Storm Internet Founder Salim Benadel Discusses How a Love for Freelance Software Development Inspired the Modern Windows-Based Cloud

Storm Internet Founder Salim Benadel Discusses How a Love for Freelance Software Development Inspired the Modern Windows-Based Cloud

TL;DR: For more than a decade, Storm Internet has been delivering the tools small businesses need to boost their presence and profitability online. The UK-based host aims to build relationships with clients while providing high-performing, ultra-reliable hosting to power their businesses. We recently sat down with Storm Internet Founder Salim Benadel and chatted about how his passion project has evolved over the years alongside new technologies and market demands. While the industry has changed, Salim said Storm Internet’s mission to keep its clients’ online properties running has not.

If you’re a retail franchisor, you’ve probably wondered when corporate was going to send a Mystery Shoppers representative to your store. The company has been in the retail consultation business since 1991 and employs hundreds of core shoppers and more than 250,000 volunteers.

With its massive database of participants, Mystery Shoppers is able to provide clients with data-driven advice and metrics on how to improve operations and identify their strongest assets. As the company’s database scaled, the Mystery Shoppers team knew it was going to need a more reliable and secure means to store the vast amount of information it was collecting. And the company found this with Storm Internet.

By employing Storm Internet’s shared hosting package, Mystery Shoppers was better able to manage its shoppers with bulk email capabilities. However, as the consulting firm continued expansion and added hundreds of thousands of additional shoppers to its rolls, Mystery Shoppers needed more bandwidth and flexibility than the shared hosting environment offered. Luckily, Storm Internet’s staff made the transition to a dedicated server solution seamless.

Salim Benadel's headshot and the Storm Internet logo

Storm Internet’s Salim Benadel told us how the company has been delivering reliable hosting for 10-plus years.

Today, thanks to Storm Internet, Mystery Shoppers powers its online communications and web properties through robust dedicated server hosting that delivers optimal performance, near 100% uptime, and the ability to easily scale when needed.

Though this quick, easy migration and scalability are impressive, Mystery Shoppers’ story isn’t unique. Storm Internet clients from around the world are turning to the UK-based host because of its award-winning service and state-of-the-art infrastructure. And, since its founding more than a decade ago, Storm Internet has been answering the needs of businesses with an approach that balances budgets with needs.

“I started Storm Internet back in 2004,” said Salim Benadel, Storm Internet’s Founder. “At the time, I felt there weren’t many hosts to choose from, and service wasn’t always the way I wanted it to be. So I set out to change that.”

A Passion Project Born to Deliver Improved Web Solutions

Before launching Storm Internet, Salim worked as a freelance ASP.NET developer and web designer. After obtaining a sizeable customer base, he soon decided to get involved with hosting.

This would allow Salim to not only expand his services to existing clients, but also help him acquire new ones while putting his passion for web development and design to further use.

“I worked in IT for the last 20 years, and, at the time, I was doing a bit of design work,” Salim said. “From there, I met people who also needed hosting, so I jumped into hosting from the point of view of my customers.”

Photo of the Storm Internet team accepting honors at the Internet Industry Awards

The Storm Internet team was happy to accept top honors in multiple categories at the 2017 Internet Industry Awards.

Fortunately, Salim’s existing customer base was the perfect niche audience for hosting, considering the majority of his clients were webmasters. Salim told us the hosting industry offered him a prime opportunity to scale his business, but he still needed to stand out from the pack in the highly competitive space.

“We started as a shared host, but one of the things that differentiated us was that we did a lot of Windows-based hosting,” Salim said.

To this day, the majority of hosting packages are powered by Linux-based servers, and Windows hosting is hard to come by. As a result, Storm Internet is able to grab a significant piece of market share by catering to customers who prefer Windows OS.

Addressing Common Pain Points With Windows Hosting

For many years, Linux has been the preferred platform for hosting — its open-source nature allows for cheap and efficient operation. However, Linux requires a pretty steep learning curve, especially for VPS users who may be more accustomed to the Windows or Mac operating systems so widely used on home computers.

Conversely, the convenience of running a Windows-based server comes at a much higher cost.

“When we first started out, our focus was to be the best Windows-based shared host and to offer the best packages at a really good price,” Salim said. “At the time, people really wanted to run ASP.NET on specialized server databases.”

Salim’s background in ASP.NET came in handy, as the open-source web framework is widely used in Windows hosting. This was a rare commodity in the early 2000s and, according to Salim, especially so in the UK.

“At the time, there was a lot of Linux hosting and few were offering Windows platforms for your classic ASP, whereas ASP.Net was becoming more popular,” he said. “There were a lot less hosting companies in the UK doing Windows hosting, and just a few US companies doing it.”

As a server-side scripting language, ASP hosting is ideal for the easy creation of highly dynamic and interactive web pages, which proved to be a nice selling point for Storm Internet customers.

Evolving With Market Shifts from Shared Environments to the Cloud

While originally focused on shared hosting, Storm Internet has expanded its services to stay competitive. More recently, Storm Internet has shifted its concentration to the cloud.

“What we are now is quite different to how we were when we started,” Salim said. “What I’ve found with shared hosting was that it quite quickly became saturated. Even though we target people who need Windows-based hosting, more and more people are moving their sites to Microsoft Azure — it’s almost like Microsoft itself has become our main competitor.”

Initially launched in 2010, Azure is a cloud-based collection of services used for compute, analytics, networking, and storage.

With competition from the like of hosting giants such as Azure and AWS, Storm Internet’s focal shift is due to both a necessity and passion for innovation, just like its founding.

“It’s hard to survive in the hosting industry now, so you’ve got to provide more and more value to what you’re offering,” Salim said. “We still do a bit of shared hosting, but if you check our website, you’ll see that we’re talking more about private clouds.”

Storm Internet’s current focus is on providing clients with a highly resilient private cloud platform, coupled with the expertise of its dedicated and tech-savvy team.

To further differentiate itself from the numerous hosts that offer cloud-based solutions, Storm Internet strives to maintain a personal business relationship with its clients, helping guide them to success. This partnership is mutually beneficial, as it leads to higher earnings for both the client and the host. When fledgling SMBs grow, they turn higher profits, enabling them to upgrade to larger packages when they’re needed.

“Sure, you can get a cloud server with any host, but what we do differently comes from the management aspect,” Salim said. “What we do for clients is save them money, time, hassle, and stress. Essentially, we’re offering peace of mind.”

Offering Customers Peace of Mind in the Modern Threat Landscape

Delivering this peace of mind to client companies is the most important aspect of managed hosting, Salim said. He describes the typical Storm Internet customer as someone who simply wants their site to have consistent uptime and be safe from threats.

“IT is so advanced that everyone needs some kind of team or tech-savvy host, but they don’t necessarily want to worry about creating their own specialized IT department,” Salim said. “Most just tell us to take care of problems that come up because they don’t want the headaches.”

By leaving the technical aspects up to Storm Internet, SMBs are able to focus more on customer-related matters. Salim told us Storm Internet is tasked with three key goals — to stop sites from being attacked, keep them online, and manage backups. With that in mind, Storm internet has partnered with security providers, such as CloudFlare, to monitor and mitigate the latest threats.

“It all boils down to our original mission,” Salim said. “Ultimately, we want to offer peace of mind to our customers so they can focus on their businesses.”

Sean Garrity

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