Category: Executive Corner

Exclusive interview with Superb.Net’s Haralds Jass: Reflections on Twenty-Two Years as an Internet Frontrunner

By Quincy Solano, Marketing Manager, Superb Internet Corp.

Cloud hosting company, Superb Internet Corporation, was founded 22 years ago by current President and CEO, Haralds Jass, when he was just 16 years old. More than two decades in business have given Jass a powerful firsthand perspective on the Internet as it has developed, especially because his company has often served as an industry bellwether. I spoke with Jass about his inspiration for starting the company; what he feels has made the firm so successful; the rise of cloud technology; and various other aspects of the hosting industry. His responses give us a better picture of the world of web infrastructure from a recognized thought-leader.

  • Inspiration for starting the 2nd oldest hosting company
  • Success based on transparency
  • Lessons from 22 years in business
  • How more than two decades of experience is valuable to clients
  • Thoughts on the rise of cloud
  • Cloud’s relationship with the Internet of Things
  • Importance of infrastructure background to cloud
  • Maintaining speed and reliability
  • SMBs vs. enterprises
  • What compliance and standards are all about
  • Appreciation for the Internet and infrastructure
  • On the horizon for the industry and for Superb

Inspiration for Starting the 2nd Oldest Hosting Company

While Superb Internet Corporation is headquartered in Honolulu and features the original American hosting coast-to-coast IP network (HopOne), Haralds Jass grew up in Latvia. His father was the head engineer in his hometown of Cēsis before becoming a self-made entrepreneur.

Jass shared some of his father’s leadership spirit, even when he was a small child. “On the first day of school in first grade, some kids were saying how I was ‘bossy’ – back before I even knew what the word meant,” he says. “I also then kept looking at my watch, and made it clear that I didn’t think that all the introductory speeches from the principal and teachers were the best use of my time.”

Jass’s mother was a teacher, so he learned to read and write at about the same time he learned to walk. By the time he was five, he was already dabbling with invention. “I designed a perpetual motion engine, which was powered by electricity that was generated from its own motion,” he says. “I was planning to make one as soon as I could, realizing the business potential for it.”

Jass wasn’t just creative but also entrepreneurial. He went into business in a sense before he even started school, running his own publishing outfit that printed single copies of books. He also created large diagrams designed to improve city traffic flow, an early indicator of his future interest in Internet traffic optimization. Once he got into school, his penchant for starting businesses continued. “Ever since the first day of school, I was selling pencils and pens, at a margin of 100%,” he says. “I also tried and experimented with setting up satellite TV rebroadcasting through a powerful antenna, to try to make a wireless subscription service in my apartment building.”

Success Based on Transparency

One thing that Jass has always believed in fundamentally is transparency and clarity, and he thinks these principles have suffered in the world of cloud, particularly with consumer applications. Systems are too often geared toward the lowest common denominator. Companies don’t really know the inner-workings of cloud and don’t typically have much control.

Essentially, Jass believes in being forthright with customers and treating them as equals rather than pandering to them. “All of our data centers, platforms and services, as well as our network, operate under full disclosure: our customers know exactly what to expect, how things are built, the exact service and performance specs, the exact network architecture and maps,” he says. “We trust our customers to be true professionals and trust them to understand what we do.”

Plus, the company has always focused on overdoing it with everything it engineers to avoid limitations. “We always build for the fastest growth, highest load, highest traffic scenarios – and then double or triple it some more, so that infrastructure is never the bottleneck,” he says. “At the core of it, we are an infrastructure and a service organization, and we never cut corners on either.”

Lessons from 22 Years in Business

Jass stresses that a critical aspect of running a hosting service is that every tiny tweak must be carefully documented. Any change to the configuration, no matter how small, must be preceded by thorough planning, with complete scripting, peer-review, manager approval, and testing. Additionally, back-out steps must be outlined ahead of time for each step taken, Jass explains. “It is definitely an art form to balance the formal change management and QA, along with speed, agility and being responsive, one of our trademark elements,” he says. “It is an art form that I believe we have now perfected and that we truly deliver the best of both: speed, agility and responsiveness, along with a very high level of QA, thorough change control and management.”

How More Than Two Decades of Experience is Valuable to Clients

Superb Internet has been a frontrunner in the industry, Jass notes. The provider was the first to offer name-based virtual (shared) hosting in 1997 and the first to offer commercial virtual private server (VPS) hosting in 1999, the latter of which evolved into today’s cloud. “We are not just a user of the various platforms and technologies,” he says. “We have been, often, involved in actively shaping and developing them.”

This extensive experience as a thought-leader and bellwether is a great source of value to clients, explains Jass. The company’s background “gives us a far deeper level of understanding of the underlying hosting technology, and thus its security implications and the best ways to optimize performance, speed and reliability,” he says. “Our 7 million lines of original code base, the core that ties all of our operations into a unified whole, is the result of nearly 100 man-years of development time alone. The level of efficiency, coherence, and expertise that we have is, frankly, unmatched.”

Thoughts on the Rise of Cloud

As indicated above, Jass thinks that the downside of others’ cloud technology is that both individuals and businesses lose privacy and control; they typically don’t even know where their data is located. The convenience, scalability, and redundancies of cloud must be balanced with control and ownership.

Businesses can protect themselves when choosing cloud hosting in a couple of ways, Jass explains. They should “use a responsible, mature commercial cloud hosting service with a strong SLA and full transparency of exactly how the data is handled and where it resides,” he says. “Even better, a business should consider setting up a private cloud, where the business is still in full control of the architecture and their proprietary, confidential data, leaving nothing to doubt.”

The other major aspect that must be remembered about cloud is that the convenience isn’t just a plus for consumers and businesses, but also for hackers, Jass notes. With everything interconnected and accessible, security is a very real concern. “That is the one part that the industry doesn’t like to talk about and which keeps being quietly ignored,” says Jass. “Once again, choosing a mature provider, with full transparency, credible third-party audits and certifications, and a strong SLA is integral.”

While cloud increases the convenience and ubiquity of computing globally, it also brings with it another broad risk: if a large public cloud has an outage, it could mean a sizable chunk of the Internet goes down with it.

To look again at the positive attributes of cloud, Jass notes its application to the field of big data and analytics. The technology allows companies to analyze data essentially without limitation, thus discovering previously unimagined correlations. Another huge plus throughout industry is its scalability, he explains. The technology allows for “optimizing business operations and cost, by instantly scaling up and down as needed and never lacking the processing power or storage space,” he says. “The massive and instant scalability is a major boon to business, making every business using the cloud much more agile and responsive.”

Cloud also levels the playing field in business, allowing SMBs to compete with long-established enterprises. “What an SMB can get out of a public cloud is not very different from what an enterprise has in a custom-built private cloud,” says Jass. “It makes computing, storage and connectivity more ubiquitous and available for rapid, massive scaling to everyone, allowing SMBs and start-ups to start out small, but very quickly scale to many times their original size.”

Cloud’s Relationship with the Internet of Things

Some recent estimates suggest that the Internet of Things (IoT) could triple the size of the public cloud. The expected astronomical growth of IoT creates incredible opportunities for companies via emerging business models. Jass explains that much of this growth will be in advertising, as firms collect and sell personal information, such as shopping habits. “Combined with even more intelligence from interconnected, correlated, and personally identifiable data,” he says, “the Big Data will get even bigger and bigger.”

Importance of Infrastructure Background to Cloud

Cloud systems should be built by companies with deep histories in infrastructure, Jass explains, because problems that can potentially arise are manifold. The hosting service must understand “the intricacies of the hardware, the network protocols, the network architecture, the Internet routing as a whole, the distributed storage technology, the actual source code running the platform, and so on,” he says. “This is essential in order to be able to build and design it with multiple layers of fault-protection and redundancies within, and to truly optimize it for the best performance and resilience.”

To clarify, Jass adds that it isn’t difficult to create a cloud. However, it is exponentially more difficult to build one that is not going to fail no matter the circumstances, and that will always deliver a steady, predictable performance level.

Maintaining Speed and Reliability

One of the main concerns when designing for optimal speed and reliability is to engineer platforms and services that have safeguards against failure on numerous layers, Jass advises. The key concerns are “closely guarding against human errors, which are the #1 cause of all IT-related outages and problems,” he says, along with ensuring that there are “no single-points-of-failure – utilizing a completely distributed, decentralized architecture, as opposed to the legacy mainframe-like central storage filers that are still widely used by most in their ‘cloud’ hosting systems.”

It’s also fundamental that a hosting service doesn’t become greedy and oversell its cloud, Jass explains. “The great obfuscation and lack of transparency in the public cloud is an opportunity that, for most of the other Cloud Hosting Providers, has been simply too tempting to ignore,” he says. “Engaging in cloud overselling will dent both speed and reliability, not to mention destroy customer confidence in the CHP and in the cloud as a whole.”

Finally, Jass notes that you want to build with growth in mind, so that you are prepared for unexpected issues, such as traffic spikes and DDoS attacks. Speaking of DDoS, he says, security needs to be a primary concern at all times.

SMBs vs. Enterprises

Superb Internet has recently pivoted toward better meeting the needs of enterprises, while at the same time continuing to serve the SMBs who have populated its loyal customer base for over two decades. The needs of these different sizes of business are essentially the same, Jass explains: they both need IT solutions that are functional, fast, and reliable. The difference between the two “is that enterprises need third-party certifications and compliance with various US and international standards,” he says. “That is, enterprises need to meet the requirements of a complex and ever-changing regulatory environment and require third-party assurances that the service meets or exceeds various standards, such as ISO 27001 Information Security Management and ISO 9001 Quality Management.”

Actually, there is a significant advantage to focusing on enterprise requirements that is helpful to all clients, Jass adds. It means that Superb is able to serve “the full growth cycle of a company, from a startup, through its SMB years, and up to when it becomes a global enterprise,” he says. “Our services, capabilities, certifications and expertise are there to serve the business through its full growth cycle. Our customers never outgrow us and our capabilities.”

What Compliance and Standards are all About

Certifications for compliance and standards are critical for hosting services to be able to get the business of enterprises and government agencies. Jass says that in getting audited and certified for various standards, he realized the basic idea behind most of them is fundamentally the same: “formal and well-documented change management, quality management, and stringent security standards employed in the company and systems, network-wide.” He adds that he has “especially enjoyed seeing how our internal self-developed processes, continuous improvement techniques, and checks and balances were already, largely, in compliance with many of the standards; thus, often, only the wording and terminology, and sometimes recordkeeping format, had to be updated.”

Appreciation for the Internet and Infrastructure

The Internet is integrated into almost everyone’s life and is central to how businesses operate, Jass notes. At the same time, it’s still the same basic trusting environment of “best effort” that it’s been for over 30 years. “It’s like an airport with no security checkpoints,” he says. “A single network, either by misconfiguration or on purpose if compromised by attackers, can severely disrupt and potentially take down large portions of the Internet, by simply advertising some invalid BGP routes, for example. The impact of that risk has never been greater, as more and more data is stored and lives are lived ‘in the cloud’ and ‘on the net’.”

When you look at the cloud platforms themselves, they are incredibly accessible and efficient technologies, Jass explains. However, they are accompanied by a tremendous and increasing risk “of potentially devastating global consequences, with few measures in place by governments and ISPs for how to respond to feasible security-compromise or human-error-inflicted scenarios.”

Jass sees the Internet in terms of its promise but also in terms of its vulnerabilities. “It is such an integral part of our lives, but the security and resilience have not kept up at the protocol and architecture level,” he says. “While some networks, such as our coast-to-coast IP backbone, take a multi-layered approach to redundancies and security, most other networks just hope for the best; and that if something happens, everyone else will be down as well anyway.”

On the Horizon for the Industry and for Superb

Jass believes that a major upcoming trend in hosting will be a blurring of the lines between dedicated and cloud as hybrid hosting becomes more prevalent. Beyond that blending of approaches, hosting will likely “become even more ubiquitous, and even more cloud-based,” he says. “It’s both a threat of further commoditization, but also an opportunity to do things better than the giants, such as AWS.”

In terms of Superb Internet itself, Jass looks forward to another 22 years of client satisfaction and loyalty, with customers growing their businesses exponentially. “Our whole raison d’être is to be there for our customers as their partner in success,” he says. He also sees the company continuing to serve as an industry bellwether, living up to its motto Ahead of the Rest®. “We will never rest on our laurels and will always continue investing heavily in R&D, thus keeping our customers ahead of their competition and benefitting from our innovative industry-first services.”

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by Haralds Jass in this interview are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the position or views of Superb Internet Corp.