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Linode have played a huge part in defining the VPS industry, founded in 2003 & launched in the Softlayer Dallas, Texas Datacenter. 6 Datacenters, 75,000 customers & a few INC500 awards later Linode has announced the launch of their NextGen platform – increasing bandwidth, CPU allocation, RAM & significant network upgrades.

ServerBear took some time out to have a chat with Linode Founder Christoper Aker (@caker) & COO Tom Asaro (@tomasaro).

Linode has been around since early 2003. Can you tell us a little bit about how the company came about?

Chris: I was living in Nashville and decided to leave my day job and take a shot at starting my own business. I gave myself twelve months for it to become self-sustaining. I was already running a small shared hosting business on the side, but as I looked at the industry, I saw that virtualization was going to be the next big thing. Little did I know it was going to be this big, or that cloud computing was going to be such a big deal. So that’s how it started. A month after I came up with the idea I came up with the Linode name, and I knew I had something good.

Tom: Don’t forget how much time you spent writing our platform infrastructure. And from the day before you launched, you were getting at least one new customer every day.

Chris: I came up with the idea and the name, got to work developing everything, and seven months later, on June 16, 2003, Linode opened its doors to immediate success. The initial deployment was two servers with 3 GB of RAM each, a remote serial console box, a remote power controller, and a used Cisco FastEthernet switch I bought off eBay. Soon I was spending all of my time trying to get new hardware online.

Tom: Linode was before its time. We pioneered the VPS industry.

What’s the culture like at Linode?

Chris: Benevolent dictatorship.

Tom: Yeah. Linodians in the Kingdom of Linodia.

Chris: I’m kidding.

Tom: I still feel that even after 10 years it has a family-like, startup-like atmosphere. We’re able to remain agile and make changes. We don’t have meetings about meetings. We’re all a bunch of technology junkies and geeks.

Chris: What I see is that everybody really cares about what they do. I always say, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be here. And I think that resonates with everybody. This isn’t just a job, it’s fun. Not only are all our employees happier in what they’re doing, but they do a better job at it.

As you’ve grown, what have been some of the hardest things to scale?

Chris: Our platform has never been an issue, because right from the start I engineered it to be scalable and automated. We’ve had more of a problem scaling the number of desks as we hire so many new employees.

Tom: We’ve outgrown a few data center cages.

You guys don’t do much from a marketing perspective; was there a particular thing you did to achieve critical mass?

Tom: We were there first, and we do a good job. People have a good experience with us, and then they tell their friends and their coworkers and their bosses and create their own businesses using our platform. People love our customer service and they tweet and blog about us.

Chris: We helped define this industry. I think in some ways we’re a benchmark. We’ve also done a really good job with customer satisfaction, and that tends to snowball. Also, the industry has grown immensely in the last 10 years and lifted us up along with it.

What does a typical Linode user use your servers for?

Tom: It really runs the gamut. Our service appeals to everyone from developers and startups to educational institutions and Fortune 50 companies.

You’re one of the few VPS hosts in the INC500, what do you think has driven your growth?

Tom: Like we said about the marketing, we do a good job, we were there first, and we get a lot of word-of-mouth advertising. We have 10 years of experience in listening to our customers and applying their feedback. We’re constantly improving our offering.

Why Xen? Have you considered allowing different virtualization types to be deployed when creating a new Linode?

Tom: We actually started with User-Mode Linux, and even though Xen existed, we didn’t instantly switch to it because it wasn’t mature. We ran it as a beta for a few years, then switched to it when the time was right.

Chris: One of the benefits of cloud hosting is that the hardware is invisible to the end user, and they can just consume services like virtual machines without worrying about the bare metal. We do Xen very well. That being said, we do continue to monitor developments in other virtualization technologies.

What’s your most requested feature that you haven’t built but would love to?

Chris: A storage service.

You are one of the most consistent hosts from a benchmarking perspective (i.e. there’s not much deviation in results); how do you ensure performance doesn’t degrade across nodes?

Chris: We don’t artificially cap the CPU performance on Linode instances. Each Linode plan has access to the full CPU potential of the cores it’s assigned. So, the best-case performance of all Linodes is the same. What improves is performance under contention; larger plans receive a larger share of the host’s resources when those resources are in demand. Very often our hosts are idle and are not in contention, so you see full-throttle performance consistently. Speaking of performance, we just announced an upgrade of all Linodes to 8 cores.

Your hardware hasn’t changed much in the last few years (i.e. L5520 CPUs); what are some of the challenges in trying to improve hardware with so many nodes? For example, we see smaller hosts experimenting much more with newer, faster builds.

Chris: We’ve been quietly introducing Sandy Bridge processors into the fleet since last year, but in a host of our scale it takes a while for that to get noticed.

For the remaining fleet, we’re starting a refresh to the E5-2670 Sandy Bridge processor. And we’ve also recently announced upgrades to our network, which you can read about on our blog.

Tom: We have a long history of passing the benefits of Moore’s Law down to our customers. We consistently increase plan resources, and research and develop new server configurations.

Chris: We’ve been doing this for 10 years. Major infrastructure upgrades are nothing new.

What are your thoughts on the current phenomenon of using SSDs in the VPS market?

Chris: We’ve put a lot of thought into this. True SLC-based or eMLC-based SSDs are astronomically expensive. There’s absolutely no way that any of the low-end providers are using them without charging ten times more. And so, my conclusion is that they’re using MLC-based consumer-grade drives.

That goes against the philosophy of Linode. We’re not a bargain-basement provider, and we’re never going to be. And the irony is that when we’ve done proper benchmarking, cutting through filesystem buffers and caches, our write-performance rates are better, single-threaded, than what we’ve observed on those drives.

Tom: SSDs also have a predetermined lifespan.

Chris: They do, which is especially concerning in the write-heavy workloads virtualization environments demand. Relying on the manufacturer’s warranty to replace worn out drives is probably not a good business model.

One of the things that always impressed me was the speed at which you guys can respond to tickets. What are some of the challenges that a large provider faces with customer service & technical support?

Tom: I think the biggest challenge is setting the correct expectation. Because we do such a great job with our customer service, sometimes people expect us to answer things that our support doesn’t cover. While we never turn someone away, and we’ll always spend a couple minutes to point them in the right direction, we also try to leave them with the right expectation of what our support covers.

Chris: You don’t get a system administrator for 67 cents a day.

Tom: Our average response time is less than three minutes. We have our entire customer service team under the same roof so they can stay informed and up-to-date on everything that’s going on.

Chris: We solved the challenge of providing great customer service by making it our highest priority, hiring great people, constantly improving our policies and procedures, and by building great tools that manage customer inquiries and prevent them from getting lost in the shuffle.

Customer service is the biggest department in our company and arguably the most important. After talking to our customer service, you’ll be ruined for dealing with any other company.

How do you deal with DDOS attacks? Does mitigating attacks take up a lot of time with such a large, diverse group of locations & networks?

Chris: Again, we have built amazing tools so DoS attacks are not really an issue. They happen every day.

Tom: Our network can absorb most run-of-the-mill DDoS traffic, so it’s never even noticed by our customers. We notify everyone, but we only take mitigating steps if it’s affecting other customers. There’s absolutely no way we’ll let one customer affect hundreds.

Chris: And we check back frequently to see if the attack has subsided. We restore connectivity to the affected IP address as soon as possible.

We’re seeing lots of hosts start to play in a similar space to Linode; what are you guys working on in 2013?

Tom: We’ve been tooling up for offering managed services. Managed includes monitoring and incident response by our staff, system and package updates, and backups. It launches April 2, 2013.

Chris: We’ve rolled out an entirely new Cisco Nexus-based network, in all six data centers, that has redundancy from the core network right down to each host, along with incredibly improved network capacity. We’re upgrading the majority of our fleet to Sandy Bridge E5-2670-based host hardware. There’s also another NextGen announcement that’ll be released in the next week detailing yet more changes.

Also, I’m very excited about Linode Longview, a new system metrics reporting and graphing service which we’ll be releasing as a developer preview soon.

If you could host any website in the world, what would it be & why?

Chris: NASA.

Tom: BMW.

Actually, this isn’t a website, but Linux Journal ran an article about replacing your laptop with a Linode and an iPad.

Chris: That’s true. We’d love to get more people running their remote desktop on a Linode.

View Linode’s Plans & Benchmarks