Web Hosting Interview - Applied Innovations October 2007

Web Hosting Interview - Applied Innovations October 2007

Jess Coburn, CEO of Applied Innovations

This month we interview Jess Coburn, CEO of Applied Innovations (http://www.appliedi.net), a company with a firm track record of providing all things Microsoft. We ask Jess what IIS7 means to his company, and just how far it is going to take Redmond as far as the web hosting industry is concerned.

  • HOSTSEARCH: Jess - great of you to speak to us like this. In our time-honored fashion, I wonder if you could give us an overview of Applied Innovations and your role in the company.
    JESS COBURN: John, Applied Innovations is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that specializes in hosting on the Microsoft platform. We offer shared hosting, Windows Virtual Private Servers and Managed Windows Dedicated Servers. We support all of the latest web technologies on the Windows Platform and specialize in ASP.NET and ecommerce-based hosting.

    My role in Applied Innovations is that of any hosting company leader. It is my job to see to it that the services and technologies we provide our clients are not only those they require for success, but those that enable them to become successful.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What's the history behind the company? Have you been with them from the start?
    JESS COBURN: Applied Innovations began offering Windows hosting in February of 1999 on the Windows NT 4.0 platform. The goal at that time was to provide a cost-effective hosting plan that offered small- and medium-sized businesses all the technology and tools they needed not only to compete in the online marketplace, but to succeed in the online marketplace. As a result of this commitment and our ability to meet those goals, we have become well regarded for our web hosting services on the Windows Platform, and we are considered a leader in ecommerce hosting and support for such technologies as ASP.NET, MS SQL, PHP and MySQL on the Windows hosting platform.

    Core to this success is that we transcend the normal client vendor relationship with our customers and establish ourselves as 'e-business partners'. As with any partnership, the fate of the partnership is based on the combined success or failure of its partners and as our partners grow, we grow.

    As for myself, I have been with the company since its inception. I earned my MCSE in 1998 and knew early on that, although it was just in its infancy as an Internet server platform, the Windows Server platform would be an ideal platform to build a web hosting business around, and so began Applied Innovations.

    As Windows hosting veterans, we have set a lot of firsts and have always been among the earliest innovators in the hosting industry. When we first launched Windows hosting - selecting IIS at a time when most were opting for Apache - we were one of only a handful hosts that supported both PERL and ASP on the IIS platform. When Windows 2000 was released, we were offering Windows 2000 hosting within hours of the official launch. When ASP.NET was released we supported it the very day of the release. Most recently, we were one of the earliest hosts in the world to offer IIS7 beta hosting and the first to offer PHP and FastCGI support on the IIS7 hosting platform. Today we are preparing the release of new offerings on the IIS7 platform once again establishing ourselves as hosting innovators.
  • HOSTSEARCH: We reported about Applied Innovations becoming a Microsoft Gold certified partner back in November 2006. We read a lot in the news about the benefits of becoming a Microsoft Gold certified partner - are all those reports true? What exactly are the benefits?
    JESS COBURN: John, our company has always been well regarded for the understanding and knowledge we maintain of the Microsoft Windows Server platform. We are fully committed and understand how to best utilize the Windows server platform for the always on, always available hosting environment. By becoming Microsoft Gold Certified we were able to take that commitment to the next level. For us, Microsoft has always been easy to work with and provides a great deal of support and training to its hosting partners. As a Gold Partner we work even more closely with Microsoft and have early access to all of the latest technologies, and that is but one of the advantages it affords us. By maintaining status as a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner our customers know we are serious about webhosting on the Microsoft Windows Server platform and our status as a Gold partner is testament. Personally, I would be hard pressed to host a website on a Windows server that was not maintained by a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.
  • HOSTSEARCH: As you mentioned, you were offering IIS 7.0 beta hosting back in February so you are obviously committed to this technology. What are the benefits of IIS over other solutions?
    JESS COBURN: John, there's always a debate which is better "Apache or IIS" this question comes up frequently and has led to some very heated discussions. My personal view is that Apache is a fantastic platform for web hosting. However, IIS takes that platform and then expands upon it with support for ASP, ASP.NET, the .NET Framework. Today the most common web application frameworks are PHP and ASP.NET and with IIS you are able to offer both. The best example of this is our own website, www.appliedi.net. Our online shopping cart is ASP.NET based; our livechat and affiliate system is PHP. You see with IIS, and a Windows hosting provider like AppliedI.net, you get the tools you need to develop your website and not just the tools your host wants you to have.

    As an online business, you want to develop your business around the best tools available and it is our job as a web hosting provider to provide you these tools.

    If the best application for the job is ASP.NET, great you can run it. If the best application for the job is PHP, great you can run that too! This is the beauty of hosting your website on IIS and with a provider like AppliedI.net.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What are the advantages of IIS 7.0 over previous versions?
    JESS COBURN: When Windows 2000 launched it revolutionized online computing by making it easier to go online. When Visual Studio .NET first launched it revolutionized web development. With Windows Server 2008, with a modular IIS7 architecture, support for FastCGI, an improved FTP server, Windows Virtualization, Windows Core Server, .NET Framework 3.5 and all of the improvements being made to the entire server platform, Microsoft will revolutionize doing business online.

    For IIS7, I'm personally most excited about the support for FastCGI and the ability scale back or extend an IIS7 install based on your needs and what modules you need installed. I know it sounds like a broken record by now, but this is really very exciting stuff for Windows hosting providers. As a host that caters to online businesses and hosting advanced web applications like those required for today's e-commerce based website. I'm also excited about the .NET Framework 3.5 and LINQ, Silverlight and progressive streaming, Windows Virtualization and dynamic virtual environments.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Last month we spoke to Michael van Dijken, marketing communications manager for Microsoft Corporation's hosting channel business. We discussed the fact that IIS is catching up on Apache. Well, you are on the ground as it were as far as this debate is concerned - will Microsoft get there? Will they become dominant, and if so, why?
    JESS COBURN: John, when Applied Innovations started offering webhosting we had the choice, Apache or IIS, we choose IIS because we knew Microsoft would get there and would be dominant. In the past Microsoft was often regarded as a big cold closed corporation and people often feared doing business with Microsoft. Today's Microsoft is an open company that shares with it's partners and is out to build THE online platform through it's partners, this is evident with their Software + Service initiative recently announced, their support for Open Source projects as found on codeplex.com, and the large amount of training and information supplied by Microsoft through sites like the excellent resource www.iis.net.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You seem quite active at conferences and other events and often speak at the events you attend. You recently spoke at the Connections Business Technology Conference in California, for example. Other web hosts seem to shy way from this level of public exposure. Why is Applied Innovations so active in the area?
    JESS COBURN: John, I keep mentioning how AppliedI.net strives to make our 'e-business partners'  - or hosting customers - successful and how our success is built upon their success. I keep stating that we want to provide the tools and resources in such a way that it is readily and easily available to these same e-business partners so that they can harness these tools and succeed in the competitive online marketplace. Our interaction and participation at these events is just one way we do this. When we attend these events, we have the opportunity to meet face to face with the very developers and businesses using these services and discuss their needs. This interaction is well worth the time and investment to our company and our staff. Although I can only speculate for other hosts I can say that as a host that is customer focused these events are always well worth the knowledge gained from them.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And quite recently, you were in the press for adding two new reseller plans to your suite of offerings. I have asked this before but I always like to know the answer when I am talking to someone involved in reseller activity - are you worried about setting up a competitor?
    JESS COBURN: Catering to hosting resellers has always been a core component of the Applied Innovations business since day one. Hosting resellers are simply awesome! Every host wants to work with a knowledgeable, experienced customer that is self supportive and familiar with web hosting technologies, and hosting resellers almost always fall in this category.

    Traditionally, hosting resellers would private label themselves and attempt to completely obscure - often unsuccessfully - that they were in fact resellers. Today we are finding resellers actually promote their partnership with AppliedI.net and proudly announce to their customers that their hosting will be powered by AppliedI.net. These resellers are generally designers, developers or online marketers and take this approach of outsourcing their hosting needs so that they can concentrate on what they do best and rely on us to do what we do best.

    We believe this approach allows the reseller, designer, and marketer an advantage in the market. By always working with a single hosting provider and hosting infrastructure that they are familiar with, they are aware of the tools and technology that will be available during the entire design and life of the web presence and are able to leverage this and at the same time leverage the AppliedI.net advantages - a Microsoft Gold Certified Provider, a secure and reliable network, distributed hosting infrastructure, and so on.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Applied Innovations said earlier this year that reseller activity was a substantial part of your business. I am always confused as to how it works. Surely, if you put your services into the hands of a reseller they, the resellers, can either be successful or not. How then do you plan your business? If you have 10 resellers with a thousand customers each, you are going to have to buy new servers and beef up you Customer Services. If you do that and your resellers fold, well, you have too many servers and staff ... How does it work? How do you avoid the worst-case scenario?
    JESS COBURN: In the case of Applied Innovations we use a distributed network of purpose-built servers (all utilizing powerful and reliable Dell hardware) where each web server, sql server, mail server, dns server, etc are all doing just that one task and centrally managed from a single control panel interface. This results in maximum return on investment for each server, allowing us to maintain a more secure infrastructure than if all the services were run on one server. This of course saves in licensing fees and management costs. We work with thousands of resellers and hosting customers for that matter, and the loss of any one customer, regardless of size is always something we take very serious but would never impact the service we provide to our other customers. Because of our distributed, centrally control network of servers these servers would still be in use and as new customers come on they would be round-robin assigned to these servers where capacity is available.

    As for the worry of how a reseller impacts your customer service, resellers are always the first line of support for their customers. Because the reseller is the first line of support, should this reseller have thousands of customers we only have one customer to support directly - the reseller. So, the concern of it being a customer service problem is not a problem at all.
  • HOSTSEARCH: So, on more of a generic level - where is web hosting going and what will it look like when it gets there?
    JESS COBURN: This is a very interesting question. The web hosting industry is constantly changing and it is hard to say just where it will head. Applied Innovations has a vision of where it is headed and we are moving in that direction already. Of course, as a dynamic company, as technologies change and evolve so does our service offering.

    I believe hosted services will continue to build and today we are seeing great growth in software as a service - SaaS, or as Microsoft has coined it Software + Service. As it grows, so will the need for web hosting. I believe as virtualization continues to mature it will completely revolutionize web hosting and computing as we know it today and we are seeing great growth in our Windows VPS hosting offerings already.

    I wish I could completely know today where hosting will be in the coming years but I can't. What I do know however is no matter where hosting is going you can count on Applied Innovations to be there and make it available with great ease of use and at a very cost effective and reasonable price.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Being in charge of a company like Applied Innovations... It must be exciting. Then again, I could also see it being draining. What do you do to redress the balance when you are not at the helm of the company and have some free time?
    JESS COBURN: John, the success of the company does not rest on only my shoulders. Our company would not be where it is today if each member of our team did not share the same vision as myself for Applied Innovations and maintain the same level of respect and caring for each of our customers and their business. It is because of a team of very talented and dedicated individuals that Applied Innovations and our customers are both succeeding and I owe everything to this team.

    As for myself and how I find balance between work and play, there is a little piece of literature I keep on my wall that sums this up best, John. It is titled "The Master" and the author is anonymous. It reads...

    The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which.

    He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing.

    To him, he is always doing both...

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