Media Temple Finds a Way to Keep Web Traffic Flowing
Los Angeles Business Journal - 08/13/2007
INTERNET: Hosting company’s interlocked servers deal with “spikes.”
By: BOOYEON LEE - Staff Reporter
Last year, when PBS’s “Frontline” featured a Web site that allows people to make direct microloans to shop owners, bakers and farmers in poor countries, the site crashed for three days.
Kiva.org was used to seeing about 10,000 page views a day. After the show, millions of people were clicking on the site.
“It was torture,” said Jeremy Frazao, technology director of nonprofit organization Kiva, which runs the site. “All these poor people all over the world couldn’t get money because our Web site was down.”
In response, the company switched to a server at Media Temple, a Culver City-based Web hosting company, and “all of a sudden, the site just worked. It was like magic,” Frazao said.
The solution was actually something called “grid cluster technology,” which hooks up hundreds of separate servers that host Web sites to a massive $2.5 million content storage device. So instead of a dedicated server per Web site that can get maxed out with a spike in traffic, there are hundreds of interlocked servers supporting it.
The technology isn’t cutting edge; it’s more of a variation on a theme. Huge corporations use it to sustain their information technology networks, but Media Temple’s distinctive variation is ratcheting down the price to something affordable for smaller businesses, with service starting at $20 a month.
“Now, the same kind of enterprise grid technology, which is very expensive, is available for small business Web sites,” said Rich Miller, an analyst at Netcraft Ltd., which tracks Web servers. “Media Temple is about the most affordable service out there.”
Media Temple, which was founded in 1998 and survived the tech bust a couple years later, supports about 200,000 domain names in more than 40 countries.
That makes it among the veterans in the Web hosting industry, which has seen tremendous growth. As of this month, 128 million sites are hooked up to Web hosts around the world, an increase of 2.3 million sites just since July – and more than a ten-fold increase since 2000, according to Netcraft.
Robust revenue. Media Temple has experienced similar growth. Five years ago, the company brought in $1 million a year and hosted just 12,000 domains, but today it’s among the top 50 largest Web hosts in North America supporting sites like popular tech blog TechCrunch and clothing brand Diesel.
It’s also riding on a robust revenue flow that is expected to hit $14 million this year, double what it was last year. The company of 62 employees has hired 25 people in the past two years alone. That kind of growth has bred optimism. “The sky’s the limit in terms of our growth,” boasts Media Temple Chief Executive Demian Sellfors. “Web hosting market itself has continued to massively grow. More people are getting online, and adopting the medium into their lives in more sophisticated ways.”
But continuing that kind of growth is likely to get more difficult even as the Internet continues to expand. One of the biggest challenges is that media giants such as Microsoft and Google, in a bid to capture Internet traffic, offer free Web and blog hosting.
One way around that, Miller said, is for a company like Media Temple to differentiate by offering state-of-the-art grid technology at an affordable price. Indeed, the company has sought to stand out from the crowd with its technological advantages, and not necessarily just its grid technology.
Media Temple serves Web sites for major advertising campaigns or new product launches for companies like L’Oreal, Time Warner, Universal Music Group and Adidas, because they can turn on a Web site loaded with streaming media, graphics and animation within minutes. These sites are usually linked to a dedicated server that costs up to $750 a month.
“They find it much quicker to come to us because their internal IT resources generally move slow and can take days,” Sellfors said. “These people are already busy getting the product out to the marketplace so it’s easier to outsource the Web hosting to us.”
Standing out. Media Temple also stands out from other Web hosting firms with its modern office space on National Boulevard designed by award winning architect Eric Owen Moss.
The space, including its conference room with white leather seats and a futuristic, chrome chandelier, makes the company look more like an ad agency than a Web hosting company.
“I know it’s really weird for a hosting company to focus on aesthetics, since a lot of Web hosting companies have white drop ceilings and fluorescent lighting,” said Sellfors, sitting back in one of the conference room chairs.
But it all makes sense considering that Sellfors is a former graphic designer whose original vision for the company included developing tight partnerships with outside Web designers.
“We know how to speak in design language, so they think of us as a partner rather than a service provider,” Sellfors said.
Miller said Media Temple has a good reputation for Web hosting reliability it is capitalizing on.
“For these blogs and companies just launching, it’s hard to predict when a crowd shows up at your site. If the Web hosting company executes well when they’re swamped with visitors, they remember,” Miller said.