At first glance, Selectel’s prices look higher than some of their competitors’ (I’m not talking about small hosts with low-quality services). But when you really get to it, if you have a complex setup with additional services and non-standard equipment, their competitors are more expensive, not to mention unclear with their timelines. They say: “We order and it’s on the way.” Selectel had everything on hand.
Founder of WebinarFM
online webinar platform
Webinar FM is the most popular Russian-language service for hosting webinars (according to data from Alexa.com). The service was launched in 2010 and is now used by over 20 thousand clients worldwide. On their site, Webinar FM presents itself as a reliable, high-quality service with attractive prices for regular users and one-time webinars. Visitors can use their desktop interface (Windows, OS X, and Linux) or mobile app (iOS and Android). They also promise around-the-clock technical support and personal assistance if users need help during a webinar (for additional pay).
The founder of Webinar FM, Yan Vladimirov, explained the service’s core concept simply: “We connect people who cannot physically meet in a conference room, for example.” 1.5-2 thousand webinars, conferences, meetings, online presentations, and other similar events are held here daily. During the course of a week, the service is visited by around 1 million people.
Webinar FM’s services are used by Sberbank, MegaFon, Channel One, Canon, Double GIS, ACT publishers, SKB Contour, RBK Money, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Central Bank of Russia, multiple educational institutions and state organizations, as well as well-known Internet companies.
The creators of Webinar FM used to use inexpensive European servers but are now more b2b oriented, which is why their service demands grew. The company explained its position like this: Servers are the base of an Internet business, and building a house on a poor foundation is dangerous.
The service is often used by organizations with distributed office systems, which is why signal latency is critical; when a meeting is held and up to 25 employees are in attendance via video, latency has to be minimal. In Webinar FM’s experience, European servers provided 50-70 ms to one end at best. Since around 70% of the service’s users are from Moscow and St. Petersburg, they needed servers in the European part of Russia---better if they were right in Moscow (which solves another problem: properly storing the personal information of Russian users).
Their provider lacked the prompt Russian-language technical support the service needed; with European technical support, conversations dragged out and in the best scenario, it took a day to get a response.
FM had particular channel requirements and specific traffic demands: due to to the geographic positioning of its users, the first spike in activity happens at 19:00 (“There were just 50-60 webinar, and then suddenly there’s 500-600,” as Yan Vladimirov describes it). At 20:00 there’s a second wave, and the third occurs a half hour later. Thus, loads at 20:30 can be 20-30 times higher than the usual daytime loads. Western providers only offered a standard billing model for the service, and these surges cost Webinar FM a hefty amount. Reliability is no less important: service crashes are extremely noticeable. Even a half-second signal interruption can stop hundreds of webinars---people “leave” the room and the event may just end there.
Another difficulty was that Webinar FM needed many instances of the same kind of equipment. When management addressed this issue with different organizations, they were often told that the necessary amount of equipment wasn’t available and they’d have to wait a long time for delivery.
At the start of August 2016, Webinar FM decided to work with Selectel and rent dedicated servers in the Berzarina data center in Moscow. Because of Webinar FM’s complicated service infrastructure, we ended up spending a lot of time discussing finances and their specifications, since this took so long, it was important that we make the move quickly. In the end, the founders got their setup within a week of paying, and even considering the sophisticated equipment (4 network interfaces on each 12-disk server, etc.), as the company put it, “Everything was set up quickly and professionally.” The project was implemented on time.
The service’s management compared the difficult process of moving with a scene from the film Flight Crew, where they moved passengers (again, over 20 thousand users) from one plane to another while in the air. This was not a case of solving individual problems as they came up; there were a number of issues that had to be resolved immediately.
Webinar FM could finally talk to colleagues in Russian: they organized online conferences with system integrators, IT specialists, and Selectel sales managers, explained their specifications and requirements, and Selectel cooperated: they created unique terms and conditions.
In September, Webinar FM told users that they fully updated their service---that it was now more reliable and easy-to-use. Among their achievements, the company highlighted latency, which was greatly reduced (4-5 ms to both ends instead of the previous 40-50 ms), and significant savings during peak user activity, which they used to have to overpay for.
FM’s immediate plans are to host servers in Selectel’s St. Petersburg data centers in order to make the service more convenient for local clients.