Author Archive: Greg Westmoreland

October 10, 2012

On-Call for Dev Support AND a New Baby

I began working at SoftLayer in May of 2010 as a customer support administrator. When I signed on, I was issued a BlackBerry to help me follow tickets and answer questions from my coworkers when I was out of the office. In August of 2011, that sparingly used BlackBerry started getting a lot more use. I became a systems engineer in development support, and I was tasked to provide first-tier support for development-related escalations, and I joined the on-call rotation.

In the Dev Support group, each systems engineer works a seven-day period each month as the on-call engineer to monitor and respond to off-hours issues. I enjoy tackling challenging problems, and my Blackberry became an integral tool in keeping me connected and alerting me to new escalations. To give you an idea of what kinds of issues get escalated to development support, let me walk you through one particularly busy on-call night:

I leave the office and get home just in time to receive a call about an escalation. An automated transaction is throwing an error, and I need to check it out. I unload my things, VPN into the SoftLayer network and begin investigating. I find the fix and I get it implemented. I go about my evening, and before I get in bed, I make sure my BlackBerry is set to alert me if a call comes in the middle of the night. Escalations to development support typically slow down after around 11 p.m., but with international presences in Amsterdam and Singapore, it's always good to be ready for a call 2:30 a.m. to make sure their issues are resolved with the same speed as issues found in the middle of the day in one of our US facilities.

Little did I know, my SoftLayer experience was actually preparing me for a different kind of "on-call" rotation ... One that's 24x7x365.

In June 2012, my wife and I adopted an infant from El Paso, Texas. We'd been trying to adopt for almost two years, and through lots of patience and persistence, we were finally selected to be the parents of a brand new baby boy. When we brought him home, he woke up every 3 hours for his feeding, and my on-call work experience paid off. I didn't have a problem waking up when it was my turn to feed him, and once he was fed, I hopped back in bed to get back to sleep. After taking a little time off to spend with the new baby, I returned to my job, and that first week back was also my turn on the on-call rotation.

The first night of that week, I got a 1 a.m. call from Amsterdam to check out a cloud template transfer that was stuck, and I got that resolved quickly. About 30 minutes later, our son cried because he was hungry, so I volunteered to get up and feed him. After 45 minutes, he'd eaten and fallen asleep again, so I went back to bed. An hour later, I got a call from our San Jose to investigate a cloud reload transaction that was stalling with an error. I worked that escalation and made it back to bed. An hour and a half later, the little baby was hungry again. My wife graciously took the feeding responsibilities this time, and I tried to get back to sleep after waking up to the baby's cries. About an hour later, another data center had an issue for me to investigate. At this point, I was red-eyed and very sleepy. When my teammates got up the next morning, they generously took the on-call phone number so I could try to get some rest.

This pattern continued for the next six days. By the end of that first week, I got a call from work at about 3 a.m., and I picked up the Baby Monitor from the night stand and answered, "Dev support, this is Greg." My wife just laughed at me.

I've come to realize that being on-call for a baby is a lot more difficult than being on-call for development support. In dev support, I can usually documentation on how to resolve a given issue. I can search my email for the same error or behavior, and my coworkers are faithful to document how they resolve any unique issues they come across. If I get to a point where I need help, I can enlist the assistance of an SME/Developer that commonly works on a given piece of code. When you're on-call with a baby, all the documentation in the world won't help you get your newborn to stop crying faster, you don't get any clear "error messages" to guide you to the most effective response, and you can't pass the baby off to another person if you can't figure out what's wrong.

And when you're on-call for development support, you get some much-needed rest and relaxation after your seven days of work. When you're on-call for a new baby, you've got at least a few months of duty before you're sleeping through the night.

As I look back at those long nights early on, I laugh and appreciate important things in my life: My wife, my son, my job and my coworkers.

– Greg

December 19, 2011

SoftLayer Shopping List

With the holidays upon us, this can be a very hectic time of year. Whether you are the type to brave the shopping mall for your holiday purchases or you do all your shopping from your easy chair over the Internet, gift giving has become one of the more traditional activities during the Christmas season.

It seems that my shopping list gets bigger and bigger each year. At the beginning of every holiday season, I sit down and compose a list of people for whom I will be buying gifts. I then determine the best place to find each item. The next step is to determine whether I will be purchasing what that person needs or what that person wants. If I am shopping for my spouse, I usually get her something she needs. I hate to admit it, but if I am shopping for myself, I usually get something I want.

Another important aspect of holiday shopping is staying within my budget. When I am shopping for someone I hardly see, their gift will be purchased with a small amount of money. When I budget for a family member or someone very close to me, I spend a lot of money on them (and I try to not splurge too much).

Another fun part of shopping is getting it all done as early as possible so I can enjoy the rest of the holiday season. This relieves me from worrying about what I'm going to get "so-and-so" in time for the holiday? Once I've completed my shopping, then comes the hard part: Wrapping the gifts. My wrapping skills would probably put me in the "novice" category, so if I can get the gifts professionally wrapped at the department store, I'm happy to put down a few extra dollars to avoid the awkward, "Did you wrap this in the dark?" questions.

One of my favorite parts of the gift-giving tradition is watching the recipient open their gift. Even if I don't receive anything in return, it brings me joy to see that they enjoy it. It's pretty clear that I'm in the camp that believes it's more blessed to give than it is to receive ... That's probably why I tend to spend more money during the holiday season than I do throughout the entire year on weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions.

If you've listened to the radio at all in the past month or so, you've probably heard of the "The Twelve Days of Christmas" playing about a few dozen times per day. It lists twelve things your true love gives to you. Next Sunday, you're going to get a final holiday-related video with a few folks from the SoftLayer team singing our own little version of the song, but I thought I'd share twelve things you can add to your SoftLayer shopping cart for to make your server faster and your job a lot easier.

  1. QuanataStor Storage Server
  2. CloudLayer Storage
  3. CloudLayer Content Delivery Network
  4. Managed Hosting Services
  5. Hardware Upgrade
  6. Network Services Upgrade
  7. Evault Backup Services
  8. Virtual Racks
  9. Citrix Netscaler
  10. Advanced Monitoring Service
  11. Email Delivery Service
  12. Add Virtual Computing with CCIs

Here is to wishing you a very happy holiday season!

-Greg

October 23, 2011

The Importance of a First Impression

How many times have you heard that making a good first impression is everything? This is so true in many circumstances – from a blind date to a job interview to meeting the future in-laws. The first few moments are critical. There are a few things that help when making that first contact:

  • Smile
  • Present yourself honestly and openly
  • Be positive, confident and courteous.

I remember when I applied to SoftLayer back in April of 2010. I was working for one of SoftLayer's competitors at the time, and one of my previous coworkers moved over to SoftLayer. He made mention of what a great company SoftLayer was and that I should think about applying. After submitting my resume, I received a call from the data center manager to come in for an interview at the DAL01 location. I prepared myself to make the best first impression I could. I heeded the words of my father saying, "A firm hand-shake goes a long way." After my initial interview, I was given a tour of the one of the server rooms:

Servers
Servers

I was completely blown away by the organization and structure of the server room. I was overly impressed with how organized the work benches were, how the crash carts all had their place, how everything was labeled, how all the cables were bound up neatly, and how the automation system was in place to do the everyday, menial tasks. Here I was trying to impress the DC Manager with my skills and but I can honestly say I was more impressed with SoftLayer. It left a definite first impression on me.

I drove home after the interview thinking I would LOVE to work for this company. When checking my email a short time later, I found an offer letter from the HR department! I started for SoftLayer a few weeks later as a Customer Support Administrator. My next "first impression" of the company came when I walked into the break room and noticed all of the amazing snacks provided to employees. I opened up the refrigerator to place my lunch bag and realized that SoftLayer provides soft drinks and energy drinks to keep their SLayers hydrated. I joked with the DC manager that "SoftLayer should put this information in the job description as a company benefit."

Although making a good first impression is important, making a lasting impression can set you apart from your competition. SoftLayer is a cut above the rest from the other hosting providers out there. Whether you are a new customer or a long-time customer, you have to agree that SoftLayer makes fantastic first and lasting impressions. And just like this blog post, you can't help but tell other people about the SoftLayer difference.

-Greg

September 5, 2011

How Scalable Are You?

The Northeastern part of the United States saw two natural disasters within the span of five days of each other. The first was in the Washington, D.C. area: A 5.8 earthquake on August 23, 2011. On August 28, Hurricane Irene made her way up the east coast, leaving nearly 5.5 million people without power. We do everything we can to prepare our facilities for natural disasters (generator power backup, staffing, redundant bandwidth links and providers, etc.), and given the recent events, now might be a good time to start thinking about how your servers respond when something out of the ordinary happens ... Let's look at two relatively easy ways you can set your business up to scale and recover.

The first option you may consider would be to set up a multi-tiered environment by deploying multiple servers in various geographical locations. Your servers in each location could be accessed via load balancing or round robin DNS. In this kind of high-availability environment, your servers could handle the incoming requests more quickly with the load being split amongst the multiple data centers. The failover would be just a few seconds should you lose connectivity to one of the locations.

The second option to consider would be the private image repository for our CloudLayer Computing. This options allows you to save a private image template in different data centers, each ready for quick deployment without having to install and configure the same operating system and applications. Should you need additional resources or lose connectivity to your instance in one facility, you can deploy the saved image in another facility. The failover time would be only in the provisioning process of the Computer Instance ... which doesn't take too long.

Scalability makes sense no matter what situation you may be facing – from natural disaster to hitting the front page of Reddit. If you have any questions about these scalability options, "Click to Chat" on our site or give us a call and a sales rep can help you get prepared. Your infrastructure may have come through these recent events unscathed, but don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. The "It's better to be safe than sorry" cliche is a cliche for a reason: It's worth saying often.

-Greg

September 2, 2010

Three Walks of Speed

I love to travel every chance I get. Growing up, my family would always take a summer vacation. We were just like the Griswalds, making our way across the country in a Station Wagon, driving hundreds of miles to go to a world famous theme park. I’ll admit, it would have been fun holding John Candy hostage with a pellet gun. Wherever we ended up going each year, we would always drive.

As an adult, I still enjoy going on vacations, but the thought of driving a great distance makes me nauseated. Anytime I make plans, I always check and see if I can fly there instead of driving. Some people do not enjoy flying. Some individuals don’t like to wait all day at the airport. Some folks are fearful of flying. But the thought of getting to my destination 95% faster than driving, has always appealed to me.

Being the frugal individual that I am, I usually won’t pay for a direct flight and as a result, will have a connecting flight in route to my destination. Trying to get to my connecting flight always seems to be an adventure. They always seem to be in another terminal, on the other side of the airport. When walking, or in most cases, running to the other terminal, I have noticed a few things about how people walk from one terminal to the next.

Most of your major airports have automatic, or moving sidewalks. These devices have always fascinated me. The usual layout in most terminals is two moving walkways on either side of the terminal, with a standard walkway in the middle. DFW International is set up this way. I have noticed three different ways that people walk through these terminals.

  1. The First is Mr. Safe - he takes the middle path. He might not be in a hurry or maybe he is afraid of a moving floor beneath his feet.
  2. The Second is Mr. Stationary - he is a little more adventurous, but not too risky. He rides the automatic walkway, but does not move from his standing position until he absolutely has to. You might consider this individual to be lazy, but perhaps he is saving his energy to deal with that screaming baby on the next flight.
  3. The Third is Mr. Hurrysome - he is very energetic. Not only is he riding the automatic walkway, he is physically walking on the moving sidewalk to make faster time. This individual is ahead of the pack and in front of everyone else.

Web Hosting Companies like SoftLayer and their competitors usually fit into one of these three categories:

  1. Mr. Safe - always taking the slow path, never doing anything innovative, always playing it safe, never leading the way.
  2. Mr. Stationary - a little more adventurous, but not wanting to get in too much of a hurry. He could move a little faster, but why use all that energy when he can sit back and enjoy the ride.
  3. Mr. Hurrysome - fastest walker, always a step ahead of everyone else, a leader with new technology services like CDN, Data Transfer Services, covering more ground per second than anyone around him, always the first to arrive.

If you sit back and think about it for a moment, you will see that SoftLayer is the only web hosting company that moves like traveler number three. Everyone else is left in the dust.

September 1, 2010

Ford Mustang and SoftLayer Upgrades

Each morning as I back my car of out the drive way, I ask myself, “I wonder how bad traffic will be this morning?” My commute through Dallas traffic is always a challenge making it to work on time. My 1997 Monte Carlo may not be much to look at, but it always gets me to work in one piece. My car has been through multiple wrecks and its biggest flaw is no air conditioning. Wow does it get hot in Texas! To quote that country song “she aint a Cadillac, and she ain’t a Rolls, but there ain’t nothin’ wrong with the radio.”

Picture 1 - Westmoreland

I finally decided to purchase a new vehicle . Any kind of an upgrade would be a vast improvement. I did not care what it looked like, my main concern was, “does it have air conditioning?” I stopped by a Toyota dealership on the way home one night after work. After getting the run around, I decided to make one last stop at the Ford dealership before they closed. As the salemen asked me what I was looking for, I told him “something reliable and economical.” He pointed out the Ford Fussion and then all of a sudden, something magical caught my eye.

Sitting there, calling out my name, was a 2011 Ford Mustang with a V6 3.7L and all 305 screaming horses. I just had to take it out for a test ride. After just a few moments, I knew I had found my upgrade. Not only did it look good, but it was very economical. With an estimated 31MPG and a reasonable sticker price, it was love at first sight.

The longer I thought about my upgrade, the more it reminded me of some SoftLayer customers. Some of our customers have a “monte carlo” server with only 1 proc, 2 gig of ram, and an older motherboard. It may have worked great at one time, but it is clearly time for an upgrade. For a while I had been content with my Monte Carlo, but there comes a time when we all have to upgrade.

  • The Mustang spedometer shows a top speed of 160. What speed processor are you using?
  • The Mustang has more interior room. What size ram are you using?
  • The Mustang gets a lot of second glances. What type of performance is your server getting?

When people see my old vehicle compared to the 2011 Ford Mustang, they usually comment “wow what an upgrade.” Just think what type of response you will get after a long overdue upgrade!

Mustang - Westmoreland

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