cloud

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.

HOST ACCESS

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 10.0.0.0/8 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.

AUDITING

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.

-SamF

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.

-SamF

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

May 13, 2009

The Data Center is Full of Surprises

After having been in the IT industry in some form or fashion for the last decade or so, I’ve learned that no matter how well you prepare yourself for disaster, you never seem to be surprised by certain issues that present themselves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the many surprises our friend Mr. Murphy can throw at us. I’m sure many a tech will anecdotally speak of the time where their server borked on them, their backups failed despite numerous backup audits, and they were up the infamous creek (I’m only assuming at least a few readers are nodding right now). Sometimes painful lessons are the best times to learn, but it’s a bad day when it happens on a production server.

Working in the SoftLayer data center, we take incredible measures to protect our customer’s servers. In a sense, we try to keep Mr. Murphy away. From the biggies (like redundant power and MASSIVE cooling units) to the routine (such as the data center walkthroughs, and proactive RAID alerts), we do our best to keep the servers in the data center running smoothly, and free of surprises.

Beyond the punches our friend Mr. Murphy can throw at us now and again, it’s nice to know there are a few good surprises in store for you, too. You might be surprised at the great deals our SLales team can provide. You might also be surprised at not only the amazing features such as the new Cloudlayer™ Storage, but the incredible rate we keep bringing new features to the table. I’ve also seen customer’s surprise when we rescue their server from the brink of disaster, or when we are able to provide a few tweaks to give THEIR business the edge it needs.

Furthermore, our people keep the data center interesting. SoftLayer sees no shortage of antics. There’s John’s fully automatic Nerf gun. There’s also plenty of jokes played at the expense of someone unfortunate enough to leave their workstation unlocked (call it “security training” – favorite backgrounds include the Care Bears and My Little Pony). We also have that one hardware tech who likes to hide around corners or sneak up behind you, and scare the life out of you while you’re focused on the task at hand.

With so many surprises, SoftLayer continues to be a very interesting place to work, and most certainly a place where one would never get bored!

May 11, 2009

Has Your Life Changed Due to Social Networking?

Social Networking in my eyes has been around for years since the old bulletin board system days, though now with the advancement of technology and the internet, we see it on a much larger scale. I remember in 2004 I told myself I would never join Myspace. That turned out to be wrong in October of 2005 I joined and connected with friends from the past.

Then came facebook, I once again refused to become a member of another social networking site, though in 2008 I joined to help diagnose one of our customers issues as they hosted an application on the site. I then later found additional friends that had one or the other, so I started using both to stay connected (Still all wondering why no one just uses email like it was intended for instead of just for notifications from your favorite social sites).

I then joined a more professional social networking site, LinkedIn, and became connected with former co-workers, contractors, professors, students, and industry people. Then came twitter, which I just signed up for a few months ago and haven’t really gotten into it, as I feel it is the same as status updates on facebook and myspace, while thinking to myself, do I really need to update my friends with what I am doing every hour on all three. No I don’t think so, but I have friends that do!

My blackberry has five main applications that are used on it: Email; Browser; SMS messages; Myspace; and Facebook. All get checked about every 30 minutes so I can stay in the know about everything from work, to friends. I rarely use personal email for things anymore as most of my friends contact me on one of the social networking sites. I have often thought about deleting one or the other if not both. I find myself telling myself, why it’s like when you disconnected text messaging from your cell phone in 2000 because you hated it, you’ll sign right back up for it as it has became an essential in my life.

I can’t say I couldn’t live without social networking sites, but it would require me to reorganize how I organize my already busy life. My answer is yes, social networking has changed my life and how I interact with people. Social Networking can be a very vital tool, if you are a restaurant / bar, band, sales person, etc. You can use Social Networking to expose yourself to that many more people and reach out!

Now I’m off to install TwitterBerry and see if that makes me like twitter anymore, ask me in three months.

May 8, 2009

Interview with the Printer

SL: Hey, The elevator was acting strangely this morning. I wanted your opinion on a few things.
Printer: *whir*

SL: Excellent, I’m glad to hear your enthusiasm. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how the web hosting industry seems to be weathering the storm of the global economic downturn quite well. It seems regardless of the bank bailouts, failed mortgages, and credit crises, there is still a high demand for social networking applications, online shopping and exchange of information via the many forums available. Furthermore, with the reliability of our redundant links, businesses are finding it more affordable to outsource their IT assets, and host with us.
Printer: PAPER_EMPTY

SL: I Get it. By hosting here, you can also begin the transition to a paperless business. Something to the effect of a tech taking an X-Ray, uploading it to an SL server through the private uplink, and instantly having it available to a doctor thousands of miles away. And that’s just one possibility out of the endless uses for a server here. We have a ton of space available, and by design, we use approximately a square foot per server in our Datacenter… How’s that for space efficiency?
Printer: WARMING_UP

SL: Yea, it gets pretty toasty in there, but luckily we have environmental controls in place to mitigate the heat put out by the thousands of servers in the pods. We also have monitoring in place to notify us of any possible situations. As uptime is vital in the web hosting industry, we have a number of features available both internally and externally. We have 24/7/365 monitoring, automatic reboots, and a highly intuitive customer portal. Not to mention the best technicians in the industry
Printer: *beep*

SL: Now that’s just rude. We have staff from every facet of IT working in our NOC every day of the year. With the highly skilled staff holding years upon years of experience, there are few issues that can’t be solved quickly and efficiently.
Printer: PAPER_JAM

SL: Doubtful. We continue to innovate in efficiency and features. Now you’re acting just like the elevator.
Printer: PC_LOAD_LETTER

SL: Ugh, you’re just as bad as the Elevator. What does that mean, anyway?

May 6, 2009

Always Use Protection

When it comes to managing a server remember you can never be to careful. In this day and age we face a lot of things that can damage and even take a server to its knees here’s a few things for everyone to consider.

Anti-virus:

This is a must on systems open to the net now days. There are always nasty little things floating around looking to take your server apart from the OS out. For windows servers there are a multitude of choices and I’ll just mention a few that can help protect your goods. You can use several programs such as avast (which offers a free edition), ClamWin (open source), Kaspersky , and Panda just to name a few. I would suggest before installing any of these you check links such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_antivirus_software to name one that provides a list of several choices and their compatibility. You may also want to read reviews that compare the available options and give you an idea of what to expect from them. This will allow you to make an informed choice on which one works best for you. Now with linux there are also several options for this including the well known clamav which from personal experience works really well and can be installed on a variety of linux disro’s(aka distributions). It’s very simple to use and may prevent you from headache later on down the road.

Firewalls:

Firewalls are a double edged sword but are most defiantly needed. When it comes to firewalls you can protect yourself from quite a bit of headache however if setup to strict you can block positive traffic and even yourself from reaching your server but in the long run a defiant way to help protect your server from unwanted visitors. A lot of firewalls also have modules and add-ons that further assist in protecting you and securing your server. If in doubt it’s always a good idea to have a security company do an audit and even a security hardening session with your server to make sure you are protected the best way possible.

Passwords:

This is probably one of the most important this you can do to secure your server. Use strong passwords (no using password or jello is not a secure password even if it is in all caps) and if you are worried about not being able to come up with a secure one there are several password generators on the web that can come up with secure ones to assist. Passwords should contain caps letters, numbers, symbols, and should be at minimum 8 – 10 characters (the more the better). It’s the easy to remember and easy read passwords that get you into trouble.

Armed with this information and so much more on security that can be located on the web using the great and all powerful Google should be a good start to making sure you don’t have to worry about data loss and system hacks. Also remember no matter how secure you think you are make regular backups of all your important data as if you server could crash at any time.

May 4, 2009

Paradigm Shift

From the beginning of my coming of age in the IT industry, It’s been one thing – Windows. As a system administrator in a highly mobile Windows environment, you learn a thing or two to make things tick, and to make them keep ticking. I had become quite proficient with the Active Directory environment, and was able to keep a domain going. While windows is a useful enterprise-grade server solution, it’s certainly not the only solution. Unfortunately when I made my departure from that particular environment, I hadn’t had much exposure to the plethora of options available to an administrator.

Then Along comes SoftLayer, and opens my eyes to an array of new (well, at least to me) operating systems. Now, I had begun my ‘new’ IT life, with exposure to the latest and greatest, to include Windows, as well as virtualization software such as Xen and Virtuozzo, and great open source operating systems such as CentOS, and FreeBSD. With the new exposure to all these high-speed technologies, I felt that maybe it was time for me to let the de-facto home operating system take a break, and kick the tires on a new installation.

I can say that while switching to open source was a bit nerve racking, it ended up being quick and painless, and I’m not looking back. I’ve lost a few hours of sleep here and there trying to dive in and learn a thing or two about the new operating system, as well as making some tweaks to get it just like I like it. The process was certainly a learning experience, and I’ve become much more familiar with an operating system that, at first, can seem rather intimidating. I went through a few different distributions till I settled on one that’s perfect for what I do (like reading the InnerLayer, and finishing the multitude of college papers).

The only problem with always reloading a PC is you have to sit there and watch it. It doesn’t hurt to have a TV and an MP3 player sitting around while you configure everything and get the reload going, but you still have to be around to make sure everything goes as planned. Imagine this… You click a button, and check back in a few. Sound Familiar? Yep, it would have been nice to have an automated reload system much like we have here at SoftLayer. Not to mention, if something goes awry, there’s the assurance that someone will be there to investigate and correct the issue. That way, I can open a cold one, and watch the game, or attend to other matters more important than telling my computer my time zone.

Pages

Subscribe to cloud