June 8, 2009

Does College Really Prepare You for the Real World?

As I am entering my final semester of college, SoftLayer has given me the opportunity to experience what it's like to have a "real job." I very am lucky to have the chance to work for a great company and gain valuable work experience before I graduate. Although, I have only been here for a little over a week, it is very exciting to be a part of a hardworking team and innovative company. Everybody in the office is a strong believer in Softlayer, and that is why they are here.

The question at hand is: Does college prepare you for the real world? The obvious answer should be yes. We spend four or more years of our life at universities and colleges, and most of us are still in debt for it. I sometimes wondered how Aristotle or The Canterbury Tales had any application to my future career. Although many of the courses we studied outside our majors seemed irrelevant, I see now that we did learn something from it. We learned how to meet deadlines and work diligently. College is strenuous for a reason, and now that I have been a part of the work force, I understand this. Being able to complete college coursework proves to employers that you have the ability to learn and take on large tasks.

There are many aspects of college that have definitely prepared me for this job. The most important skill I have gained from college so far has been working with Excel. Being a market analyst, I spend most of my days in excel spreadsheets. College has also helped me gain a sense of independence and responsibility, two very important attributes for an efficient employee. Your boss needs to trust you not only to get the tasks done, but to get them done well, and professors do not hold you to any lesser standards. During college, there are also many essential lessons learned outside the classroom like learning to deal with roommates, getting along with a diverse group of people, paying bills on time, and being punctual.

In conclusion, college does prepare us for the real world. Sometimes I would sit in class and say to myself “I’m never going to use this”, and I am sure I was not the only one. The most important thing I took from college is to work hard. Sometimes your boss will ask you do things that you do not want to do, but that is life. Life takes hard work, and hard work will let you experience the best things in life that you value.

June 3, 2009

Microsoft Still Following the Leader with Bing.com Offering

The new search engine “Bing” by the software colossus Microsoft is a sad attempt at capturing some of the search engine traffic that internet superstar Google has dominated for quite some time. Based on the preview video at bing.com, the search engine offers little in new features or innovation, instead catering to the ‘too-lazy-to-click-the-back-button” crowd with expanded link previews from the search results page. I have personally found this type of feature to be near worthless, as information of value is typically more than a few lines from the top. Then again maybe my 5 button mouse has numbed me to the indignation so many users have suffered by having to move the cursor to click the back button after discovering the web page wasn’t quite what they were after. (Google added longer previews in March.)

Microsoft representatives point out the technologic advancement of augmenting the standard fare keyword searches with some semantic based algorithms. This alone should yield significantly better results than the current Microsoft engine, “MSN Live Search.” (Google rolled out its semantic searches months ago.)

Next, Microsoft offers the “Conjecture Circle” to combat Google’s “Wonder Wheel”. OK, I’m just kidding on that one. Besides, it is only June, and Microsoft is still catching up with Google’s March features. They will not be taking on the “Wonder Wheel” until August or September.

I think I see a pattern here! This “innovation” reeks of lag. While taking the conservative copycat approach might be the safe thing for the boys from Redmond, it will never vault them to the front of the line in this market. The turbo boost for technology industries is clearly tied to new ideas and advancement. We see this time and time again as startups bring new whiz-bang tools to market and shoot right past the established giants. Time will of course tell. Fortunately in the fast paced world of the internet, we will not have to wait long it see if Bing will go bang.

June 3, 2009

Strange Dreams, Work and Hippies

So there I am at Softlayer Headquarters as Lance, Steven, Amanda and I are walking out to our cars to go home for the day and we begin walking to an underground garage. When we turn the corner I notice a lone hippie standing there. As we continue to walk I begin to see more and pretty soon there are about 15-20 hippies, the number ever growing. Some are sitting around cars dressed in elaborate hippie “outfits”. I find this rather odd and I make the comment: “hey look! hippies!”

Now as we all know from our friends at Southpark, “if you see one hippie there are usually a lot more you’re not seeing. You get a few hippies playing drums the next thing you know you got yourself a colony.”


As we approach the seemingly harmless, but growing colony, I notice that one of them has a baby elephant (yes, an elephant) on a leash that is dressed like the hippies. They all begin to glare menacingly at us as if we’re imposing on their territory. We stop in our tracks so as to not provoke them or their hippie elephant. Suddenly and without warning a SWAT team of police emerges and attack the hippie colony. The baby elephant is unleashed and begins to fight with the police as well. Tie-dyed colored clothing, necklaces, bandanas, sunglasses and bongo drums are flying through the air as the fight progresses. The SWAT team then pulls out their taser guns and begins zapping the Hippies. I yell “They’re attacking the Hippies! AHHHH – that ones tasering the hippies! Watch out – Elephant attack!” During the entire battle between the police and hippie colony Lance, Steven, Amanda and I are laughing hysterically at the insane situation that we’re currently witnessing.

The next thing you know it was over and the police, hippies and their elephant have completely disappeared while we were all doubled over in laughter. This is when I wake myself up literally giggling myself out of my strange and bizarre dream. Of course, I had to email myself the details to write this blog post so I’d remember.

Yes – my dreams are weird…

June 1, 2009

Proper Care

Over the years I have had many motorized toys, including boats, cars, trucks, dirt bikes, quads, riding lawn mowers and others. I got my first mini bike when I was about 6 years old. That thing was powerful - it had a 4HP Engine on it. One day I was riding it on our 100 acre homestead and the chain broke. Well I just popped the kick stand up and left it there waiting for Dad to get home. Upon my father arriving I let him know the chain broke, he explained to me the proper maintenance one must do in order to keep a chain working, proper oiling techniques, making sure it has the right tension and more. A few years later I got my first two stroke dirt bike. I loved that thing! I rode it all weekend long and then I mixed the gas too lean and blew the top head of it. That’s when I learned how to maintain a 2 cycle engine. My uncle helped me rebuild the bike engine (or shall I say I handed him the tools, and he rebuilt it) With all motorized engines they need proper care and maintenance. I now take my car for an oil change every 4000 miles (even though they say it can go 5,000) and get everything checked out.

The same thing can be said for internet servers. Quite often I talk to people and they think they can just install their operating system, upload the applications they want to run and/or data they want to serve, and walk away from that machine for the next 12 months. That is wrong! Computer software is always updating and you need to stay on top of updating your software. Security threats are found hourly, Viruses are written daily to attack the threats found yesterday. Proper maintenance is the only way to make sure your data is safe and secure. That is why SoftLayer has partnered with companies that offer extended server management. We call them SoftLayer Certified Management Companies. You can find them in our forums. These companies like rackaid.com, seeksadmin.com, Bitpusher, and many more have all been certified by SoftLayer to know our infrastructure and work closely with us and many of our clients. They provide the same great level of customer service that is standard at SoftLayer and do a lot of the advanced administration tasks for our customers. We have teamed up with these managed services partners in order to provide our customers with the proper maintenance of their infrastructure. So if you haven’t done a security audit on one of your machines in a few months, I would suggest taking it to the service center and contacting one of these companies, so you can insure your machine is safe and secure!

May 28, 2009

Hardware Heros

The techs that build the servers here at SoftLayer are known as Server Build Engineers or SBE’s. These guys are on the front line of Operations. They are responsible for building out customer server orders, maintenances, fixing cranky provisions, and many other hardware related tasks.

One might think that a hardware tech is a simple job. Well, not the SBE position at SoftLayer. Not only are they responsible for time sensitive hardware builds and provision troubleshooting, but they work directly with all the other departments. We don’t have bazillion hardware techs like other companies might. We train ours up to be one man hardware machines.

Sometimes a provision might have a weird error that needs to be escalated to development. The SBE will work directly with the dev team to resolve the issue.

Sales might have questions about some hardware they are trying to sell. SBE’s answer the call.

SBE’s even jump in to help CSA’s (Customer Service Administrators) when the ticket load or phones get hectic.

SBE’s do numerous projects, too. From helping with large scale hardware compatibility testing to troubleshooting hardware, they are the jack of all trades at SoftLayer.

We have a pseudo paramilitary way of doing things in the hardware department. It’s all in fun, but we get down and dirty and have a “can do” and “yes sir” attitude. We pride ourselves in being able to tackle any problem. If we are asked to do it, we do it, regardless of whether or not it’s our job, we are too busy, or whatever the obstacle.

Be all you can be? Join the army. Be more than you expect you can be? Join the SoftLayer Hardware Team.

The few, the badass, the SBE’s!

May 26, 2009

Be Prepared

The biggest headache in owning an IT company is security. Its also one of those things especially for a smaller company you don’t think you need till something happens. This always reminds me of when I was in boy scouts. “Be Prepared”.

IT security is a big business, but there are a lot of things we can do to prepare ourselves so we don’t have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Everyone in the IT world has to spend money on this one way or another. It could be spending your own time to secure your services, or paying someone to do it for you. If you don’t do either one of these, you’re going to end up losing money when you do get attacked or hacked.

The key is to be proactive, and not reactive. If you are always running after something its harder to catch than if your in front of it ready for it to come. So what we need is a plan, or maybe two. One plan is needed to set up security, and a second should be used to keep an eye on what is going on so things don’t get out of hand.

Some may know where to start when it comes to securing your server. You are in luck. I am going to go over the simple and most important steps to securing your server.


This is the most important step to security. You don’t want people to be able to gain access to your system. There are some very simple steps to doing this.

1. Remote Console

The first thing you should do when setting up your server is to restrict the remote access to your server.

1 = Change the access port ( you can change the access port of both sshd and remote desktop)

2 = Use a secure password (SoftLayer has tools in the portal just to help you make a secure password)

3 = Only allow connections to remote access from trusted networks (this can be done by a firewall solution)

SoftLayer provides one solution that makes this really easy: our Internal Network and VPN. You can just setup your software to allow connections from network and you are now protected!

2. Firewalls

This is a must have, and the good thing is that software firewalls are FREE. Both Windows and Linux O/S come with firewalls. Now we just have to set it up. Setting up firewalls can sometimes be hard, but most people don’t need anything fancy. Accept for the services you use, and deny everything else. Also remember if you do want remote access available via your public IPs, your really should restrict those ports via a firewall to make sure only your networks can access it.


This is next most important step to be proactive. The great thing is yet again SoftLayer provides you with the tools for FREE!

1. IDS (Intrusion Detection System)

This technology works by looking at all the little packets coming in and decides if it is bad traffic or good traffic. The hardware and software of this can be very hard to setup, and or very expensive. But you don’t have to worry about this. SoftLayer has farms of IDS hardware there for you, FOR FREE!

2. Scanning

1 = Virus

You will always want to make sure your data is clean and the best way to do that is a weekly virus scanning on your machine. The great thing is we also provide you with the software to do this FREE!

2 = Network

One of the best ways to looks for security problems is to have someone run a network scan on your system. These tools let you find all the holes that you may need to patch up so that your system is secure. Yet again SoftLayer provides you this tool for FREE!

So there you have it a short list of things to do, that will help you keep your data safe and out of the hands of hackers. Security is very important to you as an owner, and for your customers. Just remember if you are proactive, you can cut out a lot of the headaches later on. The other thing to keep in mind when doing this stuff for the first time is to document your steps. Now that you did all the leg work once, now you have a check list on how to do it every time you business expands and you order a new server.

May 21, 2009

Anti-Spyware Workshop

I just got back from participating in a panel discussion at the most recent Anti-Spyware Coalition Public Workshop. The title of the panel session was “Who Owns the Problem”. You can see who all of the participants were, but it was a good session with representation from the FBI, Symantec, Paypal, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Stopbadware.org and KnujOn.

A lot of the session was focused on end user security regarding spyware, rogue anti-virus, malware and other general badware. But part of the discussion was in regards to the security efforts of the hosting industry in general and SoftLayer specifically. Some of the things we deal with in the hosting industry are second nature to those of us that have been here for a while. But when you start talking about it in front of a different crowd, you begin to appreciate the different perspectives that are out there.

For instance, one common perception (held by some, but obviously not by all) is that once we are made aware of a server that has malware on it, all we have to do is pull the plug on the server and the problem is resolved. However, sometimes the consequences of doing so are high enough to be worthy of a second look. For instance, consider the scenario where SoftLayer rents a server to a customer. That customer slices the server into virtuals using Parallel’s Virtuozzo product and rents a virtual to another customer. That customer puts Cpanel on it to sell shared hosting accounts. Now SoftLayer is 2 layers removed from the actual end user. If that end user’s website gets compromised and begins to distribute malware, how do we at SoftLayer deal with the problem. Ideally, we tell our customer and they tell their customer and they tell the end user about the problem. The end user reacts quickly and cleans up the site. That’s not anywhere close to “best case scenario”, but I would call that a reasonable real-world response.

The problem is, if any of the individuals in that chain of communication fails to react quickly, then the response time for that issue is drastically impacted and more people are potentially victimized by the malware. At what point do we pull the plug on the server? At what point do we decide that all of the other customers on the server have to suffer because of the one bad apple or because of a slow response time from one customers in the chain of communication? Websense did a study that showed in the second half of 2007, over half of all sites distributing malware were themselves compromised sites so the scenario described above is actually a very common problem. It also highlights that there is one more victim in the incident; the web site owner.

We tend to deal with each case as prudently and expeditiously as possible in every abuse report that we receive. In some cases, we pull the plug immediately. In others, we try very hard to work with the customer to resolve the issue. But in all cases, we are constantly working to act as quickly as possible on each individual case.

This is just one of the many scenarios that we have to deal with and it highlights why having a good relationship with your provider is such an important factor when choosing someone to help supply or service your IT needs.


May 20, 2009

Dealing with Customer Service

No – this isn’t one of those blogs or editorials ranting and railing about how no one out there is able to provide good customer service anymore. This isn’t about how no one in the service industry – from restaurants to retail and everything in between – seems to care about the customer anymore. People have been writing those stories for the past 50 years (about half as long as they have been writing about the coming demise of baseball). This is just a short little missive lamenting how the same people that complain about lack of service are often people that work in the service industry themselves.

I often find myself in a retail store wondering why I can’t get help locating an object. Or in a restaurant wondering where the wait staff is. Or trying to work my way through an automated phone help system. Part of me sympathizes with the wait staff knowing that they are probably just too busy to get to my table. Maybe the restaurant is understaffed or maybe they have an unexpected rush of customers. And part of me even realizes the operational value of the automated phone system. The ability to reduce head count and lower costs with an automated system seems like a great idea (and sometimes it is).

But when I find myself in those aggravating situations and my anger is just about to get the better of me, I generally come back to the fact that myself and everyone else that works at SoftLayer is in the customer service industry. Oh, I might complain to a manager or I might tip less or I might shop at that location less. But more important than that, I try to use that experience as a reminder of how important customer service is. I’m not talking about just the ability to provide the product the customer is looking for – I mean the ability to be able to answer questions in a timely manner, to answer the phone as quickly as possible, to handle outages as quickly and professionally as possible, to provide customers with frequent updates and most importantly, to treat every customer interaction with the level of urgency that the customer thinks it deserves.

And THAT’s the important part – not just solving the problem, but making sure that the customer’s expectations are met.


May 18, 2009

Special Ops: The “SEALs” of SoftLayer

When you think about a Special Operations Unit, you probably think of TV shows like, “The Unit”, or maybe you have the Military Channel and have seen the reality TV show, “Navy SEALs: BUD/s training”, or maybe you are one of the 7 people that saw that 1980s movie starring Charlie Sheen…………naaahhh. Anyway, whether it is secretive missions in Iraq or taking out pirates, real Special Ops Teams are very well trained individually and as a team. It takes a desire on the part of the individual to be the best at what he does and a desire to be an intricate part of a highly skilled, successful team.

I have been at SoftLayer for over 2 years now, and I particularly enjoy how our support team has come together in much the same way as a military special ops team. No, most of us do not wear our hair “high and tight”, and, unlike Navy SEALs, there are various piercings about the face of several of my teammates adding to an already very “distinctive” style of dress (There is a very loose dress code in the support department). But, the focused hours of training put into being the best at our craft is very similar to a special ops team.

I remember an occasion during my time here at SoftLayer when we had a sudden outage in which a switch failed. Any major data center will have a piece of equipment fail eventually, but the difference comes in how it is handled. Monitoring alerts went off and the team jumped into action. The managers and shift leads were instantly organizing, although the rest of us already knew what to do as training had prepared us. Each of us took a group of servers and checked for network connectivity in order to localize the issue. We fielded phone calls while the switch was being replaced. Tickets were answered quickly and grouped according to information needed by the specific customer. Verbal, IM, and email communication was flying and everyone knew the status from moment to moment. The switch was replaced and the event was concluded. Customers received the information they needed to pass on to their customers and peace was restored. I am amazed by the speed and efficiency with which this situation was handled. And, our customers were very happy with our speed especially considering an outage is never good news.

We would all like for everything to always work perfectly, but knowing that a highly efficient, highly competent, well-trained, focused, “special ops” team is ready at a moment’s notice, whatever the mission, is very comforting to our customers when financial success is on the line. Secretly, I have always wanted to be part of a special ops team, I just never imagined it would happen at a technology company called SoftLayer.

May 15, 2009

Disaster Recovery Plan

A few days ago I was reading a news story about a man who just lost everything to a fire. One of the comments he made was that he had never thought to plan for something like this; it was the type of thing that happened to other people but never to me. I started thinking about how true that statement was. Many people just never think it will happen to them.

This type of situation happens every day in the IT field. There is some sort of disaster causing a server to crash or simply stop working all together, the drives on the server are completely corrupted and the data is just gone. The question is; when this happens to you, will you be prepared? Thankfully, there are steps each person can take to limit the pain and downtime a situation like this can cause. Like any other disaster recovery plan, the more you are willing to put into it, the more protection you will have when disaster strikes.

This is where SoftLayer comes in. Here at SoftLayer we understand the importants of providing our customers the means to create a good disaster recovery plan that meets their needs. We understand that a detailed disaster recovery plan will include things such as backups and replication. Our services such as NAS and EVault are perfect solutions for performing and managing the backups for you server. When looking into replication, we offer services such as iSCSI replication, Raids, local and global loadbalancing which will provide our customer with the tools to replicate not only their data across multiple locations but their servers as well. Above all, we provide our private network to securely transfer this data to the many locations without impacting the traffic on your public network.

We can only hope that on the day disaster strikes, everyone has some plan in place to deal with it. There is nothing more frustrating in this industry then the loss of crucial data that in many instances cannot be recovered.p


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