTIS: Aplus.Net deploys multiple layers of security and has staff dedicated to protection. That's a general answer, but we don't go in to details regarding security.
Hackers essentially exploit vulnerabilities in a product's code that should have been plugged prior to release. The manufacturers need to take more responsibility for their own product and understand that, at the end of the day, the Internet is a public network and you put the whole thing at risk when you release a shoddy product.
HOSTSEARCH: Give us your idea of the future. How do you visualize the web hosting industry in five years time? What will change and what will remain constant?
JOHN MARTIS: Let's start with the basic stuff. You'll see more growth in personal websites, as the number of websites comes more in line with that of the world population.
You will see an even higher level of consolidation. You see this now -- many hosts are actually just resellers for another larger company.
I also think you're going to see even more simplification and process automation for the average user. More or less the Google or FireFox approach to web hosting: simplified, easy, intuitive, quality stuff.
HOSTSEARCH: China is a massively growing online presence, which is set to become the world's second largest ecommerce market. Are there any plans at Aplus.Net to tap into this potential income source?
JOHN MARTIS: Currently, we have a large international customer base. A lot of foreign customers come to the U.S. for their hosting needs since, for the most part, we have a much better infrastructure here. But as time goes on, other countries are going to catch up.
On the other hand, Aplus.Net is consciously reaching out to worldwide customers in 2005. China is only one of the new areas we intend to pursue. Aplus.Net's web site is currently available in German, Japanese, and Spanish. We will add other languages soon and Chinese is among them. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is more challenging to add sales and customer support personnel in those languages, especially with our 24x7 operations. We understand the challenges and are working diligently to become a worldwide leader in web hosting.
Furthermore, Aplus.Net is unique in providing means of communication to our overseas customers. We have an easy-to-use online chat and a "push to talk" (Voice over IP) button so that our International customers do not need to incur long distance phone charges, which are substantial in some parts of the world.
HOSTSEARCH: As the hosting industry becomes more and more competitive, how do you plan to cope with this challenge?
JOHN MARTIS: Of course prices are going to continue to drop, but as I mentioned before, there will be fewer major players out there, so it's going to boil down to customer service. We're already starting to see this. A lot of people go to Yahoo! in the first place because they lowball prices, but you wouldn't believe the number of Yahoo! customers that we get simply because these people get frustrated with being put on hold so long every time they want to talk to a real person at Yahoo! Customer service is always going to be the defining competitive factor.
The other factor is our constant technological innovation, which reinforces the customer service philosophy. Take our Connector products as an example. The Connectors tie small store inventory into the world market, listing products on eBay, Amazon, Google and others. Right now we're the only one in the world to offer these.
HOSTSEARCH: What can we expect to see from Aplus.net in 2005?
JOHN MARTIS: You're going to see new products come out that no competitors have even thought about yet, and you'll see our competitors copying our lead, so more of the same in that respect. Late last year, we introduced dedicated web conferencing servers for medium-sized businesses, so look for that model to be copied by the hosting industry this year.
In a general business sense, we're moving toward a more "after the sale" philosophy. We design websites for a lot of our customers and continue to host their sites month after month. We're currently developing products and establishing partnerships that will further help our customers online, and provide additional services for them that simplify their online business practices.
HOSTSEARCH: What Internet innovation would you most like to see become reality?
JOHN MARTIS: True pervasiveness. Basically what the Internet offers in its purest ideological form. For example, with the advent of VoIP we will have a single web-enabled phone that we can use at home, on the road, and at the office. You should be able to go to a public terminal and securely access all of your information whether it is on your PC at work or at home, or on your PDA that you left sitting next to your bed. There's so much red tape and grey area in the industry, but I think most of us still hold on to that utopian ideal.