Author Archive: James Steddum

July 29, 2013

A Brief History of Cloud Computing

Believe it or not, "cloud computing" concepts date back to the 1950s when large-scale mainframes were made available to schools and corporations. The mainframe's colossal hardware infrastructure was installed in what could literally be called a "server room" (since the room would generally only be able to hold a single mainframe), and multiple users were able to access the mainframe via "dumb terminals" – stations whose sole function was to facilitate access to the mainframes. Due to the cost of buying and maintaining mainframes, an organization wouldn't be able to afford a mainframe for each user, so it became practice to allow multiple users to share access to the same data storage layer and CPU power from any station. By enabling shared mainframe access, an organization would get a better return on its investment in this sophisticated piece of technology.

Mainframe Computer

A couple decades later in the 1970s, IBM released an operating system called VM that allowed admins on their System/370 mainframe systems to have multiple virtual systems, or "Virtual Machines" (VMs) on a single physical node. The VM operating system took the 1950s application of shared access of a mainframe to the next level by allowing multiple distinct compute environments to live in the same physical environment. Most of the basic functions of any virtualization software that you see nowadays can be traced back to this early VM OS: Every VM could run custom operating systems or guest operating systems that had their "own" memory, CPU, and hard drives along with CD-ROMs, keyboards and networking, despite the fact that all of those resources would be shared. "Virtualization" became a technology driver, and it became a huge catalyst for some of the biggest evolutions in communications and computing.

Mainframe Computer

In the 1990s, telecommunications companies that had historically only offered single dedicated point–to-point data connections started offering virtualized private network connections with the same service quality as their dedicated services at a reduced cost. Rather than building out physical infrastructure to allow for more users to have their own connections, telco companies were able to provide users with shared access to the same physical infrastructure. This change allowed the telcos to shift traffic as necessary to allow for better network balance and more control over bandwidth usage. Meanwhile, virtualization for PC-based systems started in earnest, and as the Internet became more accessible, the next logical step was to take virtualization online.

If you were in the market to buy servers ten or twenty years ago, you know that the costs of physical hardware, while not at the same level as the mainframes of the 1950s, were pretty outrageous. As more and more people expressed demand to get online, the costs had to come out of the stratosphere, and one of the ways that was made possible was by ... you guessed it ... virtualization. Servers were virtualized into shared hosting environments, Virtual Private Servers, and Virtual Dedicated Servers using the same types of functionality provided by the VM OS in the 1950s. As an example of what that looked like in practice, let's say your company required 13 physical systems to run your sites and applications. With virtualization, you can take those 13 distinct systems and split them up between two physical nodes. Obviously, this kind of environment saves on infrastructure costs and minimizes the amount of actual hardware you would need to meet your company's needs.

Virtualization

As the costs of server hardware slowly came down, more users were able to purchase their own dedicated servers, and they started running into a different kind of problem: One server isn't enough to provide the resources I need. The market shifted from a belief that "these servers are expensive, let's split them up" to "these servers are cheap, let's figure out how to combine them." Because of that shift, the most basic understanding of "cloud computing" was born online. By installing and configuring a piece of software called a hypervisor across multiple physical nodes, a system would present all of the environment's resources as though those resources were in a single physical node. To help visualize that environment, technologists used terms like "utility computing" and "cloud computing" since the sum of the parts seemed to become a nebulous blob of computing resources that you could then segment out as needed (like telcos did in the 90s). In these cloud computing environments, it became easy add resources to the "cloud": Just add another server to the rack and configure it to become part of the bigger system.

Clouds

As technologies and hypervisors got better at reliably sharing and delivering resources, many enterprising companies decided to start carving up the bigger environment to make the cloud's benefits to users who don't happen to have an abundance of physical servers available to create their own cloud computing infrastructure. Those users could order "cloud computing instances" (also known as "cloud servers") by ordering the resources they need from the larger pool of available cloud resources, and because the servers are already online, the process of "powering up" a new instance or server is almost instantaneous. Because little overhead is involved for the owner of the cloud computing environment when a new instance is ordered or cancelled (since it's all handled by the cloud's software), management of the environment is much easier. Most companies today operate with this idea of "the cloud" as the current definition, but SoftLayer isn't "most companies."

SoftLayer took the idea of a cloud computing environment and pulled it back one more step: Instead of installing software on a cluster of machines to allow for users to grab pieces, we built a platform that could automate all of the manual aspects of bringing a server online without a hypervisor on the server. We call this platform "IMS." What hypervisors and virtualization do for a group of servers, IMS does for an entire data center. As a result, you can order a bare metal server with all of the resources you need and without any unnecessary software installed, and that server will be delivered to you in a matter of hours. Without a hypervisor layer between your operating system and the bare metal hardware, your servers perform better. Because we automate almost everything in our data centers, you're able to spin up load balancers and firewalls and storage devices on demand and turn them off when you're done with them. Other providers have cloud-enabled servers. We have cloud-enabled data centers.

SoftLayer Pod

IBM and SoftLayer are leading the drive toward wider adoption of innovative cloud services, and we have ambitious goals for the future. If you think we've come a long way from the mainframes of the 1950s, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

-James

Categories: 
October 8, 2011

Smart Phones: Technology Replacing Contact?

So much of our life has been moved to digital devices these days. Smart phones are one of many devices that have made an impression on our lives. Smart phones these days have become a must for most, whether it is for business or personal use, almost everyone has one.

On the plus side, smart phones enable users to conduct business from just about anywhere in the world. Access to email accounts, VPNs and other tools that make business move on a daily basis have become accessible from the palm of your hand. You can even administer your web server from your smart phone with the right application setup.

You're carrying a small computer around in your pocket. It'll be interesting to see what new devices will emerge in the market in the next few years. Tablets are becoming wildly popular, and mainstream consumers are starting to keep an eye on the newest innovations, joining the "tech geeks" in the "early adopter" line.

There are several players in this market with Google, RIM and Apple leading the pack, and dedicated fans rally behind each. With smart phones becoming so increasingly common, I've started wondering if it's really for the best. Do we really need to check our e-mail every 10 minutes? If we're not on Twitter, Facebook or one of our other social networks, will they be there when we get to our computer?

Being digitally connected all the time give us a false sense of "socializing" in the old school face-to-face sense, and that pull us away from those IRL (in real life) encounters. Numerous crashes have been caused by people texting or updating their statuses while driving, and there have been cases of people walking into a busy street while being distracted by their phones.

When it comes to technology like smart phones, how do you keep those devices from becoming a dependency? How do you keep yourself from letting them take the place of direct human contact rather? It's something to think about as technology continues to evolve and permeate our lives.

-James

October 26, 2010

New Parents in a Technical Age

From discovering I was soon to be a father to the day to day progress of pregnancy, technology has been there to explain and even help with planning for the future.

Smart phones that have applications to plan and track the progress of my wife’s pregnancy combined with the incredible resource that is the internet have taught me an amazing number of things.

It’s really helped by understanding what’s happening and keeping me informed with how the baby should be progressing; not to mention helping me to understand what my significant other may be feeling or what she’s going through. It’s had a definite impact on decisions regarding what we should be doing, how we should be eating, and how to make a much healthier child. We have have found products and devices to help with tending our new born, keeping it save, and assisting with day to day caring.

There are even sites and applications to help prep you for the birth of your child and to help you learn parenting techniques for use when your child becomes older. I recommend that any new parent check out apps such as ‘Bump’ if you have a smart phone or check online at places like www.babycenter.com which contain information on pregnancy and having children.

-James

Categories: 
October 19, 2009

I have backups…Don’t I?

There is some confusion out there on what’s a good way to back up your data. In this article we will go over several options for good ways to backup and sore your backups along with a few ways that are not recommended.

There is some confusion out there on what’s a good way to back up your data. In this article we will go over several options for good ways to backup and sore your backups along with a few ways that are not recommended.

When it comes to backups storing them off site (off your server or on a secondary drive not running your system) is the best solution with storing them off site being the recommended course.

When raids come into consideration just because the drives are redundant (a lave mirror situation) there are several situations, which can cause a complete raid failure such as the raid controller failing, the array developing a bad stripe. Drive failure on more than one drive(this does happen though rarely) , out of date firmware on the drives and the raid card causing errors. Using a network storage device like our evault or a nas storege is also an excellent way to store backups off system. The last thing to consider is keeping your backups up to date. I suggest making a new back every week at minimum (if you have very active sites or data bases I would recommend a every other day backup or daily backup). It is up to you or your server administrator to keep up with your backups and make sure they are kept up to date. If you have a hardware failure and your backups are well out of date it’s almost like not having them at all.

In closing consider the service you provide and how your data is safe, secure, and recoverable. These things I key to running a successful server and website.

October 16, 2009

Raid 1 or Raid 0: which should I choose?

When considering these 2 raid options there are a few points you’ll want to consider before making your final choice.

The first to consider is your data, so ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it critical data that your data be recoverable?
  • Do you have backups of your data that can be restored if something happens?
  • Do you want some kind of redundancy and the ability to have a failed drive replaced without your data being destroyed?

If you have answered yes to most of these, you are going to want to look at a Raid 1 configuration. With a Raid 1 you have 2 drives of like size matched together in an array, which consists of an active drive and a mirror drive. Either of these drives can be replaced should one go bad without any loss of data and without taking the server offline. Of course, this assumes that the Raid card that you are using is up to date on it’s firmware and supports hot swapping.

If you answered no to most of these questions other than the backup question (you should always have backups), a Raid 0 set-up is probably sufficient. This is used mostly for disk access speeds and does not contain any form of redundancy or failover. If you have a drive failure while using a Raid 0 your data will be lost 99% of the time. This is an unsafe Raid method and should only be used when the data contained on the array is not critical in anyway. Unfortunately with this solution there is no other course of action that can be taken other than replacing the drives and rebuilding a fresh array.

I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion regarding these 2 Raid options. There are several other levels of Raid which I would suggest fully researching before you consider using one of them.

Categories: 
May 6, 2009

Always Use Protection

When it comes to managing a server remember you can never be to careful. In this day and age we face a lot of things that can damage and even take a server to its knees here’s a few things for everyone to consider.

Anti-virus:

This is a must on systems open to the net now days. There are always nasty little things floating around looking to take your server apart from the OS out. For windows servers there are a multitude of choices and I’ll just mention a few that can help protect your goods. You can use several programs such as avast (which offers a free edition), ClamWin (open source), Kaspersky , and Panda just to name a few. I would suggest before installing any of these you check links such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_antivirus_software to name one that provides a list of several choices and their compatibility. You may also want to read reviews that compare the available options and give you an idea of what to expect from them. This will allow you to make an informed choice on which one works best for you. Now with linux there are also several options for this including the well known clamav which from personal experience works really well and can be installed on a variety of linux disro’s(aka distributions). It’s very simple to use and may prevent you from headache later on down the road.

Firewalls:

Firewalls are a double edged sword but are most defiantly needed. When it comes to firewalls you can protect yourself from quite a bit of headache however if setup to strict you can block positive traffic and even yourself from reaching your server but in the long run a defiant way to help protect your server from unwanted visitors. A lot of firewalls also have modules and add-ons that further assist in protecting you and securing your server. If in doubt it’s always a good idea to have a security company do an audit and even a security hardening session with your server to make sure you are protected the best way possible.

Passwords:

This is probably one of the most important this you can do to secure your server. Use strong passwords (no using password or jello is not a secure password even if it is in all caps) and if you are worried about not being able to come up with a secure one there are several password generators on the web that can come up with secure ones to assist. Passwords should contain caps letters, numbers, symbols, and should be at minimum 8 – 10 characters (the more the better). It’s the easy to remember and easy read passwords that get you into trouble.

Armed with this information and so much more on security that can be located on the web using the great and all powerful Google should be a good start to making sure you don’t have to worry about data loss and system hacks. Also remember no matter how secure you think you are make regular backups of all your important data as if you server could crash at any time.

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