Fasthosts is the UK's largest webhost. Independent from multinational hosting parent 1&1, Fasthosts is the only UK host to offer accounts with unlimited web traffic allowances.
Tech.co.uk caught up with the host's technical boss, Mark Jeffries, to ask what the future has in store for web hosting - and why the future is more personal. Jeffries is responsible for all technology decisions within the company, determining its overall strategic direction and product set.
Don't people think of hosting as a commodity they need rather than something they'd want to regularly use and take advantage of?
I think this was true of the web hosting of the past. However, hosting today is now focused on providing great applications and features for using the web space, and so users can enjoy creating their web presence and experimenting online.
Hosting has been a fairly staid area for some years now, hasn't it? How do you see things developing both in the short and longer term?
In the short term, Microsoft is due to launch Windows Server 2008 with IIS7 (Internet Information Services). IIS7 has a new customisable architecture that lets you plug in only the components of the web server you need. But they have also been working with Zend to make IIS7 a viable platform for high performance PHP driven websites.
Longer term, I see centralisation and hosting of all personal and business data, and we will see the convergence of hosting, email, broadband and phone. We live in an increasingly connected world. And both home and business users now demand access to all of their important data 24/7, whether they are at home, work or on the move.
Web hosts will provide data storage, tailored content and hosted applications for personal information handling and online communication. Web hosting in the future will be purchased on the basis of what applications are on offer.
Your company is talking a lot about 'personal web solutions'. Sounds like marketing speak to us - why are they personal?
A number of our packages are very relevant to home users/personal users. Take our email-only accounts, for example. These let an individual register their own domain to use for their personal email for life and have email continuity irrespective of changing their ISPs. The low-end web hosting packages and blogs are perfect for storing and sharing photo galleries, video clips and other media with friends and family.
The personal web solutions of the future will allow us to store greater amounts of our personal media and easily access it on the move. The traditional personal website will become a personalised interface onto a wider set of web services. Our sites will have powerful search tools and collaboration software integrated. Personal portals will be a powerful means to interact with others and share information within online communities.
Do faster broadband pipes change the way people use and view their hosting?
Of course, we are now seeing more content rich websites in the UK partially driven by faster broadband speeds. However, in the main, the increase in speeds has only been downstream. Upload speeds, aside from a few providers, have generally remained around 0.5MB. And these speeds can obviously restrict what a typical home broadband user can upload to their web space.
Online backup is a hot topic at the moment. Do you have any plans in this area?
At the moment we offer storage solutions such as dedicated servers, but these are not consumer focused. However, I do think the hosting of data will be a huge growth area in the future. Hosts will be best equipped to provide the cheapest and simplest option for the consumer to centralise all their media, like photos, movies, MP3s, emails and documents in one secure place.
Can you explain a little about hosted apps and why they are relevant to both business and consumers?
The beauty of hosted applications is that they are accessible from anywhere. And typically you don't have to install an application on your PC to use one - the application runs within a web browser.
This means those using hosted apps don't have to worry about supporting out-of-date applications. And bugs can be fixed quickly without having to go through a time consuming rollout process deploying new versions. Also, these applications are usually cross platform so one application can be used by Windows, Linux and Mac users.
From a consumer point of view, we usually want something that is simple and quick to use, I don't want to go through the rigmarole of downloading an application, installing it and the issues that brings. I can just fire up my web browser and use a hosted app instantly.
Are there any other developments you're working on that would be of interest to our readers?
We have just launched a completely revamped version of our flagship hosting control panel. It allows you to manage your web hosting and domain registrations seamlessly within one online hosted application.
One of the main objectives of this development was to really focus on ease of use such that novice users can easily accomplish the often daunting task of setting up a website with their own domain name, whilst at the same time allowing the power-user quick access to the functions they need.
This is different to other hosts in that we invested months of time in user acceptance - testing with many technical and non-technical people to ensure the whole user experience was a great one from start to finish.