Author Archive: Lance Crosby

March 27, 2008

Fist Bumps!!

In response to the recent SLales blog entry in reference to high fives, I wanted to take a moment to clarify the position of C-Level and VP level personnel and the use of High-Fives here at SoftLayer. Being a technology company that is constantly in search of the next innovation, we believe that a natural progression has occurred from the more legacy high-five to the more refined Fist Bump. If you don't know what a Fist Bump is – just catch the latest episode of "Deal or No Deal" and you will see Howie Mandel and his Fist Bump maneuver. If you are not a fan of the show, think back to your childhood days of the Wonder Twins. When that dynamic duo sought to bring about Water and Animal shapes, there was always the obligatory "Fist Bump" to initiate the process. Although not a new concept by any means, we believe the next generation Fist Bump is a far superior form of adulation for the following reasons;

  1. The Fist in itself represent power – it's the most aggressive form in which the hand can be manipulated
  2. The force in which the fists bump can speak volumes in reference to the level of excitement
  3. Fist Bumps can be performed repeatedly with numerous other individuals without a stinging sensation
  4. Fist Bumps can be performed in meetings, on phone calls and around cube corners without direct line of sight
  5. Fist Bumps don't make that "slappy" sound that tends to annoy unrelated third parties
  6. Fist Bumps do not require an individual to "go high" – Fist Bumps can be performed at low, standard and high grades
  7. Fist Bumps do not spread the "SamF's" during cold and flu season
  8. Fist Bumps can be personalized – example – two bumps and roll
  9. Fist Bumps seem to be understood and appreciated by young and old alike
  10. A proper Fist Bump is simply more elegant and invigorating then even the wildest of High-Fives

So, here I sit thinking about the lack of Fist Bump deployments and maybe it resides in the fact that we don't have a virtual Fist Bump like Mary's High Five symbol. So, without further a due, I give you the Virtual Fist Bump - III!

As anyone can plainly see, if you looked at the end of your clenched fist, you would see four fingers with a tucked thumb. That is easily represented as III! with the little dot representing the tucked thumb. So listen up SLales – a new form of celebration is acceptable here at SoftLayer. High-Fives and Fist Bumps abound!! Let's celebrate SoftLayer's Success!!

Now if we can just teach Doug how to Fist Bump without turning it into a game of bloody knuckles from the third grade.

-@lavosby

January 25, 2008

Virtualized Virtualization

For the past several months, we have been struggling with how to implement virtualization in a hosting environment. Xen, VMWare, Virtuozzo, Parrallels, and Virtual Iron just to name a few. As many of you know, the software world courts the enterprise and the hosting world is left to shove the square peg into a round hole. Once again, these software packages have been designed for one company with many servers versus one company with many clients with many servers.

The most shocking reality about virtualization is the lack of scalability. Now, before you call quack shack to have my head examined – hear me out. All (and I mean all) of the virtualization products on the market scale extremely well to a couple hundred physical servers (lets call it 200). These technologies were designed to be used in companies that have relatively small subsets of physical servers (yes…I think 200 is small) managed through a centralized console. The idea is – those 200 servers should be utilized more efficiently thereby creating 400 to 2000 virtual machines. This model works great in companies that only have the need for one or two mass “virtual deployments.”

Now, fast forward to SoftLayer where we have already virtualized every aspect of the datacenter and we manage over 12,000 servers. Let’s run through the high points of virtualization - Rapid deployment – we got that. Asset tracking – yip, been there done that. Network management – baked and done. Add services on-the-fly – is there any other way? Complete control – piece of cake. Eliminate inefficiencies – have you seen our offerings? In essence, SoftLayer has abstracted the physical layer from the datacenter and left our customers with a complete virtualized datacenter environment. So, the questions remains – how do we virtualize the virtualized?

-@lavosby

December 7, 2007

Time for Change

As I watched the Dallas Cowboys dismantle the Green Bay Packers last Thursday night, I noticed an ever so slight – almost invisible – passing of the torch from Brett Favre to Tony Romo. It became quite clear – Football is a young man's game.

As I sat and pondered what that must feel like for Brett and his crew, I noticed frightening similarities between hosting and football. Hosting appears to be a young man's sport as well.

Now, before you guys (there I go again) pile on and beat me down – hear me out. I am not saying that Brett and his older brethren are washed up and incapable of playing football – but I am saying, their primetime has passed and any future success should be considered borrowed time on a great career coming to conclusion. Facts are facts – professional football is a very physical and mental job and the youth + skill appears to outweigh age + experience.

This leads me back to hosting. A world full of very young and extremely talented players. An industry where degrees and certifications come in a distant second behind skill and innovative thinking. I often find my thirty-something (barely) resume on-the-line with both new and old competitors. I can assure you, the young competitors terrify me, and the older ones typically bore me.

The recent interviews for potential new hires here at SL are eye-opening. Young Guns coming out of high school with Cisco Certs, college students working on cutting edge technologies and of course – the prodigy that shows up from time to time who was born to design and innovate beyond all our wildest dreams.

I often tell Mike, our CFO, that technology is changing the rules of business and how things will be done going forward. In Mike's accounting world, graduates come out of college with lots of book knowledge and very little experience and gain experience over their career. In the technology world, I would argue the younger talent holds more technical knowledge (book or real world) than the older more established crowd What I bring to the table is business and technical experience; but I find myself learning more and more technology from my younger team members everyday. It's a never ending battle to stay on the leading edge – but I wonder – how long will it be before I hand the torch?

Go Cowboys!!

-@lavosby

October 11, 2007

The Three P's are Changing

The three P's in the hosting world have always been Ping, Power and Pipe. Salespeople regurgitated them relentlessly and operations personnel just shortened them to the P's because we talked about them all the time. The three P's of hosting have changed in the recent years and those not aware of the changing landscape are doomed for failure. I propose a new three P standard (described below).

1) Power -- I list this one first because it is by far the most important. Power is the single greatest limiting factor to technology. If you don't understand the importance of power on future technology, you should exit the industry now. If you are not concerned with power, don't meter power and not fixated with power, you will be in serious trouble in the next 12 to 24 months. The entire industry has shifted to being "green" and large scale datacenter operators are so focused on power utilization, they are building and designing systems completely based on power usage and/or location. It's one of the most critical operating costs and must be understood to maximize long term success and profitability. Here at SoftLayer, we are obsessed with power utilization and efficiency and focus on mitigating power and heat (byproduct of power) to a bare minimum. We know the power usage of every server and network device located in the datacenter and track it real time. We are continuously seeking new low power technologies, engaged in industry consortiums looking for new alternatives, and actively planning our power needs through the end of 2010.

2) Packets -- Five years ago, the internet backbones were full of big fat packets that were easily passed by backbone and edge routers without issue. In the recent years, small packet technologies have greatly reduced the size of the average packet transversing the internet. For those of n00bs out there, smaller packets reduce the overall throughput of the routers processing the packets. The smaller the packets, the greater the reduction in horsepower of those routers. The fast rise in gaming, VOIP and other small packet intense applications has cut the average packet size in half in the last two years and I would expect that to occur again the next two years. Packet size can take the aggregate throughput of a router from several hundred gigs at large packet sizes to potentially single digits of gigabit throughput due to the processing required. Here at SoftLayer, we have installed and upgraded to the fastest routing technologies by Cisco to ensure the greatest network performance, but there are many legacy carrier, broadband, and enterprise routers out there that have limited capacity due to changing packet size. Hosting providers that were built on eBay surplus network equipment from the late 90's will soon begin to implode.

3) IP's (IP Addresses) -- Ok…not really a "P" but I take a little creative leeway here. IPv4 addresses are disappearing faster than norm's plate at the Hungry Heifer. ARIN has publically announced the need to shift to IPv6 and numerous articles have outlined the D-Day for IPv4 space. Most experts agree, its coming fast and that it will occur sometime in 2010 at the current pace (that's about two years for those counting). IPv6 brings enough IP space for an infinite number of users along with improved security features and several other operational efficiencies that will make it very popular. The problem lies between getting from IPv4 to IPv6. We are caught in this "chicken and egg" scenario where we can't leave one without the other being completely reliable. Although I think we will get to IPv6 without too much of a headache, I do think the IPv4 space will become extinct prior to a full scale transition and there will be a time where the cost of IPv4 IP's will skyrocket because of supply/demand. This should be at the top of your list as a hosting provider because additional IP space typically means new customer and/or expansion of existing customers. If you don't have a conservation plan for IPv4, migration plan for IPv6, and transition plan between the two – you may already be too late. Here at SoftLayer, we have been planning for over a year and 2008 will include a rollout of IPv6 to all those customers who seek to run dual stacks and will include incentives to customers who are able to shift to IPv6 completely.

The Three P's will likely change again in a few years as the industry continues to evolve and we find a way to solve the current challenges facing the industry. For now, focus and plan on these three and you should have a long successful existence.

-@lavosby

September 28, 2007

Big Tex

If I could be anyone in the world, I would want to be Big Tex. I can't think of anything that says – larger than life – than Big Tex. For those n00bs out there, Big Tex is that iconic Texan that welcomes one and all to the State Fair of Texas every year. His two-story boots, size BIG denim jeans and 100-XL Dickies shirt are far from the norm. As Big Tex stands tall above the crowds at the state fair - he is often used for navigation, bellows out words of wisdom, poses for millions of pictures and captures the attention of everyone young and old. His size, stature, and presence lets everyone know – this isn't your typical cowboy.

It's the "different" part that I like about Big Tex. When we started SoftLayer, I challenged my team to think differently. I wanted to do something that had never been done before. What's the point in being like everyone else? I want SoftLayer to be the Big Tex of hosting. Something so different, so unique, so functional – it will be used by one and all. The challenge lies with creating something that is unlike its predecessors - improving upon the status quo and being innovative enough to spring forward into the future.

To be truly different - one has to rely upon experience, knowledge, education, intestinal fortitude and take a calculated risk. Can you imagine the person who recommended building a 52 foot tall cowboy in 1951 to attract visitors to a relatively small state fair? In contrast, can you imagine visiting the Texas State Fair and not seeing Big Tex? The greatest companies in the world all have one thing in common – they dared to be different. They invested in the uncommon, unknown, and non-existent in an attempt to become the next household name. While Softlayer is still young and far from "Forest Gump" status – we are anything but average. This isn't your typical hosting company.

-@lavosby

September 26, 2007

I Hear Voices...

Running the fastest growing hosting company in the world takes its toll on me sometimes. Other entrepreneurs often ask me how I continually seem to be ahead of the game and I tell them "it's easy, I hear voices".

Before the staff carries me off to an insane asylum, let me explain a bit further. A very bright man once told me to shut up and listen to those around me. As I sat in his office trying to figure out how to schedule next semester’s classes – he showered me with a ton of invaluable knowledge that I was lucky enough to absorb along the way. His words resonate in my head to this day – "If you REALLY want to know what's wrong or right with your company – ask your employees and your customers!" I remember thinking at the time, uh yea – I paid for this? But as I progressed down the executive tracks – this notion seems to elude a lot of the top brass that I come across on a daily basis.

So just when and where do I hear these voices? Well, I hear voices at work sometimes (obviously) – but I am more likely to hear them at dinner, over drinks, chatting, texting, IMing, at a party or simply spending time with my cohorts. After spending years building relationships with both my team and my customers – I have found that nothing is harder to do and nothing provides more insight into how to improve the company and build for the future. I'm somewhat amazed at times what both sides will share with me (good, bad and ugly), but I have learned to "shut up and listen."

My advice to other business owners out there is to parlay on my secret. It won't happen overnight and it certainly takes a lot of time and effort on your part. My customer stable (Vik, Eric, Mark, Joe, Chris, Nick, Peter, Kevin, ….et al) has grown over the years and some I talk to almost on a daily basis. Without their input, SoftLayer would not be the company it is today. I am not saying everything they say or want is feasible (sorry guys), but for the most part their voices help shape the current and long-term vision of the company. If you manage a company and can't pick up the phone and call dozens of customers for real feedback, I would suggest that you are severely out of touch with your customer base.

Equally important is your own employees. Your people are your greatest assets -- they ARE the company. Throwing my two cents in here: hire bright motivated people, give them authority and responsibility, share your direction and vision, let them flourish and most important – "shut up and listen!!" My standing personal goal is to surround myself with brilliant people – it makes me look like a genius!!

-@lavosby

August 8, 2007

From Packet Exchanges to Application Exchanges

I once ran across an article that said Equinix customers can access over 90% of the world’s internet networks and users due to the number of carriers, content providers and peering located in their IBX facilities. That is a very staggering thought if you really think about it. The Internet is an endless array of fiber spread across the globe and most of it touches an Equinix facility somewhere along the path. There is little doubt about the value in being located inside an Equinix facility. The world’s largest carriers have standardized on using their facilities as global POPs to reach anyone and everyone connected to the net

While reading Mark Cuban’s latest blog, he proposes using an IntraNet vs the InterNet for large scale application deployment. He basically outlines the inability to sustain high bandwidth quality of service across the public internet. He believes that if the hosted application were to reside on the same network as the end user, the probability of success would be greatly enhanced. Although not quite the traditional IntraNet as we know it today, I do agree that having the content and user on the same network will probably lead to a much higher quality of service.

Taking that thought process and merging it into the latest Web2.0 initiative creates interesting possibilities. Isabel Wang has very provoking thoughts on social networking, SaaS, grid technology, EC2, S3, web integration and an endless list of possibilities. SWSoft and VMWare are talking SaaS and virtualization integration. Vlad and his team at 3Tera are deploying grids like there’s no tomorrow and Facebook, Salesforce, and Amazon are now building apps on an open API system designed to cater to developers. The whole world is reaching out to interact, merge, integrate, build, piggyback, and coordinate technology to make the geek world user friendly.

So I come back to SoftLayer and think – where do we fit into this big picture. It seems our network-within-the-network approach appears to fulfill Mark Cuban’s desire for both Intranet and Internet. The ability to rapidly deploy dedicated, virtualized, and grid technologies at the click of button serves the fundamental need of the Web2.0 entries. The ability of these companies to interact/integrate publicly and privately among each other is well served through our customer exchange. It sounds like if we were to strategically drop SoftLayer PODs inside the Equinix’s of the world – we could bring the world a much needed service for the future. On network Application exchanges to your local IntraNet. Now, there’s an idea.

-@lavosby

June 8, 2007

Your Datacenter is Obsolete

By 2010, the datacenter as we know it today will be dead. Datacenters of the future will be ultra high-density geographically-dispersed IT utility centers. Datacenters will be focused on maximizing all the facets of the IT environment including floor space, HVAC, power, server form factor, security, storage, networking, bandwidth, personnel and preventive maintenance. Physically, I envision 5,000 square foot facilities installed across the globe that are relatively small, lights-out bunkers utilizing commodity infrastructures, owned or leased footprints, and housing servers at a rate of 10 per square foot.

The datacenters will be designed, built, and fully functional on day one -- including the installation of all IT equipment. There will be no movement of physical components as everything will be managed virtually through a series of networks and management tools -- a datacenter grid, if you will. These datacenters will only require personnel for failure-replacement or maintenance. Hardware node failures would automatically route to other nodes in the same datacenter. The failure of a datacenter would result in a re-route of data to other facilities. A series of failsafe datacenters, with all data, will be sitting on the edge near the end user for maximum performance and efficiency. Companies would select geographical regions for their installations of IT services.

The datacenter of the future is indifferent to the technology of the day. Dedicated hosting, virtualization, grid computing or the next emerging technology all work in the datacenter of the future because they will be designed as an IT utility. It's time for the datacenter to grow up.

-@lavosby

May 31, 2007

If You Can't Beat 'em - Sue 'em!!

I just ran across an article that grossly embarrasses me to be associated with the legal profession. In a recent  NetworkWorld article I found the following paragraph:

Lawsuits are a fact of life for organizations today. Recent surveys show that the average U.S. company faces 305 suits at any one time; that number jumps to 556 for companies with $1 billion or more in revenue.

As a licensed attorney I realize that legitimate disputes do exist between parties. I take no issue with legitimate disputes. I do find it hard to believe that the average U.S. Company has over 305 active lawsuits at any one time!!

As a consumer of goods and services (individual or business), you should be angered by false and litigious lawsuits because the cost is ultimately born by you - the end consumer.

The truly alarming trend in business litigation is companies suing each other for “strategic purposes.” These cases are filed and announced in press releases as the plaintiff shouts from the courthouse steps. These types of cases have very little to do with the law, include very fuzzy causes of action and seem to languish endlessly. The goal is to slow down a competitor, burn money, waste productive resources and disparage companies.

Has corporate America forgotten how to compete? Does corporate America really feel like it must lie, cheat and manipulate the legal system to achieve their business goals? Didn’t we learn from Michael Milken and his Bond trading, Enron and their financial house of cards, Tyco and the incredulous expenditures; that cheating the system never results in a long term victory? Just because other companies are doing it doesn’t make it right. Looking down the road, some company will be “the example” when the day comes to reform the system.   

Personally, I think the penalty for a plaintiff abusing the legal process by filing a “strategic suit” should be the death penalty and the lawyers should be disbarred. That should be a sufficient deterrent for potential future players. Let’s not create SarBox for the legal profession because we abused the intended use.  Business Ethics should apply all the time, not just when required by law.

-@lavosby

May 25, 2007

The 8 Keys to Successful Tickets

Tickets are a tough animal to tackle because everyone is predisposed to their own "best way". After eleven years in the hosting world (3 in mass virtuals, 3 in enterprise, and 5 in high volume dedicated), the trouble ticket is always tough to perfect.

From our side, here are some pointers that will streamline your ticket:

The 8 Keys to Successful Tickets

1. One Ticket = One Issue - If possible, keep the tickets as simple and targeted as you can. Don't worry about opening multiple tickets with different issues...we actually prefer it. Having multiple issues can impede proper support. Here's why:

1) It can make it hard to troubleshoot because we don't know which one to work on first.
2) We don't always know which issue is more important (to you) and needs resolution first.
3) It can require different departments and may be shuffled around.
4) The longer the ticket gets, the more the next tech has to read and the higher the propensity to miss key information.
5) Multi-issue tickets seem to be never-ending, frustrating both the customer and the technicians trying to help.

2. Username / Password / Server / IP - start with the basics. We lob about half the tickets back within minutes asking for server credentials which slows the process. It's your server -- if you don't want us in there just tell us. You won't hurt our feelings. It makes troubleshooting more difficult when we don't have access, but we do respect your right and privacy. Just understand there is a trade-off with slower troubleshooting and limited server access. We will not login to your server unless we have to.

3. Come Clean and tell the truth - if you flubbed up a kernel upgrade, deleted key files, installed new software, or just don't know what you're doing, don't worry about it. We will not parade you down the data-center hall of shame. We all learned this stuff somehow and most of that learning came from making mistakes. Being honest will get your resolution much faster and your technician will appreciate you not playing "hide the ball". We all make mistakes -- even seasoned veterans. We are here to help you and that is our goal.

4. Close the ticket - if your problem is resolved, just update the ticket and say "please close this one". Otherwise, tickets can hang out, get stale, and fill up the queue, slowing the whole ticket resolution process. The techs will greatly appreciate your response.

5. Clear, Concise & Complete - "I installed this, made these changes and now the server does _______" (good). We get a lot of tickets where it states "Server seems slow?" (bad). Does that mean network, hardware, disk IO, application, everything? If you don't know, general is fine, but if you mean Disk I/O seems slow, tell us you mean disk I/O. Don't leave off that key piece of info like "I run a forum that gets 10,000 hits an hour".

6. Network Issues - include trace-routes or ping times (as many as you can possibly get). Attach them to the ticket. The vast majority of network issues are outside the network between you and the server. We are very interested in finding those locations so we can:

1) ...help you resolve this issue.
2) ...contact the carriers for further assistance.
3) ...manually route around clogged public peering points.

Chances are, if it is affecting you, it also affects at least one of our other customers as well.

7. Research & Info - help us help you by giving us any ideas you may have. The forums are chock full of goodies. Google solves half my problems on the first search, and the vendor websites are a goldmine. Remember that when we log into your server for the first time, its like going into a home you have never been in while it's dark. It takes a few minutes to feel around to see what is running and where things are. We appreciate any help or insight you may have in the process.

8. Throw them a Bone - I am convinced that being a support technician is one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in this world. Every phone call, ticket, or chat involves a problem that must be resolved and the person on the other end is potentially anxious or agitated because downtime is bad. When you get to resolution, top off a ticket with thanks....great job.....or end the phone call with thanks for all the hard work. At the end of the day, we are all human and need a little recognition for a job well done.

-@lavosby

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