Author Archive: Danny Nguyen

December 16, 2011

A Melting Pot of Techies

Now that I've had about twelve years of work experience, I'm at a point in my life where I can't really claim to be "young" or "inexperienced" anymore. Throughout my professional career, I've been exposed to many different types of work environments, and I must say that never have I encountered as diverse a work force as the one I work with now at SoftLayer *ndash; everything from family background to hobbies.

Since my first day at SoftLayer, I've been amazed to learn about all the different places my coworkers have come from. To name a few that stood out and to give you an idea of how diverse our team is, I have colleagues that are from Madagascar, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Korea, Japan, and even "Texas." It is fascinating to learn more about other cultures from them, and because we work together every day, I have a lot of great opportunities to do so.

To take this concept of diversity even further, as I got to know my coworkers more, I soon realized that our differences extended significantly beyond nationality since we have such varied personal hobbies and interests from all walks of life. I've gotten to know individuals that are into acting for short films, piloting airplanes, live-action role playing, skateboarding, cooking, car drifting, and barbecuing. You may not find this unusual if you've have encountered people with similar interests at some point in your lives, but to have them all in a single workplace is pretty incredible to me.

Despite all these differences in nationality and personal interests, we all share the same passion for computer hardware and software that is an integral part of the business services that SoftLayer offers. We could talk for hours on end about the different technologies, and even with all of our differences, SoftLayer's unified, inviting corporate culture makes it easy for us to share a passion for excellent customer support. If you talk to Lance, you'll hear him say that the customer experience is the only thing that matters to him, and when your CEO lives and breathes that mantra, it's easy for everyone to follow.

When I first heard about the plans to expand overseas into Amsterdam and Singapore, I was a little nervous at the challenge, but when I started to think about it, our business model has always involved employing diverse talents with a common goal that could be implemented essentially anywhere in the world with little difficulty.

SoftLayer has become a great melting pot of technical staff, and because new employees are rapidly assimilated into the team, their unique interests and personalities immediately become a part of the far-reaching (and growing) landscape of SoftLayer diversity.

Want to bring some of your diversity to our team? Right now we have 50+ open positions in almost every department of the company and in every location. Just promise when you join our team that you'll send me a message to introduce yourself!

-Danny

October 22, 2011

Content Streaming = Living Like Kings

As a video gaming and movie addict, I've always followed the latest trends and news in these two areas. Because there always seems to be some "breaking news" every day due to technology advancing so rapidly, sometimes it's tough to keep up.

In gaming, I remember it all started for me back when my parents decided to buy me the first Nintendo console. Pointing that light sensor gun at unsuspecting ducks and watching them fall was all the rage ... It marked a big step in the evolution of home gaming. What initially seemed like a good investment to keep me out of trouble soon turned into a headache for my parents. I frequently begged for more games, and they were not cheap. Look at how much new video games cost these days, and you'll see that not much has changed in that regard. The fire to play all the latest games was never extinguished, so a chunk of my income was always earmarked for the next amazing game I needed.

As for movies, I also found myself collecting as many as possible to rewatch whenever I choose. While each individual movie didn't cost as much as a video game, the aggregate costs definitely built up over time. My family and friends warned me that my "extravagant lifestyle" is reserved for the rich and would only lead me to financial ruin.

Fast forward to today, and I can say that I've learned a lot and found ways to sustainably feed my addiction without driving myself to financial ruin. How is it possible that I am able to live like a king without breaking the bank? It's all thanks to content streaming, made possible by the Internet. I no longer have to buy every single game to have the ability to play whenever I feel like it with services like OnLive that actually streams numerous games to my TV (and a few other supported devices). Beyond the fact that I save money by not buying the game, I don't even need the latest computer hardware to play the more graphics-intensive games like Crysis:

Crysis

You might not be familiar with OnLive just yet, but most people know about content steaming from companies like Netflix and Amazon. You can stream countless movies to your devices to watch movies on demand for a monthly fee or on a per-movie basis. With these services readily available, it's possible for just about anyone have the "kid in the candy store" experience of pulling up essentially any content whenever we want to watch or play.

If either form of entertainment appeals to you, you can agree that our quality of life has improved over time significantly. The streaming services provided by companies like Netflix and OnLive have really taken advantage of the technological capabilities offered by high speed Internet, which also reminds us of the significance of web hosting. To offer customers complete satisfaction, deciding which web hosting company to go with for a business is often a very difficult decision, especially since there are so many out there. It would make complete business sense to find an extremely reliable company to ensure the success of such services and having worked in the industry, and I can assure you with much pride that SoftLayer certainly shines in this area.

As an employee, I see how we're building our network to provide the best experience around the world, and if there's ever a problem, we treat all outages with extreme urgency. Customers get better turnaround times, and they can provide better service for their customers. If some content streaming were to become unavailable, it wouldn't be long before it became available again.

It's pretty safe to say that the Internet has spoiled me ... Now all I need is a crown.

-Danny

Categories: 
September 6, 2011

Emergency Response Services

When people ask me what I do for a living these days, I tell them I provide emergency response services. With this answer, I usually get very surprised and intrigued looks as they probe for more details about the excitement of saving lives. For those that have known me for a while, they are especially shocked since my career until recently has always entailed sitting in a cubicle, crunching numbers and manipulating spreadsheets.

I don't actually provide ERS, and I don't "technically" save lives during my work days, but I do provide emergency services for our customers, and if you ask them, they'll probably tell you I'm a little like a life saver. I tell people I'm an emergency responder as a bit of a joke, but it's actually a great way to start explaining what I do at SoftLayer. When a customer's service is disrupted (preventing them from conducting important business), we need to respond immediately and knowledgeably to get everything back online as quickly as possible.

As Server Build Technicians, we have to be alert and ready for situations where a server goes down and affects the availability of a customer's site. Being offline can often translate to the loss of revenue and this I completely understand: If I wanted to buy something on a site and I find that the site is offline, I'll probably fire up a search page and look for another vendor. The first store loses my sale because I'm so conditioned to everything being available right when I need it ... And I'm not alone in this mentality.

When I started writing this article, we were gearing up for natural disaster to hit the Washington, D.C. area over the weekend (for the first time in my career). We had to plan what needed to be done at home and work ... Because SoftLayer provides web hosting services that must be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we have to do our best to minimize any service impact. We were lucky to have avoided much of the damage from Hurricane Irene, but we still treated it as though it was heading right toward us. In addition to the employees on site, everyone was on call to be ready to come in and help if needed. For those who have never experienced a hurricane, just think of a severe thunderstorm that lasts 8 to 12 hours, resulting in widespread power outages, flooding and wind damage.

A hurricane is scary for everyone in its path, and to a certain extent, all you can do is be safe and have a plan of response. Our data center has extremely reliable power generators and staff to handle these kinds of situations; we're always prepared for the worst case scenarios for your servers so you don't have to be.

-Danny

P.S. If you've never thought about becoming a "Server Emergency Responder," I'd recommend swinging by the SoftLayer Careers page to learn more about becoming a Server Build Technician. As of right now, there are SBT positions available in Dallas, Seattle, Amsterdam, Singapore and Washington, D.C.

August 25, 2011

The Beauty of IPMI

Nowadays, it would be extremely difficult to find a household that does not store some form of media – whether it be movies, music, photos or documents – on their home computer. Understanding that, I can say with confidence that many of you have been away from home and suddenly had the desire (or need) to access the media for one reason or another.

Because the Internet has made content so much more accessible, it's usually easy to log in remotely to your home PC using something like Remote Desktop, but what if your home computer is not powered on? You hope a family member is at home to turn on the computer when you call, but what if everyone is out of the house? Most people like me in the past would have just given up altogether since there would be no clear and immediate solution. Leaving your computer on all day could work, but what if you're on an extended trip and you don't want to run up your electricity bill? I'd probably start traveling with some portable storage device like a flash drive or portable hard drive to avoid the problem. This inelegant solution requires that I not forget the device, and the storage media would have to be large enough to contain all necessary files (and I'd also have to know ahead of time which ones I might need).

Given these alternatives, I usually found myself hoping for the best with the portable device, and as anticipated, there would still be some occasions where I didn't happen to have the right files with me on that drive. When I started working for SoftLayer, I was introduced to a mind-blowing technology called IPMI, and my digital life has never been the same.

IPMI – Intelligent Platform Management Interface – is a standardized system interface that allows system administrators to manage and monitor a computer. Though this may be more than what the common person needs, I immediately found IPMI to be incredible because it allows a person to remotely power on any computer with that interface. I was ecstatic to realize that for my next computer build, I could pick a motherboard that has this feature to achieve total control over my home computer for whatever I needed. IPMI may be standard for all servers at SoftLayer, but that doesn't mean it's not a luxury feature.

If you've ever had the need to power on your computers and/or access the computer's BIOS remotely, I highly suggest you look into IPMI. As I learned more and more about the IPMI technology, I've seen how it can be a critical feature for business purposes, so the fact that it's a standard at SoftLayer would suggest that we've got our eye out for state-of-the art technologies that make life easier for our customers.

Now I don't have to remember where I put that flash drive!

-Danny

May 31, 2011

Bringing Home Data Center Security

Look at any time period in mankind's history, and you'll come to the undeniable conclusion that technology changes the daily lives people in any society. With the evolution of technology, our lives have gotten so much easier. Consider all the little luxuries and conveniences available now to get tasks done in the workplace and home. Unfortunately, our rapid technological advancements aren't necessarily exclusive to the "good guys" ... The "bad guys" are benefiting from new technologies as well. Crime and theft have become more sophisticated, and as a result, more technological advancement has to be pursued in security, and it's pretty remarkable to see some of the security measures and technologies put in place by companies like SoftLayer.

The day I started working here, I thought I was actually joining the CIA. I had to undergo several procedures to gain access to all the facilities: I had my photo taken and my fingerprints scanned before I registered for multiple key cards. The first job I had out of college only required its employees to have a single key card that allowed entrance through one door with access to all areas. Needless to say, it was a lot different to work in such a secure environment.

To give you an idea of what kinds of security we have at our data center, I'll walk you through my daily experience. I step into our lobby and am usually greeted by multiple security guards behind what appears to be bullet-proof glass. I have to pass a fingerprint scanner and numerous secured door checkpoints to get into the office. Every move is under the scrutiny of video cameras recording every square inch of the building. Big Brother is always watching, and for SoftLayer customers, that should be reassuring.

The facility's security reminds me of the movie Minority Report, and while those security measures may seem unnecessary or excessive, they're actually just visible evidence of SoftLayer's focus on the importance of security both online and in the physical realm.

Thinking about safety, I've also started considering heightening security at my home with a few security cameras. Some of my friends joke that this consideration is a sign of impending paranoia, but the "better safe than sorry" mantra should always be kept close to heart when it comes to protecting valuables. Apparently, I'm not alone in my home security research ... A day after writing a good portion of this article, I came to work and in the morning a coworker told me he'd recently bought a security camera with night vision for personal use. I didn't expect such a coincidence, and of course I enthusiastically replied to my coworker that I was thinking about making a similar purchase.

In closing, I'd like to ask you if you've entertained the idea of increasing security in your own home, and if so, do you have any suggestions about what equipment to purchase and features that prove useful? I doubt I'll go as far as hiring security guards and installing fingerprint scanners, but you never know!

-Danny

February 1, 2011

Even Vampires Need a Healthy Diet

It's often said that people lose their health when they're younger in pursuit of money only to spend that money to restore their health in old age. Regardless of whether you fit into this category or not, it's undeniable that health is more important than anything else. Many of us take our good health for granted, only to be reminded of its importance during winter seasons when overcome with colds and fevers. I must admit myself that during my younger years, I too frequently neglected to ensure better health for myself but as I've gotten older, I've started to change my perspective.

I've reduced my soda consumption and been a bit more careful about what I eat by avoiding overly greasy or fatty foods. However, these have been minor changes, and there is much more I can do I'm sure. After starting my job at SoftLayer, I've started paying more attention attention to health, I work night shift or what I like to call "the shift for vampires." I've become most concerned about my diet because my new schedule has drastically changed the times that I eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To give you an idea of what my internal clock looks like, my breakfast now takes place around 11pm or midnight, lunch is around 4am in the morning, and dinner is about noon.

Since this schedule is pretty atypical, I browsed the internet for research on how best to handle my diet, and the information I provide may be beneficial to those who read this on their night shifts.

From my research, here are a few potential health problems that "vampires" can face: increased heart disease, ulcers and intestinal problems, social and psychiatric problems, sleep disorders, increased fatigue and increased error / accident rates. All of those are bad.

So what are some suggested methods to reduce these risks? This list is a pretty good start:

  1. Eat at 7 or 8pm instead of midnight if possible
  2. Keep your body hydrated throughout the night
  3. Try to manage your hunger by drinking more fluids instead of eating starchy foods
  4. Drink luke warm water before eating to improve digestion
  5. Control the amount of tea and coffee you consume
  6. Limit the consumption of things like white bread, sugary foods, and fried bread
  7. When coming home, drink hot milk or barley with high fiber biscuits before going to sleep
  8. When waking up, do some body stretches, take a shower and eat a normal meal

I haven't tried all of these suggestions yet, so I can't comment on how effective they are, but as I work on them, I hope to see great results. Fellow vampires, do you have any advice for a newbie to the night shift?

-Danny

Categories: 
December 2, 2010

Once a Bug Killer, Now a Killer Setup

Not everyone enjoys or has the benefit of taking what they learn at work to apply at home in personal situations, but I consider myself lucky because the things I learn from work can often be very useful for hobbies in my own time. As an electronics and PC gaming fanatic, I always enjoy tips that would increase the performance of my technological equipment. Common among PC gaming enthusiasts is the obsession with making their gaming rig excel in every aspect by upgrading video card, ram, processor, etc. Before working at SoftLayer, I had only considered buying better hardware to improve performance but never really looked into the advantages of different types of setups for a computer.

This new area of exploration for me started shortly after my first days at SoftLayer when I was introduced to RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) for our servers. In the past, I had heard mention of the term but never had any idea of what that entailed and was only familiar with our good ole bug killer brand Raid. You can imagine my excitement as I learned more about its intricacies and how the different types of RAID could benefit my computer’s performance.

Armed with this new knowledge, I was determined to reconfigure my gaming pc at home to reap the benefits. Upon looking at the different RAID setups, I decided to go with a RAID 0 because I did not want to sacrifice storage space and my data was not critical enough that I would need a mirror such as provided with RAID 1.

One thing led to another as I became occupied for a good amount of time with benchmarking drive performance in my old setup versus my new setup. In the end, I was happy to report a significant performance gain in what I now refer to as my “killer setup”. Applications would launch noticeably faster and even in games where videos were stored locally on hard drives, the cinematic scenes would come up faster than before.

To add to the hype, a coworker was also building a new computer in anticipation of a new game called Final Fantasy XIV. It felt like a competition to exceed each other with better scores. I’m already planning ahead for future upgrades since this time around I had only used SATA drives. For my next upgrade I would love to run a RAID 0 with two SSD drives to see what kind of boost I would get.

So for business or pleasure, have you ever considered the benefits of setting up a RAID system?

-Danny

October 7, 2010

A Seller of Skin Products?

It goes without saying that no one enjoys a trip to the doctor for whatever the reason, but I must admit that my last trip there was somewhat amusing. Having been involved in a car accident a day before, I had reluctantly prepared to head off to the doctor’s office by putting on my SoftLayer attire which for the first time in my career, it was completely acceptable to wear clothing with company logo even when off of work:

SoftLayer T-Shirt

Strolling into the lobby in a dejected mood with my mind filled with unpleasant images of my damaged car, I certainly did not expect that my disposition would soon change for the better due to conversing with another individual in such a serious atmosphere. The exchange that would happen after I signed in went as follows:

Receptionist: “Hello sir, how are you today? Is this your first visit here?”
Me:I’m alright, thanks. Yes, this is my first time here.”
Receptionist: “Ok great, now if I could just get some basic info from you first like your company name.”
Me: “Well, I work for SoftLayer.”
Receptionist: “Software?”
Me: “Oh no, Soft Layer, as my shirt reads.” (pointing to my jersey)
Receptionist: “Ah! Don’t they sell skin products?”
Me with a smile: “Actually no, we provide datacenter and web hosting services.”

I continued to describe a little more about our company but soon cut it off short when noticing the original enthusiasm shown on her face had quickly dissipated. As they say, to each his/her own.

This particular encounter was a good reminder for me that the field you work in will often influence your mindset or familiarity with certain companies, products, technologies, etc. I recall another exchange with my brother-in-law when I first started working with SoftLayer about my new job and what it entailed. I had mentioned the term cloud computing and he somewhat seriously asked me if that involved computing the location of clouds. He is a doctor himself and is quite fascinated with science but was unfamiliar with that emerging technology so I did get a chance to delve into the topic further with him. So in ending my story, I’d like to ask when was the last time, if ever, that you had a discussion about SoftLayer or cloud computing with another individual and was it as entertaining?

-Danny

Categories: 
September 21, 2010

A Transition from Humdrum to Dynamic

Having said greetings to exactly five people just like every other morning before this one, the employee made the final turn in the maze of cubicles to arrive at the mountain of papers and folders in his personal work area. Sitting down, he checked the agenda for that day, though that was unnecessary for he knew all too well what to expect. The agenda basically read:

  1. Extract data from a particular account
  2. Manipulate data to arrive at a comprehensible format
  3. Organize data into charts and graphs
  4. Perform variance analysis
  5. Document findings and submit for review
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5

The above scenario, although quite simplified, is a high level summary of my career for the past 10 years before working as a Server Build Engineer at SoftLayer. With this mindset that my daily work in the field of Finance and Accounting could be simply listed as a series of routine steps, I made the difficult decision to set out for a major career change. Due to previous yet limited professional experience with programming and pc troubleshooting, I was not unfamiliar with the field of Information Technology I had in mind. As a hobby, I also enjoyed tinkering with computers so this choice was a no brainer for me. For web hosting, those who are serious about a website would need to make a jump from having a static ip address to one that is dynamic but for my life, I was looking to go in the opposite direction from static to dynamic. Through a friend who at the time worked at SoftLayer and often spoke highly of it, I was informed of a great opportunity to re-enter the IT field.

It is now 6 months since the first day I started at SoftLayer and I must say there is no looking back but only forward. The number of people I greet at the start of each work shift is still a set number, but other than that, so much has changed in a positive way. I am no longer bound to redundant procedures on a daily basis since I typically cannot predict ahead of time what challenges face me that day at work, since our customers’ needs will vary on a day-to-day basis. It is this variety in tasks that make me realize I have found what I was looking for and in the past, I have always worked behind the scenes and never clearly seen the fruits of my labor. Deadlines for reports and what not would be met, but no clear realization of what impact I could make on others. On the contrary, at SoftLayer, we are able to deal with customers directly and through that there is satisfaction in knowing that my efforts help make a real person happy, which can be crucial since there are times that a business’s success will depend on how we handle requests. All in all, I am very thrilled with this recent major decision I have made and here’s hoping to a bright future with SoftLayer!

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