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June 12, 2015

Big Data Academy Rewind: Trusted Computing in a Hybrid Cloud Environment

Through the ongoing (and free!) Big Data Academy, SoftLayer and Cloudant have teamed up to help you learn more about deploying big data workloads in the cloud, optimizing your infrastructure environment, and capitalizing on the value of your data via a series of free webinars and workshops.

But we know some of you prefer learning at your leisure, so we’re recapping our Big Data Academy webinars just for you. Last week, we brought you the first of our Big Data Academy webinar rewind series, “Always Be Open for Business with Cloud Solutions for E-commerce.” This week, we’ll be talking hybrid cloud: security, building and establishing trust and compliance, and enabling a hybrid computing environment.

Watch the webinar below:

Stay tuned for the next Big Data Academy webinar rewind, where we'll tackle the challenges and present the solutions to gaming and mobile app development.

By the way, are you in Europe this summer? The Big Data Academy is backpacking across the continent, with free in-person workshops in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris, and Helsinki throughout June and July. Register now and top off your summer vacation with a free European workshop. (Bonus: All workshop participants will receive a special offer up to $1,250 per month for six months on SoftLayer.)

TOPICS INCLUDE:

  • [00:00:04.00]   Introduction of Karunakar Bojjireddy, SoftLayer Security Product Manager
  • [00:00:45.00]   Overview of SoftLayer
  • [00:02:55.00]   The SoftLayer definition of "cloud"
  • [00:05:52.00]   The SoftLayer difference
  • [00:06:58.00]   Hybrid cloud and security
  • [00:10:32.00]    Building trust and compliance in the cloud
  • [00:11:51.00]     Intel TXT technology on SoftLayer
  • [00:13:27.00]    Establishing trust using Intel TXT/TPM
  • [00:17:55.00]    Platforms using TXT/TPM and enabling the hybrid environment
  • [00:22:33.00]   How trusted computing pools work in an OpenStack environment
  • [00:25:39.00]   Example: the United States government
  • [00:28:35.00]   Questions and conclusion

-Fayza

June 10, 2015

Work Life of a Customer Support Technician

My day as a customer support technician begins very early. I leave home at 6 a.m. to start my shift at 7 a.m., relieving the overnight shift. Customers start calling, opening tickets, and chat sessions almost immediately after I log into one of our systems, either LivePerson Agent Console, Cisco Phone Agent, or SoftLayer’s ticket management system, which is dependent on employee scheduling, specialty, or customer traffic.

Should our customers ever need help, we are prepared and up-to-date as possible on what’s going on with our internal systems. Every morning I check for any notices received via email from different internal teams about updates to the network, server upgrades, or emergency maintenances that could be relevant to the tickets and questions of the day. Besides current update notifications we use to address customer questions and concerns, we also use our external wikis (also known as the KnowledgeLayer) for existing information should we need it. As customer support technicians, we also have unprecedented access to troubleshooting, managing, and restoring customers’ various services to the peak of their performance.

Thank you for calling SoftLayer. How can I help you?
At the beginning of the week, the phone starts ringing around 7:30 a.m., and then it starts to pick up—Monday’s are usually the busiest.

When a phone call comes in, I verify the caller and then try to get a grasp on the nature of the situation. Sometimes, for example, it’s a customer needing help troubleshooting an eVault backup solution. In most situations, I ask if they have checked the official tutorials posted by SoftLayer on how to set up eVault (or other topic at hand). Whether they have or not, I then walk the customer through the steps. Some topics can be a little confusing, and depending on the level of technical difficulty and the customer’s knowledge, I sometimes take care of the job for them. Some issues can be difficult, but that’s why we’re here. In regards to the eVault solution, thankfully, it comes with a help file containing screenshots to help customers of any technical level grasp the configuration process.

We also receive calls that aren’t one-on-one, but rather from an entire IT department of a company. In one particular instance, I received a call asking for help to change the boot order on a couple of production servers. Rebooting without permission can have catastrophic effects on any live data being written to servers. We need permission first. After receiving approval via ticket, I worked with the IT team as they turned off applications safely on their respective servers so that I could in turn reboot one-by-one and change the boot order from the BIOS as needed. (SoftLayer's customer support technicians change the boot order because the BIOS on servers are protected to prevent manual tampering with server hardware.)

One last example—hard-pressed system administrators working against the clock to deploy their load balancers need VIPs set up as soon as possible, so they can handle the traffic to their blooming social media website. In this case, depending on the type of load balancer, I first check with sales on the pricing. Then I open a ticket to get customer approval for the costs of the IPs. If it’s a Netscaler VPX load balancer, we inform the customer to order portable IPs within the same VLAN as their load balancer. Once confirmed, I get to work. Thankfully, Citrix Netscaler has a very easy to use interface that allows migrating portable IPs for use plus they take effect almost immediately.

No matter the customer or the situation, we always practice working in a professional demeanor to make sure we efficiently address the problem. Once I finish helping a customer, I follow up with a summary of what had been done and then make sure everything is working as needed. A summary of my actions is also posted on the ticket for customer future reference.

Opening a Ticket
We aim to give an initial response within 15 minutes of each ticket being opened. Tickets not only provide a great way to follow up with a customer, but they also provide a platform for directly sending the customer helpful guides, steps, screenshots, and explanations that would have not have sufficed over the phone call.

Tickets allow customers to specify the queue and title of the ticket, which narrows the issue to the department they feel would best answer their question. For example, if a customer opens a ticket saying they can't see all their devices in their device list with a title “devices not listed,” it gives us clues about the nature of the problem. By opening a ticket with the support group, instead of, say, the sales group, we know that this isn't an issue with ordering servers or ordered servers.

To troubleshoot the devices-not-listed above, I would check if the user who opened the ticket is a master user for the account. If not, then it is without a doubt a permissions issue or limited permissions set by the master user. To resolve an issue like this, the master user on the account would need to update permissions.

But that’s not always the case. If it’s not a permissions issue, then as customer support technician I'd be limited in the support I can offer. The issue for the devices not being listed could potentially be an internal bug, which is a job for SoftLayer’s development team. Once escalated to them, they would oversee the problem. During the escalation, the customer support team keeps the customer informed. We also work as the “go-to" between SoftLayer’s internal teams and customer.

Once the devices-not-listed issue has been resolved, SoftLayer’s development team would mark the escalation resolved. My team would then follow up with the customer to verify that the issue is resolved. This multi-step, inter-department interaction (depending on the severity of the problem) can take as little as a couple of hours to sometimes days. Regardless of the length of time, the customer is always kept in the loop of any changes or updates.

After ensuring the issue is resolved, we inform the customer that if there are no more replies within four days, the ticket automatically closes. This provides ample time for the customer to review the conversation and join in later if need be.

Quitting Time
As a customer support technician, I never know what question or concern might arise, but we try our best to always help the customer as best we can.

My shift begins to wind down around 3 p.m. when the next shift takes over. Our customer support technicians work late into the night and into the morning, 24x7x365.

-Stanley

June 5, 2015

Big Data Academy Rewind: Cloud and E-commerce Webinar

The world of big data applications is a nebulous one; to say a lot is expected of these apps is the understatement of the year. Their workloads are massive, their challenges are many, and their infrastructure solutions must be tailored to support the amount of work they do.

But where big data workloads raise big questions, the cloud has big answers. Through the Big Data Academy, SoftLayer and Cloudant have joined forces to help you learn more about deploying big data workloads in the cloud, optimizing your infrastructure environment, and capitalizing on the value of your data via a series of free webinars and workshops.

What if you weren't able to catch any of the free webinars or workshops this time around? You're in luck: we'll be presenting them here in a three-part series you can watch, pause, rewind, and replay at your leisure.

Our Big Data Academy webinar series rewind kicks off by teaching you how to make the cloud work for those big data applications in the land of e-commerce. In short, you’ll learn how to optimize while you monetize.

Watch the webinar below:

Stay tuned for the next Big Data Academy webinar rewind, where we'll talk all about security in the hybrid cloud. Better yet, if you find yourself in Europe this summer, the Big Data Academy has gone backpacking across the continent, with free in-person workshops in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris, and Helsinki throughout June and July. Register now and top off your summer vacation with a free European workshop. (Bonus: All workshop participants will receive a special offer up to $1,250 per month for six months on SoftLayer.)

TOPICS INCLUDE:

  • [00:00:43.00]   Introduction of Harold Smith, SoftLayer Director of Sales Engineering
  • [00:1:00.00]   The history of SoftLayer and its relationship to the cloud
  • [00:4:26.00]   The SoftLayer definition of "cloud"
  • [00:8:40.00]   Why choose SoftLayer?
  • [00:10:33.00]  Cloud solutions for common big data challenges in e-commerce
  • [00:12:09.00]  SoftLayer cloud advantages for e-commerce
  • [00:13:24.00]  Big data solutions optimized on SoftLayer
  • [00:15:33.00]  Customer success stories: Tiket.com and HotelsCombined.com
  • [00:18:18.00]   Why choose Cloudant on SoftLayer?
  • [00:20:24.00]  Introduction of Glynn Bird, IBM Cloudant Developer Advocate
  • [00:21:14.00]   The state of the digital world
  • [00:22:43.00]  Which database should you use to build your app?
  • [00:25:00.00]  Introduction to IBM Cloudant
  • [00:27:32.00]  Cloudant deployment options
  • [00:29:07.00]  Why do e-commerce businesses use Cloudant?
  • [00:29:11.00]   Elastic cloud scalability
  • [00:32:53.00]  Data synchronicity
  • [00:34:48.00]  Geo-mobility
  • [00:34:25.00]  Freedom and fluidity of deployment
  • [00:36:46.00]  Customer success story: GreenMan Gaming
  • [00:38:46.00]  Cloudant for e-commerce
  • [00:41:10.00]   Questions and conclusion

-Fayza

May 29, 2015

Sydney DC—Since We’ve Launched

It’s been a couple of months since our Sydney data center opened for business, and within this short span we’ve seen a sizable uptake of SoftLayer services—both from existing and new customers in the region. We thought that it was an ideal time to meet these SoftLayer enthusiasts. So, recently SoftLayer CTO Marc Jones, Lead Developer Evangelist Phil Jackson, and a bunch of SLayers visited the city to host workshops, meetups, and a Sydney Launch Party.

Here is a quick snapshot of what went down, Down Under.

≡Developer Workshop at Tank Stream Labs

This year we took the roadshow developer workshops to Australia to celebrate the launch of the Sydney data center (the first round of developer workshops debuted late last year in Asia; read more: Cloud Conversations Ruled at the SoftLayer Asia Roadshow). Led by Phil, the workshop covered managing deployments using the SoftLayer Application Programming Interface (API). The workshop helped developers interact with their accounts, products, and services using direct API calls in a development environment. Phil also answered questions and helped attendees understand, solve, and implement specific ideas in their SoftLayer environments.

≡Sydney Launch Party at the Hotel CBD Fourth Floor

SoftLayer users and enthusiasts came together to join us for an evening of great conversations and excellent music. Marc discussed why SoftLayer selected Sydney for its next data center as well as gave some insight to SoftLayer products and expansion. We spent the evening chatting with our customers and key guys in the startup space.

We’d like to give a shout out to Greg Furlong, CEO & Founder of ChannelPace, David Holmes, CDO of Hostworks, and Jessica Sullivan, Marketing and Business Development Consultant and Founder sbFlourish for taking the time to chat with us. Also, thanks to all those who participated in the workshop and attended the launch party.

I am looking forward to being back in the city with all its amazing restaurants and delicacies, but mostly because it would be amazing to check back with our clients and hear more stories on how SoftLayer services are being used.

Cheers,
–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

May 14, 2015

Update - VENOM Vulnerability

Yesterday, a security advisory designated CVE-2015-3456 / XSA-133 was publicly announced. The advisory identified a vulnerability, which has become commonly known as "VENOM", through which an attacker could exploit floppy driver support in QEMU to escalate their privileges.

SoftLayer engineers, in concert with our technology partners, completed a deep analysis of the vulnerability and determined that SoftLayer virtual servers are not affected by this issue.

We're always committed to ensuring our customers' operations and data are well protected. If customers have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to SoftLayer support or your direct SoftLayer contacts.

-Sonny

May 12, 2015

The SLayer Standard Vol. 1, No. 12

The week in review. All the IBM Cloud and SoftLayer headlines in one place.

We've got the power
What makes an existing partnership better? More power, of course. IBM and SAP strengthened the bond by adding a new set of integrated Power Systems solutions for SAP HANA in-memory computer applications: POWER8 servers. Welcome to a new era of high speed, high volume data processing.

Straight from the horse’s mouth
On the subject of IBM’s cloudy future, Forbes sat down with none other than Robert LeBlanc, SVP of IBM’s Cloud Business, to clear the haze. Ambition, AWS envy, and giving up on the public cloud? It’s all there.

Friending Facebook
If your company could target the right folks on Facebook, would it be interested? That’s what IBM’s latest ad partnership with the social network is all about. A write-up in Fast Company provides all the details behind the cooperative, which is aimed to "more accurately identify which of [a company’s] customers are among the 1.44 billion people active on Facebook.” After all, learning to leverage the social web just makes sense.

We’re so happy for you
When big things happen for our customers, we love to highlight them. Longtime IBM business partner Manhattan Associates chose IBM Cloud as a preferred cloud provider for its clients (which includes tech support for those running their applications on SoftLayer). And Distribution Central is now offering its 1,000 resellers access to AWS, Azure and IBM Cloud’s SoftLayer cloud services through a single interface. Way to go, everyone.

No autographs, please!
Oh, and it’s come to our attention that we were mentioned on the latest episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley. Although the scenario in which we were mentioned wasn't quite factually accurate, being famous looks good on us, if we do say so ourselves. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to inquire into our star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

-Fayza

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April 29, 2015

The SLayer Standard Vol. 1, No. 11

The week in review. All the IBM Cloud and SoftLayer headlines in one place.

Q1
A recent study deemed SoftLayer the top-mentioned hosting provider for cloud services among 50 percent of IT decision makers. This news comes on the heels of IBM’s first quarter earnings report, announcing a 75 percent increase in cloud revenue (with yearly revenue at $7.7 billion). Forbes explains IBM’s rise to power over the competition in “Move Over Amazon, IBM Can Also Claim Top Spot In Cloud Services.” Additionally, Mark Jones, SoftLayer’s chief technology officer, gave details to CRN on how IBM expects to stay on top of the cloud competition by offering pricing benefits over its market-leading rivals.

SoftLayer opens data center in The Netherlands…again.
Last week, in an effort to continue delivering on our promise to expand data centers worldwide, SoftLayer opened a second data center in the Netherlands—just outside Amsterdam in Almere. “The new facility demonstrates the demand and success IBM Cloud is having at delivering high-value services right to the doorstep of our clients,” said James Comfort, IBM cloud services general manager.

Building Applications in the Cloud with SoftLayer
For those who enjoy broadcast over print, our lead technology evangelist, Phil Jackson, sat down with Jacob Goldstein of Wireframes to discuss how to choose the right servers for your needs. Listen to the podcast.

-JRL

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April 27, 2015

Good Documentation: A How-to Guide

As part of my job in Development Support, I write internal technical documentation for employee use only. My department is also the last line of support before a developer is called in for customer support issues, so we manage a lot of the troubleshooting documentation. Some of the documentation I write and use is designed for internal use for my position, but some of it is troubleshooting documents for other job positions within the company. I have a few guidelines that I use to improve the quality of my documentation. These are by no means definitive, but they’re some helpful tips that I’ve picked up over the years.

Readability

I’m sure everyone has met the frustration of reading a long-winded sentence that should have been three separate sentences. Keeping your sentences as short as possible helps ensure that your advice won’t go in one ear and out the other. If you can write things in a simpler way, you should do so. The goal of your documentation is to make your readers smarter.

Avoid phrasing things in a confusing way. A good example of this is how you employ parentheses. Sometimes it is necessary to use them to convey important beneficial tidbits to your readers. If you write something with parentheses in it, and you can’t read it out loud without it sounding confusing, try to re-word it, or run it by someone else.

Good: It should have "limited connectivity" (the computer icon with the exclamation point) or "active" status (the green checkmark) and NOT "retired" (the red X).
Bad: It should have the icon “limited connectivity” (basically the computer icon with the exclamation point that appears in the list) (you can see the “limited connectivity” text if you hover over it) or “active” (the green checkmark) status and NOT the red “retired” X icon.

Ideally, you should use the same formatting for all of your documentation. At the very least, you should make your formatting consistent within your document. All of our transaction troubleshooting documentation at SoftLayer uses a standardized error formatting that is consistent and easy to read. Sometimes it might be necessary to break the convention if readability is improved. For example: Collapsible menus make it hard to search the entire page using ctrl+F, but very often, it makes things more difficult.

And finally, if people continually have a slew of questions, it’s probably time to revise your documentation and make it clearer. If it’s too complex, break it down into simpler terms. Add more examples to help clarify things so that it makes sense to your end reader.

Simplicity

Use bullet points or numbered lists when listing things instead of a paragraph block. I mention this because good formatting saves man-hours. There’s a difference between one person having to search a document for five minutes, versus 100 people having to search a document for five minutes each. That’s over eight man-hours lost. Bullet points are much faster to skim through when you are looking for something specific in the middle of a page somewhere. Avoid the “TL;DR” effect and don’t send your readers a wall of text.

Avoid superfluous information. If you have extra information beyond what is necessary, it can have an adverse effect on your readers. Your document may be the first your readers have read on your topic, so don’t overload them with too much information.

Don’t create duplicate information. If your documentation source is electronic, keep your documentation from repeating information, and just link to it in a central location. If you have the same information in five different places, you’ll have to update it in five different places if something changes.

Break up longer documents into smaller, logical sections. Organize your information first. Figure out headings and main points. If your page seems too long, try to break it down into smaller sections. For example, you might want to separate a troubleshooting section from the product information section. If your troubleshooting section grows too large, consider moving it to its own page.

Thoroughness

Don’t make assumptions about what the users already know. If it wasn’t covered in your basic training when you were hired, consider adding it to the documentation. This is especially important when you are documenting things for your own job position. Don’t leave out important details just because you can remember them offhand. You’re doing yourself a favor as well. Six months from now, you may need to use your documentation and you may not remember those details.

Bad:SSH to the image server and delete the offending RGX folder.
Good:SSH to the image server (imageserver.mycompany.local), and run ls -al /dev/rgx_files/ | grep blah to find the offending RGX folder and then use rm -rf /dev/rgx_files/<folder> to delete it.

Make sure your documentation covers as much ground as possible. Cover every error and every possible scenario that you can think of. Collaborate with other people to identify any areas you may have missed.

Account for errors. Error messages often give very helpful information. The error might be as straightforward as “Error: You have entered an unsupported character: ‘$.’” Make sure to document the cause and fix for it in detail. If there are unsupported characters, it might be a good idea to provide a list of unsupported characters.

If something is confusing, provide a good example. It’s usually pretty easy to identify the pain points—the things you struggle with are probably going to be difficult for your readers as well. Sometimes things can be explained better in an example than they can in a lengthy paragraph. If you were documenting a command, it might be worthwhile to provide a good example first and then break it down and explain it in detail. Images can also be very helpful in getting your point across. In documenting user interfaces, an image can be a much better choice than words. Draw red boxes or arrows to guide the reader on the procedure.

-Mark

April 24, 2015

Working Well With Your Employees

In the past 17 years I’ve worked in a clean-room laboratory environment as an in-house tech support person managing windows machines around dangerous lasers and chemicals, in the telecommunications industry as a systems analyst and software engineer, and in the hosting industry as a lead developer, software architect, and manager of development. In every case, the following guiding principles have served me well, both as an employee striving to learn more and be a better contributor and as a manager striving to be a worthy employer of rising talent. Whether you are a manager or a startup CEO, this advice will help you cultivate success for you and your employees.

Hire up.
When you’re starting out, you will likely wear many hats out of necessity, but as your company grows, these hats need to be given to others. Hire the best talent you can, and rely on their expertise. Don’t be intimidated by intelligence—embrace it and don’t let your ego stand in the way. Also, be aware that faulty assumptions about someone’s skill set can throw off deadlines and cause support issues down the road. Empowering people increases a sense of ownership and pride in one’s work.

Stay curious.
IBM has reinvented itself over and over. It has done this to keep up with the ever-changing industry with the help of curious employees. Curious people ask more questions, dig deeper, and they find creative solutions to current industry needs. Don’t pour cold water on your employees who want to do things differently. Listen to them with an open mind. Change is sometimes required, and it comes through innovation by curious people.

Integrate and automate everything.
Take a cue from SoftLayer: If you find yourself performing a repetitive task, automate and document it. We’ve focused on automation since day one. Not only do we automate server provisioning, but we’ve also automated our development build processes so that we can achieve repeatable success in code releases. Do your best to automate yourself out of a job and encourage others to live by this mantra. Don’t trade efficiency for job security—those who excel in this should be given more responsibility.

Peace of mind is worth a lot.
Once a coworker and I applied to contract for a job internally because our company was about to spend millions farming it out to a third party. We knew we could do it faster and cheaper, but the company went with the third party instead. Losing that contract taught me that companies are willing to pay handsomely for peace of mind. If you can build a team that is that source of that peace of mind for your company, you will go far.

When things don’t go right.
Sometimes things go off the rails, and there’s nothing you can do about it. People make mistakes. Deadlines are missed. Contracts fall through. In these situations, it’s important to focus on where the process went wrong and put changes in place to keep it from happening again. This is more beneficial to your team than finger pointing. If you can learn from your mistakes, you will create an environment that is agile and successful.

- Jason

April 20, 2015

The SLayer Standard Vol. 1, No. 10

The week in review. All the IBM Cloud and SoftLayer headlines in one place.

The Battle for Global Market Share
Warmer weather must be around the corner—or it could just be the cloud industry heating up. How will cloud providers profit as more and more providers push for world domination? The Economist predicts an industry change as prices drop.

IBM Partners with TI on Secure APIs for IoT
Allow me to translate: the International Business Machines Corporation is partnering with Texas Instruments to secure application program interfaces with the help of the Internet of Things. Through its collaboration with TI, IBM will create a Secure Registry Service that will provide trust and authentication practices and protocol across the value chain–from silicon embedded in devices and products to businesses and homes.

(Join the conversation at #IoTNow or #IoT.)

The U.S. Army Goes Hybrid
The U.S. Army is hoping to see a 50 percent cost savings by utilizing IBM cloud services and products. Like many customers, the Army opted for a hybrid solution for security, flexibility, and ease of scale. Read more about what IBM Cloud and SoftLayer are doing for the U.S Army and other U.S. government departments.

The Only Constant is Change
Or so said Heraclitus of Ephesus. And to keep up with the changing times, IBM has reinvented itself over and over again to stay relevant and successful. This interesting read discusses why big corporations just aren't what they used to be, what major factors have transformed the IT industry over the last couple of decades, and how IBM has been leading the change, time-after-time.

-JRL

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