Author Archive: Matthew Herring

February 1, 2010

Fuel!

Fuel!

Ask anyone here on our staff, and they’ll tell you a few things about their position:

  1. It’s never boring
  2. It can be quite demanding
  3. We’re never technically “off duty”

That being said, we all need our fuel to keep us going at warp speed. Luckily at the NOC we’re lucky enough to have a fully stocked break room with all sorts of odds and ends to keep us going when the energy levels get low. Allow me to show a few of my personal favorites:

  1. Chocolate Covered Raisins
    These little buggers are great when you’re running like mad and just need a quick snack. You can scoop up a good cupful and keep them at the desk for the remainder of your shift. You can take a little detour to grab a couple while en route to your destination. You can also trick yourself into thinking that they’re healthy since they have raisins in them.
  2. Doritos
    These have made a reliable meal substitute on multiple occasions. A few bags of these can trick your hunger pains and quiet the ache for a few until you can grab an actual meal (not always a guarantee).
  3. Coffee
    Any fan of caffeine knows why I’m adding this. It’s often the first thing ingested at the start of the day, and is famous for its energy-inducing properties. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny the eye-opening effects of this one.
  4. Dr Pepper
    My second favorite carbonated beverage provided here. A quick drink and a quick pick me up.

And for my favorite:

RedBull!

Much like many of the techs here, I have a clinical addiction to caffeine. Caffeine is the lifeblood of the NOC and keeps us working at top speed and form. To date, I have found no quicker delivery of this than through the 8.2 ounce can of this elixir.

And there you have it. These are the snacks and beverages provided that keep me going. And while it’s no health food store, it certainly spikes the blood sugar or caffeine levels enough to sustain a happy and proficient technician through the long night hours.

November 4, 2009

Exposure

Imagine this… You’ve decided to move to a new location, experience a new culture, and try new things. Let’s pretend for this particular instance that you’ve decided to take a trip to Magrathea to get away from it all. After a few weeks you start picking up a few local phrases, learn the native idiosyncrasies, and assimilate yourself into the culture of the Magratheans. Later you notice that you’ve assimilated quite well, and what used to be weird, different, and sort of scary has become second nature to you. You then can talk the talk and walk the walk.

Such is a similar case here at SL. You start, and regardless of the knowledge level coming in (I hadn’t been exposed to the web hosting industry before my tenure began here at SL), you feel a bit overwhelmed. The people, the culture and even the SLanguage is slightly different from the rest of the world. We move faster, work harder, and laugh more than the average technician. While at first glance life here at SL seems overwhelming, soon one realizes that they’re starting to get it together. Soon the pieces start to come together, and it only snowballs from there.

I’ll never forget my training. The new hardware, the IPMI, the automated provisions… it all seemed so unreal, confusing, and at times crazy. After working in depth for some time, I began to get the hang of things, and then I was able to solve more and more complex problems, and eventually teach the trainees the ways of the SLayer, and the cycle would continue. I’ve since taken on new responsibilities, and continue to learn new things every day – all through exposure. I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that regardless of how well you think you know something, nothing teaches like exposure and immersion into a particular topic.

October 30, 2009

Powered By the Internet

I recently engaged in an interesting conversation with my significant other. It went something like this:

Her: "The company made us take our facebook page down, because it wasn't official"
Me: "Really? I figured that'd be an awesome way to market your company... Create a group, invite all of your customers to join you, and advertise via facebook"
Her: ...

While the actual conversation did last a lot longer, she later made a valid point. Being well versed in the web hosting industry (as she has to deal with my barrage of nerdery on a daily basis), she mentioned that it made complete sense that a company such as SoftLayer should use the Internet, and social networking to connect the employees, customers, and fans together, pushing that envelope just a little bit further. Our whole operation, after all, is in fact powered by the internet.

We have all avenues open for social networking to help us power our business. You can look at what's going on in SoftLayer at any given moment via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, The InnerLayer... the list goes on, and surely continues to grow. It's only a matter of time until the next best thing comes around (does anyone remember MySpace, or Friendster?), I'll bet a paycheck* that we'll be quick** to jump on board.

After all, when all is said and done, there's no wrong way to market yourself. People do it all the time in their social networking profiles. They may present themselves as a party animal, a scholar, or a hard worker, but regardless, they're putting their image out for the world to see... and while it seems like a large paradigm shift for businesses, when one stops to think about it, it makes perfect sense; it's a free outlet to market yourself!

So while some companies are stuck in low gear, SoftLayer has hit the throttle, and speeding ahead, continuously braving ahead into new and interesting ideas. We'll continue to push the limits of what's acceptable to most, and use every tool to get our name on the streets.

* Comment made in jest. I will NOT bet an entire paycheck.
** I make no guarantees as to exactly how "quick" quick will be

September 18, 2009

Ninjas in the Datacenter

We tecchies are a weird bunch.  We equate everything to mythical figures and mysterious characters.  All around at SoftLayer, you can see and hear references to nerdy and mysterious things.  From Brad's incessant General Grievous-ish throat clearing, to FreeBSD's 'beastie' daemon:

Beastie
Copyright 1988 by Marshall Kirk McKusick.

Mythical figures surround us all the time.  IT guys tend to have a reputation for being a little, well, different, than the rest of the world.  Now that you're shaking your head, wondering what I'm rabbling about, allow me to introduce the one mythical figure that reigns supreme, especially here at SoftLayer.  That's right, it's the Ninja.

That's right, we've taken one of the most ridiculously awesome figures in modern mythology, and verbed it.  Not sure what verbing is?  Allow me to utilize one of my personal favorite comic strips as a visual:

Calvin
by Bill Watterson.

The ninja has a couple of meanings here at SoftLayer.  Allow me to give a few examples:

nin-ja [nin-juh]
-verb

  1. To Steal, as in a ticket that looked interesting or challenging: "Dude, you totally ninja'd that Network Question ticket from me!  I'm interested to know what you did to diagnose and fix it!"
  2. To fix an issue, against all probability that it is even fixable: "Wow, I thought that database was hosed.  He totally ninja'd that, and now it works like a charm."

The above are just two of the many examples of ninjas in our datacenter.  It's just one of the many ways we separate ourselves from the pack.  Our responsibilities are not only demanding, but unrelenting.  While we take these many responsibilities quite seriously (such as our commitment to the best support in the industry), we are always quick to lighten each other up.  As our big boss would say it:  "We are defining new standards and setting the tone for others to follow. Leading by example, pushing our luck, and having fun every step of the way."  Working at (and hosting at) SoftLayer is about kicking butt, leaving others in the dust, and relishing in every minute of it.

August 3, 2009

Education

Attending College Classes can be a daunting task. The hours of homework and studying (and the obligatory time spent actually in the classroom) can noticeably eat away at one’s free time (and at times, their sanity). While it can be painful to take on college, attending classes and working on top of it can be exponentially more difficult. Balancing your studies with your responsibilities at work can be tricky, even for those who are experts in time management. When all is said and done, though, the investment is well worth it. As I’ve stated before, Knowledge is power (yes, I know, shameless self promotion), and learning can occur at any opportunity.

I recently realized that with the exception for while sleeping (some days I can count the hours on one hand), I am always learning new things. While my progressing college education keeps me thinking, SoftLayer has taught me more than I ever thought I would learn in such a short amount of time. New operating systems (at least to me), and continual changes and improvements are synonymous with life at SL. Learning occurs at every customer request, every server build, and every operating system install. Certainly, employment here is not for the faint of heart. More so, no one can say that they didn’t leave their shift just a bit smarter than when they arrived.

Knowledge is important in this industry, as knowing the correct process to solve a problem can mean the difference between five hours and five minutes of downtime. While everyone has their strengths, the team that we have here supersedes any possible weaknesses, leading to one of the brightest group of individuals anyone could have the privilege of working with. I spend my shifts perpetually challenged, but never overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of issues (read: learning opportunities) that present themselves every day. While I will concede that classes such as precalculus and humanities may not directly sharpen my troubleshooting skills, being able to think logically and follow procedures will certainly pay off in the long run.

May 13, 2009

The Data Center is Full of Surprises

After having been in the IT industry in some form or fashion for the last decade or so, I’ve learned that no matter how well you prepare yourself for disaster, you never seem to be surprised by certain issues that present themselves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the many surprises our friend Mr. Murphy can throw at us. I’m sure many a tech will anecdotally speak of the time where their server borked on them, their backups failed despite numerous backup audits, and they were up the infamous creek (I’m only assuming at least a few readers are nodding right now). Sometimes painful lessons are the best times to learn, but it’s a bad day when it happens on a production server.

Working in the SoftLayer data center, we take incredible measures to protect our customer’s servers. In a sense, we try to keep Mr. Murphy away. From the biggies (like redundant power and MASSIVE cooling units) to the routine (such as the data center walkthroughs, and proactive RAID alerts), we do our best to keep the servers in the data center running smoothly, and free of surprises.

Beyond the punches our friend Mr. Murphy can throw at us now and again, it’s nice to know there are a few good surprises in store for you, too. You might be surprised at the great deals our SLales team can provide. You might also be surprised at not only the amazing features such as the new Cloudlayer™ Storage, but the incredible rate we keep bringing new features to the table. I’ve also seen customer’s surprise when we rescue their server from the brink of disaster, or when we are able to provide a few tweaks to give THEIR business the edge it needs.

Furthermore, our people keep the data center interesting. SoftLayer sees no shortage of antics. There’s John’s fully automatic Nerf gun. There’s also plenty of jokes played at the expense of someone unfortunate enough to leave their workstation unlocked (call it “security training” – favorite backgrounds include the Care Bears and My Little Pony). We also have that one hardware tech who likes to hide around corners or sneak up behind you, and scare the life out of you while you’re focused on the task at hand.

With so many surprises, SoftLayer continues to be a very interesting place to work, and most certainly a place where one would never get bored!

May 8, 2009

Interview with the Printer

SL: Hey, The elevator was acting strangely this morning. I wanted your opinion on a few things.
Printer: *whir*

SL: Excellent, I’m glad to hear your enthusiasm. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how the web hosting industry seems to be weathering the storm of the global economic downturn quite well. It seems regardless of the bank bailouts, failed mortgages, and credit crises, there is still a high demand for social networking applications, online shopping and exchange of information via the many forums available. Furthermore, with the reliability of our redundant links, businesses are finding it more affordable to outsource their IT assets, and host with us.
Printer: PAPER_EMPTY

SL: I Get it. By hosting here, you can also begin the transition to a paperless business. Something to the effect of a tech taking an X-Ray, uploading it to an SL server through the private uplink, and instantly having it available to a doctor thousands of miles away. And that’s just one possibility out of the endless uses for a server here. We have a ton of space available, and by design, we use approximately a square foot per server in our Datacenter… How’s that for space efficiency?
Printer: WARMING_UP

SL: Yea, it gets pretty toasty in there, but luckily we have environmental controls in place to mitigate the heat put out by the thousands of servers in the pods. We also have monitoring in place to notify us of any possible situations. As uptime is vital in the web hosting industry, we have a number of features available both internally and externally. We have 24/7/365 monitoring, automatic reboots, and a highly intuitive customer portal. Not to mention the best technicians in the industry
Printer: *beep*

SL: Now that’s just rude. We have staff from every facet of IT working in our NOC every day of the year. With the highly skilled staff holding years upon years of experience, there are few issues that can’t be solved quickly and efficiently.
Printer: PAPER_JAM

SL: Doubtful. We continue to innovate in efficiency and features. Now you’re acting just like the elevator.
Printer: PC_LOAD_LETTER

SL: Ugh, you’re just as bad as the Elevator. What does that mean, anyway?

May 4, 2009

Paradigm Shift

From the beginning of my coming of age in the IT industry, It’s been one thing – Windows. As a system administrator in a highly mobile Windows environment, you learn a thing or two to make things tick, and to make them keep ticking. I had become quite proficient with the Active Directory environment, and was able to keep a domain going. While windows is a useful enterprise-grade server solution, it’s certainly not the only solution. Unfortunately when I made my departure from that particular environment, I hadn’t had much exposure to the plethora of options available to an administrator.

Then Along comes SoftLayer, and opens my eyes to an array of new (well, at least to me) operating systems. Now, I had begun my ‘new’ IT life, with exposure to the latest and greatest, to include Windows, as well as virtualization software such as Xen and Virtuozzo, and great open source operating systems such as CentOS, and FreeBSD. With the new exposure to all these high-speed technologies, I felt that maybe it was time for me to let the de-facto home operating system take a break, and kick the tires on a new installation.

I can say that while switching to open source was a bit nerve racking, it ended up being quick and painless, and I’m not looking back. I’ve lost a few hours of sleep here and there trying to dive in and learn a thing or two about the new operating system, as well as making some tweaks to get it just like I like it. The process was certainly a learning experience, and I’ve become much more familiar with an operating system that, at first, can seem rather intimidating. I went through a few different distributions till I settled on one that’s perfect for what I do (like reading the InnerLayer, and finishing the multitude of college papers).

The only problem with always reloading a PC is you have to sit there and watch it. It doesn’t hurt to have a TV and an MP3 player sitting around while you configure everything and get the reload going, but you still have to be around to make sure everything goes as planned. Imagine this… You click a button, and check back in a few. Sound Familiar? Yep, it would have been nice to have an automated reload system much like we have here at SoftLayer. Not to mention, if something goes awry, there’s the assurance that someone will be there to investigate and correct the issue. That way, I can open a cold one, and watch the game, or attend to other matters more important than telling my computer my time zone.

November 26, 2008

Coffee Debacle

Early one Friday morning, as I made my way into the NOC for my usual shift, I was greeted by my fellow workers for what would seem a normal workday. Immediately upon my arrival, I was given my first task of the day by David, the overnight datacenter manager – get some coffee ready for the tour we have going this morning. I will submit to you, the reader, that making coffee should be no daunting task, but even the best of are tricked sometimes by simple machinery. With that in mind, I went ahead and made the coffee as I had done many times in the past with similar coffee makers. At that point I figured I was good to go, and went about my business. When I went to double check the coffee, I was treated to a nice little puddle of steaming coffee in the break room. While mopping up my little creation, a few things came to mind:

While I had done this many times in the past with similar coffee pots, this one has some bells and whistles that the old school ones didn’t have. New buttons and some water piped in directly.

I was going to have to attack this problem head on, because there was no way I was going to deprive our customers of their caffeine!

As I thought about it more while bringing the sopping wet trash downstairs, I realized this little debacle wasn’t too far distanced from what I do here at SoftLayer.

Imagine this: You have a piece of hardware you use all the time. It’s a great piece of hardware, it rarely fails, and its principles have remained steadfast over the years. Suddenly, though, a new firmware version is released, and your “tried and true” methods are no longer working! Working in a dynamic business like the web hosting industry, things change at the blink of an eye. Its quite the detriment to get stuck in the rut of “that’s how I’ve done it for years!”. Flexibility and the ability to adapt are crucial. Otherwise you find yourself with a server that doesn’t work, or a pot of coffee overflowing in the break room.

Second, every day offers new challenges from the last. Much like the dreaded coffee maker, there are many a problem that can be solved with a little perseverance (or a user’s manual – something the coffee machine didn’t feel the need to grace me with, unlike the Manual pages, or the trusty F1). Every day, it seems a new hardware problem presents itself. It’s up to the Server Build Engineers here at SoftLayer to ensure that those problems don’t keep the customer from getting their server in the window in which it was promised. Whether it’s incompatible hardware, or just a piece of gear that doesn’t want to play nice, you can rest assured that the SBE’s here will be on their toes solving problems rather consistently.

And to answer David’s question about how can he trust someone to answer tickets when they can’t brew coffee? Actually, easy – I figured it out. Not to mention, I’m sure I saw the lucky people leave the tour today with a little extra pep in their step. I can only hope it was only *partially* because of the coffee.

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August 11, 2008

Knowledge is Power

A few years ago, I once had a few managers who made quite an impression on me… each of them pushed me to learn as much as I could about my given profession. Each of them had a personal guideline that really stuck with me. One’s was to “learn two new things a day”, while the other’s was to “improve yourself at every opportunity”.

To this day, I still strive to learn as much as I can about the different facets of my profession. As time permits I enjoy asking my peers questions regarding the plethora of Operating Systems we use here at SoftLayer. Needless to say, there’s a limitless amount of knowledge here to learn.

Additionally, we have such resources as the local Wiki (er, SLiki – sorry Brad) where we can find almost any answer to any question we can fathom. Between the Wiki, the brain trust here at the NOC, and the wondrous internet, there’s no shortage of resources to get the answers to the questions that baffle me.

Lucky for you, the customer, we have our KnowledgeLayer, in which our team takes their knowledge, and passes it on to you, so that you, too, can benefit and quite possibly learn two new things a day.

Now, of course, I sit around and ponder - Two things per day? Why would he have set his bar so low?

-Matthew

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