By Jeffrey Rothfeder  |  Posted 2004-01-28 Print this article Print

-to-Nuts Experience">
And your hope is that with all of these products and services, customers will be willing to pay the extra money to subscribe to AOL, even though many seem to feel that their DSL and cable modem bills are already too high?

Were giving them a lot—a soup-to-nuts experience. You have to pay more to get it. But what were finding is that for some, there is already broadband buyers remorse. Just getting the additional communication capability isnt a transformative event for them. Delivering the first draft of truly broadband-enabled applications to them is a transformative event, and thats at the core of our strategy. Were already seeing that applications like "Youve got pictures," where people can store their digital photographs and create online albums and share them with family and friends instantly, are gaining traction. What people want is a seamless Web experience. That has value to them. AOL is one of the only companies that have ever delivered rich, managed content to the retail consumer profitably. Thats part of our gene code and positions us to achieve our business model.

Its a huge strategic gamble and it must be an enormous technology undertaking. What are your technology plans?

Were putting together the road map right now to deliver all of this content and all of these services. But as always, it starts with getting the basics right—connectivity, security, privacy, communications infrastructure. Thats the price of poker: They all have to work perfectly, with no glitches, so you have a strong foundation to build on. Were going to have to become a best-in-class integrator of both captive technology and externally provided technology. The world is moving quickly into new channels and new applications, so leveraging a broader set of partners allows us to bring better value to our members. We currently have 16-plus different vendors of technology whose products are integrated as part of the core AOL experience. But that will have to expand and that will put a lot of strain on our organization to provide an experience in which the user doesnt have any notion that hes moved from one vendors products to another.

Having a world-class power plant is also essential. We peak out across our varying AOL properties at about 8 million-plus concurrent users on a hot night. We have to do better. Its a huge challenge to present a great experience with that level of scale, and were working to leverage best-practice thinking around application switching, next-generation networking and next-generation middleware. Currently, we have about 10,000 Linux servers in place, and the evolution of the overall technology environment will include high-performance Layer 7 switching (to speed up traffic management) to XML-based presentation services. And then we have to come to some decisions about greatly expanding storage management if were going to offer the network as the logical location for maintaining a subscribers personal digital assets.

Whether you succeed or not, youre making AOL sound alive again. Thats a far cry from the perception of the company recently. Has something changed?

Its a re-energized organization. Theres a reaffirmed commitment, a new management team on the field. Positioning the brand and regaining trust are all smart things for us to do and those are the litmus tests for any decisions we make. Now, we have to be able to recognize emerging trends and stake out our role in them before they take hold among consumers. The overall success of this business long-term will be our ability to integrate best-in-class technology and programming and create compelling value for each of our targeted customer segments. As a technologist, could you ask for a better role? Every decision matters.


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