Author Archive: Jonathan Morris

January 3, 2012

Hosting Resolutions for the New Year

It's a new year, and though only real change between on January 1 is the last digit in the year, that change presents a blank canvas for the year. In the past, I haven't really made New Year's resolutions, but because some old Mayan calendar says this is my last chance, I thought I'd take advantage of it. In reality, being inspired to do anything that promotes positive change is great, so in the spirit of New Year's improvements, I thought I'd take a look at what hosting customers might want to make resolutions to do in 2012.

What in your work/hosting life would you like to change? It's easy to ignore or look past small goals and improvements we can make on a daily basis, so let's take advantage of the "clean slate" 2012 provides us to be intentional about making life easier. A few small changes can mean the difference between a great day in the office or a frantic overnight coffee binge (which we all know is so great for your health). Because these changes are relatively insignificant, you might not recognize anything in particular that needs to change right off the bat. You might want to answer a daunting question like, "What should you do to improve your work flow or reduce work related stress?" Luckily, any large goals like that can be broken down into smaller pieces that are much easier to manage.

Enough with the theoretical ... let's talk practical. In 2012, your hosting-related New Year's resolutions should revolve around innovation, conservation, security and redundancy.

Innovation

When it comes to hosting, a customer's experience and satisfaction is the most important focus of a successful business. There's an old cliche that says, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten," and that's absolutely correct when it comes to building your business in the new year. What can you change or automate to make your business better? Are you intentionally "thinking outside the box?"

Conservation

The idea of "conservation" and "green hosting" has been written off as a marketing gimmick in the world of hosting, but there's something to be said for looking at your utilization from that perspective. We could talk about the environmental impact of hosting, and finding a host that is intentional about finding greener ways to do business, but if you're renting a server, you might feel a little disconnected from that process. When you're looking at your infrastructure in the New Year, determine whether your infrastructure is being used efficiently by your workload. Are there tools you can take advantage of to track your infrastructure's performance? Are you able to make changes quickly if/when you find inefficiencies?

Security

Another huge IT-related resolution you should make would be around security. Keeping your system tight and locked up can get forgotten when you're pushing development changes or optimizing your networking, so the beginning of the year is a great time to address any possible flaws in your security. Try to start with simple changes in your normal security practices ... Make sure your operating systems and software packages are regularly patched. Keep a strict password policy that requires regular password updates. Run system log checks regularly. Reevaluate your system firewall or ACL lists.

All of these safety nets may be set up, but they may not be functioning at their best. Even precautions as simple as locking your client or workstation when not in use can help stop attacks from local risks and prying eyes ... And this practice is very important if you keep system backups on the same workstations that you use. Imagine if someone local to your workstation or client was able to retrieve your backup file and restore it ... Your security measures would effectively be completely nullified.

Redundancy

Speaking of backups, when was your most recent backup? When is your next backup? How long would it take you to restore your site and/or data if your current server(s) were to disappear from the face of the Earth? These questions are easy to shrug off when you don't need to answer them, but by the time you do need to answer them, it's already too late. Create a backup and disaster recovery plan. Today. And automate it so you won't have the ability to forget to execute on it.

Make your objectives clear, and set calendar reminders throughout the year to confirm that you're executing on your goals. If some of these tasks are very daunting or difficult to implement in your current setup, don't get discouraged ... Set small goals and chip away at the bigger objective. Progress over time will speak for itself. Doing nothing won't get you anywhere

Happy New Year!

-Jonathan

December 23, 2011

Back up Your Life: In the Clouds, On the Go

The value of our cloud options here at SoftLayer have never been more noticeable than during the holiday seasons. Such a hectic time of the year can cause a lot of stress ... Stress that can lead to human error on some of your most important projects, data and memories. Such a loss could result in weeks or even years of valuable time and memories gone.

In the past few months, I've gone through two major data-related incidents that I was prepared for, and I can't imagine what I would have done if I didn't have some kind of backups in place. In one instance, my backups were not very current, so I ended up losing two weeks worth of work and data, but every now and then, you hear horror stories of people losing (or having to pay a lot to restore) all of their data. The saddest part about the data loss is that it's so easily preventable these days with prevalent backup storage platforms. For example, SoftLayer's CloudLayer Storage is a reliable, inexpensive place to keep all of your valuable data so you're not up a creek if you corrupt/lose your local versions somehow (like dropping a camera, issuing an incorrect syntax command or simply putting a thumb-drive though the washer).

That last "theoretical" example was in fact was one of the "incidents" I dealt with recently. A very important USB thumb-drive that I keep with me at all times was lost to the evil water machine! Because the security of the data was very important to me, I made sure to keep the drive encrypted in case of loss or theft, but the frequency of my backup schedule was the crack in my otherwise well thought data security and redundancy plan. A thumb drive is probably one of the best examples of items that need an automatic system or ritual to ensure data concurrency. This is a device we carry on us at all times, so it sees many changes in data. If this data is not properly updated in a central (secure and redundant) location, then all of our other efforts to take care of that data are wasted.

My the problem with my "Angel" (the name of the now-washed USB drive) was related to concurrency rather than security, and looking back at my mistake, I see how "The Cloud" would have served as a platform to better improve the way I was protecting my data with both of those point in mind. And that's why my new backups-in-the-cloud practices let me sleep a little more soundly these days.

If you're venturing out to fight the crowds of last-minute holiday shoppers or if you're just enjoying the sights and sounds of the season, be sure your memories and keepsake digital property are part of a well designed SRCD (secure, redundant and concurrent data) structure. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when setting up your system:

  • Create a frequent back-up schedule
  • Use at least two physically separate devices
  • Follow your back-up schedule strictly
  • Automate everything you can for when you forget to execute on the previous bullet*

*I've used a few different programs (both proprietary and non-proprietary) that allow an automatic back-up to be performed when you plug your "on the go" device into your computer.

I'll keep an eye out for iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps that will allow for automatic transfers to a central location, and I'll put together a fresh blog with some ideas when I find anything interesting and worth your attention.

Have a happy Holidays!

- Jonathan

September 1, 2011

The Importance of Network Security

On Friday, April 27, 2011, I powered on my Sony Playstaton 3 and prepared to sit down for an enjoyable gaming session. As a Sony customer and a PlayStation Network (PSN) user, I expected my system to be able to connect to a service that I was told would be available. Because I had to sign an agreement to join the PSN, I expected my personal information to be secure. On that morning, I logged in and had no idea that my personal security might be at risk due to a lack of tight-knit practices and possible information redundancy.

My many years of brand loyalty held strong as I was told constantly that the PSN was down as a result of a maintenance. I understand that emergencies happen and proper planning by a professional company is in place to shorten the duration of impact. As it turned out, proper planning for this type of event seemed to have been lost on Sony. A malicious security cracker was able to infiltrate their network to gain access to numerous PSN customers' sensitive personal information. This kind of blunder had every PSN customer wondering what could be done to prevent this kind of event from happening again.

You probably noticed that I used the word "cracker" as opposed to the more common "hacker." A hacker is an extremely knowledgeable person when it comes to computers and programming who knows the ins and outs of systems ... which is completely legal. The typical misconception is that all "hackers" are engaged in illegal activity, which is not true. If the hacker decides to use these skills to circumvent security for the purpose of stealing, altering and damaging (which is obviously illegal), then the hacker becomes a cracker. To put it simply: All crackers are hackers, but not all hackers are crackers.

When I started working at SoftLayer three years ago, I was told to pay very close attention to our company's security policy. Each employee is reminded of this policy very regularly. Proper security practice is essential when dealing with private customer data, and with the advancement of technology comes the availability of even more advanced tools for cracking. As a trusted technology partner, it is our obligation to maintain the highest levels of security.

There is not a day at work that I am not reminded of this, and I completely understand why. Even at a personal level, I can imagine the detrimental consequences of having my information stolen, so multiply that by thousands of customers, and it's clear that good security practices are absolutely necessary. SoftLayer recognizes what is at stake when businesses trust us with their information, and that's one of the big reasons I'm to work here. I've gone through the hassle and stress of having to cancel credit cards due to another company's negligence, and as a result, I'm joining my team in making sure none of our customers have to go through the same thing.

-Jonathan

May 16, 2011

A Well-Deserved Retirement

On a normal day at home, the hum inside a personal computer would seem very inaudible. In contrast, if you find yourself inside a data center, you're constantly surrounded by the inescapable whir of workhorse machines. This whir is the sound of thousands and thousands of fans pushing cold air and keeping everything in top working order.

Netwon's Third Law of Motion states that "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," and the most common "reaction" to buzzing of these fans would normally be a gradual slip into madness after exposing human ears to the sound for an extended period of time. That same constant sound of enterprise cooling wreaks havoc on the ears of anyone working nearby due to its specific frequencies. As a result, ear protection is a must for any Server Build Technician.

Recently, a comrade with a special knack for ear protection reached a long overdue retirement from service.

My now-retired friend actually only began work in the SoftLayer Washington, D.C., data center two years ago, and this worker's career was a shining tribute to workplace professionalism. Always silent and steadfast ... You would rarely spend time at work without seeing him. Coworkers would often comment, "Does he ever sleep?" and, "Wow! You're still here?" Despite all these implicit praises, this friend always remained humble and accepting, even during the rough times. I can't remember how many times we may have thrown this poor coworker across the room or the amount of feet that he was dropped from (on a pretty large number of occasions). When abused, he just wrapped himself in duct tape or mended his broken body parts with zip-ties. This may seem an unusual fix for most things, but he never demanded more than that.

Anyone from the WDC location reading this article already knows the comrade I'm speaking of, but the rest of you might be a little lost (and shocked) as I mention the injuries that he suffered and possibly even very upset at how the treatment was handled afterwards. Luckily, the worker I have been describing to you is in fact not a person but an invaluable electronic device that has served me and essentially SoftLayer well through the years: To help combat the noise in our server rooms, I have always relied on this pair of headphones made by Koss to fill my ears with sweet music.

Any of our WDC staff will agree that I am rarely ever seen riding into battle (walking into our server room) without my partner at my side. As they say, you never fully appreciate the value of something until it is gone, so I was clearly reminded of this one day when I happened to misplace my headphones. I was overwhelmed with grief as I searched high and low until I found him dangling in one of our storage rooms and yelled out "TONTO!!" From personal experience, I can see clearly that the devices one picks for use are very important ... Which might explain the careful process SoftLayer undergoes to ensure our customers are provided with the very best equipment.

-Jonathan

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September 16, 2010

I'm Your Blackberry!

Although there are many different brands of smart phones, I’m pleased that SoftLayer has chosen Blackberry for our essential operations form of communication. In the last two and a half years my Blackberry has become my right hand. Any tasks involving information technology that I have needed to complete have been accomplished without much hassle. In both personal and work related situations my Curve has proven it can do the jobs of many tools. Email alone has its crucial place in IT and is managed flawlessly through my phone. My notepad, calculator, browser, calendar, camera, SSH device, VNC/SSH device SFTP device, organizer and alarm clock are many names I could give this little six shooter.

Reliable in the battle as well! Just recently I was on hold in a very important phone call (Important phone call meaning I had just won Washington Redskins tickets on a radio station ;D ) when I started to get a warning about my Curve’s battery running low. I was so worried because I had abused the phone that day and I had no way of recharging where I was. My Blackberry held on for over 30+ minutes until it had to drop radio use. I got my tickets and was still able to call the NOC and let everyone know (In a high pitched voice that is). Looking back I cannot think of a moment where I wished for another choice in a phone. My Curve will continue to stay holstered at my side. What type of smart phone do you prefer to use in everyday tasks?

Jonathan M.

SoftLayer Server Engineer in WDC

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