An interview with Simon Yeoman, General Manager
From a simple high school project to a leading UK hosting provider, Fasthosts has undergone massive changes in the expansion of its products and offerings as well as its strategy. Throughout it all, however, it continues to be a UK-based brand that strives to maintain close proximity to its customers. We talked with Simon Yeoman, Financial Director and General Manager of Fasthosts, about the direction he sees for the company and web hosting industry in the future.
HA: Hi Simon! It's great to be able to talk with you. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to your current position as the General Manager and Financial Director of Fasthosts?
Sure. I've worked in UK technology for almost 20 years now, predominantly in operational roles. Prior to joining Fasthosts, I worked for Orange Telecoms (now EE) as their Head of Technology Support. I joined Fasthosts as Operations Director in 2008 at an exciting time in the company’s history. I had been working in telecoms for 10 years, so at the time I was excited to learn about a new industry.
Web hosting is fresh and relevant, particularly at that time, and I saw a real opportunity to shape the UK market. I wanted to take more responsibility for company strategy and there were a lot of opportunities for growth in the market at that time.
I was Operations Director for four years and added a lot of value over this period. My responsibilities had expanded and I was responsible for customer operations, IT operations, inside sales and retention.
At the time, the company had gone through a period of rapid expansion so we put a lot of emphasis into the way we do business and on creating a more customer-centric culture.
In recent years, we have been implementing further strategic change and working more closely with our parent company. We reorganized the company in 2013. I took on the role of General Manager as I was keen to broaden my areas of responsibility across other areas of the business. More recently my role has had more focus on the finance and administration of the business.
HA: Fasthosts has a fascinating background. Can you share with us its history?
Absolutely. Fasthosts was founded in 1999 by Andrew Michael, as part of a high school project, as he and others didn't have anywhere to host their websites. He realized that this was a need that wasn't being met in the UK market, and so they decided to turn it into a business opportunity.
As the business grew, a variety of hosting products were launched which revolutionized the market and the company grew to the Number 1 web hosting company in the UK. The company was later sold for over $100 million in 2006.
HA: How you define your market? Which products are targeted towards which groups within that market?
We're predominately a UK-oriented brand aimed at web professionals, developers, web resellers, and web agencies, many of which are small-to-medium sized businesses. Increasingly, we have targeted IT professionals and developers that use our infrastructure products as the foundation for their projects.
For customers that don’t have the time, resources or technical expertise to quickly create a web presence we have our Website Builder, eShop Builder and email-based SaaS-type offerings.
We then have our web hosting platforms, these are managed platforms that are aimed at website developers with strong website creation skills and experience but who would prefer not to have to focus on managing the infrastructure.
Our server offerings are more complex and are aimed at IT professionals and developers. Our dedicated server customers rent dedicated hardware and manage or administer it themselves. Many of our customers use servers for web hosting, but they also might be using it to offer their own SaaS or IaaS solutions. Our CloudNX platform is aimed in particular at developers. CloudNX root servers are virtual machines based on the latest virtualization technologies that scale on demand to meet customer requirements. Additionally, our CloudNX platform can come with operating system and administration tools or managed applications such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal fully installed so that developers can get industry-leading infrastructure managed for them, allowing them to focus on their projects.
HA: You offer one-click installment for a range of open source platforms, including WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and Prestoshop. Will you be adding more open source platforms in the future?
Yes. We will be led by our customers and aim to add any CMS that becomes relevant in the market. Currently many of our customers are focused on tools such as WordPress, so we'll continue to focus on making sure our hosting products work well with these tools.
HA: Fasthosts offers different types of hosting products. Can you please describe them to me?
Yes. We provide a wide variety of products and services including domain name registrations and email solutions. We touched on hosting products before in terms of the audience, but I'll go into the products in detail:
Website Builder – Our Website Builder is a software solution, used with our hosting platform. Customers are able to use the Website Builder software to configure their website, if necessary using the templates provided to manage the look, feel and website structure, including the galleries and layout. Our Website Builder products allow customers to quickly and easily establish a web presence and if they want to they can add commerce as well.
We offer two different types of website builders plus we also offer a more advanced eShop Builder portfolio which integrates with all of the main market places and integrates payment technologies. With both of these products important business functions – such as secure payment and email – are quick and easy to implement.
Cluster Web Hosting – This is a bit different than most traditional hosting platforms provided by many of our competitors. One of the drawbacks of many hosted platforms is that resources are shared across the platform so performance can be affected by other users on the platform. It's called clustering because your content can be hosted across different servers, so even during periods of heavy load, platform maintenance or in the unlikely event of a server failure Cluster reroutes the customers’ website to another hosting server. Cluster Web Hosting also utilizes SSD storage in the cluster platforms, making it quicker and faster. Our Cluster platform architecture has redundancy built in making services more resilient, with downtime reduced to a minimum.
Dedicated Server – We have over 6000 dedicated servers located in our fully owned and managed UK data centers. Our centers are ISO27001 accredited with power and connectivity redundancy in place. Our customers can have up to 1GB connectivity, ensuring there are no bandwidth issues. All of our server support is based in the UK and available 24-hrs a day, 365 days of the year.
Cloud servers – CloudNX is our latest platform. It's a virtualized cloud platform that you can quickly provision via a control panel in less than a minute. It's available in Windows and Linux and in addition to the virtual machine, we provide an enhanced feature set all managed from our customer control panel.
The CloudNX offering is fully flexible to meet customer needs, it's scalable and customers are able to pay as they use it.
This product is getting the most traction at the moment, especially with developers and IT professionals. The CloudNX platform is also available as a managed solution with operating systems, management tools and applications fully installed.
HA: Your cluster platform supports a range of languages, including the latest PHP scripting language, PHP7 (in addition to ASP.NET, Ruby, and Python). Why PHP7 in particular?
We were one of the early Hosting providers to support PHP7 because our customers required it. A large proportion of our customers are web professionals that want to use the latest technologies. We found that if customers really want to take full advantage of the latest features in CMS tools such as WordPress, then you want to be on the newer versions of PHP. Also, in terms of online security, it’s important to be on the most recent versions.
HA: What are your plans for the future?
The hosting industry is increasingly competitive. We will continue to focus on the needs of IT professionals and developers. From a product perspective, our latest technologies such as our CloudNX platform are most likely to meet their future needs. We really believe CloudNX is an industry leading cloud offering and the feedback that we getting from our customers reinforces this. We will continue to develop this product and increase the focus on the support we provide as we see this as a key point of differentiation going forward.
We also want to lead the way in the market with more disruptive technologies such as Containers as a Service (CaaS). We're now developing these offerings to better serve IT professionals. We want to ensure Fasthosts can compete in the cloud market with bigger players such as AWS, Google and Microsoft. It’s likely that in the future we will also need to consider what areas of value added we need to focus on, and potentially use this as a point of differentiation.
HA: How many active customers do you have today? Where are they located?
Our customers are predominately UK based. We have around 415,000 customer contracts spread over a wide variety of products from domain registrations to email, web hosting and server products.
HA: Describe for me the culture of the company. How many employees do you have? Where are your headquarters and datacenters located?
Absolutely. We’re a dynamic company that has a great entrepreneurial spirit. We're customer-centric so we have a strong desire to stay in close proximity to customers.
Of all of the places I've worked, the people here are very technically competent. This enables you to do a lot with a relatively small staff.
Our headquarters are based in Gloucester, UK and we've got access to data centers in the UK, Germany, Spain and the US.
HA: What is your advice for someone looking for a web hosting solution?
First and foremost, I would think about: What are your needs?
So, I'd advise you to rank your requirements for the next 12 months and beyond. When you're choosing your hosting solution, you'll want to consider your needs over the next 2-3 years as your business scales. Make sure you consider what’s important, whether it's features and functionality, or reliability and performance.
My advice is to not only look at your company's technical internal capability, but also to consider the amount of time and resources you have to dedicate to your hosting solution. Also, when thinking about your organizational bandwidth, consider if you need a solution that will scale. For example, ecommerce sites get really busy during the holiday season, so you might want to consider a cloud server solution that can flex with your needs, but if you only need an informational web presence with a low volume of traffic, then a shared hosting platform is probably sufficient.
That's why it's important to consider your needs for the next few years.
I wouldn't spend too much time comparing different hosting companies websites and looking at the bullet points. I'd do a lot of thinking about what you need.
Finally, I'd research your preferred hosting provider. Do they own their data center? What type of support do they offer? How reliable are their services?
If you are looking for a new solution I would suggest looking for a company with a good reputation as it’s often better to go with an established provider.