Author Archive: Jonathan Wisler

July 19, 2013

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Transcending Borders

At Cloud World Forum in London, I did an interview with Rachel Downie of CloudMovesTV, and she asked some fantastic questions (full interview embedded a the bottom of this post). One that particularly jumped out to me was, "Does North America have a technology and talent advantage over Europe?" I've posted some thoughts on this topic on the SoftLayer Blog in the past, but I thought I'd reflect on the topic again after six months of traveling across Europe and the Middle East talking with customers, partners and prospects.

I was born just north of Silicon Valley in a little bohemian village called San Francisco. I earned a couple of trophies (and even more battle scars) during the original dot-com boom, so much of my early career was spent in an environment bursting at the seams with entrepreneurs and big ideas. The Valley tends to get most of the press (and all of the movie contracts), so it's easy to assume that the majority of the world's innovation is happening around there. I have first-hand experience that proves that assumption wrong. The talent level, motivation, innovation, technology and desire to make a difference is just as strong, if not stronger, in Europe and the Middle East as it is in the high-profile startup scenes in New York City or San Francisco. And given the level of complexity due to the cultural and language differences, I would argue the innovation that happens in the Middle East and Europe tends to incorporate more flexibility and global scalability earlier than its North American counterparts.

A perfect example of this type of innovation is the ad personalization platform that London-based Struq created. Earlier this year, I presented with Struq CTO Aaron McKee during the TFM&A (Technology For Marketing and Advertising) show in London about how cloud computing helps their product improve online customer dialogue, and I was stunned by how uniquely and efficiently they were able to leverage the cloud to deliver meaningful, accurate results to their customers. Their technology profiles customers, matches them to desired brands, checks media relevance and submits an ad unit target price to auction. If there is a match, Struq then serves a hyper-relevant message to that customer. And all of that in about 25 milliseconds and is happening at scale (over two billion transactions per day). Add in the fact that they serve several different cultures and languages, and you start to understand the work that went into creating this kind of platform. Watch out Valley Boyz and Girlz, they're expanding into the US.

One data point of innovation and success doesn't mean a whole lot, but Struq's success isn't unique. I just got back from Istanbul where I spent some time with Peak Games to learn more about how they became the 3rd largest social gaming company in the world and what SoftLayer could to to help support their growth moving forward. Peak Games, headquartered in Turkey, is on an enviable growth trajectory, and much of their success has come from their lean, focused operations model and clear goals. With more than 30 million customers, it's clear that the team at Peak Games built a phenomenal platform (and some really fun games). Ten years ago, a development team from Turkey may have had to move into a cramped, expensive house in Palo Alto to get the resources and exposure they needed to reach a broader audience, but with the global nature of cloud computing, the need to relocate to succeed is antiquated.

I met a wild-eyed entrepreneur at another meeting in Istanbul who sees exactly what I saw. The region is full of brilliant developers and creative entrepreneurs, so he's on a mission to build out a more robust startup ecosystem to help foster the innovation potential of the region. I've met several people in different countries doing the same thing, but one thing that struck me as unusual about this vision was that he did not say anything about being like Silicon Valley. He almost laughed at me when I asked him about that, and he explained that he wanted his region to be better than Silicon Valley and that his market has unique needs and challenges that being "like Silicon Valley" wouldn't answer. North America is a big market, but it's one of many!

The startups and gaming companies I mentioned get a lot of the attention because they're fun and visible, but the unsung heroes of innovation, the intraprenuers (people who behave like entrepreneurs within large organizations), are the clear and powerful heartbeat of the talent in markets outside of North America. These people are not driven by fame and fortune ... They just want to build innovative products because they can. A mad scientist from one of the largest consumer products firms in the world, based in the EU, just deployed a couple of servers to build an imaging ecosystem that is pushing the limits of technology to improve human health. Another entrepreneur at a large global media company is taking a Mobile First methodology to develop a new way to distribute and consume media in the emerging cross-platform marketplace. These intrapreneurs might not live in Palo Alto or Santa Clara, but they're just as capable to change the world.

Silicon Valley still produces inspiring products and groundbreaking technology, but the skills and expertise that went into those developments aren't confined by borders. To all you innovators across the globe building the future, respect. Working with you is my favorite part of the job.

-@jpwisler

The full interview that inspired this blog post:

October 8, 2012

Don't Let Your Success Bring You Down

Last week, I got an email from a huge technology conference about their new website, exciting new speaker line up and the availability of early-bird tickets. I clicked on a link from that email, and I find that their fancy new website was down. After giving up on getting my early-bird discount, I surfed over to Facebook, and I noticed a post from one of my favorite blogs, Dutch Cowboys, about another company's interesting new product release. I clicked the link to check out the product, and THAT site was down, too. It's painfully common for some of the world's most popular sites and applications buckle under the strain of their own success ... Just think back to when Diablo III was launched: Demand crushed their servers on release day, and the gamers who waited patiently to get online with their copy turned to the world of social media to express their visceral anger about not being able to play the game.

The question everyone asks is why this kind of thing still happens. To a certain extent, the reality is that most entrepreneurs don't know what they don't know. I spoke with an woman who was going to be featured on BBC's Dragons' Den, and she said that the traffic from the show's viewers crippled most (if not all) of the businesses that were presented on the program. She needed to safeguard from that happening to her site, and she didn't know how to do that.

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to keep sites and applications online with on-demand infrastructure and auto-scaling tools. Unfortunately, most business owners don't know how easy it is, so they don't take advantage of the resources available to them. Preparing a website, game or application for its own success doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming. With pay-for-what-you-use pricing and "off the shelf" cloud management solutions, traffic-caused outages do NOT have to happen.

First impressions are extremely valuable, and if I wasn't really interested in that conference or the new product Dutch Cowboys blogged about, I'd probably never go back to those sites. Most Internet visitors would not. I cringe to think about the potential customers lost.

Businesses spend a lot of time and energy on user experience and design, and they don't think to devote the same level of energy on their infrastructure. In the 90's, sites crashing or slowing was somewhat acceptable since the interwebs were exploding beyond available infrastructure's capabilities. Now, there's no excuse.

If you're launching a new site, product or application, how do you get started?

The first thing you need to do is understand what resources you need and where the potential bottlenecks are when hundreds, thousands or even millions of people want to what you're launching. You don't need to invest in infrastructure to accommodate all of that traffic, but you need to know how you can add that infrastructure when you need it.

One of the easiest ways to prepare for your own success without getting bogged down by the bits and bytes is to take advantage of resources from some of our technology partners (and friends). If you have a PHP, Ruby on Rails or Node.js applications, Engine Yard will help you deploy and manage a specialized hosting environment. When you need a little more flexibility, RightScale's cloud management product lets you easily manage your environment in "a single integrated solution for extreme efficiency, speed and control." If your biggest concern is your database's performance and scalability, Cloudant has an excellent cloud database management service.

Invest a little time in getting ready for your success, and you won't need to play catch-up when that success comes to you. Given how easy it is to prepare and protect your hosting environment these days, outages should go the way of the 8-track player.

-@jpwisler

July 12, 2012

An Insider's Look at SoftLayer's Growth in Amsterdam

Last week, SoftLayer was featured on the NOS national news here in the Netherlands in a segment that allowed us to tell our story and share how we're settling into our new Amsterdam home. I've only been a SLayer for about nine months now, and as I watched the video, I started to reflect on how far we've come in such a surprisingly short time. Take a second to check it out (don't worry, it's not all in Dutch):

To say that I had to "hit the ground running" when I started at SoftLayer would be an understatement. The day after I got the job, I was on a plane to SoftLayer's Dallas headquarters to meet the team behind the company. To be honest, it was a pretty daunting task, but I was energized at the opportunity to learn about how SoftLayer became largest privately owned hosting company in the world from the people who started it. When I look back at the interview Kevin recorded with me, I'm surprised that I didn't look like a deer in the headlights. At the time, AMS01 was still in the build-out phase, so my tours and meetings in DAL05 were both informative and awe-inspiring.

When I returned to Europe, I was energized to start playing my role in the company's new pursuit of its global goals.

It didn't take long before I started seeing the same awe-inspiring environment take place in our Amsterdam facility ... So much so that I'm convinced that at least a few of the "Go Live Crew" members were superhuman. As it turns out, when you build identical data center pods in every location around the world, you optimize the process and figure out the best ways to efficiently use your time.

By the time the Go Live Crew started packing following the successful (and on-time) launch of AMS01, I started feeling the pressure. The first rows of server racks were already being filled by customers, but the massive data center space seemed impossibly large when I started thinking of how quickly we could fill it. Most of my contacts in Europe were not familiar with the SoftLayer name, and because my assigned region was Europe Middle East and Africa — a HUGE diverse region with many languages, cultures and currencies — I knew I had my work cut out for me.

I thought, "LET'S DO THIS!"

EMEA is home to some of the biggest hosting markets in the world, so my first-week whirlwind tour of Dallas actually set the stage quite nicely for what I'd be doing in the following months: Racking up air miles, jumping onto trains, attending countless trade shows, meeting with press, reaching out to developer communities and corresponding with my fellow SLayers in the US and Asia ... All while managing the day-to-day operations of the Amsterdam office. As I look back at that list, I'm amazed how the team came together to make sure everything got done.

We have come a long way.

As I started writing this blog, BusinessReview Europe published a fantastic piece on SoftLayer in their July 2012 magazine (starting on page 172) that seems to succinctly summarize how we've gotten where we are today: "Innovation Never Sleeps."

BusinessReview Europe

Our first pod is almost full of servers humming and flashing. When we go to tradeshows and conferences throughout Europe, people not only know SoftLayer, many of them are customers with servers in AMS01. That's the kind of change we love.

The best part of my job right now is that our phenomenal success in the past nine months is just a glimmer of what the future holds. Come to think of it, we're going to need some more people.

-@jpwisler

March 23, 2012

AMS01 DC Tour: Built by SoftLayer, Powered by Innovators

About a month ago, Kevin Hazard visited SoftLayer Amsterdam after a conference in London, and while he was here, I invited him on a data center tour. You saw a few glimpses of the data center in his "This is Different" video, but he turned the camera around on me to give a simpler "Data Center Tour" video to show off some of the key characteristics of the server room environment in AMS01.

Given the fact that nearly everything in the data center is the same, if you've ever seen a SoftLayer data center, this tour will seem very familiar. The configuration and architecture of all 13 of our data centers are identical, and with the exceptions of a few Dutch words on the walls, this tour could be given (and is frequently given to customers) in all of our facilities around the world:

As we were recording this video, I started thinking about all the similarities and differences between all the entrepreneurs I have worked with during my career — which coincidentally lines up well with Clayton's "Building. Business. SoftLayer." blog. I cut my technology teeth in Silicon Valley during the dot-com tsunami of the late 90's, and since then, I have collaborated on-location with entrepreneurs from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Chile, Ukraine and Italy. While these cultures often vary widely with customs, manners, food and methods of business, I would have to say that entrepreneurs have far more similarities than they do differences.

At the peak of the dot-com boom, money was raining from the sky, and anyone with a decent PowerPoint presentation containing the word "Internet," could raise million dollars of dollars in a matter of days. After the bubble popped, funding all but dried up. Even real businesses with profitable business models couldn't raise a cent. My neighbor went from being worth over $10M on paper and keeping company with the Queen of the Netherlands to scrambling to pay the rent and fighting for a seat at the local coffee shop.

In my opinion, that's when the real magic happened: The creators just kept on creating. Despite all our friends making fun of us — telling us "the Internet thing" was dead — we kept building cool stuff and coming up with innovative products that pushed the limits of technology.

While entrepreneurs liked the idea of making tons of money and building a global company from a simple idea, money and fame are not the primary drivers of true entrepreneurs. They were really more interested in creating something that would impact peoples' everyday lives and disrupt tired industries ... Just look at SoftLayer. In 2005, "tired" would have been one of the nicest things you could have said about the hosting industry, and in response to that environment, our "Innovate or Die" mentality shot us to the front of the pack.

Entrepreneurs are a lot like our data centers ... They may look a little different from the outside, but they are exactly the same on the inside. Ask them how they'd change the world, and take note of the wild look in their eyes. Our growth is fueled by the passions of our customers, and as long as we have brilliant customers doing amazing things, you can expect to see more and more of these "new data center" tour videos in the coming months and years.

-@jpwisler

P.S. If you don't have time to watch the video right now, you can head to our Flickr page to see a few pictures we snapped while recording the tour: AMS01 - Amsterdam Data Center

P.P.S. Make sure you watch the video all the way to the end. :-)

November 25, 2011

Online in Amsterdam: Innovators Wanted

Since I started with SoftLayer a couple of months ago, I have been asked by industry analysts, customers, interviewees and my drinking friends ... ahem, I mean networking event associates, "Why did SoftLayer choose Amsterdam for its European headquarters?"

My answer has always been consistent: It's all about the products and the people.

On the product side, having our data center on the AMS-IX gives us lightning fast connectivity to one of the biggest data exchanges in Europe. Combined with our 10GB PoPs in Frankfurt and London, it means we have minimal latency, so your customers are happy. With these arrangements, we're able to extend the ability for customers only to pay for outbound public traffic. Did I mention that the three-tier network is up and running? Public, private and management ... Okay, okay, you get it: Being in Amsterdam extends our industry leading global network.

Amsterdam is not the only game in town where we could get a great connection, though. SoftLayer wanted to make the other kinds of connections to grow a global business ... connections with the right people.

It was not that not that long ago when ten guys were working out of a living room to change the way hosting was done. Now you're reading the blog of a global company with several hundred million in turnover, and the entrepreneurial spirit is stronger than ever. SoftLayer wanted to be in a place where we could hire and conspire with other global pioneers, and with Amsterdam's long history of creativity, innovation and global trade (not to mention Oliebollen), SoftLayer selected Amsterdam for its EMEA HQ.

This video from Don Ritzen and the Rockstart Accelerator team articulate the environment we are glad to be a part of:

With the Amsterdam data center officially online, we've had a chance to get out of the facility and into the community, and we are fitting right in. A couple of weeks ago, I was honored to speak at the Appsterdam Launch Party 2.0 Overwinter. The Appsterdam team is developing an infrastructure so that startups can more easily thrive and focus on what they do what they do best: innovate.

Mike Lee, mayor of Appsterdam asked all the speakers to tell the pan-European audience why we were speaking at the event and what we had to offer the developer community. For me it was an easy answer: We bring automated on demand hosting infrastructure to the community so people can focus on building great products. We also support the community with a referral program, so if developers refer clients to SoftLayer, we will pay them a generous commission ... Not to mention that empowerment and innovation are core SoftLayer values, so we will continue to improve our platform so our customers can control their IT environment with the latest and greatest technologies in the industry.

Needless to say, the audience was intrigued. And I didn't even show them what a SoftLayer pod looks like ...

SoftLayer Amsterdam
SoftLayer Amsterdam

We're looking at the tip of the iceberg in Europe, and we're ecstatic about the opportunities and possibilities that await us as we build on our foothold here and continue our worldwide expansion. If you want to join a young startup-like team in Amsterdam, we want to hear from you ... We're hiring like crazy right now: SoftLayer Careers

-Jonathan

November 3, 2011

Global Expansion: Floating Like a Butterfly

Growing up, one of my heroes was Mohammad Ali. While I admired his athletic ability, with my scrappy build I was never going to be a boxer. What I liked the most about Ali was that he said whatever he wanted and backed up his words with action. That is what distinguished Ali from the others.

I'm sure you've been to job fairs and read companies' websites where they talk about how their company encourages teamwork, employee empowerment and innovation ... It's usually right next to a picture of someone skydiving or kite boarding, right? Well I've been with SoftLayer for about a month now, and as you saw from my 3 Bars 3 Questions interview, I spent my first two weeks on the job in Dallas.

I can tell you without hesitation (and with no need for a kite boarding picture) that when you walk around the office in Dallas, you can feel a buzz in the hallways ... An energy that only comes from from people who are passionate and work well together. When I made the trek back to Amsterdam, I knew the environment and culture our team in Europe would need to foster to earn our three bars.

Last week, we had our first Truck Day in the new Amsterdam data center, and it was a perfect opportunity to show off the SoftLayer spirit and work ethic to our newest AMS01 SLayers with the help of the Go Live Crew:

As soon as two large truckloads of servers were delivered, the team jumped into action. We unpacked, sorted, scanned and racked the servers in record time, and it was actually a lot fun. When I walked into the data center the next day, it felt like Christmas: new toys, flashing lights and Barbara Striesand.

It's safe to say that SoftLayer is the Mohammed Ali of hosting. We make bold statements and can back up them up!

If you're interested in joining the SoftLayer team in Amsterdam, we're hiring for several different positions right now, and we'd love to have you join us. When talking to prospective employees in interviews, I always tell the SoftLayer story with Ali-like pride, and moving forward, Truck Day is going to be a perfect example to share. Where else are you going to find a company culture where everyone in the company (even the CEO) celebrates the company's continued growth by helping to unpack and sort hardware?

Based on the conversations I've had since Truck Day, I can tell if they are right for the team simply by their reaction to that story. If you're ready to roll up your sleeves to help out your teammates and have fun doing it, call me.

-@jpwisler

October 31, 2011

3 Bars | 3 Questions: Amsterdam

Within days of signing on to join the SoftLayer team in Amsterdam, I was on a plane to Dallas. With our facility coming online November 7, the onboarding process had to be accelerated, and the trip to our global headquarters provided an excellent crash course in SoftLayer's strategy and vision for the future. The trip also provided Kevin an opportunity to record a "3 Bars 3 Questions" interview with me after he talked to Michael Ong, the SoftLayer's APAC general manager.

Because I hadn't been a SLayer for too long, he took it easy on me, and we had a great discussion about SoftLayer's strategy in Europe and what customers can expect from our continued global expansion:

In the next week, you'll get a few behind-the-scenes glimpses of our final Amsterdam data center preparations leading up to our November 7 "Go Live" date. If you haven't already seen the "Amsterdam Ready to Launch" blog or the instant-classic "SoftLayer is Coming to Town" video about our international expansion, take a few minutes to check those out.

If you're based in Europe, have a significant customer base in Europe or you've just always wanted a server in Amsterdam, you can pre-order your first AMS01 dedicated server or cloud server right now, and you'll be one of the first in your neighborhood to enjoy our newest facility!

-@jpwisler

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