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April 6, 2016

Cloudocracy: Cedato believes in showing the right ad to the right viewer

In the latest edition of our Cloudocracy series—which celebrates SoftLayer customers shaking up their industries—meet Cedato. Have you noticed video ads appearing more often over non-video content online? SoftLayer customer Cedato makes that possible. We sat down with Dvir Doron, Cedato’s CMO, to learn more.

SOFTLAYER: There’s something we’ve always wondered about online video, so perhaps you can help us out. Why are there so many cat videos?

DVIR DORON: I’ll start with a confession: I’ve never uploaded a video of my pets, my children, or any of my hobbies. At the same time, I know I’m an anomaly. Most people want to share their lives, experiences, and happy moments. Cats capture that. We talk about user generated content, and cat and baby videos drove viewership and content at first. I’m not sure that’s the case today. People have moved on. There are more “fail” videos of people falling over and doing crazy stuff now. They make me laugh. What can I say? I’m weak.

SL: Let’s talk about a strength! How are you shaking up the online advertising business?

DORON: People love video ads and they generate tremendous value, but a few years ago the industry was hitting a roadblock because there wasn’t enough advertising space. Then the market started to embrace what we call “in place” advertising, which enables us to place video ads on non-video content. With the shift to mobile, that created a huge challenge. You have issues with the format, streaming conventions, and standards, and things don’t work very well. On the one hand, there was a huge opportunity to increase the supply of ad space, which was hugely in demand. At the same time, there was a major technical issue to solve.

We were established in the middle of last year to offer a sophisticated software layer that enables publishers to run video ads on video and non-video content. Our platform chooses the ad that will load the fastest, matches the user’s interests, and generates the best value for the advertiser and publisher. As long as you keep everyone happy, they will keep coming back.

SL: There is something of a backlash against advertising now, though, with users increasingly installing ad blockers. How can the advertising industry win them over?

DORON: There are a lot of sites out there that offer a very poor experience, but people don’t realize that slow loading times and buffering are not necessarily because of content delivery issues, poor infrastructure, or site mechanics. It’s a result of poor monetization techniques. Websites are trying to show ads that will maximize their revenue but often the ad behind that is not effective. Sorry for the self-promotion, but I believe that if you show the right ad to the right viewer with the lowest possible latency, everyone wins. If the wait times are low, the experience will be good.

SL: That’s an interesting point. What would you say has been your biggest challenge as a startup in this market?

DORON: We were blessed with very rapid growth, so the challenge for us was to provide a scalable platform. We were soon serving billions of ads per month. We needed someone we could count on to be both scalable and elastic, all over the world. So we’ve partnered with SoftLayer from the very beginning. We were extremely happy with the people and the level of support we were getting. As a startup, we really need that extra bit of support.

SL: And we’ve been pleased to provide it! What are your plans for the future?

DORON: We’re looking at TV advertising. The ability to match an ad to a specific viewer is coming in the next couple of years. Not necessarily to broadcast TV, but it’s coming. We’re trying to find areas where it makes sense to connect the advertisers online with TV audiences.

SL: Your focus is usually on the bits between the TV programs. But if we gave you the chance to edit any film or TV show, what would you change?

DORON: I would change the ending of Lost. It was epic. I watched all seven seasons of it, and this was when there were about 20 episodes per season. No spoilers, but I’d change it to something more original.

 

-Michalina

 

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April 5, 2016

When in doubt with firewalls, “How Do I?” it out

Spring is a great time to take stock and wipe off the cobwebs at home. Within the sales engineering department at SoftLayer, we thought it was a good idea to take a deeper look at our hardware firewall products and revamp our support documentation. Whether you’re using our shared hardware firewalls, a dedicated hardware firewall, or the FortiGate Security Appliance, we have lots of new information to share with you on KnowledgeLayer.

One aspect we’re highlighting is a series of articles entitled, “How Do I?” within the Firewalls KnowledgeLayer node.  A "How Do I?" provides you with a detailed explanation about how to use a SoftLayer service or tool with the customer portal or API.  

For example, perhaps your cloud admin has just won the lottery, and has left the company. And now you need to reorient yourself with your company’s security posture in the cloud. Your first step might be to read “How Do I View My Firewalls?” which provides step-by-step instructions about how to view and manage your hardware firewalls at SoftLayer within the customer portal. If you discover you've been relying on iptables instead of an actual firewall to secure your applications, don't panic—ordering and securing your infrastructure with hardware firewalls can be done in minutes. Be sure to disable any accounts and API keys you no longer need within the Account tab. If you're new to SoftLayer and our portal, take a look at our on-demand webinars and training video series.

Now that you’ve identified the types of firewalls you have protecting your infrastructure, fel free to drill in to our updated articles that can help you out. If you’re running a dedicated hardware firewall and want to know how to manage it within the portal, this “How Do I?” article is for you. We’ve also tailored “How Do I?” entries for shared hardware firewalls and the FortiGate Security Appliance to help you beat the heat in no time. The SoftLayer customer portal also provides you with the ability to download firewall access logs in a CSV file. See for yourself how the Internet can truly be a hostile environment for a web-facing server. Every access attempt blocked by your firewall has saved your server from the work of processing software firewall rules, and keeps your application safer.  

We know that not all issues can be covered by how-to articles. To address that, we’ve also added a number of new entries to the Firewalls FAQ section. 

Keep the feedback coming! We’re here to help answer your sales-related technical questions. And be sure to check out our latest Sales Engineering Webinar: Creating a Digital Defense Plan with Firewalls. 

April 4, 2016

A deeper dive into using VMware on SoftLayer

 

IBM and VMware recently announced an expanded global strategic partnership that enables customers to operate a seamless and consistent cloud, spanning hybrid environments. VMware customers now have the ability to quickly provision new (or scale existing) VMware workloads to IBM Cloud. This helps companies retain the value of their existing VMware-based solutions while leveraging the growing footprint of IBM Cloud data centers worldwide.

IBM customers are now able to purchase VMware software in a flexible, cost-efficient manner to power their deployments on IBM’s bare metal hardware infrastructure service. They’ll also be able to take advantage of their existing skill sets, tools, and technologies versus having to purchase and learn new ones. New customers will have complete control of their VMware environment, allowing them to expand into new markets and reduce startup cost by leveraging SoftLayer’s worldwide network and data centers.

This new offering also allows customers access to the full stack of VMware products to build an end-to-end VMware solution that matches their current on-premises environment or create a new one. Leveraging NSX lets customers manage their SoftLayer network infrastructure and extend their on-premises environment into SoftLayer as well, letting them expand their current capacity while reducing startup capital.

Customers can currently purchase vSphere Enterprise Plus 6.0 from SoftLayer. The VMware software components in Table 1 will be available, for a la carte purchase, for individual SoftLayer bare metal servers by Q2 2016. All products listed will be billed on a per socket basis.

Table 1: VMware software components

Product Name

Version

Charge per

VMware vRealize Operations Enterprise Edition

6.0

CPU

VMware vRealize Operations Advanced Edition

6.0

CPU

VMware vRealize Operations Standard Edition

6.0

CPU

VMware vRealize Log Insight

3.0

CPU

VMware NSX-V

6.2

CPU

VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO)

2.0

CPU

Virtual SAN Standard Tier I (0-20TB)

6.X

CPU

Virtual SAN Standard Tier II (21-64TB)

6.X

CPU

Virtual SAN Standard Tier III (65-124TB)

6.X

CPU

VMware Site Recovery Manager

6.1

CPU

VMware vRealize Automation Enterprise

6.X

CPU

VMware vRealize Automation Advanced

6.X

CPU

 

The following FAQs will help you better understand the IBM and VMware partnership:                                                                                                                                             

Q: What are you offering today? And how much does it cost?

A: Today, IBM offers vSphere Enterprise Plus 6.0, which includes vCenter and vCloud Connector. It’s currently available for $85 per CPU for single CPU, dual CPU, and quad CPU servers. The products listed in Table 1 will be available in Q2 2016.

Q: Is per-CPU pricing a change from how VMware software was offered before?

A: Yes, the CPU-based pricing is new, and is unique to IBM Cloud. IBM is currently the only cloud provider to offer this type of pricing for VMware software. CPU-based pricing allows customers to more accurately budget how much they spend for VMware software in the cloud.

Q: Can customers bring the licenses they already own and have acquired via an existing VMware license agreement (e.g., ELA)?

A: Customers can take advantage of the new pricing when purchasing the VMware software through the SoftLayer portal. Please contact your VMware sales representative to get approval if you plan on bringing the license you already own to IBM Cloud.

Q: Will you offer migration services?

A: Yes, migration services will be among the portfolio of managed services offerings we will make available. Details will be announced closer to the time of availability, which is later in 2016.

Q: What storage options are available for VMware environments on SoftLayer?

A: Customers can select from a diverse range of SoftLayer storage offerings and custom solutions depending on their requirements and preferences. Use the Select a Storage Option to use with VMware guide to determine the best storage option for your environment.

Q: Where can I find technical resources to learn more about VMware on SoftLayer?

A: There is extensive technical documentation available on KnowledgeLayer, including:

 

-Kerry Staples and Andreas Groth

March 25, 2016

Be an Expert: Handle Drive Failures with Ease

Bare metal servers at SoftLayer employ best-in-class and industry proven SAS, SATA, or SSD disks, which are extensively tested and qualified in-house by the data center technicians. They are reliable and are enterprise grade hardware. However, single-point device failure cannot be neglected for unforeseen circumstances. HDD or device failures could happen for various reasons like power surge, mechanical/internal failure, drive firmware bugs, overheating, aging, etc. Though all efforts are made to mitigate these issues by selecting the best-in-class hard drives and pre-tested devices before making them available to customer, one could still run into drive failures occasionally.

Is having RAID protection just good enough?

Drive failures on dedicated bare metal servers may cause data loss, downtime, and service interruptions if they are not adequately deployed with a risk mitigation plan. As a first line of defense, users choose to have RAID at various levels. This may seem sufficient but may have the following problems:

  • Volume associated with the failed drive becomes degraded. This brings the VD performance below acceptable level. A degraded volume is most likely to disable write-back caching and further degrades write performance as well.
  • There is always a chance of another disk failing in the meantime. Unless a new disk is inserted and a rebuild is completed, a second disk failure could be catastrophic.    

Today a manual response to disk failure may take quite some time between when the user gets notified or becomes aware that the disks have failed and when a technician is involved to change the disks at the servers. During this time, a second disk failure is looming large over the user—while the system is in a degraded state.

To mitigate this risk, SoftLayer recommends that users always have a Global Hot Spare or Dedicated Hot Spare Disks wherever available on the bare metal servers. Users can choose one or more Hot Spare disks per server. This typically requires the user to earmark a drive slot for hot spares. It is recommended while ordering bare metal servers to take into consideration having empty drive slots for global hot spare drives.

Adding Hot Spare on a LSI MegaRAID Adaptor

Users can use WebBIOS utility or MegaRAID Storage Manager to add Hot Spare drive.

It is easiest to configure using MegaRAID Storage Manager Software,  available on the AVAGO website

Once logged in, you’ll will want to choose the Logical tab to view the unused disks under the “Unconfigured Drives.” Right-clicking and selecting “Assign Global Hot Spare” will make sure this drive is standby for any drive failure for any of the RAID volumes configured in the system. You can also choose to have Dedicated Hot Spare for specific volumes, which are critical. Figure 1 shows how to add a Global Hot Space using MSM. MegaRAID Storage Manager can also be used to access the server from a third-party machine or service laptops by providing the server IP address.

Figure 1 shows how to add a Global Hot Space using MSM.

You can also use the WebBios interface to add Hot Spare drives. This is done by breaking into the card BIOS at the early stage of booting by using Ctrl+R to access the BIOS Configuration Utility. As a prerequisite for accessing the KVM screen to see the boot time messages, you’ll need to VPN into the SoftLayer network and use KVM under the “Actions” dropdown in the customer portal.

Once inside the WebBIOS screen, access the “PD Mgmt” tab and choose a free drive. Pressing F2 on the highlighted drive will display a menu for making the drive as a Global Hot Spare. Figure 2 below provides more details for making a Hot Spare using BIOS interface. We recommend using virtual keyboard while navigating and issuing commands in the KVM viewer.

Figure 2 provides more details for making a Hot Spare using BIOS interface.

Adding Hot Spare Through Adaptec Adaptor

Adaptec also provides the Adaptec Storage Manager and a BIOS option to add Global Hot Spares.

The Adaptec Storage Manager comes preinstalled on SoftLayer servers for the supported chosen OS. This can also be downloaded for the specific Adaptec card from this link. After launching the Adaptec Storage Manager, users can select a specific available free drive and create a global hot spare drive as shown in Figure 3.

After launching the Adaptec Storage Manager, users can select a specific available free drive and create a global hot spare drive as shown in Figure 3.

Adaptec also provides a BIOS-based configuration utility that can be used to add a Hot Spare. To do this, you’ll need to break into the BIOS utility by using Ctrl+A at the early boot. After that, select the Global Hot Spares from the main menu to enter the drive selection page. Select a drive by pressing Insert and Enter to submit changes. Figure 4 below depicts the selection of a Global Hot Spare using BIOS configuration utility.

Figure 4 depicts the selection of a Global Hot Spare using BIOS configuration utility.

Using Hot Spares reduces a risk of further drive failures and also lowers the time the system remains in degraded state. We recommend  SoftLayer customers leverage these benefits on their bare metal servers to be better armed against drive failures.

-Subramanian

March 24, 2016

future.ready(): 7 Things to Check Off Your Big Data Development List

Frank Ketelaars, Big Data Technical Leader for Europe at IBM, offers a checklist that every developer should have pinned to their board when starting a big data project. Editor’s Note: Does your brain switch off when you hear industryspeak words like “innovation,” “transformation,” “leading edge,” “disruptive,” and “paradigm shift”? Go on, go ahead and admit it. Ours do, too. That’s why we’re launching the future.ready() series—consisting of blogs, podcasts, webinars, and Twitter chats— with content created by developers, for developers. Nothing fluffy, nothing buzzy. With the future.ready() series, we aim to equip you with tools and knowledge that you can use—not just talk and tweet about.

For the first edition, I’ve invited Frank Ketelaars, an expert in high volume data space, to walk us through seven things to check off when starting a big data development project.

-Michalina Kiera, SoftLayer EMEA senior marketing manager

 

This year, big data moves from a water cooler discussion to the to-do list. Gartner estimates that more than 75 percent of companies are investing or planning to invest in big data in the next two years.

I have worked on multiple high volume projects in industries that include banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, life sciences, and government, and in roles including architect, big data developer, and streaming analytics specialist. Based on my experience, here’s a checklist I put together that should give developers a good start. Did I miss anything? Join me on the Twitter chat or webinar to share your experience, ask questions, and discuss further. (See details below.)     

1. Team up with a person who has a budget and a problem you can solve.

For a successful big data project, you need to solve a business problem that’s keeping somebody awake at night. If there isn’t a business problem and a business owner—ideally one with a budget— your project won’t get implemented. Experimentation is important when learning any new technology. But before you invest a lot of time in your big data platform, find your sponsor. To do so, you’ll need to talk to everyone, including IT, business users, and management. Remember that the technical advantages of analytics at scale might not immediately translate into business value.

2. Get your systems ready to collect the data.

With additional data sources, such as devices, vehicles, and sensors connected to networks and generating data, the variety of information and transportation mechanisms has grown dramatically, posing new challenges for the collection and interpretation of data.

Big data often comes from sources outside the business. External data comes at you in a variety of formats (including XML, JSON, and binary), and using a variety of different APIs. In 2016, you might think that everyone is on REST and JSON, but think again: SOAP still exists! The variety of the data is the primary technical driver behind big data investments, according to a survey of 402 business and IT professionals by management consultancy NewVantage Partners[SM1] . From one day to the next, the API might change or a source might become unavailable.

Maybe one day we’ll see more standardization, but it won’t happen any time soon. For now, developers must plan to spend time checking for changes in APIs and data formats, and be ready to respond quickly to avoid service interruptions. And to expect the unexpected.

3. Make sure you have the right to use that data.

Governance is a business challenge, but it’s going to touch developers more than ever before—from the very start of the project. Much of the data they will be handling is unstructured, such as text records from a call center. That makes it hard to work out what’s confidential, what needs to be masked, and what can be shared freely with external developers. Data will need to be structured before it can be analyzed, but part of that process includes working out where the sensitive data is, and putting measures in place to ensure it is adequately protected throughout its lifecycle.

Developers need to work closely with the business to ensure that they can keep data safe, and provide end users with a guarantee that the right data is being analyzed and that its provenance can be trusted. Part of that process will be about finding somebody who will take ownership of the data and attest to its quality.

4. Pick the right tools and languages.

With no real standards in place yet, there are many different languages and tools used to collect, store, transport, and analyze big data. Languages include R, Python, Julia, Scala, and Go (plus the Java and C++ you might need to work with your existing systems). Technologies include Apache Pig, Hadoop, and Spark, which provide massive parallel processing on top of a file system without Hadoop. There’s a list of 10 popular big data tools here, another 12 here, and a round-up of 45 big data tools here. 451 Research has created a map that classifies data platforms according to the database type, implementation model, and technology. It’s a great resource, but its 18-color key shows how complex the landscape has become.

Not all of these tools and technologies will be right for you, but they hint at one way the developer’s core competency must change. Big data will require developers to be polyglots, conversant in perhaps five languages, who specialize in learning new tools and languages fast—not deep experts in one or two languages.

Nota bene: MapReduce and Pig are among the top highest paid technology skills in the US, and other big data skills are likely to be highly sought-after as the demand for them also grows. Scala is a relatively new functional programming language for data preparation and analysis, and I predict it will be in high demand in the near future.

5. Forget “off-the-shelf.” Experiment and set up a big data solution that fits your needs. 

You can think of big data analytics tools like Hadoop as a car. You want to go to the showroom, pay, get in, and drive away. Instead, you’re given the wheels, doors, windows, chassis, engine, steering wheel, and a big bag of nuts and bolts. It’s your job to assemble it.

As InfoWorld notes, DevOps tools can help to create manageable Hadoop solutions. But you’re still faced with a lot of pieces to combine, diverse workloads, and scheduling challenges.

When experimenting with concepts and technologies to solve a certain business problem, also think about successful deployment in the organization. The project does not stop after the proof.

6. Secure resources for changes and updates.

Apache Hadoop and Apache Spark are still evolving rapidly and it is inevitable that the behavior of components will change over time and some may get deprecated shortly after initial release. Implementing new releases will be painful, and developers will need to have an overview of the big data infrastructure to ensure that as components change, their big data projects continue to perform as expected.

The developer team must plan time for updates and deprecated features, and a coordinated approach will be essential for keeping on top of the change.

7. Use infrastructure that’s ready for CPU and I/O intensive workloads.

My preferred definition of big data (and there are many – Forbes found 12) is this: "Big data is when you can no longer afford to bring the data to the processing, and you have to do the processing where the data is."

In traditional database and analytics applications, you get the data, load it onto your reporting server, process it, and post the results to the database.

With big data, you have terabytes of data, which might reside in different places—and which might not even be yours to move. Getting it to the processor is impractical. Big data technologies like Hadoop are based on the concept of data locality—doing the processing where the data resides.

You can run Hadoop in a virtualized environment. Virtual servers don’t have local data, though, so the time taken to transport data between the SAN or other storage device and the server hurts the application’s performance. Noisy neighbors, unpredictable server speeds and contested network connections can have a significant impact on performance in a virtualized environment. As a result, it’s difficult to offer service level agreements (SLAs) to end users, which makes it hard for them to depend on your big data implementations.

The answer is to use bare metal servers on demand, which enable you to predict and guarantee the level of performance your application can achieve, so you can offer an SLA with confidence. Clusters can be set up quickly, so you can accelerate your project really fast. Because performance is predictable and consistent, it’s possible to offer SLAs to business owners that will encourage them to invest in the big data project and rely on it for making business decisions.

How can I learn more?

Join me in the Twitter chat and webinar (details below) to discuss how you’re addressing big data or have your questions answered by me and my guests.  

Add our Twitter chat to your calendar. It happens Thursday, March 31 at 1 p.m. CET. Use the hashtag #SLdevchat to share your views or post your questions to me.

Register for the webinar on Wednesday, Apr 20, at 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. CET.

 

About the author

Frank Ketelaars has been Big Data Technical Leader in Europe for IBM since August 2013. As an architect, big data developer, and streaming analytics specialist, he has worked on multiple high volume projects in banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, life sciences and government. He is a specialist in Hadoop and real-time analytical processing.


 

March 23, 2016

Cloudocracy: Zumidian has seen the future—and it’s online gaming

Who makes the servers hum in SoftLayer data centers around the world?

The SLayers are the brains and muscle beneath the SoftLayer cloud—and you had a chance to meet some of us in last year’s Under the Infrastructure series. But each firewall has two sides! And those servers would not be humming if not for our brilliant customers.

Welcome to the Cloudocracy.

Whether you prefer to pass the bus journey with a puzzle game, or settle down for a tour of combat with your console, there’s a chance your gaming is managed by Zumidian. This week in our Cloudocracy series, we’d like to introduce you to CEO and President Nicolas Zumbiehl, who enjoys family time, cooking, and, of course, games!

Nicolas Zumbiehl, CEO of ZumidianSOFTLAYER: Are you more Angry Birds or Call of Duty?

NICOLAS ZUMBIEHL: Call of Duty. I prefer to play strategy games, though—like World of Tanks—rather than first-person shooters. It seems strange, because I work in the gaming industry, but I don’t have a single game on my iPhone or iPad. I’m a PC and console player at heart. Until last year, I had both an Xbox and PS3. Now I just have a PS4 at home. Today, I most enjoy playing games with my kids.

SL: How did you become president of Zumidian?

ZUMBIEHL: I founded the company! Previously, I was working for Hypernia, a game hosting company in Florida. Hosting is becoming a commodity business and I wanted to provide more value to gaming companies. I found a niche doing what we call “game management.” Basically, we run the whole game environment for our customers—not only the infrastructure, but the game itself, the payment gateways, the database, everything that makes up the game. We ensure it’s available for players 24/7 around the world.

SL: What does being president involve, day-to-day?

ZUMBIEHL: Zumidian is still a small company, with fewer than 20 people, so I mostly handle sales, business development, and relationships with suppliers like SoftLayer. I travel all over the world, visiting gaming trade shows and meeting customers. I like to travel to the US, where we have most of our operations, and I also like Asia. Singapore and Korea are my two favorite places there. Singapore I like for the city and the environment; in Korea, the people are really friendly and I have lots of friends and customers there.

SL: What changes has online gaming brought about?

ZUMBIEHL: In the past, you’d buy a game for $70. With online gaming, the model is free to play but if you want to progress quickly, you need to buy items. The majority of players still play for free, but the ones that really want to succeed pay for it—sometimes big money. There is a Clash of Clans player in Korea who spends $30,000 per month on the game.

SL: What tips would you offer to startups looking to launch their first online game?

ZUMBIEHL: The cost of acquiring customers is increasing more and more. It’s becoming very hard to succeed. Most of the popular games are made by four or five companies. Personally, I’m not sure I would invest in a game now.

Try to offer your game on all available platforms from the very start. In some countries, people prefer to play on smartphones and tablets, and in others they favor consoles.

You need to add content all the time. If you have a simple PC or console game, people will play it through in 20 to 30 hours and get bored. They’ll say it’s cool, but it sucks because after 30 hours, that’s it. To be successful, you need to think about how you’ll generate interest often.

If you want to go global, you have to put your game servers as close to users as possible, while still maintaining your back office servers in one location so you don’t have to duplicate them around the world. One of the reasons we work with SoftLayer is that you can pretty much build a global infrastructure.

SL: What changes do you think online gaming will bring about in the future?

ZUMBIEHL: Virtual reality will become more and more common, enabling you to really immerse yourself in the game. Gaming is increasingly going to be online. It will be more of a rental or service model, where you can play a game from way more devices, on almost anything that has a screen.

Learn more about Zumidian here.

-Michalina

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March 11, 2016

Cloudocracy: Exit Games talks friendship, survival, cheating in the gaming world

Who makes the servers hum in SoftLayer data centers around the world?

The SLayers are the brains and muscle beneath the SoftLayer cloud—and you had a chance to meet some of us in last year’s Under the Infrastructure series. But each firewall has two sides! And those servers would not be humming if not for our brilliant customers.

This week in our Cloudocracy series, we’re talking to Chris Wegmann, founder and CTO of Exit Games, the company behind Photon Server and Photon Cloud. The Exit Games mission is to make multiplayer gaming easy. Chris, along with with his team, made that happen for 140,000 developers worldwide, creating the largest live cloud for MOG (multiplayer online games) with 45–70 million active users monthly. This is quite a demanding group, to say the least!

It’s no wonder it took Chris quite some time to find the right cloud infrastructure. Having worked with SoftLayer, he admits that it’s more than just infrastructure—it’s an asset to his users and his users users. (You can read more about Exit Games in the case study here.)

Video gaming began as a battle of humans versus machines (think Space Invaders), but for many players today, gaming is about competing or cooperating with friends. We interviewed Chris to discuss screen addiction, cheating, and more.

Chris Wegmann, founder and CTO of Exit Games

SOFTLAYER: If you were stranded on a desert island, what online multiplayer games would you play to keep you company?

CHRIS: Assuming the desert island has good connectivity I would play 8 Ball Pool, Pixel Gun, and Clash Royale. They are fun to play, and you don’t need to be a super expert. You can start easy and enhance your skills over time. They’re really well done, although only one was built using our Photon technology unfortunately!

SL: How and why did you start Exit Games?

CHRIS: In 2003, I was working at a company that was building next-generation services for the brand new 3G networks. My cofounders and I thought multiplayer games on phones could be great. We were horribly early with that idea! We had a rough time trying to survive. Multiplayer gaming started to become popular when the iPhone launched and Apple launched the App Store [in 2008]. We were able to stick around, turn the company around, and we’re now one of the leaders in synchronous multiplayer real-time gaming.

SL: How did you survive? What was different for you?

CHRIS: We had a razor-sharp focus on one particular function: synchronous real-time multiplayer gaming, and nothing else. It’s all about low latency, so we run data centers in a lot of locations worldwide, in partnership with SoftLayer. Game developers can leverage our network, the stability, the performance, and the low price.

Another factor in our success was that we decided very early to use Unity. Unity was not so popular then, but it now has millions of developers and has brought us thousands of professional and indie developers.

All of our products have a free tier, so they’re easy to try out. Then you pay per use. If your game is successful, you pay more. If not, you don’t pay a lot. It’s a fair business model that gave us market penetration.

SL: We hear a lot about the increase in the amount of screen time young people have today. Should we be concerned about online gaming replacing real-world socializing?

CHRIS: It’s a concern to me, especially when I see all the teenagers and kids constantly looking on phones and Facebook, communicating all the time. It seems to be in our nature to communicate all the time.

I remember when I was a kid, my friend and I had Commodore 64s, Game Boys, and whatever later on. Kids are definitely addicted to that stuff, and it’s the parents’ job to restrict it and make sure they are still playing board games and getting social contact.

SL: How big of a problem is cheating in online gaming, through hacking and bots, and what can be done about it?

CHRIS: It's a big topic. The more popular a game gets, the more cheaters and hackers will be attracted to it. Some of our customers’ games are becoming successful quickly and unexpectedly. When a game takes off quickly like that, it’s important that the developer gets up to speed quickly with how cheating could affect their games.

On mobile phones, it’s harder to hack, because you don’t have the tools you have on PCs. On PCs, there are professional companies that build bots and in-memory tools where you can decompile the game and change values in memory, so you need to take countermeasures faster on PC games. You need to be able to track profiles and ban and block users.

Of course, people like to play with friends, but it’s only fun to play if you have opponents with similar skills. Usually your friends are not necessarily good at a game you like to play, so it’s not fun to play with them. You want to play people who have real skill, too, not cheaters. One strategy is to let cheaters play with cheaters. So you need to think about skill-based matchmaking, not just random matchmaking.

We’re partnering with companies to offer anti-cheating chat filters and skills-based matchmaking. We look at what other services developers need and aim to provide a turnkey solution for them—with everything wrapped into a convenient package so it’s easy to use and has a sensible business model and price.

SL: What advice would you give to up-and-coming game developers on crafting an engaging multiplayer experience?

CHRIS: Start by reviewing the most successful multiplayer titles out there and take them as a benchmark. Every half year or so, the bar is rising in what needs to be done. In the past, few companies could afford to build games on a huge scale, but now small teams can build something really good.

Learn more about Exit Games’ Photon Engine here.

 

-Michalina

Categories: 
March 4, 2016

Adventures with Bluemix

Keeping up with the rapid evolution of web programming is frighteningly difficult—especially when you have a day job. To ensure I don’t get left behind, I like to build a small project every year or so with a collection of the most buzzworthy technologies I can find. Nothing particularly impressive, of course, but just a collection of buttons that do things. This year I am trying to get a good grasp on “as a Service,” which seems to be everywhere these days. Hopefully this adventure will prove educational.

Why use services when I can do it myself?

The main idea behind “as a Service” is that somewhere out there in the cloud, someone has figured out how to do a particular task really well. This someone is willing to provide you access to that for a small service fee—thereby letting you, the developer, focus as much time as possible on your code and not so much time worrying about optimal configurations of things that you need to work efficiently.

SoftLayer is an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider, which is what will be the home for my little application—due in large part because I already have a ton of experience running servers myself.

I’m a big fan of Python, so I’m going to start programing with the Pyramids framework as the base for my new application. Like the “as a Service” offerings, programming frameworks and libraries exist to help the developer focus on their code and leverage the expertise of others for the auxiliary components.

To make everything pretty, I am going to use Bootstrap.js, which is apparently the de facto front-end library these days.

For everything else I want to use, there will be an attached Bluemix service. For the uninitiated, Bluemix is a pretty awesome collection of tools for developing and deploying code. At its core, Bluemix uses Cloud Foundry to provision cloud resources and deploy code. For now, I’m going to deploy my own code, but what I’m really interested in are the add-on services that I can just drop into my application and get going. The first service I want to try out is going to be Cloudant nosql, which is a managed couchDB instance with a few added features like a pretty neat dashboard.

Welcome to Bluemix

Combining Bluemix services with SoftLayer servers

One of the great things about services in Bluemix is that they can be provisioned in a standalone deployment—meaning Bluemix services can be used by any computer with an Internet connection and therefore, so can my SoftLayer servers. Since Bluemix services are deployed on SoftLayer hardware (in general, but there are some exceptions), the latency between SoftLayer servers and Bluemix services should be minimal, which is nice.

Creating a Cloudant service in Bluemix is as easy as hitting the Create button in the console. Creating a simple web application in Pyramid took a bit longer, but the quick tutorial helped me learn about all the cool things the Pyramid project can do. I also got to skip all the mess with SQLAlchemy, since I’m storing all the data in Cloudant. All that’s required is a sane ID system (I am using uuid) and some json. No need to get bogged down with a rigid table structure since Cloudant is a document store. If I want to change the data format, I just need to upload a new copy of the data, and a new revision of that document will be automatically created.

After cobbling together a basic application that can publish and edit content, all I had to do to make everything look like it was designed intentionally was to add a few bootstrap classes to my templates. And then I had a ready to use website!

Conclusion

Although making a web application is still as intensive as it’s always been, at least using technology in an “as a Service” fashion helps cut down on all the tertiary technologies you need to become an expert on to get anything to work. Even though the application I created here was pretty simple, I hope to expand it to include some of the more interesting Bluemix services to see what kind of Frankenstein application I can manage to produce. There are currently 100 Bluemix services, so I think the hardest part is going to be figuring out which one to use next.

-Chris

March 2, 2016

The SLayer Standard Vol. 2, No. 6: IBM InterConnect 2016 Round-Up

Another IBM InterConnect is in the books! As we get back to our daily routines, let’s reminisce on the announcements, innovations, and fun from last week in Vegas.

The conference started with some big news at the General Session. A new partnership between VMware and IBM was announced, letting you move to IBM Cloud while preserving your existing IT investments.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg; Robert LeBlanc, SVP of IBM Cloud, revealed several other major partnerships. The list included new relationships with Apple, GitHub, and Bitly, among others. Catch up with a breakdown of the major stories. Beyond the General Session, day one was full of breakout sessions, Solutions EXPO activities, and more.

 

Tuesday’s General Session focused on the topic of transformation. Our experts and customers took to the main stage at Mandalay Bay to talk about advancements in IT infrastructure for companies as vital to the adapting to change in the enterprise structure. The debut of the Server Challenge 3 also began to heat up on Tuesday, as buzz about Robert LeBlanc’s top score made the rounds.

The General Session on Wednesday focused on change and growth using IBM Watson, IBM Bluemix, and SoftLayer. The day was topped off by a performance from Sir Elton John, who rocked the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Looking for more information on all the action from IBM InterConnect 2016? Check out IBM Cloud’s daily highlights blog. See you next year, Las Vegas!

-Rachel

Categories: 
February 17, 2016

Cloudocracy: Getting to the art of the matter with Artomatix

Who makes the servers hum in SoftLayer data centers around the world?

The SLayers are the brains and muscle beneath the SoftLayer cloud—and you had a chance to meet some of us in last year’s Under the Infrastructure series. But each firewall has two sides! And those servers would not be humming if not for our brilliant customers.

Today we’re launching a new series that will celebrate individuals and teams building on the SoftLayer cloud: the builders and founders, the creators and the disruptors, the developers and the architects, the dreamers and the visionaries, the inventors and the reformers. The Cloudocracy. 

We’re starting with Neal O’Gorman, co-founder and CTO of Artomatix. O’Gorman calls Artomatix the “artist’s personal slave robot.” The software uses machine learning-based artificial imagination to empower game dev studios that address mundane and dreary art creation tasks. Creating a beach full of pebbles or an army of zombies—with all the elements being unique—now takes minutes, not weeks, which can generate a tenfold increase in productivity. (For more details, read the complete case study here.)

At the GDC Game Developer Conference in San Francisco this spring, Artomatix will launch its inventive approach to generating video game art. We spoke to O’Gorman to find out more.

SOFTLAYER: Thank you for joining us today. Why don’t you start by telling us what Artomatix does?

O’GORMAN: Eric Risser, our co-founder, CTO, and the inventor of our incredible technology, built a game when he was a teenager and he was the artist on the team. He made a house and was delighted with it. Then he realized he had a whole village to create. From then on, he has been looking to solve that problem. Artomatix uses machine learning to quickly make high-quality variants of art assets.

SL: That sounds cool. We hear a lot about machine learning nowadays, but rarely about its use for creative applications. What do you do for Artomatix?

O’GORMAN: Unfortunately, what takes up too much time is funding. You close one funding round and go directly into the next. We’re in the process of closing our seed round. We received EU funding from the Creatify program, which helped us hire SoftLayer. We’ve also received funding from early stage investor NDRC, EU grants, and NVIDIA. We need to get to a point where revenues are coming in, which is the challenge for every startup. In the first year, we worked with companies who sent us art, we generated results, and sent it back. We validated that we were delivering the quality they needed. Then we had to build a product fast enough for them. With SoftLayer, being able to select bare metal servers and identify high-end GPUs gives us the speed we need.

SL: If you were stranded on a desert island, but you could take a few music albums and games with you, what would you bring?

O’GORMAN: Music hasn’t been a huge part of my life, but whatever you listen to in your teenage years ends up sticking. I’d definitely take the greatest Irish band that never made it out of Ireland, The Stunning.

SL: Were you in the band?

O’GORMAN: No! If you haven’t heard of them, and I suspect most people haven’t. Check them out.

For my game, the first one is definitely Quake. I got addicted in college and had to stop playing games because I was playing it too much.

For my next game, I’d say Texas Ask’Em Poker. I didn’t play for The Stunning, but I did create Texas Ask’Em Poker. When I lived in Germany, I was a quizmaster in the local Irish pub. I came across a poker company looking for new games and I had a eureka moment with the idea to put a quiz element into poker.

My final game would be Turrican on the Commodore 64 in the late 1980s. You run around, fly around, and just use your flamethrower. A classic!

SL: Pretty much everything on the Commodore is a classic, although some of the artificial intelligence was more artificial than intelligent in those days. I’ve seen a lot of talk recently about computers taking over creative jobs. Should video game artists feel threatened by your technology?

O’GORMAN: If there are Chinese whispers [the game more commonly known as “telephone”], artists might get concerned. But the reality is that we’re here to help artists spend more time being creative. We’re not replacing their creativity. We’re replacing their tedious, mundane tasks. With hybridization, we can take a few different concepts, iterate, and provide different ideas for the artist to choose from. Artomatix is always based on an example, and that needs an artist.

SL: Game developers can sleep easy! What kind of games will we be playing in 10 years, and how will we be playing them?

O’GORMAN: We’ll see a big push on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). AR is much more intriguing because with VR you're closed off to the rest of world—you’re not living in the real world. For AR, one of the keys for success is that new art needs to be created on the fly, and it needs to be in sync with the environment the person is in. Picture you and your family sitting at breakfast. On the screen, there’s an extra chair at the table. It’s not an exact copy of another chair, but it fits in perfectly. Sitting in it is someone who looks like a family member, but not any particular one. And they’re a zombie.

SL: Scary stuff! Good luck with your launch!

O’GORMAN: Thank you!
 

 

-Michalina 

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