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January 22, 2009

Wow!

So unless you are not a gamer or have been under a rock for the last 4 years, you have heard of World of Warcraft. Wow for short. Wow is one of those online role playing games where you can puttz around if you want or you can work with others in a team effort to down huge dungeon bosses in instances. At the start of Wow the end all, be all instances were 40-man raids. Just like it sounds like 40 people would get together in a raid and try to make their way to these dungeon bosses and kill them for various prizes.

Once I reached the appropriate level and started doing these instances, it became quite clear on the general make up of these groups. It was usually two very different types of "Raiders."

The first type is the core people. These were the guys who knew what they were doing. Usually in leadership positions or at least were competent enough that you did not have to manage them. They were trusted enough to know what to do and when to do it. When something new came up, they were the ones with ideas on how to tackle it. These were the ones who carried the raid.

The second type is the fillers. Generally these people didn't pay attention, always had to be told to stay on point, and basically to do their job. They were trying to hide in the cracks to get a free ride. These were the ones whose mistakes made something simple become overly complex or outright impossible. If you could not have them in the raid, you wouldn't.

Then the first expansion to Wow came out. Basically more content was added, the level cap was raised, and a lot of cool stories were introduced. One thing that didn't go unnoticed was the group limit of the new raid instances. They were now 10-man or 25-man, no more 40-man instances. This changed the dynamic completely. As you guessed it the fillers were the first to go in any group. If you didn't pull your weight you were kicked from the group. The learning curve became steeper as these new leaner, more agile groups, plowed through game content. If you were terrible you would eventually find yourself on the outside with a bad reputation. As anyone can tell you reps have a way of following you around no matter where you go.

After seeing this I realized SoftLayer was living in the new world. The people who formed SoftLayer knew they had to be lean, agile, and quick to adapt to what is going on in front and around them. If not they would be left on the outside. Not only were we living in the new world we live the new world. This philosophy/culture reverberates though out SoftLayer. The people here just know what needs to be done. Direction is given and the ideas go flying on how to get it done. No one here hides in the cracks trying to go unnoticed. Everyone brings something to the table.

A little while ago I heard a rumor that there was another hosting company out there that does as much as we do...but has 40 times as many people to do it...Probably just a rumor.

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January 20, 2009

Hope and Change

Hope and Change (oh, and make that change quick and it better be robust)

Remember when the internet used to be about bulletin boards, e-mail and other random tasks like keeping up with CNN, ESPN or whatever news outlet you may fancy? It wasn’t that long ago, but after some time in the internet industry I have to tell you that I was amazed today by a real life representation of the evolution not just of the internet, but communications as we know it.

As I write this, it’s 4:00pm CST on January 20, 2009. The significance of this day will be marked in history by the inauguration of the 44th president, Barack Obama. Love him, hate him, whatever your position is, you cannot deny the sheer volume of intrigue as we enter into this presidency and its influence on the next 4 or 8 years, depending on how history plays itself out.

This volume of intrigue has officially impacted the internet in a manner yet to be seen prior to today, but in a manner that is likely to be seen more and more as technology continues to progress. In Softlayer HQ, we have a U shaped office the spans two sides of a corporate office building with the glass walls of the exterior creating the exterior barrier, while the interior barriers are your typical sheetrock, egg white colored walls. In between the Glass and the sheetrock lie some 60-100 cubicles. As I walked from conference room to conference room, I could easily see the video streaming of the inauguration on dozens of our employees computers. Some used the really cool CNN/Facebook stream, some used the MSNBC Stream, some used others, but you get the idea. The fact that live streaming video of monumental events occurs on a video screen; while the tasks at hand are being completed is something that old movies portrayed as beyond belief. It’s really impressive the technologies that are at our fingertips and the abilities that we have to utilize these in our daily lives.

Softlayer had the opportunity to experience a real life “so what does that mean for internet going forward” example today. Recently we were approached by a large scale content delivery firm with the expectation that they had been contracted to do live streaming of the inauguration. With a simple introduction we indicated that we were well prepped to provide you the turnkey infrastructure to accomplish their task. Without going into great detail, the infrastructure included 200+ servers, multiple load balancers, firewalls, and other ancillary devices. With the on-demand nature of our business we were able to enable the infrastructure to functional within a 4 hour period. Although stated to the customer, they had their reservations, but true to our stated deployment times, we met with flying colors, the expectations.

So the real test, Performance! Although still streaming through what is likely to be one of the biggest, most watched events on the internet, Softlayer increased sustained bandwidth north of an additional 30Gbps to our network IP over and above our usual sustained bandwidth levels. Utilizing the 200+ Gbps of capacity throughout our network, we were in a fortunate position to have the capacity and the infrastructure in place to support such a large event. I am sure that the cellular firms wish they had prepped for better capacity in terms of spikes in usage. With many hearts racing in the throughout the office, but especially in the network department due to the bandwidth graphs racing upwards, all of here at Softlayer are excited that we were part of the day’s events. The many many meetings that involved robust network discussions, capacity planning, future growth models, etc. were all validated today with this event. The ‘We’ll never use that much’ and ‘that’s overkill’ discussions have all been put to rest. By deploying 40Gbps to each rack and building upstream capabilities that have capacity not as an issue, but as a planning and growth tool, we are extremely excited about what the future holds in terms of online, internet communications. We are looking forward to the next generation of internet technology as it becomes more and more robust. Our mantra remains firm as the leader in next generation virtualized data center services and we look forward to realizing the things that movies portray as beyond belief.

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January 16, 2009

Wizard Needs Food Badly... Wizard is About to Die.

Anyone familiar with arcade games from the 80s would recognize that line. It's from the arcade game Gauntlet, which was also featured on the NES and had a number of sequels on other systems. Wizard was always about to die, because Wizard was a big wimp. For those of you unfamiliar with Gauntlet in particular, it was one of the first games that allowed you to keep playing as long as you kept shoving your hard-earned quarters into the slot. In essence, Gauntlet was the first electronic subscription based service. You keep playing as long as you keep paying. However, Gauntlet never seemed to keep a customer for longer than about 20 minutes. Maybe that's because your characters went through health like a Hummer goes through gasoline...but I digress.

Since Gauntlet, the subscription based service model has really improved. SoftLayer employs it, as you know. However, unlike Gauntlet, we charge by the month. This is a key distinction. Whereas Gauntlet was always trying to kill you to get another quarter, SoftLayer focuses on protecting you. We do everything we can to make sure that your experience is a happy one, and that you are never "about to die." To that end we employ several awesome features to both improve your experience as a customer, and to ensure your servers' safety.

Some of the features that I think are the coolest are the ones that work passively in the background without user intervention. They just exist, sitting there and making SoftLayer the best place to have a server. For instance, our private network is always there, always on, ready for our customers to use. From secure server management to private file transfers and backup, the private network is one of our most awesome features, and everyone gets it immediately. It's always there, ready for you to use for your needs.

Our TippingPoint protection is another great feature that runs constantly in the background. If you are a current customer, you can look under "Public Network" for the "network ids" section to view the attacks on your servers in the last 24 hours. Scary stuff, huh? At the time of this writing, our TippingPoint servers have successfully blocked more than 200,000 attacks in the last 24 hours against our three data centers in Dallas, Seattle, and Washington DC. The internet is a dangerous place, but the SoftLayer network is insulated against the port scanners, botnets, and various other malicious activity.

There are other systems we have in place that customers never notice. We have redundant power supplies, multiple internet links, and 24/7 staff in place specifically so that the customer won't notice when something has gone awry. These systems, while very "active" from our perspective, run in the background as far as customers are concerned, constantly ensuring that the servers stay awake, cool, and dry.

In addition to these (and many more) passive features keeping you safe, there's also active features. We have firewalls, DDOS protection, and load balancers you can configure to make sure your servers stay up. If they go down, we have cross-datacenter backup solutions, monitoring servers, and portable IP addresses to make sure your downtime is as short as possible. Whatever could cause your server harm, we're trying to help you avoid it. In the case where it was unavoidable, we offer a multitude of solutions to minimize downtime and recover from disaster.

So if you're currently pumping quarters into something that's actively trying to kill you, why not save up and get a SoftLayer server for a month. We'll protect you.

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January 7, 2009

Give A Man A Fish...

We have a saying around the NOC here at Softlayer. You can give a man a fish to eat today, but if you don’t tell him how you caught it, he will go hungry tomorrow. Well, maybe that’s not how it goes… let me explain.

Every day, I tout the greatest things about my job to my ‘techie’ buddies. However, some of them don’t even know about the technologies I mention.

The IPMI/KVM console is probably the greatest tool I have for investigating and fixing issues other than my brain/eyes/hands. Using IPMI, I am able to interact with the KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) input/output of a server. I can reboot, check bios settings, reconfigure a raid, or even watch a ‘task manager’ or ‘top’ output in real time.

The best part about IPMI is that it is integrated into the majority of our SLystems and allows the technician/customer to investigate connectivity issues (and more) via a network connection that is independent of the public network interface. Many times, I find that even our most savvy customers have never had the opportunity to ‘test drive’ IPMI/KVM.

Here is a great example:

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CSA: Softlayer Technologies. How may I help you?

USR: My server is down and I have created a ticket #xxxxx. Can you help?

CSA: Of course. I can see that the server is not pinging.

USR: We adjusted the firewall rules and now we cannot connect to the server. I believe we have locked ourselves out!

CSA: I am connecting via the IPMI/KVM to verify that the interfaces are up. May I disable the firewall temporarily?

USR: No! We cannot have the firewall down for any period of time. What is IPMI/KVM?

CSA: It is a handy remote interface to use the server as if you were standing in front of it with keyboard, video and mouse. Have you used this feature before?

USR: No. I have seen the IPMI section in the portal before, but didn’t know what it was for.

CSA: Here - let me help you use the tutorials listed in the portal. Once you are connected, you can edit the firewall rules without losing connection.

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This is why IPMI is valuable and should be a part of any administrator’s toolset. As in the example above, the information in the portal was enough to get the user acclimated and connected. He resolved the issue without my direct interaction and updated the ticket with appreciation.

Have you used your IPMI today?

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January 5, 2009

Like Santa, DOS Does Not Take Christmas Off

One would think that on holidays, DOS attacks (Denial of service attacks) would be lower than usual. Historically speaking, holidays and major events such as the Super Bowl, traffic patterns and ticket activity are typically lower than usual. Based on that statistic, one might think that the number of DOS attacks, port scans, and general mischief / hacking would be down as well. Such is not the case unfortunately. Here during the joyful holidays, the Internet brings us yet another present… one of DOS attacks and HTTP floods. Below is a breakdown of DOS attacks greater than 500 Mbps or 100Kpps (packets per second):

12/23 – 8 attacks

12/24 – 6 attacks
12/25 – 12 attacks

12/26 – 7 attacks

12/27 – 8 attacks

Based on the information above, we can surely see that Christmas, the day of giving, has presented us with a variety of attacks to break down into detail. If we look at them based on time, we find the following:

3:45am – 1.64Gbps (1638.5Mbps)
12:20pm – 2.56Gbps

12:40pm – 2.56Gbps

1:20pm – 2.35Gbps

1:35pm – 193Kpps (193,000pps) 

2:10pm - 2.04Gbps 

2:20pm – 2.26Gbps

6:00pm – 186Kpps

6:20pm – 804Mbps

6:55pm – 552.9Mbps

7:11pm – 212Kpps

7:11pm – 578.8Mbps

DOS Attacks

One can deduct that this is due to the fact that the people initiating these attacks do not celebrate Christmas or have excess time on their hands because of their time off. They might also do this on a day that they think you are most vulnerable like a holiday or off- hours. Fortunately here at Softlayer we have an extensive automated DOS system comprised of multiple Cisco Anomaly Guards driven by an anomaly detection system using Arbor Peakflow SPs, flow-tools, and a variety of internally developed defense protocols. We have three (3) 24x7 Network Operation Centers (NOCs) that that are prepared to handle these situations as they arise. So what is my point… not really sure because I am not trying to sound like a commercial. But you need to choose your hosting provider wisely and make sure they have the ability to react to DOS attacks at any time, any day, during any event. DOS does not take time off… neither should your provider.

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January 1, 2009

Shake Your Money Maker

Ever since I installed a firefox add-on that would tell me the physical location of servers I visit on the web, I’ve begun noticing that there’s a lot of servers in Los Angeles. Now, at first glance this makes a lot of sense. LA is a sprawling city with millions of people and an enormous telecommunications infrastructure. The real estate is cheap, compared to other cities of similar size, and it’s relatively centrally located as far as the population of the West coast is concerned. I finally realized why it bothered me so much: Earthquakes.

Most tech-savvy users will realize that shaking a computer hard drive during a read or a write could potentially damage your data or even ruin the entire drive. Certain laptop manufacturers (Apple and Lenovo come easily to mind) even have laptops that can sense when they’ve been dropped so they can put an emergency break on the hard drive to prevent this damage. Server hardware doesn’t have that luxury, as servers aren’t generally designed to shake, rattle, or roll.

However, what happens to those LA data centers during an earthquake? Presumably they use the industry-standard solid steel racks on a raised tile floor. I haven’t seen (nor did I come across during a short Google search) any data centers with spring-loaded raised floors. It’s also safe to assume there’s no padding on the servers themselves, as that would exacerbate an already difficult temperature problem all data centers face.

So what happens, do you think? I’ve never worked on a data center on a fault line, but I imagine that, when an earthquake hits, the servers shake just like the rest of the building. And I also imagine that some of those servers are performing reads or writes to their hard drives during that time. I wonder how much data is lost due to earthquakes every year.

At SoftLayer we have intelligently located our main data center thousands of miles from the edge of our tectonic plate, leaving our Dallas customers safely unshaken. Yes, Dallas is at the bottom of Tornado Alley, but that’s where our second genius play comes in. We’ve chosen Dallas instead of Ft. Worth! For those of you not familiar with the DFW metroplex: due to the area’s geography, Ft. Worth receives the majority of the tornado attention for the area, leaving Dallas relatively unscathed.

Even SoftLayer’s coastal data centers are located far from active earthquake zones. Seattle gets far fewer earthquakes than the more Southerly major West coast cities, and our data center in DC hasn’t been shaken in a millennium at least. So to all those companies that put their data in LA-based data centers: why shake your money maker, so to speak?

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December 29, 2008

Laptop Gone Missing Contains Data of a “Sensitive” Nature

The following news article came down the SP Wire on Thursday December 18 @ 05:00 Greenwich Mean Time.

At approximately 11:30 Eastern Time senior agent Donald Bolden of the FBI’s cyber crime division held a press conference at the Langley, VA field office to confirm rumors that a laptop containing a large amount of sensitive information had indeed gone missing from the prominent Kringle Corp entity. The information contained on the laptop, is cited as “personal data” by Bolden, but an unnamed source tells this reporter the missing database is purportedly the infamous “naughty list”. Among other items, the stolen laptop holds the full name, address, and social security number for an estimated 2.2 billion minors from all around the world.

“This heinous act of theft truly has the potential to turn this Christmas holiday upside down,” said Bolden. “We urge the responsible party to turn yourself and the laptop in.” At this point in the investigation, the FBI and Kringle Corp are offering amnesty to anyone who brings the stolen property forward. “Don’t kid yourself though,” Bolden warned. “The FBI will find the culprit in this crime and should the laptop not be recovered until after December 24th CEO and founder of Kringle Corp, world renowned philanthropist Christopher Kringle himself, has agreed to prosecute to the full extent of the law.”

When describing exactly how the laptop went missing details get a little fuzzy. According to company logs, the laptop was last signed for by one Edward Keebler. Keebler worked for Elfco, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kringle Corp located just outside of Mexico City. The laptop was apparently left in Keebler’s car. Company policy strictly prohibits the taking of any company laptop from the premises and as such, Keebler has been let go.

In a statement from Keebler’s lawyer, Mr. Keebler expressed being “truly sorry” for his actions. He states he was aware of the company policy, but under extreme stress from working long hours at the toy assembly plant. He had intended to use the laptop from home to catch up on some paperwork. He now realizes it was a mistake, he agrees with Kringle’s decision to terminate his employment, and he asks nothing more than to be left alone. Keebler’s lawyer also confirmed that his client would be leaving Mexico and returning to his family’s summer home, where he hopes to maybe go back to work as a pastry decorator in his older brother’s cookie factory.

While Bolden states he believes the thief or thieves probably were not aware of what was on the hard drive of the red and white striped laptop when it was taken, the FBI has not yet ruled out that this was an act of sabotage. “Let’s face it,” said Bolden. “Everybody and their brother wants to be Mr. Kringle. If this Christmas gets wrecked, there are a number of other entities out there who stand to gain from Kringle Corp’s misfortune.” Although Bolden refused to name any of Kringle’s competitors specifically, in a public announcement to shareholders just last April, founder and majority stockholder, E. Bunny, of the East-R conglomerate stood before his fellow stake holders and announced his clear intention to move his company into the pole position by the year 2011, using “whatever means necessary”.

While Christopher Kringle himself was not available for comment, his “right-hand-sized” man, Jack Frost, made a statement on his behalf. “Regardless of the outcome to this series of unfortunate events, Mr. Kringle and his entire organization is dedicated to their vision. If we have to double our call center staff in India , telephone every parent, and re-key all the data, then that’s what we’ll do.” Despite the seriousness of this situation, Mr. Frost remained cheerful. As he hurried along with his personal security entourage from the site of the press conference to his corporate sleigh, he took the time to comfort one somber looking little boy and his mother.

“ You can count on us,” Frost told the teary eyed kid. “We are going to do whatever it takes to insure a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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December 22, 2008

Christmas is a SASsy Time of Year!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Bodhi Day, Happy Santa Lucia Day, Happy Las Posadas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Boxing Day, Happy Kwanzaa, and last but not least Happy SASsy day!

You find yourself wondering what Happy SASsy day might be, well I am here to tell you. SoftLayer has done it. We put our processes and procedures on the line and let other people check them out, and we passed. I have never been very good at tests as my brother got 99% of the brain DNA in our family.

That means our SAS 70 assessment is complete, and we are compliant and exception free! We completed it without a single time extension and did it the first time through. What does this mean? This means that our customers are safe with us and our reseller customers are safe as well. It also means they you have been safe with us since day one and now we have been looked at under a microscope to prove it. We have procedures in place to protect our customers and we actually follow them. If you are a public traded company that needs structure, processes, procedures, great sales and support, and a customer portal that is most likely the best and most powerful you have ever seen then now is the time to come give us a try. You have seen the rest now come see the best.

SoftLayer Technologies, Inc. SAS-70 Complete.

Next?

We are feeling SASsy here at SoftLayer!

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December 18, 2008

Red Tape Anyone?

An important goal for most IT shops, at least most that I’ve been in contact with, is to have their software and/or hardware at high availability. Although outages will happen, why would a company want to prolong the outage? I don’t know either, but it does happen. I for one, think processes and procedures are needed to keep an IT shop running smoothly, but when is it too much? Generally when a company has to present to a committee of what the outage is, why it happened, estimated time of repair and whose fault it was.

Personally I’ve seen these meetings take hours!! When all along the problem is a one line code fix! BUT you still have two committees to go through before you can even push the code to production! After the problem has been explained in 14 different ways to 14 different people and a developer has been sacrificed, NOW you can propose your solution and hope they don’t decide to stone you! (Oh yeah, expect about 14 more questions on your solution) Now you get to do the one line code fix, test and build. (This whole step probably took about 10 minutes)

Then you get to present to a committee who will decide if they want to take the responsibility of building/pushing your code or not. Look on the bright side; this meeting won’t take as long as the first meeting and less questions! Once your one line of code has been built/pushed, now you can test – AGAIN, and present your results to the last committee. At last, your code is pushed to production. This whole process can take anywhere from 6 to 24 hours, but the actual fix (the important piece!!!) took less than 10 minutes!! And yes, you the developer get to work the whole time. This is when processes and procedures, or as I like to call it “red tape” get in the way of what is really important – high availability to the customer.

Here at SoftLayer we know what is important to our customers. We also know that high availability is most important to our customers. As a developer, I personally empathize with the customer when sitting during an outage or downtime. We know how crucial it is for us to keep our customers running their business at ALL times, so we keep our processes and procedures streamlined to benefit us developers and most important our customers. We want to stay away from the saying “we need to cut the red tape”. Working here at SoftLayer, I have now seen both sides and believe me when I say “No red tape for me!”.

Remember a goal of 99.99% availability throughout a year does not leave much room for downtime, so use that time wisely. Whew!!! Just be glad it wasn’t a two line code fix.

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December 5, 2008

Circular Technology

This weekend I took my son and two of his classmates to a Dallas Stars game. With three 15 year old boys in the car, I simply did the driving and listened to the conversation. Of course the conversation was broader than just the three of them. They all had cell phones, of course, and each one was texting several other friends as they conversed together. So as near as I can tell, the conversation encompassed about a dozen people – three of whom were in my car.

Here’s a snippet of the conversation:

“I hate the auto-correct feature on my iPhone. Whenever I try to type in abbreviations, it changes it to something I don’t want.”

“They fixed that in the latest software update. Here, let me turn that off for you.”

“Cool. Thanks!”

“I like my Blackberry because it has buttons I can actually mash. I can enter text without having to look.”

“What do you think about the new Blackberry Storm? How would you enter text without looking? I mean the screen clicks but there’s no buttons.”

“Hey, why don’t they make a phone where you can enter text with voice recognition? Then you could just speak your words into the phone, they pop up as text on the screen, and the only button you have to push is ‘Send’.”

“Well, if you’re gonna talk into your phone, why don’t you just call them?”

Suddenly, the technology has come full circle. LOL!

As SoftLayer prepares its cloud computing offerings for market, I think the same thing is going on. Technology is coming full circle.

When I first started making my living in technology in the late 1980’s, I was a programmer. Anyone remember COBOL? The software company where I worked had a mainframe that they leased from IBM. They didn’t own it. Each employee was connected via terminal – a gargantuan metal monochrome monitor with a clacky metal keyboard that weighed probably over 100 pounds and could withstand a bomb blast complete with a cable that could also be used to dock a cruise ship. The company paid for its IT needs based on CPU time. Naturally, we were motivated to write programs that minimized CPU usage in the mainframe. All of our applications and corporate email were connected to a central IT source.

After the mainframe, standalone desktop machines began popping up. Then they began to be connected with Token Ring or Novell networks and the client/server architecture was born. When the Internet came along, these machines on people’s desks made the phenomena of Cyber Monday possible.

Now according to Lance, everything is “cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud.” SoftLayer’s cloud offering will allow our customers to keep all their applications and corporate email in one central IT source which the customer will not own, i.e., “the cloud.” It will be billed on a usage basis. The more the customer uses, the more he/she will be billed. The computing power can be instantly scaled up or down as needed. Just as I was motivated to be efficient in CPU usage in the 80’s, companies will be able to control costs on the fly by adopting efficient use of cloud resources.

This sounds a lot like the late 1980’s to me. But I never dreamed that that beast of a machine in the room down the hall could ever be called “the cloud.”

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