Author Archive: Imran Prasla

November 29, 2011

SoftLayer Mobile v. 1.1 on Windows Phone: New Features

I was on a Caribbean cruise during the second week of November, and I kept telling myself that the first thing I needed to taste was a delicious mango. Even though I knew it's out of season, I still had hopes. I had a chance to indulge in that tropical fruit, and I couldn't help but think about a mango that gets tastier with every day: the new Windows Phone OS 7.1, codenamed "Mango."

I'm not going to talk about Mango or its new sensational features, but I do want to share a few of the changes that we pushed out to the Windows Phone Marketplace as a version 1.1 of SoftLayer Mobile. While I could ramble for pages about all of the updates and our strategy in building out and improving the mobile platform, but I'll try to be brief and only share four of the biggest new features the team included in this release.

Verisign Authentication
The first update you'll notice when you fire up SoftLayer Mobile 1.1 on Windows Phone is the security-rich inclusion of VeriSign authentication. You are able to activate an additional layer of security by requiring that users confirm their identity with a trusted third party tool before they get access to your account. In this case, the third party vendor is VeriSign. Every customer looking to bake in additional security on their account will appreciate this addition.

SoftLayer Mobile WP

VeriSign authentication in SoftLayer Mobile on WP7

Device-Based Bandwidth
The next big addition to this Windows Phone app release is the inclusion of device-based bandwidth for two billing cycles – your current cycle and the previous cycle. In v. 1.0 of SoftLayer Mobile, users were only able to see bandwidth data for the current billing cycle ... It's useful, but you don't have a frame of reference immediately available. This release provides that frame of reference. One of the coolest parts is the aesthetically pleasing presentation: our metro-style container, "pivot control." Just slide through and see your billing cycles in one long view!

SoftLayer Mobile WP

Billing cycle view along with a button to view graph for that cycle

Bandwidth Graphs
If you didn't notice from the picture, its caption or the heading of this section, the next big update is the inclusion of bandwidth graphs! The bandwidth graph page gives you a bird's eye view of your bandwidth activity for any selected billing cycle. You'll see the max "Inbound," "Outbound" and "Total" values. Those different marks are very useful if you're tracking which days your device uses the most bandwidth and when those surges subside. The application uses the built-in charting functionality that comes with Silverlight libraries. Since we're taking advantage of those goodies, you can bet it looks beautiful. No, it's not a bitmap image ... it's a real bandwidth chart. As with the other bandwidth update, the graphs are available for both the current and the previous billing cycle.

SoftLayer Mobile WP

Bandwidth chart for a previous billing cycle

Ticket Updates
The next addition to the family is a new way to visually distinguish your unread updates on tickets while viewing a ticket list page. The "toast" notification for the ticket list view gives flags unread ticket updates, and the ticket list will feature bold text on the ticket's subject if that ticket is marked with an "unread update" *ndash; meaning an employee or someone has an update to that ticket which you haven't seen yet. This is very much Outlook-y style and very native to Windows Phone.

SoftLayer Mobile WP

Toast notification along with Outlook-style unread ticket

What's Next?
With this release, we're not resting on our laurels, so what are we doing in our labs? Right now we're working on OS migration to move our existing app from OS 7.0 to the new Mango-flavored Windows Phone 7 version I mentioned a little earlier. Now you see why I was so fixated on mangoes while I was on vacation. The migrated mango app will only be available to devices that are mango-licious (Upgraded to 7.1).

Stay tuned, and you'll see some of the other new features we're working on very soon. If you have a Windows Phone, you need to download SoftLayer Mobile, rate it and give us your feedback!

-Imran

September 28, 2011

A Whole New World: SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

As SLayers, our goal is always to bring creativity in every aspect of work we do at SoftLayer. It was not too long ago when the Interface Development team was presented with a new and exciting challenge: To develop a Windows Phone 7 Series app. Like me, many questioned whether we should tap into the market of Windows Phone OS ... What was the scope of this OS? What is the future of Windows Phone OS smartphones? The business relationship that NOKIA and Microsoft signed to produce smartphones with Windows Phone 7 OS will provide consumers with a new interface and unique features, so smartphone users are paying attention ... And we are too.

The SoftLayer Mobile world had already made huge strides with iPhone and Android based apps, so our work was cut out for us as we entered the Windows Phone 7 world. We put together a small, energetic and skilled group of SLayers who wanted to make SoftLayer proud, and I am proud to be a member of that team!

Our focus was to design and develop an application that would not only provide the portal functionality on mobile phone but also incorporate the awesome features of Windows Phone 7. Keeping all that in consideration, the choice of using an enterprise quality framework was essential. After a lot of research, we put our finger on the Microsoft's Patterns and Practices-backed Prism Framework for Windows Phone 7. The Prism Framework is a well-known and recognized name among Silverlight and Windows Presentation Framework developers, and since Windows Phone 7 is built upon the Silverlight and XNA Framework, our choice was clearly justified.

After selecting the framework, we wanted to make the whole asynchronous experience smooth while talking to SoftLayer's mobile API. That' where we met the cool kid on the block: Reactive Extensions for .NET (also known as Rx). The Rx is a library used to compose asynchronous and event-based programs. The learning curve was pretty intense for the team, but we operate under the mantra of CBNO (Challenging-But-Not-Overwhelming), so it was learning we knew would bear fruits.

The team's plan was to create an app that had the most frequently used features from the portal. The features to be showcased in the first release were to be basic but at the same time essential. The features we pinpointed were ticket management, hardware management, bandwidth and account management. Bringing these features to the phone posed a challenge, though ... How do we add a little more spice to what cold be a rather plain and basic app?

Windows Phone 7 controls came to our rescue and we utilized the Pivot and Panorama controls to design the Ticket Lists and Ticket Details. The pivot control works like a tabbed-style control that is viewable by sliding left or right. This lets us put the ticket-based-categories in a single view so users don't have to navigate back-and-forth to see different types of tickets. It also provides context-menu style navigation by holding onto the ticket item, giving an option to view or edit ticket with one tap. Here is a screen shot of pivot control in use to view tickets by categories and device list:

Win7 Phone Screen

Another achievement was made by using the panorama control. The control works like a long page with different relevant sections of similar content. This control was used to show a snap shot of a ticket, and the view displays basic ticket details, updates, attachments and any hardware attached to a ticket. This makes editing a ticket as easy as a tap! This is a screenshot of panorama control in use to view ticket detail:

Win7 Phone Screen

The device list view will help people see the dedicated and virtual devices in a pivot control giving a visual distinction. The list can be searched by tapping on the filter icon at the application bar. The filtering is search-as-you-type style and can be turned off by tapping the icon again. This screenshot shows the device list with a filtering option:

Win7 Phone Screen

To perform further hardware operations like pinging, rebooting and power cycling the server, you can use the hardware detail view as well. The bandwidth view may not be as flashy, but it's a very useful representation of a server's bandwidth information. Charting is not available with this release but will be available in the upcoming releases.

If you own a Windows Phone 7 device, go ahead and download "SoftLayer Mobile" and send us the feedback on what features you would like to see next and most importantly whether you love this app or not. We have and will always strive for excellence, and we know there's always room to improve!

-Imran

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