Preventing Website #Fail: A Rackspace Presentation at InternetWeek New York

Didn’t get a chance to make it to our brown bag lunch at InternetWeek last Wednesday? Here are some of the questions that came off the floor, answered by Racker Dax Moreno. If there’s something else you’d like to know about, leave us a comment. We’ll be happy to get back to you.

Q: How you prepare for your site to be able to handle spiky traffic demand?

A: First, you need a hosting provider that acts as a business partner and consultant. They can tell you what will be the best solution for your site and its traffic needs. You also should look for a hosting provider with a strong Partner ecosystem that can help with rich media and how it should look. They can help you design a great user experience by working backward from how you want it to perform under various circumstances.

Q: We have suffered from traffic spikes which were embarrassing situations – literally our best days have been our worst days. Can you help me make sure that doesn’t happen to me again?

A: Cloud seamlessly scales. Your usage can be increased as the site scales. But before you get to that, you need to know if your site is built to handle it. That’s an important question. In this type of case, if you’re getting Digg’d or if Oprah mentions you, you also need capacity planning.

Q: Can you talk about change management release engineering?

A: So with any website, the number of people who have admin access to change the site varies; sometimes there are as many as 50 people. Too many people acting as admins can have catastrophic results. Right now Rackspace is developing change management guidelines that include who to give access to and to what degree, define characteristics of what can be changed to what degree, as well as delineating security protocols. Unfortunately many businesses experience self-inflicted pain because these protocols aren’t in place. A good hosting provider can help you put these protocols in place and think of the things (such as change management release engineering) so that you’re prepared for them from the beginning.

Q: What are your thoughts on setting up a site with two hosting providers for insurance if one goes down?

A: Great idea. We call it geo-redundancy. That means if an interruption happens you can flip a switch through a third party to keep going your sites going. You want to have your primary solution in one data center and the secondary/insurance solution in a different data center. Whether you use one hosting provider or two, make sure they have more than one data center to make sure you have a little insurance in your hosting.

Q: When you start with a cheap hosting provider, how difficult is it to change when you need to?

A: It’s important to have someone you can trust, that can speak about what’s best for you at that moment. Rackspace isn’t always the best fit depending on what you’re doing. For example, if you don’t really have a stout online presence needing massive support behind it, other providers may be a better fit. In a launch you can go to any number of providers, use the control panel and you’re live. But don’t neglect to consider what needs to happen when the site is producing revenue and has a massive following. The complication of moving, or migrating, a site becomes much greater as the site gains complexity. The only sites that are relatively simple to migrate are content/brochure sites.

Q: I’m using Rackspace Managed Hosting and Cloud and we love both. On Cloud, the site scales and bandwidth increases, but the pricing model doesn’t fit for bulk usage. Is that something you’re working on?

A: We’re working on scaling customers from Cloud to Managed. Cloud is not the end-all, be-all for every customer. Some sites and models max out cloud usage. As an online presence develops, we can help you know when to scale into dedicated gear so that there’s no interruption or negative impacts to your site.

Q: Do you have a small business offering?

A: Rackspace is a general hosting provider – meaning we can work with you on a small scale inside the Cloud as well as when you need to move up to Dedicated Hosting and Professional Services. But the solution you need depends on what kind of online business you’re doing. Are you a small outfit of doctors? A startup idea? We can start with your basic idea and build, or if you already have an established presence and need help maximizing your online business we can do that too.

Q: What about the “Oprah effect”? How does Rackspace handle something like that?

A: We’d like to have a little time to prepare but sometimes you can’t always predict a huge spike in traffic. But generally the sooner you let us know, the better. It takes a lot of capacity planning to have scalability, so as soon as you know, we can help develop a capacity plan. Even if you’re not absolutely sure, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Q: Do you have different pricing models for higher ed organizations or non-profits?

A: Not currently but we custom build hosting solutions based on customers’ needs, and those types of organizations sometimes can have specific requirements for their sites. We can help with that.

Q: Can you talk more in-depth about security protocols for multiple users?

A: We’re helping set protocols and guidelines according to who can or should be an admin, who can use it and the extent of their usage. For example, should that person be able to access database servers? Can they talk to Rackspace on behalf of the company? These things need to be in place because it’s critical to keep a strong presence without any changes on the back end affecting external users.

Q: If I sign up with Rackspace, are there real people to talk to?

A: We have almost 3,000 Rackers. Our recognition within the industry is Fanatical Support. There are live people answering the phones 24x7x365. We also have online content to help educate about hosting.  We are fully-staffed to talk to you live. There’s no outsourcing, no robots. Our Live Chat window has a real person talking to you.

Q: How does Rackspace compare to Akamai?

A: We don’t view Akamai as a competitor; they are a partner in the industry. They allow faster content to be released to the end-user, enhancing the site experience. So the site is hosted out of our data centers but Akamai assists in expediting the content delivery.

Q: Do you have an E-comm solution for small businesses?

A: First and foremost we’re a hosting provider. But we have robust Partner system that can help you design an E-ecomm solution. We can definitely offer an introduction to those Partners, whether it’s Magento or VeriSign or any other E-comm Partner.

Q: Do you support clients with video streaming?

A: Yes. We have lots of customers with live streams and video streaming. We do capacity planning with them. We also help with UGC (user-generated content) where people are actively uploading and showing/displaying content. We also have a number of fantastic Partners who can also help in this area.

Q: You also have partnerships with those companies?

A: Correct. Rackspace handles the hosting portion but we have a robust Partner network. That means customers can come to us with other supporting needs and we can direct them to the right person and make the right recommendation through our channel.

Q: Do you help with search engines or help with Google optimization?

A: We do not assist customers with that. Google has improved their algorithm and we have lots of Partners that specialize in SEO and SEM. We’re happy to make right introductions.

Q: How many data centers does Rackspace have and where are they located?

A: We just launched a flagship in Chicago, but we also have data centers in Virginia, Dallas/Fort Wort, Virginia, Hong Kong and in the UK. Our data centers are global and we have customers all over the world as well.

Q: How do you process sensitive data, for example in banking?

A: We have a lot of financial customers with governmental or regulatory requirements. We work with them to figure out exactly what their compliance needs are, and then help meet those needs.

Q: I often have to recommend hosting to people face-to-face. Do you set up meetings with people who don’t just email or call?

A: Yes, our sales reps do quite a bit of travel to talk to prospects. They are also equipped with Skype, and we get great results from our virtual tours on the iPhone.  We may want to talk about a Partnership if you’re referring a lot of people to Rackspace.

Q: Can you talk about Managed Private Cloud vs. the Rackspace Cloud?

A: We have both at Rackspace. In Cloud, there aren’t a lot of security protocols for access. Private Cloud, on the other hand is on dedicated gear. It’s like having one big dedicated cloud for one customer, so if you’re running a campaign, for example, that can reside behind a separate hosting infrastructure and security infrastructure.

Q: Why did you change the name from Mosso to the Rackspace Cloud?

A: ‘Rackspace’ equals ‘hosting’ so that was a branding decision. Mosso didn’t really help us in our branding identity so we had to make that change. Regardless of that, our specialists still will direct you down right path depending on what you need – Cloud or Managed.

Q: What is your affiliation with WordPress?

A: There’s nothing specific in way of a strategic relationship with WordPress. On the Cloud we have a lot of tutorials to show how WordPress works but nothing at the application level.

Q: What’s the future of Rackspace?

A: We’re over 10 years old which is considered long in the tooth in the hosting industry. We’re evolving our Managed offering and our Cloud offering. Many businesses have to work with ether $50 dollars in hosting or $5,000 in hosting which is unfortunate. We’re bridging that gap – efficiently, accurately and without having to make you work hard to scale to meet business needs.

Dax Moreno is an Account Executive with Rackspace Media Services.

Cara serves as Community Affairs Director for Rackspace Hosting and President of the Rackspace Foundation. She oversees Rackspace’s charitable giving and corps of volunteers, as well as manages the company’s non-profit and city relationships.


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