Author Archive: Doug Jackson

January 27, 2011

What Does it Cost (Part 3)

Determining the value of "On-Demand"
It's 2011, and as we bookend the tail part of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 in effort to close strong and get a good jump on the year, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. As it turns out, this distracted me, so it's been a while since I cranked out the previous installment of this "What Does it Cost" series.

As a quick refresher, the idea behind this series came from listening to keynote speakers in conferences this past year who harped on the necessity of getting more value for the same (or even less) budget. In What Does it Cost (Part 1), we discussed how opportunity costs are the most overlooked and important part of planning an infrastructure. In What Does it Cost (Part 2), our focus was on how your people relate to your infrastructure.

The goal of this series is to fairly assign a value to what a company like SoftLayer provides relative to the costs of doing it in-house or by using colocation.

Let's start by making sure we know what 'On-Demand' actually means: 'On-Demand' means that you get what you want when you want it and for the time it is needed. No more and no less. It pretty much takes out all opportunity costs. On–Demand is good, it is necessary, and in the future it will be the difference between successful businesses and ones that are destined to fail.

Everyone has heard the term that "time is money." Receiving server and CCI infrastructure without delay when you want them they should be valuable, right? But just how valuable is that delivery? Have you ever wished you could go back in time and change something about your past? I think we all have. If I went back and took a "risk" in the stock market, knowing what I know now, I'd be writing this blog on a platinum-plated computer. But betting on a game you've already watched isn't really risk.

Infrastructure investments are risky. In some cases, their reward will justify their risk, while in other cases, taking a risk-averse On-Demand approach provides the best outcome all around.

It's tough to assign a once-and-for-all value to On-Demand options because it is not only different for every business, but it is also different for the specific scenario that you are provided. An idea is abstract and meaningless unless we can apply it in some kind of practical application, so perhaps the best way I can illustrate the decision between going an On–Demand route is by looking at it through the lens of two scenarios:

  1. Your project your company will grow by a factor of 10 over the next years.
  2. Your company is doing a hardware refresh for an advancement you want to take advantage of.

Growth
If you have to plan these things out ahead of time, it means making commitments and spending upfront capital and time in order to get what you need in order to grow your infrastructure to meet your projections. There is a lot of uncertainty and risk. What happens if the market takes a sudden downturn and your infrastructure needs to also adapt quickly? Everything works out fine as long as the future goes according to plan, but what if the projections we got were wrong?

Even if we grow 50% (which could still be a huge feat), the fact that we planned for 1000% growth could leave us financially crippled. What if the opposite of this scenario happens and your projections underestimate your future needs? This would seem to be less risky, but in reality, not having the tools necessary to provide your services or support your clients can be even more devastating. Never underestimate the cost of not being able to deliver and keep up with demand.

Hardware Refresh
For a hardware refresh, chances are that there is new software available and new ways of doing things to maximize the potential of recent advances in hardware. Generally, I see that companies that lean away from upgrading to "new" and simply keep the status quo. Why? The risk is too high, and time invested by personnel is far too costly. It may not be appealing to take the risk on finding what will make a new solution work when the cost of that investigation is high and the results are uncertain at best.

The problem is that if you stay unaware of changes in technology you'll soon find yourself getting further and further behind. The thought of maintaining the status quo can be as dangerous as quicksand.

Comparing In-House v. Outsourced
OK, now that the scenarios are set, let's look at what would happen when we play out and in-house infrastructure vs. an outsourced On-Demand solution with SoftLayer.

In a data center environment, the decisions you make have a long term impact. Once you make your decision and spend your money to host in-house, you're fully invested in that decision. The only thing that could break from your plan is a catastrophe. The sensible thing to do is to take time to better educate yourself so you can make better decisions. That means businesses will regularly take months (I've even heard of instances taking more than a year) to devise a strategy and months more to execute the implementation of that strategy. As a result, companies try to plan in multi-year cycles (5 years seems fairly typical).

Think about this: What has happened to your business and in your own personal life in the past 3 months? Do you feel confident in predicting exactly what will happen in the next 5 years?

While SoftLayer might not be in a better position to predict what will happen in the next 5 years, we operate an 'adjustable' infrastructure, so we'll be ready for whatever may come. Instead of an upfront capital expenditure, you can pay monthly to get the newest innovations in server hardware, and you can upgrade at any time without penalty. Instead of signing the long term contracts inherent in running your own data center environment (space, power, bandwidth, software, etc.), you can have hour-by-hour terms, month-to-month at the longest.

Running your own facilities means waiting weeks/months for your hardware to arrive so that you can have it racked and put into production. SoftLayer can build you customized dedicated server configurations that can be provisioned in under four hours. Cloud Compute Instances (CCIs) can be added in minutes, and by using templates you can save even more precious work time. You can even go as far as to automate this by utilizing our API-driven customer portal.

Even if the future doesn't go according to plan when you're using an outsourced On-Demand provider, you will have succeeded in eliminating much of your long-term risk. You can make the necessary adjustments to keep your business in the best position, regardless of what happens.

To give this example some teeth I'll tell you about a customer that I recently assisted: Customer X was looking at adding four fairly stacked servers and a SAN Solution to their infrastructure. To manage that infrastructure in-house, they determined that they would need to add two employees. All in all, this was going to cost them $140K in upfront capital for the hardware, and $120K per year on personnel (if they were lucky). This was all before they could see if their current in-house data center environment could support the additional infrastructure.

As it turns out, the data center environment couldn't sustain the power, and they would be forced to re-up on three year-term contracts for more space, power, and bandwidth to move their existing infrastructure to a larger portion of their data center. This project's costs were getting out of control, but they needed to make a change to deal with business growth. The problem with executing this plan is that at the end of the day, the business growth might not be able to justify the cost of expansion.

The worst part of this is that they were "pot committed" (for any readers that play poker) because of the big-money deal on software licensing they had already executed.

SoftLayer helped them by offering different 'on-demand' ways they could get the job done. As it turned out, they were ordering enough hardware to plan 18 months out and they expected further growth on a longer time line. They were not planning around what their hardware needs were today ... which was really about a third of what they were planning to purchase in the short term. We were able to set up dedicated servers, integrate Cloud Compute Instances for short term spikes in CPU needs and work in a storage solution that could be grown as their needs increased. To top this off, we also developed an High Availability (HA) strategy that put pieces in place where they could easily shift their entire operation into a different data center in a different city, should it ever be necessary. This was an added value that they knew they couldn't come close to executing themselves.

The best part of this example is that even after about a year of service and maintaining a consistent growth pattern, they still have not spent what they would have just in paying the additional two employees they would have had to hire. SoftLayer gave them the means to save $140,000 up front and thousands per month ever since. That customer is planning on moving the rest of their infrastructure into our facilities when their current contracts run out ... They've told me every time we've spoken that they want to make this move immediately, but they are still paying for decisions they made years ago.

At least for them there is light at the end of the tunnel, and they will be truly taking control of their infrastructure.

-Doug

November 19, 2010

What Does it Cost (Part 2)

Your People and How They Relate to Your Infrastructure

If you read my previous blog, “What Does it Cost (Part 1) - The Overview,” you may be interested to delve deeper into the conversation and math behind how all of this adds up. Essentially asking yourself “is it better to build infrastructure yourself?” is a good thing and you will inevitably try to ask yourself what does it cost to do so versus looking into “what would it cost to have SoftLayer do this for me since this is what their core competencies reside in?”.

Remember that one of the big lessons we can learn and that I re-learned at the conferences I attended is that your people are your biggest assets. This lesson is showcased and repeated several times and for good purpose, since this seems to be a time tested rule. While your people are a biggest assets they can also easily be one of your biggest costs especially if they are not managed properly. Every business should have a growth model but one thing that can hold you back is the cost of growth (or your growing pains).

Think about the amount of people you need when you run everything inside and what that will wind up costing. If your business, network, and uptime are all mission critical you’ll also need to take into consideration the number of people needed to make sure a facility is 24*7. You will need someone to fix a drive that brakes and needs to be replaced at 3:42AM, won’t you? Take the number of people that you think you’ll need and now consider what would happen if you were to double in size in a single year (or you could use your own timeline in your head). Would you need double the people or possibly more when you consider the needs of managers to make sure everything was in line with your business strategy? What would the cost be that you would need to pay when considering more than just their salaries.

Think of the other things that do not jump out at you immediately like taxes, insurance, a 401K plan, office space, other liabilities, etc. Gary Kinman (VP of Accounting and Finance) estimates that the cost of each additional employee is about 15-20% more than just the cost of their salary without including things like office space. This is one of the biggest aspects often overlooked, because it not only takes new people you would need to hire, but how it can monopolize time and production you would get otherwise from people you already have on staff.

Now, if you remember from part one I mentioned how Opportunity Costs are some of the biggest costs in the differences between how SoftLayer can help you versus doing things yourself. If you reverse the previous scenario and say that after you’ve just doubled in size there is a bust in the economy which causes you to have to contract. For starters the easiest way to cut back on spending is in people, so you may have to lay people off and ultimately make you the bad guy. Now here is where ugly gets really gruesome.

If you talked yourself into how cheap it can be to buy and do everything yourself you are in a real tight spot because now you may not have the necessary people to run all of your infrastructure, or in an even worse case scenario you may not even need it. What this spells out is that you keep something that cannot be used even though you are paying for it, and you had to let people go just to keep the rest of the boat afloat. Didn’t we say that our people are our most important asset earlier? You can’t always know what kind of worker someone will be when you hire them or how things will work out, but you do want to put yourself in a position to keep the good ones that you trust to push your business forward around and happy.

All right, that is enough doom and gloom scenario. Let’s look at this subject from another angle. As you grow in size generally everything you have and everything you use will grow right along the company. We covered the fact that it will probably become more and more obvious that you’ll need more people to do the work for your business. Hiring systems administrators, DBAs, and development staff can all be good moves that would impact your business specifically; however, are you putting them in the best position for them to be successful? Have you ever seen that show “Undercover Boss”? It seems that in a lot of the episodes you would see that a CEO was not cut out for doing a lot of other jobs in the company and would have a much greater appreciation of everyone who did all of those jobs and how hard they work. Sometimes they would have comments about if they were really trying to get that job they wouldn’t last long. Keep that thought in mind when asking these same Sys-admins, DBAs, and development staff to do jobs that they do not specialize in.

Taking your people in positions where they may get a grade of an “A” or a “B+” and putting them into different positions where they may get a “C-“, “D”, or even an “F” will not likely be good for production levels, decrease levels of morale, and will also likely tank the investment value made in the employees themselves and/or the infrastructure you purchase.

Bottom line is that the way the world is evolving is to work smarter, lessen risk, and (in drawing back to part 1) get more out of having less. The best way to avoid unnecessary risk is to not overextend yourself in the first place, and to stay in a position of flexibility so that you can react and adapt to the market around you. This is what SoftLayer is built for; keeping you with the most options in order to increase your ability to innovate and execute without sacrificing any level of control and without costing large sums of upfront capitol.

I am guessing that about 9 times out of 10 if you take the time to sit down and do the math it all makes perfect sense.

-Doug

Categories: 
October 12, 2010

What Does it Cost (Part 1)

The Overview
I normally like to have a little fun in the blogs that I write and maybe even take the occasional jab at our CFO Mike Jones (all kidding aside about pink shirts and what not he is a really great guy). This blog is intended to have more of a educational goal, and since there is a lot to take into consideration I won’t be able to make any pink shirt cracks, and the reason for this is because I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past year or two in which the question that always comes up is “How does SoftLayer compare to colocation and what is the better move for me?” We’ll look into this further throughout the blog series.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Network World IT Roadmaps events in both New York and Atlanta earlier this year. Now what motivated me to put fingers to keyboard here is the perspective I gained from many people that I talked to during and after the conference. I consider myself to be fortunate to attend because it is rare that SLales staff is able to join in on the marketing campaign and work with people more on a face to face basis. Normally SoftLayer Sales member cannot really help our customers if we are not at our desk to take their calls, chats, emails, or tickets. I enjoy attending events like these because it seems that you can learn so much more speaking with someone face to face as opposed to just over a phone call or email.

Since this was not my first go around with the Network World events I was more familiar with the setup and I was able to take more in from the people speaking at the event. There are some common themes that can affect business from the technology side of things, and if you want to have growth you must invest into your own infrastructure and your own technology. If you are a small mom and pop shop that is fine with maintaining the status quo it may not be as vital for you, but then again you wouldn’t be reading this blog post now would you? The themes I saw (broken down into more simple context) were based around some basic principles.

  • A company is a grouping of people working for a common goal. Your people are your most valuable asset and it is important to put them in positions where they can be successful and ultimately you will be successful as well.
  • The Wayne Gretzky quotes of “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”, and following that up with “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” these have a common sense idea that if you are not looking to the future and figure out what is coming next then you will always be trying to catch up. If you are not innovating or growing then ultimately you are dying.
  • How can I get more? We are constantly pressured to do more with less, or at least get more out of what we already have. This is probably the biggest and most frequent question we all get no matter what our business model is and what we try to achieve.

There are, of course, many other themes than the ones I have just listed and more specific ones too. Even though I certainly took much more away these were some of the main takeaways that brought me back to an always evolving answer to the same question that every speaker seemed to dance around - “What does it cost?”

No matter how big you are or how much budget you have in place there will always be different options presented to you on how to build up your infrastructure. I have no doubt that you have asked yourself the question of what will it cost in relation to many things and possibly asked yourself in many different ways. Making comparisons to figure out what is the cost and what will give me the best possible results is the end goal we are trying to reach. But how can we get there? It can be very difficult to compare data centers to each other in an apple to apples fashion. There are simply too many variables to note in making this all come forth full stream. My goal is to try and help us all tackle this broad issue, and hopefully it will lead to more discussion about pros and cons so that it can be easier to determine the best course of action in future planning.

There are a lot of things to consider in the cost of running a data center. It seems like a never ending list of essential things that cost both money and time (which in some cases can be more valuable). In this series of blogs we’ll break specifics parts of a data center down into the basics of several areas that you’d need to consider. Once we get into the basics we’ll want to look back to ask “what does it take to run a data center?” Most often people only look at the most tangible items with the easiest metrics to apply which essentially comes down to the server hardware, power, space, and bandwidth. Sometimes these are the only things that people look at in making this decision.

Depending who you are and what you want to get out of your data center this could be close to what you’d need to consider, but for 99% of the population who has any business with a data center this only covers the basics. As a society convenience plays an ever increasing role in what we look for and in addition to this 99% looking for data center infrastructure crave things like uptime, speed, reliability, and space/opportunity for scalability and expansion. Each of these things are more than just desires, they are verified needs.

So in getting to the meat of what this blog is about I’ll quickly discuss the different things that add to the total cost beyond the obvious things of Hardware, Space, Power, and Bandwidth. I know this is already pretty long for a blog so I am turning this into a short series and I will follow up with addition blogs to go into more depth about each portion and how they can relate to each other. I will work to add insight from other customers who have asked this of themselves before in addition to giving my own experiences on this topic.

Opportunity Costs
I consider the idea of Opportunity Costs to be amongst the highest and least quantifiable aspect in running a data center. This isn’t something that will have its own blog post because of its broad nature, so instead I’ll simply tie the idea of Opportunity Cost into each other blog and how it relates to the overall discussion.

There is often a simple truth to knowing or stating that if we choose option “A” it will negate the value, relevance, and in many cases the existence of any other previously viable options. Nearly all Opportunity Costs relates back to What Does it Cost by determining what is potentially to be either gained or lost with that decision. This idea can be further broken down into risk vs. reward, and a simple business decision in knowing that if you wish to take on less risk, you’ll need to pay more for it or get less in return. The same can be said for intangibles other than risk like convenience, reliability, and speed.

Human Resource costs
Earlier, I mentioned that one of the main topics of discussion that guest speakers emphasized was that Our people are our biggest assets, but at the same time they can also easily be one of our biggest costs. I think that a lot of businesses can agree with this statement, however, the impact from how we develop our infrastructure does not often take our people and associated costs into account. Every business should have a growth model the cost of growth (or your growing pains) is often overlooked in the planning stages. We’ll look at specific situations and take into account amount of people needed running everything yourself and what that will wind up costing from just the HR standpoint.

This can get more into what is the cost of adding one more qualified employee. This is one of the biggest aspects often overlooked, because it not only takes new people you would need to hire, but how it can monopolize time and production you would get otherwise from people you already have on staff.

The value of "On-Demand" and the cost of not having it.
Have you ever heard the phrase “time is money”? What does this mean to you? What can this mean in a data center? Here we’ll focus the conversation on efficiency and the compare certain costs and benefits between different ways about achieving our goals.

We can take a look at standard processes that we may have to go through if we wish to add capacity as well as integrating new solutions with existing ones. Time has a huge value in today’s business world, and we’ll determine how having on demand infrastructure has the ability to positively impact the bottom line immensely. Having necessary tools in a truly on-demand and versatile environment will be a major point of focus in everything moving forward, and it is an important intangible factor that we should not lose sight of.

Cost of Uptime/ Redundancy
Uptime is one of the most common themes near the top of everyone’s list for data center management. We can all agree that uptime is important, but how important is it to us each individually? We will look at scenarios where if a catastrophic event were to happen we should ask ourselves what it would cost not only in terms of monetary value, but also what would that mean long term and on a strategic level.

Downtime will eventually happen in all things, but if you can plan around this to have redundancy or failover then you can alleviate this risk. So we must again ask ourselves “what will this cost?” Simply put Redundancy can and will be expensive. Generally it will cost much more than just the sum of its parts and it is easy to over look certain aspects of where you may have a “single point of failure”. At the same time we should consider what will the cost be for each additional level of redundancy that we incorporate?

Contracts
In this blog we will relate focus heavily on two main ideas: The value of time in making long term decisions and Opportunity Cost. We’ll be able to look at what having long term commitments really cost in ways that include scalability, large capital costs, accounting on physical resources and their benefits as well as limitations. Once we have this established we can also more easily determine how this can affect your decision making and your ongoing ability to do the right thing for your business.

Accounting
Different accounting practices can make a great difference in your bottom line. Carrying on additional debt, taxes, and taking depreciation can have a lot of costs that go beyond the normal operating costs. For this section I’ll warrant the help of some of our experts who have already previously run several scenarios and may be a bit more qualified than I am to speak on such matters.

In the end this study can make it easier to compare and see if SoftLayer is the right solution for you or someone you may know. I can say that SoftLayer will not be the entire solution for some companies compared to doing things yourself, however, we do make sound business sense in about 95% of cases at some capacity if not full capacity.

-Doug

Categories: 
June 29, 2010

The 360 degree Network is not a myth!

OK so 360 degrees covers every direction, right? It’s everything top to bottom, front to back, and side to side. Is it possible for a network or datacenter to have you covered by 360 degrees? No way. Impossible. Can’t happen and wont happen in this life nor the next. That kind of total coverage is on the level of other mythological beings, like Big Foot, that are awe-inspiring, and the stuff of legend. The new network extensions in addition to what we had before have brought a lot of light to what the possibilities are. I mean at one point most people in the world thought their world was flat. So if you can see things the way I do you may agree that the 360 degree network is real and SoftLayer is the key to this understanding. Who knows, if we prove this to be true maybe we can even find hard proof evidence of Big Foot too.

Steve Kinman, affectionately known as SKinman, beat me to the punch in writing about the new POPs that have been recently released. If we didn’t know better we’d think it was his job or something to write blogs. But seriously, if you haven’t already, take the time to check out http://theinnerlayer.softlayer.com/2010/network/. I was all hyped up to write up about the new additions, and luckily that there are so many things that this offering has to give Skinman was only able to get in some of the cool stuff about it. The overly quick review of recent updates to the network is that we’ve added POPs in pretty much each and every major Telecom city in America. This not only gives us additional capacities, redundancies, and even luxuries that are not just impossible for you to get anywhere else, but also that you don’t have to pay for it.

So what do we get from this additional network capacity? The answer is a much better overall end user experience. The internet isn’t about just a bunch of tubes, but instead it is about people. It’s about people who want to connect to others, people who want to learn things, and people who want to make life easier. We’ve simply taken one of the widely acclaimed networks in the world and increased its capacity and potential exponentially. We know we get a better end user experience, but I say we also get tons of Value which is what makes this business. “How so” you ask? If you think about it we’ve all been given all of these awesome additional features and it costs us nothing, zip, nada. In fact it probably increases our leverage to make more enterprise level solutions even more affordable and within reach. Geographical diversity is a huge tool to have at your disposal, but most times it costs way too much to think about things like Disaster Recovery, or High Availability solutions and not to mention too complex. Think about it. If you have different facilities in different cities there are few ways of making something work and endless road blocks keeping you from being able to do what you need before you even think of the costs. Let’s face it; Innovation is both expensive and Risky. The value that new POPs bring on top of what our network was already capable of does more to neutralize the cost and risk of expansion more than anything that has ever been available to the masses. The POPs do not even mention what is possible and what often gets overlooked about the private network already. Lets take a look at what matters most to the majority of our customers.

  1. Free inbound bandwidth. – We were the first to introduce this and some have followed to offer as well, but not everyone.
  2. All 10G connections from each Carrier or Peer – In order to make sure you have the best end user experience there is a vast amount of BW capacity and we will not work with any providers that cannot give us 10G in a location. This has caused us to no longer work with providers we have previously worked with to get this done.
  3. Cisco Network Routing and Switch Gear from top to bottom – We use this throughout our infrastructure to make sure we have the best results. We are also constantly testing new technologies to make sure that we do not miss out on pushing the industry from an innovative standpoint.
  4. Arbor Peakflow and Atlas Traffic Analysis - This may not be necessary for everyone at all times, and it is something of a minor point. Still it is somewhat important to note how traffic is coming in and that it is available for you if and when you need it.
  5. Automated IP routing & Management via FCP – This makes sure we use the best routes for your traffic which further ensures a better overall experience.
  6. Individual and Secure Private VLANS – Without this you can be exposed on a network which is a problem and you could have additional unnecessary risk. Without this others in the data center could “sniff your traffic” steal your IPs, or simply see and hack into your servers somewhat easily.
  7. Up to 1000mbps connection on the server - it just includes all of our backbone carriers and our peering partners as well. (this number is expected to grow as we add more peering partners each week)
  8. Geographically Redundant DNS services – this is made even more powerful with the additional POPs available.
  9. This doesn’t even mention higher styles of load balancing, firewalls, or the control that we offer, but that is a whole other blog post.

OK, so now we’ve really tooted the Public network horn pretty hard. Doing this is necessary, because it doesn’t get a lot of attention sometimes. If you are wondering why then it’s important that we cover the other half of the coin: The Private Network. SoftLayer is built from the ground up making sure that we can imperative things to our customers: Unparalleled control, Automation, Integration and all of it is On-Demand with no long term contracts or large CapX to risk. We know this is important to you because it’s also important to us. We have always strived to be the innovative leader and the very first step was the private network. Normally, this is what gets all of the attention in anything that we bring out or offer because it ties everything in without having the normal hassles and complications caused by time and space issues in a datacenter. Where else can you integrate a cloud solution with dedicated servers while setting up a DMZ to make it all PCI compliant? You guessed it, nowhere. Where else could you take the same solution and expand it to multiple datacenters for higher levels of failover and performance?..... OK I guess this is getting kind of redundant and I could keep this up all day long, but I think you get the point. I am interested to hear of things that anyone feels that cannot be done within our network

With as much acclaim as the SoftLayer Private Network has gotten (and well deserved I might add) it is a major feet to provide an extended public network that is equally as impressive. Together they combine to create the 360 degree network, like all 5 lions coming together to form Voltron- Defender of the Universe. I’m just saying that if we have this here…. Keep your eyes out for Big foot.

Categories: 
November 11, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

I just got back in town from Las Vegas, Nevada. That town is filled with stories and you can really love it or hate it, depending on the hour (or if you are like me whether you are arriving into McCarran or departing). I had a great trip this last go around and actually made money on the tables. However, when they say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas they are really talking about your money. Never forget that the house always wins. Always. Even if you win money you’ll wind up spending it on stuff out there and perpetuating your own good time. There isn’t anything wrong with this at all. In fact I plan on coming up on the short side of the stick on both the tables and on simply spending cash when I go out that way.

I think the really interesting thing that happens when you go through “the Vegas experience” is the perceived value of a dollar. You can take it for granted that all of a sudden you are transplanted into this fantasy world that is reminiscent of Pleasure Island from the story of Pinocchio and you’ll find that you have anything and everything you could want to do, eat, drink, or experience right at your fingertips. As this begins to progress the value of a dollar plummets quickly. You start overpaying for things at a whim, tipping bigger, making bolder and even just dumber bets. I did this and I can admit that I doubled down on my 11 when the dealer was showing a 10 in blackjack. It was blind luck that I hit it and won every single time. It’s a bold and stupid bet to make, but when you are playing with house money the money doesn’t matter and it’s almost as if you are trying to give it all back. My game of choice is craps because it gives you the best odds and there is a lot of action. It’s good and bad as it can all come and go in a hurry.

I have only been to Las Vegas a handful of times, but each time there is a point where even for a second you can feel invincible – that you can’t lose. Or, that even if you do lose you won’t even care. The flight home is a completely different story. I call it the hangover flight. You may be literally hung over, but no matter what, you will start to deal with all of the actions that happened on your trip and how you will need to handle them. As soon as you touch down in your own home town things slowly start to become “real” again. Your own home can even feel somewhat foreign for a while, but you’ll quickly come to the realization that you had become a completely different person for a short time.

I have come to the conclusion that there is always risk in everything that we do. Exposing yourself to the tables of Las Vegas may carry more financial risk than your morning commute to work, but in both cases there are still risks. There are also risks that we take in setting and running a business. There are countless ways that you could be putting your business at risk without the right plan in place. From an IT perspective alone, you need to consider things like redundancy, failover, security, backups, growth, and even data loss. Knowing what is going to happen next for your business may be as likely as knowing what is going to come up on the next roll of the dice. If you know this for certain you can press your luck and come up big, but if you are not prepared you could lose everything you have on the table. It is better to be prepared.

I think of SoftLayer as the house, and remember as I said before, the house always wins. The good thing about this is that you are betting with the house. Even with this you need to bet on yourself and back up your own bet. If the bulk of your business is in your data then you need to have backups. If you absolutely need to have High Availability, then look into Clusters and Load Balancing. But remember, that you are betting with the house because SoftLayer gives you the capacity to do all of it and do it all at a very affordable price compared to trying to do it yourself and also do it without long term commitments. Long term commitments bring the most uncertainty in making moves that will positively affect your business. Imagine if a casino told you that you “had” to make 12 consecutive bets regardless of how well (or poorly) you were doing?

Coming home from Las Vegas to SoftLayer has been a very good thing and makes me thankful for where I am and what I have. There aren’t the levels of uncertainty here that are automatic with other datacenters or even other business models. SoftLayer is steady and it is very easy to get what you need here while cutting out the risk that you don’t want to deal with. SoftLayer is as much of a “sure thing” as any bet you can make!

February 23, 2009

Shouldn’t Service Industries Be About Service?

It’s a pretty fundamental idea that I am finding gets overlooked more and more these days. I recently ordered DirecTV for my home, and I haven’t had any real problems with it. After all, it’s just programming. It’s the same programming that we’ve had for years and take for granted all the time and just expect it to work, but thankfully it does work. If you have ever been a customer of the numerous companies that treat customers like cattle, then you may share my point of view and frustration in dealing with them.

I have spent hours on phone calls trying to sort out many different aspects of my services, but normally wind up being told that the issue is not part of my contract and that they cannot help me further. In most situations, I know that the person on the other end of the phone is simply doing their job. But, as a customer, any small effort and willingness to look at alternatives would go a long way towards eliminating a lot of the frustration. It is all too common that customer services reps work almost exclusively from a set of scripted answers as opposed to actually looking at the reason that one of their customers is calling in the first place. With the cynicism that gets built up, one begins to think if these companies care at all about their individual customers.

Ok, so enough for the doom-and-gloom about how many companies operate today and take advantage of these situations. It is time to stop focusing on the negative and start working positively on a sensible solution. One thing we can always control is our own actions, and I have vowed to never let a SoftLayer customer feel like we were unwilling to work with them in order to put their goals within reach. Think of the “golden rule” and make sure I am treating anyone I work with the same way that I wish companies I called would treat me.

It seems that in the global economy that we live and work in, you would expect many companies to strive for differentiation by not only providing a great product/service that people want, but also compliment their offerings by providing a high level of customer service that leaves the customer feeling fortunate to do business with them. If this were the case more often, contracts would not be necessary because the company would be able to count on its superior offerings and customers would not have any reason to leave based on the customer service.

In the vast world of IT and the seemingly limitless options our network infrastructure brings it can be nearly impossible to fit a standard model for everyone and their specific needs. Being flexible, understanding, and willing to work with our customers is what allows us to build better business relationships which promote more success for both our customers and us.

Simply put, the number one thing that any service industry business relies on most is its customers, and we must never forget that.

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September 24, 2008

Fantasy Football

Football season is BACK!!! I know that not all of our customers really care or keep up with what is going on in the National Football League…. But I DO!  Along with this comes the hobby/obsession with Fantasy Football.  I will admit that I myself am a fantasy junkie, a nerd, but also a king.  While I am not very involved in the MySpace community and only slightly in the LinkedIn community I am proud to be a member of the vast and consistently growing FFL community. 

(Note: you can check out our SL Facebook world at http://www.facebook.com/SoftLayer

We have been able to form an office Fantasy Football League that consists of Accounting, Development, Marketing, and SLales staff are all involved.  We have called the league the Fantasy Layer, and many of us have our teams named after characters or minor points from the movie “Office Space”.  Characters like Milton, Lumbergh, and Lawrence (the guy who lives next door that you can hear through the wall) to simple things like the red swingline stapler and the fax machine that never works are all involved in some pretty creative team names.

60% of our league has never played before and this is their first crack at it ever.  Even though we are only one week into the season there has already been a lot of entertainment based on the name of our league alone.  If I can help it there may be a good deal of trash talk coming very soon.

Like with most internet communities you can put endless amounts of time into fantasy football leagues, or very little.  I have put a good deal of my off time into researching the teams I have put together this year and I feel confident about them.  Even more rewarding is that the efforts I have made are not only to my benefit, but Michael Miller has directly made use of my research and through him even my own Vice President (Steven Canale) was able to benefit second hand.  I am happy to say that we have all gotten off on the right foot and are dominating our leagues so far.  

Note: When I say dominating I don’t mind beating my chest a little bit in telling the rest of my league that “This is the greatest team ever assembled, and I will teach you the meaning of the word Fear”.

And now coming back down to earth…

Fantasy Football is completely hit or miss.  I get it.  I used to be a complete cynic before seeing the light by getting involved.  Still even though this type of thing isn’t for everyone (nor is it meant to be) it is a good example of how the internet has grown in the past couple of years.  The internet and internet based communities have moved beyond the realm of the stereotypical geeks and created entire new geek realms bringing us all closer together.  For some, these types of on line communities are the only reason that they even log on to the internet or have any reason to associate with it.  The thing that seems to continually tie new people into the fold are the common interests and sharing of information.  I know that if we continue to share what we have found in our own experiences we will continue to attract more people to be a part of what we are involved in ourselves. 

I encourage everyone to share and invite new people to be a part of what they already know and involved in, but for now I am just looking forward to Week 2 of the NFL season.

-Doug

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May 9, 2008

Industry-Wide Language Barrier

What language do we speak here at Softlayer? What language is spoken across the industry? Is it the same, or does everyone have their own code for translation?

It seems that in the “on demand datacenter industry”, “hosting industry”, “dedicated server industry” (or whatever you prefer to call it) each company or provider has its own idea and way of projecting who they are. These projections are seldom in line with one another and have a slight difference only to give some idea of separation.

The biggest grey area that I have seen and something that gets distorted is the idea of managed services and just the term “management” in general seems to have lost any kind of universal meaning. The thing that I run into most is when a customer asks us if we are a managed company. I find this to be a loaded question knowing what I know of the industry and other providers. The reason is that you can call your service anything you want to and even come up with clever and creative names for it, but at the end of the day creative marketing doesn’t get results when the rubber meets the road.

It is imperative that the correct expectations are set so that customers aren’t lead astray and find themselves in a situation that they were unprepared for because they were disillusioned by gimmicky wording. Softlayer has the reputation of being an honorable company and I am proud to be a part of that. We do not consider ourselves to be a managed service, but we do offer support and help in many situations. We have support staff here 24 hours every day of the year that can help you, or possibly help point you in a good direction for you to be able to help yourself. We offer OS updates and patches at no additional charge automatically. We strive to be as upfront and fair on everything from the bottom to the top, so I feel that it is my duty to explain this situation in more detail. In fact, all of our sales representatives and many of our customers have felt this same way. What I have found is that this upfront and honest explanation is a rarity and that many companies are not as forthcoming as they could be or should be when discussing “managed services”.

There are a lot of companies who provide the exact same services as we do and call this being “fully managed”. There are others who promise the moon and a shoe shine with their service and then just come up short on the efforts. Now, this may not be entirely their fault because they may have excellent intentions, but a poor and impractical business model. However, intentions don’t get results and customers are the ones who pay most for the misrepresentation. The worst situation is when someone pays a huge premium for a service that is overpromised and then severely under delivered. When I am able to talk to someone who has been in this situation they really appreciate the options and control that they have over every aspect of their service when choosing Softlayer as their provider. The only satisfaction I can get is helping people that have been taken advantage of find a provider that they know they can count on and exactly what they can expect.

This elaboration of services extends beyond server management. No matter what buzz words a company may want to use to describe your company (“largest”, “best”, “heroic”, “ultimate”, really just fill in the blank on this if you’ve been around long enough.) the main thing that matters in this industry is functionality. I am confident in saying that no other company can offer anything close to what Softlayer can provide. Softlayer provides options and capabilities which are unparalleled in the industry in order to give customers complete control over their hardware and thus their own business. There are some that have tried to copy our model and others who have tried to produce a stop-gap solution between what they offer and what we offer, but they have failed. Is this, perhaps, a key reason why we have been able to sustain our high level of growth and remain stable? Possibly. Is this a sign that the best is yet to come with Softlayer? Definitely.

If you want to talk about situations or projects you may have coming up, I would be happy to speak with you and help come up with a solution that will maximize your businesses potential. In fact my entire team is here for this specific purpose.

-Doug

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May 6, 2008

High Five Rebuttal

I know this is an overdue rebuttal, but I have to stick up for myself here. Recently it has been brought up the high five and the fist bump pro’s and cons. I am here to shed new light on the matter which will provide a feasible alternative, but at the same time bring respect to all no matter what form you like to bring it.

Let's review:

The high five is a cornerstone of cool. It is the revolutionary leader in which we should pay homage because without it we wouldn’t have this conversation in the first place. God only knows when the high five was invented, but even then he must have been impressed. So in the interest of staying positive let’s stick with the pro’s of the high five.

  • A high five can be a good alternative to anything else because of range and when height is a factor (especially over a cube wall).
  • The high five is versatile in different levels and angles that it can be applied from. It can even go inverted (see explanation of “low five” in blogs to come)
  • The high five is not likely to spur on a game of bloody knuckles or other such contests of pain thresholds even as invigorating as they can be.
  • The high five is universal and you can take it all over the world. (see Borat, he’ll tell you all about it)
  • The high five can be seen in many instances throughout the movie “TOP GUN”. Especially in the brotherhood of “Maverick” and “Goose”. I don’t care who you are or how old you are TOPGUN is still one of the coolest movies around and the high fives used in the movie just help make it that much cooler. Also, as a side note, if you didn’t feel remotely bad when Goose died in the movie you have no soul and can probably stop reading at this point.
  • Above all the high five has withstood a test many popular things haven’t or won't; the test of time.

So now that we have elaborated on why the high five is not the evil empire of office camaraderie, but in fact a form of communication to be respected and treasured, we can move onto the fist bump. The fist bump is more recent. It’s hip, it’s now, it’s from the streets. You can do kewl little things like “lock it up” or “blow it up”. They perform a fist pump out of sign of respect before any boxing match or other fight. Some believe it to be a sign of strength or superiority. I find it simply to be a solid alternative to be used to keep things fresh when pumping up the colleagues. For more on the positive promise of the fist bump please note our CEO’s perfectly mannered and unbiased point of view of the subject in an earlier blog.

Taking it to the next level people have suggested the chest bump. However, I don’t have a lot to say about this one because I don’t know when it’s ever really ok to get that close to someone else in the office and we’ll just leave it at that.

OK, so after all this. I have a suggestion to include the elbow into the repertoire. Names that have been thrown out have been simply “the elbow” and the “e-dap”. If stating that the fist bump is a sign of strength and thus making it good the elbow bump or other connection has to be the next logical form of enthusiasm.

  • No set of bones in the human body are as strong as the elbow (the thigh could claim some contention, but we’re not touching that with a really long pole) and nothing can be as impactful as a well placed “forearm shivva”.
  • In the heyday of steroids in baseball it was the en vogue way of celebrating. At no other point in time was neither baseball nor the players stronger than during the reign of “the elbow”.
  • In entertainment disguised as sport in wrestling “The Rock” (name spurred on from a symbolism of strength) had a favorite move called “The People’s Elbow”. It was aptly named for the people because of its popularity.
  • The Elbow has an outreach so wide that Michael Miller of the sales department often speaks of “The Flying Elbow” inspired by the Macho Man Randy Savage.

The fist bump is still quite popular now, but with all of this evidence available I implore upper management to cease its discrimination of other forms of enthusiasm. Please broaden your horizons to accept new ways as well as classic ways of expressing ones pride in celebration. After all people of one mind and one spirit working for one goal cannot be wrong in any form of celebration as victory is achieved.

-Doug

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December 7, 2007

Why I Love Working in SoftLayer SLales

SoftLayer is a very unique company. It is a rare find and it is a pleasure to be associated with this company. I certainly hope our customers feel the same way (and if you don’t, please talk to us so we can make our service with you more valuable). I am a Senior Sales Representative at SL and I would like to give you more of a behind the scenes feel for why we are the best sales staff in the industry.

I am a people pleaser, and I truly love to help people find satisfaction. I have had several sales positions since I graduated from college many years ago. The thing those previous sales positions had in common was that the salesman was incented to take his own needs into consideration first and foremost. This directly conflicts with what I want to accomplish in business. It is understood that everyone goes into business not to play Barbie dolls, but to earn a profit. Still, this seems fundamentally wrong to me. I have direct experience (even in this industry) where sales positions are incented to put their own needs and wants before those of the customer, or even the company they are working for. This misappropriation of incentive or motivation can cause any number of scenarios that are bad for business on both sides. Luckily this is not how things are done at Softlayer. The customer’s needs come first, as it should be.

The main reason why I came to SoftLayer was because of the way that its sales staff is designed. We are put together as a team, for the customer's benefit. Customers do not need to worry about working with a single individual sales person unless they simply prefer to. I know that I prefer to build up business relationships because this makes for a good understanding of what the main goals are for each customer, and I can have a better grasp of what I can personally do to help. We are not individually commissioned so customers can rest assured knowing that we are doing everything possible to put them in the best situation imaginable. This allows us to avidly search for those “win – win” situations that are positive for everyone involved.

The SoftLayer Sales staff is also very diverse in the styles and talents that we offer. Everyone here has had several years of industry experience and is quite knowledgeable about not only product lines, but also the businesses of our customers. I would go so far as to say that we have the most knowledgeable staff in the industry.

The bottom line is that an intelligent sales staff working for the right reasons ends up with satisfied customers. Satisfied customers are inclined to do more business with a company, and a positive culture between the company and customer is created as opposed to a negative one where it seems that there is always a disparity between the two.

Because of the culture we have created here, it makes me happy to come to work each day.

-Doug

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