TL; DR: Mythic Beasts is a hosting company offering straightforward server solutions to developers and other technically oriented professionals. The company, started in 2000 with a focus on shared hosting, expanded over the years to include Raspberry Pi hosting, SSL provisioning, and server management, among many other products and services. With expanded Raspberry Pi points of presence on the horizon, Mythic Beasts is furthering its mission to provide the latest in developer-friendly hosting solutions.
The convergence of software development and IT operations — DevOps — has garnered a fair amount of attention in the tech industry over the past decade or so. Such practices are certainly beneficial where appropriate, but they simply aren’t a fit for many development teams.
“For DevOps to work, your development team has to be big enough to double as a 24/7 operations team, so it needs to have at least eight members of staff for proper on-call rotations,” said Peter Stevens, Executive Director at the hosting company Mythic Beasts. “The second thing is, you can never declare your product finished because if you move your development team onto a new project, you no longer have an operations team.”
That may be fine for companies that focus solely on the continuous development of one piece of software. But for smaller organizations that require the agility to hop from one project to the next, DevOps may not be a feasible approach.
What these organizations often need is a developer-friendly managed hosting provider that functions as an extension of their operations teams. And that prospect is no longer a fantasy thanks to Mythic Beasts.
“We serve the role of an operations team on any of our dedicated and virtual server or colocation services,” Peter said. “So if your web service stops working and your website returns a 500 error, our phones start ringing, not yours. We deal with anything that goes wrong in that regard, not your internal development team.”
Recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managed hosting, Mythic Beasts can take on varying responsibility levels as needed. This range of services includes everything from ensuring that servers are up and running to providing the extensive monitoring, security, and assistance necessary to keep custom web applications functioning reliably.
Founded in 2000 by Oxford and Cambridge University Graduates
Mythic Beasts was founded in 2000 by a group of Oxford and Cambridge University graduates offering shell accounts on a single shared host as a pastime.
“We essentially couldn’t afford to buy hosting from someone else, so we started our own hosting company,” Peter said. “We planned it to be a kind of part-time hobby, running a good service for ourselves, but we inadvertently kept growing by providing hosting services that people wanted and were willing to pay for them — no investors, no billion-dollar valuations, none of that tech unicorn stuff.”
Peter told us that the company’s otherworldly name is a product of the group’s humble beginnings. The company was originally hosted at beasts.org — one of the few one-word domain names the company could buy at the time — before evolving into mythic.beasts.org and when they started selling services, mythic-beasts.com.
“It turns out that there is a flip side to having a name as unusual as Mythic Beasts,” he said. “Firstly, people will come and find out what we do, just because they’re curious. Secondly, we’re memorable.”
In the early days, the Mythic Beasts team named its servers after legendary creatures — think centaurs, ogres, gremlins, and the like.
“After a list of maybe 400 mythical beasts, we started getting into names we had never heard of and were difficult to spell, including Welsh mythical beasts with strings of Cs and Ls,” Peter said. “Eventually, we had to move on to some boring names for the sake of functionality.”
Over the years, Mythic Beasts used its profits to implement a successful acquisition strategy. The company acquired the shared hosting services of Black Cat Networks in 2007, followed by hosting provider Bluelinux in 2010, hosting and virtual server provider Retrosnub in 2017, and virtual server providers BHost and VMHaus in 2018.
The company also gradually expanded its infrastructure from a single shared machine to hundreds of servers housed in six datacenters in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Netherlands.
Highly Secure Managed Application Services
Mythic Beasts has evolved its products and services catalog over the years in step with emerging technologies and changing consumer needs. For example, from 2002 to 2008, the company introduced dynamic DNS, server management, virtual dedicated servers, dedicated servers, and colocation.
From 2015 to 2020, it added IPv6-only hosting, hosting on Raspberry Pi, transit to third parties, web and email hosting using Sympl, and, most recently, APIs for DNS management and Raspberry Pis. From an ROI point of view, these offerings present a multifaceted value proposition, delivering everything from time and cost savings to peace of mind and operational agility.
Peter likened the company’s server management, introduced in 2006, to AAA roadside assistance.
“You pay a small annual fee, and then every so often, when your car breaks down, a specialist with a van full of tools rolls up within 30 minutes, fixes your car, and you can carry on,” he said. “It’s much cheaper and better to pay a subscription to someone like the AAA than it is to either attempt to set up your entire nationwide roadside service or go without. Mythic Beasts provides not only the infrastructure but also a layer of management and staff skill on top.”
Mythic Beasts is able to compete with tech giants like AWS and Rackspace by providing services tailored to SMBs and by depending on human intelligence rather than automation alone. Peter said the company can also offer highly competitive rates in many cases because they don’t pile on enterprise-grade add-ons that smaller organizations simply don’t need.
“Smaller to medium-sized business leaders have a much keener sense of cost control — it’s their own money they’re spending,” he said. “They understand there is an entire Porsche worth of money they can end up spending on hosting services. Whereas large enterprises have to focus on multilevel server access and so on, if you’ve got a tech team of five people, you don’t need to spend two weeks configuring extensive roles for a team of five people.”
Implementing New Features via a Feedback Loop
Mythic Beasts looks to its customers when it comes to internal development ideas. If three or four customers all leverage the same tool or system, that resource could likely benefit others.
“We automatically deploy server graphing on all of our managed servers after seeing a couple of customers implement a Munin client themselves,” Peter said. “It provides all types of metrics, including CPU and disk usage, system load information, memory use, database queries, and disk activity.”
The company also implemented free SSL certificates via Let’s Encrypt within a few weeks of the non-profit certificate authority’s 2016 launch.
“Straight away, we added a button in our control panel reading, ‘Enable TLS,’ which offers a simple, one-click solution.”
Several of these intuitive, built-in solutions come as part of the company’s managed hosting plans, from configuration and maintenance of essential backups and security patching to monitoring via a disk health reporting system.
Regular audits are another such benefit.
“Every Tuesday, we pick a datacenter and complete an automated audit of every single customer, email them, and tell them updates will be done at 7 a.m. on Thursday,” Peter said. “That way, they have time to object. Thursday morning, we apply the updates, which takes about an hour, to hundreds and hundreds of servers in parallel. Our entire staff is available to monitor for any problems.”
Up Next: Expanding the Raspberry Pi Hosting Service
Peter told us Mythic Beasts is one of the only companies to successfully implement a Raspberry Pi cloud hosting solution that users can provision remotely.
“Quite a few companies will plug a Raspberry Pi in their datacenter for you, but we have 144 in every four rows of rack space,” he said.
The Raspberry Pi hosting service gives users access to a dedicated, 64-bit quad-core ARM processor with 1GB or 4GB of RAM backed by network storage. The Raspbian operating system comes pre-installed on the server and can be up and running in just two minutes.
Mythic Beasts recently added additional network capacity in Amsterdam, including comprehensive routing control for customers via BGP communities. Routing security is now improved by RPKI to prevent the hijacking of internet addresses.
Improved and more APIs are on the way. When we asked if the company would consider Raspberry Pi clouds in more sites, including in the U.S., Peter said: ‘We’ve already done a private Raspberry Pi cloud, so much of the work is already done,” before adding solemnly, “We can’t commit to adding regions because of COVID-19 related travel restrictions — but that’s something we’re definitely interested in.”