Author Archive: Brad Lewis

October 15, 2011

Lower Latency: Neutrino Network?

SoftLayer is on the "bleeding edge" of technology, and that's right where I'm comfortable. I love being a part of something new and relevant. I also love science fiction and find that it's mixing together with reality more and more these days. Yay for me and my nerdyness! Beam me up Luke Skywalker! (I wonder how many nerds cringed at that statement!)

In a recent post from New Scientist, a test showed neutrino particles being clocked faster than the speed of light, and a dimension-hop might be the reason. Rather than go into the nerdy parts of the article that I'm sure you read before continuing to this sentence, I want to compare how SoftLayer would use this to our (and more importantly our customers') advantage: A neutrino network! We could have the fastest network in the world, and we could use the technology for faster motherboards and components too. Because that's how we roll.

BanzaiEnter science fiction. Let's say neutrinos were indeed using another dimension to travel. Like, say, the 8th dimension as referred to in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension." This dimension also happens to be a prison used by the Lectroids of Planet 10 to store criminals. Go figure, right? Obstacles always come up, so if our neutrino network was targeted by those Lectroids, Dody Lira and the abuse team would have no problems taking them down ... After all, Lectroid's fiddling with data can be bad for business (Not to mention the possibility of Lectroid's using our network to come back to this dimension, wreak havoc, and eat all our junk food). Dody would have to upgrade some of the tools his team uses, like a Jet Car with an "Oscillation Overthruster" (which looks eerily similar to the Flux Capacitor) to travel in and out of the 8th dimension to hunt down those pesky Lectroids that won't comply.

Then, after Dody and crew wrangle the Lectroids (as I'm sure they would), we could offer the Lectroids email and Internet service. Bam! More customers on top of a supernatural network!

Coming back to reality (a bit), we have an interesting world ahead of us. Technologies we have only seen in movies and some we haven't even imagined yet are becoming reality! If they fall into the usable realm of SoftLayer, you can bet we'll be one of the first to share them with the world. But not before we get all the bugs (and Lectroids) out.

-Brad

November 25, 2009

The Secret Mind of a SoftLayer Tech

I sit right in the middle of the NOC (Network Operations Center) here at SoftLayer. I hear all the tech calls, project discussion, and random banter from the techs on a daily basis. Most techs are also propeller heads on their own time. They have servers of their own, apps they like to run, preferences as to what hardware and software they like best, etc. Now, working in this field for most of my life I know that techs are not company loyal when it comes to their personal geeky funness (yes, that’s a word) I don’t care if spell check, Google and the rest of the world doesn’t think so (but I digress) they like what does the best job regardless of where it comes from.

I routinely hear techs talking about their personal servers, apps, etc. and referring back to SoftLayer with comments like, “I just host it on my server here at SoftLayer so I don’t have an issue.” With the issue being whatever the topic of conversation might have been. Network speed and stability, hardware and software reliability, ease of access (KVM over IP, the portal in general, multiple remote control options) cost, endless amount of add-ons, and the latest and greatest in everything!

I can relate.

I realized the potential of SoftLayer from the beginning and this place continues to exceed my expectations- and my expectations are always over the top! Simply put, after working in the corporate world and realizing what could be done with the right people and the right attitudes, I vowed only to work with a company that shared those views. And quite honestly I never thought I would see it happen. Then along came SoftLayer.

When techs constantly refer back to SoftLayer for their own fun computer projects as being the best solution, it just confirms what I already knew:

SoftLayer Rocks!

October 20, 2009

Droid Award Update: Romeo Rodriguez

SLayers!

Droid Award Update: Romeo Rodriguez 

All hail Romeo Rodriguez for he has received the Destroyer Droid Award!

Romeo has stepped up in the face of the opposition - and destroyed them! He consistently takes care of business, helping to prioritize daily tasks, escalate high priority issues promptly, and execute emergency procedures swiftly and efficiently.

Another one of SoftLayers outstanding techs!

 

Destroyer Droid Award
The Destroyer Droid Award is given to a tech who, like the Destroyer Droid, consistently rolls into situations, takes control, and "destroys" them. Techs with this award look at the bigger picture, and go outside their realm of job description, making sure projects and tasks are completed with proper prioritization, no matter how many. Awardees frequently think like a manager and are quick to help coordinate workload among fellow employees.
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October 5, 2009

Outstanding Tech Recognition: Droid Awards

Here at SoftLayer, we keep the culture fun, entertaining, challenging, and sometimes a bit left of center! In the same vein as the Star Wars motif (http://theinnerlayer.softlayer.com/2008/softlayer-the-empire/) we have started awarding techs that go way above and beyond. Techs at SoftLayer are already some of the best in the industry, so this is a way to keep it fun and challenging- and nerdy! Let me tell you, I had a realization when getting the Star Ware figures, that I am now an adult and could just buy everything!

Here is how the awards went down..

(in the voice of General Grievous)

SLayers!

For those droids not destroyed in the line of duty or beheaded for undisclosed reasons (cough cough) rewards are in order!

Droid Awards are presented to a tech for outstanding work in the line of duty.

The awards are Star Wars "Droids."

But in our universe, SoftLayer is the ruling entity, of course! And all Droids have the SoftLayer logo.
Right now, there are 3 Droid Awards:

Super Battle Droid Award
The Super Battle Droid Award is given to a tech who, like the Super Battle Droid,
does his job better than average all the time. Techs with this award are considered a workhorse,
and respected by their peers for always taking care of business no questions asked.
Assassin Droid Award
The Assassin Droid Award is given to a tech who,
like the Assassin Droid, knocks one specific project or task out of the park, or "assassinates" it.
Techs with this award take control of one specific high profile issue, own the problem, and see it through to the end.
Destroyer Droid Award
The Destroyer Droid Award is given to a tech who, like the Destroyer Droid,
consistently rolls into situations, takes control, and "destroys" them.
Techs with this award look at the bigger picture, and go outside their realm of job description,
making sure projects and tasks are completed with proper prioritization, no matter how many.
Awardees frequently think like a manager and are quick to help coordinate workload among fellow employees.

Techs that receive an award should be respected- these awards are not given out lightly. So be proud if you receive one, strive to get one if you have not, and congratulate all who are adorned with them!

Scott Minyard, a Dallas Server Build Engineer was the first to receive an award, the Super Battle Droid Award!

Congratulations, Scott, for being one of the great employees of SoftLayer!

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September 21, 2009

Hardwhere? - Part Deux: Softwhere (as in soft, fluffy clouds)

I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the cloud software we use (okay, maybe a little :),) but I know the gist of it as far as hardware is concerned- redundancy. Entire servers were the last piece of the puzzle needed to complete entire hardware redundancy. In my original article, Hardwhere?, (http://theinnerlayer.softlayer.com/2008/hardwhere/) I talked about using load balancers to spread the load to multiple servers (a service we already had at the time) and eluded to cloud computing.

Now cloud services are a reality.

This is a dream come true for me as the hardware manager. Hardware will always have failures and living in the cloud eliminates customer impact. Words cannot describe what it means to the customer. Never again will a downed server impact service.

Simply put, when you use a SoftLayer CloudLayer Computing Instance, your software is running on one or more servers. If one of these should fail, the load of your software is shifted to another server in the “cloud” seamlessly. We call this HA or High Availability.

If there is a sad part to all of this, it would be that I have spent considerable effort optimizing the hardware department to minimize customer downtime in the even on hardware failures. But I have a rather odd way of looking at my job. I believe the end game of any job I do is complete automation and/or elimination of the task altogether. (Can you say the opposite of job security?) I have a going joke where I say: “Until I have automated and/or proceduralized everything down to perfection with one big red button, there is still work to be done!”

Cloud computing eliminates the customer impact of hardware failures. Bam! Even though this has nothing to do with my hardware department planning, policies and procedures, I have no ego in the matter. If it solves the problem, I don’t care who did the work and was the genius behind it all, as long as it moves us forward with the best products and optimal customer satisfaction!

We have taken the worry out of hosting- no more deciding what RAID is best. No more worrying about how to keep your data available in the event of a hardware failure. CloudLayer does it for you and has all the same service options as a dedicated server and more! One more step to a big red button for the customer!

Now back to working on the DC patrol sharks (they keep eating the techs!) New project- tech redundancy!

May 28, 2009

Hardware Heros

The techs that build the servers here at SoftLayer are known as Server Build Engineers or SBE’s. These guys are on the front line of Operations. They are responsible for building out customer server orders, maintenances, fixing cranky provisions, and many other hardware related tasks.

One might think that a hardware tech is a simple job. Well, not the SBE position at SoftLayer. Not only are they responsible for time sensitive hardware builds and provision troubleshooting, but they work directly with all the other departments. We don’t have bazillion hardware techs like other companies might. We train ours up to be one man hardware machines.

Sometimes a provision might have a weird error that needs to be escalated to development. The SBE will work directly with the dev team to resolve the issue.

Sales might have questions about some hardware they are trying to sell. SBE’s answer the call.

SBE’s even jump in to help CSA’s (Customer Service Administrators) when the ticket load or phones get hectic.

SBE’s do numerous projects, too. From helping with large scale hardware compatibility testing to troubleshooting hardware, they are the jack of all trades at SoftLayer.

We have a pseudo paramilitary way of doing things in the hardware department. It’s all in fun, but we get down and dirty and have a “can do” and “yes sir” attitude. We pride ourselves in being able to tackle any problem. If we are asked to do it, we do it, regardless of whether or not it’s our job, we are too busy, or whatever the obstacle.

Be all you can be? Join the army. Be more than you expect you can be? Join the SoftLayer Hardware Team.

The few, the badass, the SBE’s!

April 6, 2009

Solid State Drives – In House Performance Stats

I love working at SoftLayer. I get to play with the newest hardware before anyone else. Intel, Adaptec, Supermicro… The list goes on. If they are going to release something new, we get to play with it first. I also like progression. Speed, size, performance, reliability; I like new products and technologies that make big jumps in these areas. I am always looking to push components and complete systems to the limits.

But alas, Thomas Norris stole my thunder! Check out his article “SSD: A Peek into the Future” for the complete skinny on the SSD’s we use. I seem to be a bit to concise for a nice long blog anyways. But not to worry, I’ve got some nifty numbers that will blow the jam out of your toes!

Solid State Drives (SSD) represent a large jump in drive performance. Not to mention smaller physical size, lower power consumption, and lower heat emissions. The majority of drive activity is random read/write. SSD drives have drastically improved in this area compared to mechanical drives. This results in a drastic overall performance increase for SSD drives.

This is a comparison of the Intel 32GB X25-E Extreme drive vs. other drives we carry. Note the massive jump in the random read/write speed of the SSD drive.

No more waiting on physical R/W heads to move around. How archaic!

Chart

Please note that no performance utility should be used to definitively judge a component or system. In the end, only real time usage is the final judge. But performance tests can give you a good idea of how a component or system compares to others.

Single drive performance increases directly translate into big improvements for RAID configurations as well. I have compared two of our fastest SATA and SAS four drive RAID 10 setups to a four drive SSD RAID 10 using an Adaptec 5405 Controller.

Chart

The Adaptec 5405 RAID controller certainly plays a part in the performance increase, on top on the simple speed doubling due to 2 drives being read simultaneously. (See my future blog on the basics or RAID levels, or check Wikipedia) .

Propeller heads read on:

The numbers indicate a multiplied increase if you take the base drive speed (Cheetah – 11.7mbps / X25-E – 64.8mbps) and double it (the theoretical increase a RAID 10 would give): 23.4mbps and 129.6mbps respectively. Actually performance tests show 27.3mbps and 208.1mbps. That means the Cheetahs are getting a 15% performance boost on random read/write and the X25-E a whopping 37% due to the RAID card. Hooray for math!

Once again, this is all performance tests and a bit of math speculation. The only real measure of performance, IMO, is how it performs the job you need it to do.

November 22, 2008

SoftLayer = The Empire

Time to turn up the nerd!

I have long pondered the parallels of SoftLayer and Star Wars. At first, I thought we might be the rebels. But I soon realized we are here to dominate the galaxy (and the dark side is much cooler!)

So I have come up with some parallels between SoftLayer and the Empire. Some are a bit of a reach, while others are spot on. I will start with what I know. I am in Operations, so this is obviously going to be Ops biased. Systems and Development probably deserve a bigger part, but as I don’t dwell in that world every day, I can’t get the detailed analysis needed to formulate an accurate correlation.

So let’s start with Systems and Development. I think they would be the Death Star. Our primary source of galactic domination. The mostly unseen heroes that created it and keep it going. Note: we are more like the 2nd Death Star without the access port weakness.

Some obvious correlations would be:

Lance is Darth Sidious / Senator Palpatine – that one is easy. All knowing and all powerful.

Sam is Vader – another gimme. To the point with a strong hand. ( get it? Hand? Vader, you know, chokes, eh.. okay, moving on. )

Joshua is Boba Fett – Many secret and not so secret missions with a huge impact on the course of the Empire.

Chris is Darth Maul – Enforcing the Empires rules near and far.

CSA’s are the Stormtroopers with their managers being the commanders and generals. Handling the special ops and direct requests of the Empire.

SBE’s are the battle droids with the hardware manager being General Grievous. (Yes, that’s me. I clear my throat frequently so that was the final nail that solidified that comparison. ) The front line.

We do have some Ewoks that have defected to our side and some of our vendors are like Watto. So I have distorted the Star Wars timeline to suit my needs. Just the way the Empire would do it! But I am sure The Galactic Empire would approve. And besides, it gives me focus and makes me stronger.

Oh and one final note, in this version of the story, The Empire wins.

Feel free to comment your Star Wars / SoftLayer comparisons!

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February 27, 2008

Hardwhere?

It’s a fact -- all software ends up relying on a piece of hardware at some point. And hardware can fail. But the secret is to create redundancy to minimize the impact if hardware does fail.
RAIDS, load balancers, redundant power supplies, cloud computing - the list goes on. And we support them all. Many of these options are not mandatory, but I wish they were! That’s where the customer comes in – it is critical to understand the value of the application and data sitting on the hardware and set a redundancy and recovery plan that fits.

Keep your DATA safe:

  • RAID - For starters *everyone* should have a RAID 1, 5, or 10. This keeps your server online in the event of a drive failure.

The best approach – RAID 10 all the way. You get the benefits of a RAID 0 (striping across 2 drives so you get the data almost twice as fast) and the security of RAID 1 (mirroring data on 2 separate drives) all rolled into one. I think every server should have this as a default.

  • Separate Backups – EVault Backup, ISCSI Storage, FTP/NAS Storage, your own NAS server or just a different server. Lose data just once (or have the ability to recover it painlessly) and these will pay for themselves. Remember, hardware is not the only way in which you can lose data -– hackers, software failures, and human error will always be a risk.

StorageLayer. Use it or lose it.

Going further:

  • Redundant servers in different locations – spread your servers out across different datacenters and use a load balancer. Nothing is safer than a duplicate server 1000’s of miles away. That’s why we have invested in a second data center – to keep your data and business safe.

Check 'em out in our Services > Network Services section.

The future:

  • Solid state drives – aww yeah baby. They are coming.

Solid state drives are just that – a drive with no moving parts. No more platters or read/write heads. I mean come on, hard drives are essentially using the same basics that old record players use. CD’s use this technology too. And you see where those went (can you say iPod? I prefer my iPod touch. I have never had an iPod until now so I skipped right to the new fancy pants model. Can you tell I just got it?).

Check out these comparison tests of solid state drives vs. conventional ones:

  • Faster, faster, faster! –- Processors, memory, drives, network -- everything is getting much faster. And in part by redundancy (dual and quad core processors, dual and quad processor motherboards). See? Redundancy is the way of the future!

We have 4 Intel Xeon Quadcore Tigertown processors on one motherboard. That’s 16 processors on one server! Shazam!

  • Robot DC patrol sharks – yep. Got the plans on my desk right now. But I can’t take all the credit, Josh R. suggested this one, I just make things happen.

I work to keep all of our hardware running in tip top condition. But I look at the bigger picture when it comes to hardware – how to completely eliminate the impact of any hardware issue. That’s why I suggest all the redundancies listed above. While I can reduce the probability of hardware issues with testing, monitoring of firmware updates, proper handling procedures, choosing quality components, etc., redundancy is the ultimate solution to invisible hardware.

Hardwhere?, if you will.

-Brad

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