Author Archive: Imran Prasla

May 1, 2014

New App Release: SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Today, the SoftLayer development team is launching a new platform accessibility tool for SoftLayer customers who want to easily manage their infrastructure from Windows. We've gotten a great response from the users of SoftLayer Mobile app for Windows Phone, so we turned our attention to creating an app for customers on Windows 8.1: SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1.

With a growing number of users adopting and embracing Windows 8.1 on their PCs, and the Windows Store is becoming a vibrant community of useful apps for those customers. There are more than 145,000 apps on the Windows Store, and that number is expected to increase exponentially following Microsoft’s recent introduction of "Universal Apps for Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1.” With all that goodness and an expanding market, it was imperative for our mobile development team to build an app for customers using Windows 8.1 as their default OS or carrying Windows RT tablets.

Why Windows 8.1?

Our team wants to provide simple, efficient ways for customers to connect to SoftLayer infrastructure and perform any necessary management tasks while on-the-go. Our team is inspired by the power of connected devices in Windows ecosystem. By developing an app for Windows 8.1, we will slowly bring the phone, tablet and PC onto one streamlined platform — a concept many smart devices are adopting quickly.

What’s Fresh?

New Dashboard

The SoftLayer Mobile app for Windows 8.1 is a fresh new approach to its Windows Phone sibling. The app provides a dashboard view after authentication that provides a snapshot of some of the most commonly used information and controls in the portal.

Currently, the dashboard supports four different panels: Tickets, devices, accounting and bandwidth. All display an overview of relevant information for you and your environment. The dashboard also allows you to quickly add a ticket or make a one-time payment on your account.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

In-line Ticket Updates

In the new tickets module, you can update tickets without ever leaving the page. This functionality is similar to what you see on many social websites, and it's integrated to be seamless.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Search Everywhere!

One of the coolest additions to the new app is the introduction of search functionality in each module. Now, you can search a ticket, a device, or an invoice by just typing into the search box! The search capability lets you spend less time scrolling and more time working.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Bandwidth Display

Smart phones have apps that measure and report how much data you are using, and your infrastructure should be similarly transparent Bandwidth usage is an important aspect of server management, so we built the bandwidth module to show your infrastructure's public and private traffic for current and previous billing cycles. This view also helps you see when a server is about to reach its limits so that you can plan accordingly.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

The module provides two ways to look at the data:

  • In a tabular form by clicking the “Show/Hide Traffic Details” button.
  • In a graphic representation by clicking the “View Graph” button.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Same Functionality. Better Experience.

Sometimes change is not always needed for a nicely crafted feature. The new app keeps the same feature richness of the Windows Phone app and arranges it in a user-friendly way. For example, in the devices module, you can navigate to between different tabs to get the information you need, from password lists and attached tickets to a specific device or monitoring alarms.

The “Remote Control” section on the module allows you to perform actions such as rebooting, power cycles, restarts and pinging servers. In addition, you can view hardware and software installed on the device along with the hardware and network components attached. In the current phone version, you can only see the root password for the device, but in the Windows 8.1 app, you see all passwords for the server.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

What's Next?

During the development of this app, the team's goal was to test to adopt a framework that would be ideal for scaling. More and more developers are adopting a Model-View-Model (MVVM) approach to mobile and web app development, so our goal was to use that approach for this project. The significant challenge we faced when adopting this approach was finding a well-supported framework that met our application's needs. We weren't able to find suitable frameworks that committed regular updates in SDKs or in APIs, so we ended up using the same MVVM principles without any underlying framework. In the end, the project allowed us to create our own framework for future projects!

There are many exciting features that are lined up for the Windows 8.1 app. Download it now: SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

After you try it out, please submit your feedback ... We want to keep improving the app by providing the features and functionality that matter most to you.

-Imran

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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