Web Hosting Interview - Zen Internet July 2009

Web Hosting Interview - Zen Internet July 2009

David Barber, Senior Product Manager for Hosting at Zen Internet

UK company Zen Internet, has been billed a minimalist marvel with excellent support by a highbrow British Sunday newspaper. Located in Rochdale, a town that lies in the foothills of the Pennines mountain range, Zen shows the world that not only is the River Roch flowing out of this scenic part of northwest England - award-winning Internet services are too. High speed DSL Broadband Internet access, Leased Lines, IP VPN, Web hosting packages, Online Data Backup, Voice, Managed Network Security - Zen Internet offers a range and quality of products and services that rivals any Silicon Valley enterprise. We talk to David Barber, Senior Product Manager for Hosting at Zen to find out more about the company.

  • HOSTSEARCH: David - thanks for meeting us today.
    DAVID BARBER: Thanks, it's good to talk to you.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Why don't we start off with you introducing yourself and letting us know a bit about your role at Zen Internet?
    DAVID BARBER: I'm the Senior Product Manager for Zen Internet's growing portfolio of hosting services.  I'm responsible for ensuring that our hosting services meet customers requirements and exceed their expectations.

    I've been with Zen for over 8 years now and have watched the company grow from a small dial-up provider with a handful of staff, to an award winning hosting, connectivity and managed services provider with over 350 employees. I've experience within sales and service functions and am a qualified marketer.
  • HOSTSEARCH: How long has Zen been in operation, tell us a bit about its history?
    DAVID BARBER: Zen has been delivering services to business and residential users in the UK since 1995. Independently led by founder and Managing Director Richard Tang, Zen's mission is to provide the best ISP service in the UK and it is committed to investing in the latest technologies and providing high levels of service, support and reliability.

    Zen's main target market comprises of UK Businesses and this is reflected within our growing portfolio of business products and services. These range from high speed broadband and leased line connectivity through to Web hosting packages and secure colocation services.

    However, due to the nature of our portfolio, Zen also has a small proportion of residential customers using our services, most notably our broadband and Web hosting products. These types of customers demand a premium service and support package as opposed to a more  cheap and cheerful option.

    Zen services this market both directly and via its partner programme, which consists of over 400 re-sellers.
  • HOSTSEARCH: For people who are reading this who might not be entirely familiar with Zen, why don't you give them an overview of your products and services?
    DAVID BARBER: Zen provides a range of high quality Internet services. These include Broadband, Leased Lines, IP VPN. Web Hosting, Managed Hosting, Colocation, Online Data Backup, Voice and Security. All of these services are supported by a highly robust and resilient network and excellent technical support and customer service.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Are there any recent developments we should know about?
    DAVID BARBER: Zen has recently upgraded its Web Hosting packages as well significantly reducing the price of our Domain Names. Our Web space and bandwidth allowances have been increased for Linux and Windows Web hosting packages. These increases will also be applied at no extra cost to all existing customers accounts.

    Zen has also introduced more competitive pricing for its Domain Names, as well as offering discounts on bulk registrations. All its domain names come with a suite of Domain Management tools giving customers full control of their domain names.

    Another exciting development includes the opening of a Colocation suite at our Headquarters in Rochdale in response to increased demand for data centre capacity here in the North West. This will also enable Zen to grow its portfolio of hosting services to cater for a wide range of business requirements such as bespoke managed hosting services and virtualisation.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Why Rochdale? Is it just a consequence of time and location, or did the company move here?
    DAVID BARBER: Zen was originally founded in Rochdale by MD Richard Tang, and from a handful of staff it's grown the Rochdale-based workforce to over 350 dedicated employees to best serve our customers' needs. Most of our customers find it reassuring to know that if something does go wrong then there's someone here in Rochdale to talk to who can get it fixed.

    Zen has also recently moved to a brand new headquarters in Rochdale, further displaying its commitment to its roots and the local community.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What makes you different from other web hosting companies?
    DAVID BARBER: The factors that differentiate Zen from other Web hosting companies are the same things that have delivered Zen numerous awards in recent years; namely our first class network and our exceptional level of technical support and customer service.

    Zen's network infrastructure has been developed over a number of years to deliver the very best range of services. Its network is fully scalable and is built around a core of 10Gbps links and all its hosting services are now housed across three datacentres, two of which are fully owned and maintained by Zen.

    Zen has an excellent reputation for quality within the marketplace and this is emphasised by the exceptional level of support that we deliver to our customers. We are a privately and independently owned company, which means that we are not governed by the demands of external shareholders and can therefore focus completely on our service levels rather than on profit and cash generation.
  • HOSTSEARCH: As far as Web hosting is concerned you have shared Linux and Windows - alongside dedicated and colocation and managed hosting. That's aside from your other services. You have 350 staff. Do they all muck in and do anything that's needed, or is Zen split up into divisions internally?
    DAVID BARBER: Zen is not split up into divisions in the traditional sense, but its support structure is very much defined by the customer's support requirements and its belief that a customer should speak to the person with the right knowledge at first contact.  For example, the support requirements of a managed windows hosting customer differ greatly from those of a Linux Web hosting customer. Managed windows hosting customers have direct access to a team of MS accredited support engineers 24x7.  However, all customers are supported by our award winning customer service teams and pre-sales consultants.  By doing this we can satisfy specific product support requirements whilst applying best practice standards, as confirmed by our multiple awards, to our complete portfolio of hosting products.

    Ultimately, everyone at Zen works towards our mission to provide the best ISP service in the UK.
  • HOSTSEARCH: So that covers off hosting products, but how difficult is it to offer a comprehensive range of connectivity products as well?
    DAVID BARBER: It is difficult to build the infrastructure, systems and processes to support such a diverse range of products; however it actually makes building customer solutions simpler and more meaningful.  For example, if we were purely a hosting company our focus for a particular customer might be just colocation, and as such the customer may need to understand complex issues surrounding interoperability with another company's connectivity solution.  As we are able to provide hosting, connectivity and security solutions, we are able to simplify the procurement process by supplying all components.  This not only makes procurement and administration easier for IT managers, but it also accelerates fault diagnostic and resolution times as we own and manage the entire infrastructure.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Well, clearly you are offering quality if the Sunday Times of London is writing about you. A minimalist marvel with excellent support is what they said. What did they mean by minimalist? You offer so much minimalist wouldn't seem the right label.
    DAVID BARBER: Minimalist refers to the fact that what we do is simple or no-frills as quoted by the Sunday Times. The features Zen provides focus on customer requirements rather than working to the ethos that more is better, something which we've found prevalent in the hosting market.

    We scored satisfaction ratings of over 80% for our customer service, reliability of connection, along with both online and telephone technical support. Our aim is to develop internet services that focus on quality, reliability and service.

    This year Zen has been awarded its 7th Best Buy from Which? In 2008 Zen won Which? Best Broadband and PC Pro Best ISP for the fifth year running as well as receiving a Highly Commended for PC Pro Best Web Host. Zen was also awarded North West Business of the Year by the British Chamber of Commerce.

    Our mission is to provide the best ISP service in the UK and these awards demonstrate our commitment to delivering excellent service, quality and reliability to our customers.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Describe what you are doing to anticipate the next year of Internet growth?  
    DAVID BARBER: Zen has made huge investments in all areas of our business so we can continue to offer the highest levels of service in a competitive but growing market.

    In order to address the continued growth of the Internet, Zen is further developing its network infrastructure, to not only make it faster, but to make it easily scalable without adversely affecting any of its services.  In addition, Zen is currently investing almost £250,000 into a highly resilient storage system designed to provide its hosting customers with ultimate reliability and backup of their websites.

    More visibly, Zen recently moved into a new headquarters at Sandbrook Park in Rochdale, which not only provides the home for its new colocation suite but gives it the space to grow its workforce to more than 1000 employees. To get there it is continuing its recruitment drive to identify and employ the very best technical and professional individuals.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And what areas can we expect you to branch out into in the future? Any plans to expand to any other countries? Further into Europe perhaps?
    DAVID BARBER: Currently Zen has no plans to extend its focus outside of the UK, as we still see significant opportunities for growth in the UK market.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Of course, we have heard of the government stepping in to take over certain British banks, and things sound bad. But what's it like on the ground operating in the UK? Apart from the obvious, what problems do businesses  especially Web hosts face as a result of the downturn?
    DAVID BARBER: Like every business Zen is not immune from the current economic climate, but with a changing economy comes changing customer requirements, so there always be new opportunities in the market.  The key is to be able to react quickly to changing customer requirements something which, as a comparatively small ISP, we're well placed to do.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And I suppose when you aren't working, you take a few walks in the hills and mountains?
    DAVID BARBER: I'd like to say this was the case but if I'm honest I'm more interested in motoring in fact I'm a bit of a petrol head.  I have an on-going passion for hot hatches from the 1980's and am currently trying to collect all my child hood pin-ups that I never used to be able to afford the insurance for which include Peugeot 205 GTI's, MK1 Golf GTI's and E30 BMW's.

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