Author Archive: Lance Crosby

January 17, 2014

What's Next? $1.2 Billion Investment. 15 New Data Centers.

SoftLayer was founded in a living room on May 5, 2005. We bootstrapped our vision of becoming the de facto platform for cloud computing by maxing out our credit cards and draining our savings accounts. Over the course of eight years, we built a unique global offering, and in the middle of last year, our long-term vision was validated (and supercharged) by IBM.

When I posted about IBM acquiring SoftLayer last June, I explained that becoming part of IBM "will enable us to continue doing what we've done since 2005, but on an even bigger scale and with greater opportunities." To give you an idea of what "bigger scale" and "greater opportunities" look like, I need only direct you to today's press release: IBM Commits $1.2 Billion to Expand Global Cloud Footprint.

IBM Cloud Investment

It took us the better part of a decade to build a worldwide network of 13 data centers. As part of IBM, we'll more than double our data center footprint in a fraction of that time. In 2006, we were making big moves when we built facilities on the East and West coasts of the United States. Now, we're expanding into places like China, Hong Kong, London, Japan, India, Canada and Mexico City. We had a handful of founders pushing for SoftLayer's success, and now we've got 430,000+ IBM peers to help us reach our goal. This is a whole new ballgame.

The most important overarching story about this planned expansion is what each new facility will mean for our customers. When any cloud provider builds a data center in a new location, it's great news for customers and users in that geographic region: Content in that facility will be geographically closer to them, and they'll see lower pings and better performance from that data center. When SoftLayer builds a data center in a new location, customers and users in that geographic region see performance improvements from *all* of our data centers. The new facility serves as an on-ramp to our global network, so content on any server in any of our data centers can be accessed faster. To help illustrate that point, let's look at a specific example:

If you're in India, and you want to access content from a SoftLayer server in Singapore, you'll traverse the public Internet to reach our network, and the content will traverse the public Internet to get back to you. Third-party peering and transit providers pass the content to/from our network and your ISP, and you'll get the content you requested.

When we add a SoftLayer data center in India, you'll obviously access servers in that facility much more quickly, and when you want content from a server in our Singapore data center, you'll be routed through that new data center's network point of presence in India so that the long haul from India to Singapore will happen entirely on the private network we control and optimize.

Users around the world will have faster, more reliable access to servers in every other SoftLayer data center because we're bringing our network to their front doors. When you combine that kind connectivity and access with our unique hybrid offering of powerful bare metal servers and scalable virtual server instances, it's easy to see how IBM, the most powerful technology company of the last 100 years, is positioned to remain the most powerful technology company in the world for the next century.

Now it's time to get to work.

-@lavosby

June 4, 2013

IBM to Acquire SoftLayer

As most have seen by now, this morning we announced IBM's intent to acquire SoftLayer. It's not just big news, it's great news for SoftLayer and our customers. I'd like to take a moment and share a little background on the deal and pass along a few resources to answer questions you may have.

We founded SoftLayer in 2005 with the vision of becoming the de facto platform for the Internet. We committed ourselves to automation and innovation. We could have taken shortcuts to make a quick buck by creating manual processes or providing one-off services, but we invested in processes that would enable us to build the strongest, most scalable, most controllable foundation on which customers can build whatever they want. We created a network-within-a-network topology of three physical networks to every SoftLayer server, and all of our services live within a unified API. "Can it be automated?" was not the easiest question to ask, but it's the question that enabled us to grow at Internet scale.

As part of the newly created IBM Cloud Services division, customers and clients from both companies will benefit from a higher level of choice and a higher level of service from a single partner. More important, the real significance will come as we merge technology that we developed within the SoftLayer platform with the power and vision that drives SmartCloud and pioneer next-generation cloud services. It might seem like everyone is "in the cloud" now, but the reality is that we're still in the early days in this technology revolution. What the cloud looks like and what businesses are doing with it will change even more in the next two years than it has in the last five.

You might have questions in the midst of the buzz around this acquisition, and I want you to get answers. A great place to learn more about the deal is the SoftLayer page on IBM.com. From there, you can access a FAQ with more information, and you'll also learn more about the IBM SmartCloud portfolio that SoftLayer will compliment.

A few questions that may be top of mind for the customers reading this blog:

How does this affect my SoftLayer services?
Between now and when the deal closes (expected in the third quarter of this year), SoftLayer will continue to operate as an independent company with no changes to SoftLayer services or delivery. Nothing will change for you in the foreseeable future.

Your SoftLayer account relationships and support infrastructure will remain unchanged, and your existing sales and technical representatives will continue to provide the support you need. At any time, please don't hesitate to reach out to your SoftLayer team members.

Over time as any changes occur, information will be communicated to customers and partners with ample time to allow for planning and a smooth transition. Our customers will benefit from the combined technologies and skills of both companies, including increased investment, global reach, industry expertise and support available from IBM, along with IBM and SoftLayer's joint commitment to innovation.

Once the acquisition has been completed, we will be able to provide more details.

What does it mean for me?
We entered this agreement because it will enable us to continue doing what we've done since 2005, but on an even bigger scale and with greater opportunities. We believe in its success and the opportunity it brings customers.

It's going to be a smooth integration. The executive leadership of both IBM and SoftLayer are committed to the long-term success of this acquisition. The SoftLayer management team will remain part of the integrated leadership team to drive the broader IBM SmartCloud strategy into the marketplace. And IBM is best-in-class at integration and has a significant track record of 26 successful acquisitions over the past three years.

IBM will continue to support and enhance SoftLayer's technologies while enabling clients to take advantage of the broader IBM portfolio, including SmartCloud Foundation, SmartCloud Services and SmartCloud Solutions.

-@lavosby

UPDATE: On July 8, 2013, IBM completed its acquisition of SoftLayer: http://sftlyr.com/30z

December 9, 2011

Earn Your Bars

In less than six years, SoftLayer has grown pretty drastically. We started as a small company with ten people crammed into a living room, brainstorming how to build one innovative data center in Dallas. Now we have more than six hundred employees managing thirteen data centers on three different continents. It's insane to see how far we've come when you read those two sentences, and as I think back, I remember the sacrifices employees have made to help our business get where it is today.

In the early days, we were taking out loans and tapping our bank accounts to buy servers. When customers started asking for more features and functionality in the portal, developers coded non-stop to make it happen. A lot of those sacrifices aren't very obvious from the outside, but we wouldn't be where we are today without them. One of the biggest sacrifices SLayers make is when we need to build new data centers to accommodate customer demand ... A "Go Live Crew" of employees moves away from their friends and family to those facilities to make sure the new SoftLayer data center meets our high expectations.

In the military, a soldier will "earn his/her stripes" by doing something that shows that he or she deserves a particular rank or position. The more stripes on the sleeve of your uniform, the higher your rank. As you've probably gathered from pictures and videos around the office, SoftLayer employees don't wear uniforms, but SLayers love to wear SoftLayer swag, and this "mechanic" shirt has been one of the most popular sellers in our company store:

Earn Your Bars Shirts

We wanted to recognize the employees that have given weeks (and sometimes months) of their time to join a Go Live Crew for a data center build-out, so we took that popular shirt and added a little flair. Following the "earn your stripes" idea, these employees have "earned their bars" for each data center they help build.

Earn Your Bars Shirts

Every employee who was on a Go Live Crew in Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Jose, Singapore or Amsterdam will get shirts with location-specific graphics to recognize their contribution, and their most recent shirt will have the "bars" you see in the picture above.

As a bit of added recognition, here are the shirt recipients for each data center location:

Earn Your Bars Shirts
Seattle Go Live Crew
John E., Edmund G., Robert G., Joe H., Brad L., Charles P., Joshua R., William S., Zane W.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
Washington, D.C. Go Live Crew
Troy D., John E., Reed F., Edmund G., Robert G., Brad L., Charles P., Joshua R., Zane W.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
San Jose Go Live Crew
Kalin D., John E., Chris F., Hector F., Edmund G., Robert G., Tim L., Russ M., Edward R., Brent R., Brandon S., Joshua Z.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
Singapore Go Live Crew
Chris F., Joshua F.. Ryan G., Robert G., Hao H., Tim L., Russ M., Todd M., Kyle S., Eric V.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
Amsterdam Go Live Crew
Raul A., Brian C., Elijah F., Hector F., Edmund G., Robert G., Sydney M., Stephen M., Michael P., Goran P., Mark Q., Edward R., Jason R., Brandon S., Sopheara S., Joshua Z.

And if you happened to compare the names between all five teams, you'll notice that Robert Guerra was on every crew. You know what that means?

Earn Your Bars Shirts

He has a brand new wardrobe.

CBNO.

-@lavosby

November 17, 2011

#Winning - Celebrating SoftLayer's Awards

To quote Marva Collins, "Success doesn't come to you, you go to it." Since 2005, SoftLayer has consistently grown from $0 annual revenue to $350 million annual revenue, and that success hasn't gone unnoticed. This year, we've been honored to win several awards based on our revenue growth percentage, how great the company is to work for, and the success of our cloud offerings, so I thought I'd share a few of those recognitions with our customers – who have fueled our success.

Trophy Case

Company Growth
Let's start with the awards that recognize SoftLayer for its tremendous financial success in the midst of a tough economic environment. This year, SoftLayer was recognized as one of the fastest growing companies as members of Tech Titan Fast Tech, Inc. 500/5000, Dallas 100, and Deloitte Technology 500.

Tech Titan Fast Tech recognizes the fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and clean technology companies in Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Fast Tech recipients are determined based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2008 to 2010. SoftLayer holds the #2 rank with a revenue growth percentage of 305%, calculated using the following formula [(FY'2010 Revenue- FY'2008)/ FY'2008 revenue] X 100%. SoftLayer won this award in 2008 and 2009 as well ... And based on the way 2011 is looking, we'll get another one next year.

Inc. 500/5000 ranks privately held, for-profit companies based on their revenue growth for the past 3 years. In 2010, SoftLayer ranked #155, and this year, we were #277 with a three-year revenue growth of 1,178%. The Inc 500/5000 list is also broken into industry categories and regions: SoftLayer ranked #21 in the IT Services category and #5 in Dallas.

Deloitte Technology Fast 500 lists North American companies each year based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth over a five-year period. This is the first year for SoftLayer to be on the list, and we couldn't be more excited about it. We're proud to hold #32 in this year's rankings, and we have our sights set on climbing higher.

Dallas 100 winners are selected by the SMU Cox School of Business to recognize privately held companies that headquartered in Dallas Metroplex. Similar to the Inc. 500/5000, the rankings are based on revenue growth over the past three years. In 2010, we ranked #5, and this year, we moved up all the way to #1! (Where we're supposed to be.)

Dallas 100

SoftLayer Culture
The financial success of the company is only one metric of our overall success as a business. We wouldn't be able to reach those amazing numbers without a great team, so when we get recognized for how amazing SoftLayer is to work for, I know we're doing things right. SoftLayer has been recognized twice this year for being one of the Best Places to Work. Not only are we part of the Dallas Morning News "Top 100 Places to Work in DFW," but we are among the "Best Places to Work in Texas." That's the kind of environment we wanted when we started the company a few short years ago. We hold the #10 spot for Mid-Size Companies on the DMN Top 100 Places to Work in DFW, and the "Best Places to Work in Texas" list will be released in February 2012.

Product Recognition
Oh, and as it turns out, amazing employees in a fantastic environment also create some of the most innovative products, so it should come as no surprise that SoftLayer was recognized earlier this year for our cloud offering: We are among the Top 100 Cloud Providers chosen by Alsbridge.

And when it comes to our dedicated hosting platform, you don't have to look very far to see that SoftLayer is "The Best Web Hosting Company" in the industry. If you agree, you can show a little love for us by nominating and voting for us in HostReview's 6th Annual Reader's Choice Awards.

While we want to celebrate our achievements, we also want to use them as fuel to continue the Challenging But Not Overwhelming (CBNO) work that got us to this point. We want to take the #1 spot on all of these lists in the near future, so keep an eye out ... And we'll start looking for a bigger trophy case.

Taking over the world one data center at a time!

-@lavosby

June 16, 2011

An Exercise in Innovation

Some of the best ideas come from people who think "outside of the box." SoftLayer was born in a living room six years ago when we decided to look at the staid hosting industry from a new perspective. We said, "We don't want to build a company to meet customers' current needs. We want to build a company to meet the needs our customers don't even know they have yet," and that's one of the biggest reasons the SoftLayer platform has IPv6, KVM over IP, private network, out-of-band management and standardized pod-based data centers.

Only people with a certain level of "crazy" can recognize opportunities for innovation, and because SoftLayer's motto is "Innovate or Die," to incubate innovation, we have to create an environment that enables employees to take their "crazy" and run with it. Speaking of "crazy," meet Phil.

Phil plays guitar, tests software in non-standard ways, and has a bobble-head of himself. Some would say he marches to the beat of a different drummer – a drummer that may or may not be overdosing on caffeine.

Phil was tasked with a 12-week project: If SoftLayer is built for what our customers are going to need tomorrow, figure out what customers will need after "tomorrow." He'd have access to people and resources up and down the organization to build his idea, and the experiment is set up to incubate his innovation:

  1. Because there are no bad ideas in brainstorming, anyone helping Phil should do so without questioning the logic or "sanity" of what he asking for help with.
  2. Phil can spend up to 20% of his work hours building his idea.
  3. Anyone who helps Phil can spend up to 10% of his/her work hours to build his idea.
  4. Phil can have space in H2 to build his idea.
  5. Regardless of apparent success or failure, the project will conclude at the end of 12 weeks. From there, we'll evaluate the "good" and "not as good" ideas from the experiment.

It'd be impossible to guarantee the success of any kind of project like this because it's a little like catching lightning in a bottle, but I was interested to see what kinds of operational changes he came up with over the course of the three months. We might see the evolution of the next brilliant idea in hosting, or we'd see a lot of hilariously terrible ideas.

Then I saw his first installment:

By the time I got to "circumstantiate," I had the phone in my hand to call off the project. What I didn't expect was Phil's tearful pleading to take the idea down a different path. They say you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and despite the fact that this first impression was pretty awful, I decided to give him another shot (with a much more limited scope):

  1. Apparently there are bad ideas in brainstorming, but anyone who helps Phil on his "new path" should try to be supportive.
  2. Phil can spend up to 5% of his work hours building his idea.
  3. Phil can't take anyone else from SoftLayer away from their jobs during work hours.
  4. Phil can have space in the Houston office to build his idea.
  5. The project is scheduled to run for 12 weeks. There's no guarantee that it'll make it through next week.

If you have ideas for Phil, feel free to contribute. He'd probably appreciate the help.

-@lavosby

April 9, 2011

7 Keys to Startup Success

We recently announced a partnership with the Tech Wildcatters Incubator Program, a Dallas-based "microseed" fund and startup accelerator, and we couldn't be happier with the results we've seen thus far. Much of the press coverage of the sponsorship focused on the $1,000/mo of cloud, dedicated or hybrid hosting solutions we offered the program's startup companies, but the most exciting aspect of the relationship thus far has been getting to engage with the participating up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Having been in their seats about six years ago when SoftLayer was born in a living room, the SoftLayer team is especially qualified to give insight about the struggles and successes of running a startup, and that aspect of our partnership is where we hope to provide the most value. Over the past few weeks, we've met with the current Tech Wildcatters participants and seen some of the amazing ideas they have in the works, and we're pumped to see them succeed ... By all accounts, we can't really call SoftLayer a "startup" anymore, but our investment in this community reinvigorates the startup culture we've tried to maintain as the company has grown.

Recently, I had the chance to share a few "Keys to Success" with program participants, and since those thoughts might be interesting for other startups and small business users, I thought I'd share some of the highlights here. There are no "guaranteed win" formulas or "super-secret secrets to success" in business (regardless of what an infomercial at 3am on a Tuesday morning may tell you), but these ideas may help you position your business for success:

1. Hire people smarter than you.
Your goal should be to get people on your team who can handle specific responsibilities better than you can. Just because you're running the business doesn't mean you can't learn from it, and the best people to learn from are brilliant people.

2. Hire a diverse group.
Different people think differently, and different perspectives lead to better conversations and better business decisions. Filling your organization with one kind of employee will lead to a lot of "That's the best decision ever" moments, but whether or not that "best decision ever" decision is good for anyone else is a crap shoot.

3. Founders should put skin in the game.
With all of the startup company trials and tribulations, you want everyone on your team to have a vested interest in the business's success. Clock-punchers and coasters need not apply.

4. Boot-strap the beginning.
Along the lines of the previous recommendation, if you've remortgaged your house or sold your car or maxed out your credit cards on a new business, you're going to care a lot more if it fails. By boot-strapping your initial financing, you become even more accountable for your success.

5. Operate with financial sense, operational sense and common sense.
Balance your business responsibly. If you disregard any of those "senses," your tenure as a small business owner may be relatively short-lived. When it comes to financial sense, I also recommend that you invest in professional accounting support and software to save you a ton of headache and heartache down the road when it's time to go after "real money."

6. CBNO - Challenging But Not Overwhelming
You can always do something more for the business. You and your team should be maximizing your efforts to grow the business but not at the expense of burning out. If you've got "skin in the game," your threshold for what is overwhelming may increase, but you have to understand the need for balance.

7. Have fun and make money.
In that order. If you're not having fun, it doesn't matter how much money you make. Startups are run by passionate people, and the second you lose that passion, you lose a significant piece of what makes your business or idea great.

I touched on about a dozen more points when it comes to how to orient your business to your customers, but I'll save that bit for later.

CBNO

-@lavosby

February 25, 2011

Hosting is Dead. Long Live Hosting!

If you weren't able to join us in Orlando for Parallels Summit 2011, you missed out on a great conference. More than 1,500 peers, partners and industry influencers shared a wealth of knowledge, some great recommendations and a drink or two. SoftLayer got to share in some of the spotlight when we announced Parallels Automation on-Demand, and I was honored to speak in one of the keynote sessions on Wednesday.

Rather than bore you with bullet points about what I shared, I thought it might be easier to bring you into the room so you can hear the whole session yourself:

Thanks for the opportunity, Parallels! We're already looking forward to next year.

-@lavosby

November 3, 2010

Our Competition

It doesn’t come as a big surprise to anyone when I say that I spend a lot of time thinking about the competition. I want to understand what motivates them. I need to understand how they see the marketplace evolving. What are they doing about the cloud? What about IPv6? What about the network? No surprises there.

What I do think would surprise people is that I do not think of Rackspace, Saavis or Amazon as the competition. I think that real competition is found within the small medium business or the enterprise. I don’t have any hard statistics on it, but a number of analysts seem to settle on a 25:75 split. That is, they believe that only 25% of businesses go outside the corporate walls for their hosting needs. The other 75% have their own data centers, or have servers in various closets around the organization (and I mean real closets in some cases). It is not that we don’t want to win the other 25% of the world (we obviously win our fair share of customers there), but the attraction of the rest of the marketplace for SoftLayer is apparent – the opportunity is 3x larger. And that is really exciting.

In 2004, Nicholas Carr authored a book called “Does IT Matter”. One of his central arguments was the notion that IT adoption no longer meant implicit competitive advantage, essentially because IT has become commonplace, standardized and cheaper. I agree with him to a degree, particularly when it comes to larger companies and certain types of IT deployments. For example, there is not much competitive advantage to ERP or HR systems anymore – there are very few larger organizations that don’t have something in place. The same can be said for the Internet or mobile computing – everybody has access, and everybody uses fixed and mobile email. That said, you are dead without either function in place – the lack of adoption is a definite disadvantage. I can only assume that he did not have infrastructure as a service (sounds like IT to me…) in mind when he wrote the book.

I think that there is significant advantage to a relationship with SoftLayer. The difference is that we are taking some IT burden away to give some competitive advantage, versus adding IT burden to deliver an advantage.

What competitive advantage does SoftLayer bestow that is lost when everything is kept within the walls?

  1. Cost. This one is easy. We can deliver at a price point much lower that what you can do internally. This means that resources are available for other things, perhaps product innovation or marketing innovation.
  2. Expertise. Infrastructure is our business. We are better at this than you are. We invest in systems, network and people to make sure this is always the case. Think of less downtime and better security.
  3. Technology. Our ongoing investment in technology and our commitment to innovation means that our customers have access to the cutting edge before most others do. For example, we are already native IPv6 in the network.
  4. Focus. What happens when some of that burden gets shifted externally? It means that the company can focus more of its resources on growing business, versus merely supporting the business.
  5. Automation. If something around here gets done more than twice manually, then it is time to automate. The end result is that we are efficient – no waiting for servers to be racked and stacked. Give us an order and you are up and running in less than four hours. Think of this in terms of speed to market, and speed to scale.

I think you get the point, and I think that the 75% is slowly getting the point too. We deliver a significant competitive advantage by helping to drive your business forward versus delivering as a ‘back office’ that serves to drive costs. We’re waiting for you….

-@lavosby

July 29, 2010

What Makes SoftLayer Different?

I often get asked “what makes SoftLayer different?” The problem with that simple question is – SoftLayer is so different from all the competition out there that it’s not a simple question to answer. I have my standard version that I run thru – but I’m not sure people really grasp how different SoftLayer really is. After talking to my wife, she recommended doing a Letterman style top 10 reason why SoftLayer is different. I figured I would give it a shot – so here it is..

  1. SoftLayer terminates 40Gbps to every single rack!! 20Gbps to the public internet and 20Gbps to the private network.
  2. SoftLayer offers three types of VPN services for out-of-band connectivity (SSL, PPTP, IPSEC)
  3. SoftLayer manages its own nationwide MPLS network with 10 PoPs and over 1000Gbps of transit and peer connectivity
  4. SoftLayer offers free enterprise grade DNS services through our DNS farms located in all 10 PoPs in North America
  5. SoftLayer has over 1600 APIs for custom integration, a full service control panel for ease of use and a private label option for resellers
  6. Every single server in every datacenter is a rackmount, hotswap, tool-less chassis offering enterprise grade hardware with ultra-fast modifications
  7. SoftLayer has downloadable iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps in addition to our mobile phone friendly .mobi site for complete control.
  8. Only hybrid solution available – dedicated, virtualized, and cloud instances operating in a single environment and control thru a single interface or API
  9. Private Network – connect any server to any other server in any datacenter with a click of a button
  10. Fastest service delivery
  • Over 1000 servers in stock
  • Dedicated servers – 4 hours or less
  • Servers with virtualization – 2 hours or less
  • Cloud instances & storage – 5 to 15 minutes
  • Firewalls, Load Balancers, SAN Storage – added real time w/ no downtime

-@lavosby

October 29, 2008

SoftLayer Thinks “Outside the Box”

Now, before a worldwide game of MBA buzz-word bingo breaks out, hear me out. Here at SoftLayer, we really do think “outside the box.” And when I say “box” – I really mean “server.” Since our inception, we have been focused an all things “outside the box.” To say it another way, we have focused on building automation systems that drive the collective datacenter environment that surrounds the server. In its simplest terms – a datacenter operating system. We call it IMS internally – IMS is short for infrastructure management system (yip – techies are ripe with creativity).

For the first couple of years, IMS development has revolved around automating all things in the datacenter including network, inventory, asset tracking, provisioning, monitoring, security, and of course all things directly living on the servers themselves. I mean, if you think about all the capabilities – it’s pretty clear. Add servers on the fly (check), add firewalls on the fly (check), add load balancing on the fly (check), interconnect all servers on the fly (check), interconnect servers in different datacenters (check), add, delete and tag IP addresses on the fly (check), reload, repair, and re-provision servers (check, check and check). We can do anything you can possibly imagine “outside the box” via our control panel or API.

Now, SoftLayer has moved to thinking “Inside the box.” That’s where virtualization is rapidly gaining ground. The entire industry understands the value of virtualization and the paradigm shift it will bring to computing. It’s quickly maturing and it’s rapidly becoming a common standard across the industry. We shifted gears about six months ago and starting incorporating virtualization technologies into Softlayer. To date, we have implemented Hyper-V and Xen with tremendous success. We have Virtuozzo from Parallels slated to go live in a couple weeks, VMWare will be available soon and then of course – our much anticipated cloud computing offering (it’s a secret). All of these technologies are virtualization and automation at the server and storage layer.

So, here at SoftLayer – we are thinking “inside and outside the box.” We are very excited about continuing to integrate virtualization technologies into our highly automated datacenter environment. It’s the perfect storm – the alignment of all technologies into a single unified backplane that can morph on the fly into any type of compute environment one needs. The question I have is – it’s easy to think inside the box – has the industry also been thinking “outside the box?”

-@lavosby

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