B&C: Hi Ben, first of all, thank you for this interview. Can you explain to our readers what your position and roles are at Stratagem Hosting?
BG: I appreciate the opportunity and pleasure to speak with you, so thank you! I’m the Technical Director for Stratagem Hosting which entails looking after everything and everyone tech (as you can imagine, at a hosting company that’s quite a bit!) so I’m ultimately responsible for all of our infrastructure and the staff that maintain it. It’s an enjoyably varied role; some days are spent making management decisions that’ll affect the entire organization and other days I’ll be found in the data center, racking new servers so you can definitely say I’m the hands on type.
B&C: In your site we can read: “Stratagem Hosting is a trading name of Stratagem Solutions Ltd, founded in August 2017. The founders have been in the tech industry for over twenty years and have a wealth of knowledge & experience. It's this knowledge that keeps our hosting at the cutting edge of the cloud hosting market & ensures your website is always performing the best it can be”. Could you explain, more thoroughly, why did you found Stratagem? We would be very happy to know some interesting anecdote!
BG: Between myself & Will Jones (the managing director), we had reached the end of our tethers with subpar performance and pricing for the existing web hosting landscape in the UK. During our past roles within other organisations we had worked directly with many high profile companies within the web hosting industry and felt that we could offer a hosting service that beat the competition on performance, price and customer service. It is no secret that the market is over-saturated at the moment and most of our competition are offering nothing more than over-provisioned servers with underperforming hardware, and staff with no technical knowledge or customer service skills. This is exactly what we set out to rectify and it’s our belief that in 2019, very soon to be 2020, everyone should have access to a fairly priced, reliable, supportive and trustworthy web hosting partner as the internet is the resource the majority of people use to do business, communicate with one another and organise their lives.
B&C: Due to some problems with our previous hosting provider, Bits And Chips has been recently moved to your servers, and we are very happy! You customer service is great: you helped us even during the night and the speed of your servers is amazing! How can you provide such terrific price/performance ratio? Italian providers are not comparable to you.
BG: Thank you so much! Just because it is during the night should not mean that hosting support must wait until morning. The internet never sleeps and has global reach so just because it may be midnight where we are, we cannot forget that somewhere else in the world it may be peak business hours. There was many a time that I myself had been waiting on ticket replies and support in the middle of the night, frustrated and without answer. Impeccable customer service is one of our core values – ensuring our clients are not only happy with their service, but happy knowing that they are being taken care of and are welcome to contact us for anything at all, at any time day or night. Another of our core values is keeping our infrastructure modern and secure. All too often, web hosts today will overfill their aging, underpowered servers with clients and then try rationalize the performance and reliability issues as unexplainable technical glitches. We have a policy of continual review and investment in infrastructure. Given also that we’re proudly 100% independent and don’t have investors or shareholders to answer to, we’re not under any pressure to deliver any portion of our revenue to any third parties. We’re able to dedicate our efforts to making sure we always have the fastest, most stable hosting platforms available, whilst providing the fairest possible price.
B&C: Stratagem is almost unknown in Italy, despite your excellent services. Are you planning to join the Italian market? You may support a MotoGP team … the Italians love the MotoGP!
BG: This could be a great idea! Both Will & I are avid motorcyclists and love riding & watching the MotoGP at every chance we get (which is unfortunately not as often as we’d like). We’d love to become more prominent in the Italian market and partnering with a MotoGP team could certainly be considered a life-goal achieved. It’s definitely something we will have to start looking in to.
B&C: We can see that the storage in your servers is mainly based on SSD devices. The HDDs are almost disappeared. Are really SSDs cheaper or more convenient than SSDs?
BG: I think there’s an important distinction to be made here, as there’s a difference between what could be considered consumer/prosumer and enterprise grade storage. Whilst even enterprise HDDs are still a far cheaper option per gigabyte when compared with enterprise grade SSDs, they’re not as reliable over the long term nor anywhere near as fast. We’ve standardised on Samsung enterprise SSDs and stick to the same models and capacities across all of our infrastructure. Not only does this help us provide the best possible performance, it removes a key failure point, given the mechanical nature of HDDs. We also run all of our drives in battery-backed RAID arrays, again ensuring performance and reliability as should a drive fail, a hot spare will be able to take over immediately. HDDs still definitely have their use, but really only for bulk storage of non-active or rarely accessed data such as backup storage.
B&C: What do you think about PCI-E 4.0? According to experts’ opinions, this bus will help a lot the Cloud providers.
BG: PCIe 4.0 is really going to help us be able to load out larger arrays of NVMe SSD storage. This is currently one of the most expensive forms of storage but also one of the quickest. This also opens up a wider variety of networking options as a 10GB ethernet will be possible with just one lane meaning a far higher bandwidth per server will be possible.
B&C: Recently Intel CPUs were targeted by a lot of vulnerability issues, even dangerous. Which CPUs do you use? How do you address these security issues? Are planning to invest in AMD hardware for your servers in the near future?
BG: We know all too well unfortunately about the vulnerabilities recently found in Intel CPUs, primarily the ZombieLoad and ZombieLoad2 variants. This was and still is (due to the high probability of there being more bugs), unwelcome news primarily because the vast majority of our infrastructure does currently use Intel CPUs. We overcome these issues by ensuring that any processor microcode and kernel updates are completed immediately after release from our OS provider, CloudLinux. Even though these flaws being used as attack vectors has not yet been documented in the wild, lack of evidence unfortunately doesn’t equate to it not having happened yet and as such we have disabled HyperThreading entirely, which is where the primary risk still lies. It’s apparent that since this vulnerability has been released, far too many hosting companies are leaving this security flaw (HyperThreading) in place in order to take advantage of the increased processing power per CPU, as this will reduce their costs. During the design of our new Stratagem Cloud, which you can read more about below, AMD is something we’re enthusiastically investigating. Some of their recent CPUs look absolutely excellent, especially in light of the Intel vulnerabilities.
B&C: About the software, you are using GNU/Linux (CloudLinux). Is Windows so low required? What are the main problems with Microsoft software in the Cloud market?
BG: We do not currently offer Windows hosting as part of any of our cloud hosting packages. The primary reason being that the majority of web hosting customers in the market at the moment are using software that’s either platform independent or Linux based, with very few opting for Windows-only technologies. Even ASP.Net (Core) and SQL Server can be run within a Linux environment now, so the requirement for offering Windows based servers has dropped even further for all but the most custom environments, for which a custom solution would be the ideal option. Also, given the closed-source nature of the Windows operating system and the fact that many exploits have been found, hoarded and used in the wild as part of malware and ransomware attacks, we don’t currently have any plans to roll out any cloud based Windows hosting packages either now or in the near to mid-term future. We can however help out with Windows dedicated server hosting on a quote-by-quote basis.
B&C: Again about software, we saw you also support old or deprecated web environments (as well last technologies of course!). How much is important to offer such options to your customers and what are the major issues involved in such support?
BG: As long as the required security patching is in place, we are able to support very outdated systems. We do this because we understand that moving an entire company’s website, platform or software service can be an extremely daunting and challenging task and adding a software update that could introduce backward incompatibility issues is not going to help matters. As such we need to be able to ensure that a platform is stable and supported for as long as possible. Alas nothing lasts forever, so we can only offer this when security patching is kept up to date as the security risks increase when software goes through deprecation and obsoletion.
B&C: What does cloud computing mean to Stratagem? What cloud proposition and/or plans does Stratagem have itself?
BG: The cloud can refer to many things. Commonly ‘the cloud’ refers to a server in another data center or even just storage space in Amazon’s AWS for example. In our opinion, true cloud is a platform where multiple individual servers can fail and be lost from the cluster without any noticeable impact to the services running on top. This is combined with multiple redundant live copies of data ensuring that even in the event of a complete catastrophe, the services running on top of the cloud are not impacted. We are currently in the process of designing and building a brand new multi-country, fully redundant cloud that will provide the fastest, most stable platform for our services yet. We hope to have this completed by late 2020 and we’ll be writing some upcoming blog posts about our progress!
B&C: What today are the major challenges in the cloud/hosting market? How do you think this market will evolve in the next few years?
BG: Aside from saturation (which we’re well aware we’re not helping with), one of the largest issues seems to be the idea that a race to the bottom is a good idea. The market wants reliable, fast and cheap but in reality, you can only pick two. The approach we’re taking is to provide reliability and speed as a priority, balancing it with a fair pricing model. We’ve also noticed over the years that many hosts will spring up around late spring and will have all but disappeared by the end of the year and I don’t think that’s really going to change. The smaller companies will continue getting swallowed up by the giants, with customer service falling by the wayside during the process. Either companies will start taking reliability and customer service seriously, or their customers will continue leaving in droves.
B&C: Thank you Ben, it has been a pleasure talking with you.
BG: Thank you for taking the time to write these questions and read our answers! We’re always happy to take some time out to do these interviews; the pleasure is all ours. Thank you again for choosing Stratagem Hosting!