13 March 2011

When we set up UKFast in 1999, no one really knew what to expect. There was huge excitement at the birth of a new industry, which was reflected on the stock exchange and the first internet millionaires were created without really producing any viable products. A massive downturn ensued and, people thought, that was that.

Back in 2001, after the bubble burst, no one could have predicted how technology would evolve at such a pace.

In a decade, everyone’s lives have changed. The internet is bigger than TV, Radio and Press put together and it’s just the beginning.

Google came out of nowhere (or rather a garage in San Francisco)  to challenge Microsoft with alternative ways to search the net and providing innovative ways to advertise and attract customers. It facilitated the long awaited revolution and in the process lost its “cool” status and became a corporate giant.

Google was so successful it was difficult to imagine a challenger. But then along came Facebook and although the ranking for Top Performing sites looks like this:

1   Google         9.16% of internet traffic

2   Facebook    7.69%

3   You Tube    2.48%

Google has to be worried because while many other sites rely on Google’s ranking system to attract clients, Facebook doesn’t.

Facebook grew from the dormitories of Harvard University and permeated the university networks before entering the real world. It is the ultimate viral marketing machine and works on a referral basis. It literally is mapping the entire world.

It is too big for Google to influence now and it has done something far cleverer. It knows its audience far greater than Google does. Although Google pioneered very clever technology, recognising IP addresses to predict your searches and preferences, it is limited because it cannot determine who is behind the IP address. So, when different users in the same household search the internet or at work, Google tars everyone with the same brush. It can be really frustrating when it makes inaccurate assumptions about your searching and buying habits, whereas Facebook knows you inside and out.

Facebook knows everything. It knows who the most popular people in every corner of the globe are. It knows where you go, what you like, your birthday, your sex, your girlfriend, your spouse. Whether or not it is far more sophisticated than Google remains to be seen. In my opinion, it is a great deal simpler and this may be why it is so popular.

What is proven about Facebook is the fact that everyone in the Google head-office corridors must realise the threat to the myth and the domination they created.

If you have any doubt, check out the latest figures tracking popularity and visitors to their websites. Whilst Google grows less than 15% over the past 3 years, Facebook grows in excess of 300%.

Hosting Traffic Comparisons Facebook and Google

Facebook climbs faster than Google. And meanwhile the Internet is on the move again, with Mobile Apps making everything possible from wherever you are. Apple is helping, making user experiences a far cry from the pain created with setting up programs via a floppy disk back in the 90’s. I watch my 4 year old manoeuvre around an ipad with the ease of someone who is growing up in a new era, yet my Uncle Phil who is still alive remembers being taken to hospital as a child on the back of a horse drawn ambulance.

It is safe to say, the world we live in is an extraordinary place, made so by a few extraordinary people. It is an industry I love being a part of. I’d love to think that I had the foresight to have predicted all of this but it was not part of a larger strategic plan. One thing I have learned since setting up and running UKFast, is think on your feet, be nimble. Never assume that what works today will work tomorrow. If it’s not growing, it’s dying. You have to keep evolving with one eye firmly on the future.

So, what’s next?

That’s a good question. It was one that a friend asked me minutes before going on stage in front of the world’s press with Al Gore in Frankfurt last year.

It has to be virtualisation and although its a 15 year old technology, it is only just beginning to work and if I am honest, it still isn’t quite there yet. Dedicated servers have dominated the hosting world for the past 5 years and are essential when trying to compete on the internet with e-commerce and lead-generating websites. However, if you are looking at cost savings and consolidating a large number of machines, there is new technology available that offers some amazing solutions to what traditionally have been very expensive problems. (If you are interested you might want to check out VMWare and HyperV for virtualisation and cloud hosting solutions)

Where it will stop ? You can rest assured it won’t! You embrace it and ride it like the raging bull it is, holding on for dear life. It’s a good analogy because that’s how UKFast feels and we are only a tiny part of the internet as a whole, yet we are accelerating to a new level(*). And with hundreds of thousands of websites on our network, it’s a wonderful responsibility and one I take very seriously. And around the corner, I have no idea what is next.

I host thousands of businesses and any one of them could have a break-though moment at anytime. That’s part of the fun of what I do. I get to help people grow their businesses far quicker than they could ordinarily do themselves. It’s something that is bone deep in UKFast and is embedded in Lighting our purpose. Watching and helping businesses succeed and compete is incredibly rewarding and I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s become a way of life. Somewhere on our network lives the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page just waiting to light the fibres of future.

Can you imagine the internet 10 years from now?

Go create.


(*) UKFast has a new DC coming live in May 2011. It’s large enough to host 12,500 dedicated servers and is the first of an extra 100,000 sq ft we are intending to bring to the UK market in the next couple of years.

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