Author Archive: David Ellis

January 6, 2010

The SoftLayer Customer... A Little Different?

I work in the support department at SoftLayer, and I can tell you that a day of answering phone calls and tickets is not what you might expect. SoftLayer customers are a little different from customers of other companies.

I know from my own experience dealing with cable/internet providers, electric companies, delivery companies, online stores, etc. that the only time I ever call is when I have received sub-standard service and something needs to be fixed. I am usually met with a person on the phone that either does not know the answer to (what seems to me) a simple question or simply does not hide the fact that they don’t care about my issue. I have always chalked this up to a company that has grown to the point that the original people who cared about their company are no longer in touch with the end user (customer). So, I wade through mountains of sludge to get to someone who can actually give me the information I need or maybe even fix my problem. Then, in the case of cable/internet, I wait… and wait… and wait… and…………………. wait for a technician who knows what they are doing to fix the actual problem. And, yes, it has taken three technicians on three different days and a supervisor being called out to my house to fix a problem in the past.

I was just talking to my manager, who related a recent experience in which he ordered the game “Rock Band” along with the Beatles CD from an online seller. The game arrived promptly, but the CD never came. It was shipped via the US postal service, and he simply received notice that they could not deliver it per their policy… What? When did the USPS stop delivering CDs per policy? Anyway, he called the USPS “customer service” and they denied everything up to and including the fact that they are still in the delivery business (huh?). He finally made it to a “supervisor” who denied they had the package, but stated that she would take down his information and have someone call him in two days to tell him what she already knew….that they did not have the package. Wow. That is amazing customer service! The story does end well. He contacted the online seller, who sent another CD immediately via another shipper free of charge. They even sent it overnight and simply asked that he return the first CD should he EVER receive it from the USPS.

SoftLayer is growing at an astronomical rate; and yet, I am proud to say we have maintained consistently superb customer service. As I said above, the only time I call a support line is when I have a problem needing a quick solution, and my unhappiness grows as I receive poor customer service. I continue to be amazed at how happy most of our customers here at SoftLayer are when I answer the phone. Even when they are experiencing a problem, they are generally in good spirits when I speak to them on the phone or reply back and forth through our ticketing system. I find this amazing. Of course, we deal with unhappy customers occasionally. But, on average, we deal with happy customers on a daily basis. I can only attribute this to the fact that they call or submit a ticket with the firm expectation of receiving excellent and timely support. They could only have this expectation because of their past experience with us. I honestly do not call my cable/internet company with any expectation other than long waits on the phone, uninformed support, and days of waiting before a problem is solved. I am NOT happy when I am forced to call them. This is the reason it is actually a pleasant experience to work in the support department at SoftLayer. Besides working around people who know their jobs, I get to speak with customers who are in a good mood even when they are experiencing problems. I love meeting their expectations by resolving whatever issue they may be experiencing quickly and completely—thereby helping them to continue on in great spirits throughout the rest of their day. I know that customers will be happy the next time they call. I would not enjoy working for the USPS customer service line or in the support department of that cable/internet provider as I know I would get nothing but unhappy people with an expectation of poor service. This is one way in which SoftLayer customers are different.

October 26, 2009

Dickies, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap…SoftLayer?

Is there anything SoftLayer can't do!!?? Of course not! It seems every day I come to work there is something new that we are offering. Today, I came in ready to read up on any new products we might have released, and to my surprise, we now have a clothing line! Can you believe it!? SoftLayer now has clothing for employees. This includes everything from sweatshirts, to polo's, to t-shirts, to hats, to specialized shirts, including workout shirts. I must say I find the workout shirts ironic considering the number of employees that actually workout. I believe the number is 3...oh wait...maybe 4. I'm not sure how many golfers we have, but the ones who do golf will look good in their SL gear. I hope the SoftLayer clothing line is opened up to the public soon as I would love to see my company represented in the mall by a random “Joe” who appreciated an amazing company. It is truly exciting seeing a company go from several employees in a "closet" and one server room, to a huge entity with a multitude of server rooms, multiple datacenters in multiple locations, a huge array offerings, a cutting edge mentality, a solid track record, a commitment to be the best in the business, and yes, now offers a clothing line. SoftLayer has taken a huge bite out of the on-demand data center and hosting industry and continues to hunger for more. I guess now is the time to put the top clothing manufacturers on notice as SoftLayer is comin' for ya!

May 18, 2009

Special Ops: The “SEALs” of SoftLayer

When you think about a Special Operations Unit, you probably think of TV shows like, “The Unit”, or maybe you have the Military Channel and have seen the reality TV show, “Navy SEALs: BUD/s training”, or maybe you are one of the 7 people that saw that 1980s movie starring Charlie Sheen…………naaahhh. Anyway, whether it is secretive missions in Iraq or taking out pirates, real Special Ops Teams are very well trained individually and as a team. It takes a desire on the part of the individual to be the best at what he does and a desire to be an intricate part of a highly skilled, successful team.

I have been at SoftLayer for over 2 years now, and I particularly enjoy how our support team has come together in much the same way as a military special ops team. No, most of us do not wear our hair “high and tight”, and, unlike Navy SEALs, there are various piercings about the face of several of my teammates adding to an already very “distinctive” style of dress (There is a very loose dress code in the support department). But, the focused hours of training put into being the best at our craft is very similar to a special ops team.

I remember an occasion during my time here at SoftLayer when we had a sudden outage in which a switch failed. Any major data center will have a piece of equipment fail eventually, but the difference comes in how it is handled. Monitoring alerts went off and the team jumped into action. The managers and shift leads were instantly organizing, although the rest of us already knew what to do as training had prepared us. Each of us took a group of servers and checked for network connectivity in order to localize the issue. We fielded phone calls while the switch was being replaced. Tickets were answered quickly and grouped according to information needed by the specific customer. Verbal, IM, and email communication was flying and everyone knew the status from moment to moment. The switch was replaced and the event was concluded. Customers received the information they needed to pass on to their customers and peace was restored. I am amazed by the speed and efficiency with which this situation was handled. And, our customers were very happy with our speed especially considering an outage is never good news.

We would all like for everything to always work perfectly, but knowing that a highly efficient, highly competent, well-trained, focused, “special ops” team is ready at a moment’s notice, whatever the mission, is very comforting to our customers when financial success is on the line. Secretly, I have always wanted to be part of a special ops team, I just never imagined it would happen at a technology company called SoftLayer.

October 25, 2008

A Battle Worthy of the Coliseum: SoftLayer Technical Support

SoftLayer Technical Support technicians train continuously for the challenges that are inherent in supporting the vast array of products that SoftLayer offers. Besides training individually in their time away from the NOC, technicians are always talking about issues they have seen, and the resolutions they implemented.

Knowledge gained by one tech in tackling and conquering a specific issue is shared with all for the betterment of the team. Like a gladiator in the bowels of the Roman Coliseum of old preparing for his fight, the SoftLayer Support technician must be ready to do battle. Disciplined cross-training is the order of the day; mental and physical preparation is key. A technician must enter the halls of a SoftLayer datacenter ready to conquer whatever comes through the gates! It is truly a battle worthy of the Coliseum.

You might ask how a day in the SoftLayer NOC resolving technical issues compares to a battle fought in the Roman Coliseum. Well, if you measure a “battle” by the excitement and tension in the air ... the blood, the sweat, and yes, at times, the tears, the pain of defeat, and the celebration of victory, then SoftLayer Technical Support technicians are definitely involved in a true battle worthy of the Roman Coliseum on a daily basis.

Picture, if you will, a well-trained, focused individual walking into the Dallas Infomart with his security badge in hand. He is not there to pass the time or participate in some mind-numbing repetitive task. He is there to do battle with a beast named Technology. With a strategic plan in mind, he enters the elevator preparing himself mentally for what surely awaits upon entering his cubicle. As he opens the door to the NOC, he is greeted by his fellow “warriors”. Some are weary from battle, yet have a sense of satisfaction about them as a Roman Soldier of old looking across the battlefield at his conquered foe.

The stories of a multitude of battles won, and maybe even a few lost, are recounted. The technical warrior packs some sustenance from the chow line (the loaded NOC break room refrigerator), and settles into his chariot he likes to call a cubicle, pulling out his weapons, a keyboard and mouse, and bringing up the battlefield onscreen. He begins with the speed of a cheetah typing more and more furiously as each ticket darts to and fro trying to elude him. The warrior is undaunted. He will not be defeated today. Yes, he may need to look to his comrades in arms for assistance in flanking the enemy, but in the end, as a team of highly trained warriors, they will prevail.

This day will not be without its casualties, but the warrior must always repeat to himself, “I will not let our customer’s down. The enemy (technical issues) will not prevail…not on my watch.”

As did the citizens of Rome, I take great pride in our warriors and the superior way in which they continue to win battles for the glory of our customers. The inspiration for this writing came from a recent victory in which a warrior named Stefanus (Steve) stood in victory after wrestling with a beast of an issue, which he finally destroyed while the customer rejoiced and his wealth increased. All the warriors: Krishenus, Jamesus, and Samuel gathered around Stefanus to congratulate him on his victory. Of course, they all knew that the ultimate victory was enjoyed by the SoftLayer customer.

-David

August 27, 2008

Perspective

So…I was just promoted to a management position after serving SoftLayer’s customers as a CSA for 15 months. “Things look different from up here!” Moohahahaaa. Anyway, I find it to be extremely interesting to see how our support works from a new perspective. When you are in the trenches as a CSA, it is very hard to see the big picture as you are on the phone, working diligently on a ticket (or ten tickets), or completing a plethora of other tasks from the moment you arrive for your shift until an hour or so after your shift officially ends most days. You become so involved in the specific issues you are working and the customers with whom you are dealing, you are hard-pressed to step back and see the effect of your team’s efforts on the customers who were served during your shift. Honestly, some days you are simply glad to get to go home and rest your brain for a while. Other days, you leave with a great sense of satisfaction in the fact that you conquered several difficult issues and made a lot of customers, as well as their customers, very happy.

As a manager, you have the privilege of seeing the different talents, abilities, and areas of specialized knowledge of a team of great technicians come together to create an outstanding support department for our customers. As we support such a tremendously wide range of issues, it would be impossible for any one tech, or even two techs, to have all the answers. But, here at SoftLayer, the egos seem to be left at the door and there is a meeting of the minds and a cooperation among peers that may rival the acropolis (well, maybe not…different clothing anyway :P). But seriously, the techs do band together to find resolutions to difficult issues and therefore, a customer can rest assured that the issue is being dealt with by a consortium of scholars, if you will.

Before becoming a part of the management team, I frequently heard my co-workers talk about how nice it was to work in a place that was free from the drudgery of politics in which most work-places are buried. The management team has done a very good job of keeping it down to business and absent of drama and red tape. The opportunities to advance are many as I can attest. Among the CSA teams, there is a sense of purpose and camaraderie that foster the great support that our customer’s enjoy. Of course, it is not mount Olympus (speaking of drama) as no place is perfect, but if you stopped one of SoftLayer’s CSA’s on the street, I’m sure you would find someone who enjoys going to work and serving their customers. The excitement of a fast-growing company with many opportunities for hard-working technicians makes for a positive, success-driven, committed environment. SoftLayer just keeps getting better and better, both for the customers, and the employees.

-David

June 24, 2008

A Little Philosophical Thought: The SoftLayer Family Tree

Somewhat picking up on the theme of the blog, “Here’s to you, that nerdy Sysadmin”, this is a sort of, “Here’s to you, our family tree of customers.”

I find it very interesting how everyone in the world has customers. Our customer’s, customer’s, customer’s, customer’s…and so on…depend on us here at SoftLayer. It is a sort of bottomless pit. Does it begin anywhere…or end anywhere. Does anyone NOT have customers?

For example:

Our customers have customers, who have customers, who have customer, who have customers, etc. We are the customer of INTEL, AMD, Seagate, etc. They are the customers of those that provide the material to make the hardware that they manufacture. The natural resources used to make the hardware are purchased from someone. That someone purchased the rights to those resources from someone, who purchased the rights from someone, who purchased the rights from someone, etc. I suppose somewhere upstream someone’s country went to war and took the rights to those resources from someone else. And, I suppose if you go far enough back, no one had “rights” to those resources before the land was “claimed”. As recent as 2005, the race was on to claim the land of the Arctic Circle. I suppose you could say that all customers began with a gift of land containing resources from God. And, SoftLayer gives free stuff to customers all the time…so…I guess God gave the land containing the resources to people…His customers!

Anyway, this necessity of life that we have termed “customers”, has been, and will always be, I suppose, the most important aspect of life in terms of survival. Without customers, basic necessities like food cannot be purchased. In other words, without customers, you cannot be a customer. And, if you are not a customer, you must, therefore, be dead. So, in terms on everyone being dependent on being a customer and having customers, we all depend on each other like a family of customers. And, we must take care of our family.

We know that our survival, here at SoftLayer, depends on our customers (our family) and that their survival depends on us. We take this responsibility very seriously and work very hard to provide for our family the way that we would like to be provided for.

In conclusion, I feel that we, here at SoftLayer, do a pretty good job of taking care of our “family”, and in turn, our family of customers do a great job of taking care of us. As we continue to grow together, our success will benefit each other for years and years to come.

*If you do not understand any of this, just write it off to the insane ramblings of a tired CSA at the end of a long, challenging, and yet satisfying day at Softlayer working for his family.

-David

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May 27, 2008

CSAs + A Sunday Morning + Baseball?

Alright…get ready for some cheese…(but, it is true cheese!)

I really enjoy being part of the SoftLayer team. One of my co-workers and I have a little banter going back and forth regarding our SoftLayer technical support dayshift team. He decided that I should do part of his job one day because he was TIRED! I told him that, “There is no crying in baseball!” He went on to say that if I were a good team player that I would take up the slack when another team member is down. I told him that a coach (shift lead) simply puts in a new player and the “down player” sits on the bench. He then told me that I am no Billy Martin! I responded that he IS my Roberto Vanderlay. He said that he has never heard of Roberto Vanderlay! I said, “Exactly!” Roberto Vanderlay never made it to the big leagues cuz he spent too much time on the bench!

Anyway, this is all in good fun. This co-worker of mine is a very hard worker and he has been promoted after a very short time with SoftLayer. He has begun to specialize in networking while continuing to perform his duties as a CSA. He is essentially doing two jobs SUCCESSFULLY! And that brings me to the point for writing this blog. I thoroughly enjoy working with these guys because they work very hard and pay close attention to detail. They have integrity. They are NOT looking for ways to waste time or do as little work as possible. This cannot be said of very many employees of very many companies. Usually it is 20% of the employees doing 80% of the work. Not true at Softlayer! Yes, of course we all make mistakes at times, but I can trust that my co-workers are working as hard as possible in order to make as few mistakes as possible. But, I am not the only one that benefits from this type of integrity. Our customers are the direct beneficiaries!

A customer was working with Romeo R. today and insisted on speaking with his supervisor in order to express her satisfaction and gratitude for a job well done. She said that Romeo was patient with her, helped to clarify her issue, and finally resolve the issue. She told me to give him a raise! I told her that I would pass her praise for Romeo up the chain of command and that we really appreciate her taking time to show appreciation for hard work. This is not an unusual occurrence, although usually customers will show their gratitude through an update in their ticket. Whoever hired these guys did a great job in selecting great employees with a strong work ethic and the customers of SoftLayer can, and do, affirm this.

I really enjoy coming to work knowing that I have the privilege of working with these types of people.

Ok…ok…he is my Pudge! But don’t let it go to your head!

-David

May 15, 2008

Dreams

Everyone has dreams. Dreams may include having enough money that one never needs to think about money again. Dreams might include working from home. Actually, forget about working from home, how about working from the beach? I dream of providing technical support from my laptop at the beach while sipping pina coladas (virgin, of course, Mr. Crosby…I would never have alcohol on duty):

Photo

I spoke to a customer of SoftLayer via his cell phone while he was on a ski boat in the middle of a lake somewhere. This customer received an email regarding a monitoring alert for one of his servers via his cell phone. He called me, the issue was resolved in 5 minutes, and he went back to skiing. That’s right…all work being done remotely from your favorite locale. That is a great dream. Our hardware manager, Brad, would definitely be on the ski slopes in less than a minute if he were told he could manage from that location via laptop. I can just see him snowboarding down the mountain and typing away to his Server Build Engineers about the latest and greatest hardware we are about to roll out. I’m pretty sure Lance is setting us up for this according to his blog entitled, “Your Datacenter is Obsolete

Wait…maybe he is saying that CSA’s will be obsolete as well…uh…nah…he wouldn’t do that to us, right…right?

I speak to customers daily that are working from their homes and living their dreams. A few weeks ago, I spoke to a customer somewhere in a remote location in Canada. He is running a very lucrative business from a cabin. His location is so remote and desolate that truck drivers must be enticed by a yearly salary of over $120,000 to come up there and work. No one would do it for less money than that. I have always lived and worked in big cities like Dallas, Texas, and I cannot imagine living in such a place. This customer is often trapped by snow in the winter and cannot leave his cabin until it melts to the point that he can get out. And yet, he runs a business using SoftLayer servers making more than the truck drivers (how much? I don’t know) from this desolate place (Why? I don’t know…he must like it). What a great business opportunity for someone who chooses to live away from civilization. People only dreamed of such opportunities not so long ago. The days of having to move away from family, friends, and your home in order to find work are long gone. An internet connection and a few SoftLayer servers ; ) are all one needs to make A LOT of money.

I was speaking to another customer yesterday, who was very excited about his business and how Softlayer was helping him to achieve his dreams. While I quietly worked on his issue, he spoke at length about how he first came to hear about Softlayer, the depth to which his vision for his business has grown while partnering with SoftLayer, and his amazing plans for the future of his business. I was truly inspired by his passion for his business and his particular vision for his company. He shared some of the challenges that he has faced and how he overcame them. He readily admitted to some mistakes he has made in business and what he learned from those mistakes. He said that he would not deviate from his goals and that partnering with SoftLayer was integral to achieving those goals. He also said that SoftLayer had helped him greatly in overcoming some of those challenges that he had faced in the past with other datacenters. I must say that it gives me a real sense of pride when a customer tells me that they have partnered with other datacenters in the past, and that their experience with SoftLayer has been second to none. He was also up north somewhere. I don’t know where he was located exactly, but I know he was working from home because I kept hearing a young child playing in the background. This is one thing that so great about the opportunities in this industry. Work from where ever you like and SoftLayer, in particular, makes this easier than ever before.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without first dreaming of that accomplishment.” - based on a quote by Hebbel

-David

May 5, 2008

Money, Money, Money, Money…Money!

I am a CSA with SoftLayer and I have the privilege of working with extremely successful customers on a daily basis solving issues and keeping their businesses running smoothly. I continue to be amazed at the amount of money that some of our customers must be making. I looked at a certain customer’s website, and then compared his prices for the services he provides using his SoftLayer servers with the average price of a server on SoftLayer’s website, the conclusion I came to was unbelievable. Of course, I had to make an educated guess concerning how much he could provide per a given server. And, I do not know how much he actually pays for any particular server as specials have been run at different times on different servers. But, taking into account that this particular customer has over 30 servers with SoftLayer, and few other factors that I know about this customer from speaking with him over the phone at different times, my best guess is that he is making somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 per month all things considered. WOW! (Hold on…I choked…yep, that’s right…about $30,000 per month)

Example Customer X (one of many!):

  • Started with one server and a great business model
  • Took advantage of all that SoftLayer has to offer (specials, tools, resources, etc.)
  • Continued to grow to more than 30 servers
  • Now brings in at least $30,000 per month per my best guess! WOW!

Of course, this is just one of our customers. SoftLayer has many extremely successful customers like this. I find it very interesting that we have such a large number of very successful customers. That tells me that SoftLayer must be a great foundation for a successful business. It just makes sense. If you have many unsuccessful customers and the customer turn-over is high, then your sales team must be great, but your product is bad. But, when you have many enormously successful customers and customer turn-over is low, then you must have a great product that is the best thing going. And, if these successful customers could choose to support their very successful businesses with any provider that they wanted, and yet they continue to choose SoftLayer, that means that SoftLayer is a great choice if you want to be successful!

Personally, I will attain this level of success one day. Will I be a Customer X or will I be a Lance Crosby? I don’t know yet. I do know that I am truly enjoying the journey to my ultimate success while learning everything I can in my current position here at SoftLayer.

So, to all you amazingly successful SoftLayer customers…and to all of you who are so quickly building your success on the foundation of SoftLayer, thank you for your inspiration.

If you don’t mind sharing some of your story of success with us here on this blog, I, for one, would really enjoy reading about it.

-David

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April 29, 2008

SoftLayer University

WOW…Am I the only one that has noticed the sky-rocketing cost of formal education these days? Or, what about the exorbitant amounts charged for Internet educational programs? (Hello, RH! *I am a student in an online RH course…yes, I paid a ton!)

I truly enjoy learning. I must always have something that I am actively involved in learning. And, I am always looking for something new to learn. Hmmm….maybe that’s why I am in IT…

We all know there is always something more to learn in the world of IT. As a CSA, I can learn more in a day from investigating, researching, and resolving customer issues than most university students learn about a specific subject in an entire semester. I know because I was a university student at one time. The range of issues that we CSA’s face on a daily basis is truly amazing. It makes sense when you look at the vast array of businesses/business models, and therefore applications for their servers, that our customers enjoy. I believe there is another blog in here somewhere in which one of my colleagues outlines some of the hats that we as CSA’s wear on a daily basis. All this is to say that, in the relatively short time that SoftLayer has been around, there has been a massive amount of information that has been learned, communicated, AND SAVED FOR YOUR EDUCATIONAL BENEFIT AND PLEASURE!!!

That’s right! For an unlimited time (as long as you are a SoftLayer customer), you too can benefit from the wealth of information that numerous techs have struggled with, fought for, and, at times, felt like dying for! Volumes of knowledge have been painstakingly documented as a resource for our very own SoftLayer technicians, AND, this same information has been made available to our customers! This amazing resource is available for the bargain basement price of $0.00. Think of all the money you could spend at a university taking classes at inconvenient times of the day. Think of the mounds of cash you could spend for an online course or weekend crash course just to teach you the much needed information found very conveniently in SoftLayer’s very own “KnowledgeLayer”!

You might say, “What if I need a tutor?” Think of the cash you could spend on a personal tutor. No need to spend cash on a tutor when you are a customer of SoftLayer! The SoftLayer forums are filled with tutors ready, willing, and excited to answer your questions, share in your accomplishments, and bask in the glow of your success! There are industry “experts” in there to help advise you when you need to make a decision regarding the next step for your growing business. Did I mention the SoftLayer “tutorials”, which can be found in the SoftLayer portal under the Support tab? Yes, we have our very own customized video tutorials in the portal! SoftLayer is almost a “one-stop-shop” for all your server-related educational needs.

But, wait, there is more! If, after learning from the KnowledgeLayer and being tutored in the forums, you still feel that you need more personalized attention in order to truly understand an issue that you are studying, you can always open a ticket with Support, and a CSA will personally work with you to teach you everything that you need to know regarding that specific issue!

So, in summary, when purchasing a server with SoftLayer, you have not only made an investment in the success of your business by choosing the industries’ best on-demand datacenter provider, you have also enrolled in SoftLayer University!

What courses of study would you like to pursue?

-David

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