cloud

August 6, 2007

HostingCon 2007 / More Green

The SoftLayer contingency recently returned from attending HostingCon 2007 in Chicago and I have to say, it was a great experience. We had a lot of opportunities to meet up with many of our customers, meet with a lot of vendors and potential vendors as well as visit with some of our competitors.

While there, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on "Green Hosting: Hope or Hype". Isabel Wang did a great job of moderating the discussion with Doug Johnson, Dallas Kashuba, and myself. The overall premise of the panel discussion was to talk about green initiatives, how they affect the hosting industry, what steps can hosting companies take and is it something we should be pursuing.

It was interesting to hear the different approaches that companies take to be green. Should companies focus their efforts on becoming carbon neutral by purchasing carbon credits such as DreamHost, by promising to plant a tree for each server purchased such as Dell, by working on virtualization strategies such as SWSoft or by working to eliminate the initial impact on the environment such as we have done at SoftLayer. You can probably tell from one of my previous blog posts where SoftLayer is focusing our efforts to help make a difference.

Besides the efforts of the individual companies on the panel, there were some good questions from the audience that helped spur the conversation. Does the hosting industry need its own organization for self regulation or are entities such as The Green Grid sufficient? Do any of the hosting industry customers really care if a company is "green"? Should a hosting company care if it’s "green"? And, what exactly does "being green" mean?

While there are differing opinions to all of those questions, there really isn't a "wrong" answer. Ultimately all of the steps companies take - no matter how small - will help to some extent. And no matter what the motivation - whether a company is "being green" in an effort to gain publicity, to save money or to simply "make a difference" - it's all worth it in the end.

-SamF

August 3, 2007

Is Your Company Ethical?

Thanks to my financial brethren at Enron, Worldcom, Barings, BCCI and all the companies currently embroiled in the stock back-dating scandals, I have sit through an ethics seminar every other year to maintain my status as a certified public accountant.

In my position as Chief Financial Officer, ethics and integrity are of paramount importance and as a company, we work hard to hire staff with these characteristics. Keeping that in mind, a survey was taken in 2005 by Deloitte and Touche of American youth between the ages of 13 and 18 in which they were asked the question, “If your boss told you to do something you thought was unethical, would you do it anyway”? An astounding (at least to me) 53% of the kids said they would do what their boss asked them to do.

As a technology company with a work force that gets ever younger as kids become more and more technologically savvy, that is frightening statistic. However, what it points out is the need for us to set the behavioral standards and to train our staff in what those standards are.

What are those standards? For every company those will differ somewhat but a recent survey points out the types of unethical behavior every company faces on a daily basis. In 2005, the American Management Association’s Human Resources Institute asked companies why their employees behaved unethically. The top five reasons:

  1. Pressure to meet unrealistic business objectives
  2. Desire to further one’s career
  3. Desire to protect one’s livelihood
  4. Working with a cynical, demoralized environment
  5. Ignorance that the act was unethical

We have all faced having to make decisions in light of one or more of those five reasons at some point in our lives. How we have reacted to those situations has helped define each of us as we moved through our careers.

How will you know what the ethical choice is when you are trying to make a decision? Let me leave you with one final quote from Potter Stewart, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice on his definition of ethics:

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is the right thing to do.

Are you doing the right thing? And are you demonstrating that to your peers and those you lead? The world is watching.

-Mike

August 1, 2007

Web 2.D'oh!

What in the world is going on? There are people out there who are always determining that we must be labeled something. The Early 2000s was the dot.com era, then there was the bubble bursting era and it seems now that we live in the "Web 2.0 Era". Whatever label is put on any era there are always head-scratchers out there who catch someone's eye and this has definitely caught mine. In a recent article on webware.com, one of the brightest, high-flying Web 2.0 companies is now up for sale oneBay. Per the listing, these are the following attributes that make Xcellery an excellent Acquisition target (outside of the "buy on the cheap from ebay" thing):

  • The startup was ranked among the Top 5 at the Office 2.0 conference.
  • Approx. 10,000 subscriptions include paying customers on SalesForce.com/AppExchange
  • Huge waiting list for Xcellery Enterprise Edition (XEE) customers
  • State of the art technology: C#, ASP.NET 2.0, AJAX, MySQL/SQL server
  • Two years development time was invested to build Xcellery
  • Xcellery is integrated into SalesForce.com/AppExchange including a payment system with PayPal
  • www.xcellery.com has reached a PR five and is in the top three when searching for "Online Excel" and others
  • The founder team is interested to stay on board and help continue the venture

What this tells me is that no matter how technology changes our lives and how optimistic we are about conquering the world, underlying fundamentals of business are the key to any company's success. We (Softlayer) host a tremendous number of web 2.0 firms and are excited to see the growth and opportunities that are presented to many of these companies. After all, our customers' successes equate to a long-term relationship with us, so we are rooting for all of you.

So Web 2.0'ers, as we all set our sights for greatness, don't forget -- old school business-fundamentals drive a lot of the abilities for us to be innovative and ground breaking!

Keep thinking!!

-Sean

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July 30, 2007

Being in Sales

Being in SLales (SL + Sales = SLales - we're so clever), I talk to around 200 people or so a day via email/tickets/telephone/chat/etc. I like to think of our SLales team as the "A" team in the industry. Going along with Jason's “we wear many hats”, we must have detailed knowledge of every single product and service that we offer -- networking capabilities, what program/software/application works with what hardware all the while fitting what each particular clients unique needs are into their budget.

A typical day for the SLales team involves getting to work and going straight for the Monster or coffee (or both) depending on your preference. Get to our cubes and login to our side of the customer portal, chat and check our email. This is when the fun begins. Immediately we are engaging people on chat, catching up our shared SLales and personal email inboxes, talking to clients or potential clients on the telephone, verifying orders, IMing with different divisions, putting through payments, credit card changes and grabbing tickets from existing clients looking to cut a deal for upgrading and/or adding servers and services – all at the same time. We take multitasking seriously here!

On top of all of that we have to make sure that customer billing is accurate when ordering these services depending on the deals we have available, which are always going to be inventory-based. Also, we are making sure that everything is working correctly on each customer's server and if not, coordinating a game-plan to make sure that the client is satisfied and running along smoothly, as quickly as possible.

At the end of the day we want all of our clients to be comfortable, happy, making money and enjoying themselves – because if you are, we are too!

-Michael

July 27, 2007

Remote Access Success Story

In previous posts, there have been mentions of the datacenter of the future, kvm over IP and a reference to an elevator. Then, just the other day, someone in the office pointed out this article: "How remote management saved me an emergency flight overseas"

The article discusses the successful deployment of servers from a remote location. The author talks about being able to remotely configure and deploy some new servers from the confines of a ski lodge. Of course, they had to have someone at their offices to receive the server shipment, unbox the servers, rack them up, get them all cabled, make sure space, power and cooling would all be sufficient and then put in a CD. Things that weren't mentioned probably included throwing away all of the packaging material, doing QA on the hardware to verify it was all correct and changing any BIOS settings.

Beyond all of that, there are many things that are just inherent to the process that they didn’t refer to, including having to find the right server vendor, negotiating pricing for the servers, making sure all of the pieces and parts were going to be shipped, tracking the shipment dates, contacting the vendor multiple times to try to find out why the shipment wasn't going to be on time, having available datacenter space and infrastructure, putting those dang cage nuts in the server racks, having available switch ports, making sure the network was configured correctly, providing network security, making sure all of the software licenses were up to date, etc, etc, etc.

Or, as so many of you already know - they could have gotten their servers from a dedicated hosting provider such as SoftLayer (hint, hint) and had the servers purchased, configured, QA’d and online within just a couple of hours and with no more effort than just filling out a signup form. It’s hard to imagine there are still so many people out there doing things the hard way.

-SamF

July 25, 2007

The OSI Model - Reworked

The Open Systems Interconnection Basic Reference Model (OSI Model) or 7-layer model has been around for decades. It was actually developed in 1977 by the ISO as an abstract model of networking protocols which is divided into seven layers. Each layer interacts with the layer beneath it or above it depending in the directionality of the conversion. The 7-layer model was written from a broader point of view and in today's world is not really used as it was intended. The most common protocol and the one most of us have heard of is the Internet protocol know as TCP/IP. The TCP/IP model only uses four of the layers to more simplify the architecture making it streamlined and easier for most to understand. Here are both models and a brief description and example of each.

OSI Model (7 layer)

  1. Physical – The electrical and physical connections for devices (example: wires, electrical signals, hubs, network cards)
  2. Data Link – Functional means of transferring data between network devices via switches and protocols (example: Ethernet, Token-Ring and switches)
  3. Network – This layer is responsible for transferring data between multiple networks via routing protocols (example: Internet Protocol (or IP), ARP, and RIP)
  4. Transport – this layer provides a reliable transparent transfer control of data between hosts (example: TCP and UDP)
  5. Session – This layer controls the connections between hosts. Establishes, maintains, and terminates connections between hosts. (example: NetBIOS and DNS)
  6. Presentation – This is the layer the data is transformed and formatted to provide a standard interface for the Application layer (example: ASCII to XML conversion)
  7. Application – Provides services and data to user defined applications (example: RPC, FTP, HTTP)

 
TCP/IP Model (4 layer)

  1. Network Access – This is the physical layer like cables, hubs, switches, and routers necessary for communications
  2. Internetworking – This is the IP address and layer that allows hosts to be able to find one another on the Internet
  3. Transport – Connection protocols like TCP and UDP operate here. This layer deal with the opening, maintaining, and closing connections between hosts
  4. Process/Application – High level protocols like HTTP, FTP, SMTP, POP3 operate

Back in the day when I got started in the networking field for a small ISP in Dallas, I had to study the OSI model for Cisco exams. I had to use anagrams to remember the different layers such as (P-D-N-T-S-P-A) "Please Do Not Throw Sausage Pizza Away" or in reverse (A-P-S-T-N-D-P) "All People Seem To Need Domino's Pizza" so I could keep them all straight. Once I was actually starting to get my hands wet in the field, I found the OSI model to come in handy when trying to troubleshoot networking issues. I had to morph the definitions of the layers to fit my needs, and used them as a daily reference on how to isolate issues and come to a resolution by stepping up and down the layers. Here is what I used to simplify my life when troubleshooting a dial-up connection (analog, ISDN and sometimes a T1).

Network Troubleshooting (7 layer/step)

  1. Physical layer – Is there good working cable between point A and point B? (the router and switch let's say). Have you tested the cable to make sure it works?
  2. Data link layer – Is there a link light on the router or switch? Is it plugged into the correct ports on both ends? Are the port speeds and duplex settings on either end matched up? (10/full, 100/full or 1000/full)
  3. Network layer – Can I ping across the link from the router to the switch? Am I using the correct IP address information?
  4. Transport – Am I able to get out of the local network? Is there a firewall that might be blocking something? Is the default gateway setup correctly?
  5. Session – Am I able to reach (ping) the end host I are trying to reach? (the web server in this case)
  6. Presentation – Is the service I am trying to reach installed and running? (like IIS or Apache) Is there a firewall blocking inbound requests? (hardware or software)
  7. Application – Is there actually content on the server to present? (HTML pages) Does the web server config have the appropriate permissions applied and pointed to the correct directory for content?

I know this might seem a little simplistic, but sometimes getting back to the basics is the best way to solve problems. It is also an effective way to teach people interested in networking how to troubleshoot issues that come up in our industry on a daily basis. I hope you find this approach useful and apply it in your environment.

A funny little known factoid is that when we started this company a couple years ago, the OSI model actually came up when designing our logo. When brainstorming and jotting down ideas one of our founders (guess who?) used the 7 Layer theme to design our current logo. Shows you how influential the OSI model has been in today's Internet driven world.

Let's see what anagrams you can come up with for "P-D-N-T-S-P-A" or "A-P-S-T-N-D-P" Give me your best shot. (keep it clean though!)

-Ric

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July 23, 2007

The User Experience – SoftLayer 101

One of the broadest and most challenging topics in any company is capturing a customer's full attention at all times. In its simplest form, this seems pretty easy. First, you address the market that you are vertically aligned with, such as finance, technology, manufacturing, etc. and then you establish what you want your user experience to be leveraging your knowledge of these markets and dedicated your full resources to marketing to that niche. As the internet changes the traditional marketing principles into this new "never never land" of instant feedback through forums, blogs, RSS feeds, etc. the landscape of the user experience is definitely changing.

So what happens when your markets cross all boundaries, have no verticals and can range from an individual to a fortune 10 company? How do you create an environment that captures a unique experience for the single man consulting shop, while maintaining a completely different, yet equally impressive, environment for a company outsourcing their internal IT infrastructure needs completely to you? Obviously, this is extremely challenging and it’s the position that we sit in daily here at SoftLayer.

The user experience really seems to be a philosophy that has to be adopted from top down in any organization. I found an older article that really seems to capture the essence of the user experience. In the article it talks about companies such as Dell, Amazon, Nordstrom’s, Jet Blue, etc. and it breaks down the user experience into 4 simple categories:

  1. Comfortable
  2. Intuitive
  3. Consistent
  4. Trustworthy

With these 4 categories in mind it has me thinking and challenging the entire SoftLayer team internally to think about how we fit into these. SoftLayer is largely comprised of engineering talent and, to no fault of theirs, they often keep there heads down for hrs/days/weeks at a time and look up time of project completion and forget that there is anything else going. It’s the nature of the business and our engineers and developers are world class, so I tread lightly on my ‘rock the boat’ comments, but it’s definitely a topic of conversation internally as we are constantly focused on enhancing the experience of SoftLayer for our customers.

The SoftLayer team has many stated goals when it comes to cutting edge technologies, changing the landscape of the dedicated hosting market, and really adapting and evolving our products and services to ensure that we meet the needs of all of our customers. Our customers are the driving force for enhancement here and we listen very clearly. We have been fortunate to have built such a tight knit community here which is something that we believe drives a difference between us and others in the marketplace.

As a continuous exercise I would like to reach out to you, the customer, and ask for feedback on items that you think could enhance the 'user experience' here. Much like the cliché about the CEO having an open door policy at work, I want to let everyone know that our doors are open and we want to hear what you have to say. Are we doing a good job in the four characteristics listed above? Do you have ideas/thoughts that you think can be globally impacting to us?

As always, bizdev@softlayer.com is an open line to share thoughts with me directly and the great part about my job is I am cross functional throughout the organization, so my lines goes from the top (Lance) through all of the groups be-it development, operations, sales, finance/accounting, etc. We are here to listen, so speak up!

-Sean

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July 20, 2007

Your Hosting Dollar

During some recent weekend R&R, my family and I saw a "human statue" street performer. He looked as if he'd been spray-painted gold – clothes, skin and all. He had a bucket out for "donations" and there was a healthy crowd watching. Parents would give dollar bills for their kids to put in the bucket. For each dollar, he'd do robotic movements and noise for 5 to 10 seconds and then return to statue status. After a few seconds, another dollar would go in the bucket and the cycle would repeat.

My son, a budding numbers-geek, said "Wow Dad, he makes pretty good money. I'll bet it’s $50 an hour." Being a full-fledged numbers geek, I said "By my calculations, it's more like $70 per hour".

This got me to thinking. What do we provide our customers for $1 of hosting fees? So I figured it out for our most popularly sold hosting offering. This is not $1 per line item below; it’s $1 for the whole package below.

  • 272,232,402,234,637 operations performed by the CPU at 50% utilization
  • 12 megabytes of RAM
  • 1.4 gigabytes of hard drive space
  • An Operating System to make it all happen
  • 45 seconds of technical support
  • 5,538,770,949,720,670,000,000,000 electrons (in the form of electricity)
  • 10,909 average sized packets of public transfer
  • Up to 37,973,200 average sized packets of private network transfer
  • All numbers are approximate. Nonetheless, be sure to make use of your hosting dollars here at SoftLayer!

    -Gary

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July 18, 2007

There is no "I" in "Sales"

I've been working with Amanda, Daniel, Miller and Laude for a long time in a shared sales team environment. Until recently, it had never occurred to me how bizarre it is that five such independent and competitive sales people are able to drive the SoftLayer Sales Machine almost 24x7x365 as a single seamless entity.

How do we do this?

First and foremost, we get along with each other - The value of this statement only really hits home if you understand how much time we spend with one another. Splitting an almost 24x7 work-week between 5 people means that we all work a *lot* of hours. Overlapping schedules, late nights, the almost constant blackberry messaging back and forth. If I didn't love these guys, this job would be impossible.

Great management - (Clearly, a shameless effort to suck up to the boss ^_^) Lance and Steven both have very hands-off management styles. They both give us "Just enough rope to hang [our]selves", meaning that we get to do a whole lot on our own. This is why SL Sales is the most technically savvy and aware in the dedi server industry. It also means that we trust and lean heavily on one another to make sure we stay that way, and of course, don't hang ourselves.

We share everything, good and bad - Think: commission checks as well as schedules. Sharing EVERYTHING drives us in a couple of different ways. Since our paychecks depend on how well we do as a whole, each of us is sure to give 110% at all times, because what's better than a 110% paycheck if you can get it, right? Along the same lines, none of us wants to be singled out as the weakest link in the chain – competition holds us up and keeps us on our toes.

Finally, we all have different strengths and weaknesses - If you combine us all together, you have the perfect mixture of unfailing politeness & cool (Amanda), masterful jocularity (Daniel), world-renowned strength under pressure (Miller), finely-tuned professionalism (Laude), and my own studied protocol & firmness. So there's not a customer in the world who can't get along with at least one of us.

SL Sales (or “SLales” as Lance likes to call us) really works here – I can't imagine it any other way.

-Mary

July 16, 2007

Collocation? Que Loco!

In most project management and system development circles, collocation refers to the centralization of resources, human and otherwise, for the purpose of creating greater efficiencies in a development cycle. In most cases, this involves pulling a developer from here, an analyst from there, and so on, for the life of the effort that they have been designated to participate in. In this day and age, with stakeholders spanning the globe, collocating for the sake of one project is not quite feasible. Now, imagine collocating for every project. Some might say, “That’s crazy!” Here at SoftLayer, we are just that… collocated that is. Sales, Finance, Development, and Support all share the same roof, breathe the same air, and drink the same coffee!

Outside of the obvious efficiencies gained from being in each other’s reach, such as information sharing and truly real-time communication, we reap other benefits that quickly cascade out to you, our customers. A major benefit that we have realized is the speed of going from suggestion or conception, to the delivery of a valued and usable solution. A good example of this resulted in one of the latest API method releases that I was recently involved in.

While working on a solution to parallel the monitoring feature of the Customer Portal, one of our forum moderators noticed a request from a customer that involved exposing the monitoring data to the API as well as including a few other bells and whistles. By the end of the day, the new API monitoring method, along with the customer’s requested additions, was approved, designed, developed, and tested! How crazy is that? Let me run that by you again, the customer made a request, the company responded… quickly. No web conferences, conference calls, misinterpreted emails or IMs, just a quick and correct response.

Another benefit of being collocated is visibility. Good ideas are never overlooked. While we like to think of ourselves as innovators that are constantly ahead of the curve, we are always looking for ways of serving our customers better. Whether you are engaged in a phone call or chat with one of our Sales Representatives, touching bases with Support, or volleying an idea through the SoftLayer Forum, your input is channeled directly to the hub where a dedicated and connected team is staged for top performance. Our disposition affords us the ability to nimbly address your position, resulting in gains that can reach crazy proportions!

-DJ

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