executive-blog

August 24, 2008

Inventory Envy

Before coming to SoftLayer in February of 2007, I worked for a large format printing company. What does that mean you ask? We printed LARGE signage, not as large as billboards, but think about a mall and all the signs in the windows and inside the stores, this is called POP (point of purchase) and that’s what I did. I was in charge of making sure schedules were met, materials were ordered (all of them, for the entire company), maintained vendor relations (so I could get what I wanted, when I wanted it) and helped start up their online ordering system, those were a few of my jobs.

I’ve been helping out the inventory team in the Dallas DC as we are getting rid of the old and bringing in the new so to speak, saying bye-bye to the legacy servers that use up too much space and too much power. Our COO asked me for my help, knowing I had an inventory background. I had also worked with one of the inventory guys at my last location. He worked in the shipping/fulfillment department, so he was always aware of inventory levels and things like that, and was responsible for letting me know when we needed more of a particular item in his department (he always did an excellent job).

Yesterday I was putting legacy servers back to a basic config and he was scanning all parts back into the portal and back out based on the basic config. I was amazed at the system. I knew our portal for our customers was amazing, but hadn’t really delved into the inventory side of our reporting, etc. until then. We know where every single piece of hardware is in each of our facilities at any given time. Each stick of RAM, each HDD, each RAID card and the list goes on and on and on. It’s simply amazing. I joked with him saying “our old bosses would freak out if they had a real inventory set up like this, wouldn’t they?” he laughed and agreed.

I had to constantly order things last minute and over night, rush delivery because inevitably, someone would not tell me they took the last roll of vinyl, the last pallet of 20” x 40” boxes, whatever it was, it happened all the time. Taking on so many hats at my last job, I didn’t have time to readily go around and check stock all the time, I relied on each department to tell me and inevitably, it failed over and over again. I had complained for years that people could just walk off with whatever they wanted, as there was no sort of tracking system in place at all. Sure, each thing had its place, but an actual inventory count at the end of each month, reports? HAHAHAHAHA.

SoftLayer not only helps our customers every single day but they also built a system so that it would make their employees lives much easier as well. Every single aspect of this business was painstakingly thought out with the amazing team of guys and gals we have here. If a report doesn’t exist, they can make it happen, sometimes in a day, sometimes it’s not so easy, but they can do it. These guys are super heroes; I’ll let them tell you what kind of super powers they have.

-Shawna

August 22, 2008

Thoughts from the "New Guy"

Being the 'new guy' in any situation has its ups and downs. However, being the new guy at a dedicated host provider was a challenge that I embraced with open arms. My expertise is certainly wide-ranging but somewhat random so I expected quite a learning curve to supporting an environment of thousands of servers. The next 6 months would prove to be a trial by fire movie script with the best supporting cast I've ever seen.

While a jack of all trades is great when you're an Administrator/Consultant for a number of companies across a wide geographical area, it does not necessarily offer a quick route to success. I had been searching for an upgraded position with more opportunity to learn and progress. That opportunnity came on Christmas weekend in the form of an e-mail from SoftLayer Technologies.

Who are these guys? I had not been active in the dedicated host provider market, as I had always run my own servers in the past. Upon visiting the website, I soon realized that I was not dealing with a newcomer or underbudgeted attempt at market domination. The site is well organized and aesthetically pleasing, while retaining a playful obedience. I decided to take the opportunity to see what this place was all about.

Upon my arrival, I realized that the culture and policy was remarkably similar to the key aspects I had learned in my less-than-10-year IT career. Offer an industry-leading twist on a product while focusing on the customer experience. Provide every possible service and never skimp on the important things like STAFF. I found a company that had learned how to do the above, while maintaining a well-organized (almost to the point of OCD), clean (OCD reference here) and documented datacenter that I have ever visited (I've seen a few.)

The culture is one of "clock-punchers need not apply" and nerds will rule the world. The atmosphere is almost like we all own the company. Employees take personal interest in support issues and customer satisfaction. The level of knowledge around here is far-reaching and as varied as the personalities they share. I have to mention that this is the first company I have visited which values its employees enough to pay them adequately, too. They appear to hate turnover and spend a lot of time to choose the correct individuals and train them with the skills necessary to provide the best service - time and time again. I knew many of these market-dominating aspects before, but have had a snowball's chance of convincing upper management of it in the past (I won't mention company names). But with SoftLayer, they already had it all in place after a couple of years! Upper level management keeps in contact with employees on a regular basis. You can call the CEO right now and ask him what the temperature is in SR04 in Dallas, if the trash is full in SR03, or how many new racks were built in SR02 in Seattle and he could tell you. How many CEO's do you know that could tell you what is going on in 'the trenches'? That's why this company is so amazing to me.

I've been here 6 months to date, and my experience continues to expand. I share my nights (yes, I am graveyard shift) with some of the most friendly, determined, and knowledgeable people in the business and I know it. I'm just glad I was lucky enough that they found my resume, and not some other kid with a thirst for IT knowledge. Thanks SL!

-Krishen

August 20, 2008

Tell Me a Little About Yourself...

Everyone knows that the Sales team is a serious team of professionals who work well with one another, strive to break sales records, continue to help SoftLayer grow, and stand out in the industry among competition for a consistent job well done. But what lies beneath these driven individuals? There is definitely a great deal of personality and depth to our characters. There are many ways to find out about my peers (as if I didn't know each and every one of them pretty well already). But I thought a good way for you guys to get to know us, would be to find out what websites we frequent outside of work - that can say a LOT! Therefore, I have collected from each member of the sales team, their top 3 favorite websites. I think one or two of the websites each person submitted really does open a window into their personality.

Steven Canale (VP Sales): http://www.cnbc.com/, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/ and http://www.webhostingtalk.com/ - Steven is always well informed and up to date with the hosting industry, as well as the outside world and latest news. This gives you an idea of Steven's serious demeanor. Someone has to be serious, with all of the shenannigans (ahem, Douglas...) that go on around here.

Michael Miller: http://online.wsj.com/public/us and http://espn.go.com/ - These were a bit surprising, even though I know that he is obsessed with sports and money. Michael, Wall Street Journal, really? Impressive, but I cannot believe you did not include something that has to do with testosterone-fueled fighting, such as http://www.ufc.com/. Which leads me to Daniel...

Daniel Kracht: http://sherdog.com/ - Daniel loves Mixed Martial Arts, and there is never a Pay Per View fight that this guy does not order. If there is a good fight on, Party at Danny's!

Miz Mary Hall: http://www.somethingawful.com, http://icanhascheezburger.com, and http://geekologie.com – I had to include all three of Mary's because they really do say a lot about her. (Site #1) She LOVES the Fashion SWAT, and I agree you can get stuck on it for HOURS. (Site #2) Not much to say here, hilarious LOLcats all the way through. (Site #3) Geekologie used to be hedonistica.com. It’s a rolling blog of awesome toys, robots, and other techie stuff. The writers for Geekologie and The Superficial are absolutely hilarious. That brings me to mine...

Amanda Jordan: http://www.thesuperficial.com/ - I am addicted to celebrity gossip, and this is the ultimate place to go for just that, and it doesn't hurt that it is extremely funny and entertaining.

Laura Gardner: http://youtube.com/ - Also highly entertaining, you can get stuck on this site forever!

Arielle Eaton: http://www.drudgereport.com/ - A world of information at your fingertips.

Michael Laude: http://www.howstuffworks.com/ - Our "Laude" is always looking for ways to expand his mind. And where else can you find out if you will die if you consume polar bear liver?

Patrick McElmurray, Chris McCallan, Doug Jackson: http://www.softlayer.com/ - I am going to end with the most spirited three on the team. They have chosen the one and only SoftLayer website. A few reasons behind this choice include "This is my whole world," "Contains all of the information I need to provide an effective service to our clients," and "Because it makes me money."

-Amanda

August 18, 2008

Not Sure I Have Enough Yet

You ever wonder what a SoftLayer technician does in their down time? Well aside from my addictions to coffee, PHP and of course the dreaded World of Warcraft, I tinker. My home network has been a work in progress for about 5 years on and off. For a family of 4 with 2 very young children, we have an awful lot of computers. At last count we currently have 10 computers when you include the laptops. As the wee ones are not to an age where computers even cross their minds, that means between myself and my wife we use all 10, well I should say I use about 8 of them and she uses 2.

You might wonder what a person does with 10 computers and how in the world you handle that in a home environment. Well here is a basic run through our world o computers. My wife being the average joe, has a desktop and a laptop. I on the other hand cannot get by with just 1 desktop, nope I need 3. If my desk didn’t give off a healthy hum and a slight vibration I just wouldn’t be happy. So my desktops are broken down in to a Windows Vista box, generally used for gamming and 2 Linux boxes running Slackware and Gentoo respectively. You might wonder why I need 3, and my response would probably be something like “Because I can”. I do however make full use of these different desktops on a fairly regular basis so I guess I can still justify them. Of course you really could consider my laptop to be yet another desktop, but then again, it is rarely used at home.

So as you have probably noticed, that’s only 6 of the 10. Now, 2 of the computers I have are media centers connected to the TV’s in the living room and the master bedroom. If you haven’t had a media center, you just don’t know what you’re missing. This brings us to the last 2 pieces of this network. The last 2 are rather old boxes that sit in the corner of a closet being as unobtrusive as possible; however they are the backbone of my home network, the fileservers. What good would 2 media centers be if I needed to have a duplicate of all files on each one of them? In the world of computers, the 2 fileservers would be considered dinosaurs, but for what they do, they are perfect.

Now that you have all these computers, they need to be connected somehow. This entire network is connecting to 2 separate gigabit networks. Why 2 you might add? Well I took a page from the SoftLayer book on that one. I saw no reason why the fileservers or the media centers needed internet access, so rather than deal with firewalls and the like, it was easier to put in a second network linking all the computers to each other while only the desktop computers were able to connect to the internet.

Is all of this overkill? Probably, but it sure gives me something to do. Now my current project might actually cut down that number a bit, then again, what fun is that? The current project is to get a 2008 server running with Hyper-V and a domain controller up and running. I figure since I have all these computers, I should be able to log into them all without having to create a separate user account on each. This project has been an experience for sure, but that’s for another blog.

-Mathew

August 13, 2008

Wrestling and Soundboards Improve Quality of Life

As a young lad growing up in Houston, Texas I was always fascinated, awed and inspired by Professional Wrestling. When I was little I wanted to be a Professional Wrestler, I even invited Hulk Hogan to every birthday that I had growing up, sadly he never showed up but that was ok because I could watch him wrestle in the WWE (WWF at the time) every weekend. As I grew older I started being able to stay up later and therefore began watching more coverage of the sports entertainment world such as ECW and WCW which were a bit more on the edgier side of programming.

WCW is where I found Ric Flair. What a fantastic persona this man has put forth - the arrogance, the superiority and the strength to back it up. Flair's vicious chest chops and figure four leg locks were legendary. This is the point in my life in my early to late teens that I began to like the bad guys (or heels to those familiar with the industry) just as much if not more so than the good guys (face). Back over at WWE I began to notice the main heel at the time going up the ultimate face, Hulk Hogan, was the Macho Man Randy Savage who had quite the personality himself. Cocky, brash, a bit insane, very entertaining but always able to back it up with his classic finishing move the flying mighty elbow.

Flash forward to now. Yes, sadly to this day I still love and watch wrestling on a regular basis across all brands, WWE/ECW/WCW and TNA. Current favorite wrestlers include Scott Steiner, Triple H, and of course the Nature Boy Ric Flair, who is still wrestling and entertaining at the ripe age of 58.

Now since coming to work at Softlayer I have seen my fair share of entertaining websites and ideas from across the internet as a whole. However, I have yet to find websites that are more entertaining, fun, ridiculous, can provide every day answers and overall explain daily life here at Softlayer than these two. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Macho Man and Ric Flair soundboards.

-Michael

Categories: 
August 11, 2008

Knowledge is Power

A few years ago, I once had a few managers who made quite an impression on me… each of them pushed me to learn as much as I could about my given profession. Each of them had a personal guideline that really stuck with me. One’s was to “learn two new things a day”, while the other’s was to “improve yourself at every opportunity”.

To this day, I still strive to learn as much as I can about the different facets of my profession. As time permits I enjoy asking my peers questions regarding the plethora of Operating Systems we use here at SoftLayer. Needless to say, there’s a limitless amount of knowledge here to learn.

Additionally, we have such resources as the local Wiki (er, SLiki – sorry Brad) where we can find almost any answer to any question we can fathom. Between the Wiki, the brain trust here at the NOC, and the wondrous internet, there’s no shortage of resources to get the answers to the questions that baffle me.

Lucky for you, the customer, we have our KnowledgeLayer, in which our team takes their knowledge, and passes it on to you, so that you, too, can benefit and quite possibly learn two new things a day.

Now, of course, I sit around and ponder - Two things per day? Why would he have set his bar so low?

-Matthew

July 27, 2008

What if SoftLayer Managed Inventory and Demand Like Apple?

Quick Answer: It would be disastrous!

Consider Apple's rollout of the iPhone 3G. Full disclosure: I'm trying to get my hands on one of those new iPhones, but as yet I have been unsuccessful.

When the first iPhones rolled out in June 2007, it was understandable that Apple had no idea how many to produce in advance of the launch. It was a product that moved the smart phone concept forward in several ways, but it wasn't perfect. Also, buyers set it up at home on their own using iTunes, so the buying process was simple. Get in, pay up, and get out. The long lines moved quickly. There were rumors of overproduction based on realized demand. I bought one for my wife's birthday at the 2007 release. Buying it and setting it up was easy.

This year is very different. Because of aftermarket hacking, you are required to activate and set up the phone with AT&T service in person this time around. So if you want to jailbreak the iPhone 3G, you'll have to pay a cancellation fee to AT&T. There is no get in, pay up, and get out. The buying process is running 20 to 30 minutes at this point, and Apple and AT&T are selling TONS more phones than at last year's rollout. Stock outs are occurring everywhere. But yet, Apple is still selling them on a first come/first served basis. Yes, you can prepay at an AT&T store, but they're quoting a minimum 10 business day wait for your phone.

It would make complete sense if a few months before the launch date, folks could have logged in, paid a deposit, reserved a phone, and set up a time for activation. Apple could have better anticipated demand and tailored phone production and store staffing accordingly.

Suffice it to say that SoftLayer does not manage inventory and customer demand like Apple. We strive to anticipate demand and arrange our inventory and staffing accordingly. We do our best to find that balance to keep our inventory lean so as to not waste money on maintaining unused product, yet have enough on hand so that our customers' businesses can be scalable. In other words, when you need another server or two or two hundred, we've got ‘em for you – and ready for you to use in a few hours, tops.

Yes, you can order enough servers for us to require a few days to call in a shipment. But that would be quite a large order, and you can rest assured that you wouldn't be a nameless "first come, first served" patron.

Bottom line, if we treated the customers who want our services as Apple does their iPhone customers, we'd have a lot less of them. That's customers, not iPhones.

-Gary

Categories: 
July 25, 2008

Thinkin' Like a Programmer

"I can't figure this out. My email client says I can't attach more than 10 M of data, but then it says I have 16501 K of data attached, and it can't send that. What's a 'M'? What's a 'K'? Why is the second number so big? I only attached a few files!"

I explained to my uncle that "M" stood for Megabyte, and "K" stood for Kilobyte. That a simple calculation to convert "K"s to "M"s was to take the last three digits off the "K"s and you had the size in "M"s, give or take one. That he had 16-17 Megabytes of data attached to his email, and he can only have 10.

His response was to wonder (1) why didn't the client just tell him he had "too much data," and (2) why did the program give him Ms AND Ks, instead of picking one?

My reply consisted of (1) it did, that's what the message said, and (2) because the programmer was thinking like a programmer.

See, my uncle is a very, very smart man. He worked in a video arcade as the guy who rewired the arcade machines when they exploded when somebody poured a Coke on them. He knew how the machines worked in and out. And got paid good money. When he moved back to Texas, he took up industrial and residential electric work, and is now a fully licensed foreman who's in high demand all through the area. When he says "I won't take a job that pays less than $20 a hour," it's not because he's picky, it's because he doesn't have to. Sharp as a tack. But he's not a computer pro. Not a problem, people can't be pros at everything. This ain't the 1700s, where you can pick up a test tube and learn everything known about chemistry in a few days.

But why would a programmer write a error message for an email program that would be unreadable to end users? Because it's perfectly readable to him! When my uncle read out the message, my first response was "You have about 7 Megabytes too many attachments. Send a second email."

Therefore, a programmer checking his work would think this was a great error message. Not only does it tell you that the email can't be sent, but it tells you why. The limit is in Megabytes, but email messages are typically sent in Kilobytes, so the data is already there. See how helpful I am! And the unit conversion between Ks and Ms are very easy; programmers do it 10 times a day and wouldn't even notice it.

That's why we have end user testing, to try to catch these things that programmers won't notice. It's just a simple conversion of units! But for an electrician trying to send an email, it was as opaque as to him as if he had told me that I had a single pole dual throw make-break when I need a dual pole single throw break-make. It makes perfect sense, if you're used to it. And if I think about it for a minute, I could figure it out most likely… but the point is, his error message is useless to me as it's formatted. But it makes perfect sense to him.

So, what's the moral of the story? Well, moral 1 is, try to be sure that all users of your product can understand what you say. We have an extensive testing process here at SoftLayer to make sure our data screens are usable without any confusion. Moral 2 is that programmers don't "actively" attempt to "keep people from using their computers" by "making their programs too complex." For us, it's completely transparent and useful, as useful to us as a circuit diagram is to an electrician. Just let us know if we make something a bit to opaque; it wasn't on purpose, and sometimes it's an easy fix. We were just thinking like programmers.

-Zoey

Categories: 
July 24, 2008

Here's to Bill

Bill Gates' final day as an employee of Microsoft was June 27, 2008. Let's all raise our virtual glasses in a toast! Or maybe a virtual fist-bump is better - here you go: III!

I had intended to type this up in time for Mr. Gates' last day, but just simply didn't have time. This marks a historic change at the software behemoth in Washington. Love him or hate him (and there are many people on each side), few people truly realize the impact he has had on the world as we know it.

I love the fact that in America, you can get a crazy and creative idea and run with it. Gates realized that Intel's 8080 chip released in April 1974 was the first affordable chip that could run BASIC in a computer that could be small enough to be classified as a "personal" computer. Then he read an article in the January '75 issue of Popular Electronics about a microcomputer called the Altair 8800 made by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), which ran on an Intel 8080. Realizing that he had to seize the moment because the timing would never be right again, Gates took a leave of absence as a student at Harvard and contacted MITS about developing a BASIC interpreter for that machine. He collaborated with Paul Allen to prepare demo software and close the deal, then he and Paul Allen formed a company named "Micro-soft." The hyphen was dropped in 1976.

Can we imagine what our world would be like had Gates missed reading that magazine in January ‘75? Or if he had decided to finish school and become a lawyer as his parents had hoped? I can't imagine what technology I'd be using to produce documents like this today if Gates and Allen didn't follow through on their crazy idea in 1975.

To get an idea of how deeply Bill Gates has influenced us today, just try either running a business or doing your job without interacting with a computer. If it's not impossible, it's very very difficult at best. Next, try running the computers for your business without ANY Microsoft products. Again, this is difficult but not totally impossible. Then, try interacting with other businesses that use Microsoft products. If you're then successful doing that, think of how many of your daily activities involve a Microsoft product.

I actually worked for a boss in the mid-90's who hated Microsoft. He ran IBM OS/2 operating systems and non-Microsoft applications (Word Perfect, Quattro Pro spreadsheets, etc.). He didn't want to be reminded that Gates originally helped develop OS/2 in partnership with IBM. When IBM dropped support for OS/2, my boss capitulated and migrated to Windows.

At SoftLayer, we use and support a lot of non-Microsoft products. But we couldn't do what we do today without Microsoft products, and many of our customers demand Microsoft products.
In typical American entrepreneurial fashion, SoftLayer started with some semi-crazy ideas to connect the dots between different products in creative ways that had not been previously done. We will do well to have a fraction of the impact that Bill Gates has made.

-Gary

Categories: 
July 22, 2008

Always Awake, Cool and Dry

As I turn on to the main road after leaving my Kumdo dojang (Korean fencing school), I glance at the rear view mirror down the street, in the direction of SoftLayer's new east coast datacenter. The strangely cool, red light from the setting sun fills the mirror and signals the end of this long, hot day. My mind briefly escapes the fading heat by recalling the cool temperature and humidity regulated environs within the datacenter.

Ever wonder how to keep thousands of servers cool? In a word: CRAC - Computer Room Air Conditioning. These giants sit throughout the datacenter pumping cool air up through ventilated floors. The cool air blows up in front of the server racks, gets sucked in through the front of the servers, over the drives, past the CPU heat sinks and RAM, then out the back of the server. The warm air exits, rises, and returns to the CRACs where the humidity and temperature are adjusted, and the cycle continues. Just like you learned in science class.

So it must be a serene, sterile environment - like those IBM commercials? That would be nice, but the reality is : computers need fans. One or two fans wouldn't bother anyone when they kick in on your gaming pc, but multiply 4 or 5 fans (do you like RAID arrays? You get extra fans!) by one thousand, or more and the decibels add up. Solid state hard drives - when they become available - might help with the noise (and also with power consumption), but it is mostly from the server fans. Liquid cooling works, but I think most people would prefer not to have fluid of any sort circulating over their motherboard. Zane (resident Linux guru) extols the benefits of passive cooling. Whatever cooling solutions arise in the future, you can be sure SoftLayer will be leading in technology implementation.

My attention returns to the road ahead and the pale blue of the evening sky. I hope to get a few hours of shut-eye before returning for my shift. Because SoftLayer doesn't sleep. Always awake, cool and dry.

-Philip

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