Saturday, April 08, 2006

302

302 rhymes with Sanrio, sort of, in Chinese. Growing up in Taipei, my friends and I used to skip out of elementary school to ooh and aah at bright pink trinkets at 302 shops on every street corner. It's been at least a couple of decades since Hello Kitty's come up in conversation. I got all nostalgic when I saw the Sanrio name splashed across... a Concentric Hosting white paper, of all places.

Sanrio.com, the 12677th most popular site on the web (according to Alexa), is powered by Concentric's clustered hosting platform. Here, Sanrio has on-demand access to CPU resources, storage space and bandwidth. Concentric's custom-developed technology offers beyond a box scalability, software-based load balancing and DoS attack protection. The company's developers have even created a usage metering system that's compatible with any billing product on the market, a feature that Concentric resellers no doubt appreciate.

The question is, how synergistic is such a complex software development project with the hosting business? There's no economy of scale. Since 1997, Concentric has invested countless developer-hours into creating, maintaining and upgrading its proprietary platform, but the product is monetized only through its own customers' and resellers' hosting fees. In comparison, other web hosting providers generate similar revenue streams with little or no in-house development resources.

Barbara Branaman, Concentric's GM, says I'm comparing apples and oranges. There are many kinds of web hosting business models: some companies focus on leasing state of the art hardware. Other see systems administration services as their core competency. Still others are primarily in the web design business. Concentric sees its clustering technology - rather than its data center, hardware, bandwidth capacity, etc - as its core product.

I think she's right; I was taking a too-monolithic view of the web hosting market. Because there are many types of website owners as well: some want direct control over the biggest and baddest web servers (I hear EV1Servers' 'Monster Servers' have been selling well. Dual core dual Xeons, anyone? With 12 GB of RAM and 2.4 TB of SCSI hard drives??). Others would like to outsource everything - from development to sysadmin - to a vendor. And still others are interested only in a specific set of apps. Sanrio's priority was beyond the box scalability. They had a website that worked; they moved it from another web hosting provider to Concentric because they wanted automatic, on-demand access to resources.

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