executive-blog

February 28, 2008

Companion Cube

For the gaming/programmer community, Portal is THE GAME. Seemingly from nowhere, this game burst upon the scene and took the nerd world by storm. Excellent storyline, snappy dialog, challenging puzzles, and an awesome space-warping gun combine to create an incredibly memorable game.

Nearly overnight, the hacker lexicon got some new words and phrases. This guide will help you make sense of most hacker conversations you may hear that refer to Portal.

The Cake is a Lie

The artificially intelligent computer that runs the series of puzzles (known as the Aperture Science Computer Aided Enrichment Center) goads your character along by stating that "cake" will be served to you if you survive all the tests. However, graffiti on the walls of the center proclaim otherwise... stating that the cake being promised is a great, big lie.

Hackers generally use this phrase either as an icebreaker or as a description of a situation where somebody is motivated to do a difficult task for a promised but unverified reward.

I'm making a note here: Huge Success!

At the end of the game, the computer gives you your final review. At the beginning of the review, it says "This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: Huge Success!"

Like Trekkies shouting "Qua'pla!" (Klingon for "Success!"), programmers are now known to say that they are "making a note here: Huge Success!"

The Companion Cube

The Companion Cube is an inert storage cube imbued with a personality by the game programmers to trick game players into carrying this cube throughout a puzzle, but then requiring them to destroy it at the end. They did such a good job, however, that game players have become attached to this "Companion Cube," going so far as to build little paper models or buy plushies of this "character." Generally, you'll hear a hacker talk about how they would never let go of their companion cube, or something along those lines.

Aperture Science Thing We Don't Know What It Does

Programmers find long multi-word names for products to be humorous. The game developers played on this concept:

  • It's not the lab. It's the Aperture Science Computer Aided Enrichment Center.
  • It's not a storage box. It's an Aperture Science Weighted Storage Cube.
  • It's not a button. It's an Aperture Science 1500 Megawatt Superconducing Super Button.

The joke is to take, say, a mouse, and turn it into an "Aperture Science Rotational Axis 2 Dimensional Vector Detecting Peripheral".

Now You're Thinking in Portals

With this guide handy, you can start to understand the conversations of your Portal crazed coworkers. You will no longer be confused when a coworker bursts out laughing when holding a slice of cake. You won't wonder why he has a background with little hearts all over it, displaying a strange box. You can now safely laugh at any name longer than 4 words, knowing that it's most likely a joke. This won't help with any of the other strange things developers say, but at least their conversations should be a little more transparent now.

For more information, check Wikipedia, or better yet, Watch the trailer and play the game.

-Zoey

February 27, 2008

Hardwhere?

It’s a fact -- all software ends up relying on a piece of hardware at some point. And hardware can fail. But the secret is to create redundancy to minimize the impact if hardware does fail.
RAIDS, load balancers, redundant power supplies, cloud computing - the list goes on. And we support them all. Many of these options are not mandatory, but I wish they were! That’s where the customer comes in – it is critical to understand the value of the application and data sitting on the hardware and set a redundancy and recovery plan that fits.

Keep your DATA safe:

  • RAID - For starters *everyone* should have a RAID 1, 5, or 10. This keeps your server online in the event of a drive failure.

The best approach – RAID 10 all the way. You get the benefits of a RAID 0 (striping across 2 drives so you get the data almost twice as fast) and the security of RAID 1 (mirroring data on 2 separate drives) all rolled into one. I think every server should have this as a default.

  • Separate Backups – EVault Backup, ISCSI Storage, FTP/NAS Storage, your own NAS server or just a different server. Lose data just once (or have the ability to recover it painlessly) and these will pay for themselves. Remember, hardware is not the only way in which you can lose data -– hackers, software failures, and human error will always be a risk.

StorageLayer. Use it or lose it.

Going further:

  • Redundant servers in different locations – spread your servers out across different datacenters and use a load balancer. Nothing is safer than a duplicate server 1000’s of miles away. That’s why we have invested in a second data center – to keep your data and business safe.

Check 'em out in our Services > Network Services section.

The future:

  • Solid state drives – aww yeah baby. They are coming.

Solid state drives are just that – a drive with no moving parts. No more platters or read/write heads. I mean come on, hard drives are essentially using the same basics that old record players use. CD’s use this technology too. And you see where those went (can you say iPod? I prefer my iPod touch. I have never had an iPod until now so I skipped right to the new fancy pants model. Can you tell I just got it?).

Check out these comparison tests of solid state drives vs. conventional ones:

  • Faster, faster, faster! –- Processors, memory, drives, network -- everything is getting much faster. And in part by redundancy (dual and quad core processors, dual and quad processor motherboards). See? Redundancy is the way of the future!

We have 4 Intel Xeon Quadcore Tigertown processors on one motherboard. That’s 16 processors on one server! Shazam!

  • Robot DC patrol sharks – yep. Got the plans on my desk right now. But I can’t take all the credit, Josh R. suggested this one, I just make things happen.

I work to keep all of our hardware running in tip top condition. But I look at the bigger picture when it comes to hardware – how to completely eliminate the impact of any hardware issue. That’s why I suggest all the redundancies listed above. While I can reduce the probability of hardware issues with testing, monitoring of firmware updates, proper handling procedures, choosing quality components, etc., redundancy is the ultimate solution to invisible hardware.

Hardwhere?, if you will.

-Brad

February 21, 2008

What It's Like to be a Data Center Technician

As you may have guessed SoftLayer isn't just sales team members, data center managers and development team members. There is also a pretty important group of people who hideaway in their cubicles and can be seen running around our state of the art server rooms from time to time. I am of course talking about us DC Techs; you might know us from our ticket signature "SoftLayer CSA."

I had a question brought up for the first time while on a phone call with a customer, his question was,

"What is it like to be a data center technician?"

I could only laugh just a little bit as I looked around the office and saw several of my co-workers engaging in the organized chaos we call Datacenter Operations. You see, with datacenter operations there is no "daily routine" to follow, there isn't a "what to expect" sheet posted somewhere to prepare us for the day. We have to rely on experience and each other to keep our beloved customers happy. So would you like to know my answer to this customer?

"It depends on the ticket I'm working!"

I say that because this particular customer was calling about a networking issue. In this instance I was his "network engineer", helping him resolve an issue with secondary IP addresses. As I said before, not every issue is the same from one minute to the next so it keeps us on top of our game. One second I am a networking engineer, the next a hardware technician, the next a Systems Administrator. On some occasions we DC techs can be all three at once! It's because of this fact that I enjoy coming to work each and every day. I never know what problem will arise or what I will learn in the coming hours.

I decided to write this after a very long shift, because I think a lot of our customers and people who read this blog would like to know what exactly it's like. Of course there are good days and bad days, sometimes we make mistakes or take a little longer to reply to a ticket than we should. But for the vast majority of the time, our phone calls are ending with "Thanks so much!", and our tickets are ending with "Great Job, You guys are awesome!", and our customers are going to sleep knowing their server is in good hands.

Now what question do all of us DC Techs have? That's simple:

What is it like being a SoftLayer customer?

Judging by everything I have seen recently, with our company expanding to Seattle, building new datacenters, and shattering several of our own sales records, I think we're doing a pretty good job of putting everything you want from a dedicated hosting provider at your fingertips. There is always work to be done, and I speak for everyone here in the office when I say the most important thing to a DC Tech and the company as a whole are our bosses, and we currently have around 4,500 of you around the world and growing!

I’ll see you in the tickets soon!

-Romeo

February 15, 2008

Ordering Lunch - How Hard Can it Be?

Every so often on a slammed sale days, I offer to pay for lunch for the sales team to keep everyone at their desks focused on sales rather than worrying about food. Other times, a very nice customer might offer to pay for lunch one day for the sales team. Regardless of the situation, I usually task someone with ordering and picking up the food so the rest of the team can focus on sales. Seems pretty simple right? Somehow it never seems to go as planned.

Here are two examples:

How to spend $200 on lunch for 6:

Daniel one of our Senior Account Managers calls me on his way into work (he comes in at 11:00PM), here is the conversation:

Daniel: "Hey Steven, I see its really slammed at work want me to pick up lunch on the way in?"

Steven: "Sure, go ahead no one has had time to get up from their desk much less get lunch. Pick something up an Ill buy lunch today for the team".

Daniel: "What should I get"

Steven: "Whatever is fine, gotta go the phone is ringing"

Daniel shows up a bit later with a ton of food, enough to feed half the office not just sales. A really nice Fajitas feast with all the fixings, hot sauce, cheese, beans, guacamole, rice, pretty much everything. I thought to myself, wow Daniel did a really good job here this is excellent. Then I get the bill... It was over $200 for takeout lunch for 6 people. I promptly tell Daniel he is no longer on lunch delivery team, and that $200 for lunch is a bit much. Two months later I am still trying to work up the courage to put that one on an expense report.

How to spend $25 on lunch for 10:

A particularly grateful customer contacted us saying that he wanted to buy lunch for the sales and a couple of networking team members that helped him out with a recent issue. Mary another one of our Senior Account Managers was tasked with the order this time and after much discussion back and forth between Pizza and Mexican food, we settle on Mexican food. I am thinking to myself, thank goodness Daniel isn't in charge of this order, Vik (the customer) probably doesn't want to pay $200 for lunch. When the food arrives, I step out into the sales area to examine the feast. Much to my surprise there is only two very small bags of food half full.

I announce out loud:

"Where is the rest of the food? This isn't close to enough to feed 10 people."
I'm told "that's it, that's all we got".

No cheese, no hot sauce, no guacamole... this is a far cry from the spread Daniel got last time and there was no chance of it feeding 8 people. Ultimately I send someone back for more food.

So what is the lesson learned here? The sale team is excellent at selling SoftLayer services, and managing customer relationships. They can tell you the difference between and why you want a Single processor 5000 series server vs. a Single processor 3000 series server, they can tell you why your video streaming site needs to run on a server with SAS drives and not SATAII drives, and they can tell you all about StorageLayer and how it can help you. What cant they do for you? They can't get the Mexican food order for lunch correct.

Next time we will stick with Pizza.

-Steven

February 13, 2008

The Usage Of Complex Algorithms For Password Generation

Passwords are difficult. On the first hand, you want to create a password that uncrackable by anyone, lest they be teenage hackers or CSI experts with magical hacking tools. On the other hand, the password has be rememberable by you yourself, lest only teenage hakcers and CSI experts with magical hacking tools are able to access your data.

So, how do you make passwords?

One of the more secure ways are to use a random letter generator, like random.org, to build random strings, pick one, and memorize it. It's pretty secure (random.org uses real random noise to produce it's random numbers)and with seven random alphanumeric characters, the password search space is about 2.2 trillion combinations! But are you really going to remember "QRSr0Fu" or "W96TUON" two weeks from now? (My generated set had "myELlRK" which I might be able to remember...) If you type your password every hour or so, you might remember this by muscle memory pretty quick. Just in time to have to change it, I bet.

Another way is to take a word or phrase, turn some letters into |33+sp34k, and you get something more random, but much more rememberable. So, for example, "minivan" becomes "m1n1v4n!" and "washington" becomes "w4sh1ngt0n!?!" These are actually quite rememberable; the use of non-standard characters disallows the use of rainbow tables and dictionary attacks, so they're much less suseptable to cracking. However, what happens when you forget the "!", or that "Washington" gets "?!?" or that you did NOT turn "t" into "+"? You could end up going through a few cycles trying to "guess" your own password. Again, if you use it all the time, you'll learn by muscle memory. And this lets you come up with some cool passwords, like "c4p+41nK1rk". How can you beat that?

My favorite way, however, lets you write your password down in plain sight. I tend to cycle through passwords, and if you're anything like me you have two online banking passwords, four credit card or loan company passwords, a work domain password, 6 email passwords, a home log in password, etc, etc, etc. If you take the easy way out and use the same password everywhere, you end up making kittens and security experts cry. If, however, you have a completely separate randomized combination for each account, your brain will get stuck in an infinite loop. Using this method, you get to write down your passwords and tack them to the wall. Or put 'em on a sticky note. In plain sight. Email them to yourself without a care. It uses a special type of encryption to keep your password safe. Not AES or DES or TEA or other TLAs. I call this "Hippocampy Encryption" (named in honor of the part of the brain that does memory type activities).

The key is to write down a set of clues that will tell you (but only you) what your password is. You can add symbols to help you remember what kind of encoding to use for your password. Here's a password I just made up right now as an example:


Shawn's rival ^
shout your home team
Esirpretne
Sam.

Because everything on this note is simply a hint for your specific brain to recall a password, it's specific to you. Hints don't even have to have anything to do with the subject. The hint "Red October" could tell you the word "fortworth", whereas for me, I'd be trying "R4M1US", "M1SSL3S", "jackryan", "TomClancy", etc. You can string three or four hints together for a password. Note, these create long passwords, and your coworkers may start to believe that you have a superhuman capacity for memorizing long strings of randomized data. Do not do anything to dissuade them from this belief. And, because the hints point to common words and numbers already lodged in your grey matter, you may be suprised just how fast you type in that 20 character long password. Compared to my speed on 7 character random strings, it's blazing.

And due to the pattern matching ability of your brain, remembering the passwords are easy. Lets say you've written your clue on the back of one of your business cards, so you have it handy if you need it. After a few days, just SEEING a business card will bring your new password to the front of your mind. After a while, you'll stop needing your hint sheet, as you'll just remember the password. And when it comes time to change your password, shred your card and your postit, post a new one (in a different color if you can, helps the brain), and give yourself a few days. Unlike scrawling your random digits on a paper or card, even if somebody stole your "Hippocampically Encoded" card, they would have to REALLY know you (or be a really good guesser) to get the password. Even with your card, you've reduced them to brute searching. And if your card/note turns up missing, it takes about 30 seconds to whip up a new hint sheet. Not only is your attacker brute forcing your hint sheet, but it's the wrong hint sheet anyway!

So... have you guessed my password above? It's GARYkemp!1071Max. 'Course, you'd only know that if you knew that I played Pokemon and left my rival's name at default, that I decided that "^" meant "Make it all uppercase", that my home team is the Kemp High School (and that I was talking high school football), that by "Shout" I meant "give it an exclamation point", but that the whole word should be lower case (because the hint is), that Esirpretne is "Enterprise" backwards, and that I meant to make the serial numbers backwards (but not the NCC part), and that by Sam (a very common name) I meant "Give me the name of Sam's partner in that incredibly funny cartoon by Steve Purcell, Sam and Max: Freelance Police." The period is just decoration. If you did guess it, contact the NSA. I hear they're hiring people like you.

-Zoey

February 11, 2008

Spares at the Ready

In Steve's last post he talked about the logic of outsourcing. The rationale included the cost of redundant internet connections, the cost of the server, UPS, small AC, etc. He covers a lot of good reasons to get the server out of the broom closet and into a real datacenter. However, I would like to add one more often over looked component to that argument: the Spares Kit.

Let's say that you do purchase your own server and you set it up in the broom closet (or a real datacenter for that matter) and you get the necessary power, cooling and internet connectivity for it. What about spare parts?

If you lose a hard drive on that server, do you have a spare one available for replacement? Maybe so - that's a common part with mechanical features that is liable to fail - so you might have that covered. Not only do you have a spare drive, the server is configured with some level of RAID so you're probably well covered there.

What if that RAID card fails? It happens - and it happens with all different brands of cards.

What about RAM? Do you keep a spare RAM DIMM handy or if you see failures on one stick, do you just plan to remove it and run with less RAM until you can get more on site? The application might run slower because it's memory starved or because now your memory is not interleaved - but that might be a risk you are willing to take.

How about a power supply? Do you keep an extra one of those handy? Maybe you keep a spare. Or, you have dual power supplies. Are those power supplies plugged into separate power strips on separate circuits backed up by separate UPSs?

What if the NIC on the motherboard gets flaky or goes out completely? Do you keep a spare motherboard handy?

If you rely on out of band management of your server via an IPMI, Lights Out or DRAC card - what happens if that card goes bad while you're on vacation?

Even if you have all necessary spare parts for your server or you have multiple servers in a load balanced configuration inside the broom closet; what happens if you lose your switch or your load balancer or your router or your... What happens if that little AC you purchased shuts down on Friday night and the broom closet heats up all weekend until the server overheats? Do you have temperature sensors in the closet that are configured to send you an alert - so that now you have to drive back to the office to empty the water pail of the spot cooler?

You might think that some of these scenarios are a bit far fetched but I can certainly assure you that they're not. At SoftLayer, we have spares of everything. We maintain hundreds of servers in inventory at all times, we maintain a completely stocked inventory room full of critical components, and we staff it all 24/7 and back it all up with a 4 hour SLA.

Some people do have all of their bases covered. Some people are willing to take a chance, and even if you convince your employer that it's ok to take those chances, how do you think the boss will respond when something actually happens and critical services are offline?

-SamF

February 8, 2008

Outsource It: Part II

Wow, I like all of this feedback guys! Really! I had been chewing on that blog for a while. I was basically trying to decide how to write it and apparently the format worked and got some juices flowing on our forums. I was going to post this on the Forums but I think it is a bit too long and isn't using the forums standards. So here is my follow up to TheRabbit in Blog format.

A bit about me; I am an old guy (shh don't tell the guys I play Racquetball with) and I have been in LOTS of different companies of various sizes and types of business. Back when the internet was young and dial-up was the name of the game, I played in that field. In fact, I see a lot of familiar faces here every day. They all stayed in that field and honed their skills and are the guts behind SoftLayer today.

I went out into the world to see what it was all about. I decided I wanted to be technical and since I was a Windows guy it would have to be Microsoft. So I took the tests and got my MCSE and then worked for Alliance Data Systems, a Cargo Airline, A college in Dallas, Cement Company, and a small Outsourced IT company, then I met back up with these guys and here I sit.

So I used some of my experiences with all of those places to write the last blog. Here are a few of those experiences so you can see where it came from.

Alliance Data Systems had great DC's and lots of cash, they didn't need to outsource because they spent the money to do things correctly and had their own raised floor DC's and connectivity, etc. It was a cool place to work and I learned quite a bit. They did things right.

Cargo Airline - Well they tried. We built out a new office building at the airport and we had an office with no carpet, and extra cooling for our server "room". We had some old boat anchor HP equipment and a single IBM server for the JD Edwards accounting box and boy was it slow. We were using Windows 2000 with AD and DHCP to hand out IP's. Funny story, we merged with a really "smart" software company and part of the merger was that the powers from that company got the reigns and could run our IS department. Maybe they are reading this... (evil grin) - So the first thing they did was pulled DHCP out of the mix and went all static IP's because they were easier to track. "You can just enter them in a spreadsheet!" I was told. "Then you know that a 10.x.1.x is accounting, and a 10.x.2.x is sales, etc, etc." I still laugh about that decision today. Ok, back to the real subject. This company didn't spend the kind of money needed to have a good core of systems, and network and therefore the applications suffered. Most of the apps they wrote or used were Web apps and could have been housed in an outsourced facility.

College in Dallas - Believe it or not, the college had some pretty cool DC's on the Campus. They were secure and if I forgot my jacket I froze my butt off. They used Compaq 1u's like sliced bread. Server after server for student access, student records and it was all Citrix apps that students and faculty could connect to. To me it SCREAMED outsource. Think of the electric bills they paid to freeze my butt off, think of the purchasing department that had to buy all those machines. Think of how much they paid me to un-box those servers and rack them, and cable them, and install the OS from CD, and install Citrix and the apps. Then the accounting department had to track them and make sure they were paid for and depreciate them. Granted, even if they outsourced them the purchasing group still has to order them online and the accounting department has to give us a Visa but that is the extent of it. We have Truck days of joy and do all the manual labor for you and we automate the OS install. Then it is just down to the Tech installing Citrix and the apps from the comfort of his desk remotely.

Cement Company, one of my favorite places to work. I was in charge of the Citrix farm, Exchange and RightFax. Oh what fun. They had over 40 home built apps that ran on Citrix. We had 3 DC's, Dallas, Midlothian, and Virginia. They were Top of the line! If you were a rat and liked chewing through cables and you are into Liebert cooling systems from the early 60's! Ok, it might not have been the 60's but they were old. The DC in Midlothian was the best. We finally boarded up the windows facing west because we figured a lot of the extra heat was due to the Texas sun baking them. Ok, funny story #2. While un-boxing and racking a few Dell 1U servers (again they paid me a pretty good salary for my Citrix and Exchange skills, and here I am un-boxing and racking again) my helper decided that it was time to drop test a Dell. I was behind the rack and there was really nothing I could do except watch this brand new Dell server go crashing to the floor from above his head. After reseeding all the cards, CPU, and memory, we crossed our fingers and it fired up. It was a bit warped and bent but we strategically jammed it in between 2 straight servers and it took some of the flex out of the bent box and it worked great, might even still be working today. As you can tell some outsourcing by them would be good as well; Even if it is just the Development and test systems. We lined up like ants at a sugar sack begging for servers for Dev and Test but they were NEVER in the budget. Another great point I think, Capital Expense vs Monthly Expense. For a huge company it is MUCH easier to get them to sign off on a monthly expense.

Outsourced IT - Here is the one that wins it all. My job was to go around Dallas to small and medium sized businesses and be their IT guy. My main focus of course was Citrix and Exchange but you just never knew what you were going to walk in on. One plumbing company had their servers in a barn. An auto parts supplier had theirs in the back of a storage building behind the restroom. Use your imagination. But the ones that got me the most were Doctors offices. Broom Closets, Office Managers offices, just in the hall out in the open, you name it and I saw servers there. Most of the offices already had a T1 in place so connectivity wasn't the real issue. An interesting point is that I always had to sign a Hipaa form to be legal to work on the systems. It amazed me that these systems were so accessible to anyone that might have had access to the office. I wonder if the maid service had to sign Hipaa forms since the servers were right in the open. Sometimes right behind the trash cans. 90% of the medical software I came in contact with was WEB software which is easily outsourceable. And the number 1 complaint I heard from office managers and Doctors was, "I want to connect from home. Can you help me?" So of course we would setup remote access. But it never failed. During Storms they would lose power or connectivity. Or the building power would drop for construction, or a car would hit a pole. There were always issues. I swayed a few high tech Docs to finally consider and try outsourcing and they loved it. A few even use thin clients in the office now and everything happens in a DC. They love it.

I still say that no matter what size business you have OUTSOURCE IT! Maybe not all of it, but for DEV and Test, a hot site AD controller, Web App Servers, Giant DB Servers that live behind those web app servers, Web Farms...etc be the ball and give it a try. We won't argue!

-Skinman

February 6, 2008

Big Business is Messing with my Caffeine Fix!

Most of the posts here have a technical spin, and well deservedly, but this one is a little different. This is my version of an open letter to the CEO of Starbucks and any other CEO out there who is messing with my daily life by putting the idea of "conquering the world", over the needs of the people that will get them there -- the consumer. So here goes my rant:

Dear Mr. Starbuck's (aka Howard Schultz),
As a frequent patron of your fine establishment for many years, covering many locations in multiple states and multiple countries, I need to ask a personal favor. PLEASE stop messing with me, with the idea of me being anyone other than 'big business'. See I live in Dallas, Texas and this past weekend I had the urge to actually forego my normal $5 cup o' java at any of the 50 Starbucks within the 4 mile radius of my house and actually go to a local establishment that has some great beans. I wasn't going for a cup, but I was going for an actual bag of beans that I might be able to take back to the house and brew a random cup of sissy coffee (the flavored coffees that actually make hair fall off your chest, rather than put it on there like the SENOMA blend from the aforementioned Starbucks). BTW, for you Dallas'er's my preference for my random sissy coffee fix is a Cafe Brazil.

Location aside, I drive past the 50 Starbucks in route to the closest Cafe Brazil which is about 5 miles away. My coffee of choice is the 'Snickerdoodle', so I was thinking I will big bag it and get a pound, maybe two, to ensure my fix is completely covered. I walk in to the aroma o' joy that comes along with a coffee house. To an addict of caffeine, it's kind of like Vick's to a cold! All employees eye me and my girlfriend as we smile our way to the counter. As we are walking up, something just isn't right and we can tell immediately something is amiss. Where are the bean's that all of the other locations have? Where are the grinders? Being sure they are in the back or on the other side of the restaurant, I say with confidence, I want the biggest bag of beans I can get my hands on. The response, without a bat of an eye, was "not here sir, Starbucks forbids it!" WHAT THE $!%$? Again, the CSR at the counter say Starbucks told the landlord that they forbid anyone else in the shopping square to sell Coffee Beans to- go and went as far to tell me that he could not even pour me a cup of the coffee in a to-go cup, as per this was also forbid by Starbucks. This disappointment was seen in both of our faces and the CSR could tell that tears may be near, so the obligatory 'sorry' was thrown out with a 'can we do anything to make this right' comment?

This is unacceptable to me. As the loyal readers of theinnerlayer and all of the employees of Softlayer can attest, Caffeine in any form is like the blood through the veins of this company. Pound for pound, employee for employee, I would challenge the caffeine intake of Softlayer against any other company in the world. Pot after pot of, yes Starbuck's, is brewed hourly, if not minutely. Literally, cases of Monster are brought in weekly to support the efforts here. With the new JAVA Monster, the numbers may just fly right off the charts. Hence, the frustration

Mr. Starbucks, as one of the founders here at Softlayer I can tell you that all of us think about dominating our segment of the world, planned for it and expect it. Surrounding myself with the smartest people I have ever been around gives me a comforting feeling that all of these goals will be achieved. With the support of these smart people I refer to, we all have a standing order internally that to get to our stated goals; the idea of alienating customers by self serving goals has to nipped in the bud. We are a services company to the masses which means we believe that natural competition is healthy and that continuing to strive to build the bigger, better solution, customers will always be the winner in the equation. If we believed that exclusionary practices and pure heavy weight domination was the proper way to win, we would have thrown our money that way, but the open market allows us to stay at the top of our game, remain cutting edge and push for innovation and automation that will allow us to grow our customer base because we have a better solution for the customer, not because we don't allow the customer to have any other option. I/we may be a small fish in the pond so to speak, but I think you might be able to learn something from my statements. I'm off to get my fill of caffeine, but not sure Starbucks will be my first choice for the next short while.

Sincerely,
One un-caffeinated, unhappy customer
(Sean Charnock)

Categories: 
February 5, 2008

A Look Back Before Moving Forward and the Phenomenon of "_aaS"

Hi! I'm George, one of the newest additions to the SoftLayer team. I joined the company for a few reasons:

  1. The People - one of the best teams that I have ever met, and now, have the pleasure of working with
  2. Vision - as someone recently said, how often do you get a chance for a "do over" without being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?
  3. Industry - how cool is it to be able to play with new technology and help shape the way people will do business
  4. Acronyms and Buzzwords - as anyone that has worked in the telecom or technology industries can attest, this is the best place to be if you want to assemble new words based simply on the first letter of each.

Even before the Internet, (did that time really exist?), telecom hardware vendors, service providers and others in this little universe loved to create acronyms to make technology sound complicated. And of course, it created employment for thousands of people, which according to many of those techies, offered no real value, to help translate all of this into something that the consumer and investment community would buy... Welcome to the world of marketing in the Internet Age!

One thing that all of these people that came to be known as "Gurus" or an even buzzier buzzword - Evangelists - learned was to standardize on at least part of the acronym. Out of this concept was born:

  • _AN (G, L, M, S, W)
  • _EO (G, L, VL, S)
  • _DSL (H, A, S, V)
  • _SP (A, M, S)
  • _2_ (B2B, B2C, P2P, M2M)

And each of these led to spin-off acronyms, like DSLAM, FRAD, ATM (the network not the cash machine), and my favorite - BE - which said a lot about what we were all doing back then. Acronyms became the patents of the original dot.com era (which we did not actually call Web 1.0, but more on that later). Of course, we also learned different naming systems and adjusted the English language to suit this purpose. Capitalization rules were thrown out along with the baby and bathwater. Capitals now appeared in the middle of all company names (yes, we even did it here...) and products thanks to another phenomenon of the era - the mandatory use of compound words.

Best of all, the digital age gave birth to an industry designed to make all of us look like techies - the acronym dictionary. Many of the generation that graduated into the telecom and Internet revolution of the early 1990s (including yours truly) built careers on the ability to string acronyms together to define the future of networking and ultimately, life. The common toolkit for all of us: Newton's Telecom Dictionary and a fluffy cloud graphic from the MS Office clip art files - that was generally used by "advanced" gurus and not something to be thrown around by anyone with less than 12 months of experience in the dot.com trenches.

The web generation also taught the masses about versions and a fundamental rule in software: avoid buying version 1.0 and never launch a product called version 0. Even the web generation of telecom -mobile carriers - figured this one out. 3G has long been touted as the utopia of communications, but we had to get through 2.5G first. Never mind that v1 and v2 seemed to actually work. Thus, versioning took its rightful place at the left-hand of acronyms.
Jumping ahead a decade or so, we are now firmly in the grips of Web 2.0 and a new set of buzzwords and acronyms. If you don't have an avatar living on a virtual street in a virtual world that spends virtual time stuck in virtual traffic driving to a virtual job, you probably are like me - part of the 1.0 generation. I too used an Apple IIe in school, but for me it was grade 10, not grade 1! And then there was the Newton which did not exactly fit into a palm, but that story will have to wait...

Like all things, buzzwords and acronyms have evolved as well. We are now using words like "grid", "utility" and "always on" to reflect the way we are connected and work. And of course we all need to be Irish for more than 1 day per year. Don't get me wrong. SoftLayer agrees that green is good. We have turned our facilities green in search of the "green". Basically, we believe the best way to help our customers with access to technology on a real-time basis is by being as operationally efficient as possible. So, we have forced ourselves to be "green" in everything that we do. But, I digress...

My favorite current acronym root is "_aaS". We can thank the failure of ASP (part of Web 1.5) and its lesser known cousin - AIP - to catch on for this latest iteration. The good news is that almost everything that we can think of can be called an "X as a Service". Our internal top 10 list includes:

  • Architecture as a Service
  • Communication as a Service
  • Data Center as a Service
  • Hardware as a Service
  • Network as a Service
  • Platform as a Service
  • Software as a Service
  • Storage as a Service
  • Virtualization as a Service
  • Widgets as a Service (the favorite of our Starbucks fan)

But, don't take my word for it. Whatever as a Service will be hard to avoid. Now that I think of it, MaaS (Monster as a Service) might be a big money maker around here.

I know we would all like to see Service as a Service, but that may need to wait until Web 4.0 when we have all been virtualized. Personally, I can't wait to see what comes next. Given our place in the universe, I think that SoftLayer will have some influence and that's why I'm here...

-@gkdog

February 4, 2008

Nnet Strikes Back

I'm not going to tell you my name for two reasons: First, I don't want a million tickets assigned to me asking if I'm crazy. Second, if I am crazy, I don't want anyone knowing it's me.

I'm not a writer myself, so I asked Shawn to write this up for me. He's a programmer, and more important a Trekkie, so he's likely to understand (and more important, believe) this story. Besides, he's written a few humorous, slightly preposterous posts for this blog, and that's very, very important.

Unlucky as I am, I was the first person to notice something strange going on. I'm a datacenter tech for the company (but I'm not going to tell you WHICH datacenter), and my job... well, I'm the power guy. I make rounds in the datacenter, checking breakers and power panels, keep an eye on voltages in the portal, that kind of thing. No power issues at the datacenter? That's because of me. So, I'm perusing the tickets and keeping an eye on things, like I should.

As I was answering a particularly interesting ticket, I received an IM from a datacenter engineer I hadn't met yet. That's not surprising; we're growing like crazy here, and I don't always get the "Welcome a new employee" email before I find myself working with the guy or gal. I finished my ticket and opened up the IM window. It was from "Nnet," and the contents caused me to leap out of my seat:

"The power strips on the new racks (205, 206, 207) are drawing too much current; it will pop the breakers in 52 minutes, 12 seconds."

I had just CHECKED those racks. I walked down to the server room, muttering about some whippersnapper of a new engineer playing a trick on me. I was going on vacation in a week, and I did NOT want any power issues; I was training another engineer to take the console while I was gone, and if anything happened during testing I would surely be called in. Anyway, I walked into the server room and checked the gauges on the power panel.

And they were drawing almost a full five amps too much. If we had turned on the third rack, the whole aisle would have gone down. That wouldn't have been too bad; no servers were hooked up. This is exactly why we test the power before we put servers in.

I and the rack crew worked for about an hour rewiring the racks, starting from the third rack. Sure enough, about 52 minutes later, rack 205 shut down. Mentally thanking "Nnet" for finding this (and more importantly, not tinkering with it before letting me know!), we got the racks wired more efficiently (they're supposed to be on separate breakers, but the electrician labeled the wires wrong), reset the breakers, and had absolutely no issues for the rest of the day.

I got back and thanked "Nnet" for finding that issue. The next day, I got to thinking about how "Nnet" had saved my vacation (I would have spent all week tracing wires to figure out what had happened), and I wanted to invite him or her to lunch. So I IMmed "Nnet" with an invitation. An hour went by with no response, but it's not too strange to have a datacenter tech away from their desk for a couple hours. So I sent an email to Nnet.

The email bounced back.

-"Mystery Author"
Maybe HR hadn't set up the email yet? So I called them up to see what was up with Nnet's email address.

That's when HR told me that nobody with the last name "Net" had been hired (I thought "Net" was a strange name for a tech, but it's not the strangest last name I've ever heard). I called the networking department to ask how I could receive a company IM from somebody who doesn't work here? They researched it and couldn't find any incoming links through our firewalls or any of the internal logs. Stranger yet, the Jabber server indeed DOES have an account for "Nnet", but the engineer who runs the server swears that he never set that up.

We were discussing this back and forth when one of the developers walked by, overhearing our conversation. He laughed, and when we asked why, he told us that he was reading a book about the human brain, and that the brain is made up of million of millions of neurons all interconnected with each other; that these interconnected neurons work together to create intelligence.

Could that be true? Absolutely not. It's preposterous. Sure, we've got tens of thousands of computers around here, dual cores and quad cores running various operating systems and applications, all connected by an incredibly fast private network...

...could it be?

The engineers are all completely sure that one of the datacenter techs must be playing a joke, and they're currently tracking it down. But I'm not too convinced. "Nnet" knew which power strips were having trouble in a room keycarded to open only for me and a hand full of other techs. And they all swear they didn't send it.

That's when I talked to Shawn. He told me that there's a lot of technically minded people out there who read fantastic science fiction stories and come up with solutions... even knowing that the tech is impossible, they can find a way to solve the problem. So we hatched up this idea to write out a fantastic blog post, an interesting narrative of my predicament.
Then we'd post it to the blog and watch for any discussion on the customer forums. Our customers are really smart, and they like solving problems. Maybe somebody out there has an idea of how we can figure out what's going on around here.

So here's the story. A completely fantastic modern day science fiction story about a sentient datacenter.

Preposterous!

...any ideas?

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