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Bytemark

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So today we asked for our final dedicated host at Bytemark to be decommissioned and this seems like a good time to wibble a bit about the rise and fall of that company.

We were one of the earliest Bytemark customers getting our first server with them not long after Matt and Peter founded the company in 2002 and they impressed us from the start as they combined the two things I'm looking for a supplier: expertise and ethics.

So on the former whenever we had a problem (and to be fair that wasn't often as we know our way around Linux servers) they always had a solution and when a RAID drive went down they were quick and efficient in replacing it. They built their own data centre in York and they moved our server there overnight with minimal downtime and indeed I think that was the longest downtime we ever had with them.

On ethics they were in the right place in all sorts of ways. First their support for worthy projects, like Debian, OpenStreetMap, and mySociety to whom they donated hosting services. They even gave us a free VM to host an earlier version of our mapping software app because we were giving the world access to OpenData. They were also early adopters of "blind" recruiting: so they were recruiting based on CVs which didn't identify race, age, or gender.

This was all great. We were invited to their 10th anniversary dinner, which was a blast, and they sent us a Christmas cake every year from Bettys which always cheered me up.

Then they sold the business to iomart and Matt and Peter moved on.

And so the decline began. It took a while mind you and we started renting that server from them after the sale of the business. At that stage they still seemed to be the same Bytemark (although the cakes had stopped ;-)) and they offered us a good deal in return for a three year contract.

We first realised the way things were heading when they announced price increases due to the rise in electricity costs. We had a three year deal so this didn't effect us did it? But I asked as the email was ambiguous and I got the distinct impression they didn't know we had a three year contract agreed. A month later I was still asking. I had a ticket open for three weeks without a response, I phoned support and spent half an hour on hold before I gave up. I raised another ticket asking for a call back. I didn't get one. After much chasing, by email, I finally got a grudging response that our price wouldn't rise.

Then there were the half hearted attempts by sales people to contact us. For example there was the one who emailed me to ask if I was free in the afternoon for a call. I replied that I was, and kept the afternoon free so I would be able to take his call. He never phoned.

Meanwhile Bytemark was rebranded by iomart to offer Kubernetes solutions (no, me neither). No mention of dedicated hosts any more.

As for support for worthy projects Bytemark still claim to be offering that but I was starting to hear mutterings in the community. So OpenStreetMap for example said they are "moving away from Bytemark" with no open explanation as to why.

And then another email announcing yet another price increase. Our three year deal was coming to an end and so these prices increases, now totalling about 50%, would be catching up with us on renewal, so we switched to monthly billing and started thinking about where we went next.

While we were doing that they announced that they were dropping their flagship BigV virtual machines giving people three months' notice. I'm sure this was a straight commercial decision and it was no longer profitable for them but the BigV machines were being rented by people who were now upset and who are also decision makers in their working lives.

Now all of this is nothing new. The industry is full of companies who've bought other companies and have then changed them out of all recognition but it seems to me that iomart missed a trick here as they threw away the things that Bytemark was good at and which made its reputation.

And reputation still matters in our industry. On Mastodon I'm seeing posts like this:

@drajt @beasts In the process of moving the services on my Bytemark server to one of @beasts Raspberry Pis. So sad that the wonderful #bytemark got trashed. Lucky we are to have @beasts

and this:

@pwaring @beasts @brightbox Got my email last week. Bytemark were great when I started with them (a painfully long time ago). Since being taken over, they've basically evaporated...

"Basically evaporated". Yeah. That.

Tags: internet, linux, websites Written 14/03/23


Previous comments about this article:

On 18/03/23 at 4:26pm Paul wrote:

An interesting postscript to this. Three days after I posted about this all Bytemark customers got an email saying "We're emailing to let you know that, after listening to your feedback, we've decided to delay the retirement of our BigV platform until further notice."

Interesting timing ...

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