executive-blog

February 8, 2010

Droid Power!

After purchasing my new Droid phone, I started to dive further into its uses. I initially liked the open source operating system (Google’s Android OS) and the features available. Now I have found that I can do almost anything with this ‘pocket computer’, from work to play.

I’m sure the iPhone fans are saying ‘yeah my phone does that’, but I didn’t buy an iPhone for a reason. I can do all the regular stuff, find a restaurant or movie without even opening Google. I can play games, update facebook, take pictures and post them online or email, etc. etc. etc.

Can you talk to your phone? Let’s say I need to find a product for my home computer:

Me: Droid, locate ‘firewire card Dallas’.

Droid: Micro Warehouse, Phone Number, Address – Would you like to call? Do you need driving directions with GPS tracking?

Me: Dial for me please. ‘Do you guys carry firewire cards for…..blahblah.’

When I get into the store, the guy doesn’t know if the firewire card has windows 7 drivers. Hmm… Droid scans the barcode and takes me to the manufacturer’s product page where I can see that drivers are downloadable. Thanks Droid!

I can connect to a VPN, RDP to my workstation or SSH to my server! I can write text messages with my voice, read emails while talking on the phone, even translate by voice into other languages (never getting lost in Spain again)! I still have so much to learn about the abilities of this device, but it does point to our ‘futuristic’ intentions in having a computer in our palm that allows us to interact with the world.

Oops, did I forget to turn off the coffee pot at home? ‘Droid….?’ I don’t think they are on speaking terms yet. I’ll have to get the coffee maker control application. Droid says no results…

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February 3, 2010

Custom Server Solutions

The other day I was at a well known coffee shop (take a wild guess) and was steamrolled by all of the marketing hype. Try this! Take one of these home! Only for a limited time! Often the presentation of too many options makes the decision a lot more difficult. I know it’s just coffee or tea but now I have the sudden urge to collect them all! And despite years of caffeine conditioning I don’t think my heart, stomach, or my bank account could take a collecting and consuming of all. I’m looking for something different this time, but again, too many options. The next logical step is asking the Barista what their favorite is. I figure they spend their entire workday around the stuff; they MUST have a good recommendation. All I was really looking for here was a “get this” and call it good. Only after I asked, did I remember that most people who frequent this caliber of coffee joint are really particular about their coffee. I, however, am not one of the ¼ soy milk, ¼ cream, no froth, low-fat, exactly 1723 crystals of sugar type of people, so I’m not really prepared for what comes next. Instead of a one-size-fits-all answer, I’m getting a barrage of questions about my preferences. While this was not really what I was after, it hit me that this Barista is building me a solution. I did, in fact, leave with a tasty seasonal coffee, custom tailored to my needs. Servers are a lot like coffee, they rely on gratuitous amounts of caffeine to be any good; that and, there is usually never a generic solution that is going to suit your needs. The sales team at SoftLayer is not there solely to assist you in placing an order for you; they are there to ask you questions about your intentions with the server so they can recommend the best possible solution. You can have your low-fat CentOS with a double-shot of 5570’s with “venti” gigs of ram. Just ask our sales team to brew you up a solution.

February 1, 2010

Fuel!

Fuel!

Ask anyone here on our staff, and they’ll tell you a few things about their position:

  1. It’s never boring
  2. It can be quite demanding
  3. We’re never technically “off duty”

That being said, we all need our fuel to keep us going at warp speed. Luckily at the NOC we’re lucky enough to have a fully stocked break room with all sorts of odds and ends to keep us going when the energy levels get low. Allow me to show a few of my personal favorites:

  1. Chocolate Covered Raisins
    These little buggers are great when you’re running like mad and just need a quick snack. You can scoop up a good cupful and keep them at the desk for the remainder of your shift. You can take a little detour to grab a couple while en route to your destination. You can also trick yourself into thinking that they’re healthy since they have raisins in them.
  2. Doritos
    These have made a reliable meal substitute on multiple occasions. A few bags of these can trick your hunger pains and quiet the ache for a few until you can grab an actual meal (not always a guarantee).
  3. Coffee
    Any fan of caffeine knows why I’m adding this. It’s often the first thing ingested at the start of the day, and is famous for its energy-inducing properties. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny the eye-opening effects of this one.
  4. Dr Pepper
    My second favorite carbonated beverage provided here. A quick drink and a quick pick me up.

And for my favorite:

RedBull!

Much like many of the techs here, I have a clinical addiction to caffeine. Caffeine is the lifeblood of the NOC and keeps us working at top speed and form. To date, I have found no quicker delivery of this than through the 8.2 ounce can of this elixir.

And there you have it. These are the snacks and beverages provided that keep me going. And while it’s no health food store, it certainly spikes the blood sugar or caffeine levels enough to sustain a happy and proficient technician through the long night hours.

January 29, 2010

Security and Plan B

Security is not a thing to be taken lightly. Think about the information that is stored on your server; think about how many months or years worth of data is stored in your databases. Your account information holds a master key to all of this data on your server. This is the very reason this information is protected so closely by the SoftLayer staff.

All companies work very hard to make sure that their products and services are as easy to use as possible. While on the other hand, security works as hard as possible to, seemingly, make the product or service difficult to use. While it is never our intention to make any service difficult to use, it is our intention to make them secure. This is the very reason why, when we are presented with any questions via phone that are sensitive to the operation of your server or account we ask the inconvenient questions to make sure the person on the other end of the phone line is authorized to make the requested changes to the account or the server.

Up to this point this article has not been as light hearted as I had originally intended, but it’s all about being prepared. The point is, everyone deserves a vacation at some point or another (or believes they do), and according to Murphy’s Law, something will inevitably occur that requires immediate attention. When you’re enjoying that time on the beach, your mind a million miles from bits and bytes, and you miles from anything that can be used to properly manage your server or your account an issue can occur.

While you are out, have you made proper provisions to ensure someone can manage your hardware in your place? Your staff may have the passwords for the servers, IP addresses, and may be able to drop your name; but, I assure you this is not enough information for the SoftLayer support staff to submit a ticket, reboot, or log into your server on your behalf. Have you made sure that in a panic situation someone will be able to provide us with the answers to the security questions on the phone? Are you sure whoever is left in charge has been given the proper permissions in our management portal? Making sure these points have been thoroughly covered prior to your vacation, or even leaving for the day, will help you minimize risk while maximizing your beach vacation.

January 25, 2010

Convenience Kills?

Have you seen the new Brita commercials that have the girl running on the treadmill? The tag line says something like, “1 hour on the treadmill.” Then a new tagline appears right above a store bought water bottle and says, “in the landfill for life.” That is a telling commercial. Convenience kills our planet. Before bottled water we grabbed a glass or plastic cup, filled it up and drank it, washed it, then rinsed and repeated it. Nothing went to the landfill. Even further back, and I barely remember this one, my grandfather would walk my brother and I over to a tiny little drug store close to his house; and, we could get a Dr. Pepper from a soda fountain in a glass soda cup and drink it and leave the glass behind for the next customer. You got it—nothing in the landfill. The same goes for coffee now. Cup after cup from a drive through window and where do the cups go? The landfill. In the past, you had a mug to use again and again. Cell phones? Why, yes! They are culprits too. We used to simply use a wall phone and not have to worry about upgrading it every 2 years and getting a new battery once a year. We now fill landfills with phones, chargers, and wasted batteries. If you look closely at everything I have mentioned so far, they are all designed to make our lives more and more convenient.

 

With so many people using convenient things today, we at SoftLayer do the best we can to make things very convenient but also do our part for the globe. We only print things on paper when absolutely necessary. Not only do we save a tree, but it is much more secure. Everyone recently received a plastic cup with the SoftLayer logo on it for water or tea. We can use these instead of using so many disposable plastic cups. We have recycle bins in each break room for the recyclables; and, as we have stated in many blogs, we have contracts in place with recycling shops for the extra server packaging we receive with new shipments. We do our best to stick to the 3 R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle.

So how does SoftLayer continue making our service so convenient without being wasteful? I am glad you asked! Instead of going out and buying home servers, or desktop servers—which seems to be the newest craze—and then having to throw away all the unused documentation and un-used packing materials, we simply choose to team up with Supermicro. They are a server manufacturer that listens to their customers needs and provides solutions as well as design flexibility, rapid order fulfillment, and superior quality. We are no longer relegated to do what the other server manufacturers force on other customers. This gives us the freedom of convenience while still being green. Does it make our competitors green with envy? Sure it does. That is why there are lower price points offered in the hosting market by our competitors still using workstations, desktop and home servers instead of enterprise class, high efficiency, and low power consuming servers. The efficiency of our servers allows us to have very dense server rooms with a smaller footprint, which saves on power consumption for cooling as well. Last but not least, by using rack mount servers instead of towers, Supermicro has worked with us to reduce the packing materials by 80%—resulting in an eight pound reduction in the total weight of each server.

At SoftLayer we take pride in making convenient, green IT; and with Supermicro as a great partner, we continue to do just that.

January 22, 2010

A Little History Lesson and Reflection

In this industry, it seems very easy to get in the rut of looking forward without stopping to take the time and look back. Whether it is a project deadline or just planning for the future, past accomplishments sometimes get lost in the day to day workload. I remember back on January 23rd of 2006—exactly four years ago tomorrow—when we opened the doors. We had 17 employees and around 1,000 servers in our one and only Dallas server room. With just 17 employees you can imagine we wore many hats, and I will not miss or take for granted prepping racks such as putting cage nuts or rails in ever again.
From our humble beginnings, things grew at a rapid pace to say the least. Over the last four years, we have grown to 175 employees, 25,000+ servers spanning facilities in Dallas, Seattle, and Washington D.C. and just recently passed $100 million annualized run rate mark. Not too shabby for four years, if I do say so myself.
The product and service offering have grown at an astounding pace as well. Thanks in part, I think, to our API—launched publicly in May of 2007. Was that over two years ago? It seems like yesterday. On top of that, there have been too many individual products to list here. Some highlights would fall into the areas of: CloudLayer, StorageLayer, backup solutions, and security solutions—just to name a few!
Looking forward I think 2010 is going to be a big year for SoftLayer, not that the past years haven’t been. I cannot get into any details; but, as usual there are big plans on the horizon, and you know we aren’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. Looking back, it has been a packed and crazy four years, but I would not trade it for anything.

January 21, 2010

2010 PCI Compliance and You

I know you already know everything about PCI compliance, especially the if’s, and’s, and but’s that go along with it. But, just in case you forgot, here it is in a nutshell.
Is PCI compliance a Federal law? Nope! Not yet anyway. Some states do make it a crime to let credit card data “be” stolen.
What is PCI? It is actually PCI DSS and it stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard.
Who needs it? Anyone that accepts, transmits, or stores ANY credit card data.
Are there different levels? Yes, I am glad you asked.

  • Level 4 – Any merchant processing fewer than 20,000 credit card e-commerce transactions in a 12 month period
  • Level 3 – 20,000 up to 1 Million transactions
  • Level 2 – 1 Million up to 6 Million
  • Level 1 – 6 million + (or any merchant that Visa feels should meet level 1 to minimize risks) This is what we are all striving for, right?

Who cares if you are PCI compliant? For starters, YOU should! And secondly, your merchant bank will care. They will care more the larger you get. See minimize risks statement above.
Since it isn’t a federal law should I risk it, because I know my security and I am impenetrable? I wouldn’t take that risk because you can still pay fines, card replacement costs, and pay for forensic audits, etc if someone were to get in and steal data.
How can SoftLayer help? For starters and a quick level 4 fix you can go here and get free scanning on a single IP. Combine that with a “quick” questionnaire about your physical and data security policies and voila, no onsite visit needed and you are now PCI Level 4. Mcafee can help you with you higher level compliance if you would like. Don’t take the questionnaire too lightly because remember you do care about PCI!
Ok so if you have made it this far then you must like boring reading. Go read this. It might come in handy someday. It is the “do this if you get hacked” cheat sheet.
On to 2010! MasterCard stepped up in 2009 and stated that even their Level 2 merchants had to have an onsite QSA assessment by December 31, 2010. That has now been pushed to June 30, 2011. There seems to be some confusion from the other Credit Card companies and they didn’t all jump on board. One thing that they did all agree on is that you can’t put credit card info on WEP secured wireless at all after July 2010. Just don’t do it! And don’t use old un-patched payment applications because they are insecure and will not be allowed after July as well.
This could all change just like Texas weather. If you don’t like the new rules, then just wait a couple of days and they may change it more to your liking. There are still a few things they are looking at going forward that I will let you in on and then I assure you I will stop typing. PCI 1.2 is still about stopping hackers from getting in, there is a new interest in the community on addressing “internal” hackers. The current focus of PCI is aimed at card data “after” authorization but doesn’t say much about card data that is kept prior to authorization, so you can bet that will be added soon too and of course cloud infrastructure and card data has to be on everyone’s radar screen soon.

January 20, 2010

Hosting for Haiti

SoftLayer is joining the online project Hosting for Haiti in an effort to raise awareness and funding for the American Red Cross. The earthquakes in Haiti on January 12 and the resulting aftershocks have left the country devastated.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to providing emergency relief and recovery to help those affected by the disaster.

This project is a joint effort between hosting providers like ourselves. Peer1 Hosting, GoGrid, The Planet, ServInt, and Rackspace are all involved in helping with donations and spreading awareness. If you would like to get involved, follow the info link at http://hostingforhaiti.com/.

Follow on Twitter: @hostingforhaiti or use the hashtag #hostingforhaiti.

January 20, 2010

Mexican Food vs. On Demand Infrastructure

My friend Ric Moseley has an interesting theory regarding Mexican food. He claims that all Mexican food has the same basic major components, each dish just stacks the components up in different ways. The major components are tortillas, meat and sauce. Of course there are a couple of different ways to prepare each of these components, but in the end, it really boils down to tortillas, meat and sauce. This applies to just about every main-line dish you find on the menu at any number of the local Tex-Mex restaurants. Crispy tacos, soft tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, fajitas, nachos, quesadillas, flautas, tamales (well almost)... Add more here... I'm going to stop myself before I start sounding like Benjamin "Bubba" Bufford-Blue from Forrest Gump, but you get the idea. By no means am I knocking the combined assembly. Quite the opposite; I'm a huge fan! When it comes down to it, I appreciate the creativity that is involved in putting these ingredients together in such a manner that the finished combination is far greater than the sum of its parts.

And that kind of leads me back to what SoftLayer brings to the table, so to speak. SoftLayer provides all sorts of components for the modern enterprise. Plenty of folks use them as is, heck who doesn't enjoy a warm fresh tortilla with a pad of butter. However, for many people, it’s just an appetizer. The real satisfaction is from the combination of the united components when that steaming plate of enchiladas arrives. One of the great satisfactions of my job is seeing how our customers roll up our components in new and creative ways. The array of application deployments that are hosted by SoftLayer is entirely staggering. Let me throw on my digital chef hat for a minute. Start with a private network database, add public network servers, mix in some cloud computing for quick scalability, and wrap it all in a load balancer. Que bueno! That's some good cooking, and this chef is off to the margarita machine!

January 18, 2010

Maintnenance FTW

I am a bit of an automotive enthusiast, so when I'm not working, I do spend a fair amount of time browsing automotive websites. I, like many people in the hosting industry, crave information. I like hearing about new design directions, emerging technologies, and past stories about others' experiences with their vehicles. While browsing, I came across some images of the guts of a BMW that had gone in excess of 60 thousand miles without an engine oil change. Needless to say, the internals were slathered with a gummy sludge and the engine was ruined.

Many technologies we use these days have become so common place and are operationally intuitive enough that we are often able to figure them out and use them without ever having to crack open an owner’s manual. I bring this up because, many technologies in the hosting industry follow suit. There are a number of developers who create software that is designed to make it easy to host websites. They are marketed as the only solution you ever need and, in some cases, imply that all you need to know is how to use a web browser to successfully host websites, not only for oneself but a plethora of other clients too! The servers run themselves, and you only need to spend a few minutes setting your clients up! It's like free money!

Unfortunately, as the owner of the previously mentioned BMW found out, this is not the case. There are a lot more things going on behind the scenes than just seats and a steering wheel, as are the same with servers. On occasion, we receive support tickets that just say "the site stopped working." In an attempt to gather more information, we will often ask the client a wide range of questions that help us find the problem faster and come up with the best possible solution. However, sometimes the answer from the customer is, "I haven't touched or logged into the server in days/ months/ (hopefully not) years." The more relevant metaphor for this is, "I haven't changed my BMW's oil in years!" Servers are like any other complex machine. They require constant maintenance. This includes: updating anti-virus definitions, monitoring bandwidth usage for anomalous spikes, rotating logs out if they are getting too large (provided some other rotation scheme is not already in place), keeping an eye on disk space usage, and creating a disaster recovery plan and backups. So take some time, get to know your server, and familiarize yourself with good preventative maintenance techniques. Your server, your clients, and your BMW (if applicable) will love you for it.

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