December 5, 2008

Circular Technology

This weekend I took my son and two of his classmates to a Dallas Stars game. With three 15 year old boys in the car, I simply did the driving and listened to the conversation. Of course the conversation was broader than just the three of them. They all had cell phones, of course, and each one was texting several other friends as they conversed together. So as near as I can tell, the conversation encompassed about a dozen people – three of whom were in my car.

Here’s a snippet of the conversation:

“I hate the auto-correct feature on my iPhone. Whenever I try to type in abbreviations, it changes it to something I don’t want.”

“They fixed that in the latest software update. Here, let me turn that off for you.”

“Cool. Thanks!”

“I like my Blackberry because it has buttons I can actually mash. I can enter text without having to look.”

“What do you think about the new Blackberry Storm? How would you enter text without looking? I mean the screen clicks but there’s no buttons.”

“Hey, why don’t they make a phone where you can enter text with voice recognition? Then you could just speak your words into the phone, they pop up as text on the screen, and the only button you have to push is ‘Send’.”

“Well, if you’re gonna talk into your phone, why don’t you just call them?”

Suddenly, the technology has come full circle. LOL!

As SoftLayer prepares its cloud computing offerings for market, I think the same thing is going on. Technology is coming full circle.

When I first started making my living in technology in the late 1980’s, I was a programmer. Anyone remember COBOL? The software company where I worked had a mainframe that they leased from IBM. They didn’t own it. Each employee was connected via terminal – a gargantuan metal monochrome monitor with a clacky metal keyboard that weighed probably over 100 pounds and could withstand a bomb blast complete with a cable that could also be used to dock a cruise ship. The company paid for its IT needs based on CPU time. Naturally, we were motivated to write programs that minimized CPU usage in the mainframe. All of our applications and corporate email were connected to a central IT source.

After the mainframe, standalone desktop machines began popping up. Then they began to be connected with Token Ring or Novell networks and the client/server architecture was born. When the Internet came along, these machines on people’s desks made the phenomena of Cyber Monday possible.

Now according to Lance, everything is “cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud.” SoftLayer’s cloud offering will allow our customers to keep all their applications and corporate email in one central IT source which the customer will not own, i.e., “the cloud.” It will be billed on a usage basis. The more the customer uses, the more he/she will be billed. The computing power can be instantly scaled up or down as needed. Just as I was motivated to be efficient in CPU usage in the 80’s, companies will be able to control costs on the fly by adopting efficient use of cloud resources.

This sounds a lot like the late 1980’s to me. But I never dreamed that that beast of a machine in the room down the hall could ever be called “the cloud.”

December 3, 2008

Meet the SLinstones

You hear a loud whistle in the distance most likely someone’s internet clock set to 5pm. You are finishing up the last 20 or 30 emails you are behind on and getting ready for a little OT. Suddenly, out the window you hear a scream; “Yabba Dabba Doooo!!!!” and you see someone running from the building next door as fast as they can. You realize it is time for all the clock punchers to go home for the evening. Who else would scream “Yabba Dabba Doo”? No one screams it at 5am when the alarm goes off to go to work... at least no one I know, unless it is Starbucks and Krispy Kreme day.

Here at the SL Server Quarry we have some interesting similarities to the Stone Age Flintstones and this blog is intended to point a few of them out. Since a few of them were recently compared to Darth, Luke and their friends I just couldn’t resist. This is my blog so I make the rules, they can be based on looks, personality, or whatever I can come up with that is humorous.
So starting at the top… and the easy ones…

Fred “Lance” SLintstone – The shows main character and the designer of our highly automated quarry. Like Fred Flintstone, he is the task master that gently pushes Barney, and everyone around and makes them meet deadlines that a team of 80 might not be able to meet. These impossible requests keep everyone in the server quarry on the same path and going for the same goal. Rumor has it he is out playing in the clouds most recently.


Barney “Sam” Rubble – Barney is here every morning when I get here and is always here when I leave. In most cases he beats Fred; I think he has faster feet. I have tried many different times of arrival and departure to trip him up but I can’t seem to work longer than he does. I think maybe he just lives under his desk and goes out once a day to move his truck around so people will think he left and came back. That’s why he never parks in the same place. I always thought it was so his employees couldn’t figure out when to show up and leave but I have since foregone that conclusion! Barney keeps Fred SLintstone very happy.


Wilma “JenJen” SLintstone – Lance’s wife of course. Now you would think this would be off limits but she too has quite a role here in the server quarry. She is always ready to help us say things politically correct and get the word out. Unfortunate for her and good for me, PR groups can’t proofread every blog. They just don’t have the time as they have real work to contend with. If they had that much free time then they might want to consider a career change.


Pebbles “Amanda” Slintstone – is one of our SLales gurus. She is one of the best in the industry. I think she could play the part in a movie based on the similarities in the looks alone! If you need a server you can’t go wrong by contacting her.


Mr. “Sean” Slate has a goal. He wants us to have everything we need to make our customers happy. No matter whether it is internal equipment, new products, new toys, whatever, money, cables, pickaxes, sledge hammers, you name it and he helps in that way. Don’t let the smile fool you, there must be a little stress in his position since Mr. Slate is a little light on the topside.


Betty “Sam’s Wife” Rubble – Oh no, I am not falling into this gravel pit. This would be my boss’s wife, I know better!


Bamm Bamm “Michael” Rubble – Bamm Bamm sits quietly in his cube knocking out the sales. He is the pretty boy of the bunch. Even though the only thing he knows how to say is “Bam Bam” it must work in server sales as he does quite well. It is a rumor that he learned the phrase “Bam Bam” while chasing Doug Jackson around with a club. You have to watch that server quarry SLales team.


Dino “Daniel” SLinstone - Dino is fun loving and likes goofing off with Pebbles and Bamm Bamm, he can also be moved to anger, at which point he snarls and snaps. HR currently has Dino in obedience training so we feel certain that he will stop snapping. Rumor has it he makes a mean elephant chili, but I believe it to be exactly that, a rumor.


The “Techies” Gruesomes (Fred’s strange next door neighbors) – We love the Gruesomes. Without them we wouldn’t have the great support we have. They work hard all the time and anyone that knows about some of the things they do must be a little bit strange in a good way. These guys can help you with just about anything you need when it comes to problems in the server quarry. This is a partial pictorial of the industries finest!


Don’t forget The “Information Systems” Wayouts! (The English rock group mistaken for aliens!) – this group of four guys and their team keep all the quarry’s internal brains and lots of quarry customer stuff working as well. Most outsiders know them as humans but all good SLackers know they must be aliens. Who is that smart and human? I can’t tell which group is which, can you?


The Great “Ric” Gazoo (an alien exiled to earth) – The Great Gazoo brings a ton of alien gadgetry to SoftLayer. Without this alien technology we would be just another place on the web. With his alien brain power he makes Lance and Nathan’s ideas come to life.


Arnold “Mike” the Paper Boy – Arnold is the money guy around here but he also writes blogs in hopes that he can keep up with the Kinmans. It will never happen but he can be called the paper boy for those reasons. Not to mention his boyish good looks many, many, many, MANY years ago. We just need to teach him to let go of the flat rocks and chisel and get into the quarry’s more technical side.


Joe “Nathan” Rockhead – Joe is friend of the show. He and Barney go way back. I think they have some kind of collegiate relationship because they say the word Aggie all the time. I’m not quite sure what that is all about. Joe’s head is full of all sorts of things but I am not so sure it is rocks as he keeps us on the cutting edge of everything! I guess it is true; some people do like to read! Joe is kind of an enigma as you can see from his Flintstone comparison picture. (In other words a picture of Joe from the Flintstones just doesn’t exist!)


And last but not least!

Sam ”Kevin – Klaude “my name is not Klaude” Slagheap (Grand Poobah of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes) – is the Grand Poobah of all our loyal SoftLayer groupies. Yes, we have groupies. Kevin manages them very nicely and helps them with just about any crazy request they might come up with. Of course there are no Flintstone pictures of Sam either, but here is one of Sam in the SLintstone era just to fair to everyone! You can check out his handy work on our Facebook fan page!


So what you have witnessed here is a few of the many people that make SoftLayer as cool as we are. We all work hard to make sure of one thing; that our customers are as happy at the SoftLayer server quarry as we are!

December 1, 2008

Customer Education

If you read through some of the previous blogs on this site such as our CEO’s “SoftLayer Thinks ‘Outside the Box’” or the blog written by one of our super developers, Mr McAloon, entitled “Simplicity”, or Mr Rushe’s “An Interview with an elevator” (OK – that has nothing to do with what I’m referring to, but it’s one of the funniest blogs on this site), one thing you’ll notice is that at SoftLayer, we try to automate and simplify things for the customer. Our customer portal has a LOT of customer features. There are automated OS reloads, the ability to boot into a rescue kernel, the capability to add IP addresses on demand, add and configure a firewall or a local or global load balancer, the ability to edit your DNS settings (forward or reverse) and – my favorite – the ability to reboot your server via IPMI or the power strip. You can also manage your CDN services, monitor your NAS or iSCSI storage, configure backups, use the free KVM services, check your bandwidth and of course, handle all of the usual things like opening support tickets or checking your invoice. Or, if you want to integrate any or all of those features into your own management system, there is a full API available for your use.

With all of that functionality in the portal, one of the challenges we continuously run into is educating new customers on all of the features. Not just educating them on how to use the features – but that the features actually exist in the customer portal. A lot of our customers are either new to On-Demand IT Infrastructure Services (aka the hosting environment) or come from other competitors that only offer a fraction of the features that we are able to provide. For instance, you would be amazed at how many customers open “reboot” tickets. While we respond to tickets quickly, it is actually faster for the customer to click on the “reboot” button in the portal than to click on the “create new ticket” link in the portal and then type out a reboot request.

As ways to address that issue, we created a private customer forum so that customers can share ideas, comments and suggestions with each other. We have also not only created the KnowledgeLayer FAQ database, but we have integrated that directly into the support ticket feature of the portal (when you open a ticket, the FAQ system will automatically recommend related fixes before you even submit the ticket). We also have tutorials directly linked inside the portal and even have all of our API documentation available for review.

So one of the challenges we have at SoftLayer isn’t just creating and deploying the new features and services that keep us out in front of the pack, but educating our customers of their existence and their ease of use. BTW, that’s a great problem to have!


November 28, 2008

As the SLAS (70) Turns

Welcome to the Wide World of SLAS 70 (for those who use Google it is really SAS-70 Type II)! Shh, don’t tell anyone but we are in the final audit stages now (under review). For some reason this is supposed to be a big secret, well not really or I wouldn’t be telling you about it. Maybe it is just so you don’t jinx the whole process.

If you are over 40 and doing the things you are supposed to do at the doctor then you have a pretty good idea of what SLAS 70 is. So we open our company up for the scope. I will just leave it at that. SLAS 70 is us telling the world how good we take care of our processes and procedures when dealing with our customers and also our internal controls. Since we would like to have more publicly traded companies as customers we need to be compliant according to my brother (the other Kinman blogger) and Mike Jones, CFO extraordinaire. It really is a good thing because the investors in these public companies like the fact that they use compliant companies, well they demand it apparently, which helps give them peace of mind in their investment. I’m not sure how many investors are left in the world but even the 1 or 2 still out there count for something. In a nutshell, we have to be good at what we do and we have to let an accounting firm come in and look at everything we do and then sign off that we are the best. WE know we are the best and now we will show the world.

SLAS Hint #1 – PDF! So I don’t know how many sheets of paper I saved with good old fashioned PDF conversion but I can bet I saved at least 2 trees. If I had to print out all this stuff like in the old days it would have been scary.

SLAS Hint #2 – Stress! On my desk right now I have, a half full Monster, an iced RedBull, 1 baby rattle, 1 golf ball, 1 rubber ball, 1 tennis ball full of BB’s, and 4 Squishy stress balls. The stress balls de-stress me and the baby rattle calms me of course.

SLAS Hint #3 – Time! It is all about how much time you have or don’t have. I should have kept track of the hours for this project but they all ran together at some point last week. I thought Thursday was Friday, and was really bummed out when I was told it wasn’t. I bet everyone has done that at least once.

Ok, well it is back to staring at the screen and hunting and fishing, not the fun kind either, just for data needed for the scope! I don’t want my new buddy, the auditor, to miss me since we hang out and email so much. Hey, can someone please pass me some latex gloves?

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.

November 24, 2008

I'll Never Use This In The Real World When I Get Older

Do you remember sitting back in a high school class saying to yourself: “I am never going to use this in the real world once I grow up!” Well I often felt that, especially when I was in the Student Computing Services program at Henderson Bay High School in Gig Harbor. The year was 1998 and Henderson Bay had just landed a grant from the Intel Corp, which made us a certified Intel refurbishment program.

Intel and the computer teachers worked on a program, which they donated old hardware (Pentium 90’s when Pentiums 120’s where being released) to our school. We then had to develop a streamline operations program of building these computers, using an imaging system to install the OS and applications. Then we had to create an inventory tracking system to track them prior to giving them away to other schools in Washington State. Over the course of 3 years, I think we deployed a few thousand machines throughout the state, while Tigard High school in Oregon was doing the same thing.

I was working a long day at the beginning of this month for our beloved truck day here at SoftLayer, this is when we get all of the servers the SLales team will sell for the month. All local staff is required to be there and work long hours. We streamline the process so well that within hours we have unboxed, sorted all the parts, double checked the inventory, and deployed the 500 or so servers into the rack each month at each location.

The process reminds me of the truck days we used to have when the Intel truck would show up with cases, motherboards, processors, ram, and hard drives. All which had to be put together. We never had a problem building and deploying boxes for the schools ten years ago, and that is because the teachers ran it as a company. We had a staff of students that operated as inventory control managers, project managers, systems administrators, and front line technical support, and hardware technicians supporting each school district that we donated systems too. The process was overseen by two teachers, that ran the SCS program, and it was there fine detail that kept 50 students running this mock company.

It’s the same fine detail that the operations team at SoftLayer has taught us while doing truck days. I first dreaded my first or second truck day – something about working doubles didn’t appeal to me. After one or two of them, I started to like them. It’s a wonderful way to start off the month. Now if you would have asked me during a high school truck day, if I’d be looking forward to doing it again in ten years, I would have told you that you’re out of your mind. Ask me today and I will tell you it was one of the greatest processes that I learned during my high school years (Along with ditching English to hang out in the computer lab).

November 22, 2008

SoftLayer = The Empire

Time to turn up the nerd!

I have long pondered the parallels of SoftLayer and Star Wars. At first, I thought we might be the rebels. But I soon realized we are here to dominate the galaxy (and the dark side is much cooler!)

So I have come up with some parallels between SoftLayer and the Empire. Some are a bit of a reach, while others are spot on. I will start with what I know. I am in Operations, so this is obviously going to be Ops biased. Systems and Development probably deserve a bigger part, but as I don’t dwell in that world every day, I can’t get the detailed analysis needed to formulate an accurate correlation.

So let’s start with Systems and Development. I think they would be the Death Star. Our primary source of galactic domination. The mostly unseen heroes that created it and keep it going. Note: we are more like the 2nd Death Star without the access port weakness.

Some obvious correlations would be:

Lance is Darth Sidious / Senator Palpatine – that one is easy. All knowing and all powerful.

Sam is Vader – another gimme. To the point with a strong hand. ( get it? Hand? Vader, you know, chokes, eh.. okay, moving on. )

Joshua is Boba Fett – Many secret and not so secret missions with a huge impact on the course of the Empire.

Chris is Darth Maul – Enforcing the Empires rules near and far.

CSA’s are the Stormtroopers with their managers being the commanders and generals. Handling the special ops and direct requests of the Empire.

SBE’s are the battle droids with the hardware manager being General Grievous. (Yes, that’s me. I clear my throat frequently so that was the final nail that solidified that comparison. ) The front line.

We do have some Ewoks that have defected to our side and some of our vendors are like Watto. So I have distorted the Star Wars timeline to suit my needs. Just the way the Empire would do it! But I am sure The Galactic Empire would approve. And besides, it gives me focus and makes me stronger.

Oh and one final note, in this version of the story, The Empire wins.

Feel free to comment your Star Wars / SoftLayer comparisons!

November 20, 2008

SLadies' Night

There are many ways to turn regular, every day lingo into "SLingo" (or SoftLayer lingo). SLance Crosby and Steven Canale constantly encourage their SLales team to keep the momentum going and SLell, SLell, SLell! Shawna Furr is constantly encouraging the SLayers and SLackers to write a blog and keep our InnerLayer interesting! In the employee side of our customer portal, we don't have your regular Wiki, we have a SLiki.

But my personal favorite SL word would be "SLadies!" Us SLadies on the SLales team work very hard and try our best to make SoftLayer the best in the industry. I have been extremely proud of the newest SLadies to join the group. Arielle Eaton, Laura Gardner, and Giselle Manning sure hold their own in closing the big deals and thoroughly taking care of customers. Hopefully Mary Hall and I are teaching them well, and sharing our experience with them during the learning process. They have really shown true SLoyalty since each of their tenures have begun. Now, I cannot leave out Brad Swick, another new member on my team. Although he is not a SLady, he sure does have the SLove for his job (and his proving himself quite well indeed) - that goes for all of our hardworking men out there!

Not only do we work hard, but we like to have fun! Every two weeks to a month, we have a "SLadies’ Night" and get together for drinks, food, and fun to get away from the trials and tribulations of our very exciting, rewarding, but sometimes stressful job. So here is an open invitation to all the SLadies for a big, combined SLadies’ night (that's you Accounting, HR, technical support, Marketing, etc.).

November 18, 2008

Twenty Reasons Why Linux Is Great

I often get asked why I started using Linux as my core desktop OS and server OS over 10 years ago. And why I continue to use it today. Linux has come a long way since its early days as a free OS and I am thankful for that. Here are a few reasons that I choose Linux:

  1. It is free - no license fee or maintenance associated with it
  2. Spyware / Viruses are very rare
  3. Requires few reboots
  4. It can read most any file system that has been made
  5. Open source, so you can see what you’re running!
  6. It’ll run on just about anything (WiiLi.org)
  7. Built in virtualization that is also free
  8. The shell environment is much better than any type of DOS
  9. Lack of a registry, most configurations is stored in standard text files
  10. It has more documentation than any other open source O/S
  11. It will still run fine as a proxy on my Pentium II
  12. Most distributions now come bundled with an awesome desktop environment
  13. Saves on bandwidth due to not having to update virus dat files and windows updates every night
  14. The Linux kernel comes shipped with an enormous load of hardware drivers, already installed, making most PNP friendly things available after you plug them into the machine
  15. Easy to build into a home media center
  16. Most server distributions come bundled with a database program, so you don’t need to purchase an expensive database service
  17. It can scale to 1024 processors on a single computer
  18. Easy to setup in a dual boot configuration
  19. Linux is easy to updated, most distributions make it quick and easy to upgrade from on version to the next
  20. The Linux community is very helpful out here on the internet
November 13, 2008

Size Isn't Everything

A couple days ago, I took my daughter to her favorite store. We picked up a fair amount and on the way to the car she asked a simple question, or so I thought. “Why did they only fill these bags half way”. Confused I looked at the bags and realized she was holding a bag which had a large stuffed bear in it and was looking at a bag less than half full of canned food.

Being the person I am, rather than attempt to explain this to her I wanted to let her try and figure it out for herself so she would understand it better. When we got home, I filled the rest of the bag with cans and had her try and pick it up, as I expected the bag broke in her hands. I explained to her that the cans were much heavier then the bag. She still doesn’t quite understand the concept that the bag has 2 limits, size and weight but she is starting to understand this concept.

I thought about this story this morning when I started working on a project of determining how many containers a Virtuozzo server could handle based on its system requirements. Just like the bag, a Virtuozzo system has multiple limitations that need to be observed, the size of the containers as well as their “weight”. In this situation “weight” would be the drain on overall system resources. When attempting to determine how many containers a system can handle, you need to take into account not only how many will fit size wise, but also how much of the overall system resources each container will require.

It turns out this question is much easier to ask then to answer. You can take a small server such as a dual core with 4GB of RAM and put 20 or even 30 containers onto the server and have it run flawlessly when those containers are small and do not require much in the way of system recourses. At the same time however I can take a quad proc quad core with 64GB of RAM and grind it to a halt with 1 or 2 containers.

At the end of the day, I have found that you can make just about anything work, but before you attempt to determine what hardware you will need to run a Virtuozzo server, it’s a good idea to have an estimate of what you expect the containers to be doing. What could be worse than spending hours configuring a server and getting it online only to watch it grind to a halt because there are just too many containers completely saturating your system resources?




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