Taking on Goliath in the Cloud

Ayman Hassan President of 4WEB.CA

Ayman Hassan President of 4WEB.CA

Tucked away in a non-descript commercial strip on 118th Avenue in Edmonton’s northwest is a 1900-square foot datacentre. It provides web hosting, co-location (server-hosting), web design and data back-up services. You won’t see Telus, Bell or Shaw on the sign—just a rather humble white and red adornment displaying 4Web.ca.
But don’t let that fool you. ”Inside you’ll find a fibre-optic pipe—enough Internet capacity for the entire Whyte Avenue corridor. And it’s a long street,” says Ayman Hassan, president of 4Web.ca.
His company is like David in the land of Goliaths: In just two years, it has experienced steady growth. Hassan proudly declares that he has a close ratio of 80 percent among the people who walk through his door.
“Datacentre” sounds so 1970s. What with today’s computers being so powerful and hard drive so cheap, it seems counterintuitive for people to use them.
“Keeping everything at your own location is great for CAD (computer-aided design) or web development but for an average user, it’s dangerous for storing files. Desktops fail, laptops fail. Outages can happen any time; the fire at Rice Howard Way… storms, tornadoes, not uncommon in Alberta…”
Loss of data can also mean lost business—but even photos, many of which are never printed, cannot be replaced—so having back-ups are critical for everyone.
“We’ve really come full circle,” says Hassan. “Think of it as the datacentre of the future, rather than the old ’70s mainframes,” except there is Internet galore—Multi-homed (Internet redundancy)—with multiple connections so, if one drops, the other kicks in within seconds.
“We have enough for a neighbourhood like Callingwood. It’s clean inverted power. Dirty power, spikes and surges are causes of equipment failure.” 4Web.ca has an 80 kilowatt UPS (uninterrupted power supply) and-a battery backup that can supply ample power for a full hour. System up-time is 99.9 percent.
Maintaining data safety security is critical. All clients regardless of their service needs get a personal tour of the 4Web.ca facility.
Hassan sees a paradigm shift from desktop computing toward “cloud” computing—the use of any Internet-based application. Examples include gmail, Google’s e-mail, Google docs, and business applications like Collin Snowball’s Easy-Bill OnLine, featured in Edmontonians in October 2008.
“We’re going back to days of dumb terminal where information is stored in datacenters—anything on the desktop can be pushed to the cloud.”
Even Microsoft Exchange Servers, traditionally kept in-house, are now moving off-site, further fueling the demand for datacenters.
“For some businesses, e-mail is more important than the phone.”
Economics also affect decision-making. During the last spurt, a major manufacturing customer of Hassan’s would have gone with everything in-house had the rally continued. “They would have brought in fibre from TELUS at a cost of about $80,000 plus $2-to-4K/monthly plus power.”
The company decided to co-locate its equipment; its on-site tech still maintains it, but 4Web.ca manages the fibre, power, cooling and security. In-house centres are costly to set up, they need managing, and qualified IT personnel are difficult to find.
So how does Hassan manage to compete and snag business away from the giants?
“It’s not always easy, but can be done. Companies like Telus have money for promotion and have funds to acquire any customer.” Even he purchases bandwidth from the giants.
“Ayman is an alternative to the big guys who weren’t responsive,” says Dan Charrios, president of Syzygy Research & Technology Ltd., which co-locates its servers at 4web.ca for its ExamBank.
Hassan’s four-phase business plan positions his company right in the middle—in size and price—and uses a consultative, collaborative approach. Meaning, he educates his customers and gives them value, while developing long-term relationships. Collaboration includes his competitors—smaller providers who can better compete against the Golaiths by working together. “This is the key to success in any business,” he believes.
Hassan was born in Egypt and moved to Canada in 1972, when he was four. He understands sales and marketing. He admits becoming a tenacious salesperson early—selling ladies shoes and encyclopedias. It taught him determination.
To avoid leaving Edmonton in the rocky mid-90s, he took a position at CompuSmart. Lacking computer knowledge, he got off to a shaky start, and wanted to quit after a week. But Hassan persevered, acquiring the necessary technical understanding.
Combined with his customer relationship building skills, he consistently became one of CompuSmart’s top performers. And when its sister company Interbaun Communications decided to create an independent sales team, Hassan became the vendor rep to develop and expand partner channels. Soon, he was promoted to vendor manager and sales manager.
Hassan recalls the relationship he developed with London Drugs which, for years had shown no interest in what he was selling. “An exercise in perseverance and persistence. I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Friends joke about that, saying that’s how I caught my wife.” He eventually made the connection by offering Interbaun’s product, a Retail-Box Internet DSL Kit—the first in Western Canada. It meant retailers no longer had to sign up customers, they simply had to sell the box.
Ironically, the retail kit also caught the eye of Vancouver’s Uniserve Communications which later acquired Interbaun. At first, the synergy of expansion appeared to foster the possibilities of positive growth. Eventually, Uniserve became a disappointment to Hassan. “They lost the Mom and Pop feel…trading customer value for shareholder value.”
This was totally against his principle, so he took of the role of Mr. Mom for six months. While pondering job prospects, phone calls and e-mails came in. Friends and past customers were asking his advice and recommendations for hosting, designers and developers. He realized that he wanted to be his own boss.
Hassan envisioned setting up his own data centre—the cloud would be here in Edmonton. It was a huge risk. “We were in debt… it was never a good time. But, if I didn’t try then, I may have never tried.” But he and his wife, Kim, decided to get a second mortgage and put their savings at risk so he could follow his passion. In 2007, he started planning his datacenter.
“Ayman puts everything on the line, sets goals and get stuff done.,” says Shaun Betchuk. “(One day) I went over after work in sweats and a T-shirt. Ayman shared his vision asking me to co-locate my equipment. Jokingly, he said, ‘I’m going to need a network guy…maybe apply for a job.’”
Betchuk went home, created a four-page proposal, got dressed-up, drove back to Hassan’s office, and declared, “I’m here to apply for the job.” He became  4Web.ca operations manager. “We’ve grown together.”
Since then, Hassan has hired Mark Philips, a designer and two contractors; Kim helps part-time. He’s extremely busy with design work for the next year, but never stops looking for new opportunities, including additional Canadian datacenters. With large network of relationships, his goal each week is to reconnect with at least five.
“We don’t have large resources like the big players, but we do have the yellow pages and get many referrals by word of mouth.”
Hassan has carved out a small niche. Perhaps it’s more about living in harmony among the giants rather than battling them. √

Explore posts in the same categories: Edmonton Tech Community, Edmonton Technology, Greg Gazin

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One Comment on “Taking on Goliath in the Cloud”

  1. gucci and prada also makes beautifully styled ladies shoes but are expensive ~~`

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