Web Hosting Interview - Site5 April 2005

Web Hosting Interview - Site5 April 2005

Rod Armstrong, President and Co-founder, Site5.com

Learn About Site5.com's Plans to Become a Ubiquitous Industry Icon

  • HOSTSEARCH: Can you please briefly introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Site5?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: My name is Rod Armstrong; I am Site5.com's President as well as one of the company's two founders. I've been involved in the web hosting industry as long as I've been with Site5, which has recently eclipsed six years.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: You've been in the business for more than 5 years and now you've recently revamped your website, got a new slogan, and for the first time since the company's creation, a new logo. Why now? What has changed within the company to prompt the image update?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: Despite a very successful redesign of our site roughly a year ago, Site5 has had a relatively consistent corporate "identity" for a few years now.  At the present time we are deeply involved in a ground-up makeover of Site5's corporate identity and website. We realized that with the uninterrupted stream of new and established competitors in the hosting market, we needed to differentiate ourselves not just on our service quality (which we already do very well, but will continue to improve upon), but also on our company's image. The cornerstone of our reinvention will be a completely revamped Site5 brand, which is being designed and planned almost entirely in-house.  Our goal is to convey a much different image than what is typically seen in the web hosting industry, while still retaining our reputation for dependable, honest service.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What would you say is your company's main strength?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: It might sound cliché, but I would say our company's main strength has to be the people behind it. Matt Lightner and I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most talented, knowledgeable and visionary people in the industry. The group is not only closely-knit, but we all share a passion for the company.  Our management team members work 80+ hours a week not because we have to, but because we absolutely love what we do (and we think it shows).
  • HOSTSEARCH: Can you please tell us a bit about your control panel NetAdmin 3?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: NetAdmin 3 is the latest incarnation of Site5's NetAdmin shared web hosting control panel.  NetAdmin is an exclusive control panel system that is developed in-house and is based on the cPanel architecture.  Site5 was one of the first companies to use cPanel, and we have maintained a close relationship with the company ever since. The original version of NetAdmin, released in 2000, added a stylish look and host of features exclusive to Site5 (including never-before seen reseller capabilities).  Version 3 has added even more functionality in order to further increase our customers' ability to customize their hosting environment.  Furthermore, Site5 is currently in the process of developing the platform that will be supporting our new line of dedicated servers.  Shortly after the completion of this project, we're going to turn our focus toward the next version of NetAdmin, which we are very excited about.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What would be your advice for a new web based company involved in e-commerce regarding choosing a web host?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: Choosing a web host is a tough decision these days.  There is an intimidating and inescapable onslaught of information facing potential buyers, and in many cases the veracity of said "information" is highly questionable. If you're involved in e-commerce, reliability should be one of your primary concerns, as downtime will likely result in lost revenue. I recommend looking at a potential host's uptime records (if they're published through a trusted third-party) as well as looking for honest opinions from actual customers regarding their uptime record.  Hosts usually vary greatly on features as well: many hosts tout their e-commerce capabilities, but I would make sure to compare their offerings when it comes to shopping carts, databases, control panel functionality and SSL certificates.  Lastly, you don't necessarily need an "e-commerce" plan for an e-commerce website. A lot of hosts may offer better features and more competitive pricing despite the fact that their plans are not labeled as being specifically designed for e-commerce.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: If a customer called you and told you they were being targeted by a DDoS attack how would Site5 respond to the attack?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: First, the customer wouldn't need to call us: our detection systems would alert us to the issue within minutes of the attack.  Because we have highly-cooperative relationships with all of our upstream providers, we work very closely with them to determine the source of the attack and available courses of action.  If blocking the attack from the source is not a viable option (as may be the case in the event of a DDoS attack), we will simply discard all packets bound for the DDoS "target" address at the edge of our network.  This prevents the influx of malicious packets from affecting other customers and impeding network performance.  Unfortunately the target's website will be rendered temporarily inaccessible in these instances, but the alternative, of course, is for all customers on the network to suffer serious latency & packet loss.  During and after the attack, we work closely with the owner of the targeted site in order to keep them apprised of events and assist in gathering of any evidence that may be of use in tracking down the party responsible for the attack.
  • HOSTSEARCH: How do you walk the line between rapid growth and maintaining service levels?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: Walking that line is a complex practice. Unlike many companies, we work to actively anticipate and manage growth, rather than simply respond to it. Even in a period of unprecedented expansion, such as Site5 has seen in the past 6-9 months (which have seen us more than double our client base and grow significantly in terms of number of employees, servers and overall company infrastructure), our service to our clients has only gotten better—and that's not empty talk.  If managed intelligently, rapid growth can actually lead to improvements in service levels as the company begins to capitalize on the benefits of economies of scale.  For instance, at Site5, we have actually improved technical support response times during our recent growth phase to an average of around 15 minutes. Keeping our customers happy is always our primary goal, even while we are out there working to capture more and more market share. Much of our growth depends on our reputation, and that reputation in turn rests with our clients. The bottom line is that when rapid growth is actively managed, it can lead to significant additional value for both new and existing customers.

    Incidentally Matt Lightner, Site5's CEO, very recently wrote a three-part article on the subject of customer service and performance analysis in hosting companies.  The first installment will be published in the upcoming issue of the hosting industry publication "Ping! Zine" (www.pingzine.com).
  • HOSTSEARCH: Recently, a number of US and Canadian web hosts have been found to be hosting web sites for Hezbollah and even sites with links to Al Qaeda. What are your policies regarding who you will and won't host and how do you monitor the content on your client's sites if you do at all?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: Any site that is in violation of our Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policy or the USA Patriot Act will be asked to remove the offending material, locate a new hosting provider within an acceptable amount of time or simply refused service.

    We are sticklers about our ToS and have employees somewhat routinely visit new and established sites to make sure content checks out.  We are also very responsive when it comes to fielding complaints we may receive regarding content on sites that we host. Violators are usually politely asked to find other services and given a small window of time to remove their files. To date, we have experienced neither problems nor complaints regarding Al Qaeda or terrorist-related websites being hosting on our servers.
  • HOSTSEARCH: How do you balance spending on new technology vs. paying too much for 'bleeding-edge' technology to keep your hardware up to date?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: We believe there is a happy medium between "bleeding-edge" and "stale" hardware that, when observed, provides for an optimal performance to price ratio.  We are constantly renegotiating pricing arrangements with our vendors in order to ensure that we are appropriating our funds in a responsible manner.  Any sensible, customer-centric company will do the same.

    More important than hardware specifications, however, is the practice of distributing customers across hardware proportional to resource requirements.  Looking at hardware specifications alone gives one a terribly flawed and incomplete picture of a company's dedication to performance.  It's just as easy to overload "cutting-edge" piece of equipment as it is to overload a three-year-old machine if the systems administration team isn't vigilant in their responsibility to ensure that loads are properly balanced.  This policy of "active resource management" is what separates companies that consistently deliver high performance from companies that suffer long-term service level degradation—there's more to load management than counting the number of customers on a server.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What can we expect from Site5 in 2005?
    ROD ARMSTRONG: 2005 has already been a record-breaking year for us by leaps and bounds, and we are tremendously excited and justifiably optimistic about the remaining three quarters. We're extremely excited & filled with anticipation over our new brand and website. Our goal is to continue establishing Site5 as a ubiquitous industry icon while maintaining our existing reputation for exceptional customer service.  We've already tried some unique marketing approaches this year and have had great success, which indicates to us that creative and new techniques of differentiation are not lost on our target market. The launch of our new brand also marks the release of a new product line from Site5: lean, mean dedicated servers with near-instant setup times and some great features that you won't be able to find in a similar price bracket.

    Needless to say, there are some huge changes afoot for Site5 in the coming year.

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