Partnering with Microsoft Yields Long-Term Results

A conversation with Takeshi Eto, Vice President Marketing and Business Development, and Frank Cheung, (CTO) of DiscountASP.NET.

Since 2003, DiscountASP.NET has provided enterprise-class shared ASP.NET hosting and SQL Server hosting, enabled by extensive experience and a spirit of innovation. Life as a Web host is customer-driven and ever-changing. We chatted with Takeshi Eto and Frank Cheung of DiscountASP.NET to get their perspectives on Web hosting.

Key Findings:
DiscountASP.NET delivers hosting services worldwide from two tier-one data centers in the United States and Europe/UK. The company's continued success draws from the philosophy of focusing its resources on robust innovation around Microsoft technologies, for affordable, feature-rich, cutting-edge customer offerings.

  • Microsoft's marketing investments create opportunity around new technologies for Web hosts.
  • Strong relationships with Microsoft product teams help DiscountASP.NET stay cutting-edge.
  • IIS 7.0 is more reliable than IIS 6.0, as well as supporting more customers per server.

Can you give us a bit of background on DiscountASP.NET?

Takeshi Eto: “We launched DiscountASP.NET in 2003. From the beginning, we have been a Windows-only hosting provider. We decided early on not to look at other platforms. The reason we decided to go with Microsoft Windows is that Windows Server 2003 was being released the year we launched the company, and we thought it would bring a lot of innovation to the industry and be a disruptive technology. We knew that other potential competitors who were running on Windows Server 2000 might have legacy issues in attempting to migrate from Windows Server 2000 to Windows Server 2003. We thought that by starting a new hosting company based on new technology, we would be able to gain a foothold in the industry. And that turned out to be true.”

Why not build on top of a Linux base for your hosting environment and business?

Takeshi: “We didn’t see a lot of innovation in Linux hosting at that time. And there was a great deal more competition in that space.”

Frank Cheung: “I have been in the hosting industry since 1996, and since then I’ve been involved in Microsoft-based as well as Linux-based hosting initiatives. We picked Windows as our only platform mainly because we saw that with ASP.NET, there was going to be a greater adoption of Windows-based hosting by developers. And we were gambling back in 2003 that there were going to be a lot more people using ASP.NET in the future. The Linux hosting platform hasn’t seen a lot of new technology innovation since 2003. PHP is still PHP. It is still a scripting language. In 2003, we thought that Linux would turn into more commodity-based hosting rather than something that was driven by innovation. And we didn’t want to become a mass commodity host. We wanted to focus on new technology and new opportunity, and that is a core reason that we didn’t build a hosting business on top of Linux.”

So you felt that ASP.NET was going to be a stronger platform than PHP to build the business on top of?

Frank: “If you look at Classic ASP and PHP, they were scripting languages, which limits the things you can do. If you wanted to build a really rich application, it was pretty hard to do back in the day with PHP or Classic ASP because of the nature of the scripting language. With ASP.NET, a developer can build a more rich application. So when we first looked at ASP.NET we thought ‘Oh my God. That is really cool. And we can start building out a platform on Windows that people on the Web can really use.‘”

So do you offer PHP on Windows today?

Takeshi: “We offer PHP on Windows mostly as a courtesy for our .NET developers who may have legacy PHP applications. We do not market the fact that we do PHP hosting. It’s more likely that we attract ASP.NET developers who may have some PHP applications that they want to port over to .NET. And in the interim, as they are working on the port, they can host a PHP-based site with us.”

Do you feel that Microsoft has helped create a market for ASP.NET that you have been able to leverage to build your business?

Takeshi: “Definitely. Microsoft is betting big on any new technology releases such as ASP.NET. They are innovating constantly. And they are investing a lot of money in their marketing efforts in getting the word out there about a new technology. So from our perspective, given that we are trying to stay bleeding edge, it helps boost us when Microsoft goes out there and does their marketing campaign around a technology. Basically we can sit right beside that and say, ‘Hey that is the cool new stuff, and we offer it already.‘”

Frank: “That strategy has really worked for us, because we have been agile in being able to adopt new technologies very quickly. And part of that is our focus on Microsoft. That’s how we have streamlined our business in order to be able to stay on the cutting edge.”

Beyond evangelizing and marketing new technology, has Microsoft been a good partner to work with across all the different aspects of your business?

Takeshi: “We have been very happy with our relationship with Microsoft. When we launched the company, we bet on Windows and ASP.NET. Because of our focus on ASP.NET hosting, we were contacted by Microsoft directly. That contact from Microsoft led to us flying out to Microsoft’s corporate headquarters to participate in product reviews and the establishment of connections with the ASP.NET product team, the IIS team, and the SQL Server team. So we have very strong relationships with both the technical and the marketing sides of the different product teams today. And by participating in conferences and events, we were able to get relationships with the hosting community-focused evangelists on the communications sector team. In sum, we know a lot of people in Microsoft and we have had some of those relationships since 2003. That has given us a foreknowledge of the new technologies that are going to be released in order to continue to execute on our strategy of leading with innovative product offerings.”

If Microsoft has been a good partner, how does that compare with your past experience using systems like Linux?

Takeshi: “I have dealt with Linux in our previous company. With the Linux community, if you post something on a forum, or do a search on the Internet, you might be able to find 90% of the answers you need online. But one of the problems I experienced is when it comes to that last 10 or 15% of the information you need, no one knows that, and it is very hard to get support on that. I’ll give you an example. One of our Linux-based servers was crashing; I do not recall the exact reason. Our Linux administrator started posting to forums, talking to people he knew, and that kind of thing. We spent about a month, and we didn’t get to the bottom of it because everyone who contacted us had a different idea as to what was causing the problem but no one gave us a final resolution. So eventually, we called Red Hat. And we had been using purely community backed software, so in order to have a conversation with Red Hat we had to buy a support contract from them. It turns out that in the end, it was a driver problem and the driver was not open source, so we had to get it from Red Hat. We pretty much wasted two months trying to solve that problem in the old company, and eventually we just had to say, ‘OK, now let’s pay someone.‘”

Frank: “That was our experience with support and Linux. But with Microsoft, you have one vendor to rely on, rather than saying, ‘OK, let’s hope this group can help me,‘ or ‘Maybe this forum has some different idea.‘ As a technology expert, I do not want to rely on chance. I want to go to a place and have someone clearly tell me what the resolution is or whether we are dealing with a bug that will be patched in a particular timeframe. The last thing I want is uncertainty. I do not want to sit here and have my admin say to me, ‘Well I do not really know what is going on with that Linux-based server; maybe tomorrow someone will respond to my posting about it in the forum.‘”

In conclusion, what differences have you seen between IIS 7.0 and IIS 6.0?

Frank: “The first thing we noticed with IIS 7.0 was that it was more reliable compared to IIS 6.0. We have fewer problems with IIS 7.0. We also have been able to answer a customer need that we have had for years. For some time now, customers have wanted to easily manage their own sites, have the ability to delegate administrative capabilities, etc. With IIS 7.0, you can pretty much do anything you would want. The last benefit we have seen is increased density. I do not think we have been able to push IIS 7.0 past its limits yet. For example, we project that we can host three times as many customers on an IIS 7.0-based server compared to an IIS 6.0-based server."

Takeshi: “For me, the biggest benefit is the modularity of IIS 7.0. For example, we have developed our own IIS7.0 modules that our customers have access to, such as a Global Assembly Cache View tool and web.config backup/restore tool. That is one of the cool things about IIS 7.0—we can see a customer need and develop a module for IIS 7.0 that meets it."