business

December 24, 2007

SLales Fun

As the leader of the SoftLayer Sales team, I like to think of myself as a well respected yet lovable boss that my employees loves to work with. However as all managers are from time to time, I can sometimes be the least liked person on the team due to the difficult decisions I have to make. So when my beloved team decided to create the JibJab snowball fight and post it on the SL forums, it was no wonder I ended up being the one who got hit where the sun doesn't shine with a snowball.

After seeing their video, I decided to make my own little JibJab video to show the sales team that I know what really goes on in the sales area when I am not around.

-Steven

December 21, 2007

It Takes All Kinds...Well, Four Kinds Anyway

Over the years I've had a chance to see a number of different organizations in operation – churches, non-profits, clubs, public companies, and private companies. I've found that in all these organizations, four types of people are needed in order for them to thrive.

I made this observation of four types of people about 20 years ago. I honestly don't remember reading this from a business book or hearing it at a seminar so I don't have a source to cite. But since there's "nothing new under the sun" according to Ecclesiastes, I apologize in advance if you're reading this and this list originated with you over 20 years ago.

Some may think that comfortable new buildings, plush surroundings, or artistic furnishings can help an organization thrive. I'm reminded of the IBM "Innovation Station" commercial. I couldn't find it on their site and the best I could do elsewhere is this Italian version. The surroundings of the people are merely surface cosmetics. The people are the soul of an organization, and each one has a different mix of gifts and talents. It is this mix of gifts and talents that I sort into four groups and the people of the organization must draw from their fundamental gifts and talents for an organization to thrive, regardless of the environmental cosmetics – especially if this is your environment.

Innovators
The first group of folks is the smallest in number. They're the innovators. They can approach a blank whiteboard, pick up a marker and brilliance flows through them onto the board. They're so in touch with markets that they don't just sense the needs felt by the market that need to be filled – they know the needs of the market before the market even feels these needs. The innovators cast the vision for what can be. However, if you ask them to make the vision better, deliver the vision, or maintain it after delivery, more often than not the vision will not be realized because making the vision reality is not a part of their gifts and talents. Making the vision a reality depends on folks from the other groups.

Refiners
These are some of the folks who approach a blank whiteboard and they pick up a marker, but the board remains white. It isn't within them to come up with new and innovative solutions to market needs. But if there's a new and innovative idea on the board, they'll grab a marker and make it better. Maybe the original idea has a logistical problem that keeps it from being viable. They'll solve that logistical problem. Maybe a proposed process is inefficient – they eliminate the bottlenecks. They perhaps can put together a great project plan and GANTT chart. But if you ask them to deliver the project or maintain it in a production environment, you may see failure and frustration. This is where the next groups come to the rescue.

Deliverers
Hail to the Project Managers here. These are the folks that can take a new idea that's been boiled down into a viable plan, marshal the troops, juggle dependencies, assign resources, balance budgets, tackle key tasks personally, hit deadlines, and declare victory when the idea is a reality. Project Managers also need some deliverers to work for them. These are the folks that gobble up a chunk of work on the project plan, put their nose to the grindstone, complete the task, and then return for more. But after the victory party to celebrate successful delivery, asking them to go to the whiteboard and think of something new or asking them to keep what they delivered up and running may be unproductive.

Maintainers
These are the folks that hate to see things break down. Their greatest joy is to do things over and over to keep production up and running and on pace. They love checklists, routine tests, and a predictable work day. I once worked as an automobile insurance underwriter, which is a fancy way to say that I sat at a desk and processed one application after another all day long, day after day, entering data and rating risks. I lasted about a year. This isn't part of my gifts or talents, and I gained a whole new level of respect for this group of people. Without them, the organization breaks down and ceases to function. And as anyone in hosting knows, keeping systems up and running is a key fundamental of the business. The coolest new features don't matter a bit if there's no electricity in the data center.

Dangers of "Pigeonholing"
An organization needs to know which category their folks are fulfilling in their current roles. But in reality, people often have gifts and talents that lend themselves to more than one of these groups. A smart organization will recognize this and allow people to grow and develop rather than sticking them in one spot forever. For example, I'm about equal parts Refiner and Deliverer, and don't ask me to innovate or maintain – you'll be sorry. I'll do best in a role that requires both refining and delivering. When an organization pigeonholes its people, they'll only keep the people so long. They have a way of leaving to find organizations with more fulfilling opportunities.

I can find all four of these groups here at SoftLayer. We also allow some crossover into the functions of other groups. We've found that a good number of our Deliverers are also good Innovators for example. Consequently, as a company, we've lost a grand total of three employees since our beginning.

-Gary

Categories: 
December 18, 2007

Relationships Are Key

Relationships are, well, key. This is true in all walks of life. It is especially true in a business environment. At SoftLayer, we understand this. There are two very important types of relationships that we continually try to maintain.

1. Customer Relationships - This is an obvious one. We constantly want to know what our customers have to say. We try to set aside time to call our customers, get to know them, gather feedback, and find out what makes them tick. If there is a way to improve, we want to know about it. Some customers prefer to deal with a specific person, whether it is a Salesperson, Support Technician, or Accounting Representative. While all departments work as a team and we do not specifically assign customers to certain employees, we do enjoy working with you if you specifically enjoy working with one of us! If there is not a little bit of personal communication, we would be your typical, cold corporation. We do not want to be labeled with this stigma. There is no denying that SoftLayer is rapidly growing into a major corporation. But we want to be the major corporation with a small company feel. Each of you is our favorite customer - keep dishing it, we can take it!

2. Employee to Employee Relationships - We would not be where we are if we did not get along well with one another. In fact, we work extremely hard at keeping the utmost respect for one another. Our technicians are some of the best in the industry, our Accounting Representatives some of the most personable, and our Sales team is quite the group of go-getters. So it is easy to keep a good lasting relationship with each and every employee. I can speak for myself, by saying that sometimes I am not the most technical person. It is great to have someone to go to at the drop of a hat to find out about a specific application or hardware question for a customer. The Sales Team is here for anyone to ask about pricing, or to help a customer with an upgrade. And Accounting is always there for any sort of billing need.

In a nutshell we are one big, happy family - that goes for customers and the entire SoftLayer team.

-Amanda

December 16, 2007

The Night Before Seattle

‘Twas the night before Seattle and all through the office
people were stirring, even the bosses.
The Dev guys were grinding on code one last time
in hopes all the errors for sure they would find.
 
The servers were powered and cabled and racked
and it took us a while to get them unpacked.
And Mike with his checkbook and Gary his stash
both paid our vendors a whole lot of cash.
 
When out in the parking lot the bass was a thumpin’
I sprang from my chair cuz I knew he was coming.
Over to the window I flew like a flash
pulled down the blinds and made a loud crash.
 
The lights on his truck gave off a strange orange glow
and I could see some weirdness just down below.
When what to my tired overworked eyes did appear
it was a great big guy and a whole lot of beer.
 
With his size and his stature, so calm with a grin
I knew in a moment it really must be him.
Faster and faster he came up the walk
he was hootin and hollerin and popin a top.
 
“Now, Miller! Now, Bud! Now, Coors! and Coors light!
On Corona! on Busch! On Lonestar! and Red Stripe!
To the top of the stairs! To the top of the world!
Drink away! Splash away! Slosh away all!”
 
Like molasses before a new fallen snow
he made his move to the door, be it very slow
Up in the elevator to the top he flew
with all of the beer and some pretzels too.
 
And then in a flash I heard in the hall
a pop and a fizz, did he drop them all?
As I ran down the way in hopes for a beer
I stopped in the hall for I knew he was near.
 
He was dressed in a pimp hat and humming tune
and his clothes were all black with 3 bars on his plume.
A few cases of beer he was trying to hold
and he kept grumbling something about it being cold.
 
His eyes how they stared; his eye brows so slanted
the beer must be heavy; cuz as he walked he panted.
I knew right at that moment; and just had to pause
I knew at that moment I had seen Lancey Clause.
 
He handed out beer with a groan and a scowl
he dropped one on his toe and screamed OOUU!
He spoke not a word but kept to his work
he filled fridges and coolers; with nary a burp.
 
After leaving a trail of beer all around
he went back to the elevator and headed down.
A clank and a thud as he dropped his keys
He went through the door and banged one of his knees.
 
I heard the door slam on his truck down below
and the tunes of the 80’s started to flow.
But I heard him yell as he drove out of sight
"sell a Seattle Server, Sell them all tonight!"

-Skinman

December 14, 2007

'Tis the Season to do Tech Support

I just got off the phone with my father. Actually, I got off the phone almost 24 hours ago, and I'm just now becoming calm enough to write clearly about it. My father had a problem: he was attempting to use a computer without supervision. Now, my father is a smart man. He has a master’s degree from Harvard, he has “A Brief History of Time” on his bookshelf, and he consistently left clicks when I ask him to right click. The exact nature of the phone conversation is boring an unimportant, except for one thing. My father needed at one point to save a document in MS Word format. Since he has a Mac, he created the document in Pages. He insisted that his efforts had been wasted since (he claimed) Pages was unable to save in MS Word format. I tried to convince him that it could save not only in MS Word format, but roughly 15 others, but he was unrelenting. Finally I got him to check in the Export menu “to humor me,” and lo and behold, that’s where all his Microsoft formats were hiding. Why do people ask geeks for help, then insist that the help provided is incorrect?

I am expecting to spend at least half of my Christmas visit fixing their multiple computers, synchronizing their files, uninstalling the spyware they were tricked into installing, and generally explaining to them that no, the computer cannot just “know what you want.” And at every turn, I expect to hear dissenting opinions and accusations that I am somehow “hurting” or “confusing” the computer by what I’m doing.

My fellow computer geeks all across the country will also be making that periodic tech support pilgrimage. Just talking to the other programmers in the office I’ve discovered quite an arsenal of tools that they will be bringing with them. From special screwdrivers and thumb drives to entire operating systems and (in one case) a whole new computer, we go into the holiday season armed and ready to set ourselves up for future tech support calls.

Some of my more memorable tech support calls have been from relatives, usually helpless in the basic skills necessary to diagnose the problem over the phone. My aunt made one historic call a few years ago. They had just gotten cable internet in their small country town, and after a week or so she was having problems connecting to the internet. So after hearing about the problem I told her I was going to need her to look at the modem. We spent the next few minutes arguing about whether or not she had a modem, and whether or not the problem could have been caused by never having a modem in the first place. After concluding that she did have a modem, and it was still where the technician left it (under the sink, good one technician! bravo sir!), I asked her “what do the lights on the modem look like?” A valid question I thought, and a relatively simple one. I was expecting to hear a short list of the lights’ labels and whether or not the light was lit. What did I get? “Well, they’re about a quarter inch wide and about a sixteenth of an inch…no…make that about three thirty-seconds of an inch tall, they’re spaced about a half an inch apart…why are you laughing!?”

Another fond holiday memory is the argument I got into with my grandmother. She wanted to “get a house page on the wide world web.” I managed to correct her to “world wide web” without offending her, but then the real fun started. She claimed that “the world wide web is better than the internet!” I tried to explain to her that web pages were only a very small subset of the internet, and that the two terms really didn’t describe the same sort of thing. She decided to put it to a vote. Proudly marching into the living room she announced to the 40-so gathered people “raise your hand if you think the internet is better than the world wide web!” They all stared blankly at her for a short time. Sensing victory, she turned to me and screeched “SEE!?” and stormed out.

So this year I will gather my toolkit, my extra networking cables, my CDs with avg antivirus, firefox, spybot, hijackthis, and zone alarm, my copies of windows XP and Mac OSX, two different linux live CDs, my thumb drives, and my overworked laptop, and make the trek down to my parents house. Please, if you are reading this and you didn’t recognize the items in that list, do yourself and the geek in your life a favor: Find out what operating system you run* and go out and buy yourself the “For Dummies” book that corresponds to that operating system. That can be your gift to your geek this year. Show them that you own the book that holds most of your answers, make a promise to them to at least open the book before you pick up the phone, and you will see what it’s like when someone experiences holiday joy.

Plus, you might learn something.

*Look at the top left corner of your screen, if there’s an apple there, proceed to “Apple”. If not, look at the bottom left. If there’s a start menu, proceed to “Windows.” If there’s neither, pick up the phone and call the person who works on your computer and ask them.

Apple: Click the apple, and go down to “About this mac.” There should be an entry on the first screen called “Operating system.” That’s the operating system you have, you’re done.

Windows: Click the start menu button and look at the left side of the start menu. Your operating system may be listed along the left side. If there isn’t, hold down the windows key on your keyboard and press the “Pause” key (you never use it, it’s in the top right). A window should come up that says “system” at the top. Your operating system will be the first item under “system”

-Daniel

Categories: 
December 13, 2007

Avoid Gift Cards!

I live in America, and as any American knows, we pipe Christmas Music and Christmas TV and Christmas Movies directly into the brains of as many people as possible to attempt to keep everyone safe during this difficult shopping season.

Admit it: when you and your neighbor are running to Electronics in hope of getting the last Wii from the shelf, sometimes the only thing stopping you from dumping a bag of Skittles in front of him or knocking over a Lego display is the constant barrage of Rudolph and Frosty and other Christmas cheer over the PA.

Unfortunately, unless you are content to give everyone a copy of Dryping for Dummies (By Steve Kinman, SoftLayer Press), you will have to wade into the shopping rush to eek out your Santa sized bag 'o goodies.

Never fear, however! The Retail Industry is there to help! For those who don't want to dive head first into the excitement of Christmas Shopping (which can make even a foray to pick up some toilet paper from Wal*Mart into an exciting 2 hour adventure), nearly every retail outlet is willing to give you a 2" x 3" credit card like piece of plastic stamped with their brand. Yes, the Gift Card.

It's been said that over 60% of American adults have either bought or received a Gift Card, this year. It's a very convenient device. For example, if I figure out that Lance really likes Outback Steakhouse, I can buy a $10 gift card from Outback Steakhouse, wrap it in a $1 Hallmark card (although, sometimes the retail outlets already have such cards (stamped with their logo) available), and give it to Lance. "Merry Christmas!" Sometimes you can even get the card gift wrapped.A gift-wrapped credit card!

We're to the point, now, that simply handing somebody a plastic card is actually considered a thoughtful gift. On the way to work, I heard that any fishing lover would prefer to receive a Bass Pro Shop Gift Card over, say, that Bassomatic '76 they've been talking about.

But, lets be honest... it doesn't take much to choose a gift card. I overhear Lance say he likes steak, I see a Outback Steakhouse card, and bam! Before you can say "Impulse Purchase" I now have an instant gift! Sure, it's not as fulfilling as, say, a box of prime steaks... but this way you can give him more gift cards! And more is better, right?

But the comedy doesn't end there. Have you ever seen a gift card in a usable denomination? Usually I find cards with a value between $10-50. Can you even get a steak meal for $10 at Outback Steakhouse? (Don't forget to include the State and Federal Wallet Excise Tax.) And I'm not talking about that free bread, either. No, what happens is you end up either leaving a trifling amount of money on the card (Your balance is ... twenty five cents), or you end up wrapping your card in a sizable amount of cash. See how neat this is? I bought a $10 card, and Lance will pay the balance of the meal... AND STILL THANK ME FOR IT!

Retailers make MILLIONS of dollars off the trifling amounts that just sit, unused, on gift cards. And gift cards aren't usable at another store, so if I want to buy a $20 book, but I only have a $10 Half Priced Books gift card (and a $10 Outback Card Lance gave me as a Thank You), I'll use the card + $10. You can almost never just spend what's on the card.

Here's some friendly holiday advice: If you know what your friend wants, buy it for him. If you don't, ask people close to him. Even Aunt Myrtle's sweater contains more holiday cheer value than the sweater's monetary value in McDonalds Gift Cards.

Is there a way out of this trap of value-locked slivers of plastic? Indeed there is! If you wish to transfer value to another person without locking them into one choice, give them... CASH! Yes, greenbacks, bucks, dead presidential portraits, green... whatever you call it, United States Federal Notes are accepted by all retailers, in any denomination. Value not used by one retailer can then be spent at another. This value can also be stored up where it may earn interest and combine with more legal tender until a large item can be bought. The best solution for any gift giving problem where "Gift Cards" are suggested as a solution is CASH, such as when you absolutely can't think up something to buy. And it makes a great stocking stuffer. In Bulk. Hint, hint.

Yes, you in the back? What does this mean for SoftLayer? Just because this is a SoftLayer Blog doesn't mean it has to have a SoftLayer moral! But lucky you... I've got one right here: (this weekend only, special holiday financing available!)

Like Gift Cards, each SoftLayer server comes with a bloc of value attached: bandwidth. This valuable commodity makes the servers work. You can have all the processing power in the world, a RAID 75 array with 100 petabytes of space, 40 terabytes of onboard memory, and if you don't have any bandwidth... it's all moot.

Unlike gift cards, however, SoftLayer attaches some real value you can actually use. For many users, even touching the top of the 2 Terabyte bandwidth pipe is a real exercise.

However, sometimes, like gift cards, a customer buys a server with value attached... but simply cannot use it all. Or they put the server 100% on the private network and never use the bandwidth at all (Like that $20 gift card from Sludge Emporium your Granddad gave you last year). Is there any way to salvage this value?

Indeed! The SoftLayer Secret Labs rolled out a new feature a while back: Virtual Dedicated Racks. These VDR's (as we cool SoftLayer Secret Lab Technicians like to call them, because TLAs are cool) allow you to virtually rack a group of servers behind a virtual bandwidth meter. All the attached bandwidth value of those servers are lumped together, like a good 'ol pile o' cash, and the aggregate amount attached to the rack. An example:

Each server comes with 2T bandwidth (generally).

Without VDRs, if server bassomatic.76.example.com only uses 1T of bandwidth, and server auntmyrtle.sweaters.example.com uses up 3T, you end up with a full 1T overage on Aunt Myrtle's site, even though you have a full 1T worth of value on the other server not being used!

With VDRs, the two servers pile their value together, making a 4T rack. Bassomatic.76.example.com uses 3T this month, while Aunt Myrtle's site only uses 1T. Combined, their "rack" uses 4T of 4T, so 4-4 = 0!

Like cash, but unlike gift cards, with VDRs you are able to pool your value to allow the usage of more value at one time. Now how awesome is that?

If you would like to experience the excitement of pooling your bandwidth, talk to your SPS (as we cool SoftLayer Secret Lab Technicians like to call our SoftLayer Professional SLalespersons, because an acronym is still a cool TLA as long as only three letters are capitalized), and get yourself a Virtual Dedicated Rack (make sure to call it a "VDR" when you order it to sound cool).

And let 'em know this post by Shawn got you interested. If I get enough referrals, I'll get the December SoftLayer Referral Outback Steakhouse Gift Card!

-Zoey

Categories: 
December 11, 2007

Record SLales Day

117 Servers in one day. That's right -- We sold and fully provisioned 117 servers yesterday. Words can't express how proud this makes me as we've come a long way from when I started at Softlayer just over a year and a half ago. When I got here I was the 25th employee and we were in a very small, weird office and I was always within (literally) arms reach of Lance and Steven and a good (great) day was selling and provisioning double digit servers. Now things have gotten much bigger and we are still humming along coming out with new products, new datacenters (Seattle and more to come) and innovating new and never before seen ideas and services in the hosting world.

We now have over 100 employees, nearing 15,000 servers in production, a new (bigger) office and record revenue being generated daily. Two years ago when we opened our doors for business we had zero (0) in all of the above categories. We have grown up fast while continuing to be the best out there with our innovation and services.

I'm just so proud. *tear*

-Michael

Categories: 
December 7, 2007

Time for Change

As I watched the Dallas Cowboys dismantle the Green Bay Packers last Thursday night, I noticed an ever so slight – almost invisible – passing of the torch from Brett Favre to Tony Romo. It became quite clear – Football is a young man's game.

As I sat and pondered what that must feel like for Brett and his crew, I noticed frightening similarities between hosting and football. Hosting appears to be a young man's sport as well.

Now, before you guys (there I go again) pile on and beat me down – hear me out. I am not saying that Brett and his older brethren are washed up and incapable of playing football – but I am saying, their primetime has passed and any future success should be considered borrowed time on a great career coming to conclusion. Facts are facts – professional football is a very physical and mental job and the youth + skill appears to outweigh age + experience.

This leads me back to hosting. A world full of very young and extremely talented players. An industry where degrees and certifications come in a distant second behind skill and innovative thinking. I often find my thirty-something (barely) resume on-the-line with both new and old competitors. I can assure you, the young competitors terrify me, and the older ones typically bore me.

The recent interviews for potential new hires here at SL are eye-opening. Young Guns coming out of high school with Cisco Certs, college students working on cutting edge technologies and of course – the prodigy that shows up from time to time who was born to design and innovate beyond all our wildest dreams.

I often tell Mike, our CFO, that technology is changing the rules of business and how things will be done going forward. In Mike's accounting world, graduates come out of college with lots of book knowledge and very little experience and gain experience over their career. In the technology world, I would argue the younger talent holds more technical knowledge (book or real world) than the older more established crowd What I bring to the table is business and technical experience; but I find myself learning more and more technology from my younger team members everyday. It's a never ending battle to stay on the leading edge – but I wonder – how long will it be before I hand the torch?

Go Cowboys!!

-@lavosby

December 7, 2007

Why I Love Working in SoftLayer SLales

SoftLayer is a very unique company. It is a rare find and it is a pleasure to be associated with this company. I certainly hope our customers feel the same way (and if you don’t, please talk to us so we can make our service with you more valuable). I am a Senior Sales Representative at SL and I would like to give you more of a behind the scenes feel for why we are the best sales staff in the industry.

I am a people pleaser, and I truly love to help people find satisfaction. I have had several sales positions since I graduated from college many years ago. The thing those previous sales positions had in common was that the salesman was incented to take his own needs into consideration first and foremost. This directly conflicts with what I want to accomplish in business. It is understood that everyone goes into business not to play Barbie dolls, but to earn a profit. Still, this seems fundamentally wrong to me. I have direct experience (even in this industry) where sales positions are incented to put their own needs and wants before those of the customer, or even the company they are working for. This misappropriation of incentive or motivation can cause any number of scenarios that are bad for business on both sides. Luckily this is not how things are done at Softlayer. The customer’s needs come first, as it should be.

The main reason why I came to SoftLayer was because of the way that its sales staff is designed. We are put together as a team, for the customer's benefit. Customers do not need to worry about working with a single individual sales person unless they simply prefer to. I know that I prefer to build up business relationships because this makes for a good understanding of what the main goals are for each customer, and I can have a better grasp of what I can personally do to help. We are not individually commissioned so customers can rest assured knowing that we are doing everything possible to put them in the best situation imaginable. This allows us to avidly search for those “win – win” situations that are positive for everyone involved.

The SoftLayer Sales staff is also very diverse in the styles and talents that we offer. Everyone here has had several years of industry experience and is quite knowledgeable about not only product lines, but also the businesses of our customers. I would go so far as to say that we have the most knowledgeable staff in the industry.

The bottom line is that an intelligent sales staff working for the right reasons ends up with satisfied customers. Satisfied customers are inclined to do more business with a company, and a positive culture between the company and customer is created as opposed to a negative one where it seems that there is always a disparity between the two.

Because of the culture we have created here, it makes me happy to come to work each day.

-Doug

December 4, 2007

Team SoftLayer

When we first opened our doors, Jeaves and Josh used to split 24-hour shifts in the DC to provide 24x7 support coverage, and there was a “napping couch” in the office for the occasional overnight work shift up in Plano. Most of us had a toothbrush if not a change of clothes in our desk drawer, and a fun Friday night entailed sitting around a whiteboard talking numbers, and coming up with new ideas for the datacenter.

Team SoftLayer is much much larger now, but the spirit is much the same. This picture is from a swingin’ SL party we had a few Thursdays ago, where the office got together to label power cables for the new Seattle DC. There are members of Dev, Sales, Accounting, Marketing, & Management here working together. It makes me so proud.

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