I was reflecting recently on how we got to where we are today – it’s been quite a journey…
It all started in 1996 when, having computerised my business, I decided that Information Technology was the industry for me. So I sold my share of the previous business and set-up on my own to teach people IT – hence the name In-Tuition. I established partnerships with local computer shops who would recommend me every time they sold a computer and things took off quickly. It’s at this time that I first met Colin and Matt who went on to become our first employees and who, I’m pleased and honoured to say, hold key roles within the company today – Colin leads our development team and Matt is in charge of our infrastructure.
Things developed quickly and soon we were doing everything from installing Cat 5 cables and state of the art “100Mbps” switches to setting up email servers. VPOP3 was our email server of choice at that time and I’m really delighted to see that Paul Smith Computer Services, the creators of VPOP3, are still going strong. This period provided invaluable practical experience and of supporting real world businesses.
A memorable project from those days was to connect our office in Sussex with that of a client about 2 miles away – we used £10,000 worth of very high end wireless equipment to create a “line of sight” 10Mb connection, and thus was born In-Tuition as an ISP. We used a Cisco 2600 router to provide the client with ‘high speed’ 512Kbps Internet access using our dedicated leased line. The memorable bit was dealing with the problem of intermittent network dropouts on the wireless link which surfaced about 4 months after installation. A great deal of head scratching followed along with “site surveys” – essentially clambering up the conveniently located scaffolding of a construction site to get a better view. Eventually we realised that tall trees right in the line of sight between the two aerials had sprouted leaves (it was winter when we did the installation and we didn’t consider what would happen come spring time…) There was only one solution, although that’s a story for another day… Years later I happened to be at an industry event when I met a guy who’d worked for the wireless equipment supplier some years after our “leaf problem” – apparently our installation and the subsequent method for resolving it had become a somewhat legendary case study.
From these early roots in IT and then later (inevitably) web development, we started to provide web hosting and “managed dedicated servers” from our first data centre – it really was ‘under the stairs’ in a self contained, air conditioned space into which we fitted a rack and UPS gear. We used Dell factory outlet PCs as web servers and made use of the super fast leased line (that’s the £12,000 a year – 512 Kbps Internet connection remember!). Our first proper servers were heavy weight Dell towers at £8,000 each which we used as database hosts. Interestingly, that’s pretty much the same as we pay for a server now, except today’s kit is a fraction of the size and weight and delivers 100s of times more performance whilst using probably a quarter of the power!
Of course our “Data Center” didn’t really cut the mustard and soon we moved the kit to Telehouse in London’s docklands. Since then we’ve relocated to Global Switch and have a second site in Manchester. There are no ‘pc servers’ any longer and everything is a million miles away in terms of redundancy, performance and reliability – but those early years provided some key lessons (like how much heat a room full of servers generates) and got us thinking about power efficiency long before the rest of the industry woke up to the fact that energy is the number one issue.
In the years since, aside from significantly developing our data centre facilities:
- we launched and developed a successful free ISP called BarristerNet during the halcyon days of Freeserve and switched minute revenue;
- we designed and built our own hosted email security solution when MessageLabs was the only game in town and weren’t interested in selling to SMEs – that’s the foundation of our current Email Security solution today;
- we got involved in off the wall projects such as developing and hosting a key Vodafone Live! initiative before “apps” were but a flicker of an idea for Messers Jobs & Co. We rolled this out across 12 European Vodafone operating companies in under 9 months – possibly still a record for Vodafone!
- we’ve been lucky enough to count some very prestigious organisations and extremely high profile individuals as customers. This has been a huge privilege as well as being very interesting.
But really our true passion is providing services to small business people. Some of our first ‘under the stairs’ hosted customers are still online and going strong today including our friend Norman @sussexsignco who was highly sceptical about ‘the internet’ in 1999, but totally transformed his business within a year because of it…
Also along the way, we’ve experienced what it’s like to resell other people’s services – we know what it’s like when a service goes down on a Monday morning at 9am: Customers jam the phones; there’s no service status page; worse, when an explanation arrives because of persistent harassment of the sales team (the only people who’ll answer the phone), it’s not the full truth which simply serves to misdirect resources chasing false fixes… These early experiences of shoddy service and lack of transparency from service providers helped shape our views on how things ‘should’ be done.
So the In-Tuition you see today is formed from all of these experiences and lessons learned – and it’s why we are doing what we are doing – making lives easier for email and IT resellers. I wonder what the next 15 or so years will bring…