Tip of the hat to AOL’s former hosting business

December 2011 marked the second anniversary of the split of AOL from TimeWarner, and the unwinding of the $111 billion merger from 2001 that never lived up to it’s overblown promises. This anniversary also marked the end of term for some other agreements AOL and TimeWarner entered into. One of these was AOL’s hosting of TimeWarner divisions in our data center, something we began just before the merger was officially closed in late 2000. I may be biased, as I was heavily involved in establishing and running these hosting services for various TimeWarner divisions, but I feel this is one of the few areas that was a win for the overall combined company. With very little press and fanfare, Time Inc, Warner Brothers, New Line Cinemas, and the Southern Progress properties all moved a substantial portion of their computing environments to AOL’s data centers and terminated their agreements with 3rd party hosting providers. For many years, these TW divisions benefited from the scale of AOL’s data centers and network bandwidth, built to support the peak of AOL’s dialup services, resulting in fairly substantial cost savings. This was never a goal of the mega-merger, but it was clearly a win, and one of the few areas were some synergy was obtained.

The politics of the merger never created an obstacle to establishing this service, as it did for some many of the product initiatives, and provided a high-quality hosting solution for TW divisions. The numerous technical folks I met throughout this period appreciated the volume discounts AOL provided, our network bandwidth and scale, our approach to standardizing our technology stack, and access to the tools for efficiency and metrics collection. The collaboration between AOL’s technology operations and our peers in other TW organizations was positive and bidirectional. Many of these folks continue to deliver high quality solutions today, and having them in my network of “smart folks” has been a good outcome from the experience.

Now that we have completed our efforts supporting the TimeWarner properties and moved them back to other hosting providers or direct to TimeWarner, and I wax melancholy for a moment, it is important to recognize the success we had in light of the overall lack luster merger process. This experience further strengthens my premise that technology folks, when presented a fulfilling challenge, will generally bond together to create beneficial solutions rather than get mired in the business politics that clearly pervaded much of our other work at the time. It was only through these interactions that the operations staff felt connected to our colleagues at TimeWarner, as we supported properties like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Harry Potter series web sites, the launching of Warner Home Video’s business to business sales tool, Warner Brothers financial systems, and the myriad of Time Inc magazine sites. I tip my proverbal hat to our friends and colleagues at TimeWarner and wish them well in their journey. We can take satisfaction in knowing that we were one of the few areas that achieved a positive result from the combining of the two, where in so many other areas the opposite would be said.

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