Web Hosting Interview - Memset October 2008

October 2008
Web Hosting Interview - Memset October 2008

Kate Craig-Wood, Managing Director of Memset

Memset has been in operation since 2002. The company's fresh approach and its proprietary solutions have put it in the unique position of attracting both smaller companies and the likes of KFC and Hilton Hotels to its dedicated hosting services. In short, Memset has shaken a few things up, not least the belief that a social conscience and good business are not compatible. The brainchild of Kate Craig-Wood, Memset has taken the lead in a number of environmental challenges, becoming the UK's first Carbon Neutral ISP, and advancing the cause of energy-efficient computing. Kate's latest challenge is an effort to highlight the "gender imbalance within the IT industry". Whereas most would write a letter to the Times of London, Kate highlightied the issue by skydiving from 29,035ft to land on the side of Mount Everest! We talk to Kate about what drives her to change the shape of web hosting and the world we live in.

  • HOSTSEARCH: Kate - thanks very much for meeting us like this. Let's start off with you giving our visitors a brief overview of Memset and your role in the organization?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: Memset is one of the smaller of the managed server / dedicated hosting companies but we are growing fast and ever-more frequently find ourselves going head-to-head with our larger rivals such as RackSpace, and winning. We are a friendly, tight-knit team that take a personal interest in our clients, but at the same time have the expertise and infrastructure to support enterprise-class clients & projects. I founded the company with my brother, Nick, and I am now the Managing Director.
  • HOSTSEARCH: I took a quick look at your resume and it tells me you have an MSc in Biomedical science, you previously worked for Arthur Andersen as an IT consultant, and you were head of business development at Easyspace Ltd. What made you decide on establishing Memset?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: I have always wanted to start my own business, and back in 2002 Nick and I saw an opportunity in the new server virtualisation technologies. We forsaw the possibilities for the VPS/VDS market and left Easyspace to start Memset, initially mainly selling our Miniserver virtual dedicated servers. Today our Miniserver VMs are based on open source Xen, but then we were using User Mode Linux.
  • HOSTSEARCH: So, if Memset is the solution, what was - or is - the problem?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: I think there are two different problems. First, many of our larger, older competitors have grown very quickly without solid leadership and are now very inefficient organisations that charge too much and don't really look after their clients. We have won a number of awards for innovation and technology strategy, and thanks to our good use of software automation we are able to give clients top-notch services, support and hardware in totally flexible configurations at sensible prices. I suppose you could say that we are a new breed of dedicated host.

    The second problem is the one facing the corporate world. IT budgets are under threat while at the same time there is ever more demand. This, combined with ageing hardware and server sprawl, is making more and more CIOs look to outsource their IT infrastructure to companies like is who offer IT hosting services. That is another reason behind our solid current growth.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Tell us about your dedicated solutions. They are the backbone of what you have achieved with Memset and you have done it in part using a solution you call Miniserver™. What sets this solution apart?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: We were one of the first movers in the VPS/VDS space, and that has given us many years of experience. We became the first host in the UK to offer virtual servers with truly dedicated resources when we switched to Xen as the basis of our Miniserver technology in March 2005, and we have been improving the technology ever since. We are still one of the only virtual server providers that offer truly dedicated resources (ie. Your own RAM, disk space and CPU allocation) whereas most use the vastly inferior Virtuozzo product. Typically a virtuozzo host might have 60 VPS on one physical machine, whereas we tend to have less than ten.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What other solutions do you offer?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: While Miniservers remain an important part of our business, they have been eclipsed by our dedicated server customers. We offer a full range of Dell machines, from dual core, twin disk R200 servers, to the R905; a 4x quad-core, eight disk monster that can take up to quarter of a terabyte of RAM (goodbye to database clustering!). We also offer a range of storage solutions and bandwidth/streaming. All servers are totally configurable and our prices are clearly shown on the web site. Additionally we offer a flexible set of tech support agreements, monitoring, backups, load monitoring and much more. Everything is on a "pick and mix" basis though so you get exactly what you need.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Memset has taken the lead on environmental issues within hosting. We have heard about the company being 'carbon neutral', but what exactly does that mean?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: We became the UK's first Carbon Neutral ISP in August 2006. The accreditation means two things: First, we have taken steps to maximise our energy efficiency and committed ourselves to continuing to improve it. In practical terms this means, for example. that we invest in the latest low-power servers and ensure that our data centre environment uses the latest energy efficiency best practice.

    Second, we measure and offset our unavoidable carbon footprint. Initially we sponsored a forestation project in Uganda, but we felt that was not sufficiently quantifiable so we have now switched to sponsoring a methane capture project in Germany (methane is 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas).
  • HOSTSEARCH: 'Green' hosting is probably equally as much a searched category as say 'dedicated hosting' these days. Does that mean the industry is there? Is it keeping its house in order as far as the environment is concerned?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: Actually, it is not as high on most customers' agendas as you might think. It is, however, important and many customers now look at it as "something good to have", although I don't believe they are willing to pay more for it. Instead it is simply becoming something that is more-and-more expected of the industry. In terms of whether the hosting industry is keeping its house in order I would have to say definitely yes. The simple reason is that energy is one of our biggest costs, so if we are not energy efficient it hurts our bottom line. Where a lot of catching up has yet to be done is in the corporate sector, but there we are gaining quite a few corporate clients who used to run their own hardware as they realise that it is often more cost-effective to outsource their IT rather than upgrade  / replace their existing, often outdated, estates.
  • HOSTSEARCH: So what more needs to be done?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: For people with older, less efficient data centres, the best thing they can usually to is to use virtualisation (Xen/VMware etc) to consolidate applications onto a smaller number of modern, low power, machines which will often be 2-6 times more powerful than their three year old counterparts. Another important step is to give the bill to the end user rather than simply absorbing it into a general IT budget; when end-users (within the same organisation often) are presented with a bill for the IT infrastructure they are using it can drive large changes in behaviour, and lots of old servers that are not really needed get turned off!
  • HOSTSEARCH: You were voted best Web host in the UK in 2006 and 2007, so clearly you a keeping customers happy. Is 'green' hosting a business issue or a conscience issue as far as you are concerned?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: It is both. On the one hand, as mentioned before, electricity is one of our largest costs so we absolutely have to be energy efficient in order to compete and remain profitable. Equally, we have a responsibility to be environmentally responsible which is why we, for example, replace servers older than three years.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You have done so much with Memset already - what is next? What's in the pipeline? What can people expect of Memset in the immediate to medium-term future?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: We are constantly developing our products and services. In the medium term I intend to move into the utility computing market; selling resources on-demand rather than renting individual machines. How this will work is we shall have a large generic pool of hardware with our customers' applications able to expand and contract across the available hardware in response to demand changes. We plan to use a mixture of our existing virtualisation expertise and some in-house developments to make this a reality. This will have significant cost savings and resilience improvements for our customers, and will improve our energy efficiency further still.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Do have any plans to expand Memset to other countries or are you going to stick entirely to the UK?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: Memset is a British company and I intend to keep it that way for the forseeable future. To move into Europe, for example, we would need a data centre in Europe and staff there which would be a distraction. One of our strengths is that we are very UK-focused and I don't want to damage our excellent support record by splitting our attention. Additionally, I think that there will be plenty of business in the UK for us, especially given the fact that we are winning so many of our larger competitors' dissatisfied customers.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Are there any particular benefits for web hosts being located in the UK, or is it the same business no matter where you are located in the world? Do you have US customers for example?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: We have a few US customers who use us as a backup site, for example. Most applications, though, need to be housed in the country where the bulk of the users are, otherwise you start to get latency issues, so we are not in competition with our US counterparts. It is a very different business in the US though, mainly because of the scale of their industry and the very, very low bandwidth prices. UK bandwidth prices are steadily dropping though.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You were recently in the news for 'Jump Everest 2008' - and I want to get this straight... You jumped out of a plane and skydived from 29,035ft to land on the side of Mount Everest, making it the highest drop zone in the world. That sounds something a member of an Xtreme sports club would do rather than a business executive! What was it like?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: Yes that is correct, in fact I became the first woman to tandem-skydive past Everest. It was an incredible experience; I was scared, of course, when the door opened there was Mt. Everest, majestically poking above the clouds! When we exited the first few seconds were pretty terrifying since you are accelerating downwards and in "zero-g", but within moments the air supported us and it felt like flying, falling past the massive Himilayan peaks. It was the experience of a life time! The jump is on YouTube, accessible from my site: http://jumpeverest.com/blog/. I have raised over 3,000 pounds for Computer Clubs 4 Girls with the jump and hope to raise a little more.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And the reason was to highlight the gender imbalance within the IT industry. I thought there was evidence to suggest that females - particularly in Britain - had successfully embraced technology and that young men were still moving towards traditional trades that have, in some cases, been made redundant by technology. Is that not the case?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: Girls are good at using technology but they are still often discouraged from actually pursuing careers in IT. I think there remains a negative image of a technology worker as a guy with sandals and a beard that needs to be dispelled; young women need to be reminded that when they are using FaceBook or YouTube they are using technology and that behind the scenes there are IT professionals making it happen. Also, they will be in huge demand in the coming years, and there are few professions that give you access to almost any industry.
  • HOSTSEARCH: It's clear that you want to forge commercial success into a tool for social change, and other initiatives - Google.org comes to mind - have been following a similar route. Is this the way forward, do you think? Do you envisage a day when social and corporate responsibility will be fully merged?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: As with most business initiatives, corporate social responsibility is, in most cases, something being driven by customer demand more often than internal policies; I like to think that Memset (and Google) are slightly ahead of the curve and are demonstrating that there is a demand in the market for socially responsible services, which our competitors then recognise and scamper to catch up. There has to be limits though; I think customers will ever-more demand morally run companies, but when asked to dig deeper into their pockets to support something that is "super socially responsible" I suspect that they will go with the cheaper option as long as it is basically run with good and proper policies.
  • HOSTSEARCH: OK - de facto question... what is going to be the next big thing to hit the Internet and how will it impact people's lives?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: I would say the ubiquitous availability of very high-speed connectivity will be a big driver of change. The roll out of technologies such as fibre to the home and WiMax will allow a host of new technologies, as well as driving forwards convergence. I think (and hope) that within a few years people will no longer need think of (nor pay for) their internet usage, phone, text messages & TV  as separate things but will be just paying one bill for their data usage, after all that is all it is. Mobile phone operators have been making a killing out of us for text messages, for example, for years; would you pay 10p for 120Bytes of data through your internet connection, for example?

    I expect that our connectivity will also be entirely mobile (it is getting there with 3G cards) again allowing a host of changes to how we work and play. There will be no need to have documents and music stored locally in some horribly insecure and disorganised manner and instead we will be able to keep our information in mass central stores accessed on-demand via a range of thin client-type devices.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And final question - when you aren't leading a world-class dedicated hosting company or throwing yourself out of a plane, what do you do to relax?
    KATE CRAIG-WOOD: (Laughs) Well actually when I need to chill out there is nothing quite hopping on my Ducati and going for a ride; the sweeping bends of the Surrey & Hampshire country roads have a very soothing effect I find!

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