I love this story from rachelbythebay about hosting in the late 90’s:

Then there was this little company. They were selling dedicated Linux servers for $99 per month, and promised to put them online within an hour of you ordering them, 24 hours a day. Also, they had “the best support in the industry”, according to them.

It seems like nobody else could crack this particular nut. They couldn’t figure out how they were managing to stay in business. How could they possibly be making money selling all of this stuff for just $99/month? How could they possibly hang a new server in a rack in under an hour, and then install the OS on it, and all of this?

As the story goes, this was the “moat” protecting their business. Nobody else could get into the space since they couldn’t make the math work. This one company kept going and kept raking in the customers.

Then, one day, it changed. Another company figured it out, and suddenly there was competition at the “bottom” — the bare-bones super cheap dedicated server market. What happened?

Well, according to my friends, what happened was either a single full-page color photo ad in an industry magazine, or perhaps a large photo accompanying an article. Basically, someone from the company is shown standing there in front of the actual servers, looking proud. I guess they wanted to show off the fact they used certain chips, or something like that. The picture itself contains enough details to show that there is no magic involved.

What did it show? It seems like it gave away the entire “secret”

Giving away the company’s secret sauce

I worked for a dial-up ISP at the turn of the century. Heady times for the internet.

We had a Sun SPARC server running Solaris that handled Apache web hosting and that thing was a beast. We also had a Debian server running RADIUS (greedo) that never had the right time, and some sort of mail server with POP3 access (no IMAP4). For $100/mo we would sell you 100 MB of shared hosting space (with 1 GB of transfer per month).

You could easily run that entire ISP stack off of a single Raspberry Pi these days.

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