HOSTSEARCH: John, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I am sure that our visitors will appreciate it. Perhaps you could start by telling us about yourself and your role at Microsoft.
JOHN ZANNI : My name is John Zanni, I am the director of Hosting at Microsoft. I began my career with Microsoft in 1994 and have since spent most of my time focused on the Internet. For the last two years I have been focused primarily on working with hosting companies to provide them with what they need to grow their business using Microsoft technology and Microsoft as a partner. Earlier in my career, I helped design and create the object model for Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0, and then went on to create and manage the Office web site at http://office.microsoft.com/.
HOSTSEARCH: Microsoft products have had a significant impact on the world of web hosting but not everyone will be aware of how this came about. I wonder if you could give us a bit of a potted history outlining the major milestones along the way.
(Need info on how Microsoft first got started in hosting)
JOHN ZANNI : You are taking me back to around the time I started at Microsoft. I would say that Microsoft really got started with hosting in August 1995 when Bill Gates made his now famous speech on the upcoming Internet tidal wave. (http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/columns/1995essay/essay950815.asp)
But to speak to the more recent past, in just the past few years it became clear that there would be a significant opportunity available to hosting providers as a result of changes in how software would be delivered and consumed. While our products and other platforms like Apache were adequate for the first generation of the Web, we felt the market opportunity was available to create a richer, more scalable and sophisticated platform in the future. That is when we started to really engage with hosters to work with them to really understand their needs now and for the future.
We've made tremendous strides since that time, starting with the deployment of Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting Version 3.0 in November 2004. Since then, we've introduced vastly updated solutions including Version 3.5 in May 2005. This past May, we introduced a brand new solution, Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting for Applications, that provides guidance and tools for both ISVs and hosting providers to leverage the move to software as a service. We have also lowered the barrier to entry by providing free versions of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005. These are the express versions. We have reated a licensing model called SPLA that allows hosters to pay only for the software they are using to deliver services, and do so on a monthly basis. Today, you can develop a complete infrastructure on Windows and not pay any licensing fees until you have a paying customer.
We've seen the fruits of that labor in the past several months. We've announced major relationships with Go Daddy, Web.com, NTT/Verio and RackSpace, among others, and as a result of working with hosters from around the world we've seen an increase in Windows based hosting offers which has lead to our market share numbers growing quite significantly.
While this is just the beginning of our efforts and we still have a long way to go to reach our goals, we do feel we're moving in the right direction.
HOSTSEARCH: Do you have any plans to develop a total solution for the web hosting industry? At the moment, players offering the Microsoft hosting platform have to install Windows 2003 server and then configure the OS for a web hosting environment. The control panel is also installed separately. Why not build up a special version of Windows only for hosting providers? Or maybe even a version of Windows for home use that allows people to host their own website, at home, with a simple configuration interface? Would this be possible? Is it something Microsoft is interested in?
JOHN ZANNI : Microsoft is fundamentally a platform company that develops enabling technology so people can then use their creativity, skills and knowledge to build what is needed. Over time, you will see that our products will have more and more features that make it easier to build and maintain a platform so hosters can focus more time and energy towards giving customers a higher quality and more differentiated product.
For the foreseeable future, there will always be some level of configuration. Hosting is a complex business. A hoster needs to look at many factors when creating the optimal hosting infrastructure. The final configuration will depend both on technical and business goals for that hoster. That is why we created the Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting. It provides guidance based on a hoster's specific goals.
You can host you own website at home today. All you would need is to turn on IIS and create a web site using a tool like Microsoft Frontpage or Visual Studio Express, but I'm not sure why anyone would choose that route today with the level of service being offered by hosting providers. Hosters provide security, reliability and redundancy benefits that would be costly to implement at home. For my personal web site I use a hoster.
HOSTSEARCH: According to a recent press release Microsoft circulated recently, "the number of hostnames on Windows servers grew by 4.5 million, giving Microsoft 29.7% market share, a gain of 4.25% for the month". What do you attribute this trend to? What's Microsoft doing right?
JOHN ZANNI : Over the past several years, we've seen the market evolve as end-users are looking toward the software as a service model rather than purchasing off the shelf software. As we began focusing on this market, trying to better understand what the needs would be from the hoster and ISV perspectives, we really wanted to focus on solving problems and to act as the enabler.
One of Microsoft's advantages in this market is the ability to look at a problem from end to end. Since the company has its own server and application software, developer tools and end user products, we can see what is needed in the market and provide an integrated experience for customers.
These numbers are telling us that hosters are choosing Windows because it is the best platform for their business and customers.
HOSTSEARCH: Again, according to Netcraft, despite Microsoft's gains, Apache still has a lead of 31.5% over Microsoft. Recent figures may have been influenced by some major transitions by big hosting players such as Go Daddy, so how does Microsoft intend to redress the balance?
JOHN ZANNI : While the Netcraft numbers are interesting and fun to look at, from our perspective, they're just the barometer, not the end game. While we'd like to be the leader, our focus is really on providing the solutions that help hosting providers grow their businesses. It's our job to demonstrate how we can help providers achieve that goal, and if we're successful, the Netcraft numbers will take care of themselves.
That is what you are seeing with GoDaddy, for example. They are focused on what is good for their customers and for their business. The growth you are seeing implies that the business and their customers are demanding it.
HOSTSEARCH: HostSearch often reports on web hosts who receive Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Status. Just what are the advantages of such a status as far as a web host is concerned and what does it mean for a web host's customers?
JOHN ZANNI : Web hosts with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner status have the highest level of competence and expertise with Microsoft technologies, and have the closest working relationship with Microsoft.
Some of the advantages of having Gold Certified Partner status are access to the resources and support needed to stand out in the marketplace, including a Technical Services Coordinator, access to the Partner Knowledge Base, and priority listing in Microsoft Directories.
A few other benefits include:
Access to exclusive online content
Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Program newsletter
Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Program Toolkit
Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Branch Kit
Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Additional Subscriptions
For the customer, it gives them a clear way to evaluate the quality of the hoster's offerings. They can feel comfortable knowing that the hoster's business is running on software that is known for being reliable and easy to use and that the staff has been trained to optimally manage and maintain the software.
HOSTSEARCH: I know you probably don't want to give too much of the game away, but with the advent of Longhorn... Vista... what initiatives can we expect that will have an impact on web hosts and web hosting?
JOHN ZANNI : I wish I could share more because we're really excited about what Vista will mean for the hosting industry. Here is what I can tell you. On the infrastructure side, a hoster will see improvements in security, reliability and performance. We have also improved the operational infrastructure and the application platform. On the client side you are going to see the ability to integrate services with Vista. You will also have a much richer user interface to create much more exciting web sites (with products like Expression Web Developer). In a nutshell, this will lead to richer offerings and a lower total cost of operations. I recommend every hoster to go to http://iis7.net to see what the future will bring. I also recommend hosters join the hosting program. It's free and they will stay up to date on all that is coming. The next two years are going to be amazing.
HOSTSEARCH: This is a de facto question, and I'll understand if you don't answer it fully, but we've got to ask... What, in your opinion, is going to be the next big thing to hit the Internet and how will it impact people?
JOHN ZANNI : If I knew, I would be a stock broker. If I were to guess, I would say it was access to everything you need, anywhere, anytime and on any device. And it won't matter whether it is stored on a home computer, at your office or hosted. Jeff Raikes was recently quoted saying, "Unified communications will drive the next major advancement in individual, team and organizational productivity in today's 24x7, always-connected and increasingly mobile work environment," and I believe him. This is already impacting people. If you are older, like me, you will need to adapt to having all this access and adjust your work and personal life accordingly. For example, my office is in Redmond, Washington but I live in Florida. If you are younger and part of the generation entering the workforce now, your day to day life is already integrated socially and professionally with the Internet and will see increased access as incremental to what they do today.
HOSTSEARCH: Finally... according to something I read on the Internet, Bill Gates deliberately under staffs his operations so people can communicate better. Whether that's true or not I don't know, but I am sure you are generally pretty busy. When work is done, what does a Microsoft executive do to balance things out?
JOHN ZANNI : I love my job and it is an integral part of my life. As you point out, it is important to have balance. It is easy to get swept up in the energy and excitement that exists at this company. Too much of anything is not good. Microsoft has a number of programs to help employees manage work life balance. For me, I have a few simple rules. I made sure I have other activities that are not related to Microsoft or the Web. I love to cook and have a strong social network of people who love to eat my cooking. I also make a point of taking regular vacations where I disconnect from work. And every once in a while, I turn off my cell phone for the whole day.