executive-blog

October 8, 2008

Mulch Ado About Nothing

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to enjoy some of the cooler temperatures (yes 90 degrees in Dallas is considered a cold front in September) and take care of a little yard work. One of my tasks was cleaning up the flower beds and installing a fresh batch of mulch. At my side was my trusty, eager, and willing sidekick “Deuce”, my three year old son. When I grabbed my shiny new shovel, he ran to the garage to grab his shiny blue (plastic) shovel. There was a question for every move and every object that was foreign to him “What’s that?”, “That’s yours?”, “Where’s mine?” Is there any thing called child physics, because with my kid, for every action, there is an equal and opposite question.

Anyway, with the weeds all pulled and the shrubs all trimmed, it was time to pull out that big bag of cedar mulch. As soon as I opened the bag, Deuce opened his mouth, “What’s that?” “Mulch” I replied. He looked at the bag; looked at me; back to the bag; then back at me… He gave me a confused look of disbelief and said almost disappointedly, “That’s wood sips!” (He has a little trouble with “ch” sounds sometimes). “That’s wood sips daddy!” he said again this time raising a palm full of chips above his head to make sure I got a good look of the stuff that I had mistakenly referred to as mulch. At that point, I was reminded by my three year old of a lesson that was taught and repeated to me many times before; “Call it like you see it!”

I think a lot of individuals, organizations and companies get in their own way by trying to characterize $2 tasks with $10 words. I’ve been as guilty as everyone else, more so in my experiences as a project manager than anything else. I’ve asked for an estimate on the release of the agreed upon deliverables that I and other stakeholders have a vested interest in before when I could have easily just asked “When will you have that done for us?” There’s no room for misinterpretation there? There’s irony in the thought that part of the purpose of the project management “discipline” is to promote a common language to make it easier to engage with others involved in the project. I’m not making that up.

At SoftLayer, we have an assortment of people from various professional, geographical and personal backgrounds. Though we do have “projects” that we “manage” we try not to get caught up in volleying high dollar “project management” verbiage over cubicle walls. We can’t afford to get things lost in communication so we tend to “call it like we see it”. I encourage you to try it for yourself. The next time you’re tempted to request the outputs from the user validation activities on your project, simply ask for the test results. The next time you’re tempted to order a “Grande Drip” from Starbucks, ask for a medium coffee. And, the next time you head to your local hardware store for a day of gardening on a “not so hot” hot day, be sure to get a big bag of “wood sips!”

-DJ

Categories: 
October 6, 2008

My Take on the Financial Crisis

The Congressional debate over the infamous $700 billion bailout plan this week reminds me of what two guys down the hall in my college dorm once did. They both wanted something that they couldn’t afford – a Domino’s Pizza.

These guys colluded and ordered a large pizza – about $7.50 back in the Dark Ages of my college years. One of them presented the Domino’s driver with a check (tip included) for $8. It was a hot check and both guys knew that they didn’t have enough in both their accounts combined to pay for the pizza.

Back then, banks did not immediately process checks electronically and you could play the “float”. It took 3 or 4 days for your account to have funds disappear after you wrote a check, but when you deposited a check, the bank would immediately allow those funds to be drawn against other checks coming in. Don’t try this today, boys and girls. It’s not the same nowadays.

So, the second guy wrote a check for $8 to the first guy who waited two days and then deposited the check. Consequently, the check to Domino’s got paid to Domino’s. Then, the first guy (who wrote the check to Domino’s) had to write another check for $8 to the second guy so that his hot check to the first guy would be covered. Two days later, the second guy has to write another hot check to the first guy to cover his prior hot check to the second guy.

These guys kept covering each other’s hot checks for a couple of weeks until they got another paycheck from their part time jobs. Then one of them finally convinced the other to cough up $4 cash. At that point an $8 check was allowed to clear successfully and the original cost of the $8 pizza was effectively split between the two.

There are a lot of parallels between this story and the current credit market mess that we face. Let’s say that “Joe Homebuyer” wants a house that he can’t afford. “Bob the Broker” finds the money for Joe to buy the house and signs Joe up to a payment plan where the payments jack up to an unbearable level in three years. Then Bob the Broker sells the loan to “Riskmanager Randy” who hedges his risk and buys credit default swaps from “Issuer #1” to cover himself in case the homeowner can’t handle the unbearable payments that are coming. Then Issuer #1 buys credit default swaps from “Issuer #2“ to cover himself in case he ever has to pay Riskmanager Randy for the credit default swaps that Riskmanager Randy bought. Issuer #2 covers himself by buying credit default swaps from “Issuer #3”. Issuer #3 buys credit default swaps from “Issuer #4”. And the chain continues. And what’s worse is that all these Issuers sell far more credit default swaps than they can pay for should they all come due.

All in all, it’s like a bunch of folks getting together to cover each other’s hot checks. But rather than $8, the credit default swaps amount to something like $62 trillion. And now that Joe Homebuyer can’t make the unbearable payments, Riskmanager Randy has found that Issuer #1 can’t pay out on the credit default swaps. This has started $62 trillion worth of dominos (no pun intended) toppling and now we’re betting that $700 billion taxpayer dollars can work like the paychecks that came to the guys in the pizza scam above and stop the collapse.

I’m really glad that the hosting business model is pretty simple at its core. Provide gear, connectivity and services to customers who pay you monthly to use it. If the customers don’t pay, simply turn them off and sell it to someone who will pay. There is no need for hedging. No credit default swaps. No dominos ready to collapse.

The hosting business is certainly not without risk. We hedge electricity risk with UPS units and generators. We hedge bandwidth risk by using a portfolio of providers. But these hedges are tangible, not some nebulous financial market derivative outlined on a sheet of paper.

Bottom line: don’t stretch to get something that you know you can’t afford. Even if it’s a pizza.

-Gary

Categories: 
October 1, 2008

An Investor. A Mentor. A Friend.

In the passing of Rick Gardner, SoftLayer has lost all in one man.
He breathed life into our company and shared in our dream.
He saw opportunity where others assumed failure.
He brought clarity when we couldn’t see past ourselves.
He brought wisdom, experience and humor to the SoftLayer family.
With his wit, charm and intelligence he was an inspiration to us all.

Even in the short time that I knew him, he invoked in me a sense of passion and drive that few have been able to create.

Rick, we are devastated by your passing. But we will never lose your presence. You continue to guide us, as we fulfill every promise we made.

-@gkdog

September 30, 2008

Servers. Services. Support.

IT is a very fast paced industry where you always need to fight just to keep up. Some companies go that extra mile in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve. In my time here at SoftLayer, I can say I have never once been bored. There is always something to keep your interest, some new innovation that needs to be looked at. Three of the aspects of this that have a drastic effect on the industry as a whole are the servers that we can provide, services to use on those servers and finally support for both.

We are always looking to provide the best possible hardware to our customers. Every time we evaluate a new piece of hardware, we run it through the gauntlet. “Will this hardware work with our system, what kind of driver support does it have, and most important is it going to be an improvement for customers?” Once it’s decided that a new piece of hardware would be an improvement the real testing begins. Everything is thrown at the hardware to ensure it meet our high standards. The latest and greatest isn’t rushed into production; we want to be sure that it really does perform to our standards in the real world and not just on paper.

Having all this hardware is great, but you need to have some innovative services for the customer to go along with it. SoftLayer really has shined in this area. There are so many different services available, there is no way I could even start to list them all. The portal alone offers more server control than anyone else in the industry. Our provisioning system can provide a server in a matter of hours and not days and with tools such as StorageLayer, RescueLayer and the Portal you can perform complete disaster recovery remotely! You can even reboot your server remotely via a cell phone while you’re on vacation without having to open a single ticket or talking to a single person.

When you have all these great services, you need to back them up with great support. Here at SoftLayer we have just that. On top of our ever growing KnowledgeLayer, we have fast and efficient ticket and phone support. Within minutes of opening a ticket, a technician has already read it and is already looking into your issue. We don’t have those pesky call queues you sit in for hours just to get a human voice, you call support and the phone is immediately picked up by a skilled technician ready to address your every issue. Unlike many places I have worked, the NOC is not a dead quiet room with people staring at computers screens. The NOC is constantly active. Our support team is just that, a team. They are constantly working together to find solutions to any number of problems.

I can’t even express how much of an honor it is to work at SoftLayer. Every day you come into the office wondering what great innovation we have next for our customers. At the end of the day, I can go home knowing that we are providing the best hardware, the best services and the best support to our customers.

-Mathew

September 28, 2008

The Great Debate: SLackers

At SoftLayer we have long been calling each other names (TRUST ME!). There are two that we tend to greet each other with as we walk the halls. You can either throw out “SLacker” or “SLayer”. Why you ask?

If you are an avid fan of all things SoftLayer, the Facebook page, the forums, and The Innerlayer, then by now you have heard the term SLales. We have lots of “SL” terminology here. There is the SLiki, the support wiki, there is the fantasy football league run by operations called SLoperations and the not as popular SLupport team (SLupport is a tongue twister it seems). So along those lines both terms seem to fit nicely.

When I started this blog I decided that I would ask around to see what everyone preferred and you would be amazed, it is about 50/50. The most interesting part is the loud and proud way you receive the response and it is often accompanied by the VFB, an elbow or maybe by the person “throwing three bars”!

Three Bars

I do have to point out that HR gave the canned “no comment” answer, so I will leave it at that, HR is always so professional. So let’s begin the debate and dive into the differences in a two part series. Today we will discuss the SLackers.

Every company has their fair share of Slackers but at SoftLayer we have SLackers! The difference you ask? SLackers are everything SoftLayer. They eat and breathe SoftLayer. They are SLackers to the core. They love to work hard, drink caffeine, work a little more, and play around at the office quite a bit. I would dare say that if you visited our offices or our data centers today you would see more smiles than you have in a while. They crack jokes, and make fun of each other, they blog about each other and the goofiness that they get themselves into and it makes work seem like play. They do that and at the same time respect each other and understand that they are surrounded by some of the best and brightest in this industry and in each individual department as well. They do all of this SLacking for you, the customer!

If you have seen the movie Slackers then take the passion those characters had for slacking off and their passion for beating the system, reverse it, and then apply it to 100% customer satisfaction and you will begin to understand how much they love to SLack! Everything they do is for the customer. If you ever feel like they have done something in error please let any one of them know however you can and they will do their best to take care of you with the utmost SLack.

Our culture might be the coolest around and the best part is we don’t have to talk about it, have endless meetings about it, advertise it, and beg people to drink the SLacker punch like some companies, it just happens. We have fun. We work hard. And we SLack off as much as we can for every customer. You can tell by my blogs that I am one of them; a Red and Black blooded SLacker and I am very proud of that fact.

It is now time for me to quit goofing off writing blogs and get back to SLackin! Next up, The SLayers!

-Skinman

Categories: 
September 26, 2008

Browser Wars III

With the recent releases of Google's Chrome (Sept 2), Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 (Aug 28), Mozilla's Firefox 3 (June 17), not to mention all the legacy browsers many of which are still in use. If you are not a web developer, you are probably thinking why should I care what web browser people are using? Believe me you should, the majority of SoftLayer’s customers run a business and with that have a website which must be displayed on, you guessed it, a web browser.

1. Layout/Rendering Engine
This could be one of the biggest differences between the browsers, a layout/rendering engine is what the browser uses to parse the html and display your web pages. Although there are numerous specifications for various types of content (HTML, XHTML, images, etc..) each of the engines seem to render it slightly different based on their interpretation of the specification documents.

But don’t take my word for it go check the ACID website or the screenshots of the ACID tests in different web browsers.

2. Your Privacy
Most of the front runners in the browser wars are sending your usage and machine specifications back to the mother ship. What they are doing with the information once they get it, who knows. But, with Google being the front runner in search and ads, with the addition of Google Chrome, they pretty much can monitor all web usage for anyone using their product. Please get out the tin foil hats now ☺

3. Usage / Front Runner
Based off most of the statistics I have seen IE 6, IE 7, Firefox 2, Firefox 3 are the front runners, with a few stragglers using Safari and Opera. But I bet things will be changing and Chrome will be coming up in usage ranks over the next few months as well as IE 8 once it is released from Beta.

At SoftLayer we test on all the major front runners in the browser wars for our web presence. I will be grabbing the popcorn and watching the show, things are about to get hectic in this area. Whether it is good or bad; users are getting more options in the browser market.

-Dorian

Categories: 
September 24, 2008

Fantasy Football

Football season is BACK!!! I know that not all of our customers really care or keep up with what is going on in the National Football League…. But I DO!  Along with this comes the hobby/obsession with Fantasy Football.  I will admit that I myself am a fantasy junkie, a nerd, but also a king.  While I am not very involved in the MySpace community and only slightly in the LinkedIn community I am proud to be a member of the vast and consistently growing FFL community. 

(Note: you can check out our SL Facebook world at http://www.facebook.com/SoftLayer

We have been able to form an office Fantasy Football League that consists of Accounting, Development, Marketing, and SLales staff are all involved.  We have called the league the Fantasy Layer, and many of us have our teams named after characters or minor points from the movie “Office Space”.  Characters like Milton, Lumbergh, and Lawrence (the guy who lives next door that you can hear through the wall) to simple things like the red swingline stapler and the fax machine that never works are all involved in some pretty creative team names.

60% of our league has never played before and this is their first crack at it ever.  Even though we are only one week into the season there has already been a lot of entertainment based on the name of our league alone.  If I can help it there may be a good deal of trash talk coming very soon.

Like with most internet communities you can put endless amounts of time into fantasy football leagues, or very little.  I have put a good deal of my off time into researching the teams I have put together this year and I feel confident about them.  Even more rewarding is that the efforts I have made are not only to my benefit, but Michael Miller has directly made use of my research and through him even my own Vice President (Steven Canale) was able to benefit second hand.  I am happy to say that we have all gotten off on the right foot and are dominating our leagues so far.  

Note: When I say dominating I don’t mind beating my chest a little bit in telling the rest of my league that “This is the greatest team ever assembled, and I will teach you the meaning of the word Fear”.

And now coming back down to earth…

Fantasy Football is completely hit or miss.  I get it.  I used to be a complete cynic before seeing the light by getting involved.  Still even though this type of thing isn’t for everyone (nor is it meant to be) it is a good example of how the internet has grown in the past couple of years.  The internet and internet based communities have moved beyond the realm of the stereotypical geeks and created entire new geek realms bringing us all closer together.  For some, these types of on line communities are the only reason that they even log on to the internet or have any reason to associate with it.  The thing that seems to continually tie new people into the fold are the common interests and sharing of information.  I know that if we continue to share what we have found in our own experiences we will continue to attract more people to be a part of what we are involved in ourselves. 

I encourage everyone to share and invite new people to be a part of what they already know and involved in, but for now I am just looking forward to Week 2 of the NFL season.

-Doug

Categories: 
September 22, 2008

Yikes!

For starters, let me say that if you were affected by IKE my thoughts are with you as you try to cleanup and get life back to as close to normal as possible. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to be away from home and work and not know what lies ahead or even be allowed back to see the damage.

A few friends of mine live in the area surrounding Houston and I have heard from them that they still don’t have power and gas is hard to come by. It sure makes me understand what I take for granted every day. Even with short power outages at my house due to spring storms I find myself opening the microwave and then realizing that my burrito isn’t going to be very warm when I think it is done.

This particular blog came to me when I emailed one of my friends in far north Houston at his work email address. He works for a company that is also located in north Houston. After no response I decided to call him to get an update but ended up leaving a message. Before he called me back that evening my email to his work bounced. When I did talk to him I asked him a simple question, “are your company’s servers sitting in a closet onsite at your office?” He responded with what I already knew, “Yep!” Now, he is a national account manager and he has been meeting at his boss’s house this week to go over what they will need to do once things are back to normal. I asked him if it would help them if they could still receive emails from their customers and if they could post updates on their website if it was still up and running. He of course said, “Yep!”

So here is my plea to all you savvy IT gurus out in the world. Outsource it! Then you don’t take the brunt force of the storm when everything is down. Your servers, whether or not you are still receiving email, and whether your website is still up and running will probably and should probably be the last things on your mind when a disaster like IKE strikes. Leave that part to us.

-Skinman

September 17, 2008

I Need Help, STAT!

I am sure everyone can remember the overwhelming feeling of getting their first server. The SoftLayer family recognizes that this can be a very discouraging time, thus we created a group of technical wizards who have the very specific goal of assisting newer clients who are in the process of learning how to use the tools provided by SoftLayer.

Have you ever wished you could copy data to your server without bandwidth concerns, or wondered how to reboot a server that is no longer responding? Ever wonder what the RescueLayer is and who it rescues? What is NAS, iSCSI, a firewall, how do I load balance? What is the CDNLayer and how can it help me? These are just a few of things we can help you better understand. This will allow you the leisure to ponder the ways to make your server more profitable. No more wasting time creating support tickets when you can do it yourself fast and easy. We can show you how. Here is a little more about the team:

What do we do for fun - Our hobbies include Aviation, Camping, Music, and Automotive Engineering. Some like the outdoors, golf, Karate, poker, etc and some spend their off hours with the family and kids. Smarts - The technical abilities in the group range from Automation to Xen and everything in between including disaster recovery, portal and backend database design, server administration, load balancing, hosting in general (the what to do’s and what not to do’s), ASP and PHP development, developing online collaborations sites, MMO gaming, and LAMP stacks to Windows. We try to be as well rounded as we can. The group has years and years of experience in the hosting, internet, ISP, and system administration arena and we are here and ready to help.

We are STAT! The SoftLayer Technical Assurance Team, pleasure to meet you. How can we help?

-John

September 10, 2008

Help! My Server Blocked Me!

Ok, the title of this blog may sound funny but you would be surprised how many phone calls I get about that very subject. Sure it’s not that specific case every time, sometimes it’s a software issue, other times hardware. But in the end not being able to access your server is the worst feeling in the world.

Enter KVM over IP. (Also known as Keyboard-Video-Mouse)

Yes boys and girls, this wonderful feature provided on all mid to high-performance multi-core servers can be your best friend in a time of need. While on a routine support call, a customer of mine stated the server was blocking not only himself but a lot of his customers. I kept a level head and told him it was no problem. He paused for a moment then let me know just how big a deal it was, while he was explaining I promptly used the KVM to login to his server and shutdown the firewall. All of a sudden he stopped talking and said “It’s working!”, “What did you do?” I explained to him how KVM works just as if you were hooking up a console to your server, and can be used even if your public Ethernet cable is unplugged. I went on to show him where it was in his home portal and how all of this was given to him for free. Also I explained the issue had been fixed from my desk without ever having access to either the public or private ports on his server. The customer had never heard of such a feature and was amazed at how easy it was to use.

The beauty of KVM over IP is it removes the one thing many server owners dread, not being able to be in the data center when issues arise with their standard connection methods (RDP, SSH). With KVM over IP we are giving the customer a solution to that problem. Via KVM you can login to the management interface card, which in most cases resides on an entirely different network, and within seconds you will have access to your terminal as if you were standing right there in the datacenter!!! Not only can you connect to your server, you can manually power it on/off and also reboot your server all within the same management screen. Beyond server access you can monitor temperature readings as well as fan speeds in the server. The KVM card is a HUGE tool in any Softlayer customers’ toolbox and one that we in the Operations Team use often.

Here at Softlayer we are always thinking about how to make your business easier to run, whether it be implementing global services such as CDN, or making sure our customers have basic access to their server in the event of a crisis. Since starting my career here at Softlayer and learning of the KVM feature I’ve made it a point to inform the customer of the KVM interface along with all features that are offered to them (and believe me they never stop coming!) so be sure and check our announcements page because you never know what we will come out with next!

-Romeo

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