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How IPS uses its hosting services to grow and learn

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Origins of IPS offering hosting services

IPS has always considered itself a services company above and beyond a traditional software company. Through the years we have always found ways of providing offerings to our clients from phone and ticket support all the way to our new spam monitoring service and upcoming chat service that extend our software beyond a standalone application.

Soon after IPS was founded we started offering hosting services. We wanted to bring a complete experience to our customers who were interested in both using our software and the advantages of a managed hosting environment that went along with it. The response was immediate and, to this day, IPS hosting provides these great managed hosting approaches to communities.

Over the years IPS grew and we decided it was necessary to stop renting servers from third-party providers. Not only would this reduce our operating costs but, by owning our own hardware, would offer us great flexibility for our service offerings. In 2006 we began leasing space in a quality data center in Reston, VA outside Washington DC and started the process of purchasing, configuring, and installing all the various hardware required. From servers and switches through our core routers and load balancers.

Growth brings us to today

It is now late-2009 and three years after we started, our data center facilities now include:

  • Fully redundant, multi-honed 10 Gigabit connections to providers such as Level 3, Global Crossing, Nlayer, Savvis, and Cogent.
  • Cisco 6509 core router
  • Cisco 3500 distribution switches
  • Foundry networks load balancing and failover equipment
  • Internal and external network separated for fast backups and restores

In addition to these capabilities, the facility in which we locate our equipment also features everything one would expect from backup power to high security entry requirements.

Here are a few actual pictures of our racks and servers:

(For those of you interested: The RES.S#### means "RESton" - with the servers at our backup facility starting with a different prefix plus - "S" for server (routers, switches, KVMs, etc. marked differently) and the number is the ID of that hardware. For example, if you're hosted on "server40" here at IPS, that's actually RES.S1048.)

Managing our own network connections, network hardware, and server hardware has allowed IPS to provide everything from shared hosting to high-traffic, load balanced solutions. We have experience hosting everything from fun, hobby sites all the way to highly visible communities owned by corporations with tens of thousands of online users. Today we provided managed hosting and services for everyone from national sports teams to world-famous music artists.

In addition to community hosting, operating our own facility allows IPS to offer additional services to enhance our software. Services like our spam monitoring service and upcoming chat service were made possible for free or low-cost to our customers by leveraging the resources available to us in our own facility.

Enhancing our software by using our software

Above all else the most important advantage of our own hosting facility is constant, first-hand knowledge of our software's operations. Because we host our own software on the order of thousands of installations the performance of the software is paramount. Our hosting staff and development staff constantly work together to target areas of the software needing optimization. We do not resort to the simple approach of telling customers to "add more server power" if they are experiencing performance issues as we know, first hand, how much traffic a server should be capable of handling using IPS software and can advise our customers accordingly.

We run our own company forums on a simple VPS setup without any fancy optimizations like Sphinx search, memcache, and other specialized server software. By keeping the setup simple we can emulate what a customer would have on the average hosting provider and learn how to optimize our software in a normal environment. We certainly could implement multi-server clusters for our own company sites but we think it's important to use our software as others do and learn from that experience.

Over the years, our hosting facilities have allowed us to grow our offerings and learn how to create a software platform that can scale with that growth. We will continue to leverage our unique position to develop software and host it all in one, managed environment. Those clients who choose not to host their community with IPS can always be assured that our constant monitoring and learning process will benefit them as well through our continued software updates.

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