Industry Analyst & Strategist

How the Right Partnerships, Acquisitions, and Services are Paving the Way for Next-Gen Web Hosting | Part 3

As I mentioned in my last two interviews, 2019 has ushered in a wave of new partnerships, acquisitions, and services. It’s indisputable that 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 third in a series of Q&A articles with thought leaders within the web hosting industry. My third interviewee is David Vogelpohl, Vice President of Web Strategy at WP Engine.

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?

David: I’ve been in hosting for over 20 years. Big acquisitions in the hosting & platform business are certainly nothing new; however, now that the WordPress ecosystem has reached a certain level of maturity, a lot of companies who provide technology to support that ecosystem are also maturing. In my personal opinion, this is leading to more value for WordPress oriented businesses and thus more interest in companies joining forces through acquisitions and mergers.

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

David: “Web hosting” will continue to be ruled by the “4 S’s”. Speed, Security, Scalability, and Support. These have been the governing pillars of hosting since the web was invented. In contrast, platforms like WP Engine which offer a full suite of digital experience products that help organizations build, deploy, manage, and monitor digital experiences are redefining the value development and marketing teams are able to get from their platform of choice.

While “hosting” will continue down the path of the 4 S’s, I’m most interested in what open platforms will deliver across the developer’s workflow to drive value and make it easier to create the next evolution of the web.

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

David:  From a “web hosting” perspective, most hosts look to differentiate by price, speed, security, and support. Hosts generally focus on features or optimizations that address these key components. This could include anything from advanced caching configurations to various flavors of security monitoring.

Open digital experience platforms like WP Engine will also focus on these aspects in order to deliver the hosting layer that customers need, but also deliver features which deliver value to the entire lifecycle of a development project.

A couple of great examples of this are WP Engine’s DevKit product which helps deliver frictionless development workflows and WP Engine’s new Smart Plugin Manager product which helps with site maintenance.

In these ways, I feel that brands in general will have more choices in choosing platforms that deliver more value than just a fast server on a fast internet connection.

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?

David: For me the next macro trend will be personalization. Despite personalization having been around in one form or another for a long time, it’s still out of reach for most brands. As more products and development teams start to demystify some of the complexity around personalization and take baby steps toward personalization (e.g. source based personalization), I expect we’ll see more brands launching personalization campaigns on their website.

That being said, personalization comes with a lot of overhead not just in the technology you have to adopt, but by the fact that you have to launch super sophisticated testing plans to account for essentially an infinite amount of possible outcomes. Personalization isn’t an instant win.

CMS like WordPress have a great advantage in these cases due to their open nature and the ease of use in creating new types of content, layouts, and more for testing. I expect more brands to take the leap into personalization as they start to figure out how to iterate quickly, measure efficiently, and do all of that while staying compliant with data and privacy laws.

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? 

David: This depends a bit on your approach as a platform. For standard “web hosts”, the current environment isn’t necessarily more complex than it’s been in the past. Sure things change fast, but they’ve always changed fast. In the last 5 years or so, we’ve seen advancements in caching, CDNs, dev tools, distributed computing, scalable computing, and so on.

While keeping pace with these things is challenging, as a generic web host it’s pretty much the same game you’ve always played. You need a fast place to house software and a fast / reliable way to deliver traffic to that software. The functionality of any one piece of software or another does impact you as a platform, but only so much.

For proprietary digital experience / site building platforms, the notion of build technologies increasing in complexity can be a big deal. If you’re running a proprietary platform, you have to account for all these changes in nearly everything you do. Also, your customers have to wait for you to get around to this that or the other to take advantage of the newest tech.

Open platforms; however, can not only deliver the latest in site building technology, but also allow customers to choose the path forward that works for them. By leveraging the value an open platform delivers, teams can move faster than just hosting alone, but they’re also free to determine their own destiny with the solutions that work for them.

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? 

David: The security landscape is super complex and the role of the platform in that is also uniquely defined by the platforms themselves. That being said, development teams generally have to deal with scanning their own code for vulnerabilities, scanning their site for malware, patching 3rd party software vulnerabilities, and protecting their site from malicious traffic.

Outside of making sure their own platform and servers are secure, most hosts focus on protecting their customers’ sites from malicious traffic and in some cases malware scanning. One example of protection from malicious traffic is WP Engine’s Global Edge Security product which helps protects sites across a variety of attack vectors.

That being said, many platforms are also looking beyond more standard security offerings by digging deeper into the security stack. An example of this would be WP Engine’s Smart Plugin Manager product which helps site owners keep their plugins patched and up to date.

I believe platforms will offer more within the security landscape, but the platforms who will be most successful are those who are open and allow development teams to choose the security solutions that are best for them and their workflow.

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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