Web Hosting Interview - VISI October 2009

Web Hosting Interview - VISI October 2009

Jason Baker, Chief Technical Officer of VISI Incorporated.

HostSearch interviewed Jason Baker, Chief Technical Officer of VISI Incorporated. Read about his visions on cloud hosting and how he's leading the company to the next step to become the largest cloud provider in the region.

  • HOSTSEARCH: Mr. Baker, thank you for giving us an opportunity to interview with you today.
    JASON: I'm happy to speak with HostSearch today.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: Shall we start off with you giving our visitors a brief overview of VISI and your role in the organization?
    JASON: VISI is Minnesota's largest locally owned cloud computing, data center services and managed hosting provider. VISI was founded in 1994 and serves almost 10,000 customers from its SAS 70 Type II datacenter in St. Paul.  VISI is currently building a second datacenter on the west side of the Twin Cities. My role as CTO is to identify strategic growth opportunities and understand how we can leverage technology to pursue those opportunities. I'm much more focused on strategy and business development versus day-to-day operations.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: That's interesting. Please tell us more about Cloud hosting solution that you're building.
    JASON: We are building a cloud server hosting solution that will be priced competitively with commodity Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud providers like Amazon and Rackspace, but will also offer enterprise-class features you can't find in the mass-market clouds.  Customers will provision new cloud servers by selecting a cloud server model and a software template.  Each cloud server model will include a certain amount of CPU, memory, and storage.  We will support a wide variety of software templates from Windows Server to Red Hat Linux to Ubuntu -- in both 32-bit and 64-bit.  We will charge for our cloud servers by-the-hour and customers will manage their cloud servers using a web portal.  Customers can also manage their cloud servers via an API.    

    I mentioned that our cloud servers would incorporate some enterprise-class features.  All of our cloud servers are persistent. This means that if one of our cloud computing nodes fails the cloud servers on that node will automatically start back up somewhere else in the cloud.  We will support load-balancing within the cloud and host all cloud servers behind Juniper hardware firewalls. Finally, the entire cloud infrastructure is hosted within SAS 70 Type II data centers.  That's critically important to enterprise customers.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: What does it take to build a Cloud environment? How many servers and equipments do you need? Will small web hosting companies be able to offer Cloud?
    JASON: That's a great question. Technically you could build a cloud environment with a handful of servers. In our case we plan to support thousands of cloud servers from the very start so our investment is much larger. You basically need four ingredients to build a cloud service: virtualization technology, raw computing capacity, storage, and cloud management software. The cloud management software is by far the hardest piece of the puzzle. The bigger cloud providers generally build their own management layer. Smaller web hosting companies will most likely have to buy a cloud management product from one of the emerging vendors. Even if you buy a commercial solution you will have to invest development time on the integration with existing billing, customer management and support systems.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: You also offer VPS with Cloud. We are not seeing anyone doing this. Can you please share with us in more details?
    JASON: Our Virtual Dedicated Server product (or VDS in the Cloud) is closer to a traditional managed hosting product with some cloud-like features.  A Virtual Dedicated Server, leveraging VMware technology, provides dedicated CPU, memory, and disk space along with features from VMware such as VMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and High Availability (HA). Customers can increase or decrease resources as needed.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What's the future of Cloud? How will it change web hosting industry?
    JASON: I think the cloud is going to move forward in a couple different directions. In the future it will become easier to buy and manage resources in the cloud. Right now some of the management tools are fairly rudimentary and designed for the technically inclined. That's going to change. Some people will want to buy raw infrastructure in the cloud just like they buy raw power from the power company. But others will look for cloud platforms that offer a more complete software stack. For example, customers will buy Microsoft Exchange and CRM services versus cloud servers. What they won't realize is that these services are actually running on cloud platforms.  At the end of the day customers care more about applications than infrastructure.  The cloud will change the web hosting industry in two fundamental ways.  First, cloud computing is the most efficient technology infrastructure for delivering hosting services.  So cloud computing platforms will become the engine we use under the hood.  Second, cloud computing is forcing web hosting providers to change the way they sell services. In the past we usually had setup fees, service contracts, and monthly billing.  The cloud is based around hourly consumption with no contract commitments.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: What other solutions do you offer?
    JASON: VISI offers a number of traditional hosting solutions including colocation, managed dedicated servers, managed VPS, and managed VMWare hosting.  We pride ourselves on the fact that we can offer customers a blend of different hosting solutions all customized to their specific requirements. And of course all of our solutions are supported 24x7.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: You have done so much with VISI already, what is next? What can people expect of VISI in the immediate to medium-term future?
    JASON: We expect VISI to become the largest cloud provider in our region with the launch of our cloud platform later this Fall. We are also significantly expanding our datacenter capacity with our new facility under construction in Eden Prairie. We will need that capacity to meet the growing needs of colocation, managed hosting and cloud customers.  We expect to commission the new datacenter in January of 2010.
  • HOSTSEARCH: We look forward to see your success. Thanks again for giving us an opportunity to talk with you today!

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