development

April 17, 2008

INFRASTRUCTURE!

Wal-Mart! Champion of Retail! Who else can build a large brick box, paint it blue, stuff it with stuff, and make money hand over fist? What is the source of this power? Many will say it's their sheer size. However, this isn't true! Because what many people forget is that Wal-Mart had to start with one single store, just like every other retailer in America. So what is their secret?

INFRASTRUCTURE!

It's been said that Wal-Mart can track a single apple from the tree to the front of the store. Every piece of inventory is logged and tracked from pickup to delivery. Every single bottle of aspirin, every sock, every donut is duly logged and mashed up in massive data warehouses where giant computers munch the data and produce useful reports. You know what the most popular item is at Wal-Mart? According to an employee friend of mine, in the Cedar Creek Lake Area of North Texas, it's Bananas. They know how many bananas are sold, when they were sold, what the best day of the week is for banana sales, and which cashier is responsible for the most banana sales during a month. They can track banana sales over time, by store, region, trucking company, banana producer, you name it. They know which employee was on duty in the fresh fruit aisle when banana sales were high, and which employee used to be on duty in the fresh fruit aisle when banana sales were low. It's all in there, if you want it.

However, Wal-Mart had to build this technology from scratch. They had to install special data systems in their distribution centers. They had to build their own server farms, lease their own data lines... did you know Wal-Mart has it's own SATELLITE NETWORK?!? The Wal-Mart Satellite Network is one of the largest private satellite systems in the world, carrying real time data from every single Wal-Mart store and distribution center to Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, where it is poured into their massive data warehouse. They can plan, instantly, to take care of overstocks and shortfalls at every store, as soon as it happens.

You don't need to build your own satellite network to get competition crushing infrastructure today. Using the technology solutions provided by SoftLayer, and simple connections to the Internet, you too can have the type of infrastructure necessary to succeed in today's business world. We provide world class servers for your number crunching, huge amounts of networked storage for your data warehouse, geographically diverse datacenters for disaster security, and a private network that allows you to tie it all together as blazing high speeds. Using our awesome API 3.0, you can automate just about every part of maintaining your infrastructure. Leveraging the Internet, you can build data portals that allow your partners to keep you up to date on production, to plan finances, track bananas, whatever you want to do!

We've already taken care of the hard work required to build the infrastructure. Now all you have to do is leverage it.

-Zoey

April 15, 2008

The Original Skinman

No this is not skinman taking up more space in the blogosphere – it’s his brother with the uncool and unpronounceable email moniker of gkinman.

My brother thinks he’s the original skinman based on the story of how he became skinman. A former employer in the 90’s got tired of the cutesy email names and demanded that everyone stop using those and act professional and from now on, employees would use the pattern of "first initial followed by last name" without exception. When he first saw the skinman email name, he went ballistic and said “I thought I said no more cutesy email names” to which my brother replied, "that is my first initial and last name."

Sorry to burst his bubble, but the other night, my wife showed me some old documents about my family lineage from my grandmother’s Bible. We wondered if someone had posted our family tree online as so many folks do. Through the wonder of Google, sure enough they had. I won’t bore you with the line of how we link back to this guy but we do, and he really IS the original Skinman.

So, here’s a couple of links about the original Skinman.

I think old Seth, the original Skinman, would have made a good SL’er, mostly because of he was an outsourcing entrepreneur. A New York times story from 1885 says that he contracted to supply government troops and sawmill hands with elk meat. He provided 240 elk over 11 months at 25 cents per pound. This handy guide indicates that a typical elk yields about 250 pounds of meat – but read it only if you have a strong stomach or are an avid hunter.

So 240 elk x 250 pounds of meat per elk at 25 cents per pound equals $15,000. In the mid 1800’s this was quite a chunk of change. Do your own calc, but mine shows that this is just north of $6 million in today’s dollars. So ol’ Skinman was quite the successful outsourcing entrepreneur! And he even had a soft layer. Whereas ours today is our software that sits on top of the hardware to virtualize the data center and make your life easier, Seth’s soft layer was the buckskin clothes he always wore.

Fast forward 150 years and you’ll see the Skinman of this era blogging about outsourcing. In my next post, I’ll show you some numbers that show his thinking is right on the money.

-Gary

Categories: 
April 13, 2008

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Around the office I am commonly considered a "low-level" software engineer. If you are in the business of computer programming you know this means I generally have various pieces of computer hardware strewn about my work area, and an ASCII chart hanging on my wall complete with a cheat-table so I can quickly convert numbers between binary, decimal, and hex. If you are not in the business of developing software, think of me as guy who couldn’t decide if I wanted to be an electrical engineer or a computer programmer and thus through my own indecision eventually found myself stuck somewhere in between. I know a bit about both but am not an expert in either. (I think the Roman word for this sort of limbo is purgatory, but I find it pretty cozy most days.)

At any rate when a project comes along that walks the fence between the realms of hardware and software my name naturally comes up. Such was the case a few weeks ago when one of our systems administrators had the need to retrieve the serial number from the RAM chips already installed in a number of servers. He asked me if it could be done. I looked and saw the information was reported in the BIOS of one of my machines, so I promptly responded with a “you bet”. After all, if the BIOS can display the information on the screen I should be able to as well. Right? I told him it would take a week.

The problem in this career field I have worked for some ten years now is you don’t know what you don’t know. Fast forward two weeks. Now think the Friday before Easter. That’s right, the one I am supposed to be off lounging around the house in my pajamas. It took a little longer to pull that serial number than I expected. If you’re interested the slow down turned out to be that the information existed at a physical memory address that was not easily accessible from Microsoft Windows (luckily for the BIOS it gets to display the data before an operating system is loaded).

Remember the old Chevy Chase movie "Funny Farm"? Chevy’s character is driving around lost when he passes the old man sitting on his porch in a rocking chair. Chevy stops his vehicle, rolls down his window, and says: “Excuse me Sir. Can you tell me how you would get to Redbud?” The old man leans forward, spits, and replies: “If I were going to Redbud I sure as hell wouldn’t start from here.”

Like Mr. Chase’s character in the movie, I didn’t get to pick where I started the journey from. We need the data available to us after the operating system boots. So I am hacking my way through it. I’m nearly there now. Close enough at least that I felt comfortable taking a break from the code and blowing off some steam by writing this blog. And the truth is, while I might have been whining just a bit I actually have enjoyed this project immensely. I appreciate the fact that the management here at SoftLayer gives us the opportunity to challenge ourselves and then grow to meet those challenges. We are encouraged to “get our hands dirty”. When I finish up here I will have a deeper understanding of how the BIOS relates to the operating system (and through the BIOS indirectly to the hardware).

As for our customers, well, it just so happens once I got to digging around in the binary mud there was a whole lot of other useful insight buried in the swirls of all those zeros and ones. Instead of extracting just the serial numbers I am pulling about a dozen pages of hardware data points we can use in statistical analysis for predicting failures, standards compliance, and availability trends. Like I said, you don’t know what you don’t know. But sometimes you are pleasantly surprised once you find out. By promoting such an amiable work environment, fostering creativity, and encouraging innovation, SoftLayer continues to boldly go where no other hosting company has gone before.

Alright, time to climb down from the pulpit and finish up my software.

Thanks for listening!

-William

Categories: 
April 9, 2008

Technology - 1 Day

Here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy!

6:10am – Alarm clock goes off. No, I don’t have one of the easy-wake "light up your room slowly" Hammacher Schlemmer alarm clocks. I have the old school buzzer that bounces you off the ceiling. I suppose this is old technology but no servers needed. No kudos here.

6:11am – After wiping the gritty stuff the sandman left in my eyes away, I reach for my Blackberry. We outsource our Blackberry server to our cell provider but it certainly sends me emails all night long and SMS messages, etc. All of that happens on a server somewhere in a datacenter somewhere. And you know what happens in the news when the Blackberry network is down. PANIC! So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps them running!

7:00am – I hit the door and head out to the Echo. There is nothing cool about the Echo, trust me. No XM, Sirius, no Sync just good ole 103.3 sports talk with Mike and Mike. Go Cowboys! From 7am to 8am I am of course only doing two things, watching for the long arm of the law and Dryping. Along the way I pass through 3 tollbooths without even blinking because technology knows that I am there and have driven under it. RF technology is cool and if their servers were down they wouldn’t be able to charge my tolltag. Hmm….nevermind. Again, Here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps me from having to sit in the pay a buck lane.

8:00am – I am at my desk finally! Where I login to my workstation that uses servers in the background to authenticate me. The same servers then run a few scripts and I have all my data and email at my fingertips. Servers keep working in the background to deliver my email to me and allow me to IM my peeps both in and outside of the company and also give me the very needed - internet access. Here’s to you, our internal nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy!

8:01am – The internet. I feel the need, the need for the internet. In the past I can say I was a junkie. I would just type in http://www.insertacoolwordheretoseeiftheyhaveawebsite.com/ kinda junkie. Sometimes you could find some pretty interesting sites using that trick and others it would just be someone domain parking. Now it is pretty much my bank, which has a ton of servers and technology (they even just rolled out two factor authentication), ESPN.com, our internal portal, webhostingtalk, theinnerlayer, the SoftLayer forums, facebook, and of course our website. Those pages keep me pretty satisfied during the day. So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps them running!

8:02am – Wife calls me on my IP phone. Just to see if I am at work and what I am doing and to tell me that the dog is running in circles. She is at home with 2 kids (4 and 2) so she needs to talk to someone I guess. And you guessed it, the phone uses technology too. So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps it ringing!

8:03am – Coffee, technology - yes – Servers NO! We need some coffee servers here. That is a great idea.

8:04am–11:45am – Open up about 57 different windows on my workstation and simultaneously work on all of them. If a server is down or a link is down somewhere I will know about it because I will not be able to do something…who knows what. So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps the network pinging.

11:45am – Hunger pains, it’s time for lunch. Off to play some Racquetball and get a smoothie. I walk in the door and they scan my retina, wait, I mean they scan my key card and I am free to enter. If their servers or workstations were down I am sure that would be a bad day to work the front desk at a gym. Can you imagine all the "roid rage" when they turned people away. So I whip my brother (Gary) at Racquetball but you have read his blogs, did you really think he could beat me? When we were both much younger he did, then he found numbers and equations and forgot how to play. So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that make sure I get into the gym semi-daily.

12:30pm – Smoothie Time – Jamba Juice is right around the corner so I grab my smoothie and wheat grass shot and it’s back to the echo. I guess a juicer isn’t really cutting edge technology.

12:45pm – Back at my desk (on time as always … of course) and it is back to the 57 windows I have open and working. I tend to not go home until I have closed every window; that is the only way I can keep up with everything I am supposed to do. I have been officially titled the “heywWouldja guy” around here.

2:45pm – Time to head home. Ha! I’m just joking, gotchya.

6:45pm – I have now had enough technology for one day so it’s back into the echo to head home. The first light I come to, I don’t dare run (speaking of lights, without technology they tend to cause accidents and flash a lot, so there are definitely servers involved with them). It has one of those schnazzy new Red light cameras. That is $75 dollars I don’t want to hand them so they can add even more of those technological light cops to another light. Feel free to let these servers go down anytime guys…We are all on the same technical team here right?

7:45pm – Back at home. I walk in to the kids attempting to beat my scores on Guitar Hero and RockBand or playing on Xbox live, a wife cooking supper and a TV with Dish Network blaring. In the other room the 7 year old is listening to Miley Cyrus ..wait, maybe it is Hannah Montana not sure, on her cheapo wanna be Ipod. I sit down in front of the laptop that is on a wireless network and check my tickets and email one more time. Sometimes Dryping gets tough on the commute home because of all the traffic so I have to catch up. So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps the Xbox cool and keep the cool games coming!

9:45pm – Kids are in bed, playing not sleeping, and I settle in to watch an on demand movie instead of having to traverse all the way back to Blockbuster or wait on the next Netflix movie to arrive. They look better in HD anyway. I am assuming that guys that can keep satellites in space are pretty technical. So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps them flying!

Midnight – Set the non-technologically advanced alarm and pass out on the pillow.

So how much of that uses technology, servers, Datacenters, power, IP’s, DNS, etc etc. So, here’s to you, that nerdy IT Sysadmin smart guy that keeps that keep all of this stuff up and running with very little downtime. MY hat is off to you (because I look really funny in hats!)

-Skinman

Categories: 
April 7, 2008

Another Record SLales Day!

Well, we’ve done it again! Last week we had a record SLales day and a monumental achievement for Team Softlayer. We sold and fully delivered 208 servers last Monday breaking our previous record of 117 in a single day. There will be no official press releases about this or anything like that other than this blog, this is normal day to day operations here at Softlayer, or as I like to call it – Monday.

We are indeed making quite a dent in the hosting industry, who else out there can claim that they can accomplish this colossal achievement? We are growing at a massive rate here and all the while keeping the same high level of service that we have worked extraordinarily hard to earn and maintain.

We’ve come a long way since the opening of our doors 2 years ago. However we still have a long way to go. We have our Washington DC datacenter coming online in May to offer better service to our East Coast and European clients and we have integrated our new API 3.0 for our clients to have even more control over there servers and our services never before seen in the industry today. 2008 is going to be an astounding year for our clients as well as Softlayer.

We’ve come a long way, and we still have a long road ahead of us but in closing, our better is better than the competitions better.

-Michael

Categories: 
April 5, 2008

Top 10 Things to Do with a Dead Horse

Mike Jones and I recently attended a conference, and one of the keynote speakers was Vijay Govindarajan from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. His presentation on business strategy encouraged us to 1) Manage the present, 2) Selectively forget the past, and 3) Create the future.

His main point of emphasis was to be sure that we did not focus so much on the present that we lose touch or else when the future arrives, we’re left behind. Along those lines, he mentioned that there may be some "dead horses" at present in your business. By a dead horse, he means a line of business that at present is declining. So what do you do about these dead horses? A la David Letterman, he gave us a Top 10 List that I’ll pass along to you.

10. Whip the horse a little harder
9. Change the rider
8. Harness several dead horses together for increased speed
7. Emulate the best practices of companies riding dead horses
6. Proclaim that it’s cheaper to feed a dead horse
5. Affirm that "This is the way we have always ridden this horse."
4. Declare that "This horse is not dead."
3. Have the lawyers bring suit against the horse manufacturer
2. Engage a consultant to study the dead horse

And number 1, Promote the dead horse to a senior management position.

At SoftLayer, we try to be all about creating the future. Whether it’s opening up our API’s or adding new features to our portal or opening new geographically diverse data centers or leveraging our geographic diversity to roll out new products and services, we have the future in mind. Yes, you’ll see some new wrinkles once our Virginia data center goes live in a few short weeks. We promise to keep any dead horses from stinking up the place.

-Gary

Categories: 
April 3, 2008

Lemonade Stands in an Internet Age

To borrow a phrase from my favorite movie from the time period in question… a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... budding entrepreneurs had a few options for starting a business. Our options back then were pretty simple:

  • Newspaper Route
  • Collecting Pop bottles – if you don’t remember bottles made out of glass, don’t worry about trying to understand this one.
  • Lemonade Stand

Lucky for me, I grew up in a family business and did not have to worry about starting a business since I had one already – I was head dishwasher! Aside from that, my biggest concern was what bait to use to catch the bass that hid under the dock near our restaurant and when the parking lot would empty out so we could play baseball under the street lights. Of course, I did wash my share of dishes and bus an equal share of tables over a 13 year period. Still, life was pretty simple back then. Comics were $0.25, a pack of gum was $0.10, and you could go to a movie and have a drink and popcorn for about $3.00. A former colleague of mine would fondly refer to these as the salad days. But, times have changed… a movie is easily $20 and I am not sure any comics exist under $3.00. There are also very different “start-up” options available to the current generation of 10 year old entrepreneurs. Mom and Dad may still be out there shuttling kids around in the rain to deliver newspapers, or carving up and decorating an old box to sell lemonade (I did that too, but that was to raise money for Jerry’s Kids) to people wandering past a sidewalk-based store front, but I doubt it. I can’t in fact remember the last time that I saw anyone undertaking such a venture. Instead, it seems that this generation has fully grasped the value of the Internet. Whether it is our youngest blog contributor, or our youngest customer – a 13 year old web host who’s Mom did her part by setting up a PayPal account for him to run his new business. Not to be outdone, we have a slightly older generation of entrepreneurs that have taken inspiration from a number of areas, including turning hobbies into viable businesses. Take a look at www.mmoguildsites.com as an example.

The mantra at SoftLayer has always been to enable business through innovation and by empowering the customer with our delivery of Serverless IT to businesses everywhere. But, I am not sure that any of us ever envisioned the impact that this approach and vision would have. Who knows, we might be helping to stimulate the ideas that could lead to the next Microsoft, Google, or Apple.

So, here’s to entrepreneurial spirit at any age! And if you are one of those young entrepreneurs out there, best of luck and please continue to create new ideas. We are all relying on you. SoftLayer will continue to do its part to help you make your ideas real.

-@gkdog

April 1, 2008

Chantilly Race

Here is the much anticipated Song of the Year. So to keep up with new DC openings and doing a blog about it, I felt I had to attempt to out do Sleepless in Seattle. I believe with a little help from Dave we have done just that! Enjoy!

Chantilly Race! (To the Tune of Chantilly Lace by The Big Bopper)
Lyrics by: Skinman
Produced by: Stringtapper Productions
Vocals by: Dave Huff

And for even more excitement, check out the music video.

-Skinman

March 27, 2008

Fist Bumps!!

In response to the recent SLales blog entry in reference to high fives, I wanted to take a moment to clarify the position of C-Level and VP level personnel and the use of High-Fives here at SoftLayer. Being a technology company that is constantly in search of the next innovation, we believe that a natural progression has occurred from the more legacy high-five to the more refined Fist Bump. If you don't know what a Fist Bump is – just catch the latest episode of "Deal or No Deal" and you will see Howie Mandel and his Fist Bump maneuver. If you are not a fan of the show, think back to your childhood days of the Wonder Twins. When that dynamic duo sought to bring about Water and Animal shapes, there was always the obligatory "Fist Bump" to initiate the process. Although not a new concept by any means, we believe the next generation Fist Bump is a far superior form of adulation for the following reasons;

  1. The Fist in itself represent power – it's the most aggressive form in which the hand can be manipulated
  2. The force in which the fists bump can speak volumes in reference to the level of excitement
  3. Fist Bumps can be performed repeatedly with numerous other individuals without a stinging sensation
  4. Fist Bumps can be performed in meetings, on phone calls and around cube corners without direct line of sight
  5. Fist Bumps don't make that "slappy" sound that tends to annoy unrelated third parties
  6. Fist Bumps do not require an individual to "go high" – Fist Bumps can be performed at low, standard and high grades
  7. Fist Bumps do not spread the "SamF's" during cold and flu season
  8. Fist Bumps can be personalized – example – two bumps and roll
  9. Fist Bumps seem to be understood and appreciated by young and old alike
  10. A proper Fist Bump is simply more elegant and invigorating then even the wildest of High-Fives

So, here I sit thinking about the lack of Fist Bump deployments and maybe it resides in the fact that we don't have a virtual Fist Bump like Mary's High Five symbol. So, without further a due, I give you the Virtual Fist Bump - III!

As anyone can plainly see, if you looked at the end of your clenched fist, you would see four fingers with a tucked thumb. That is easily represented as III! with the little dot representing the tucked thumb. So listen up SLales – a new form of celebration is acceptable here at SoftLayer. High-Fives and Fist Bumps abound!! Let's celebrate SoftLayer's Success!!

Now if we can just teach Doug how to Fist Bump without turning it into a game of bloody knuckles from the third grade.

-@lavosby

March 26, 2008

.llli

It looks like nonsense to you, but it means OH SO MUCH more to the members of SLales.

".llli" is the international SoftLayer Sales symbol for *high five*, invoked when major deals are closed, or when hilarious jokes are made over the cube walls.
Here’s how it works: the period is the thumb, the three lower case Ls are the index, middle and ring finger, and the lower case I is the pinky. See it?

SoftLayer Sales are the big mouths of the company - we are louder, more boisterous and more interactive with our teammates than most of the other office departments, so high-fiving is pretty much a standard mode of communication. (I don’t think it hurts that pretty much everyone on the sales team was in a frat/sorority in college.)

Not everyone loves the high-five, though. When there’s a .llli session going on in the sales area, most others steer clear. When a potential high-fiver (read: Douglas Jackson) is hired, part of the training documentation includes a list of C-titles and VPs who you should not attempt to high five. Doug seems to specialize in getting people to high-five, knowing that they don’t want to.

Just another peek into the world in which we live. Come on sales chat sometime and give us a high five. Or make it a double:
illl. .llli

-Mary

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