When your hosting company is a custom solutions development house. Interview with Server Point CEO, Pedro Nieto

ServerPoint has been providing very nice hosting options for all types of customers since 1998. The company boasts that they have no long term debt, and are profitable every year. This is important today since many hosting companies are being bought and sold, which can cause problems for the customers. Based out of Las Vegas, ServerPoint keeps all their support in-house. While they are a great hosting company for all types of websites, they have made an effort to become the leading company for developers. They designed their infrastructure for stability and providing the services that they knew their customers would need.

HostAdvice: Tell me a little about yourself and how you got started with ServerPoint.

I am one of the founders, I've been here from the beginning. We incorporated in 1998, but we started developing websites, etc. back in 1994-95, when I was in college for computer science. It was more of a freelance thing back then. Most of our growth is organic. We didn't have many choices, we didn't have cpanel. I was learning programming and scripting and I used this as an excuse to learn more. I started developing a client portal, which is what we still use today. Soon other people started asking if they can use our server and we decided to start using it to host other customers, and that's how it started.

HostAdvice: You said your growth is mostly organic. Does that mean you maintain close contact with your customers?

Yes, we have to keep that engagement going on. We have people here who are always contacting customers, even just to ask how things are doing. We get a lot of feedback and keep adding more items to the to-do list. Every time a customer requests something the list keeps growing. It's long enough to keep us busy for a couple of years, let's put it that way.

We use Basecamp to keep track of the suggestions and feedback we get. We have people who sort through everything and delegate it to the appropriate place. We are getting ready to implement UserVoice so the customers can go in and vote for what they want. We are already filling up that service with all the ideas. When it is ready we will send out an email to the customers asking them to vote for the ideas. That way we know better what to do first. I think with a voting process it will be a lot easier for us to develop what the customers want first.

ServerPoint Support

HostAdvice: You said your growth is mostly organic. Does that mean you maintain close contact with your customers?

HostAdvice: It sounds like you have kept that “small business” feel to your company. How have you accomplished that?

I am extremely OCD with customer service. Everybody here is the same way. Customers can tell you, when they open a ticket within ten minutes somebody is working on it. We don't under staff our departments, we actually over staff them. If you try to reach one of our customer service or tech support people they will reply very quickly. Sometimes they are just sitting around waiting for calls to come in. They are doing all sorts of other things, they all have projects. We have 13 projects going on right now at the same time. We are always developing. We have new software releases every week.

HostAdvice: In your own words, how would you describe ServerPoint?

We have always said to customers that we are a custom solutions house. We are not a cookie cutter hosting company. We have customers from small hosting clients, all the way to our largest customer who runs 1,200 dedicated servers with us. We've created an entire 40GB infrastructure just for them because they have to handle large amounts of internal traffic. Whatever you want us to build, we'll build it.

HostAdvice: In your own words, how would you describe ServerPoint?

HostAdvice: Without getting too technical, why would a company want so many dedicated servers instead of the equivalent amount in virtual servers?

It's more expensive for them to go virtual. This website has over 20 million photographs on their website. They have servers with GPU cards in their for image processing, they need hundreds of web servers with hundreds of databases just to handle their requests. They're a big company with a lot of staff. We built their infrastructure from the very beginning, from the moment they started years ago. They've grown with us.

HostAdvice: Some online reviews say ServerPoint has made an effort to become the leading company for developers. What do you say about that.

We are a development house. That's how we started, by developing our infrastructure for web hosting. From there we kept adding more and more developers. Just about everything we use here is developed in house. We don't use cpanel, we don't use WHMCS, we have our own billing software internally. That mostly comes from the fact that sometimes using a 3rd party product can be frustrating. We started using Virtuoso back in 2005 for virtual servers and just dealing with their tech support was horrible. It was affecting our reputation. Then we tried OnApp, which is another platform for virtual servers, and their platform had so many bugs that it just kept costing more and more down time. After those two tries we decided to develop it in house. It took us 6 months to develop it and it works flawlessly. This is possible because we have so much developing experience.

ServerPoint Products

HostAdvice: Some online reviews say ServerPoint has made an effort to become the leading company for developers. What do you say about that.

HostAdvice: Do you also have managed services such as WordPress hosting with one-click installs?

We get a lot of our revenue from managed services. We have templates for specific purposes, for example if you want a virtual server just to host a website, we have a specific template designed just for that. Things like WordPress are automated in our web hosting platform. We actually developed the early versions of automated WordPress installs and in fact contributed to the format used now to automatically install WordPress. We've been using WordPress for quite a long time. All those one click software that we have today in web hosting companies use that same format, created over 10 years ago. So we've been automating app installs since then.

HostAdvice: What can you tell us about your infrastructure?

We basically have three infrastructures here: the ColossusCloud infrastructure, our standard web hosting/shared hosting/cloud hosting – all the same thing, and dedicated/bare metal servers.

All these infrastructures are fully automated. If you want a dedicated server you just click what operating system you want and our system will take a server from inventory, wipe it out, put in the operating system, passwords, IPs, and everything and within the hour it's ready for you. Everything is automated, if it's not automated we don't put it out to the public.

HostAdvice: What can you tell us about your infrastructure?

 

HostAdvice: You say on your website, “We do not outsource our infrastructure to a third party. We own, control and have physical access to all our servers and network infrastructure.” Is that something unusual in the hosting industry?

Yes. A good example is HostGater, before they got acquired by EIG, they never had their own infrastructure, it was all running inside SoftLayer. So companies like SoftLayer and us run the infrastructure for many other hosting companies out there. You would never know because the IPs are masked. The truth is there are not that many companies like us out there but there are thousands and thousands of hosting companies.

HostAdvice: Talk to me about ColossusCloud.

ColossusCloud is what we call our virtual servers. Building the ColossusCloud was a natural development. We already had the network infrastructure and dedicated servers. Virtual servers fit in between the shared hosting plans and the dedicated servers. Kind of like how a tablet comes between a desktop and a laptop.

We first tried to use Amazon AWS and we felt it is just too complicated. One thing that I'm very obsessed with is user friendliness, and Amazon is not user friendly. We used to manage Amazon servers for some of our customers early on because they just couldn't figure it out. So mostly the need was because the existing solutions at the time were just to complicated.

ColossusCloud is our little baby right now. It is taking up the most resources in our company for development. Every week or two we have a new release of both the interface and back-end. We're constantly squeezing more performance out of it. I have two dedicated people who benchmark the whole system every week. We try to find new ways to squeeze a little more out of it.

HostAdvice: Talk to me about ColossusCloud.

HostAdvice: What is Update Central?

Update Central is a project born from my own frustration of trying to keep so many servers up to date. Internally we run hundreds of servers for our own operation. Just keeping all of those updated was a pain in the butt, so we developed this little software for the servers to communicate the update to the client portal and the client portal to tell the server to install the update. Red Hat and Microsoft have something similar to keep servers up to date from a central location but the Microsoft solution is very complex and while the Red Hat one is a little easier it only works with Red Hat systems. Ours works with all systems, plus, it wasn't that complicated to develop. Now from one interface I can keep all my servers up to date. We see a lot of our customers using Update Central to keep their servers up to date.

HostAdvice: How many people work for Server Point today?

Almost 40.

HostAdvice: How can you manage your entire operations and a 24/7 in-house support with such a small staff?

Because everything is so automated here we don't need that much staff. We've been looking at acquiring another company who's smaller than we are in terms of revenue, but when we checked their ticket system we found they have over 400 tickets a day! We only have about 100, how do you have 4 times the amount with less customer? It's because they lack the automation that we have. It makes a huge difference.

We have four locations for customer service, including London and Australia. When you need service at midnight Pacific Time it is daytime elsewhere. We have people inside the data center 24/7 in case something goes wrong, when everything is running smoothly they also handle tickets. We also have to handle multiple languages. 30-40% of our customers are foreign, with poor English. We've managed over the years to coordinate all of this stuff together.

ServerPoint Tools & Portals

HostAdvice: How can you manage your entire operations and a 24/7 in-house support with such a small staff?

 

HostAdvice: That's a lot of foreign customers. Are there any particular regions you are focusing on?

I would say the Asia/Pacific region is growing. For example we just hired someone in Indonesia, where people discovered the Internet just around 5 years ago. Now everyone wants to have a website. So we are concentrating in Indonesia to become the early brand for hosting. Believe it or not in many parts around the world the market is still in its infancy. The Philippians is also in its infancy. So that Asia/Pacific region is growing and that's one of the reasons we are about to open ColossusCloud in Singapore, which has the highest concentration of data traffic in the region.

HostAdvice: Being located in Las Vegas I have to ask what was your biggest gamble?

The biggest gamble was starting a hosting company. I started this company while I was still in college. It began to grow, word of mouth spread quickly, so I took a semester off from college and I am still on that semester off. I never went back to finish my degree. Our growth has been organic. We build as customers needs come in. We've never received any kind of investment money in our history. Some of our competitors, like Digital Ocean, built their entire infrastructure on investment money. That is a big gamble!

HostAdvice: How did you manage to grow and develop without outside investment?

Word of mouth is a powerful thing. It doesn't give you the fastest growth but it gives you a very stable growth. We could go out and spend a million dollars on Google keywords today and that will bring a lot of growth but then we might run out of resources in the tech support department. So we don't want to do those things. There was a time in fact when we actually shut down taking new customers because they were coming so fast our tech support was getting loaded and we didn't want to reduce the quality. That's something that companies don't do. Some of our competitors can take two days to reply to a ticket, that's something that is unacceptable over here, we will not allow that to happen. Right now we are growing our staff faster in advance. Most of our customers are large companies and they prefer it this way, to have direct and quick access.

HostAdvice: How did you manage to grow and develop without outside investment?

Jason Harcsztark Jason is a graphic artist and entrepreneur. He manages multiple websites and often gets involved in community management and marketing. With over 15 years in IT Jason saw the internet develop from ICQ chats to the full multimedia experience and internet of things we see today. HostAdvice is happy to bring Jason to our team of experts to interview and write about hosting companies. He brings the experience of running small online businesses to his interviews, offering a refreshingly easy to read and relevant style to tech blogs.

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"When your hosting company is a custom solutions development house. Interview with Server Point CEO, Pedro Nieto"

When your hosting company is a custom solutions development house. Interview with Server Point CEO, Pedro Nieto