partner-marketplace

July 13, 2007

Movin' on Up!

SoftLayer really is movin' on up! We can prove this fact in many different ways (growth in customer base, growth in server numbers, growth in annual revenue, growth in datacenter space/facilities, and more...). However, one other way to look at growth is by taking into account our business offices: previous working conditions, current working conditions, and future working conditions.

Office # 1:

Our first business office was quite interesting. It was basically one, medium-sized room, with a kitchenette and a conference room smack-dab in the middle. Mary Hall and I pulled double-duty as Sales Account Executive & Receptionists. Everyone sat back to back with their boss (within arm reach). There were no offices, no partitions, no privacy - for anyone. It is a bit intimidating to have the weight of the world on your shoulders (the pressure of making our startup company a complete success) and have your managers right beside you watching your every move. Then, there were the creative ring tones on some desk telephones. A few of the "higher-ups" decided to torture the rest of us. Here were a few:

Lance Crosby: "Respect my authority!!!" (Southpark's Cartman repeating this phrase over and over)
Steven Canale: "Quack Quack!" (The sound a ducky makes, obviously)
Mike Jones: Mike had a risqué, swanky music ring tone. I still wonder about that one!
Sean Charnock: "RRRRRRRRRRRING! RRRRRRRRRRRING!" (And kid you not, the yelling human voice recording sounded exactly like Sean)
Sam Fleitman: Sam's ring tone sounded exactly like our sales chat ring, so if we even thought about day dreaming - which of course we NEVER did - that one sure brought us back to reality quickly!

Office #2 (current office):

We have never even thought we would be as excited as we were when we received our own cubicles. The privacy! The extra space! No longer did we have to hear silly ring tones. No longer did everyone in the office have to listen to others' phone conversations. Most normal people sit in their cubicles wishing they were anywhere but there, however we sure do appreciate them. There are still a few employees who must endure sitting close to the microwave, which can be distracting. However, we are about to make the big move upstairs...

Office #3:

I have not been up there, but I have seen the layout. I have also heard the construction going on upstairs for the past month, and I know something good is in store. Some more of our VPs and directors will get their own offices. Everyone else will have their own cubicle, comfortably placed away from the annoyances of a microwave or ice maker. We will have more than one conference room, more space for new employees to join, and an all-around nicer facility. All will be peaceful and good with the world, and we can focus even more on making our customers happy.

-Amanda

July 11, 2007

Truck Day Operations

How do you unload 1,000 servers and have them ready to go live in a datacenter in five hours? With lots and lots of planning. Every month we take in a shipment of servers to accommodate the next 30 days of sales. Preparation for each delivery starts several months in advance with forecasting models. You have to look far enough ahead in your models to continually adjust forecasts for sales, facilities and available resources. Some vendors need more lead time than others so you have to constantly update your forecasts, all the way up to final order placement.

Also, you don't just walk into a datacenter with a server and set it down. There's a lot of work that goes into physical prep for the datacenter as well. You have to plan the datacenter layout, order and assemble racks, add rails, power strips, switches, power cord bundles, network cable bundles, etc. Every rack we deploy has almost 400 cage nuts and just under 200 cables in it. We don't just string a bunch of cables up and call it a day. Every cable bundle is meticulously routed, combed and hung to make them look professional. With that much cabling, you have to make it right or you'll never be able to work around it.

With one week to go before the trucks arrive, all of the datacenter prep starts wrapping up. And with just a few days left, we have our last manager meeting to review server placement, personnel, timing and other delivery details.

Next is Truck Day - this is when the fun begins.

On Truck Day, we leave plenty of people behind to handle sales, support and accounting, but everyone else is expected at the loading dock. After all the pallets are pulled off the truck and accounted for, the team gets busy un-boxing. As servers are unboxed, all of the spare parts in the boxes - spare screws, riser cards, SATA cables, and various other pieces - are sorted into bins on the dock. The servers themselves are then placed in custom transport carts and moved to the datacenter.

From there, the teams inside the datacenter sort the servers according to type and perform a strict QA process that includes verifying the hardware configurations and verifying that the components are all seated properly.

Once sorted, the servers get scanned into the system and racked up. As all of the cables are plugged in, another QA process is completed to verify that all of the ports are correct. At that point, it's just a matter of turning each server on and watching them check in, get their bios flashed with the latest and greatest release and having the system update any component firmware that is needed. As the systems check themselves into inventory, they go through two more QA processes that include an inventory check and a burn-in process.

By the time the truck is empty, the last box is stashed and the final server is racked up, everyone is ready to get back to their day jobs. Months worth of planning - all wiped out in a matter of hours.

Mary is working on a great post about what Truck Day looks like from a Salesperson's perspective. It explains why we have everyone get involved in the process.

-SamF

July 9, 2007

Profit: A "Win-Win" Arrangement

Remember the "low-carb" diet craze a few years back? Some members of my family jumped on the bandwagon and I can remember seeing a lot of low-carb items in stores; low-carb milk, pasta, bread, chocolate, etc. Today you just don’t see as many of these products anymore. Look at the dates of the articles above and try finding some of the products in the links above – they’re long gone.

Why? Assuming these products really worked as advertised, when the low-carb craze was over, the cost of producing these products became higher than the revenue that the market was willing to pay for them. Maybe the market rejected them because they didn’t work. Whatever the case, mathematically, when costs are higher than revenue, there is no profit. Consequently, companies stopped offering these money-losing products. No profit is a "lose-lose" situation. Neither the companies nor the consumers who want the discontinued products benefit when there’s no profit.

The same goes for the hosting industry. If the cost of providing hardware, software, power, cooling, and bandwidth ever rises higher than what the market demand will pay, this offering will exit the marketplace. Personally I don’t think that will ever happen. Because there is an opportunity for profit in the hosting business, we and other providers will continue to inject our offerings into the marketplace. And due to the cost of these offerings, we won’t be offering dozens of processing cores, unlimited RAM, unlimited bandwidth and multiple terabytes of storage capacity for ten bucks a month.

Thankfully, SoftLayer doesn’t have to deliver all of that to achieve a top notch customer experience (as of yet anyway). But simply providing the list above is only part of the equation. As I mentioned in my last post, treating your customers "right" and building long-term relationships is critical to maximizing profit. Therefore, we do our best to price our offerings at value points that make both our customers and our investors happy. The resulting profit ensures that we continue in business and that we keep our server fleet refreshed. Profit keeps us around and motivates us to provide our customers with an excellent customer experience.

Thus, for SoftLayer and our customers, profit is a "win-win" situation.

-Gary

Categories: 
June 29, 2007

Business Ethics Simplified

In this day and age of Sarbanes-Oxley internal controls, SAS 70 certifications, and myriad other regulatory, compliance, and audit issues that I won't get into , business ethics might seem to be a lengthy and complex topic.

In reality, it isn't. Back in the dark ages when I strolled the halls of SMU, a crusty Econ 101 professor named Jack Stieber proclaimed that there is only one ethical mandate in business: "Within the bounds of the law, maximize profit." There are no more ethical rules necessary to follow in business.

I have heard others phrase a similar thought as "maximizing shareholder value". I disagree with that approach because there are things that management can do to influence the stock price that aren't necessarily tied to maximizing profit. Basically, if you can maximize profit, the stock price will take care of itself.

In response to Prof Strieber's proclamation, there were a few students who responded, "But sir, what about ?" and Prof. Stieber shot them all down. Here is one of the more interesting objections:

"But sir, what about a business owner who hikes the price of bottled water to a ridiculous level in a disaster-stricken area that has lost its water supply? Are you saying he's being ethical by maximizing his profit from price gouging?" Prof. Stieber responded something like this:

Assuming that his pricing policy is legal, he's still being unethical because he's actually not maximizing his profit. Sure, he may reap a short-term gain but when the water supply is back on, those forced to buy his extortion-priced water will take their business elsewhere. So in the long term, he hasn't maximized his profit and thus has behaved unethically. An ethical decision during that time might have been to keep selling water at the pre-disaster price or maybe even donating some to build goodwill among his customer base. This could have cemented a long term relationship with the customers who would provide repeat business again and again and thus maximize his profit over time.

That being said, when a business maximizes it's profit within the bounds of the law, it's a "win-win" for the customers, stakeholders, and shareholders. In my next post, I'll explain how SoftLayer earning profit is a win-win for both the customers and the company.

-Gary

Categories: 
June 27, 2007

Spammers Beware: We're on Guard

Something happened today that we feel everyone should be aware of: We currently have no SBL listings for our IP space and we were recognized by the Spamhaus Team as a proactive no-spam-tolerance network.

Our hard work here at keeping spammers off of the network, and our reaction when they do make it on has been recognized. If you visit the Spamhaus ISP page, type in softlayer.com. You will find something that is very rare and something we are very proud of. To be recognized in this manner means a great deal to us.

Abuse is something that happens, there is no way around it. What does matter is how we are perceived to handle the situation, and working day in and day out with other abuse desks and networks does indeed pay off.

-Jacob

Categories: 
June 26, 2007

TTL and propagation

Every DNS record is equipped with a TTL. The TTL (Time To Live) is basically the expiration date on that record. Long story short, it's a countdown from when it was initially received until when it is marked as invalid and discarded for a replacement record. This is a very important piece of information that I've run into often as being either outright ignored or misunderstood.

Let's say you have a domain-something awesome like awesomedomain.wow--and awesomedomain.wow has a TTL of 24 hours. When I go to visit awesomedomain.wow as a new visitor (and you know I would, because it sounds awesome) I'm going to receive a record translating awesomedomain.wow to an IP address that will be valid for 24 hours. Any other time I visit that domain in the next 24 hours, I'm going to use that cached address because the record hasn't expired yet. In 24 hours regardless of if awesomedomain.wow has moved IPs, I'm going to trash that old DNS record I've cached locally and go look it up again. The new record will then be referred to by me for the next 24 hours, at which time I'll do it all over again.

But what happens when you have to change your IP, but you want your visitors to see the smallest amount of downtime possible? My first suggestion is to mirror your sites on both IPs, but that is a different discussion entirely. The second is to manipulate your TTL. First lower it to something smaller-from a day to an hour perhaps. Then give that new record with that new TTL at least 24 hours to propagate. Now you can be certain that at the 25th hour, all of your visitors now have a record that will expire in one hour. Next, change your IP for awesomedomain.wow, the record that your visitors have cached locally will expire in an hour, and then they will have your new record with your new IP. Feel free to bump your TTL back up to what it was originally in this step, since they have the new IP. Now your visitors have only had an old record for an hour rather than 24, and they probably missed that hour it was inaccessible while they were posing for a painting or having their top hats heightened. Because all of your visitors are terribly classy.

-Joshua

June 22, 2007

Money, Money, Money

The term "Digital Super-Highway" seems to be quite prophetic as the monetization of the internet seems to be exploding from all angles. Monetization of the internet is something that we are always focusing on here since a good portion of our customer base turns our underlying infrastructure into a revenue-generating engine for them, be it through Value Added Services, enablement of SaaS business models, e-commerce activities or whatever focus our customers have (which are too many to list).

I always knew the monies on the web were staggering, but I was caught off guard the other day when I came across an article in Business 2.0, "The Man Who Owns the Internet". The article is about Kevin Ham, who has built a $300 Million Dollar portfolio of domain names. $100,000 for Greeting.com, and $31,000 for Christianrock.com and so on. He's a domain name mogul.

In a technology world, this seems to be the "day-trading" of the internet. The other portion of this article that struck me is the monetization of the typographical errors in domains, referred to as "Typo Squatting". We have all accidentally fat-fingered a key here or there and after closing the 85 pop-ups, the monies are moving like a slot machine with triple 7’s across the board. In an article referring to the monetization of Typo Squatting, companies have built multi-million dollar producing firms on capitalizing on a misspelling here, a lack of dash there, etc. Just for reference, it seems that www.softlater.com is already taken, which means my dream of typo squatting my way to retirement has taken a drastic turn.

With the tools we have put in place through the API and the private network we have really streamlined the enablement of the monetization of the internet, which when we talk to our customers it’s at the forefront of both of our minds. The successes of our customers ensure our success, so putting these tools in place are essential. Not to give away the secrets of others, but I have peeked into the private back-end network and seen things like credit card processing gateways, server to server data transfers, licensing gateways and numerous other activities that are surely streamlining the money making processes for our customers.

So I am not sure that when the term "Digital Super Highway" was coined that we ever thought there would be toll-booths along the way, but its clear that these are here to stay.

As a side note, if anyone is interested in sharing their monetization stories, feel free to drop me a line at bizdev@softlayer.com

-Sean

Categories: 
June 21, 2007

What the Heck is a Server?

I had no idea what I was getting myself into the first time I met Lance Crosby. It was a late winter afternoon, quite some time ago. I walked into a job interview, happy-go-lucky, for a sales position at a web hosting company. I thought, “I would love a sales job!" (or any real job for that matter). We sat and had a normal interview, and everything seemed to be going very well. I was unusually relaxed which was far cry from my normal interviewing skills. Relaxed, that is until it was time for the datacenter tour.

We walked through the dark NOC, past the twenty five to thirty television screens showing everything from The Weather Channel, to CNN, also displaying what appeared to be a bunch of meaningless graphs and digits. As we ventured into the badge-access-only datacenter, my head started to spin. I was shown diesel generators, rows of UPS’, HVAC units, switches, routers, and more servers than I had ever seen in my life (I had seen zero). I remember "playing it cool" and acting like it made some sense to me. I am sure this was very entertaining for Lance.

I was offered the job and that is when the terror set in. I began to realize this was much more than a sales job. I was going to be selling servers, at the same time wondering "what the heck IS a server?" Over the course of the following months I was able to learn about the internal components of a server and all they entail – RAM (makes/models), different HDDs (makes/models/sizes/speeds), port speeds, bandwidth usage, operating systems, control panels, backup solutions, etc. Over the phone, chat, and via email I met with and became familiar with our extremely broad customer base, the different businesses they ran, and their likes and dislikes. I dealt with the good, the bad, and the ugly situations. I even learned to take care of issues myself without badgering Steven to death. I finally knew what I was talking about! Now I absolutely love what I do and cannot imagine being in any other field. This is not to mention the wonderful opportunity of working at a young, successful, and innovative company. Not many server sales representatives have the honor of this experience.

I think this story probably sounds familiar to the majority of the sales team. The web hosting industry is an amazing one. When presented with all of the details and information that are vital in selling servers and keeping customers happy, it can be down right scary. However, once you open yourself up to the information that is being handed to you, it all falls into place. It is especially challenging to take in everything you need to know as a SoftLayer sales representative. We are required to be as technical as we possibly can so that there is as little correspondence with our Support technicians as possible during the initial sales process. It is an ever-changing industry, and we do need to be on our toes. Lance likes to kid and say that I did not even know what a computer was when I first started out. While that might not be entirely true, it is not very far fetched. I would like to think that we have all come a long way.

-Amanda

June 20, 2007

An Interview With an Elevator

SL: Good morning, thank you for taking the time to meet with me.
Elevator: Ding.

SL: Excellent. How would you describe the costs maintaining efficiencies in a hosting environment?
Elevator: Going up.

SL: Well, I think that’s obvious, depending on where you start. Perhaps a better way to phrase this would be, “How would you recommend leveraging existing technologies to implement an efficient execution of a hosting environment?”
Elevator: Ground floor

SL: Well said. I agree that it becomes difficult to put solutions into place after-the-fact, and that in order to run smoothly one must start with a solid plan and avoid retrofitting later. That ends up being far too costly and stifles resources a company should be using to grow their product. How would you describe the attitude of most large hosts with regards to “going green”?
Elevator: Please step away from the door.

SL: I too think that many datacenters out there are concerned with “stepping through” as it were to move operations in that direction. But, since the datacenters can hugely benefit from cost-savings due to reduced expenditures for cooling and power, it is very much worth the shift. What factors outside of the DC could play into making this shift easier?
Elevator: Lobby

SL: Well, I’m not sure that lobbying is the answer, though it may help. Really I was asking about computer manufacturers making the shift to properly-matched and high efficiency power supplies and processors. New technologies are making it easier for younger companies to go green, and older hosts are left trying to figure out how they can turn thousands of antiquated servers into efficient appliances. This goes back to your earlier comment regarding starting out with a solid plan making it easier to
Elevator: Ding

SL: Don’t interrupt me. Easier to maintain a plan than adjust and retrofit to a new one.
Elevator: Second Floor

SL: I’m not sure why you said that, it doesn’t make any sense. Having a host that doesn’t play catch-up constantly benefits the customer in several
Elevator: Ding

SL: Stop it.
Elevator: Third Floor

SL: You’re an idiot. I’m going to go interview the printer.

Categories: 
June 18, 2007

Has the Sales Process Changed?

When I first ventured out into the real world beyond the shelter of reality I refer to as college, my professional career started far away from the hosting industry. My first position was with a financial services firm with two clear goals:

  1. Pass the Series 7 exam in 5 weeks
  2. Learn how to “work the phones”

I soon found out that "working the phones" basically meant cold calling prospects, sometimes as many as 500 dials a day. We referred to this process as "dialing for dollars". In the financial services world your phone was your lifeline, all the top guys would tell you that if you mastered the art of a phone call, you where golden. After hearing the word "NO" millions of times and developing a really thick skin, I eventually got comfortable on the phone soliciting new customers. The appointments soon followed and I began to build my book of clients. I spent my career as a financial adviser communicating through tools such as telephone, meetings, and seminars which served as the foundation for building my business.

After living through both sides of the dot-com bubble in the stock market and seeing a lot of devastated stock portfolios, I was surprised to learn about a few thriving hosting companies. Much of what I was hearing about these companies was in stark contrast to the feeling on Wall Street, but after a lot of arm twisting from Lance I took a leap of faith and went to work as an enterprise sales representative.

It didn’t take long for me to realize my trustworthy tools for building clients from my previous career were archaic in this new environment. I was introduced to a world where the methods of communication were foreign to me. Email, IM, text messages, sales chat, forums, blogs, ticketing systems were all new to me and never used in my previous career because of compliance and regulatory issues. I realized I needed to embrace these new methods because it was the method my customers and prospects preferred to use. As I became more comfortable using these new channels, my career progressed into management where my responsibilities were expanded to help others.

I find it impossible to explain to my old financial adviser buddies how SoftLayer is building its client base. When I tell them our sales process involves posting in forums and spending hours on sales chat, they look at me like I am from a different world. I’ve learned to explain it like this:

The sales process really hasn’t changed; it is the same stuff that has been taught for a hundred years. What has changed is the method in which we communicate. Instead of forcing people to communicate in uncomfortable old school methods, we focus on communicating with customers and prospects on their terms in a way they prefer to do business.

-Steven

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