executive-blog

August 8, 2012

No iFrames! Dynamically Resize Divs with jQuery.

It's no secret that iframes are one of the most hated methods of web page layouts in the web development world — they are horrible for SEO, user experience and (usually) design. I was recently charged with creating a page that needed functionality similar to what iframes would normally provide, and I thought I'd share the non-iframe way I went about completing that project.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the project, I should probably unpack a few of the reasons why iframes are shunned. When a search engine indexes a page with iframes, each iframe is accurately recorded as a separate page — iframes embed the content of one we page inside of another, so it makes sense. Because each of those "pages" is represented in a single layout, if a user wanted to bookmark your site, they'd probably have a frustrating experience when they try to return to your site, only to find that they are sent directly to the content in one of the frames instead of seeing the entire layout. Most often, I see when when someone has a navigation bar in one frame and the main content in the other ... The user will bookmark the content frame, and when they return to the site, they have no way to navigate the pages. So what's a developer to do?

The project I was tasked with required the ability to resize only certain sections of a page, while asynchronously shrinking another section so that the entire page would always stay the same size, with only the two sections inside changing size.

Let's look at an example with two divs, side by side on a web page:

iFrame Tutorial

One div will contain a navigation menu to jump to different pages of the website (#sidebar), and the second div will contain all the content for that page (#content). If some of the elements in #sidebar are too long to read with the default width of the div, we want to let the user freely resize the two divs without changing the width of the page.

Our task is straightforward: When #sidebar expands in width, also expand the navigation and shrink #content along with the main content inside #content. If #sidebar shrinks, the navigation, #content and main content would respond accordingly as well:

iFrame Tutorial

It's a relatively easy concept to do with iFrames ... But then you remember that iframes are no longer cool (yes, there was a time long ago when iframes were cool). I decided to turn to my favorite alternative — jQuery — and the fix was actually a lot easier than I expected, and it worked beautifully. Let's run through a step-by-step tutorial.

1. HTML

Lay out your two divs:

<div id="sidebar"> 
<div class="sidebar-menu">
<!-- all your sidebar/navigational items go here -->
</div>
</div>
<div id="content">
<!-- all your main content goes here -->
</div>

2. CSS

Style your divs:

#sidebar {
       width: 49%;
}
#content {
width: 49%;
        float: left;
}

3. jQuery

Now that we have our two divs side by side, let's apply some jQuery magic. To do that, Let's include our jQuery files in the <HEAD> of our document:

<link href="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jqueryui/1.8/themes/base/jquery-ui.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"/>
<script src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.5/jquery.min.js"></script>
<script src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jqueryui/1.8/jquery-ui.min.js"></script>

Now that we have the necessary scripts, we can write our function:

<script type="text/javascript">
  $(document).ready(function() {
    $( "#sidebar" ).resizable({      
    });
    $("#sidebar ").bind("resize", function (event, ui) {
            var setWidth = $("#sidebar").width();
            $('#content).width(1224-setWidth);
            $('.menu).width(setWidth-6);
        });
  });
</script>

I know that might seem like an intimidating amount of information, so let's break it down:

   $( "#sidebar" ).resizable({      
   });

This portion simply makes the div with the ID of "sidebar" resizable (which accomplishes 33% of what we want it to do).

   $("#sidebar ").bind("resize", function (event, ui) {

By using the .bind, we are able to trigger other events when #sidebar is called.

            var setWidth = $("#sidebar").width();
            $('#content).width(1224-setWidth);

This is where the magic happens. We're grabbing the current width of #sidebar and subtracting it from the width you want your site to be. This code is what keeps your page stays the same width with only the divs changing sizes.

            $('.menu).width(setWidth-6);

This part of the code that expands the contents in the navigation along with #sidebar.

You can see a working example of iframe-like functionality with jQuery here: http://jqueryui.com/demos/resizable/

The only part you won't find there is the trick to adjust a corresponding div's size to make it grow/shrink with the first ... I had a heck of a time searching that on the web, so hopefully this quick tutorial will help other developers who might be searching for this kind of functionality!

- Cassandra

August 6, 2012

SoftLayer in the Community - Tour de Pink 2012

Every year, SoftLayer commits to raising money and giving support to a number of charities, and SLayers are all encouraged to submit the organizations and causes that are important to them. Not long after coming to work here, I found myself in a position to pitch one of my favorite charities — Tour de Pink — to Lance and the charity team.

Tour de Pink is one of the major fundraising efforts for The Pink Ribbons Project, a Houston based organization that raises money to fight breast cancer through awareness and educational outreach initiatives. The Pink Ribbons Project supports proper screening for the medically under-served and under-insured population in the Greater Houston Area, and Tour de Pink is the first bike ride in Texas solely benefiting breast cancer awareness and education.

I have been involved with the ride since its inception in 2005, and I manage the logistical support for all of the Pink Pit Stops. The first year of the ride, "support" consisted of me and a guy named Bear, my 1995 Ford Ranger pickup truck, a 25' moving truck with a lift, and 400 pounds of ice. By 2011, we had grown the logistics team to nine dedicated people, four route vans, a roamer and 4000 pounds of ice to support the 2000+ riders traveling seven routes.

Last year was Tour de Pink's seventh, and an opportunity opened up for a company to step in as the presenting sponsor for the ride ... After about six months of official employment with SoftLayer, I knew one thing for sure: If you have an idea, a plan or a cause that matters to you, it's your responsibility to take that idea / plan / cause wherever it needs to go to get addressed — whether it's an opportunity to improve a compliance process or a community cause. I stepped up and brought the idea to SoftLayer's CEO.

In true SLayer fashion, he saw how important the cause was to me, and he quickly commitment SoftLayer's support to the 2011 Tour de Pink.

In addition to the a financial commitment, we provided space in our downtown Houston offices for packet stuffing:

Tour de Pink

And the (infamous?) 3-Bars BBQ team towed the smoker down to Houston to cook up some fine "Q" for the annual Tour de Pink Kickoff Party:

Tour de Pink

SoftLayer VP of Business Applications Development DJ Harris even kicked off the opening ceremonies when the ride rolled around!

After an extremely successful 2011, SoftLayer has extended support for Tour de Pink to 2012! This year's ride is scheduled for September 16, and it will starting from and coming back to the Prairie View A&M University campus. While SoftLayer is the major underwriter of this ride, it's still a fundraiser, and that's where the rest of us come in. The monies that go out into the community are raised through registration of individual riders and teams and from their collective fundraising efforts.

If you want to roll with the cool kids (and believe me, SoftLayer IS cool) and you plan on being in the Houston area mid-September, surf on over to www.tourdepink.org and sign up to join us!

I hope to see some of you out on the ride, but until then, may the wind be always at your back ... and 3-Bars for Life!

-Val

Categories: 
August 3, 2012

Work Hard, Prank Hard.

Hard work is nothing new to the SoftLayer staff — we strive for perfection in everything we do. We give ourselves strict deadlines, we always push ourselves to give the best support possible, and we make every effort to go above and beyond. Every now and then, we make sure to go above and beyond when it comes to having fun in the office, too.

I'm sure everyone has seen the 10,000 bouncy ball shower we gave SoftLayer COO Sam Fleitman for his birthday, and if you've been an avid blog reader for a while now, you'll remember the prank retaliation when John Eaves went to Hawaii and posted a picture of himself relaxing on Facebook with the caption 'Happy Truck Day.' After the rest of his team finished unloading and installing the servers that were delivered, they turned their attention to his desk. As you'd probably guess, those two pranks are only the tip of the iceberg.

If you walk through the office on any given day, chances are good that you'll see evidence of little pranks and inside jokes that we all play on each other. Sometimes it's subtle, like when a picture of a famous Canadian pop singer (No ... Not The Mitch) is posted by a coworkers desk:

SoftLayer Office

Sometime it's a little more ... obvious:

SoftLayer Office

Pretty recently, I returned to my desk to find my UFC fighters and Jersey Shore bobblehead action figures rearranged:

SoftLayer Office

Those innocent little pranks tend to get the wheels turning in the heads of the office pranksters, though: "What could be the next big office prank?" An anonymous group of SoftLayer employees heard that DAL05 Site Manager Joshua Daley (who led this DC tour) was going out of town for a couple of weeks, so he became the next target. Out of nowhere, someone came up with the genius idea of remodeling his office in Hello Kitty style, and that got the ball rolling. Soon enough, Post-it notes were worked into the plan, and somehow, it was decided that 1,000 inflated balloons would be involved.

The prank involved a significant amount of work, and it wouldn't have come together without an impressive group effort. Many technicians stayed after their shift and came in on their day off to help plan, decorate and blow up balloons, and the result was pretty impressive:

SoftLayer Office

SoftLayer Office

When Josh got back, he got a kick out the prank, and I think he had a little too much fun destroying all of our hard work:

The aftermath:

SoftLayer Office

If you walk through the office and notice a few technicians with shifty eyes, they're probably either keeping an eye out for pranksters that might be targeting them or scheming on their next prank victim. Speaking of which, I have some scheming to do ...

-Timothy

August 2, 2012

Meet Memcached: A Developer's Best Friend

Whether you're new to software development or you've been a coder since the punchcard days, at some point, you've probably come across horrendous performance problems with your website or scripts. From the most advanced users — creating scripts so complex that their databases flooded with complex JOINs — to the novice users — putting SQL calls in loops — database queries can be your worst nightmare as a developer. I hate to admit it, but I've experienced some these nightmares first-hand as a result of some less-than-optimal coding practices when writing some of my own scripts. Luckily, I've learned how to use memcached to make life a little easier.

What is Memcached?

Memcached is a free and open source distributed memory object caching system that allows the developer to store any sort of data in a temporary cache for later use, so they don't have to re-query it. By using memcached, a tremendous performance load can be decreased to almost nil. One of the most noteworthy features of the system is that it doesn't cache EVERYTHING on your site/script; it only caches data that is sure to be queried often. Originally developed in 2003 by Brad Fitzpatrick to improve the site performance of LiveJournal.com, memcached has grown tremendously in popularity, with some of the worlds biggest sites — Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and Craigslist — taking advantage of the functionality.

How Do I Use Memcache?

After installing the memcached library on your server (available at http://memcached.org/), it's relatively simple to get started:

<?php
  // Set up connection to Memcached
  $memcache = new Memcached();
  $memcache->connect('host', 11211) or die("Could not connect");
 
  // Connect to database here
 
  // Check the cache for your query
  $key = md5("SELECT * FROM memcached_test WHERE id=1");
  $results = $memcache->get($key);
 
  // if the data exists in the cache, get it!
  if ($results) {
      echo $results['id'];
      echo 'Got it from the cache!';
  } else {
    // data didn't exist in the cache
    $query = "SELECT * FROM memcached_test WHERE id=1");
  $results = mysql_query($query);
  $row = mysql_fetch_array($results);
  print_r($row);
 
  // though we didn't find the data this time, cache it for next time!
  $memcache->set($key, $row, TRUE, 30); 
  // Stores the result of the query for 30 seconds
  echo 'In the cache now!';
 
  }
 
?>

Querying the cache is very similar to querying any table in your database, and if that data isn't cached, you'll run a database query to get the information you're looking for, and you can add that information to the cache for the next query. If another query for the data doesn't come within 30 seconds (or whatever window you specify), memcached will clear it from the cache, and the data will be pulled from the database.

So come on developers! Support memcached and faster load times! What other tools and tricks do you use to make your applications run more efficiently?

-Cassandra

August 1, 2012

SoftLayer + Open Source + OSCON

While a handful of SoftLayer employees made their way to Boston for HostingCon, another ragtag group of SLayers journeyed to Portland to attend OSCON &mdash: the Open Source CONvention. OSCON attracts 2,500+ passionate members of the open source community, so the conference sessions and expo hall are filled with the most creative and innovative people on the Web. That's where we want to be.

Over the past few years, we've built a great reputation at OSCON as not only a great hosting provider, but also as the operator of one of the best booths on the expo hall floor. As usual, the switchballs were crowd pleasers, and we sponsored the show's Massage Booth, so we had great traffic through our booth all conference. When attendees left our booth, they were considerably more relaxed, they had the coolest swag at the show, and they had a better understanding of where SoftLayer fits in the open source space.

In addition to the conversations on the expo hall floor, we got to share a little expertise in a conference session. Senior Software Architect Harold Hannon presented an engaging educational session about how we implemented elasticsearch, Apache-based code that allows for scalable search for all kinds of documents in near real-time. At the moment, SoftLayer uses elasticsearch internally for hardware and ticketing, and we hope to extend this feature-rich scalable searching to our customers in an upcoming release of the customer portal. Because SoftLayer has built a great reputation for executing scalability well, Harold ended up presenting to a packed house (which you can see in the last few pictures of the slide show above).

SoftLayer's significant investment in open source platforms like OpenStack Swift Object Storage and CloudStack-based Private Clouds wound up being a big topic of discussion throughout the conference. Harold's elasticsearch presentation was a great conversation bridge to talk about the incredible search-and-retrieve functionality we implemented in our Object Storage service, and we were able to share and demonstrate how that functionality helps our customers manage large quantities of static data in cloud environments in an automated way.

The open source community has matured significantly over the past few years, and it's exciting to see that evolution. We aren't just talking about the incredibly popular open source operating systems like CentOS, Debian, Fedora, FreeBSD and Ubuntu that customers can get on a dedicated or cloud server ... We're talking about game-changing, innovative platforms that are redefining how the Internet works.

We want to thank the OSCON team for another phenomenal show, and if you attended the show but didn't get a switchball from us, I'm sure you'll have another chance at OSCON 2013. If you don't think you can wait that long, come find us at one of our other upcoming events!

-Summer

Categories: 
July 30, 2012

Don't Stop Believing (in Hosting)

If 80's movies have taught me anything, it's that any good story needs to have a video montage with Journey playing in the background. With that in mind, I'll start this blog post with a glimpse of HostingCon 2012:

HostingCon brings the hosting industry together every year, and the conference winds up being surprisingly similar to classic 80's "coming of age" movies:

  • "Geeks" are among the main characters.
  • There's always a "funny guy."
  • At some point, the geeks attend a party.
  • The characters learn more about themselves and others over the course of the movie.
  • As the credits roll, everyone is inspired ... Ready to take on the world.

With that in mind, HostingCon 2012 in Boston was a veritable John Hughes flick. There was no shortage of geeks, we hung out with one of the funniest people in the country, we threw a massive party, and we learned a ton. Without a doubt, attendees returned home with their intensity and enthusiasm cranked up to eleven (another 80's reference).

The expo hall was abuzz with activity — albeit after a lull in the morning following the aptly named "Host Me All Night Long" party — and we enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with current partners and customers while meeting and speaking with soon-to-be partners and customers. While running a highly competitive Server Challenge, we were still able to dive deeper into partnerships, the build v. buy decision, branding, and launching a product when attendees visited our booth after hearing from our team in conference sessions and panels, and those conversations are what keep us coming back to HostingCon every year.

As a "veteran" of the hosting industry (assuming seven years of experience qualifies me), I've learned a great deal about the dynamics of the hosting industry from events like HostingCon over the years. On one hand, many of the attendees are "competitors," and on the other hand, we're all trying to make the industry better (since "a rising tide lifts all boats"). As a great example, look at the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2C), a trade association of companies with the shared goal and purpose of representing the industry in Washington, D.C., and beyond.

As it turns out, that unity flew out the door when attendees stood face-to-rack with the Server Challenge, though. Unlike our experiences at more general "technology" conferences, the components in our competition needed no introduction, and participants were particularly driven to best their peers ... not only for the iPad, but for the pride of owning the Server Challenge title at HostingCon:

  1. Darin Goldman - 0:59.28
  2. Devon Hillard - 1:01.58
  3. Ijan Kruizinga - 1:01.83
  4. Jon Basha - 1:03.02
  5. Sean Whitley - 1:03.06

As you saw in the video, Darin Goldman had the luxury of not needing his second attempt on the final day of the conference to secure a victory, but we were glad he let us record his "Breakfast Club" fist-pump to share with the world.

Fist Pump

Don't stop believing (in hosting).

-@khazard

P.S. I recorded the first few minutes of Ralphie May's set, but the adult language-ness of the content makes it a little more difficult to share with the world.

Categories: 
July 27, 2012

SoftLayer 'Cribs' ≡ DAL05 Data Center Tour

The highlight of any customer visit to a SoftLayer office is always the data center tour. The infrastructure in our data centers is the hardware platform on which many of our customers build and run their entire businesses, so it's not surprising that they'd want a first-hand look at what's happening inside the DC. Without exception, visitors to a SoftLayer data center pod are impressed when they walk out of a SoftLayer data center pod ... even if they've been in dozens of similar facilities in the past.

What about the customers who aren't able to visit us, though? We can post pictures, share stats, describe our architecture and show you diagrams of our facilities, but those mediums can't replace the experience of an actual data center tour. In the interest of bridging the "data center tour" gap for customers who might not be able to visit SoftLayer in person (or who want to show off their infrastructure), we decided to record a video data center tour.

If you've seen "professional" video data center tours in the past, you're probably positioning a pillow on top of your keyboard right now to protect your face if you fall asleep from boredom when you hear another baritone narrator voiceover and see CAD mock-ups of another "enterprise class" facility. Don't worry ... That's not how we roll:

Josh Daley — whose role as site manager of DAL05 made him the ideal tour guide — did a fantastic job, and I'm looking forward to feedback from our customers about whether this data center tour style is helpful and/or entertaining.

If you want to see more videos like this one, "Like" it, leave comments with ideas and questions, and share it wherever you share things (Facebook, Twitter, your refrigerator, etc.).

-@khazard

July 26, 2012

Global IP Addresses - What Are They and How Do They Work?

SoftLayer recently released "Global IPs" to a good amount of internal fanfare, and I thought I'd share a little about it with the blog audience in case customers have questions about what Global IPs are and how they work. Simply put, Global IP addresses can be provisioned in any data center on the SoftLayer network and moved to another facility if necessary. You can point it to a server in Dallas, and if you need to perform maintenance on the server in Dallas, you can move the IP address to a server in Amsterdam to seamlessly (and almost immediately) transition your traffic. If you spin up and turn down workloads on cloud computing instances, you have the ability to maintain and a specific IP address when you completely turn down an environment, and you can quickly reprovision the IP on a new instance when you spin up the next workload.

How Do Global IPs Work?

The basics of how the Internet works are simple: Packets are sent between you and a server somewhere based on the location of the content you've requested. That location is pinpointed by an IP address that is assigned to a specific server or cloud. Often for various reasons, blocks of IP addresses are provisioned in one region or location, so Global IPs are a bit of a departure from the norm.

When you're sending/receiving packets, you might thing the packets "know" the exact physical destination as soon as they're directed to an IP address, but in practice, they don't have to ... The packets are forwarded along a path of devices with a general idea of where the exact location will be, but the primary concern of each device is to get the all packets to the next hop in the network path as quickly as possible by using default routes and routing tables. As an example, let's follow a packet as it comes from an external webserver and detail how it gets back to your machine:

  1. The external webserver sends the packet to a local switch.
  2. The switch passes it to a router.
  3. The packet traverses a number of network hops (other routers) and enters the Softlayer network at one of the backbone routers (BBR).
  4. The BBR looks at the IP destination and compares it to a table shared and updated with the other routers on SoftLayer's network, and it locates the subnet the IP belongs to.
  5. The BBR determines behind which distribution aggregate router (DAR) the IP is located, then it to the closest BBR to that DAR.
  6. The DAR gets the packet, looks at its own tables, and finds the front-end customer router (FCR) that the subnet lives on, and sends it there.
  7. The FCR routes the packet to the front-end customer switch (FCS) that has that IP mapped to the proper MAC address.
  8. The switch then delivers the packet through the proper switchport.
  9. Your server gets the packet from the FCS, and the kernel goes, "Oh yes, that IP on the public port, I'll accept this now."

All of those steps happen in an instant, and for you to be reading this blog, the packets carrying this content would have followed a similar pattern to the browser on your computer.

The process is slightly different when it comes to Global IP addresses. When a packet is destined for a Global IP, as soon as it gets onto the SoftLayer network (step 4 above), the routing process changes.

We allocate subnets of IP addresses specifically to the Global IP address pool, and we tell all the BBRs that these IPs are special. When you order a global IP, we peel off one of those IPs and add a static route to your chosen server's IP address, and then tell all the BBRs that route. Rather than the server's IP being an endpoint, the network is expecting your server to act as a router, and do something with the packet when it is received. I know that could sound a little confusing since we aren't really using the server as a router, so let's follow a packet to your Global IP (following the first three steps from above):

  1. The BBR notes that this IP belongs to one of the special Global IP address subnets, and matches the destination IP with the static route to the destination server you chose when you provisioned the Global IP.
  2. The BBR forwards the packet to the DAR, which then finds the FCR, then hands it off to the switch.
  3. The switch hands the packet to your server, and your server accepts it on the public interface like a regular secondary IP.
  4. Your server then essentially "routes" the packet to an IP address on itself.

Because the Global IP address can be moved to different servers in different locations, whenever you change the destination IP, the static route is updated in our routing table quickly. Because the change is happening exclusively on SoftLayer's infrastructure, you don't have to wait on other providers propagate the change. Think of updating your site's domain to a new IP address via DNS as an example: Even after you update your authoritative DNS servers, you have to wait for your users' DNS servers to recognize and update the new IP address. With Global IPs, the IP address would remain the same, and all users will follow the new path as soon as the routers update.

This initial release of Global IP addresses is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to functionality. The product management and network engineering teams are getting customer feedback and creating roadmaps for the future of the product, so we'd love to hear your feedback and questions. If you want a little more in-depth information about installation and provisioning, check out the Global IP Addresses page on KnowledgeLayer.

-Jason

July 25, 2012

ServerDensity: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome David Mytton, Founder of ServerDensity. Server Density is a hosted server and website monitoring service that alerts you when your website is slow, down or back up.

5 Ways to Minimize Downtime During Summer Vacation

It's a fact of life that everything runs smoothly until you're out of contact, away from the Internet or on holiday. However, you can't be available 24/7 on the chance that something breaks; instead, there are several things you can do to ensure that when things go wrong, the problem can be managed and resolved quickly. To help you set up your own "get back up" plan, we've come up with a checklist of the top five things you can do to prepare for an ill-timed issue.

1. Monitoring

How will you know when things break? Using a tool like Server Density — which combines availability monitoring from locations around the world with internal server metrics like disk usage, Apache and MySQL — means that you can be alerted if your site goes down, and have the data to find out why.

Surprisingly, the most common problems we see are some that are the easiest to fix. One problem that happens all too often is when a customer simply runs out of disk space in a volume! If you've ever had it happen to you, you know that running out of space will break things in strange ways — whether it prevents the database from accepting writes or fails to store web sessions on disk. By doing something as simple as setting an alert to monitor used disk space for all important volumes (not just root) at around 75%, you'll have proactive visibility into your server to avoid hitting volume capacity.

Additionally, you should define triggers for unusual values that will set off a red flag for you. For example, if your Apache requests per second suddenly drop significantly, that change could indicate a problem somewhere else in your infrastructure, and if you're not monitoring those indirect triggers, you may not learn about those other problems as quickly as you'd like. Find measurable direct and indirect relationships that can give you this kind of early warning, and find a way to measure them and alert yourself when something changes.

2. Dealing with Alerts

It's no good having alerts sent to someone who isn't responding (or who can't at a given time). Using a service like Pagerduty allows you to define on-call rotations for different types of alerts. Nobody wants to be on-call every hour of every day, so differentiating and channeling alerts in an automated way could save you a lot of hassle. Another huge benefit of a platform like Pagerduty is that it also handles escalations: If the first contact in the path doesn't wake up or is out of service, someone else gets notified quickly.

3. Tracking Incidents

Whether you're the only person responsible or you have a team of engineers, you'll want to track the status of alerts/issues, particularly if they require escalation to different vendors. If an incident lasts a long time, you'll want to be able to hand it off to another person in your organization with all of the information they need. By tracking incidents with detailed notes information, you can avoid fatigue and prevent unnecessary repetition of troubleshooting steps.

We use JIRA for this because it allows you to define workflows an issue can progress along as you work on it. It also includes easy access to custom fields (e.g. specifying a vendor ticket ID) and can be assigned to different people.

4. Understanding What Happened

After you have received an alert, acknowledged it and started tracking the incident, it's time to start investigating. Often, this involves looking at logs, and if you only have one or two servers, it's relatively easy, but as soon as you add more, the process can get exponentially more difficult.

We recommend piping them all into a log search tool like (fellow Tech Partners Marketplace participant) Papertrail or Loggly. Those platforms afford you access to all of your logs from a single interface with the ability to see incoming lines in real-time or the functionality to search back to when the incident began (since you've clearly monitored and tracked all of that information in the first three steps).

5. Getting Access to Your Servers

If you're traveling internationally, access to the Internet via a free hotspot like the ones you find in Starbucks isn't always possible. It's always a great idea to order a portable 3G hotspot in advance of a trip. You can usually pick one up from the airport to get basic Internet access without paying ridiculous roaming charges. Once you have your connection, the next step is to make sure you can access your servers.

Both iPhone and Android have SSH and remote desktop apps available which allow you to quickly log into your servers to fix easy problems. Having those tools often saves a lot of time if you don't have access to your laptop, but they also introduce a security concern: If you open server logins to the world so you can login from the dynamic IPs that change when you use mobile connectivity, then it's worth considering a multi-factor authentication layer. We use Duo Security for several reasons, with one major differentiator being the modules they have available for all major server operating systems to lock down our logins even further.

You're never going to escape the reality of system administration: If your server has a problem, you need to fix it. What you can get away from is the uncertainty of not having a clearly defined process for responding to issues when they arise.

-David Mytton, ServerDensity

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
July 19, 2012

The Human Element of SoftLayer - DAL05 DC Operations

One of the founding principles of SoftLayer is automation. Automation has enabled this company to provide our customers with a world class experience, and it enables employees to provide excellent service. It allows us to quickly deploy a variety of solutions at the click of a button, and it guarantees consistency in the products that we deliver. Automation isn't the whole story, though. The human element plays a huge role in SoftLayer's success.

As a Site Manager for the corporate facility, I thought I could share a unique perspective when it comes to what that human element looks like, specifically through the lens of the Server Build Team's responsibilities. You recently heard how my colleague, Broc Chalker, became an SBT, and so I wanted take it a step further by providing a high-level breakdown of how the Server Build Team enables SoftLayer to keep up with the operational demands of a rapidly growing, global infrastructure provider.

The Server Build Team is responsible for filling all of the beautiful data center environments you see in pictures and videos of SoftLayer facilities. Every day, they are in the DC, building out new rows for inventory. It sounds pretty simple, but it's actually a pretty involved process. When it comes to prepping new rows, our primary focus is redundancy (for power, cooling and network). Each rack is powered by dual power sources, four switches in a stacked configuration (two public network, two private network), and an additional switch that provides KVM access to the server. To make it possible to fill the rack with servers, we also have to make sure it's organized well, and that takes a lot of time. Just watch the video of the Go Live Crew cabling a server rack in SJC01, and you can see how time- and labor-intensive the process is. And if there are any mistakes or if the cables don't look clean, we'll cut all the ties and start over again.



 

In addition to preparing servers for new orders, SBTs also handle hardware-related requests. This can involve anything from changing out components for a build, performing upgrades / maintenance on active servers, or even troubleshooting servers. Any one of these requests has to be treated with significant urgency and detail.



 

The responsibilities do not end there. Server Build Technicians also perform a walk of the facility twice per shift. During this walk, technicians check for visual alerts on the servers and do a general facility check of all SoftLayer pods. Note: Each data center facility features one or more pods or "server rooms," each built to the same specifications to support up to 5,000 servers.



 

The DAL05 facility has a total of four pods, and at the end of the build-out, we should be running 18,000-20,000 servers in this facility alone. Over the past year, we completed the build out of SR02 and SR03 (pod 2 and 3, respectively), and we're finishing the final pod (SR04) right now. We've spent countless hours building servers and monitoring operating system provisions when new orders roll in, and as our server count increases, our team has grown to continue providing the support our existing customers expect and deserve when it comes to upgrade requests and hardware-related support tickets.



 

To be successful, we have to stay ahead of the game from an operations perspective. The DAL05 crew is working hard to build out this facility's last pod (SR04), but for the sake of this blog post, I pulled everyone together for a quick photo op to introduce you to the team.

DAL05 Day / Evening Team and SBT Interns (with the remaining racks to build out in DAL05):
DAL05 DC Ops

DAL05 Overnight Server Build Technician Team:
DAL05 DC Ops

Let us know if there's ever anything we can do to help you!

-Joshua

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