Author Archive: Kevin Hazard

August 4, 2011

Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Server Challenge

When you're walking down the aisles of an expo hall at a technical conference, what do you expect to see? Stacks of collateral? Maybe a few giveaway T-shirts? A fancy switch-ball or two? How about a crowd of people watching as a fellow attendee slams hard drive trays into a server enclosure and frantically plugs in network cables as a digital clock times them?

Cynical attendees might look at the Server Challenge and think of it as a gimmicky way to draw a crowd to our booth, but when you step up to the server enclosure to compete, you're getting a crash course in SoftLayer's business (along with an exciting tangible experience).

Before your first attempt, you'll learn that SoftLayer is a hosting provider and that you'll be reassembling a miniature version of the larger server racks we have filling data centers around the country (soon to be around the world). You see that one of SoftLayer's biggest differentiators is our network configuration: A public network, a private network and an out-of-band management network connection to every SoftLayer server for free ... And when the clock starts, we can share even more of the SoftLayer story.

Our goal is to let you experience SoftLayer while you're just hearing about other companies. As it turns out, the experience draws people in:

One of the coolest parts of pulling together that time lapse video from OSCON was seeing the reactions on the faces of the participants when they finished. The challenge sparks a surge of adrenaline, so when competitors stop the clock, they expectantly check to see how they fare against the conference's Top 10 times.

In the last conference alone, no fewer than five other companies (who don't even have a connection with the hosting industry) approached us to ask how they could build their own Server Challenge. Needless to say, the Server Challenge is becoming a SoftLayer conference staple ... And we're looking forward to the hottest competition ever at HostingCon 2011 next week!

Between your study of server schematics and your dissection of the winning run's strategy from the end of the OSCON video, make sure you click through to George's HostingCon preview so you can learn where to find SoftLayer in San Diego.

-@khazard

P.S. Space is limited for the HostingCon Party, so if you'll be in town, make sure to let us know so we can give you a promo code for free admission!

June 23, 2011

IPv6 - Blocks, Slashes and Big Numbers

IPv4 addresses are 32-bit while IPv6 addresses are 128-bit. Customers can get a /64 allocation of IPv6 addresses provisioned to a single SoftLayer server. A /64 block of IPv6 addresses contains 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 distinct addresses. The entire IPv4 address space is 4,294,967,296 distinct addresses.

It's easy to get lost in a sea of numbers when you start talking about IPv4 and IPv6 address space. With the exhaustion of IPv4 address space and the big push toward IPv6, everyone's talking about address blocks, usage justification and dual stack compatibility, but all of those conversations presuppose a certain understanding of why IP addresses are the way they are. Someone can say, "The IPv6 pool is exponentially larger than the IPv4 pool," but that statement needs a little context when you hear that providers like SoftLayer are provisioning a free /64 IPv6 allocation of 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 addresses to a single server. If the entire IPv4 pool on the Internet is 4,294,967,296 addresses and we're giving away that many IPv6 addresses to a single server, a simple question logically follows:

MattCodes

Are the Internet authorities being irresponsible when they're allowing such huge numbers of IPv6 addresses to be assigned to individual servers without a demonstrated need for that many addresses? Will this "wastefulness" lead to another IP address pool depletion in our lifetime? These questions are completely legitimate, and they're much easier to explain in a visualized format than they are if we answered them line-by-line in text:

The video duration might seem intimidating, especially if you consider that all 15 minutes are spent talking about IP addresses (Woohoo!), but there's a lot of information, and we did our best to break it down to simple pieces that logically follow each other to help you get the full picture of the world of IP addresses. We explain what CIDR Slash (/) Notation (where you see IP address blocks written as "192.0.2.0/24"), and we offer a simple trick to calculate the number of distinct addresses available in a given IPv4 block. There's a fair amount of witty (and not-witty) banter and at least one use of the word "ridonkulous," so if you enjoyed the DC Construction video commentary, you'll get a kick out of this one too.

Toward the end of the video, we speak directly to why SoftLayer is able to give a /64 of IPv6 addresses to every server and what that means for the future of the IPv6 space.

Fun Fact: SoftLayer IP Address Space*

  • IPv4: 872,448 Addresses
  • IPv6 (/32): 79,228,162,514,264,337,593,543,950,336 Addresses

*Does not include IP space assigned to The Planet

Did the video help you wrap your mind around the differences between IPv4 and IPv6? Do you have any more questions about the differences between the two or how SoftLayer is approaching them?

-@khazard

Categories: 
May 12, 2011

Follow 750 Servers from Truck to DC Rack

What do you call the day after you finish building a new data center server room and cabling the server racks in it? If you're an employee at SoftLayer, you call it Truck Day.

Last week, a few of the folks from marketing were invited to celebrate in the Truck Day festivities for Pod 2 in DAL05 (SR02.DAL05), and I jumped at the opportunity. I don't go anywhere without at least one camera on-hand to document and share what's going on with the SoftLayer community, and Truck Day wasn't an exception ... In fact, I had three different cameras going at all times!

The truck arrived at around 7 a.m. with a few dozen pallets of servers, and about forty employees from all around the company immediately jumped into action. As the pallets moved from the loading dock to the inventory room, people were unboxing servers and piling them on carts. When a cart was full, it was whisked to the data center and unloaded. The data center techs plugged in each of the servers to confirm its configuration and stacked it with matching configurations in designated areas around the data center. By the time one cart got back to the inventory room, another was on its way to the data center, so very little time was lost.

Back in 2007, SamF did a great job of explaining the process, so I won't reinvent the wheel. Instead, I'll let you see the activities as they were captured by the three cameras I toted along:

To give you an idea of how fast all of this was done, each the time lapse cameras set up in the data center and in the inventory room captured images every five seconds. When the video was compiled, the frame rate was set to 20 frames per second, so each second of time lapse video is the equivalent of 100 seconds of work. In a matter of just a few hours, we received, inventoried, racked, cabled and started selling around 750 servers in a brand new data center pod. Competitors: Be afraid. Be very afraid. :)

Pictures from DAL05 Pod 2 Truck Day have been posted on our Flickr Account: http://sftlyr.com/8g

In the past three weeks, we brought three different data center pods online in three different parts of the country: On April 25, it was our first server room in San Jose (SJC01); on May 2, the second server room in DAL05; and on May 10, our second server room in WDC01. As far as I know, we don't have a new pod planned for next month, but given how quickly the operations team has been building data center space, I wouldn't be surprised to get a call asking me to come in a little early to help unload servers in a new data center next week.

-@khazard

Music Credit: The background track in the video is "Your Coat" from SoftLayer's very own Chris Interrante. Keep an eye out for his soon-to-be released EP: OVERDRAFT.

May 6, 2011

Cabling a SoftLayer Server Rack

A few weeks ago, SamF posted "Before They Were SoftLayer Data Centers," a virtual scrapbook from the San Jose data center construction process, and based on the surge of traffic we saw to the post, our customers loved it. It's incredible to see an open warehouse-looking space transformed into an enterprise data center environment, and there's more amazingness where that came from.

In addition to the pre-"Truck Day" pictures we posted on the blog and in the San Jose DC Construction album on Flickr, we trained a video camera on a row in the data center to capture the cabling process.

What's so interesting about plugging in cables?

Consider the fact that each of the network switches we use in a rack has at least 48 ports. Now consider that each rack has two public network switches, two private network switches and one out-of-band management network switch that need to be connected to every SoftLayer server in the rack. That's 240 pre-measured network cables that need to be labeled and routed to specific heights in each rack ... without getting tangled and knotted up (see: behind your TV or under your computer desk).

The cabling process is so precise that if a single cable is out of place, the zip-tie on an entire bundle will be cut, and the process is started from scratch. The process is time-consuming, but the results speak for themselves:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Without further ado, here's the SJ data center team in action. The video is playing at 20x normal speed, and given the amount of time it takes to complete the cabling process for each rack, we enlisted the help of Spongebob SquarePants in our use of the "Two Hours Later" cut:

Impressed? Amazed?

Just wait until you see the time-lapse from Truck Day.

-Kevin

April 6, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

If you didn't read the title to this post in the singsong seventh-inning stretch tune, the rest of this post probably won't be for you. For those of you who just got to "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack," as the song kept playing in your head, you're going to love the news we have to share. We'll wait for you to finish belting out "At the old ball game!" first, though.

[Pausing here for everyone to finish the song.]

Now that everyone's back together, I want you to make sure you don't lose any of that late-inning adrenaline because you might need it at the end of this post.

SoftLayer is all about customer experience. Just ask Skinman. If you're a SoftLayer employee and you don't have "the customer" in the top slot of your "work priorities" list, you'll either need to update that list quickly or update your résumé. This post isn't about THE SoftLayer customer experience, though ... It's about A SoftLayer customer experience.

THE SoftLayer customer experience is all about automation, efficiency, service and innovation. A SoftLayer customer experience uses the term in a much more general sense: It's any opportunity we have to give back to our customers in the form of events, contests, and in this case, baseball tickets! If you're a SoftLayer customer, you're entitled to more fun than our competitors' customers ... And if that's not in our terms of service, it probably should be. :-)

SoftLayer Baseball

Throughout the 2011 Major League Baseball season, SoftLayer will be giving away tickets to Texas Rangers home games in Arlington, Texas! We're going to keep you guessing about how/when/where we'll be giving them away, but if you keep your eye on the SoftLayer Blog, follow @SoftLayer on Twitter, subscribe to SoftLayerTube on YouTube and "Like" us on Facebook, you'll be the first to hear.

We're pretty sure customers in the DFW area are going to be the most excited, since they can root for the home team, but as the season progresses, the net may be cast significantly wider ... Reaching out to customers in other parts of the country (world?) who love SoftLayer and want to catch a game while they're in town for a data center tour. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. Let's give away our first set of tickets!

Texas Rangers v. Anaheim Angels

  • Date: Monday, April 18, 2011
  • Time: 7:05pm
  • Location: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
  • Seats: 2 - Section 26 (Lower Level, behind Home Plate!)
  • Transportation: You're responsible for transportation to/from the park

How to Enter
Since our first giveaway doesn't include transportation to/from the game, the primary pool of participants will be customers who live within driving distance (or happen to be in the DFW area on April 18). Entry into the competition is simple: Comment on this post about why you love SoftLayer.

When you're entering your email, please use a contact address associated with your SoftLayer account. Submissions will be accepted from now until 10 a.m. CDT on Thursday, April 14, so get to writing! We'll have a quick internal vote for all of the submissions after removing your contact information to obscure on which account goes with which response. If your submission wins, we'll email you on Thursday to arrange for ticket delivery ... You'll have the whole weekend to get excited about the game!

Play Ball!

-@khazard

March 23, 2011

SoftLayer Rocked SxSW 2011

South by Southwest 2011 is over. Phew. The chaotic buzz of sessions, trade show booths, concerts, happy hours and parties has subsided, so we can finally take a little time to look back at our experience in Austin last week. Our most talked about contributions to the 2011 SxSW community were our SxSL (South by SoftLayer) event at Iron Cactus on Monday and the SoftLayer Server Challenge on the trade show floor.

SxSL

If you've ever been to a SoftLayer soiree, you know that we know how to get down with our bad selves to throw a good party, and SxSL was no exception. The Cactus Room at Iron Cactus was a perfect venue to unwind after the first day on the trade show floor, and it proved to be a great setting for many interesting conversations about hosting, cloud computing and SoftLayer's plans for world domination ... err ... growth.

As you can see from a few of the pictures we took at the event, Snappy - HostGator's mascot - made an appearance, and he was quite the popular guy. He made so many friends at the party, he actually followed us back to the office in Dallas.

Server Challenge

If you followed the link to the Server Challenge at the top of this post, there's no need to reintroduce the competition, so we'll dive straight into how it went. Before I tell you what I think, listen to what @ipbrian had to say about it on Twitter: "Congrats to @SoftLayer for having the best contest and booth at #sxswi. I have NEVER wanted to repeat visit a vendor more."

Brian was a fierce competitor who pushed the limits of how fast our rack of servers could be reassembled, and prior to SxSW, he'd never heard of SoftLayer. As he hurried to reattach network cables, he experienced what we do in our data centers, and that experience is worth more than any piece of collateral we could have given him. That experience was our goal in designing the challenge, and based on our first show with it, we're confident that our goal is being met.

Some attendees saw the blazing times on our Server Challenge leader board as inspiration to complete an "Eye of the Tiger"-speed assembly while others - like the two squirrels from getacorn.com in the video below - knew they might not win the iPad 2 for being the fastest at SxSW but wanted to try anyway:

In addition to the official Server Challenge competition, we were happy to take part in Das IronGeek for the second year in a row. Das IronGeek put six press and bloggers through a series of five technology-related challenges to test their "geekiness," and the SoftLayer Server Challenge was the final "make it or break it" event to determine the champion. All of the competitors stared down the SoftLayer server rack and had a blast completing the challenge. Joshua Baer bested the other participants to become the 2011 Das IronGeek Champion, and if I were him, I'd be showing my kids the 2011 Das IronGeek wrap up for years to come.

As the trade show wound down on Thursday, our booth had a last surge of Server Challenge participants looking to reach the top of the leader board to with an iPad 2, but as you learned from Highlander, there can be only one. That "one" at South by Southwest was Erik Wagner from Netbiscuits with an amazing time of 1:08.8. When he recorded that time, we knew it would be tough to beat, so we had him complete it one more time on camera to show future generations of Server Challenge participants where the bar has been set. Even with the additional pressure of being on camera, he recorded a faster time than any other participant:

We have a few tweaks and improvements planned for our next Server Challenge competition, and we're excited to see how attendees at other shows respond.

As I write about SxSL and the Server Challenge, I'm reminded of stories about the popularity of the good ol' SoftLayer switch-ball and the hallway war we may or may not have been responsible for supplying with foam missile ammunition, but those stories will have to wait for another post. I'm still tired from SxSW sleep deprivation, and I need a nap.

-@khazard

March 14, 2011

SoftLayer SxSW Server Challenge

As the doors open to the trade show at South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive 2011, SoftLayer is poised and ready to greet attendees with a brand new "Server Challenge" in booth 400. In previous iterations, the Server Challenge involved reassembling a single server with about a dozen components. In this challenge, we're going bigger. Literally.

In SoftLayer's booth, we have a 12U rack loaded with five servers and three network switches, and the challenge is to put it all back together as fast as possible. Check it out:

If you're roaming the trade show aisles, swing by and try your hand! Fastest time wins an iPad 2.

-@khazard

March 3, 2011

Hosting != Glamorous

Infrastructure. Administration. Interface. Connectivity. Computer Room Air Conditioner. Data Center. Generator. Router.

I know what you're saying to yourself right now: "Hold onto your hat, self ... After that start, this post is going to be wild and crazy!" Actually, you might have literally yawned while reading those words. Why?

Hosting isn't very glamorous.

Go back to that first sentence and substitute exclamation points for each of the periods, then go back and make yourself yawn once between "Interface" and "Connectivity" and then again between "Generator" and "Router." Which one felt more natural? Unless you're on your fifth caffeinated beverage of the day or you happen to work for a hosting provider, the excited response is probably a lot less natural than the sleep-inducing one.

Don't get me wrong ... I'm not insulting hosting. I think it's just hamstrung by terms that reek of lameness to the uninitiated outsider. The closest we've got to an interesting term in the industry is "the cloud," and the industry was so happy about the positive response to that metaphor that everyone started calling everything "cloud" to engender fluffy, happy images in customers' heads. But as Lance said in his Parallels Summit keynote, it has just become a marketing term.

I propose that hosting doesn't need to be glamorous to be awesome. Hosting enables customers to make glamorous things.

In one day on the GDC 2011 expo hall floor, our team has talked to hundreds of attendees that have stopped by SoftLayer's booth (2116) to learn a little more about what SoftLayer does, and I love seeing someone "get it" for the first time. Nine times out of ten, if I'm talking to an attendee without a technical background, a glazed stare will slowly creep across his/her face as I explain a little about private networking and our nationwide MPLS network, but when I start talking about what our customers are doing with those tools, "Eureka!"

One of the most subtle explanations for SoftLayer's monumental growth is that our customers do some amazing things on our platform, and those successes, in turn, legitimize the platform and inspire other customers. Whether the story be about a phenomenally popular social gaming company or a reseller that enables tens of thousands of small businesses to get websites, being able to share a real world example takes our explanation out of the ether ... or maybe it takes the yawn-inducing ether out of our explanation.

SoftLayer's platform was meticulously designed to be spectacularly simple: Make sure everything works together, give customers as much control as possible, and get out of their way to - as Guy Kawasaki puts it - "let a hundred flowers blossom."

If you're at GDC this week and you haven't stopped by SoftLayer's booth yet, you need to listen to Natalie:

When you come by, we'll be happy to tell you anything you want to know about our hosting solutions, but we'll be downright excited to share with you the kinds of things our hosting solutions have done for our customers and could do for you.

-@khazard

P.S. If you're not in San Francisco this week, consider this an open invitation to take us up on the same offer at any of SoftLayer's events in the future.

P.P.S. We sincerely hope that this blog does not offend any "hosters" out there ... especially any that are Warlocks.

February 24, 2011

A Crash Course in CRAC Units - Data Center Cooling

In the past few weeks, we've fielded a few questions from our Twitter followers about temperatures in our data center and how CRAC units work. John mentioned in the "Building a Data Center" series that his next post would be about keeping the data center cool, so I'll try not to steal too much thunder from him by posting a basic CRAC unit explanation to answer those questions.

To record this video, we made the long walk (~2 minutes) downstairs to Pod 1 of SoftLayer's DAL05 facility to give you a first-hand look at the star of the show: the DC Computer Room Air Conditioning Unit. Because this was recorded on a "Truck Day" at SoftLayer, the pod was bustling with activity, so we found a "quiet" open area in a section of the pod that will soon be filled with new servers to record the video.

Due to the ambient noise in the data center, my explanation had to be "yelled," so please forgive the volume.

What else do you want to see/learn about in SoftLayer's data centers?

-@khazard

February 7, 2011

That Which We Call a Conference Room ...

As I was walking through the halls of our Dallas office, I happened to pass an door that seemed like an open portal into another dimension. Where you'd expect to finding boxes of cables and keyboards on metal racks, there were a few old wooden trunks lining the walls of the dimly lit space. Naturally, I had to investigate.

As I carefully opened the trunks, to my amazement, I came across loads of books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Among the apothecary books and alchemy texts, I made an amazing discovery: a few pages of Shakespearean literature that seem to have been written anachronistically about SoftLayer Alpha headquarters:

'Tis but thy name that is my mystery;
Thou art thyself, though not a meeting room.
What's a meeting room? It is not hand nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a conference room
By any other name would be as productive;
So Sharkbyte would, were it not called Sharkbyte call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which it owes
Without that title. Sharkbyte, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Host productive meetings.

Now I'm not suggesting that Bill Shakespeare set out to write an epic play about our facility that just wound up being Romeo and Juliet, but since the date in the corner of one of the pages was "1593," I wouldn't be surprised. In a flash of clairvoyance, he saw into the future and puzzled over the curious names outside each of our conference rooms ... Only to come to the conclusion that while the names didn't define the rooms, those rooms would still be phenomenally productive.

Switch a few words in that original text, and you've got yourself one of the most famous scenes in Romeo and Juliet. No big deal.

What were these curious names? See for yourself:

SLayer, SLacker, Unicorn, 3 Bars, 204A, Funky Truck ... The narrative wasn't clear to him at the time, but they all have a special meaning and fit into a bigger plan. Here is a full list of the Alpha conference room names:

  • SLales
  • CBNO
  • Geneous
  • Unicorn
  • Automation
  • Innovation
  • 204A
  • SLacker
  • Pink
  • 3 Bars
  • SLayer
  • Funky Truck
  • 05-05-05
  • Muenster
  • Midway
  • Sharkbyte

Flex your own ESP muscles and post a comment with what you think each of the names means.

We'll reward the most creative responses (and the most accurate responses) with SoftLayer swag of your choice, and in a few days, SKinman will post the real reasons behind all of the names.

-@khazard

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