How the Right Partnerships, Acquisitions, and Services are Paving the Way for Next-Gen Web Hosting | Part 1

We have seen a flurry of web hosting activity in 2019. Between new partnerships, acquisitions, and services, the industry is undergoing significant change. Emerging technologies and evolving customer expectations have shifted the landscape and many are curious as to what 2020 holds. One of the biggest trends I’ve seen is increased specialization to address the increasingly complex needs of both SMBs and enterprises. To dig deeper into this and other trends, I asked the experts for their thoughts, predictions, and advice on next-gen web hosting. 

This is the first in a series of Q&A articles with thought leaders within the web hosting, SaaS, and open source industries. My first interviewee is Dwayne McDaniel, former Developer Advocate at Pantheon, who has recently moved on to found Process Digital Consulting.

Robert: We’re seeing a big wave of acquisitions within the web hosting space. What do you think this signals in terms of the new landscape of the industry?

Dwayne: I think there is a natural ebb and flow of all industries to amass common services into a handful of large providers and then await the inevitable evolution of technology that will see the scrappy innovators rethink certain ‘solved’ parts of the equation that will shake things up.  There is also a pure market answer here of capitol and the cost of customer acquisition. With WordPress turning 16 and the space maturing, it is only natural that the mergers and acquisitions will continue with the largest players leveraging their weight.

Robert: What is your big prediction for web hosting in 2020? Who will the big players be?

Dwayne: It might sound a bit biased but, well, Pantheon now can offer region specific hosting, which is a new thing for us and we are very excited to get into markets where the simple reality of intercontinental latency and certain data sovereignty laws had blocked us before.

I see every player innovating and while there might be some surprises, I am not really anticipating major landscape shifts in 2020. But the future is always an unknown.

Robert: What services set web hosting companies apart from the competition?

Dwayne: I think what we are seeing is hosting companies evolving to better suit the needs of their particular market segment. In many ways hosting is a ‘solved problem.’ As Pippin Williamson said recently in his PostStatus interview, “In order for hosting companies to keep customers they need to deliver on performance and customer support, at an exceptional level.” What truly differentiates these providers is the additional value they bring to their focused customer base. For instance, at Pantheon, we see hosting as one of the feats we accomplish and a value for sure, but we mostly talk about our platform as enabling teams to coordinate and execute web operations, meaning our focus is on the team and the situations where scale and agility are a requirement. With our recent acquisition of Staging Pilot (https://pantheon.io/press/pantheon-acquires-stagingpilot-extend-webops-offering) we see it as a real value add to those teams.

Robert: Do you have any predictions in terms of website design trends for 2020? With mobile traffic eclipsing desktop traffic, responsive design/mobile-first is table stakes. But what other projections do you have about how web design trends will begin to take shape in the next year?

Dwayne: I will likely always quote Ethan Marcotte, at least for the next little bit of my life, when he said the problem that keeps him up at night is “The next Billion people coming online are from what you might call the third word, on devices that can access the internet but are not what you would call smart phones, which are JavaScript hostile, and most of them are on 2g networks. If we are not preparing for them, we are not preparing for the future.” Given that, I think we can not underestimate how the static site generation of things like GatsbyJS and DIY AMP which is on its way will impact how we think of ‘web experience’ delivery. We have already seen this reflected in the official themes, like Twentynineteen I think.

Robert: How will web hosts need to adapt as website creation gets “easier” and more complex at the same time. Anyone can build a website, but there are a lot of emerging best practices that major companies will be looking to abide by. How can web hosts best serve these enterprise customers?

Dwayne: If there is a good news side to the fact that the enterprise moves slower overall than the smaller, scrappier startups can, it is that delivering what works well is a more sure business bet than something that is clever and fresh. Best practices don’t come from new ideas most of the time, they come from the battle hardened real life use of the tools. If you are a Fortune 500 company, making sure the assets are reachable and fast is going to have precedence over any new framework or tech stack. I always think of people back in the late 90’s telling me not to learn PHP too deeply because it was going to be replaced by Java, Ruby, Python and so many other ‘better’ ways of doing web services. Last I checked PHP is 80% of the web.

Robert: The digital threat landscape is evolving at a lightning-fast pace. What are the major security concerns that web hosts need to consider to best serve clients?

Dwayne: If I could answer this I would be selling consulting services for security 🙂

Seriously though, you are right, threats seem to be developing at a more rapid clip, but I am not sure they actually are or if we are just getting better at finding them and doing risk mitigation publicly at this point. Serving clients by doing everything you can to mitigate known risks and having defense strategies in place that they will never need to think about day to day is the goal. Asking your provider where they see the burden of patching things like Heartbleed, Spectre, Meltdown, Zombieload and all the other increasingly interestingly named flaws is a great step in evaluation. The more the host puts on the client, the less likely they are to assist if those clients do fall prey to black hats.

Robert: Have you seen any trends in terms of partnerships or acquisitions in the web hosting space that you think are important to note? What do you think these signify?

Dwayne: I will refer to my previous answer around “What services set web hosting companies apart from the competition?” I think the future is going to be more and more “I run this kind of website, I will go with a provider who focuses on that vertical due to the value adds I get.” It is no longer going to be a space of ‘race to the bottom’ commodity hosting based on price. Customers are going to go where they get the best overall set of tools and services that match how they want to deliver their web presence. A great example of this is LiquidWeb and WooCommerce clients. If I was opening a WooCommerce store, it would be a compelling story to have preselected vendors aligned with the stack so I could focus on selling in my store. I think we are only going to see more bundled offerings in the future.

Stay tuned. I will be interviewing more brilliant experts in the coming weeks to get their take on where hosting, SaaS, and open source are headed ⁠— and what can be done today to prepare.

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