Web Hosting Interview - Netfronts Inc August 2005

Web Hosting Interview - Netfronts Inc August 2005

Chris Marks, Founder, NetFronts

Chris tells us about the future of Internet security and NetFronts self-healing architecture

  • HOSTSEARCH: Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself and NetFronts?
    CHRIS MARKS: My background is computer geek - I graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1994 with a computer science degree, worked as a software engineer with the Air Force until 1996, and then received my Masters in Artificial Intelligence. During the Masters program, I started dabbling in some online stores and stumbled into reselling web hosting. I started NetFronts in Nov 1996 as KBS (Knowledge-Based Systems, an AI related term). I left the Air Force in 2001 and now work with NetFronts full-time.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Can you tell us about your affiliate referral plan?
    CHRIS MARKS: The affiliate program was developed in appreciation for our customers' word-of-mouth referrals. Our customers have been vital to our growth by sharing their positive experiences with others and recommending our services. We wanted to reward them for their loyalty. It was developed in-house and interfaces directly with our control panel for crediting customers for sales they have referred. Because we feel you have to experience great service to be a reliable referrer, we only offer it to existing customers, and it will most likely remain that way. It's been very successful thus far - it seems that once someone gets that first credit, they really enjoy spreading the good word, and generally we've seen fairly rapid subsequent signups through the customer.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Could you please describe the quality of your connection to the internet?
    CHRIS MARKS: We co-locate at Hurricane Electric in Fremont, CA where our servers are connected to a national backbone ranked among the top in the nation. Connections ranging from OC48s (2.4 Gbps) to gigabit ethernet (1,000 Mbps) form rings around the nation connecting the core routers at more than 8 major exchange points. We also purchase backup transit from multiple providers in multiple locations to ensure data will arrive via the shortest possible routes. Our network redundancy set up gives us access to three Tier-1 providers.
  • HOSTSEARCH: On your website you mention your "self-healing network architecture." Can you please tell us how a network can heal itself?
    CHRIS MARKS: The healing powers of aloe have been overlooked for so long, particularly with respect to networking and IP transit, just kidding....A self-healing network architecture would be one that has the ability to re-route IP traffic in the case of a bad or damaged segment.  Several facets of any properly managed network enable it to 'self-heal' - Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), redundant hardware, and multiple providers among other aspects, can eliminate a single point of failure. These factors also help a damaged segment  (that might otherwise cause network failure) to be bypassed through automatically provisioning backup lines as primary, failover to stand-by equipment, or re-routing through BGP announcements. Like anything of course, healing isn't instantaneous in every situation; so even precautionary measures architected into the network can't prevent some short periods of failure while a damaged network adjusts.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What separates NetFronts from other web hosting providers?
    CHRIS MARKS: Two key things - our experience in this market and the quality of our employees, which directly translates into a high quality of service as well. We've been hosting websites since 1996; we're truly one of the oldest privately held web hosts left. For starters, we've gone through the growing pains, technology trends, and dotcom crash...with flying colors. Second, when a customer calls, they get someone who is based in the United States, knows how to provide technical support, and can help immediately - not someone who simply enters a trouble ticket into the system. We stay focused on our core competencies which reflect only those areas in which we can provide the highest level of services.
  • HOSTSEARCH: So many web hosts out there offer dirt-cheap web hosting plans with a fair amount of disk space and monthly bandwidth allowance. What additional services does NetFronts offer a potential client beyond fast servers at a good price?
    CHRIS MARKS: It doesn't take much to see the ridiculously low life span for these types of companies.  Web hosting is so much more than cheap bandwidth and space. NetFronts really does a great job of providing stability and expertise. Our stability is not only from a long standing company, but from a systems architecture developed by experts with a proven track record of success. Our customers know that they won't get the runaround from our staff and can get quick, direct answers - saving them valuable, and often critical, development and troubleshooting time. Problems that arise are solved in a matter of minutes, not hours. NetFronts will never be the cheapest host in existence, because that almost never translates into the best. As I mentioned before, we only involve ourselves in areas we have the expertise to provide at a very high level of service. We do not offer dedicated servers or website development - we're not experts in these areas and it would only serve to distract from the core services we provide. Our customers know that the services we provide are backed by knowledge and ability.
  • HOSTSEARCH: NetFronts offers Linux and Windows web hosting. Currently Apache is the most popular web server out there. Can you tell us what the division between Windows and Linux servers is at NetFronts? Also, any thoughts on what the future holds for the battle between Microsoft and Linux in the hosting world?
    CHRIS MARKS: NetFronts currently utilizes a shared disk space for Linux accounts and will be adding load balancing in the next month, so pure server numbers can be misleading since we are better utilizing Linux based servers. We have an 85%-15% split between Linux and Windows accounts. Because of the more optimal utilization of Linux resources however, the server split is 60% Linux, 40% Windows. We will be moving Windows accounts to the shared backend in the near future as well, and we expect servers to better mirror account splits. Honestly we don't spend much time worrying about Linux vs. MS, I don't see it as relevant to our growth strategy. Demand will exist for both and we have the expertise to provide each at a consistently high level of service (albeit IIS' much more volatile nature!)
  • HOSTSEARCH: Microsoft recently released a study which suggested web hosts need to provide services like enterprise-level shared calendaring, contacts, document collaboration, instant messaging and mobile-enabled services, etc. to differentiate themselves. Is this the future of web hosting or are we seeing the industry divide itself into different niches? Any plans for NetFront to move into collaborative communications?
    CHRIS MARKS: That really describes the overall IT needs of a small or mid-sized business more so than just web hosting. I think we'll see web hosting businesses start to partner and then merge with complimentary service providers. The business synergies that can be gained by mergers or acquisitions like this will cater more to the overall IT need M$ describes. We always have an eye towards growth and are actively looking for businesses that can benefit from our services and vice-versa.
  • HOSTSEARCH: According to a recent eWeek article (http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1823633,00.asp ), CA's Roger Thompson predicts the success of the Glieder Trojan's the three-phase attack could signal the end of signature-based virus protection. Where do you see Internet security going in the next few years and what role do you think web hosts should play in making the Internet secure?
    CHRIS MARKS: This sounds like an IT SAT question. We're already seeing more on us placed on ISPs to control their network and be responsible for the traffic originating from it. I think that trend will continue, ISPs, as well as web hosts, will be held increasingly responsible for content and attacks originating from within their own space. The ability to perform near wire-speed deep packet inspection essentially validates that it can be done - given you know what to look for. The major players in the IP market have/will deliver devices targeted at providing the filtering for outgoing IP transit with as much zeal as they have provided it for incoming.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: What can we expect to see from NetFronts in the last half of 2005?
    CHRIS MARKS: Cool, cool stuff....we're computer geeks! We're completing the roll-out of our high-availability, load-balanced system architecture that will enable us to grow rapidly with stability. We're also beta-testing an in-house developed system that allows us to offer a unified hosting plan - Windows and Linux in one plan, routing is based on the technology each request requires. We also feel like now is the time to grow through acquisition and particularly through mergers with companies similar to ours - if you feel like our companies might work well together or your customers deserve a good home, drop me an email!

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