New Reseller Service Offers Utility Computing for $100 a Month

Mosso Inc. wants to bring affordable utility computing to the masses - or at least to web designers and developers. The start-up, which is backed by Rackspace Managed Hosting, has just launched an innovative reseller hosting service that offers unlimited websites, databases and e-mail accounts in a turnkey service for just $100 a month.

Mosso uses a "hosting system" of clusters of specialized servers, an approach typically seen in enterprise hosting, which can offer advantages in redundancy and performance. The company was built from the ground-up as an alternative to discount dedicated servers, which have been enormously popular with hosting resellers and power users.

Mosso's $100 a month reseller account comes with 80 gigabytes of storage space and 2,000 gigs of monthly data transfer. Customer support and billing are available as paid add-ons, allowing customers to outsource both services for just $5 per domain per month. Traffic load balancing and mitigation of denial of service attacks are included in each account, along with the ability to combine Windows and open source technologies on a web site, running ASP and PHP pages from the same web directory. There are significant differences with dedicated server solutions as well, as Mosso offers FTP uploads but not shell or root access.

Mosso's target audience isn't hard-core resellers, but rather web design and development firms that resell hosting services to their customers. "A lot of these companies are hosted on discount dedicated servers," said Mosso co-founder Todd Morey, a designer by trade who started the company with developer Jonathan Bryce. "It's still a huge technical burden, and a lot of the designers and development firms don't really have that expertise out of the box. Managing a server is a really big responsibility, and it's 24/7. These designers and developers just want something to complement their existing business."

Mosso may be new, but it 's not an entirely unknown quantity. The company is backed and hosted by Rackspace, one of the leading players in the managed hosting industry. Morey and Bryce developed the Mosso system while working at Rackspace, and have now struck out on their own - with their former employer's blessing and financial backing.

"It's a separate company, but we are the primary shareholder, and have a very strong interest in their success," said Lew Moorman, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development for Rackspace. "We believe the hype (about utility computing). This is great testbed of really advanced R&D work. We really think it's a radical approach and that the industry will see it that way."

Server clustering itself is not new, and is common in enterprise technology. Providers like FastRoot and Logicworks offer custom-designed clustered hosting, while hosting automation products like H-Sphere allow resellers to manage networks of multiple servers that can include both Windows and Unix/Linux machines.

Mosso's TrueHybrid technology is different, according to Bryce, as its system checks each file, sending Windows and Linux pages to clusters using those platforms. "As a design shop, you may get a client that has legacy code on their site that uses one technology, and you want to work with another technology," said Bryce. "This way, you can keep what's working and build on top of it."

As with most cluster systems, the key to Mosso's success is the management software, which has been under development for nearly two years. When Mosso's web site launched Wednesday, the offering sounded familiar to some industry veterans. That's because an early version of the service was briefly beta tested by Rackspace in August 2004.

"We built a site to collect beta participants, and had some proof-of-concept code," Bryce explained. "The demand was overwhelming. We were expecting about 100 beta participants and got requests for 1,000. We basically shut it down and re-engineered it. We realized the software would scale pretty quickly, and we needed to get it right the first time."

The URL for that beta - thesystembeatstheserver.com - reflects the start-up's ambition to capture customers currently housed on dedicated servers. The mosso.com domain was acquired for $6,600 in an auction at SnapNames last September. The company, which has 18 employees, got its name from the Italian term for "animated."

"There's a certain sense of energy at Mosso," said Morey. "The team believes what we're doing could really change things."