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Web Hosting Interview - concentric

March 2005

Barbara Branaman, Vice President & GM Hosting, Concentric

In our March featured interview, HostSearch.com talks to Concentric.com Vice President & GM Hosting Barbara Branaman. Barbara describes Concentric's unique clustered hosting and tells us about their private label hosting services for Microsoft and Sanrio.

HOSTSEARCH: Tell us about your company's history and philosophy.
BARBARA BRANAMAN: Concentric Network entered the ISP business in 1995, and began offering shared and dedicated hosting soon after.  We consider ourselves pioneers in the industry, and have stood for superior quality and service throughout the ups and downs of the Internet era.   For example, Concentric is the first and only service to hold a patent for its Clustered Hosting architecture.   Throughout the years, we've won many awards for excellent service and continued innovation.

Concentric was acquired by Nextlink Communications in 2000, and the two companies merged to become XO Communications. In 2004, Concentric was reborn as a service of XO Communications, with an innovative and dedicated team of Web hosting experts, including key members of the original team.  Concentric offers Clustered Hosting solutions that include web site hosting, email, ecommerce, sophisticated junk mail filtering and web builder tools, to match the many demands of thriving online businesses.

Concentric is dedicated to understanding the online needs of businesses, and developing hosting solutions that address those specific needs.  

HOSTSEARCH: Your homepage advertises, "Break away from the crowd." What do you do that differentiates your firm from your competitors?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: I'm glad you asked!  Clustered Hosting is better than shared hosting - none of the security risks and problems with resource contention, and with plenty of room to grow.  in fact, Concentric Clustered Hosting provides the many benefits of dedicated hosting - security, control, isolation - plus other features like on-demand resources - but at a shared hosting price.  So we're truly not "one of the crowd" of hosting providers competing on low price and traditional solutions.

The Concentric Clustered Hosting platform harnesses the processing power and resources of a whole 'cluster' of servers - web servers and database servers.  A 'Virtual Dedicated Environment' is created for each account, with access to essentially inexhaustible resources which are available "on demand".  This patented architecture allows true isolation for accounts, as secure as what you would find on a dedicated server.  And with a whole cluster of servers, there is built in redundancy such that an interruption in service due to equipment is nearly impossible.

The VDE uses a sandbox concept, which is a controlled, secure area where CGI scripts can access all the file space, tools, and languages they need to run without interfering with anyone else's Web site.

HOSTSEARCH: What do you consider to be your core strategy or niche within the hosting industry?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: We have proven ourselves to customers requiring reliable "on-demand" resources for high-traffic websites; customers that want to develop or host applications leveraging LAMP and need scalable MySQL and Perl, PHP or Python; customers that need reliable e-mail, hosting and DNS for their business needs; and ISPs and software companies that are looking for a private label hosting partner.   So, we're not providing a 'niche' solution.  

HOSTSEARCH: You recently hosted Zogby International and Decidia, Inc.'s Presidential Guidester. How did you get involved with them and who are some of your other high-profile clients?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: Zogby and Decidia actually approached us to host their site!  They needed unquestionable reliability and security and had originally looked at a dedicated server solution.  Once they understood the benefits of our Clustered Hosting solution, it was a slam dunk.

We're proud to host for highly visible clients including Sanrio and our parent company's site, XO.com.  And we provide private label hosting services for Microsoft.   Our clients demand the utmost in security, and the ability to handle even the highest traffic spikes with no adverse impact on performance - which Concentric delivers.

HOSTSEARCH: What's your overall strategy for Internet security? Is that a major concern for your customers? What would you say to a potential client who identifies Net security as their number one concern?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: Security is a major priority for our customers and our team.

Obviously, we neither publish nor discuss the implementation details of our security.  With security being one of our major concerns, it is deeply integrated into every level of the Concentric Clustered Hosting Platform.  Security is not something we added on after the fact.  We do not simply rely on a traditional point firewall as the primary layer of security.

As you know, in a typical hosting environment, the security layer is usually not integrated in the platform. The stock solutions used for shared hosting do not solve core issues around integrating security between the application and the operating system. At best, most typical hosts will implement a firewall solution, and weaknesses inherent with the operating system will remain exploitable to those that penetrate the firewall. There is rarely a distinction between application-level and OS-level security, leaving customer access rights dangerously close to administrative rights and relying only on OS-level protections to separate customers from each other and the OS.  In popular vernacular: they have a hard, crunchy outside and a soft, chewy inside.

Concentric Clustered Hosting is designed from the ground up to provide Web services securely. Its network layer protections employ intelligent routing, redundant switching fabric and built in firewall and proxy technology. Concentric protects against the traditional sorts of attacks aimed at IIS and/or Apache and thus avoids the constant scramble that traditional hosts have to do whenever a new vulnerability is announced: the race to see if systems can be patched before exploit scripts are published.

Our internal designs also prevent the sorts of internal attacks that are endemic on shared platforms where customers can, for example, exploit file permissions that are incorrectly set by other account holders or use the frequent internal holes inside operating systems. The Clustered Hosting platform and the Virtual Dedicated Environment ("VDE") is designed to compartmentalize customers at the application layer and ensure that "untrusted code" is never visible directly to the network.  Users exist only within the context of the applications and have no operating system rights.  This is in contrast to traditional hosting solutions that use off-the-shelf commercial or open-source servers and rely on standard operating system protections to protect customers from each other and from external attacks on services.

Concentric Clustered Hosting provides considerable advantages over traditional hosting architectures in mitigating Denial of-Service and other network attacks because such attacks can be dispersed over a large pool of servers, and if individual hardware components are impacted by such attacks, they automatically fall out of traffic handling during the attack.

Customers are encouraged to protec

HOSTSEARCH: As China and other overseas ecommerce markets continue to develop, new challenges and opportunities are arising. Does Concentric have any plans to explore overseas opportunities in web hosting?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: XO is interested in partnering with top ISPs, Portals and software providers to address the international market.  Out platform is built from the ground up for internationalization.  All network systems comply with RFCs relating to character set handling and internationalization compliance.  Our browser-based Web Mail handles international character set display and composition based on the customer's browser capabilities.  

HOSTSEARCH: What can we expect to see from Concentric in 2005?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: We are very excited about the features and functionality we have in development that you will see launched this year!  While I can't be too specific - one thing we have never done is overhang the market with announcements before features are ready for prime time - I can say that we are focusing on applications to facilitate collaboration for businesses and to help them get the most out of their online presence. We are also focused on partnerships that can help us leverage the value that our Clustered Hosting can bring to new market segments. Expect Concentric to be a leader in hosting high-traffic and application dependent websites as well as partnering with ISP and channel partners looking to migrate their customers and infrastructure to a reliable platform.  

HOSTSEARCH: As the hosting industry becomes increasingly competitive, how do you plan to cope with this challenge?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: If a traffic intensive Web site, like Sanrio,  were to move to a dedicated server environment, they would pay over $10,000 monthly for a service that includes load-balancing, firewall, file servers, database servers, application servers, power, data center space and management services.

With Concentric Clustered Hosting, the same site can get the services of a secure, redundant, load-balanced, high-performance platform at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated platform. Concentric Clustered Hosting is more cost-effective and reliable than a stand-alone dedicated server solution because redundancy is built into each critical service.

As business Web sites become increasingly complex, but IT budgets continue to shrink, the need for a cost effective, high availability, flexible hosting solution becomes more critical.  We've got the solution today.

HOSTSEARCH: Can you describe your support services?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: Concentric's support team is unparalleled.  Our team is based in the US, and is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, by phone and email.  This team knows the service inside out, and they provide valuable feedback on new features and programs.  We measure our support teams' effectiveness and are continuously adapting to meet our customers' needs.

In addition to the live support available around the clock, Concentric provides an amazing collection of tools and an online knowledge base for customers to access.  With information on everything from setting up common email clients to Shell commands,  setting up your first Web page to managing DNS, information is available quickly and easily.

HOSTSEARCH: What Web site do you click on most often?
BARBARA BRANAMAN: Since we've just relaunched our own Web site, I've been clicking on www.concentric.com quite a bit lately.  Another favorite is www.nytimes.com, a great source of business news as well as the arts and current events.

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