A couple weeks ago we ‘launched’ the AppliedI Labs as the infrastructure supporting a new beta web development tool from Microsoft, WebMatrix. We decided we’d launch the AppliedI Labs and the WebMatrix Hosting Beta side-by-side because this would give our customers an opportunity to fully understand the AppliedI Labs environment and see firsthand just what we intend to accomplish with this new offering. There’s been a flurry of questions around this program so I wanted to take a few minutes and discuss our intentions with this program, what we hope to achieve and the value I believe it brings to the AppliedI Customer community.
The cutting-edge not the bleeding-edge of technology
I like to think of us as a company run by technologists. We like to stay on the cutting edge of technology and provide our clients the latest innovations and technologies as they become available. By giving our customers early access to next generation technology as it becomes available our customers are able to immediately become familiar with this technology and start to integrate it into their plans for their business and website strategies.
I believe this provides our customers a competitive advantage that otherwise wouldn’t be available. I believe this approach allows us to keep our customers safely on the cutting-edge of technology and not on the bleeding-edge of technology.
What’s in it for You, the hosting customer
In the past, customers would frequently ask if they could get access to new technology previews, betas (and sometimes early alphas!) as they become available. They’ll see someone like ScottGu or Hanselman blogging about these technologies and wonder “hey, maybe I can use that on my hosting account”. Unfortunately, with a production hosting environment we’re restricted from deploying beta anything in our production hosting environments! We simply can’t take a shared hosting server that’s powering someone’s ecommerce website (and usually the very core of their business) and mix in non-production ready modules:
Production Environment + Beta Components = Bad Things Happen
By deploying the AppliedI Labs though we’re able give our customers the best of both worlds: A pristine, always-on, always available production environment for their websites and a lab environment where they can evaluate and experiment with the new technologies without impacting the performance or stability of their websites and business.
What’s in it for AppliedI, the hosting company
As a hosting company we also have to evaluate these new technologies early before they ever go into production. Because we focus on performance, security and reliability, we need to know the impact this new technology will have on our hosting infrastructure and plan for it accordingly. We run an internal beta environment that emulates our production environment and test these new technologies before we ever put them into production. Unfortunately, with an internal beta environment we’re only able to send so much traffic at these servers and test just so many scenarios and inevitably there will be a customer that will have some setup that we simply couldn’t plan for or predict and havoc ensues for us and that customer. With the labs environment we’re able to get the help of our clients to actually validate the new technology! Instead of testing the new changes with a couple dozen testers we can have hundreds or even thousands of testers! It’s truly a win-win for everyone.
We also believe this continues to separate us from other hosting companies. Applied Innovation is focused on providing the best performing web platform while providing our clients access to the latest technologies in a way that’s easy to use and easy to understand. By providing our customers access to the AppliedI Labs we’re accomplishing all of these objects.
So what’s being testing today and why?
Today here’s a couple of the things we’re testing and why..
WebsitePanel – WebsitePanel is the control panel solution that powers the AppliedI Labs.
We’ve outgrown our existing control panel system (HELM by Web Host Automation originally and now Parallels) and we’ve been evaluating a full range of options for our control panel solution over the past year. We realized to really remain out in front we would need to develop our own control panel and had begun that process when DotNetPanel became an open-source project know known as WebsitePanel. Something the labs will provide us is the ability to test this new control panel system in a pseudo-production environment where we can have a large number of customers (AKA testers) provide us feedback on it’s functionality and performance. Most hosters build their control panel based on what their internal teams need, this allows us to build our solution around our customers’ needs and integrate their feedback in that process.
The AppliedI Dynamic Server Cloud – The hosting infrastructure that powers the AppliedI Labs.
It’s no secret we’ve built a pretty amazing virtualization platform that’s highly-available, highly-scalable, flexible, managed virtual dedicated server infrastructure on top of Windows Server 2008, Hyper-V and the System Center suite. Whether you call it VPS servers, VMs, virtual dedicated servers, cloud servers, clustered virtual servers, managed virtual dedicated servers, whatever. At the end of the day it’s an awesome managed hosting infrastructure that eclipses anything available today. What makes it awesome? It’s features like:
- Failover clustering – so when a single hardware node fails, the workload falls over to another node in the cluster and virtually eliminates any downtime
- Dynamic scalability – the ability to increase the number of CPUs, amount of memory and disk storage on the fly when needed allows you to always have just the right amount of server resources you need when you need it and allows you to scale back down just as easily!
- Redundant and fast performing storage – we decided to leverage several of the largest Dell Equallogic SANs available and spread the storage across an array of 48 drives and is highly redundant providing both safe and fast storage that dominates local storage options. Today most providers are going with less expensive direct attached storage but we found this to be the best in performance and went for it!
- Proactive Monitoring and OS Updates – with the System Center suite of tools integrated so tightly with the platform and the operating system we’re able to get a level of monitoring and reporting that just isn’t available with competing platforms.
- Increased Server Security and Performance – by leveraging Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V being so tightly integrated, we’re able to provide an added layer of security and isolation to every server that wasn’t available previously. Let’s face it, if you’re going to run a Microsoft operating system, the only virtualization stack to use is going to be a Microsoft virtualization stack!
- and a great cost savings! – You see our clients only need to pay for the resources they’re using. If it’s the busy season they ramp up their server hardware adding more memory and CPU’s and then when the season is over they ramp back down to just the minimum. Some of our clients are saving THOUSANDS every month because of this dynamic flexibility!
So we have thousands of customers deployed on top of our ‘cloud’ today and we know our customers are benefiting from it and love it. And we were jealous..
We’ve wanted to deploy our own shared hosting infrastructure on top of our ‘cloud’ but needed to be able to test this before we put any customers on it! So, yes the labs are running on top of our ‘cloud’ and with a few hundred customers accessing it regularly the performance is FANTASTIC and I suspect we’ll be moving in this direction soon enough.
A Bunch of New Microsoft Betas!
After all, that’s the main reason of the labs right? But the list is just too long for this blog article. Watch for more articles to come soon.
So that’s the Labs, Join us today!
So that’s what all this labs stuff is about. If you haven’t tried it out yet, I’d recommend you try out the WebMatrix Hosting beta we’re doing today and give it a run. We’ll be providing free hosting for these customers until the end of the year at which time all customers will have the opportunity to transition to production hosting if they like.