Web Hosting Interview - The Planet July 2008

Web Hosting Interview - The Planet July 2008

Urvish Vashi, Director Product Management, The Planet

Forever in pursuit of excellence, The Planet is one web hosting company that's constantly in the news with innovations to cater to their customer's precise needs, and enhancements designed to make their customer experience as good as it can possibly be. Over the last few weeks they have been in overdrive with a dizzying array of announcements covering a number of areas, from entering the Managed Hosting business, to a brand new Web site. We caught up with Urvish Vashi, Director Product Management, The Planet to see if they can give us a bit of an overview of everything that's going on at The Planet recently.

  • HOSTSEARCH: Urvish, thanks for seeing us today. Given all the initiatives we are hearing about recently, things must be flat out at The Planet?
    URVISH VASHI: This has been a tremendous week at The Planet.  We've been working on the development of new products and services for some time, and our launch represents the culmination.  The best part of these announcements is the new choices our customers now have.  Whether it's a single self-managed dedicated server, high-end private or virtual racks, optional services, fully managed hosting environment, they now have the power to choose precisely what they want to meet their budget requirements.  We believe we're the only company in the industry that provides this breadth of offerings.  And because our core market is small- and medium-sized business (SMB), our customers are the beneficiaries - they can take advantage of enterprise-class products, services, data centers and network at predictable, affordable prices, when and how they want it.    
  • HOSTSEARCH: OK - first of all. Congratulations on moving into the Managed Hosting. I am sure a lot of people will be pleased to hear you are going to help them run a server. Tell us about this new service.
    URVISH VASHI: Whether it's adding one of our a- la carte Alpha Advanced Services or our premium, fully managed Northstar Hosting, we took time to fully comprehend and evaluate what customers need, and then we raised the bar.  So for customers who want to offload the full day-to-day administration of their hosted environment, it starts with the team of seasoned professionals we've hired, all of whom have years of specialized IT experience and relevant certifications.  Our SMB customers depend on us to manage their infrastructures, so there has to be an enormous level of trust and transparency - it's not unlike their turning over their lives to us, and that's a huge responsibility.  Our account team works with customers to know their business and their IT requirements in excruciating detail, so we provide the service that best aligns with their individual needs.  We plan for today's requirements and also for growth so we can scale their IT requirements quickly and easily as they grow.  Customers know their account team by name and vice versa, which is important to developing a day-to-day working rapport.  That way, our team understands precisely what's important to the customer for running their business.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: From what I have read Planet Northstar's new service includes a new take on support - what I believe you are calling an "Anticipation Advantage" methodology. How does this differ from the traditional approach?
    URVISH VASHI: Here is an example of taking a lesson learned from traditional IT and bringing it into a more professional hosting operation.  IT managers want more than just a well -intentioned frantic response to an issue.  Accordingly, for internal projects, they demand operational processes that adhere to a repeatable framework or methodology.  Why would they or should they expect anything less when they outsource a critical element of their IT infrastructure to a hosting provider?  The Anticipation Advantage Methodology is a four-phase process that is designed to ensure that we are not only delivering consistent, reliable and proactive support to customers, but also that our joint operational plan is fully aligned with the customer's needs and processes across the board.  Among others - and to name just a few -- the processes include scalability, performance growth plans, security and compliance mandates, and change control processes.  All of these processes and operations culminate in a series of recurring business and operational reviews with the designated team to ensure we are living up to our promises -- equally important to make sure customer priorities haven't changed.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And it seems the validity of Managed Hosting as a means of reducing IT costs has been outlined by a new white paper from research firm Yankee Group. Did this white paper influence your decision to move into this area at all?
    URVISH VASHI: Actually we engaged Yankee Group so they could evaluate our approach based on their own knowledge of the business.  They're in the market every day, so they have a keen understanding of what companies require.  The best part, which they recognize, is that we provide enterprise-class products and services that aren't typically available to SMBs.   Because of our size and buying power, we can offer affordable pricing and predictability that allows our customers to buy only what they need and when they need it.  As their business grows, we've already done the planning through our Anticipation Advantage methodology so the systems and infrastructure are in place to make it a quick and easy process.  Plus, our customers would never be able to afford the seasoned IT team with the deep understanding of both systems and best practices.  It's great to see that our planning matched their experience of excellence.
  • HOSTSEARCH: I see. And to differentiate the different strands of your service, you are bringing your self-managed dedicated services under the "Planet Alpha" brand. It's a good thing to do, but do you envisage any issues deviating from your very well recognized traditional brand?
    URVISH VASHI: No, we don't expect any challenges.  The driver for the change was to ensure that we provide the information our self-managed hosting customers require and have come to expect when they come to our Web site, see our promotions or read our newsletters.  We didn't want to drive to a lowest common denominator between what are often the distinct needs of customers who have very different buying criteria.
  • HOSTSEARCH: I suppose because of this new branding policy and your recent initiatives a revamp of your website was inevitable. I suppose your website is going to be key to ensuring your customer base gets the services it needs as efficiently as possible.
    URVISH VASHI: This has been a huge investment for us.  Our goals were simple:  provide the necessary information for our customers based on their needs and enable them to interact with us in the way they see fit.  For our self-managed customers, they overwhelmingly want to see all of the necessary information to transact business online right away, while always having access to a knowledgeable sales associate.  That's why you'll see richer content about our key offerings, prices and a completely revamped shopping cart.  In the case of customers wanting premium fully managed hosting, we continually heard questions about process and methodology, the composition of the team and financial justification, so that's exactly the focus area of the content you see there.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Given your levels of activity over the last couple of weeks, I almost hesitate to ask this, but what's coming up for the company and its new brands?
    URVISH VASHI: I guess in a word I'd say this - plenty.  While we've launched a significant set of services, through organic investment and creation of Northstar Managed Hosting and through acquisition of TouchSupport for our Alpha Advanced Services, we have more to do.  For instance, our Northstar Managed Hosting is focused on the most acute pain points we were hearing from our customers.  Through our numerous customer advisory councils, we were hearing that managing the Microsoft Windows technology stack and most notably Microsoft SQL Server was important to them.  In the back half of this year, we will expand to include Linux.  On the infrastructure side, we will continue to provide greater control and affordable access to advanced technologies for complex hosting through new firewall and load balancing offerings for our Virtual Rack solutions.  Lastly, we've seen huge growth in the storage and data protection needs of our customers.  To that end, we've hired a new general manager to develop beyond our existing offerings.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Venturing into shared hosting at all?
    URVISH VASHI: Not at all.  We have been in the business of enabling our customers to service this market.  Our goal is to continue to provide the affordable advanced services to let them grow and cost effectively provide new services to their customers.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Well, thanks for this overview of your recent news. Most impressive I must say.
    URVISH VASHI: Thanks, John.  

More The Planet interviews:

Web Hosting Interview March 2009

Web Hosting Interview November 2008

Web Hosting Interview July 2007

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