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January 15, 2010

API in Real Life

An API (application programming interface) is an interface that allows software programs to communicate with each other. The communication barrier between programs has become thinner as APIs have evolved over the recent decades, like our languages have over the years. At SoftLayer, we have plenty of opportunities to interact with many different APIs from various companies. Some of us work with a driver API, some work with SOAP, or some work with XML-RPC for some projects. If you’re our customer, I bet you can easily imagine the number of APIs we use by looking at the products and services we offer. Not only are we a large API consumer, but we also provide a great number of APIs to our own customers. It seems that the interaction between software programs evolves just like our lives.

It’s hard to survive alone in this world. We are social beings, and we need others for interaction. A software program pretty much works the same way. There is no program that is a know-it-all or do-it-all. If there were one like that, I would not have a job. Software can expand its capabilities by working with other programs just like we, as humans, help each other. APIs act as a communication tool like our languages; and, by the way, there are many dialects too.

When a program starts to interact with another through API, it can be compared to a marriage. They are stuck together. However, programs can marry many others. When two programs start to interact, one cannot change its API without the other knowing. It would be as if your wife started talking to you in Danish all of a sudden. Even a small change in an API can cause a very bad outcome. Imagine that your wife told you to throw your socks in the laundry basket and you have been following this rule for years. Can you imagine what would happen if you left your socks by the bed one day? No, it simply wouldn’t work. If you really need to change the rule, it’s time to consider a divorce, in other words, API version 2. As I mentioned, a program can have multiple partners and you can’t expect them to follow new rules all at once. Your best bet would be to write a version 2 and keep the original version for old times’ sake. Trust me, people are very hesitant when it comes to changing their routine, including me. (Why should I touch a working program just because you updated YOUR API?)

Most APIs that I have used and seen are wonderful. I have seen APIs that work like a jack-of-all-trades, trying to do everything for me, but I didn’t like it. I would not like a BLT with onions, eggs and mustard. I just wanted a B.L.T, period! I have also seen APIs that require too many prerequisite steps (invocations) to get a simple result. How many times must you get transferred until you finally get someone to help with your phone bill? Jeez!

Ok, enough of these funny comparisons. I, a biased user, have listed below what I think is a good API:

  • A good API should not change often. If change is inevitable, it should give you plenty of notice and allow backward compatibility.
  • A good API should explain why it couldn’t work instead of the infamous “Error: -1”.
  • A good API should have good documentation, so you’re not left scratching your head.
  • A good API is accessible by different platforms.
  • A good API should be stable.
  • A good API should be simple and comprehensive. It should do what it says it does and it should do it well. Prefer “powerOn()” over “powerOnWhenIdleAndStartServices()”.

A good API implies the readiness of communication with other programs and other companies. It will broaden opportunities for your programs and organization to work with others, just like a person with good communication skills has a better chance of fitting in our society.

January 13, 2010

Always Have a Backup Plan...

Everyone always says it’s a good idea to have a backup plan just in case your primary plan bites the dust. I couldn’t agree more. Recently my personal Xbox 360 failed and this has caused plenty of grief in my household. I used my Xbox to stream content from Windows Media Player on my desktop to the TV (via Media Center edition of Windows XP). This has worked great and has been able to provide me with a means to entertain my child. Of course, this going out has caused a screaming baby because now she can’t watch her “movies”.

Now, had I had a proper backup plan, this wouldn’t be an issue. See, I put all of my trust into a single device and/or single method to accomplish something. When this device failed, my operation came to a halt. I didn’t listen to the advice I’m always telling our customers… have a backup or backup plan. This is where our “extra services” come into play. Not only do we offer backup solutions (eVault, NAS…) but we also offer solutions that allow you access to high-availability configurations (Citrix XenServer, for example). With XenServer you can configure a cluster of systems and setup automatic failover. This would prevent any major outages of your website/services. If this isn’t something you think would work for you, utilizing eVault backups might. We now offer eVault Bare Metal Restore. Now, the problem is somehow applying these to my Xbox so my kiddo can go back to watching her movies... Long story short, don’t rely on a single solution. Always have a backup plan or system in place to prevent headaches in the future. You won’t regret it if you do.

Categories: 
January 12, 2010

SLXXXXX Twitter Log

8/24/2009 1:00PM – Just ordered 3 more servers from SL. Man I love how easy it is to order, and the provisioning time is incredible.

8/24/2009 11:45PM – Got the new servers setup; now I have redundancy for my app. G’nite.

9/04/2009 8:00AM – Suhweet, just passed 50K users for my app. Hitting the pool.

9/21/2009 6:42PM – Oops, app crashed too many users. Recovering now. Thank goodness for monitoring alerts.

9.21/2009 8:13PM – Sorry all, app back up. SL CloudLayer really helped. Their portal makes it all easy.

9/22/2009 3:13AM – Ok stayed up late tonight and added new functionality to the app and added a new app server, geographic load balancing baby!

10/6/2009 2:45PM – Thanks for all the support on the app, keep the new ideas coming. 450K users and growing.

10/31/2009 5:50PM – Happy Halloween! 627K users. Thank you!!

11/14/2009 6:02AM – Getting close 989K users. Party at 1 Million. Just added 2 new front end servers in each DC, adding cloud storage now for Data replication/protection.

11/21/2009 7:31AM– It’s finally here 1 Mil. Party time! Isn’t ad revenue the greatest. The in game pay to play money is fun too. Thanks all!

12/10/2009 4:42PM – Still growing. I was alerted that one server crashed. No users affected. Technology is cool.

12/18/2009 9:16PM– ‘Bout to go silent for the Holidays. Hope you all have good ones. See you at 1.5 million when I return.

12/19/2009 7:00AM – Decided to add a couple more cloud instances for good measure. App is smoking fast.

12/31/2009 10:45PM – Monitoring just hit my phone, at party will check asap.

12/31/2009 11:00PM – Found a netbook at the party. App is crashed. Looking.

12/31/2009 11:07 PM – WT? All servers down, hard down. SL up and friend app good on SL network. Investigating, sorry for outage.

12/31/2009 11:10 PM – Hackers? Not sure all servers affected. Ping only. Had very secure. No problem before.

12/31/2009 11:29PM – Portal password got hacked. Intruders OS reloaded every server with RedHat, turned off all CCI.

1/04/2009 6:00AM – Happy New Year, mine sucked – app back – 5000 daily users. Sad day.

While the above is completely fictional, it could happen to just about anyone. Don’t let it happen to you. No matter how long and how secure you think your password is, there is someone out there who can crack it. It is one thing keeping a server secure and most technical geniuses are very adept at doing just that. With all the time and effort it takes to keep your servers secure, you might find that you have slipped in other areas. SoftLayer is here to help in VIP Style.

The cutting edge SoftLayer portal now has optional Two Factor Authentication support using VeriSign’s Identity Protection. First, what is Two Factor Authentication? It is defined as, “something you know (password) and something you HAVE (pin number of sorts).” Here is how it works:

You buy a physical device in the form of a keychain token or a credit card token; or in the cool age of technology, you can simply get one of the free phone apps that do the same thing for you without the extra piece of equipment to carry. Once you get the device/app you would go to the portal and register the token’s unique ID and attach it to a username on the account. The master user gets this FREE and then if you want other users on your account to have this functionality it is $3 per user per month. If the master user does turn on this functionality no one else will be allowed into the system without using two factor authentication. Once this is setup, the user will login using their “known” password and then they will also have to enter the “code” (the thing you have) on the token device or phone app to gain access. The code changes on a fast schedule so this is extremely secure. This would have made the New Year’s celebration for the person above much more fun.

One last thing, since we partnered with VeriSign you can use the token device or phone app for different sites that use the VeriSign product. PayPal is one example. Here is a complete list.

Now that you know about it, and now that we offer it, don’t be the guy that doesn’t keep the portal secure and misses out on a Happy New Year!

January 11, 2010

Stop Using Internet Explorer 6!

Let me start by saying this… I hate Internet Explorer 6 (IE6). I really do.

Internet Explorer 6 was born on August 27, 2001. The browser was released in conjunction (well, a little after) with Windows XP as a major upgrade from Internet Explorer 5.5. From those humble beginnings in 2001, IE6 has continued to stay alive mostly because of the continued support/use of Windows XP and web-based applications built specifically for IE6.

Here are a few reasons IE6 is a big pile of junk:

  • Numerous security issues.
  • The inability to support CSS version 2 fully.
  • No support for alpha transparency in PNG images.
  • Quirks Mode, which emulates IE5.5.
  • No tabbed browsing.
  • It’s OLD!

So what makes a good browser!?

  • Full CSS 2+ support.
  • HTML/JavaScript W3C standards compliancy.
  • HTML/JavaScript performance improvements.
  • All new browsers utilize tabbed browsing.
  • Some new browsers (such as Google Chrome) have “Task Managers” that can allow you to destroy certain tabs that may have become unresponsive by a web site.
  • Support for HTML 5.

If you’re still using IE 6, consider upgrading to a new browser such as Mozilla FireFox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, or a newer version of Microsoft Internet Explorer. You’ll make yourself and web developers around the world so happy!

Categories: 
January 8, 2010

Social Reality? Really?

As I sat in front of my computer Sunday evening, after the Cowboys flat out destroyed the Eagles in reality, just about to go play a few of my favorite Facebook games, I noticed a link to an article that I knew I had to read. I will give the writer his due at the end of the blog so you can read it for yourself and form your own opinion; but, I must say it was quite humorous.

Its title alone can be answered in one word I believe, and; the tag line under the picture in the article is simply amazing.

The title is “What does Farmville Mean for Farmers?” Wait for it… Wait for my one word answer… Nothing! The lone picture in the article is of some crop squares looking freshly plowed with no crops growing and a small avatar frowning instead of smiling with a single tear rolling down his cheek. The line under the picture states, “Stop caring about your virtual farm and start caring about real ones.” To quote the younger generation all I have to say is, “Really? Really?”

At first, I am thinking that farmers worldwide are neglecting their crops and prices are going up on wheat, corn, fruit, etc. I decided to read further. “The Sun Always Shines. Pink cows produce strawberry milk. Soybeans take two days to grow and ripen. Something is not right. It’s too clean. Nothing smells. Coffee beans grows next to squash.” Ok. At this point, I am having a hard time trying to correlate this to “actual” farming. By the way, it hasn’t gotten any clearer.

The author then goes on to discuss how virtual farming can be relaxing and give you a virtual country calm . It can transport you “somewhere else for a minute or an hour.” I can’t decide if the author thinks this is a good thing or not. I personally do. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and click and not think about everything else going on in the world. Carpel tunnel or no carpel tunnel, it is just harmless mindless, clicking; oh and, you might make a new friend in a new state at the same time. I have a few myself. I have never met them in person, but they are nice folks and we have fun playing the games.

Then it takes a turn for the worse; the author suddenly switches from a social game to reality. He describes the trials of a person and her homesteading experience. After trying to live off the land, her marriage crumbed and she was forced to move back to the city. I am not making lite of the hardship of farmers with this blog—as I know this is a very hard lifestyle. In my neck of the woods, I see rows of corn never produce because of a lack of rain and end up baled for hay. I see winter wheat turn to dust. As it will this week when we have 3 days of freezing temperatures; and, the plants just aren’t big enough to make it through it yet. There are forces of nature that farmers just have to deal with and hope for the best; but, let’s not blame a Facebook application for their trials.

The final sentence in the article states, “It’s time to support actual small farmers and stop playing around.” I can agree with that statement. Maybe the makers of Farmville could start a fund for small farmers that are deserving of help, maybe. But the folks that actually play the game have no business driving the modern equipment used by farmers. So, please don’t ask them to show up at local farms and ask to help. That would be a huge social reality mess!

Normally this is the place where I would try to somehow tie this into SoftLayer, but in this one I am just drawing a blank.

For your reading and commenting pleasure http://www.good.is/post/What-Does-Farmville-Mean-for-Farmers/?GT1=48001.

January 6, 2010

The SoftLayer Customer... A Little Different?

I work in the support department at SoftLayer, and I can tell you that a day of answering phone calls and tickets is not what you might expect. SoftLayer customers are a little different from customers of other companies.

I know from my own experience dealing with cable/internet providers, electric companies, delivery companies, online stores, etc. that the only time I ever call is when I have received sub-standard service and something needs to be fixed. I am usually met with a person on the phone that either does not know the answer to (what seems to me) a simple question or simply does not hide the fact that they don’t care about my issue. I have always chalked this up to a company that has grown to the point that the original people who cared about their company are no longer in touch with the end user (customer). So, I wade through mountains of sludge to get to someone who can actually give me the information I need or maybe even fix my problem. Then, in the case of cable/internet, I wait… and wait… and wait… and…………………. wait for a technician who knows what they are doing to fix the actual problem. And, yes, it has taken three technicians on three different days and a supervisor being called out to my house to fix a problem in the past.

I was just talking to my manager, who related a recent experience in which he ordered the game “Rock Band” along with the Beatles CD from an online seller. The game arrived promptly, but the CD never came. It was shipped via the US postal service, and he simply received notice that they could not deliver it per their policy… What? When did the USPS stop delivering CDs per policy? Anyway, he called the USPS “customer service” and they denied everything up to and including the fact that they are still in the delivery business (huh?). He finally made it to a “supervisor” who denied they had the package, but stated that she would take down his information and have someone call him in two days to tell him what she already knew….that they did not have the package. Wow. That is amazing customer service! The story does end well. He contacted the online seller, who sent another CD immediately via another shipper free of charge. They even sent it overnight and simply asked that he return the first CD should he EVER receive it from the USPS.

SoftLayer is growing at an astronomical rate; and yet, I am proud to say we have maintained consistently superb customer service. As I said above, the only time I call a support line is when I have a problem needing a quick solution, and my unhappiness grows as I receive poor customer service. I continue to be amazed at how happy most of our customers here at SoftLayer are when I answer the phone. Even when they are experiencing a problem, they are generally in good spirits when I speak to them on the phone or reply back and forth through our ticketing system. I find this amazing. Of course, we deal with unhappy customers occasionally. But, on average, we deal with happy customers on a daily basis. I can only attribute this to the fact that they call or submit a ticket with the firm expectation of receiving excellent and timely support. They could only have this expectation because of their past experience with us. I honestly do not call my cable/internet company with any expectation other than long waits on the phone, uninformed support, and days of waiting before a problem is solved. I am NOT happy when I am forced to call them. This is the reason it is actually a pleasant experience to work in the support department at SoftLayer. Besides working around people who know their jobs, I get to speak with customers who are in a good mood even when they are experiencing problems. I love meeting their expectations by resolving whatever issue they may be experiencing quickly and completely—thereby helping them to continue on in great spirits throughout the rest of their day. I know that customers will be happy the next time they call. I would not enjoy working for the USPS customer service line or in the support department of that cable/internet provider as I know I would get nothing but unhappy people with an expectation of poor service. This is one way in which SoftLayer customers are different.

January 4, 2010

What's the Meaning of Family?

To a lot of people when you hear the word family you associate it with your mom, dad, kids, cousins etc. But, have you ever thought about your employer or co-workers being a part of your family? Let’s evaluate this question. You spend on average about 40 to 50 hours per week, which means an estimated amount of 1,920 to 2,400 hours per year, with co-workers. There will be moments where you laugh and cry together; there will also be moments when a long time co-worker will make a decision to advance their career in a new direction with a different company, and new additions will be made. Each family member has their responsibilities and role to play; the same way each department here at Softlayer does.

When I first came aboard in the Accounting department here at SoftLayer I was a little intimidated because I was clueless to the web hosting industry and I didn’t quite understand what SoftLayer actually did. However, I knew I was a whiz in accounting and therefore I could master this. To help shed some light on my job and its responsibilities, my boss decided to take me on a tour of one our data centers located in Dallas, TX. I was expecting to see a large room that stored a lot of servers and computer monitors; boy was I wrong and totally amazed. The SoftLayer Data center was so well organized and structured. There were no loose cables, rather elevated flooring and a state of the art floor cooling system to protect the servers from overheating. I was really impressed with the Hardware Engineers and CSA’s working diligently as a team to ensure all orders were processed 100% accurately. Being able to see the datacenter helped me understand more in depth what my job entailed.

Our Development department plays a huge role as well. They make sure new products are launched to keep us competitive in the web hosting industry. What we are advertising stands up to our name. A lot of behind the scenes testing takes place, which requires multiple departments to work together. Our Sales reps are very knowledgeable about our products and services. They ensure that our customers are happy with their purchases and that they stay happy. They go above and beyond to make sure you are renting a server that benefits your business needs.

Families like to have fun, and so does SoftLayer. We do company BBQ events and holiday parties as well as toy, food, and blood drives. They also make sure we get lots of SL gear, which we love! But most importantly we have monthly meetings with management where we can voice our opinion. After all, a happy employee is what keeps the company’s customer service level up. In conclusion, SoftLayer is a family oriented business and I do consider each of my co-workers a part of a family; because like a family, we all have to pitch in with a helping hand and help one another out.

December 30, 2009

The Newbie

Hi, I am the newbie and just wanted to start off saying thank you to everyone for making me feel so welcome. I have really enjoyed my first week here at SoftLayer. I can honestly say, this is the most exciting and fun job I have had. SoftLayer should win the Best Places to Work in DFW for 2010!

I think the best part about starting right before the holidays is getting to share the holiday cheer with all my new co-workers. As most people know, most companies get busy around the holidays which can cause tension and stress in the workplace. Coming into SoftLayer one of the major things I liked is that no matter how busy we are there is still a sense of peace and calmness; this is a great asset in a workplace.

As most would know, when you first start out at a new company you need to do research to learn about your new company and the industry it is involved in. These first few days I have been reading a bunch of different articles and websites to learn more about what SoftLayer does and to get a feel for the industry. I have to say I am still rather confused. There are so many technical terms and Wikipedia doesn’t pick up on all of them (ha ha). The more research I do, though, the more I pick up on certain things. I still have more to learn but I am eager and excited to learn more about SoftLayer and the industry. Now off to do more research!

December 28, 2009

Winter Has Arrived

This year it seemed as if winter hit us like a train. Just 2 weeks ago it was 65 here in Washington DC. Three days later our high was in the thirties and we got about 3-5 inches of snow (If my timeline is wrong that’s too bad). Tonight, there’s a Wintry Mix and a Winter Weather Advisory. A Wintry Mix in my mind is either you are doomed with lots of ice or it’ll just be a standard boring rain. Ice of course is much worse than snow. So what’s this mean? NO! It doesn’t mean run to the store and buy up all the bread and water you can fit into your cart. It means it’s time for a little check list of things some people forget about when winter punches through their town. And yes, a lot of this can be ignored for those of you that are “cold” down south in the 60’s. And yes my friends in Dallas, water turns into ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

  1. Check your windshield wiper blades and fluid. This is great when trying to get the thin layer of ice off your windshield.
  2. Check the tread on your tires because driving through snow without much tread can be quite a task.
  3. Although the old trick of tossing your old batteries in the freezer to get more life out of them works, in this case it does not. During the summer the heat puts added stress on your battery and when winter rolls around your beat up battery has a harder time cranking through the oil that’s now thicker from the drop in temperature. So it’s a good idea to get your battery checked out.
  4. Make sure to have an ice scraper in the car. Life sucks when you are waiting for your heater in your car to melt the ice off on the outside.

I wrote this checklist because I failed on 3 out of 5 of them during the storm that blasted everyone on the East coast. ‘WTFBS’ can be easily remembered for other reasons. Your Grandma may not like that, but you’ll be screaming it if you forget (Wipers, Tires, Fluid, Battery, Scraper).

Here’s a little excitement from the last storm. Sorry the picture is weak (taken via Blackberry).

snow

There was still a good 5 hours of snow left. Luckily, there was a slight wind that was blowing a lot off the top of my car, although not so helpful on the driver’s side. The snow the next day was piled almost to the top of my window. I measured about 18” of snow total the next morning.

Categories: 
December 24, 2009

The Power of Christmas

The Power of Christmas

Putting up Christmas lights this year was a serious beating. I kept blowing breakers due to the amount of lights I put up in response to my wife’s request for ‘more lights!’ It seems like every year things get bigger and bigger (like most things in America – trucks, combo meals, taxes, and the deficit). The problem is there is only so much power in convenient areas of my house and those locations don’t have enough power to run my lights because they are shared with things inside the house. My front porch outlet ties in with my garage outlets so every time we open up the garage door, the breaker blows and the Christmas lights on the front of the house go out. I got tired of resetting breakers and I ended up running 2x 20amp 110v dedicated feeds to my roof and to the front yard.

As I was putting the lights up, I found myself doing power calculations in my head. I multiplied the amount of lights I put up by the watts each bulb consumes to get the total watts. Then I took the total watts and put it into this conversion tool (http://www.mhi-inc.com/Converter/watt_calculator.htm) to calculate what they use in a Kilowatt hour. I have timers setup to turn on the lights from 6pm to 11pm (CST) so that is 5 hours a day. I plan to run them from December 8th through January 3rd which is 27 days totaling 135 hours of run time. Take the Kilowatt hour the lights generate times the hours of operation and you get the total Kilowatt hours used for the holiday season. I was then curious how much this was going to cost me (I am a cheap bastard) so I took out my electric bill (TXU, yes I am paying too much) and took what they charge me for a Kilowatt hour and got the dollar figure it costs to run the lights. I was surprised it is not as much as I thought considering how much light my house now generates. It lights up the neighborhood like the Griswold’s house in Christmas Vacation <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097958/> . I would not be surprised if you can now see my house from the space shuttle.

I don’t envy Softlayer’s operation guys because they do these types of power calculations (albeit on a much grander scale) on a daily basis. They have to figure out what types of servers with different components (CPU, drives, memory, raid cards) can go into a single rack to insure that power strips are not blown. Some people don’t understand that you can’t just fill a rack up with 44 1U (or 22 2U) servers and turn them on. You have to carefully plan down to the watt how many of each type of server can go into a rack without overloading circuits. You also have to take into account customer upgrades and make sure there is enough headroom for power spikes upon booting. The math involved in my yearly Christmas light escapade made my head hurt; I can’t imagine what Robert and Brad go though. Hats go off to them. My head would have exploded by now….

Here is the math (rounded):

15 ½ stands of C9 Christmas lights each with 25 bulbs = 385 bulbs
385 7 watt bulbs = 2695 watts
2695 watts = 2.695 Kilowatt hours (from http://www.mhi-inc.com/Converter/watt_calculator.htm)
2.695 Kilowatt hours multiplied by (5 hours a day for 27 days = 135) = 364 total Kilowatt hours
364 total Kilowatt hours times $0.12 = $44

So lighting my house for one month actually uses significantly more electricity than running a server in a SoftLayer data center for the same period of time.

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