by Martin Leclair on martinleclair.com
It’s been long rumored, much anticipated and now it’s here!
What? You did not know that iWeb was working on automation initiatives? Even if you did not actually tell us, you may have been thinking that we have been kind of slow on innovations and new products. I have to agree. We have not launched any major product initiatives in over 2 years. And we all know that, online, 2 years is an eternity. During those 2 years, though, we’ve been hard at work !
The iWeb team has been working, and working very hard.
In the last two years, while parts of our team were busy growing our customer base server-by-server (now more than 14,000 servers hosted with more than 950 new servers provisioned last month alone), others were busy recruiting talented employees (from 50 in 2008 to 200+ today) or obtaining financing (thanks to our financial partners). During this period of growth a small, automation-focused team emerged.
The future of Web Hosting
The daily challenges of growing our business from $9.8 million at the end of 2007 to around $30 million today slowed down our new product initiatives. When we last revamped our whole product line in 2008, we knew that our next step was automation. “Cloud” is not just a buzzword that has implications on the way we will do business in the future. Now that virtualization is on its way to being a mature technology we are ready to bring you its benefits in our brand new product line.
It started slowly but with a big idea.
At first, we underestimated the effort and focus that would be needed to execute our vision. We thought we could succeed by building and launching a product the start-up way, the same way we had done it before. We did not realize the demands that growing and supporting the current business would have on all our resources and that even if we had all the intentions in the world to work on our product ideas, it would not work unless we had dedicated resources focused on this unique goal. We learned and adapted our approach. I guess this lesson is part of what you would call the growing process.
We invested more than $7 million dollars so far into automation; this includes the development of our latest data center, but also the development teams that work on the product. We truly believe automation is the future of web hosting and we are committing important resources into it.
The last two years were intense.
The last two years were packed full of ideas, prototypes, project management, project specifications and re-specifications and de-specifications. In two years: we went from an idea to the real product, ready for launch; from a project team of 3 members to 26 full time members working with the collaboration of every other department at iWeb. I am sure these two years will prove crucial for iWeb’s future as we will now begin to capitalize on these efforts for many years to come.
What did we accomplish during those two years?
iWeb evolved tremendously. We moved our headquarters from the iWEB-HD data center to iWEB-CO on Nun’s Island, expanded the team and increased sales exponentially. We re-engineered customer operations and implemented a real project management approach. All this in only 2 years!
Here is a list of our most important accomplishments; the ones that, starting today, will have a significant effect on the products that you buy from iWeb.
- We refined our vision
iWeb is dedicated to providing you total control over a reliable and flawless, on-demand Internet hosting infrastructure through simple and smart solutions.
iWeb went through important product transitions in the last 14 years. When we started in 1996, we searched for our true mission for 2 years, navigating between training, web design and a bit of everything Internet-related before the real iWeb was born in 1998 with the mission of providing shared hosting.
Then, the first big transition came in 2001 when we shifted to focus on dedicated servers and started building our own data centers. In 2007, we managed to obtain the iweb.com domain name and introduced our first customer server management interface called the Customer Hub. From this point our growth as a major Hosting provider skyrocketed.
Today, in 2010, we initiate our next transition with a clear focus on automation and providing total control of our hosting infrastructure to the customer.
- We built an Automation-Ready 20,000 Server Data center
We needed to build a platform to automate our business processes. It would have to be tightly integrated into a new data center as it was projected that our current dedicated server data centers would soon reach full capacity (they are used at more than 95% today). In fact, we needed to build the data center for the platform as much as the platform for the data center.
And build a new data center we did! iWEB-NE is our biggest one so far. It is a dedicated server only facility and once all its building phases are completed, it will be home to more than 20,000 dedicated servers featuring automated provisioning and management. It was built from the ground up with automation in mind. It features a large network room and accommodate two separate networks for public and local interconnections.
iWEB-NE, second week of construction (January 2010)
iWEB-NE, News from iWEB-NE (May 2010)
iWEB-NE, In pictures (June 2010)
iWEB-NE, Smart Server Launch Video by Eric Chouinard (October 2010)
- We rethought the network for automation
Three separate networks are needed for automation, the public Internet network, a local network for customers to exchange data between servers and shared services and a third network for management (KVM/IP, server re-installations, etc.) We also put a lot of importance on redundancy so the only point of failure of the network infrastructure is the access switch that connects to the server directly.
At iWEB-NE, the public network is very similar to what you will find at iWEB-CL, iWEB-CO and iWEB-HD (iWeb’s other data centers). At iWEB-NE, the public network has multiple 10GIG uplinks and is interconnected directly to both the CL and CO data centers. All servers installed at iWEB-NE are physically connected to the public network for their Internet access.
But one big difference between iWEB-NE and iWeb’s other data centers is the addition of a full GIG local network for all servers installed at iWEB-NE. A private network is featured among most of the automated and cloud solutions today for provisioning, maintenance operations and in order to prevent manipulations or future interconnections of the installed servers. Once a server is installed it is connected to both the public and private networks and many kinds of configurations are possible without the need of physical modifications to the server or its network setup.
We also added a management network. Since we want to keep server costs as low as possible for all our customers, we use only two physical networks (servers are equipped with two network adapters and connected with two cables). We virtualize the third (the management network), used for server installations, re-installations and maintenance operations.
- We developed a Data center Automation Platform : Smart Layer
With an automation-ready data center and network, we needed an automation platform. We called this platform our Smart Layer. The platform is a group of software that enables automated server provisioning and automated server management. The platform allows for server inventory management, provisioning of servers, operating system and software installation and communication between the servers and the platform software.
The platform development required intensive functional modeling of the data center, network and servers. This allowed us to create a robust system through which servers can be added, removed, provisioned, re-provisioned or interconnected on the fly. Customers can see the dedicated server inventory in real-time, choose a server and have it ready to use in less than 2 hours.
Smart Layer is the core of our system and that is where the majority of our effort has been spent. It provides great opportunities for future enhancements, as the addition of new functionalities would only require the development of simple applications built between the customer and the platform.
Our platform has been developed to adapt to almost any kind of hardware, which allows for the creation of a wide range of compatible products allowing customers to conveniently upgrade, downgrade and migrate between products easily.
Based on the SOA knowledge we built over those last two years, we designed the software that makes the automation possible as we designed our datacenter : flexible, redundant and modular. By using open-source technology, participating with open-source developers and leveraging our strong focus over reliability and performance, iWeb is ready to show and share its software expertise with you in the best form it knows : usable products.
Our Smart Layer platform is now ready for new features, new behavior, new demands and new services that we know you already want. And we are preparing some more that you will be eager to buy.
For more details : Smart Layer Release Note. Link will be added soon.
- We implemented server virtualization
Server virtualization has matured a lot in the last years. Virtualization solutions like Xen are used successfully in thousands of production environments and commercial server hosting solutions. At iWeb, we chose to use Xen to power our new line of Dedicated Servers but instead of using Xen to share a physical server’s resources, we are using Xen to bring cloud-like advantages to classic-style dedicated servers where all the server resources are assigned to your server alone.
We developed a Xen-based operating system that is part of the Smart Layer and powers all the dedicated servers provisioned using our automation platform.
- We created the Smart Server
Smart Servers are dedicated servers whose hardware and resources are 100% allocated to you. Unlike with cloud hosting, server performance cannot be affected by other customers’ activities. But like cloud computing, it is powered by a virtualization solution that allows for cloud-like server flexibility.
A new data center, enhanced networking, an automation platform and virtualization is enough to call the new servers smart! But it does not end here. Smart Servers are provisioned in iWeb’s latest iWEB-NE data center, have access to iWeb’s high availability public Internet backbone and connected to the high speed internal private network for exchanges between servers. They are also provisioned automatically in less than 2 hours, offer trouble-free migrations between server hardware (thanks to virtualization), instant kvm/ip console access and an enhanced control panel (called the Control Center, see below for details).
Most importantly, Smart Servers will allow you to benefit from any and all future enhancements we will develop. What has been released to the customers so far is only a fraction of what is yet to come. Any customer that gets on the platform today will automatically be able to use all future functionalities when they are released.
You want to buy a Smart Server? Visit our Smart Server product presentation page.
- We released a new control panel, the Control Center
Providing simple and smart solutions is at the heart of our promise. The control panel is not only used to manage servers but is also how customers identify with our product. We have come up with what we think is a user-friendly control panel system that will differentiate iWeb from other providers and make it easy for Smart Server customers to manage their servers.
The first version of the Control Center is already available to Smart Server customers with basic functionalities (Power management, remote console, hardware upgrade requests, network (WAN & LAN) management and more.
Many more functionalities as well as the replacement of our previous control panel (the Customer Hub) are planned for the coming weeks and months.
For more details : Control Center Release Note.
Today Dedicated Gets Smarter.
As I mentioned before, launching the Smart Server is iWeb’s biggest product achievement to date and we are very proud of this product launch. Today, Dedicated gets Smarter and starting today, Dedicated will get Smarter and Smarter day after day. We really hope you join us in the Smart Server evolution and contribute to making Smart Server the server of the future.
What is coming in the next weeks, months and years?
Product development at iWeb does not end today. It starts. We already started working on the next set of functionalities for the Smart Layer, Smart Server and Control Center and this time it will not take 2 years before we release new stuff. The team that worked on the product is still in place and is already working on the product evolution. You will see new software releases frequently. Stay tuned to our blog for all the details.
What else can we do for you? We’re listening…
You want servers on demand, and you want them fast. But what else would you want the Smart Server to offer you? Let us know. We want the Smart Server to be your preferred solution when it comes to server hosting and we will adapt our road map to your requests. Tell us what you would like to see inside the Control Center !
Thank you !
Thank you for trusting us and being part of our journey into web hosting.
President of Products & Technology
iWeb Technologies Inc.