TL; DR: With a high-performance cloud infrastructure tailor-made for hosting Magento and other resource-heavy PHP applications, Aspiration Hosting does the heavy lifting required to optimize ecommerce stores, business websites, applications, and other online communities. The Chicago-based company mixes its robust recipe of specially configured hardware and software with a healthy dose of application-specific expertise and technical support — even going as far as employing a programmer to directly work to improve customers’ website performance. Two of Aspiration Hosting’s top officers, President Brad Kort and Vice President Les Barton, joined us to share how the company balances forward-thinking technology and hands-on customer support.
For most web hosts, it’s all about touting high-speed hardware, redundant networks, scalable solutions, and around-the-clock support. The goal is to woo customers with the promise of easy-to-use online products that help them grow their web presence into a profitable business.
Aspiration Hosting, a Chicago-based provider that focuses on housing and servicing Magento stores, goes a step further — the company will actually let you use its own developer, for free.
“We have a programmer on staff that will work with developers and merchants who host with us to fine tune and optimize Magento,” said the company’s President Brad Kort. “He’ll look at the settings and configuration options, looking for performance issues. It’s really deep expertise in the applications we’re working with.”
Beyond a performance audit, Aspiration Hosting’s developer will troubleshoot coding issues and give best-effort support on themes, extensions, and plugins. It’s all part of the company’s mission to provide unparalleled customer service and support to go with Aspiration Hosting’s next-level servers and technologies, according to Brad.
“If you come in and have a small coding issue, he’s there for you,” he said. “If someone’s site is an important part of their business, then things like speed and performance and stability are going to be critically important. Your return on investment with us is going to be a lot bigger on a hosting environment that is designed for your application as opposed to paying $1.99 a month for something that is slow and has no support.”
Optimizing Hardware and Software for Knowledgeable Customers
Formed in 2008, Aspiration Hosting got its start focused solely on helping customers host and speed up their Magento ecommerce stores. The open-source platform, also available commercially as on-premises or Platform-as-a-Service solutions, uses MySQL or MariaDB relational database management systems, PHP, and elements of the Zend Framework. Now owned by Adobe, Magento handles more than $100 billion on gross merchandise volume each year.
Effectively hosting a platform that requires enhanced computing power and security protections can be challenging, especially in an industry like online retail that demands the utmost in page load times. That’s why Aspiration Hosting couples high-performance solid-state drives with a 10Gbps network in its in-house cloud offering.
The company also gives customers free access to its content delivery network, a collection of points-of-presence in more than 50 cities across six continents designed to store data closer to website visitors and decrease page load times. Aspiration Hosting’s infrastructure is powered by LiteSpeed web servers and LiteMage Cache, making Magento stores at least seven times faster and six times more scalable than other configurations with Apache, NGINX, and Varnish.
Over the last few years, Brad said the impressive performance and scalability of the company’s cloud configuration means Aspiration Hosting can start casting a wider net and attract users of other resource-heavy PHP applications like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and Simple Machines Forum.
“The applications perform especially well with that combination of the hardware and software,” he said. “I think that concept sets us apart as a better option for clients using those applications.”
Aligning Features and Products to Customer Expectations
According to Brad, Aspiration Hosting customers tend to be experienced developers or small or medium-sized businesses that have an idea what type of technology resources they need to succeed online.
“The more knowledgeable our customer is, the client is, the prospect is, the more they’ll understand why Aspiration Hosting can be a better choice than a budget host or Rackspace or Amazon Web Services, for that matter,” he said. “We regularly have people, who left for Amazon, come back because it’s just not optimized for Magento, is super expensive, and has horrible support.”
What’s more, Aspiration Hosting counts on those tech-minded, experienced customers. While customer support is the company’s highest-priority focus, according to Les, Aspiration Hosting leadership will regularly run ideas past customers to gauge interest.
“Even when it’s just an idea, we’ll contact a few of the developers we have with us who host their clients with us,” he said. “We work with them pretty closely and will talk about ideas and see if it’s something we can do. Customer feedback is really highly valued around here.”
The Aspiration Hosting team’s efforts seem to resonate well with customers; the company touts its 4.8 out of 5.0 rating on Shopper Approved, a compilation of client reviews, ratings, and testimonials. That reputation for service and partnerships with customers is what drew Brad to the company, he said.
“I think the reason we’re rated so high is that everybody, from the first-line support techs to Les and myself, we try to listen to what the customer wants and give them what they need to be successful in their business,” Brad said.
Aspiration Hosting’s Shift to the Cloud and Node.js
Currently operating out of datacenters on four continents, Brad told us about Aspiration Hosting’s plan to open a new location in Chicago within the next six months. It’ll join a network of the company’s servers located in London, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, and Sydney.
“We have clients in 66 countries, so we’re really looking forward to that,” he said. “We’re also excited about really expanding our cloud offerings, adding features and more capabilities, and continuing to add even greater redundancy and performance.”
The industry-wide push for cloud infrastructures and services represents the biggest trend the company has witnessed in the nine years Vice President Les Barton has been with Aspiration Hosting. The company, he said, was an early proponent of cloud computing before platforms like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure brought it to the mainstream.
“Everyone has seen the cloud buzzword and wants to hop on board, whether or not they really know what it is,” he said. “We saw the writing on the wall and made that shift early and have built a really high level of expertise around it.”
More recently, the company just launched Node.js to enable developers to scale network applications quickly and securely. In addition to the SSDs, CDN, and LiteSpeed caching tools, Aspiration Hosting includes the Patchman malware and vulnerability detection system that will extract security fixes from new Node.js releases and backport them to earlier versions.
“Not many hosts can offer Node.js,” Les said. “We’re proud to listen to our customers and lend them the technical resources and expertise to help them grow.”