introductions

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

July 20, 2008

SLales Quotas

It's usually unwise to place bets on what the SoftLayer Slales Team can and cannot sell. We will blow the quota out of the water every time.

But still, we like to place harmless wagers from time to time. Sure we have sales quotas every month, but sometimes our Management team likes to make it interesting by seeing how far beyond our goals we can get each month. May was the BEST sales “spiff” to date. George Karidis was unfortunately on the losing end this month, and had to shave the 3-bars logo into the back of his head. He wore it proudly to customer/vendor meetings & dinners until they grew out.

To be fair, the SoftLayer Sales team has a remarkably easy time making our numbers - it's almost effortless to meet or exceed our server quota every month when you're are standing behind the best product on the market, and working among the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic sales team in the industry.

Go Team SoftLayer!

-Mary

Categories: 
July 18, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

I've been reducing my calorie intake, as I'm a bit overweight. However, lately I've noticed that my weight, which has been trending downward, has taken a bit of a stall. I've been trying to figure out why. And I think I have.

Movies.

I love movie theater popcorn. And there have been so many good movies lately! I've enjoyed Get Smart, I loved Speed Racer, smiled at Hancock, and have seen Wall-E three times!

And each time I buy a bag of popcorn.

That racks up to a lot of popcorn this summer season.

See, Hollywood complained for years that people just aren't watching movies. Maybe the movie industry is dying? Violent videogames are taking away the marketshare! Or maybe people just don't appreciate ART anymore.

Then a giant alien fleet landed and replaced everyone in Hollywood with doubles. But the doubles weren't perfect, see, because these doubles have done something that no Hollywood executive has thought to do for years.

THEY'RE MAKING MOVIES PEOPLE WANT TO SEE!

It's like suddenly somebody realized; hey, people have to WANT to see Hancock before they go see it! People want well made movies with plot and character development! People want more than just whizbang special effects and cheap jokes! And they started making it! And they started making tons of money again.

Same thing SoftLayer does, you see. We built a network which CUSTOMERS want, even though it's a bit more difficult to make. We buy servers that CUSTOMERS want, instead of cheaper servers that we can buy in bulk. We've bundled the kind of bandwidth providers that CUSTOMERS want, instead of buying cheap bandwidth so we can have big bandwidth numbers. We built a world class control panel, and then added an API for people who want even more control.

And guess what? Customers are buying our stuff.

Huh. Who knew.

I wonder if we have any popcorn in the break room.

-Zoey

Categories: 
July 2, 2008

Welcome to Starbucks

"Welcome to Starbucks!" "Uh yea I’ll have a half decaf grande half-soy, half-low fat, iced white chocolate mocha, double-shot, gingerbread latte, extra dry, light ice, with 3 Splenda’s, one Sweet-n'-Low, and one NutraSweet please!" "…Coming right up, Next!" "Umm, I want a hot tall skinny upside down with a whip caramel macchiato" "Nice Choice! Next!" "I will have a Grande extra shot fresh skim milk latte, extra foam, 2 splenda’s and a dash of cocoa!" I am sure that makes sense to all of you. You can’t discount (and they certainly don’t) Starbucks for letting you have it like you want it.

It’s like the Burger King slogan, "Have it your way" I want a Whopper with cheese, extra cheese, bacon, extra pickles, no onion, light mayo, extra ketchup, a large fry and a chocolate shake with strawberry syrup mixed in. Well that just made me hungry.

SoftLayer isn’t much different than a Starbucks or a Burger King. With our full line of servers, services, network and locations you too can make your order as easy or as complex as you like. And yes you can have it like you like it, need it, or even have it your way! It could look like this:

"uhh, yea I would like a server in Dallas, TX. A Quad Proc Quad Core Intel 7320 2.13 Ghz Tigerton with 8gb of Ram, 3000 GB of public bandwidth, 8 secondary IP’s, redundant power supplies, Four 300gb 15K RPM Scsi Drives configured in a Raid5 array, Windows Server 2008 Standard, Business continuance Insurance, TCP Service monitoring, Automated reboot from monitoring and an ASA 100Mbps Firewall. I would then like a server in Seattle, WA. Make it a Quad Proc Quad Core Intel 7310 1.60 Ghz Tigerton with 16gb of Ram, 6000 GB of public bandwidth,168 secondary IP’s, redundant power supplies, Two 250gb SATA II drives configured in a Raid1 mirror, Debian, TCP Service monitoring, Automated reboot from monitoring and an APF software firewall for Linux. Then I need a Quad Proc Quad Core Opteron 8346 1.80GHz in Washington DC with 32GB ram, 10000GB of public bandwidth, 128 Secondary IP’s, a single 1TB SATA II hard Drive, 1GB Lockbox, 250GB NAS, 80GB of iSCSI SAN Storage, a 500GB Evault backup, Redhat Ent. Linux 5, Plesk 8, Urchin, 24x7x365 NOC Monitoring, notification, and Response, McAfee Virus Scan and McAfee Free PCI Scans for life oh and I almost forgot I would like a CDNLayer Account as well!" "…Coming right up!"

As you can see an order from SoftLayer can be just as fulfilling and just as hard to say in one breath as a special burger from Burger King or even your favorite drink at Starbucks. Don’t let the crazy amount of options we offer make your ordering experience any harder than it should be. If you have any questions at all, one of our fine upstanding SLales folks will be glad to walk you through it from beginning to end. Happy Ordering!

What is your Favorite Starbucks order?

-Skinman

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