Hosts with the most

When American Floral Services, one of the three largest floral wire services in the U.S., was looking for a Web hoster about 18 months ago, it wanted more than just a place to store its Web servers.

Chief Technical Officer Terry Byers was looking for a partner who could help the Oklahoma City company create and operate a Web site that would handle mission-critical ordering and delivery services for its 24,000 North American and 55,000 worldwide affiliates.

Byers says she chose IBM Global Services for two reasons. "One, we had a good relationship with IBM going into the selection process. And two, I believed it had more experience in running high-end, e-commerce applications than its competitors at the time." Here's what IBM Global Services does for AFS: systems operations, systems administration, application monitoring, load balancing, hardware upgrades, integration with back-end applications, even consulting.

That's a far cry from simple collocation, in which the Web hoster provides power, lights, network bandwidth, rack space and physical security, while the customer supplies its own server, sets it up, and assumes responsibility for maintenance, repairs, upgrades and the like.

And that's the trend in Web hosting; the move from simple collocation to managed services.

Joel Yaffe, an analyst at Giga Information Group, says the earliest Web hosters were traditional carriers, then came specialized hosting providers such as Exodus and Global Center. And two to three years ago, managed hosting providers such as Digex arrived on the scene offering a medley of services for the horde of dot-coms that needed to get on the Internet fast and didn't have their own internal resources.

For example, Insurance.com, an Internet start-up affiliated with Fidelity Investments, wanted more than simple collocation services when it signed on with Exodus in January.

"We were looking for monitoring services," says Paul DiNicola, vice president of operations. Currently, Exodus monitors Insurance.com's firewalls, bandwidth usage, routers, traffic load balancers and other hardware.

Insurance.com chose Exodus mainly because it's the collocation company for Fidelity Investments, DiNicola says. "The commitment was there, and Exodus was ready to make it work. Exodus has the resources we need to pull this off."

"Managed service providers make certain that Web sites run," says Jeanne Schaaf, senior analyst at Forrester Research. More users are seeking managed service providers "as their Web site becomes a more critical venue for them," she says.

The list of services you can expect to choose from includes Web site design, capacity planning, testing, application monitoring, security monitoring, storage management, content distributioon, load balancing, bandwidth utilization, reboot capability, clustering, multilayered redundancy and site mirroring.

And hosters that don't yet offer a complete suite of managed services are scrambling to provide them. For example:

  • In early September, WorldCom bought Intermedia for $6 billion because of its 55% majority stake in Digex. WorldCom wants to add Digex's managed services to UUNET's ISP business.
  • Exodus, the industry leader known for its collocation services, is talking up its list of managed services. "We offered monitoring right from the day the company started collocation services in 1996," says Prabakar Sundarrajan, vice president of technology. "We have been expanding on it ever since. It's really second nature to the business."
  • Verio plans to open seven to 10 new data centers this year to offer more sophisticated services to customers. These centers will feature shared, dedicated and collocation hosting as well as managed services. Verio, which focuses on small to midsize businesses, is now part of NTT Communications, a Japanese telecommunications company and ISP. "What we find is more and more customers are looking for very sophisticated telco/data centers," says Doug Schneider, president of Web services at Verio. "NTT allows us to invest in the business at a much greater rate than we could have in the past."
  • GlobalCenter, the Web-hosting arm of Global Crossing, plans to add a variety of managed services in the next six to 12 months, says Derek Chang, co-chief operating officer and chief financial officer. "You'll see a breadth and depth of products that will position us to serve our customers' complex needs," Chang says.
  • In September, Exodus placed a bid to buy GlobalCenter in a $6.9 billion stock deal. GlobalCenter will increase Exodus' customer base and data center locations more than it will give Exodus additional high-end managed services, Giga's Yaffe says.

Utility players

Ultimately, hosters want to be seen as another utility that provides on-demand services. The idea is that you'll be able to call your hoster to order more storage, for example, and have it available in less than one hour.

"We are all looking at how we can deliver certain parts of the hosting service in a utility approach," says Mitch Ferro, director of hosting products for UUNET. The company is developing on-demand services for things such as storage and Web servers, which it plans to unveil in the next six months. "It will get our customers to market much more quickly, but also our customers can scale their sites much more quickly," he says.

Meanwhile, GlobalCenter, Exodus and AT&T are already offering storage and bandwidth on-demand. AT&T's Business Ready Dedicated Hosting Service, which was launched in August, promises to provision a Web server and e-commerce tools within 30 minutes of an order. "It is aimed at putting on a Web-hosting environment within a matter of hours rather than a matter of days," says Jenny Proctor, director of AT&T Dedicated Hosting Service.

This story, "Hosts with the most" was originally published by Network World.

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