executive-blog

November 20, 2009

The Art of the Apology

I wrote a blog but it got ixnayed by legal. (That should be funny because I am “legal.” At this time I shall choose to remain cryptic, but as God is my witness, I’ll publish that blog someday after X, Y, and Z happens). Now, where was I – ah, yes, a new and different blog.

Today, boys and girls, we shall talk about the art of the apology. Since we were little, we’ve been taught to say “sorry.” (Well, most of us, but maybe not he whose names starts with J and ends in O-N-E-S, but I digress again). “Little Johnny, say sorry to your sister for bonking her on the head.” And Little Johnny will usually say sorry to avoid your wrath, rather than actually being sorry for the head bonking. This is the first lesson in the art of the apology – make sure it is sincere and that you mean it. Otherwise, it is really better if you say nothing at all. Maybe wait until it can become sincere, and if it can never become sincere, go back to step one and don’t say anything at all. The Boy often gets in trouble for head bonkings and other various and sundry misdeeds committed upon The Girl. He gets sent to time-out and then is supposed to apologize to The Girl. More often than not The Boy gets extremely defiant and grunts out a “sor-ry” as belligerently as he can. This only serves to piss The Mommy off and gets The Boy in even more trouble. (Can I use that word?) The takeaway on this is that The Boy needs to say sorry like he means it, or not bother getting out of time-out until he can do so. Another example of an apology that is better left unsaid is the disingenuous-apology-that-is-really-not-an-apology apology. Example: “I’m sorry you are an idiot, but….” Go back to time-out!!

Often a simple, sincere heart-felt apology can go a long way towards diffusing a situation that might otherwise result in hurt feelings, anger, and bitterness or, in my world, lawsuits. Maybe a manager loses his/her cool with an employee in one of the many stressful situations we face on a daily basis. When the manager calms down, an apology may be the cure to a situation that might later spiral out of control and explode. Maybe you have two feuding employees – an apology by one or both parties may be all it takes to turn a situation that may have resulted in a termination or two into one in which the working relationship is restored. This might involve a situation with your co-worker, your friend, your spouse or a client. Many times what happens is that we want to be right, rather than do what’s right. A meaningful apology to a client might save a $30,000/month account, but dad gummit, you are right and the client is wrong and they are an idiot and you are not. All of that may be true, but is it worth it? Is it really, really worth it? Is it worth that account? Is it worth that friendship? Is it worth your job? Is it worth that marriage?

Here, let me practice: “Mike, I am sorry you are mean and that I implied your upbringing was nothing less than stellar…..” Alright, alright – I’ll keep practicing.

*Note: This blog was inspired by the esteemed labor and employment lawyer Michael Maslanka and one of his recent blogs at http://texaslawyer.typepad.com/work_matters/2009/10/rudeness-and-resulting-resentment-can-foster-cheating.html, which I forwarded to our managers for their digestion.

I deeply and sincerely apologize in advance for any copyright infringement or any other legal no-no’s in my blog.

Categories: 
November 18, 2009

SLeinfeld

The show about nothing that took over NBC years ago is being lived out at SoftLayer. In case you haven’t been keeping up, SoftLayer has a team called STAT and without making you sit through the gory details we use ninja tactics in our efforts to keep the churn rate low. Much like the show Seinfeld which was about everything and nothing at the same time, the STAT group does everything and nothing as well.

It has been said that the team does simply enough to stay employed and we get a little grief from just about everyone in the company but I just blame the stealthy ninja tactics for all that. We haven’t built a bed under our desks just yet but a prototype is being designed as we speak. When the products, support, and culture are so cool why would customers want to leave?

The STAT group has been around since the dawn of time (2008 to be exact!) and have many years of tradition handed down which we must use daily to complete our mission. Some of the traditions have gone away over the long journey since our inception like a loud and proud bell ring when a customer was saved. It seemed to annoy some of our non SLeinfeld co-workers. Those crazy developers said “No bell for you!” There are other traditions that have gone away over time but we continue to make more as often as possible.

Our latest episode is a pretty cool one so we will not be “jumping the shark” just yet. It is one that the industry may have never seen. If so, it is very rare and this makes the STAT team very proud. In the on-demand virtual datacenter industry, churn is defined as, “when a customer doesn’t want your services anymore!” That being said we have designated churn as a bad thing (like Elaine dancing!). A higher churn percentage is not as good as a lower one. Get the picture? From this day forward let it be said that in October 2009 the STAT team and every other person involved with SoftLayer including every employee in every department and our resellers and customers have achieved a monumental goal! The year over year churn numbers are equal in raw numbers and LOWER in percentage for the month of October. When you incorporate the sales growth into that equation this is an impressive accomplishment because typically when you add servers month after month the churn rate grows due to sheer volume. So I say to everyone involved, take a few hours today and go hit some golf balls into the ocean (except Jones), you deserve a break!

Just know that the next time the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you feel like someone is watching you or their might be someone or something lurking in the shadows and Kramer doesn’t burst through your door, don’t be frightened it is most likely just a STAT team member waiting to help you in a time of need or maybe just goofing off in a relatively close proximity to you and creating yet another day in SLeinfeld land.

RIP Seinfeld!

November 16, 2009

How Many Recovery Plans Do We Need?

Several of our bloggers have written about backups in The InnerLayer. This morning, I had an experience that makes me wonder how many recovery plans we need.

I walked out of the house to the driveway and saw that my left rear tire was flat. An enormous nail had punctured my tire right in the middle of the tread, and the slow leak deflated the tire overnight. To recover from this disaster, I needed to get my vehicle drivable and get to the Discount Tire location near my house so that they could fix the flat. Below is a log of how the recovery plans worked out.

Recovery Plan #1: Call roadside assistance. While waiting on them to change my tire, logon from home and get some work done before going to Discount Tire. I have leased four different brands of vehicles over the past 10 years, and roadside assistance was always included with the lease. So I call the 800 number and they tell me I don’t have roadside assistance. (Note to self: read the fine print on the next lease.) Result: FAIL

Recovery Plan #2: Inflate tire with can of Fix-a-Flat. I retrieved the can from my garage, followed the instructions, and when I depressed the button to fill the tire, the can was defective and the contents spewed from the top of the can rather than filling the tire. Result: FAIL

Recovery Plan #3: Use foot operated bicycle pump to inflate tire and drive to Discount Tire. I have actually done this successfully before with slow leaks like this one. It is third in priority because it is harder and more tiring than the first two options. So I go to my garage and look at where the pump is stored. It isn’t there. I scour the garage to find it. It is gone. Result: FAIL

Recovery Plan #4: Change out of office clothes into junky clothes, drag out the jack and spare and change the tire myself. This is number four in priority because it is the biggest hassle. I will spare you all the slapstick comedy of a finance guy jacking up a vehicle and changing the tire (finding the special key for the locking lug nuts was an interesting sub-plot to the whole story), so I’ll summarize and say RESULT: Success!

As a side note, I must give props to Discount Tire. Having bought tires there before, I was in their database as a customer and they fixed the flat and installed it on my vehicle for no charge. I recommend them!

All this got me to thinking about not only having backups, but having redundant recovery plans. Sure, you’ve got a recent copy of all your data – that’s great! Now, what’s your plan for restoring that data? If you have an experience like my flat tire recovery this morning, it might be a good idea to think through several ways to recover and restore the data. Our EVault offering will certainly be one good strategy.

November 13, 2009

Buenos Dias

Growing up I would consider myself an average kid. I played football and basketball outside with my brothers; we’d come home every day from school and turn on cartoons. Depending on the day it may have been power rangers or the animaniacs, rarely would we ever dare tune into PBS for entertainment. I started thinking about this as my son of 17 months is beginning to use single words and overall starting to communicate more with me, and consequently starting to want to repeat everything he hears. We were watching cartoons last Saturday morning and I noticed something strange, every cartoon appeared to be teaching him way more then I remember the cartoons of my time teaching me.

Sure there were a few of the ones I expected, but the vast majority had a lot of learning. Even the commercials had learning games and exercises mixed in. With the amount of information younger generations have these days it makes me wonder just how much my son is picking up. Is it crazy to think by four or five he will know at least one hundred words of Chinese (Ni Hao, Kai Lan), and one hundred words of Spanish (Dora the Explorer), at this rate I don’t think that’s too crazy an accomplishment as he’s learning all of this while having fun in his eyes.

Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if your child came up to you and spoke a sentence in Chinese, and you had to tell him to hold on while you “googled” what he was trying to say. Before I had a child I always said, “I am not letting my child watch cartoons, that stuff will just make him less likely to enjoy learning and other activities.” Now I not only love the idea, but it’s fun and exciting for me too since I get to learn as well. My dad was always breaking and building computers when I was a kid so naturally I picked up on that and made it into what I do today. I’m not sure what effect if any these educational shows will have on him career or otherwise but I think overall shows today are making great progress in spurring children’s hunger to learn , which is great as I will be trying to teach him his ABC’s in the coming months. I just hope he doesn’t expect me to wear a funny hat and dance with stuffed animals in the process.

Categories: 
November 11, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

I just got back in town from Las Vegas, Nevada. That town is filled with stories and you can really love it or hate it, depending on the hour (or if you are like me whether you are arriving into McCarran or departing). I had a great trip this last go around and actually made money on the tables. However, when they say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas they are really talking about your money. Never forget that the house always wins. Always. Even if you win money you’ll wind up spending it on stuff out there and perpetuating your own good time. There isn’t anything wrong with this at all. In fact I plan on coming up on the short side of the stick on both the tables and on simply spending cash when I go out that way.

I think the really interesting thing that happens when you go through “the Vegas experience” is the perceived value of a dollar. You can take it for granted that all of a sudden you are transplanted into this fantasy world that is reminiscent of Pleasure Island from the story of Pinocchio and you’ll find that you have anything and everything you could want to do, eat, drink, or experience right at your fingertips. As this begins to progress the value of a dollar plummets quickly. You start overpaying for things at a whim, tipping bigger, making bolder and even just dumber bets. I did this and I can admit that I doubled down on my 11 when the dealer was showing a 10 in blackjack. It was blind luck that I hit it and won every single time. It’s a bold and stupid bet to make, but when you are playing with house money the money doesn’t matter and it’s almost as if you are trying to give it all back. My game of choice is craps because it gives you the best odds and there is a lot of action. It’s good and bad as it can all come and go in a hurry.

I have only been to Las Vegas a handful of times, but each time there is a point where even for a second you can feel invincible – that you can’t lose. Or, that even if you do lose you won’t even care. The flight home is a completely different story. I call it the hangover flight. You may be literally hung over, but no matter what, you will start to deal with all of the actions that happened on your trip and how you will need to handle them. As soon as you touch down in your own home town things slowly start to become “real” again. Your own home can even feel somewhat foreign for a while, but you’ll quickly come to the realization that you had become a completely different person for a short time.

I have come to the conclusion that there is always risk in everything that we do. Exposing yourself to the tables of Las Vegas may carry more financial risk than your morning commute to work, but in both cases there are still risks. There are also risks that we take in setting and running a business. There are countless ways that you could be putting your business at risk without the right plan in place. From an IT perspective alone, you need to consider things like redundancy, failover, security, backups, growth, and even data loss. Knowing what is going to happen next for your business may be as likely as knowing what is going to come up on the next roll of the dice. If you know this for certain you can press your luck and come up big, but if you are not prepared you could lose everything you have on the table. It is better to be prepared.

I think of SoftLayer as the house, and remember as I said before, the house always wins. The good thing about this is that you are betting with the house. Even with this you need to bet on yourself and back up your own bet. If the bulk of your business is in your data then you need to have backups. If you absolutely need to have High Availability, then look into Clusters and Load Balancing. But remember, that you are betting with the house because SoftLayer gives you the capacity to do all of it and do it all at a very affordable price compared to trying to do it yourself and also do it without long term commitments. Long term commitments bring the most uncertainty in making moves that will positively affect your business. Imagine if a casino told you that you “had” to make 12 consecutive bets regardless of how well (or poorly) you were doing?

Coming home from Las Vegas to SoftLayer has been a very good thing and makes me thankful for where I am and what I have. There aren’t the levels of uncertainty here that are automatic with other datacenters or even other business models. SoftLayer is steady and it is very easy to get what you need here while cutting out the risk that you don’t want to deal with. SoftLayer is as much of a “sure thing” as any bet you can make!

November 9, 2009

Outstanding Tech Recognition: Destroyer Droid

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… our hero Romeo R., SoftLayer CSA was battling an endless sea of support tickets…

Ok so maybe it’s not that dramatic, but I was recently rewarded the Destroyer Droid award from our management team! In case you didn’t see the original post here it is:

http://theinnerlayer.softlayer.com/2009/outstanding-tech-recognition-droid-awards/

I’ve written two other blogs on TheInnerLayer but there was one in particular that I think brings me to where I am today, it was entitled “What it’s like to be a Datacenter Technician”. Today I am a shift lead for our Dallas Support Staff. In my previous blog I mentioned how DC techs wore several different hats (Hardware Engineer, Network Support, and System Admin) at any given time and we have to always be on our toes. Now being a Shift Lead of course, I still get to do all the fun stuff a Datacenter Tech gets to do, but now I have more focus on how to get all of the above working together and more efficiently.

Enter Destroyer Droid:

Getting more into the management side of things is an entirely different monster; you have all of your previous duties plus the duties of setting up the flow of work for the day. It’s given me an entirely different mindset on how SoftLayer works and what it takes to be successful. It can be quite the handful on some occasions, but I enjoy coming to work every day because of the challenge and the people I get to work with. I think whenever someone in a Shift Lead type of position receives an award it is a direct reflection of how the team as a whole is performing, and it wouldn’t be possible unless every single tech was on their game. If you’re reading this and your boss/manager does something similar to our recognition awards let me know in the comments!

Now if I could only get the guys to stop calling me the destroyer…

Categories: 
November 6, 2009

Think Large, Think Global!

As an executive at Softlayer, one of the things that I am amazed by is the number of unique and extremely innovative ideas that we see on a daily basis from our customers. We love the fact that these groups understand the value of what we do, while focusing their energy on their core competencies. It’s the perfect relationship for us and one that we try to cultivate and grow continuously.

One of the challenges that we face is sharing information related to the entire breadth of our service offerings in a simple and useful way. Our business model is such that the cycle from first contact to purchase decision tends to be short. Most customers typically come in with a specified set of required services. We often hear comments like “we didn’t know you offered that as well” from customers that come to us with a shopping list and take advantage of the self-service capabilities that we offer. Global load balancing, CDN, and Data Center to Data Center back-up are all examples of products that we have heard get overlooked. It’s a tough balance between over selling and allowing a tech savvy customer work his way through the waters (so to speak).

One of the other challenges that we face here is overcoming the “we don’t need that” syndrome. I look at it practically and associate it with insurance and how it’s never needed, until something occurs that it makes it a must have. In tech terms, I recently read an article on CNNMoney.com “The Tech Catastrophe you’re ignoring” that typifies this “we don’t need that syndrome”. The article encompasses the idea of back-ups for your data. There is discussion that the business of dead drive recovery globally is up staggering rates and it’s due to the lack of people backing up data on a continuous basis. We hear this loud and clear at SoftLayer when a customer would accidentally lose data that they wish they would have spent the extra few dollars a month to back up. It seems trivial post incident, but pre incident it’s one of those decisions that gets passed on quite frequently.

As mentioned, the uniqueness and innovation that lives in SoftLayer’s service offering is tremendous. As our CEO hammers home the message of think large and think global to us every day, I want to pass that message onto our customers. What you do is driving industry, innovation and all that comes along with it. We hope that the decision making process for you as a customer is driven by thinking large and thinking globally and that you take advantage of the solutions that we offer to make your work more functional, more secure, more robust, and more effective. I can’t imagine telling my boss that ‘we didn’t need that’ if it was something that we did need and it was right in front of me. I am sure many of you share that sentiment!

November 4, 2009

Exposure

Imagine this… You’ve decided to move to a new location, experience a new culture, and try new things. Let’s pretend for this particular instance that you’ve decided to take a trip to Magrathea to get away from it all. After a few weeks you start picking up a few local phrases, learn the native idiosyncrasies, and assimilate yourself into the culture of the Magratheans. Later you notice that you’ve assimilated quite well, and what used to be weird, different, and sort of scary has become second nature to you. You then can talk the talk and walk the walk.

Such is a similar case here at SL. You start, and regardless of the knowledge level coming in (I hadn’t been exposed to the web hosting industry before my tenure began here at SL), you feel a bit overwhelmed. The people, the culture and even the SLanguage is slightly different from the rest of the world. We move faster, work harder, and laugh more than the average technician. While at first glance life here at SL seems overwhelming, soon one realizes that they’re starting to get it together. Soon the pieces start to come together, and it only snowballs from there.

I’ll never forget my training. The new hardware, the IPMI, the automated provisions… it all seemed so unreal, confusing, and at times crazy. After working in depth for some time, I began to get the hang of things, and then I was able to solve more and more complex problems, and eventually teach the trainees the ways of the SLayer, and the cycle would continue. I’ve since taken on new responsibilities, and continue to learn new things every day – all through exposure. I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that regardless of how well you think you know something, nothing teaches like exposure and immersion into a particular topic.

November 2, 2009

It’s All About Perception

American cars aren’t reliable. That is what the 70’s and 80’s taught me. Up until then it was about the only choice. Enter the Datsun’s, Toyota’s and Mazda’s they were lower priced and didn’t break down as often and it wasn’t like breaking a chicken bone to turn on the blinker. Today, American cars are much more reliable and the 3 or 4 I have had in the last 10 years have had few or no problems at all. But ask anyone my age and you got it; America cars aren’t reliable. You know what they say, “perception is 9/10th’s of the law” or is that possession. Oh well.

Would you rather have an RCA Small Wonder or Flip Video device? I bet that due to the great marketing minds of the world and the type of folks that read blogs you want the Flip Video and you are now on Google trying to find out what the heck an RCA Small Wonder is. This is probably more related to marketing but even now that you have searched and you know what the Small Wonder is, which would you buy? It’s the perception that RCA is old and wasn’t and still isn’t very reliable. It’s also why Radio Shack is now just The Shack, it was time to rebrand because Radio Shack was for the “Bolt-On” generation and The Shack is for the “integrated” generation. Where is all this leading?

In a recent meeting I was asked why we sell more LAMP stack operating systems (RedHat, CentOS, Debian, Etc.) than we do Microsoft Servers and the point was made that there is still the perception that Windows in insecure and has lots of bugs. I believe Microsoft has a huge mountain to climb to rid the world of this perception whether it is true or not, much like the American auto industry. Even if they release a secure and stable product today, and they have, it would still take many years for our society to realize it. Why? Because much like RCA, Microsoft was around when technology was just starting to become cool. As Lance (our CEO) would say, “RCA and Windows NT Server came out in a time period when the people using them were in a bolt-on mentality and today’s users are fully integrated into the technological lifestyle.” What does that mean? The bolt-on generation saw things happen and had do adapt: knobs on TV’s became remotes, rotary phones became push button became cordless became bag became cellular phones, arcade games became pong became Atari became Nintendo became Wii video games, Commodore became IBM XT became clones (running Windows 3.1) became Dell (running Windows 95) became servers (running NT4.0) became the Internet (running LAMP stacks and Windows servers), and this list could go on and on. I think I need a t-shirt that says “I’m a Bolt-on”. My kids however, are fully integrated into this lifestyle and don’t realize how bad some things were in technology to get to where we are today. They wake up every day and technology is everywhere they turn. Of course technology still changes quickly and people have to adapt, but the changes aren’t as life changing as they were when technology was young. The bolt-on society is much more forgiving of mistakes with technological advances where the integrated society wants perfection. They hear on TV and the radio that Windows is insecure and had/has bugs and they want instant gratification and perfect technology. Some of the bad stigma Windows has is due to the bolt-on generation using Windows desktop software and applying those bad memories to the new Server products from Microsoft. If Vista is unstable and insecure then Server 2008 must be as well, right? Linux, on the other hand, was a server OS first and then became a desktop tool. It just didn’t get scrutinized like the Windows OS’s and since it’s desktop product isn’t as mainstream its issues are mainly low key and under the radar.

Microsoft has some challenges in the coming years and may need to take a few lessons from the American car manufacturers and “The Shack”. I believe a large separation of the desktop OS’s and the Server OS’s is needed and it all starts with rebranding the server choices. Maybe the desktop OS keeps the Windows name but change the Server Operating System to “Insert cool trendy name here” and drop Windows from it completely. This is just my opinion and I could be wrong.

This was a long read so I think I will go get in my unreliable American truck and hit the road, I am just 33,000 miles from hitting 300K!

October 30, 2009

Powered By the Internet

I recently engaged in an interesting conversation with my significant other. It went something like this:

Her: "The company made us take our facebook page down, because it wasn't official"
Me: "Really? I figured that'd be an awesome way to market your company... Create a group, invite all of your customers to join you, and advertise via facebook"
Her: ...

While the actual conversation did last a lot longer, she later made a valid point. Being well versed in the web hosting industry (as she has to deal with my barrage of nerdery on a daily basis), she mentioned that it made complete sense that a company such as SoftLayer should use the Internet, and social networking to connect the employees, customers, and fans together, pushing that envelope just a little bit further. Our whole operation, after all, is in fact powered by the internet.

We have all avenues open for social networking to help us power our business. You can look at what's going on in SoftLayer at any given moment via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, The InnerLayer... the list goes on, and surely continues to grow. It's only a matter of time until the next best thing comes around (does anyone remember MySpace, or Friendster?), I'll bet a paycheck* that we'll be quick** to jump on board.

After all, when all is said and done, there's no wrong way to market yourself. People do it all the time in their social networking profiles. They may present themselves as a party animal, a scholar, or a hard worker, but regardless, they're putting their image out for the world to see... and while it seems like a large paradigm shift for businesses, when one stops to think about it, it makes perfect sense; it's a free outlet to market yourself!

So while some companies are stuck in low gear, SoftLayer has hit the throttle, and speeding ahead, continuously braving ahead into new and interesting ideas. We'll continue to push the limits of what's acceptable to most, and use every tool to get our name on the streets.

* Comment made in jest. I will NOT bet an entire paycheck.
** I make no guarantees as to exactly how "quick" quick will be

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