Author Archive: Matthew Herring

July 20, 2010

Back in ancient times, and an eye on the future

I recently returned from vacation (go ahead and let out your jealous, exasperated sighs). During our vacation one of our stops was the ancient mayan temples at Chichen Itza. For those who ever get a chance, it’s a must see. The landscape is emerald green, the temples are awe inspiring, and the weather is beautiful. For those who aren’t quite sure about what I’m talking about, here’s a nice image to refer to:

While the temples are cool, even more amazing are the little details the Ancient Mayans put into this that really set it off. Things like the serpent visible only on the spring equinox, the echo when you clap (which sounds like a bird – no kidding!), amongst others.

What’s really interesting here is the story of human engineering, and to see how far it’s come since those ancient times, and even though Its mind-boggling to see how far we’ve come, it’s quite intriguing to see what they did with their own type of technology.

While they used to clap at the temple, we now send facebook or twitter posts. They passed their stories and music verbally over centuries, and we share MP3s and other media across the globe at the speed of light. While SoftLayer sits at the edge of technology with our state of the art datacenters, hardware, and networking topology, it’s pretty hard to compare to the tools used by, and the creations made by the people of this era. Luckily our tour guide re-assured us that we’ll be fine in 2012, despite what the movies say, so we’ll have plenty of time to see some more amazing advances in technology. Who knows that our future generations will say about our ‘rudimentary’ communications and technology some 2500 years from now.

Categories: 
June 15, 2010

How do you earn your keep?

Years ago, while I was in the Marines, I had a bit of a mentor who taught me quite a few things – not only about my duties as a communicator, but also interesting little factoids, and theorems of his. One of those I took to heart, and refer to quite often. He surmised that there were three types of ways to earn an income, a job, a career, and a profession. Allow me to clarify:

A job is simply something you do to bring in some cash. Whether you’re mowing lawns, flipping burgers, or fixing computers – it’s not necessarily your dream, but it pays the bills.

A career is something that you invest time into. It becomes a part of your identity. Over time your skills improve and you can continue to move up the ladder.

A profession is the next step up from a career. A professional is one who not only invests his time at work, but they take their personal time to learn their trade – not just the tricks of the trade, but the whole darn thing. Professional burger flippers become master chefs, professional lawn mowers become expert landscapers, and professional computer fixers become SoftLayer Technicians! Many of the technicians here host their own websites, utilize their own time and resources to learn more about their trade, or they tweak, hack, and play with computers as a hobby. Being a professional is an integral part of your identity. Professionals take pride in their trade, and often identify themselves by this trade (ie, “I’m an IT Professional”, or “I’m a Chef at a five star restaurant).

I would like to consider myself a professional. I spend countless hours of my free time in pursuit of a college degree and enjoy learning new things about various operating systems, and always like to help others who are less intuitive with computers out as well. While I’m by no means the “super-tech”, I certainly strive to do so, much like those who surround me every day here in the NOC.

May 6, 2010

Listen to your people!

One of the defining traits of a good organization is one that listens to its people, and acts on feedback, input, compliments, and concerns. Organizations that trod along thinking everything is ‘just fine’ are doomed for failure. Imagine how you would react if everything you tried to raise up, whether it be new innovations, specific concerns, or just small tweaks fell upon deaf ears. I’m assuming that at some point you’d just give up, sputter out, and lose your motivation to do your best.

One of the great things about SoftLayer is that many ideas come from the trenches. The support team, both SysAdmins and Hardware Engineers, work with our systems daily. We know the ins and outs, and use those to quickly resolve customer concerns, handle requests, and provide the best possible support to ensure that we provide the best customer experience. Knowing our portal so well also allows us to identify shortcomings (yes, even the amazing SoftLayer portal can be improved, believe it or not). When we see an issue, or a possible improvement, we are able to bring those up through our managers to our development team. By doing so, we streamline the process to allow us to perform our jobs more efficiently. It goes without saying that by improving our internal processes, we can reduce customer downtime, and enhance the speed in which we provide upgrades, allowing our customers’ businesses to be more successful.

I have to provide a specific tip of the hat to our development team. They’re consistently bombarded with requests from the NOC, and are working tirelessly to ensure that those requests are fulfilled to the best degree possible. It is not uncommon for a developer to work all day, and then handle specific requests after hours. I wouldn’t be surprised to know that some members of our development team (I’m looking at you, Kelly…) survive on only a few hours of sleep, only to come back in during the daytime to continue crunching code (something I personally have no desire to do), and enriching our administrative, and customer experiences.

When it comes to listening to the people in the trenches, no one is too high up on the totem pole. Our COO and CEO have been known to get plenty of face time in the NOC and the datacenters. It’s not uncommon to get a quick ping from one of the managers to let us know that one of our requests have been escalated to our developers for improvement. It’s nice to look at that little piece of the portal, and know that it’s there because you addressed it. It is my humble opinion that a company is owned not solely by the investors or others with a stake in it, but by those who come in daily to ensure the continuing success of the organization. It is my belief that is what makes SoftLayer so successful – because the staff speaks, and the company listens.

May 4, 2010

Early Morning Phone Call

Working for a company like SoftLayer requires a lot of dedication. Our staff is on call 24/7, and is ready to react in any given circumstance. Our BlackBerry’s keep us in the know, and allow us to quickly communicate with each other via email, telephone, and SMS. It is this communication that allows us to rise above the competition.

One specific example of this occurred in the wee hours of the morning. As per usual, communication was established via email of a specific customer issue. Having updated the customer, and established the required email thread regarding the request, I proceeded with business as usual, being sure to keep this issue in the back of my mind to brief the inbound shift once they arrived. I was quite surprised as my phone rang shortly afterwards. It was one of the senior members of our management team. While I won’t name specifics, because it’s quite inconsequential, I was particularly impressed that at around 4:00 in the morning (on a Saturday, nonetheless), they were awake and reading their email. Occurrences such as this aren’t unusual. Our team, regardless of the level of responsibility is always ready to take ownership, or assist when necessary.

This says one thing very loudly, it doesn’t matter how high up in the food chain a member of the team is here. We all take customer concerns very seriously, and work diligently to ensure that customer requests are met in a timely fashion. This isn’t limited to the personnel in the NOC, or our management team. Our Sales team works endlessly to communicate with their customers. It’s not uncommon for a member of our sales team to sneak out while hanging out to answer a phone call or an email to ensure that our customers are taken care of. Our InfoSys and development team are frequently contacted in the middle of the night with issues that require their attention. They resolve those issues quickly, and allow us to continue on with keeping our customers up and running. Suffice to say, anyone who sports the three bars does so knowing that they’re the best in the industry. We all take pride in ownership of the issues, and making sure that they’re resolved quickly so that our customers can be successful.

April 26, 2010

Tour 2010

Ask any SL Employee, and they’ll tell you, we love our schwag. On any given day, you can walk around the datacenter and see several of the employees sporting one of the many items in our line. Recently we’ve announced our 2010 world tour. Overnight, skulls and crossbones dotted the NOC.

2010 U.S. Tour - Kicking AAS and taking names

That’s right – we’re officially rock stars. The logo itself screams ‘kick-butt’, and the guitar pick embedded within hints at our dream of world domination, rock star style. Instead of killer riffs and addictive hooks, though, we’re using best in the industry hardware and first class services.

It doesn’t stop there, though. It’s like a battle of the bands here in the NOC. Sometimes when you need that extra edge, there’s nothing like some good music to get you moving, up your concentration just a bit, or just drown out the ambient noise (chatter) around you. I’ve got a Pandora station for almost every conceivable genre of music (except for boy bands… that really doesn’t succeed in anything but making me imagine tens of thousands of screaming sixteen year olds – not cool). As the support team crunches away solving problems, you can hear the music going. Our SBE’s crank up their headphones in the datacenter while building the servers. Heck, even some of our team members are ACTUAL rock stars.

The rock star mentality is engrained into all of us here. We all know we’re on the best team in the business, and we sure as heck act like it. We walk with our heads up high, our 3 bars for all to see. (At one point a member of management shaved the 3 bars into their hair to support our SLales team for knocking a goal out of the park. THAT’S a rock star haircut). Keep your eyes out for SoftLayer on our tour. Coming to a town near you!

April 19, 2010

Watch Us Grow!

It’s been two and a half years (roundabout) since I started here at SoftLayer. It’s amazing to take a look back and see exactly how far we have come in that time. We sacrifice sleep for innovation and food for customer service. Our Development team works around the clock to continue to release products and features that further enhance our customers’ ability to take control of their servers and reduce interaction with our support team (although we’re sure that you love us, right?). It’s often fun to look back at the past and see exactly how far you’ve come. Sometimes when you’re buried in the day-to-day, it’s difficult to take a look from above to see that.

As I first set foot in the doors at the Dallas NOC, I walked into a maelstrom of activity. Brad showed me the ropes and walked me through my first server build. He showed me how to monitor server provisions and reloads and taught me everything (and then some) about hardware. Concurrently, two new datacenters were in the works – one in Seattle and one in WDC. As the company grew, the crew grew with it. I watched as our team grew with the company. I saw promotions, new hires, and new titles being added every day. I decided I had to get a piece of the action. After some trial, error, and plenty of downtime on an old PC, I learned a few things, and made my move to SysAdmin. I was lucky enough to have a crew who was willing to teach me some tricks of the trade.

Soon thereafter Lance announced even more growth. We’re now opening up a new corporate headquarters (watch the progress here!), our network map has been updated to add our new POPs, and there’s plenty more exciting news forthcoming. Needless to say SoftLayer doesn’t rest. While it may be rough at times, it’s great to look back at the last few years and see how far we’ve come. We’re a tight knit family. The ones that have been here for a while work closely to ensure our success, and the newbies are quickly taught the way of the SLayer. We’ll continue to grow, and opportunities for both our staff and our customers will be endless. Congrats to SL for leading the path, and kudos to our customers for making us the best in the industry!

April 12, 2010

SLombies

Here at SoftLayer each shift is divided into a 9 hour crew. There’s the day shift, the evening shift, and the overnight crew. Each shift has perks and drawbacks as well as little idiosyncrasies that you won’t find on the other shifts. Each crew is as hard working and knowledgeable as the next, however each crew has certain hurdles to jump over in order to keep the data center running in top form. There’s one team – dubbed the SLombies, which have been assigned to man the datacenter in the wee hours of the morning.

Being on the overnight crew requires a certain degree of dedication not found in other types of work. Aside from the obvious (sleeping during sunlight hours, getting calls from friends while sleeping, etc), the SLombies require an additional degree of dedication. While much of the world sleeps we’re wide awake (thank you caffeine) and kicking butt in the DC. Anyone from the overnight crew can tell you it’s not easy and we often have to add titles to our work description. While the hours aren’t the most desirable, certain things make working overnight worthwhile. Our crew is one of the most tight-knit groups of individuals I’ve ever worked with. The talent on this shift is beyond belief and when tough issues come along we all put our heads together to make sure the problems are solved quickly, efficiently, and correctly. Working in such an environment breeds loyalty to your crew, and because of that, we have each others’ backs.

While working overnight can be costly on the body there are always certain advantages to any shift. While most businesses close after normal work hours, we’re able to run errands after work before we’re required to call it a day. It takes some getting used to but the rewards of working with such a hard working and dedicated team goes beyond lack of sleep and weird hours. For those of you in the continental US rest easy knowing that SLombies are working hard to keep the datacenter running smoothly and to answer any questions that may keep you awake at night.

March 15, 2010

What Does it Take to Be a Champion?

I have to admit it, I enjoy watching football. Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, I took a few minutes to reflect on exactly what the Saints had to go through to get to the big ‘W’. Winning isn’t easy, and requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Furthermore, just because you’re crowned the champion once, doesn’t mean that there’s not a team from Dallas fighting to claim that top spot from you (yes, obligatory Cowboys reference). While I’m insanely jealous that my annual salary pales in comparison to what they make, I can certainly see some parallels in what they do and what we do here at SL.

Imagine all the hard work, long hours, sacrifice, pain, and even creativity it took to get to that spot. The championship isn’t given as a concession, and certainly isn’t taken lightly. Likewise, we don’t claim to be the best, just because we think we are. Our support staff works long hours, sacrifices time with family and friends, and works as a team to provide the best support we can. Our Hardware engineers spend entire days on their feet, running around the multiple datacenters, all ensuring that servers are rapidly provisioned and ready for our customers to release into their production environment. Our Inventory crew works tirelessly in order to ensure that we have the parts we need to keep operations moving. Our team at our corporate office is also deserving of the hosting equivalent to the Lombardi trophy. Our Development and IS crew keep the current systems running smoothly, and are always pushing harder for the next big release. There’s also the number of other employees at corporate that keep the show going.

It goes without saying that SoftLayer didn’t become a champion web hosting provider overnight. Our team worked closely together to ensure that our products, support, and initiatives are top notch. We will continue to push the envelope and will continue to be the best. It takes a lot, but we’re up to the challenge ,and have been for quite some time. Luckily for us, we get to hang out in the NOC, and not have high speed collisions with very large individuals.

Categories: 
February 25, 2010

When things get hectic, Cloud computing to the rescue!

Nothing’s worse than trying to use someone’s website when you absolutely need information right now, and it’s unavailable. Last semester when attempting to figure out where the heck my classes were located, the school’s website was crippled by the influx of new freshmen that were trying to do the same. Imagine over 20,000 people trying to access this site at the same time, and because of this, the site is rendered practically useless.

We’ve had customers of ours face all sorts of hardships with their sites. Whether they’re featured on a popular TV show, or they’ve seen an unprecedented rise in traffic due to such sites as www.digg.com and www.Slashdot.org (commonly referred to as the Digg effect, or being ‘slashdotted’ <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slashdot_effect> ) it’s often difficult to get a new dedicated server online quickly enough to mitigate this effect. Imagine that instead of tens of thousands of college students, its tens of thousands of dollars! Quite the predicament, right?

Not a problem though! Cloud computing to the rescue! CloudLayer computing instances are able to be rapidly deployed to provide additional resources should they be required. Even better, if you only anticipate a short burst, you can grab a few up, use them while they’re needed, and then toss them, all while only being billed by the hour! With cloud computing administrators can quickly react to changing situations. We offer several solutions in our bag of tricks, including Dedicated, Bare Metal Cloud, and CloudLayer computing. With proper planning and deployment, your site can be profitable regardless of the situation. This includes a popular product, blog, or the first day of college.

February 18, 2010

Tools for the Job

Back in my younger days I had taken on a few new hobbies that strike fear into the hearts of most mortals; Auto Mechanics. While working on vehicles, especially your own, can be terrifying imagine placing a necessary part on incorrectly that would eventually lead to failure and possibly serious injury to yourself or others. Luckily I had some backup while working on my truck. The individuals at the auto shop, that I did most of my work at, were knowledgeable and always willing to help (when they could get to you).

One specific experience rings loudly in my head to this day (for more than one reason, as you will soon find out). While driving around San Diego, I noticed a rather unnerving grinding/squeaking noise emanating from one off my wheels. I quickly headed to the local parts store to pick up a new ball joint and proceeded to take on the attempt to fix it.

Long story short, after some nuts, bolts, cuts, and bruises, I finally got to where I needed to remove the part. One of the techs there suggested using a hammer to bang it out of the coupling (or whatever it's seated in). Thirty minutes later, I was tired, frustrated, sore, and deaf. Come to find out there was a perfect tool at my disposal, which cut the job down to approximately five minutes. One of the individuals at the shop told me that "no one had been able to make it work". Needless to say, I made a liar out of him.

Similarly, we provide the resources that allow our customers to quickly and effectively attack a possible situation and fix the problem. Our technicians are the best in the industry and our primary focus is to ensure that customer satisfaction is at its highest. We have several tools at our disposal and offer those tools, and guidance on using them. Also, much like the staff at the auto shop, we try and point our customers to the 'tricks of the trade'. We have an extensive knowledge base that can assist with day to day problems.

Quite on the contrary, though, we never discourage using certain tools because we don't think that they'll work. As anyone in IT can attest to, just because something doesn't work the first time doesn't necessarily mean that it's a lost cause. With the right instructions and a little bit of patience, a little can go a long way. The trick is to use the correct tools for the job. While an ICMP request will tell you that the server's online, it won't give you the reason for outages like output from /var/log/messages or event viewer would.

Luckily, I don't think I'll be changing a ball joint on my car any time soon but I'm always learning new tricks and tools that I can use to further enhance my proficiency and I'll always be happy to share those tricks to you; our loyal customers!

Subscribe to Author Archive: %