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Keeping customers on the rails

Article Type: Interview          Published: 01-2014         Views: 2959   



Cloud Hosting editor David Tyler speaks to Phil Worms, Director of Corporate Communications at iomart Group plc

David Tyler: There is a strange dichotomy between the relative newness of the cloud - especially in terms of its use by enterprises - and the longevity of firms like iomart, who have effectively re-invented themselves as technologies have changed. How did the company get to be where it is today?

Phil Worms: The iomart business celebrated its 15th birthday just before Christmas last year, which makes us the same age as Google, older than YouTube: in terms of the internet's lifespan, we've pretty much been there from the start. And we've seen some amazing changes over a relatively short period.

We started life as an integrated telco, with a hosting arm, but crucially we were also one of the first UK triallists for the rollout of broadband. So our focus was very much on broadband and hosting in those early days. What we realised as we grew that business, and became seen as an authority on broadband, was that connectivity was going to be crucial to our continued success - and indeed the success of broadband takeup across the board. The widespread adoption - almost commoditisation - of broadband has totally changed the landscape. And as we've moved on that has increasingly come to include mobile as well, whether 3G or 4G. The only time we even stop to think about the level of connectivity that we now all take for granted, is when it's not there for some reason! You know the feeling, when you're booking into a hotel and realise it doesn't offer fast broadband and wi-fi, you're almost tempted to book into the one down the road instead. That's how ubiquitous this technology has become.

DT: It is clear that one side of the equation for cloud hosting depends on the ubiquity of fast broadband - presumably the other side relies on the growth in outsourcing, and the economic arguments there?

PW: In a way it feels like things have come full circle since those days when we were trying to get people to adopt broadband - connectivity is as big an issue now as it was in those days. There are several reasons for this. As the outsourcing movement has reached a tipping point - and more and more organisations are maybe wondering why they should keep all this information inside their business - people don't want to be trying to move large volumes of backups or multimedia files via a slow connection. It needs to get where it's going quickly, and securely - and you also need to be able to retrieve it again just as quickly.

Some people are saying that the shift to the cloud is like the beginning of a second industrial revolution. It seems to me that if you do compare this to the original industrial revolution, it was the advent of the railroads that transformed the economic well-being of businesses - once they could transport goods from A to B quickly and cost-effectively, then we saw the rapid economic development of the USA, UK and Europe. To stretch the analogy then, it's almost like the ISPs, data centres and cloud services providers are offering the same sort of infrastructure, supporting the new industrial revolution. The internet is like the railway lines of the Old West!

DT: So how does a company like iomart react to the technological and business changes that have affected the world so much in recent years?

PW: It's not often that a company can say that it foresaw something coming and planned for it, built a strategy around it and went on to deliver on that strategy. Perhaps we had an element of luck in our success, and certainly the state of the global economy has helped to focus everyone's minds on managing costs, but nonetheless I would say that we did foresee as far back as 5 or 6 years ago, that the cloud was going to become the de facto trading platform for today's world. We also realised because of our own experience, that where you are reliant on third parties - as we had been reliant in the early broadband days on BT for their network, for instance - that you can only own certain parts of the customer experience. That is to say the parts that you are directly responsible for. That can leave you exposed as a service provider - customers don't want to hear that a problem is down to something supplied by someone else who has let you down. This led us to make what many saw as a bold decision.

Six or seven years ago we saw a lot of what we called 'server huggers': IT departments and management who wanted to retain control over their IT estate management. At the same time people were having to carefully evaluate their costs and maybe rethink what was and wasn't their core business. Of course then a lot of CEOs and FDs began to ask "Why are we buying all these servers? There must be better ways of buying computing capability."

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