In pursuit of false economy
Buying the cheapest internet
service around may save a few
pounds but jeopardise your
business. The ‘boutique’ ISP
Blue Lightning Internet offers
a more professional service to
businesses . . . but at a price.
Henry Ford offered his customers the ultimate choice: they could have any colour
of car so long as it was black. Executives seeking out a partner on their path
through the jungle of electronic business would be forgiven for thinking that
they have the same choice if they were to select any one of the top ten Internet
service and solution providers to be their e-business partner.
All, by definition, connect their customers over consistently high quality internet services if
the same backbones at similar bandwidths it is to exploit the full potential of e-business
and claim to be making available an almost during these difficult economic times. There
identical platform of value-adding services. is a strong case for SME executives to look
Despite the inevitable similarities which go around the marketplace to find a service pro-
with the Internet territory, there are in practice vider whose ‘mindset’ is more attuned to their
significant differences in the way that service own, so that the solution they take on board
providers construct their ‘product’ and take it really is fit for (their) purpose.
to market. Offers of very cheap web hosting abound,
while internet access from the high-volume
service providers is a commodity item whose
Inflexible approach price continues to fall. If the cut-price hosting
How flexible one of these vendors might be to services work – which they clearly do at a
the operational needs of the customer is per- physical level – and internet access can be
haps the greatest single factor that draws clear purchased often as a low-cost add-on to tel-
blue water between a commercially conscious ephone or entertainment packages, is there
operator and the also-rans. any incentive for a business watching its over-
Are they able to mould services around the heads to opt for a more expensive service?
needs of even the smallest user of their facili-
ties – or is this a capability reserved for huge
multi-national customers who have the mus-
Demanding maximum reliability
cle to dictate their own terms? That was a question we put to Stuart Ford, the
As this publication focuses essentially on Technical Director of Blue Lightning Internet,
the needs of the SME, the chances are that a Surrey-based service provider that has tar-
few readers will ever have that influence over geted the tier of business and corporate cus-
their ISP. Yet the smaller business needs tomers for whom maximum reliability is
64 The Informed Executive
blue lightning internet
Offers of cheap Internet access abound.
But is it worth putting an SME at risk?
Can an SME put too high a price on being able to
maintain high quality Internet and email communications?
essential, “Value for money is not the same as with multiple domain names and URLs: That
the lowest possible cost, though we recog- facility means that mail box naming is greatly
nise that executives need to monitor and con- simplified, so that a box created for a user on
trol the cost of all of their outsourced services. the master domain is automatically rolled out
“The customer base which we serve today to become the same address on all of the
has evolved with our team over the past dec- aliased domains.
ade. They demand a high level of support and Time spent managing emails is therefore
technical expertise. No two businesses oper- dramatically reduced. “It is important that cus-
ate in quite the same way over the Internet tomers feel that they are in control of their
and we have to create solutions which reflect web and email facilities.
their requirements precisely.” “The online management tools, which are
always accessible – allow authorised users
to set up message forwarding, out of office
Greater range of facilities included messages and mailing lists directly from their
In practical terms on the hosting front, the desktop. If they do require assistance, there is
standard solution set appears to go beyond a rapid feedback service to which we will re-
basic web site hosting into PHP server-side spond.”
scripting, for example, and a CGI-BIN direc- It is in the area of more specialist support
tory which supports Perl and Bash scripting. for the business requirements of its customers,
As Ford noted “We recognise that many as opposed simply to their IT demand, that
smaller businesses offering e-commerce fa- boutique ISPs like Blue Lightning would ap-
cilities or interactive web sites do not have pear to come into their own.
the in-house technical resources to develop Stuart Ford again: “An increasing number of
these scripts. businesses trading on line need to give their
“Over the years we have assembled script own customers access to databases of prod-
libraries which are immediately accessible. ucts, accounts information and FAQs, for ex-
And recognising that our clients are likely to ample.
want accurate information on site traffic, de- “As optional add-ons to the basic business
tailed site access statistics are compiled package, we have been providing a MySQL
nightly.” database facility and features such as a dedi-
cated IP address for clients to establish their
own secure certificate.
Greater control over domains “A directory can be provided on a secure
As a business starts creating and promoting its server, which allows pages and script to run
web presence, there is a strong case for it to over the HTTPS protocol. This is a vital facil-
protect its identity through acquiring related and ity if the client intends to handle payment form
similar domain names: some businesses find it processing.
makes sense to operate different parts of their “FTP access is of course standard, but some
business with different web site domains and clients often have a more rigorous file transfer
trading identities while retaining centralised requirement. We can convert the FTP account
control over emails linked to those domains. into a secure shell account using SSH so they
Blue Lightning can accommodate an un- can update their files live on the servers with
limited number of server aliases for websites no risk to their business.”
The Informed Executive 65
“There is no pre-determined mould for corporate customers.
Each business is unique and so are its Internet requirements.
Our solutions are tailor made: all corporate customers have
their own dedicated Account Manager who regularly audits
their requirements and creates a solution to match.”
servers, for example, while its larger custom-
Migrating to corporate services ers may well have Microsoft networks in place.
Over the years that the Blue Lightning team Stuart Ford explained that the company was
has built up and maintained its client base, also able to offer hosting on Microsoft Win-
some of those users must inevitably have fallen dows servers using the vendor’s IIS platform.
by the wayside (demonstrating perhaps that “This is ideal for customers whose website
even the best web technology is not a uses technologies like ASP and .NET which
panacæa). But many more have grown to the are not supported by UNIX servers.”
point where they require more comprehensive In terms of support, Blue Lightning probably
services than the ‘business’ packages on offer has a support-client ratio which well exceeds
from such a supplier. that of the ‘volume’ players in the marketplace.
How far is a specialist provider like Blue But at a price. A small business taking up its
Lightning able to support its clients as they services would be paying around £30 a month
mature into the ‘corporate’ arena? The com- for the entry-level package which includes a
pany’s web site provides perhaps the most principal domain name and 100 GB of stor-
succinct response on that point. “There is no age. Internet access would work out at a simi-
pre-determined mould for our corporate cus- lar figure.
tomers. Each business is unique and so are its These rates are certainly more expensive in
Internet requirements. We know this - which cash terms. But compared to the risk of tech-
is why all our corporate solutions are tailor nical failure, minimal operational support and
made for the individual customer. a limited bag of tricks, the additional cost is
“All of our corporate customers get their own minimal; little more than an insurance pre-
dedicated Account Manager who regularly mium to keep a company’s e-business infra-
audits the customer’s requirements and cre- structure alive.
ates a solution to match.” The Informed Executive never puts pen to
paper about a product or service offering that
it has not evaluated. In the case of Blue Light-
Support for Microsoft networks ning, this is more than an evaluation under
For further information on Fine words, but the proof surely lies in how test conditions. The magazine’s publishers
Blue Lightning Internet and Blue Lightning meets some of the more spe- have drawn on the skills of that vendors team
its business services, visit cific needs of a corporate, multi-site client since 1998. Being able to keep the magazine
the company’s web site at which will have its own resilient IT solutions and its electronic distribution up and running
www.bluelightninginternet.co.uk in place. The ISP runs its hosting on UNIX is rather more than an aspiration. §
66 The Informed Executive