In pursuit of false economy

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                  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
scalable solutions

“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   in place. The ISP runs its hosting on UNIX         is rather more than an aspiration. §

66                                                                                                            The Informed Executive

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