November 6, 2009

Think Large, Think Global!

As an executive at Softlayer, one of the things that I am amazed by is the number of unique and extremely innovative ideas that we see on a daily basis from our customers. We love the fact that these groups understand the value of what we do, while focusing their energy on their core competencies. It’s the perfect relationship for us and one that we try to cultivate and grow continuously.

One of the challenges that we face is sharing information related to the entire breadth of our service offerings in a simple and useful way. Our business model is such that the cycle from first contact to purchase decision tends to be short. Most customers typically come in with a specified set of required services. We often hear comments like “we didn’t know you offered that as well” from customers that come to us with a shopping list and take advantage of the self-service capabilities that we offer. Global load balancing, CDN, and Data Center to Data Center back-up are all examples of products that we have heard get overlooked. It’s a tough balance between over selling and allowing a tech savvy customer work his way through the waters (so to speak).

One of the other challenges that we face here is overcoming the “we don’t need that” syndrome. I look at it practically and associate it with insurance and how it’s never needed, until something occurs that it makes it a must have. In tech terms, I recently read an article on “The Tech Catastrophe you’re ignoring” that typifies this “we don’t need that syndrome”. The article encompasses the idea of back-ups for your data. There is discussion that the business of dead drive recovery globally is up staggering rates and it’s due to the lack of people backing up data on a continuous basis. We hear this loud and clear at SoftLayer when a customer would accidentally lose data that they wish they would have spent the extra few dollars a month to back up. It seems trivial post incident, but pre incident it’s one of those decisions that gets passed on quite frequently.

As mentioned, the uniqueness and innovation that lives in SoftLayer’s service offering is tremendous. As our CEO hammers home the message of think large and think global to us every day, I want to pass that message onto our customers. What you do is driving industry, innovation and all that comes along with it. We hope that the decision making process for you as a customer is driven by thinking large and thinking globally and that you take advantage of the solutions that we offer to make your work more functional, more secure, more robust, and more effective. I can’t imagine telling my boss that ‘we didn’t need that’ if it was something that we did need and it was right in front of me. I am sure many of you share that sentiment!

November 4, 2009


Imagine this… You’ve decided to move to a new location, experience a new culture, and try new things. Let’s pretend for this particular instance that you’ve decided to take a trip to Magrathea to get away from it all. After a few weeks you start picking up a few local phrases, learn the native idiosyncrasies, and assimilate yourself into the culture of the Magratheans. Later you notice that you’ve assimilated quite well, and what used to be weird, different, and sort of scary has become second nature to you. You then can talk the talk and walk the walk.

Such is a similar case here at SL. You start, and regardless of the knowledge level coming in (I hadn’t been exposed to the web hosting industry before my tenure began here at SL), you feel a bit overwhelmed. The people, the culture and even the SLanguage is slightly different from the rest of the world. We move faster, work harder, and laugh more than the average technician. While at first glance life here at SL seems overwhelming, soon one realizes that they’re starting to get it together. Soon the pieces start to come together, and it only snowballs from there.

I’ll never forget my training. The new hardware, the IPMI, the automated provisions… it all seemed so unreal, confusing, and at times crazy. After working in depth for some time, I began to get the hang of things, and then I was able to solve more and more complex problems, and eventually teach the trainees the ways of the SLayer, and the cycle would continue. I’ve since taken on new responsibilities, and continue to learn new things every day – all through exposure. I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that regardless of how well you think you know something, nothing teaches like exposure and immersion into a particular topic.

November 2, 2009

It’s All About Perception

American cars aren’t reliable. That is what the 70’s and 80’s taught me. Up until then it was about the only choice. Enter the Datsun’s, Toyota’s and Mazda’s they were lower priced and didn’t break down as often and it wasn’t like breaking a chicken bone to turn on the blinker. Today, American cars are much more reliable and the 3 or 4 I have had in the last 10 years have had few or no problems at all. But ask anyone my age and you got it; America cars aren’t reliable. You know what they say, “perception is 9/10th’s of the law” or is that possession. Oh well.

Would you rather have an RCA Small Wonder or Flip Video device? I bet that due to the great marketing minds of the world and the type of folks that read blogs you want the Flip Video and you are now on Google trying to find out what the heck an RCA Small Wonder is. This is probably more related to marketing but even now that you have searched and you know what the Small Wonder is, which would you buy? It’s the perception that RCA is old and wasn’t and still isn’t very reliable. It’s also why Radio Shack is now just The Shack, it was time to rebrand because Radio Shack was for the “Bolt-On” generation and The Shack is for the “integrated” generation. Where is all this leading?

In a recent meeting I was asked why we sell more LAMP stack operating systems (RedHat, CentOS, Debian, Etc.) than we do Microsoft Servers and the point was made that there is still the perception that Windows in insecure and has lots of bugs. I believe Microsoft has a huge mountain to climb to rid the world of this perception whether it is true or not, much like the American auto industry. Even if they release a secure and stable product today, and they have, it would still take many years for our society to realize it. Why? Because much like RCA, Microsoft was around when technology was just starting to become cool. As Lance (our CEO) would say, “RCA and Windows NT Server came out in a time period when the people using them were in a bolt-on mentality and today’s users are fully integrated into the technological lifestyle.” What does that mean? The bolt-on generation saw things happen and had do adapt: knobs on TV’s became remotes, rotary phones became push button became cordless became bag became cellular phones, arcade games became pong became Atari became Nintendo became Wii video games, Commodore became IBM XT became clones (running Windows 3.1) became Dell (running Windows 95) became servers (running NT4.0) became the Internet (running LAMP stacks and Windows servers), and this list could go on and on. I think I need a t-shirt that says “I’m a Bolt-on”. My kids however, are fully integrated into this lifestyle and don’t realize how bad some things were in technology to get to where we are today. They wake up every day and technology is everywhere they turn. Of course technology still changes quickly and people have to adapt, but the changes aren’t as life changing as they were when technology was young. The bolt-on society is much more forgiving of mistakes with technological advances where the integrated society wants perfection. They hear on TV and the radio that Windows is insecure and had/has bugs and they want instant gratification and perfect technology. Some of the bad stigma Windows has is due to the bolt-on generation using Windows desktop software and applying those bad memories to the new Server products from Microsoft. If Vista is unstable and insecure then Server 2008 must be as well, right? Linux, on the other hand, was a server OS first and then became a desktop tool. It just didn’t get scrutinized like the Windows OS’s and since it’s desktop product isn’t as mainstream its issues are mainly low key and under the radar.

Microsoft has some challenges in the coming years and may need to take a few lessons from the American car manufacturers and “The Shack”. I believe a large separation of the desktop OS’s and the Server OS’s is needed and it all starts with rebranding the server choices. Maybe the desktop OS keeps the Windows name but change the Server Operating System to “Insert cool trendy name here” and drop Windows from it completely. This is just my opinion and I could be wrong.

This was a long read so I think I will go get in my unreliable American truck and hit the road, I am just 33,000 miles from hitting 300K!

October 30, 2009

Powered By the Internet

I recently engaged in an interesting conversation with my significant other. It went something like this:

Her: "The company made us take our facebook page down, because it wasn't official"
Me: "Really? I figured that'd be an awesome way to market your company... Create a group, invite all of your customers to join you, and advertise via facebook"
Her: ...

While the actual conversation did last a lot longer, she later made a valid point. Being well versed in the web hosting industry (as she has to deal with my barrage of nerdery on a daily basis), she mentioned that it made complete sense that a company such as SoftLayer should use the Internet, and social networking to connect the employees, customers, and fans together, pushing that envelope just a little bit further. Our whole operation, after all, is in fact powered by the internet.

We have all avenues open for social networking to help us power our business. You can look at what's going on in SoftLayer at any given moment via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, The InnerLayer... the list goes on, and surely continues to grow. It's only a matter of time until the next best thing comes around (does anyone remember MySpace, or Friendster?), I'll bet a paycheck* that we'll be quick** to jump on board.

After all, when all is said and done, there's no wrong way to market yourself. People do it all the time in their social networking profiles. They may present themselves as a party animal, a scholar, or a hard worker, but regardless, they're putting their image out for the world to see... and while it seems like a large paradigm shift for businesses, when one stops to think about it, it makes perfect sense; it's a free outlet to market yourself!

So while some companies are stuck in low gear, SoftLayer has hit the throttle, and speeding ahead, continuously braving ahead into new and interesting ideas. We'll continue to push the limits of what's acceptable to most, and use every tool to get our name on the streets.

* Comment made in jest. I will NOT bet an entire paycheck.
** I make no guarantees as to exactly how "quick" quick will be

October 28, 2009

Meet Virus Jack

I am Jack’s Vundo Virus. I cause Jack’s computer to have popup. I also disable Windows Automatic Updates, task manager, registry editor, and msconfig so Jack cannot boot to safe mode. I use Jack’s Norton AntiVirus to help spread my infection. I make Jack’s google searches to redirect to rogue antispyware sites. Jack got me by not keeping his system up to date. Now there are programs out there designed to remove me but the best way is for Jack to reformat. Let’s hope he has backups. Morale of this story is keep your computers up to date with the latest OS updates, AntiVirus definitions and program updates.

October 26, 2009

Dickies, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap…SoftLayer?

Is there anything SoftLayer can't do!!?? Of course not! It seems every day I come to work there is something new that we are offering. Today, I came in ready to read up on any new products we might have released, and to my surprise, we now have a clothing line! Can you believe it!? SoftLayer now has clothing for employees. This includes everything from sweatshirts, to polo's, to t-shirts, to hats, to specialized shirts, including workout shirts. I must say I find the workout shirts ironic considering the number of employees that actually workout. I believe the number is 3...oh wait...maybe 4. I'm not sure how many golfers we have, but the ones who do golf will look good in their SL gear. I hope the SoftLayer clothing line is opened up to the public soon as I would love to see my company represented in the mall by a random “Joe” who appreciated an amazing company. It is truly exciting seeing a company go from several employees in a "closet" and one server room, to a huge entity with a multitude of server rooms, multiple datacenters in multiple locations, a huge array offerings, a cutting edge mentality, a solid track record, a commitment to be the best in the business, and yes, now offers a clothing line. SoftLayer has taken a huge bite out of the on-demand data center and hosting industry and continues to hunger for more. I guess now is the time to put the top clothing manufacturers on notice as SoftLayer is comin' for ya!

October 22, 2009

Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful.

People just can't take a joke.

I'd like to start this tale of revenge by letting you know what a family affair Truck Day is around here. All month long, every month, SoftLayer's lightning fast infrastructure team works to build our high density racks from the ground up. They put in some serious hours to meet our fast paced deadlines, and at the end of the month everyone pitches in to fill those racks up with servers. Early in the morning all of our team members will pile in, sleepy eyed and jonesing for coffee (with the exception of the overnight "SLombies," who are jonesing for bed), to unload a semi truck full of servers.

Here's some pics of the event from way back.

Truck Day 1
The Unload
Truck Day 2
The Stack and Sort

True, it's not as fun as.. well, most things. But SoftLayer's Truck Day is an institution. A bonafide tradition! And I'd hate for anyone to think that I forgot one.

After scrimping and saving (and accepting generous handouts from family members) I finally got to cut loose and fly to Hawaii for a few days in the sun. The Mrs. and I made the most of it and headed to the beach as often as we could. While I was there I took this harmless photo and uploaded it to Facebook, to let everyone know that I was thinking of them on truck day:

Beach Day
Happy Truck Day

Apparently, it wasn't taken in the light hearted manner in which it was meant.

Desk 1
Desk 2
Desk 3

It's dangerous to go on vacation.


October 20, 2009

Droid Award Update: Romeo Rodriguez


Droid Award Update: Romeo Rodriguez 

All hail Romeo Rodriguez for he has received the Destroyer Droid Award!

Romeo has stepped up in the face of the opposition - and destroyed them! He consistently takes care of business, helping to prioritize daily tasks, escalate high priority issues promptly, and execute emergency procedures swiftly and efficiently.

Another one of SoftLayers outstanding techs!


Destroyer Droid Award
The Destroyer Droid Award is given to a tech who, like the Destroyer Droid, consistently rolls into situations, takes control, and "destroys" them. Techs with this award look at the bigger picture, and go outside their realm of job description, making sure projects and tasks are completed with proper prioritization, no matter how many. Awardees frequently think like a manager and are quick to help coordinate workload among fellow employees.
October 19, 2009

I have backups…Don’t I?

There is some confusion out there on what’s a good way to back up your data. In this article we will go over several options for good ways to backup and sore your backups along with a few ways that are not recommended.

There is some confusion out there on what’s a good way to back up your data. In this article we will go over several options for good ways to backup and sore your backups along with a few ways that are not recommended.

When it comes to backups storing them off site (off your server or on a secondary drive not running your system) is the best solution with storing them off site being the recommended course.

When raids come into consideration just because the drives are redundant (a lave mirror situation) there are several situations, which can cause a complete raid failure such as the raid controller failing, the array developing a bad stripe. Drive failure on more than one drive(this does happen though rarely) , out of date firmware on the drives and the raid card causing errors. Using a network storage device like our evault or a nas storege is also an excellent way to store backups off system. The last thing to consider is keeping your backups up to date. I suggest making a new back every week at minimum (if you have very active sites or data bases I would recommend a every other day backup or daily backup). It is up to you or your server administrator to keep up with your backups and make sure they are kept up to date. If you have a hardware failure and your backups are well out of date it’s almost like not having them at all.

In closing consider the service you provide and how your data is safe, secure, and recoverable. These things I key to running a successful server and website.

October 16, 2009

Raid 1 or Raid 0: which should I choose?

When considering these 2 raid options there are a few points you’ll want to consider before making your final choice.

The first to consider is your data, so ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it critical data that your data be recoverable?
  • Do you have backups of your data that can be restored if something happens?
  • Do you want some kind of redundancy and the ability to have a failed drive replaced without your data being destroyed?

If you have answered yes to most of these, you are going to want to look at a Raid 1 configuration. With a Raid 1 you have 2 drives of like size matched together in an array, which consists of an active drive and a mirror drive. Either of these drives can be replaced should one go bad without any loss of data and without taking the server offline. Of course, this assumes that the Raid card that you are using is up to date on it’s firmware and supports hot swapping.

If you answered no to most of these questions other than the backup question (you should always have backups), a Raid 0 set-up is probably sufficient. This is used mostly for disk access speeds and does not contain any form of redundancy or failover. If you have a drive failure while using a Raid 0 your data will be lost 99% of the time. This is an unsafe Raid method and should only be used when the data contained on the array is not critical in anyway. Unfortunately with this solution there is no other course of action that can be taken other than replacing the drives and rebuilding a fresh array.

I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion regarding these 2 Raid options. There are several other levels of Raid which I would suggest fully researching before you consider using one of them.



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