Author Archive: Reed Fiegener

February 3, 2010

Custom Server Solutions

The other day I was at a well known coffee shop (take a wild guess) and was steamrolled by all of the marketing hype. Try this! Take one of these home! Only for a limited time! Often the presentation of too many options makes the decision a lot more difficult. I know it’s just coffee or tea but now I have the sudden urge to collect them all! And despite years of caffeine conditioning I don’t think my heart, stomach, or my bank account could take a collecting and consuming of all. I’m looking for something different this time, but again, too many options. The next logical step is asking the Barista what their favorite is. I figure they spend their entire workday around the stuff; they MUST have a good recommendation. All I was really looking for here was a “get this” and call it good. Only after I asked, did I remember that most people who frequent this caliber of coffee joint are really particular about their coffee. I, however, am not one of the ¼ soy milk, ¼ cream, no froth, low-fat, exactly 1723 crystals of sugar type of people, so I’m not really prepared for what comes next. Instead of a one-size-fits-all answer, I’m getting a barrage of questions about my preferences. While this was not really what I was after, it hit me that this Barista is building me a solution. I did, in fact, leave with a tasty seasonal coffee, custom tailored to my needs. Servers are a lot like coffee, they rely on gratuitous amounts of caffeine to be any good; that and, there is usually never a generic solution that is going to suit your needs. The sales team at SoftLayer is not there solely to assist you in placing an order for you; they are there to ask you questions about your intentions with the server so they can recommend the best possible solution. You can have your low-fat CentOS with a double-shot of 5570’s with “venti” gigs of ram. Just ask our sales team to brew you up a solution.

January 29, 2010

Security and Plan B

Security is not a thing to be taken lightly. Think about the information that is stored on your server; think about how many months or years worth of data is stored in your databases. Your account information holds a master key to all of this data on your server. This is the very reason this information is protected so closely by the SoftLayer staff.

All companies work very hard to make sure that their products and services are as easy to use as possible. While on the other hand, security works as hard as possible to, seemingly, make the product or service difficult to use. While it is never our intention to make any service difficult to use, it is our intention to make them secure. This is the very reason why, when we are presented with any questions via phone that are sensitive to the operation of your server or account we ask the inconvenient questions to make sure the person on the other end of the phone line is authorized to make the requested changes to the account or the server.

Up to this point this article has not been as light hearted as I had originally intended, but it’s all about being prepared. The point is, everyone deserves a vacation at some point or another (or believes they do), and according to Murphy’s Law, something will inevitably occur that requires immediate attention. When you’re enjoying that time on the beach, your mind a million miles from bits and bytes, and you miles from anything that can be used to properly manage your server or your account an issue can occur.

While you are out, have you made proper provisions to ensure someone can manage your hardware in your place? Your staff may have the passwords for the servers, IP addresses, and may be able to drop your name; but, I assure you this is not enough information for the SoftLayer support staff to submit a ticket, reboot, or log into your server on your behalf. Have you made sure that in a panic situation someone will be able to provide us with the answers to the security questions on the phone? Are you sure whoever is left in charge has been given the proper permissions in our management portal? Making sure these points have been thoroughly covered prior to your vacation, or even leaving for the day, will help you minimize risk while maximizing your beach vacation.

January 18, 2010

Maintnenance FTW

I am a bit of an automotive enthusiast, so when I'm not working, I do spend a fair amount of time browsing automotive websites. I, like many people in the hosting industry, crave information. I like hearing about new design directions, emerging technologies, and past stories about others' experiences with their vehicles. While browsing, I came across some images of the guts of a BMW that had gone in excess of 60 thousand miles without an engine oil change. Needless to say, the internals were slathered with a gummy sludge and the engine was ruined.

Many technologies we use these days have become so common place and are operationally intuitive enough that we are often able to figure them out and use them without ever having to crack open an owner’s manual. I bring this up because, many technologies in the hosting industry follow suit. There are a number of developers who create software that is designed to make it easy to host websites. They are marketed as the only solution you ever need and, in some cases, imply that all you need to know is how to use a web browser to successfully host websites, not only for oneself but a plethora of other clients too! The servers run themselves, and you only need to spend a few minutes setting your clients up! It's like free money!

Unfortunately, as the owner of the previously mentioned BMW found out, this is not the case. There are a lot more things going on behind the scenes than just seats and a steering wheel, as are the same with servers. On occasion, we receive support tickets that just say "the site stopped working." In an attempt to gather more information, we will often ask the client a wide range of questions that help us find the problem faster and come up with the best possible solution. However, sometimes the answer from the customer is, "I haven't touched or logged into the server in days/ months/ (hopefully not) years." The more relevant metaphor for this is, "I haven't changed my BMW's oil in years!" Servers are like any other complex machine. They require constant maintenance. This includes: updating anti-virus definitions, monitoring bandwidth usage for anomalous spikes, rotating logs out if they are getting too large (provided some other rotation scheme is not already in place), keeping an eye on disk space usage, and creating a disaster recovery plan and backups. So take some time, get to know your server, and familiarize yourself with good preventative maintenance techniques. Your server, your clients, and your BMW (if applicable) will love you for it.

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