Author Archive: Philip Chung

September 28, 2009

Game Time

It’s Sunday morning and I’m leaving the NOC to make my morning rounds of the Washington, D.C. datacenter. Grumpy and tired I walk through the double doors into the fluorescent glare of the server room. In 30 paces the colorful eth bundles of our servers come into view and then I realize. I love the sound of server fans in the morning.

The past year and a half at SoftLayer’s newest datacenter have been incredibly stressful and rewarding. Those who endured have gained my respect. Personal differences have subsided and camaraderie has formed. Of course anyone would wonder how many tech nuts does it take to make a clan? And from the glue of hardship was born Team Orange DOW2.

You might wonder why people who work together so much (sometimes for 12+ hr shifts) want to spend more time with each other. I mean, haven’t you had enough already? The answer is that we already have so much in common and finding a few extra hours to hang out together online is a joy we can’t get enough of. Of course, the entertainment value of an innovative RTS like DOW2 is multiplied immensely when played with friends. Of the other SoftLayer members of Team Orange DOW2 I am the newest to multiplayer gaming and am impressed by how much tech goes into it. Numerous options for in-game chatting (Team Orange uses Mumble, which has the least lag and cleanest interface), hi-powered video cards (1.5GB onboard ram!), dual core procs running on Win7 RC, live-streamed replays with on-demand libraries, and much more.

Everyone has heard the theory that gaming has pushed the boundaries of computing, but I believe it is more likely that datacenters like SoftLayer have pushed the boundaries of networking and helped make advanced tech more affordable to the ravenous mass of online gamers. The number of mega-powered game servers hosted by SoftLayer is a testament to the unholy integration of gaming and networking, and to that all of us closet gamers must say, “moar please!”[sic]

July 22, 2008

Always Awake, Cool and Dry

As I turn on to the main road after leaving my Kumdo dojang (Korean fencing school), I glance at the rear view mirror down the street, in the direction of SoftLayer's new east coast datacenter. The strangely cool, red light from the setting sun fills the mirror and signals the end of this long, hot day. My mind briefly escapes the fading heat by recalling the cool temperature and humidity regulated environs within the datacenter.

Ever wonder how to keep thousands of servers cool? In a word: CRAC - Computer Room Air Conditioning. These giants sit throughout the datacenter pumping cool air up through ventilated floors. The cool air blows up in front of the server racks, gets sucked in through the front of the servers, over the drives, past the CPU heat sinks and RAM, then out the back of the server. The warm air exits, rises, and returns to the CRACs where the humidity and temperature are adjusted, and the cycle continues. Just like you learned in science class.

So it must be a serene, sterile environment - like those IBM commercials? That would be nice, but the reality is : computers need fans. One or two fans wouldn't bother anyone when they kick in on your gaming pc, but multiply 4 or 5 fans (do you like RAID arrays? You get extra fans!) by one thousand, or more and the decibels add up. Solid state hard drives - when they become available - might help with the noise (and also with power consumption), but it is mostly from the server fans. Liquid cooling works, but I think most people would prefer not to have fluid of any sort circulating over their motherboard. Zane (resident Linux guru) extols the benefits of passive cooling. Whatever cooling solutions arise in the future, you can be sure SoftLayer will be leading in technology implementation.

My attention returns to the road ahead and the pale blue of the evening sky. I hope to get a few hours of shut-eye before returning for my shift. Because SoftLayer doesn't sleep. Always awake, cool and dry.

-Philip

June 16, 2008

More RAM!

More RAM. DDR2 must be going out of style, because Microcenter is selling a gig for $12.99. This time I don't make it in time before they run out, and I settle for sour grapes: my home pc can't use all the addressable memory, anyway. 4 Gigabytes. The maximum addressable memory for a 32-bit motherboard / OS. It used to be such a big deal to me- maxing out the 4 slots on my Dell, but not anymore. Why? Because now I work for SoftLayer. When you work with motherboards with up to 32 slots, 1 or 2 gig each; 4 measly slots just seems sad. I start nosing around for a video card that will fit the last expansion slot on my pc. No luck. I end up going home empty handed from Microcenter (outrageous!) and ordering the pci-e x1 video card from Newegg.

So, the hardware that customers can order at SoftLayer is impressive enough to jade the geek tech-lust of any home technician. And everything fits so nice and clean. Working on SoftLayer servers has really spoiled me for home pc's. Open up the case on your home pc and what do you see? Fabulous shiny bits? No. Cables. Cables in the computer. Cables behind the computer. Cables everywhere! You get the nifty zips and loops from Radio Shack, spend 2 hours zipping and looping, and as you proudly call your wife over to take a look she says, "Can't it all be wireless?"

The truth is neat cables take time, and SoftLayer engineers spend every spare minute making neat, organized, color-coordinated cables running to the servers. Cat 5e. Fiber. Special cables. Cables we can't talk about. All very neat and aesthetic. If Mr. Crosby ever takes you for a walk through the dc (datacenter), it looks effortless and lovely. But it took hours. Hundreds of hours. Just on cabling (I think SoftLayer might have stock in zip ties). You can be sure your SoftLayer server is not lost in a sea of Cat5 and power cables. It has been gracefully bound to its slot, the formidable innards pumping away at your command, your data streaming straight and true from switch to switch into the Internet beyond...

-Philip

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