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Running Like a Swiss Watch: Interview with Andrew Azarov, CTO of ServerAstra

ServerAstra LogoOur interview series has featured a lot of industry leaders and we continue today by talking with Andrew Azarov, CTO of ServerAstra. In this interview, you’ll learn about their focus on security, self-managed infrastructure, and why he sees a lot of growth ahead for the hosting industry.

Tell me about your background and your company’s history?

I got immersed in IT since childhood. At the beginning of the ’90s, my dad bought a bulky 80286 IBM PC and exploring and writing simple Basic scripts set me up for the job. So while I started working in a hosting company officially only in 2000, I got involved in the industry much

In 2006 my family decided to move to Europe. We chose Hungary as the most favourable country for our business provided we already had some connections with it. It is generally an undiscovered jewel of Europe and every day living here I can say it is an amazing country with wonderful people. Moreover, business-wise it was a much more stable country, and
that helped us settle down.

We established Azar-A Ltd. in September and by the end of 2007 fully moved to Budapest with hardware and started migrating the hosting platform. In 2009 with the growing hype around cloud services, we created a separate project focused on global VPS and dedicated server services – ServerAstra.com. It grew to 100 customers within one year, and the next three years added more than 500 active customers. In 2015 we changed the name from Azar-A to ServerAstra to remove ambiguity and focus our services on providing compute resources. Since 2020 we became full member of RIPE, so the history is still being written ;).

What would you tell someone looking to start a hosting company today? What advice would you offer?

It’s comparable to managing a hotel, mall or business centre, depending on what selection of services you offer. My main advice – focus on security first. Throughout the whole history of the hosting industry, security was always an afterthought. Even today, I find many serious
errors and mistakes in commonly used popular products directly promoted to hosters.

Where do you think the future takes the hosting industry?

I think self-hosted and locally hosted will make a comeback due to the ensuing legalisation of Internet processes and privacy concerns. Maybe some of the services will start moving to cryptotoken-based networks like IPFS and Filecoin. But overall, the industry is still growing.

Tell me about your top two failures in business? What did you learn from them?

The first one happened at the beginning of my career. Back then, DNS systems relied on a 3rd party, and within a few weeks, it got neglected entirely, leading to a severe loss of clients and horrible real-life conflicts and bad reviews on the web. So we migrated our systems within
48 hours with manual work, sleepless nights and personal involvement. The key lesson here was – any vital system you have should be under your total control if possible.

Another major one happened in 2010 when the datacenter we used stopped our network from operating due to a DDoS attack (the hugest in the world back then). Our datacenter could not manage it, so we had to go completely independent after that and move to a more secure place
policy-wise. After that event, we focused on building our business with as little 3rd party involvement as possible.

Tell me about your top two successes in business?

The first is the most recent and memorable – deploying our Stellar Cloud. It got so popular that we temporarily ran out of IPv4. We are always ready to provide custom support and consultation for our clients. That’s why the second one is getting involved with a development team in an international bank to achieve PCI-DSS on our network for one of their projects. It was pretty intense in terms of security and coordination due to requirements of the bank, but we successfully passed it.

ServerAstra BannerWhat do you enjoy most about your role? What do you find most difficult?

When you manage to create a system that works predictably and produces precise output like a Swiss watch, that feeling is one of the most pleasant out there. And the more your customers enjoy it, the more rewarding it is.

On the other hand, I find it quite uncomfortable when something cannot be automated, especially some things which are out of programming scope.

Both personally and professionally, what guiding principles ground you?

I believe that to work and succeed in this field, you have to be dedicated, hard-working and ambitious. Therefore, I find it essential to spend plenty of time educating myself as hosting is a highly quick-paced area. Not only does it help with organizing and automating but also
maintaining and securing.

Give us some details on new and exciting things you are working on?

Our roadmap most prominent imminent entries include upgrading the billing platform and networking within this quarter. Business-wise we are expanding our dedicated server lines and cloud computing daily by adding new plans and services.

Why should customers trust you and your business?

I would say that trust is built with time and strict adherence to protocols and principles. Having been established as a hosting business in Hungary for more than 15 years, we built our trust by following our policies and keeping our customers satisfied.

Final thoughts and anything you would like to add?

I’m honoured by this opportunity and thank you and the community for this interview. Take care!

Thanks, Andrew, for the insights!  Be sure to check out ServerAstra and also the rest of interview series for more insights from industry and community leaders.


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