netmagInterview

Media Temple: Chris Lea

Media Temple is arguably the most popular hosting company for digital creatives. Oliver Lindberg talks to Chris Lea, lead architect on social network Virb, which Media Temple acquired about a year ago

.net: How does Media Temple distinguish  itself from other hosting companies?
CL: We try to stay more in touch with the design and development community as part of our internal culture. At conferences such as SXSW, we’re throwing parties and talking to people who are doing cutting edge development or design. We’re trying to stay in touch with the individuals and groups who are pushing ideas and concepts in new directions on the web. I think that gives us an insight into what’s coming and what we should focus on technically, culturally and aesthetically.

.net: Where did this strategy come from?
CL: Our CEO, Demian Sellfors, is just a big bucket of great ideas. When he started the company in 1998, one of his neighbours, who was a web designer, asked him to host his site. A week later, that same guy asked him to host a site he was building for another person. The lightbulb went on and Demian decided to focus on people who make websites. He saw that if he could get those people, they were going to keep bringing their business back to Media Temple.

That’s actually how I started working for this company. I was a developer for design portal newstoday.com and I met the Media Temple guys because they were sponsoring the hosting for that site. They were doing it because they wanted to be connected to the designers.

.net: A TechCrunch reader recently posted a  comment saying that Media Temple isn’t that well  respected in the hosting industry, but that its  users are crazy about it. Would you agree?
CL: We’ve had some very public outages on our grid servers recently. Right now, with things such as Twitter, the feedback loop is immediate when you have any issues. But they’re computers – they’re going to have problems. Pick any hosting company and sooner or later something’s going to crash and people are going to have downtime. It’s unfortunate and we work as fast as we can to get it fixed. But we also have an enormous VPS platform – over 10,000 of these servers in production – and they just work. People don’t talk about that.
In terms of the fanaticism, people are fanatical about Apple as well, and Apple products don’t always work exactly how you want them to either. Again, it gets back to that cultural connection that I think we have with our community.

.net: You’ve just upgraded the Grid. What does  storage on the Grid mean for customers?
CL: We currently have five clusters built on the Grid – clusters being groups of a certain number of customers. Early on, we went with a large single storage system and we did a lot of due diligence. We picked what we thought was the best platform available at the time. Unfortunately, given the complex and resource-intensive nature of web hosting, those systems were having trouble. Now we’re using more, smaller systems and it’s working well. I won’t say there’s never been a crash, but when there is one, it affects far fewer people and it tends to be back up in 10 minutes.

.net: How did (mt) Ventures come about and what is its goal?
CL: Our CEO wanted to expand beyond core hosting. The first one that we moved into was an ad platform called Vantageous. Then there’s Krop, a jobs database, and Virb, a social network focused on creative people. These businesses cater to people already hosting their stuff on Media Temple. It’s a business avenue that enables us to branch into other areas that involve hosting.

.net: What’s in the pipeline for Media Temple?
CL: There are two really interesting new products on (mt) Labs. One is a virtualised OS X server. For much less than it would cost you to buy the hardware and software for an OS X server, you’ll be able to get a Leopard server from Media Temple. If you want to run your iCal, your iChat server and so on with the full Apple OS X experience, you’ll be able to get that from Media Temple in the future.

Another product in the works is a Linux-based VPS product based on the Ubuntu distribution. The Ubuntu community is extremely good at showing people how to do stuff and configure things. It’s making system administration more accessible than it was a few years ago. You can have the newest versions of all the software because Ubuntu is very up to date, they have a regular release cycle, and our users will be able to tap into that enormous community that you find on the Ubuntu forums.

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