The SoftLayer Server Challenge - ad:tech Expertise

November 21, 2011

If you've visited SoftLayer at a large conference this year, you probably came face-to-rack with our Server Challenge. Your task: Reassemble our miniature rack of SuperMicro servers in the fastest time at the conference. To do this, you need to install twenty drive trays in five servers and connect network cables in the correct switches to mirror the server rack setup on our data centers. If you're able to score the best time, you win an iPad 2!

In the sometimes-boring world of collateral and T-shirts at trade shows, the activity around this competition stands in stark contrast. It's been huge hit everywhere we go, so if you haven't had a chance to try your hand at the challenge, I'm sure we'll bring it to several of our 2012 shows. As a way of rewarding those of you who loyally follow our blog, I thought I could give you an advantage by sharing some tips for when you're in front of the Server Challenge rack ... And to give you an idea of how important these tips can be, look at how close the top two times were at ad:tech NYC:

That's right. 17 hundredths of a second between victory and defeat. Now are you ready to take some notes?

SoftLayer Server Challenge

The Start
When you start the challenge, don't look at the timer to see if your time started ... If it doesn't start, we'll stop you. By focusing your attention on the network cables or drive trays (whichever you choose to start with), you can save yourself a half of a second.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Network Cables
You don't have to connect the network cables first, but I have to choose something to complete first, so the network cables won the coin flip. When you're connecting the network cables, it's best to grab all three cables of the same color and try to snap them in together. Plugging in the cables one-by-one requires three times the work.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Hard Drives
When you're tackling the hard drives, the key is to line up the drives and have them installed completely before moving on. My tip for installing the drives is to tilt them in on a sideways angle, not at an upwards angle. If you try and tilt the drives upwards, you'll most likely get the drive tray stuck and have to remove it to try again. If you can do it precisely, picking up two drives at one time has worked well, and our all-time record of around 54 seconds took that approach.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

One last pointer: Lock them in place immediately after installing them. If you leave the latch open, it makes it harder to get neighboring drives installed, and it's such a small incremental effort to close the latch that even if you perfect a "close all the latches" technique at the end, you'd still end up spending more time.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

The Finish
Don't forget to put both hands back on the timer to stop your time. :-)

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Now that you're equipped with some of the best Server Challenge tips and tricks, we want you to start training. In 2012, we expect to see someone complete it in under 50 seconds ... And that person probably will carry the all-time record home – along with a new iPad 2!

Keep an eye on our Event Schedule for upcoming shows, and if there's a conference where you really want to see the Server Challenge, let us know and we'll see if we can set it up.

Good Luck!

-Summer