This week I'm at the Global Hosting Summit in Redmond, WA, USA. It is an invitation-only event where hosting and SaaS ISV partners come to network and exchange ideas, as well as participate in keynote and breakout sessions about the hosting industry and updates from some of the heads of Microsoft in this space. There are also some great talks by industry influentials and analysts.
The best thing about the event in my opinion is the ability to network and have conversations with the C-level execs from some of the most important and successful companies in the industry. There are so many influentials in one place, and it's great to rub shoulders with everyone once a year. This is my third year attending the hosting summit, and it has grown every year!
I really liked listening to Scott Guthrie, who is the GM for the .Net Developer division inside Microsoft. Basically, most of the key people related to hosting on the product side report up through him in some form or another. He brought up Bill Staples who gave a very succinct demo of IIS7. He specifically called out the new UI, the delegated/remote administration capabilities, and impressed everyone with a demo of remotely stored configuration file to easily enable a web-farm scenario. I love Bill's demos. Bill and Scott also talked about the upcoming Longhorn Beta 3, which also has a go-live license program available. Hosters, this is a great way to get your staff and your customers ready for the best server product Microsoft has ever produced!
Morris Miller, from Rackspace and Sequel Ventures, LLC. gave a rather interesting presentation discussing brand positioning. He called out the branding success and lessons learned from Rackspace, compared to the lack of positioning from former hosting giant Interland. He also dispelled some of the myths surrounding some of the "big" players like Google and Microsoft (i.e. Office Live) who are in the hosting game. Basically, the idea is that neither Google nor Microsoft has the agility nor service levels that lend to truly competitive hosting offerings, especially in regards to offering services to fortune 500 companies.
Over lunch, I had a very interesting conversation with a group of people from Data Return and Internap. John Keller, from Internap, rose some very valid concerns regarding the competetive threat presented by Google, with products such as Google's office and hosted email offerings. In this regard, I have several different points of view. First, I percieve Google as a very tangible and real threat to current business models. Nonetheless, I also feel that when it comes to technologies such as Exchange and Office, Microsoft has such a strong stranglehold on marketshare, that it would be difficult for a company like Google to displace it in the short term. The reality is that their "online" offerings offer only a subset of the full functionality of the Office products. Furthermore, for a company to switch to a different office platform requires training and monetary resources that transend the cost of the actual software. While I don't see Google as an immediate threat, the paradigm shift of software from the PC to the network as a service is VERY real. The fact that Google is launching apps in this model proves that they "get" this long term vision. Whether we like it or not, Software as a Service is very real, and will be the future of computing. All of the big players, including Microsoft and Google see this, and the Hosting industry is in a great position to capitalize off of this momentum if they are smart. The hosting companies that survive this next wave are the ones that will be able to transition from simple web and email hosting models to the more complex wave of SaaS.