June 4, 2007

Why Finance Guys Don't Blog

Q4UY don’t finance guys blog much? If j00 post “IAAA” and talk of KPIs, EVA, and other TLAs, readers think listening to this llama is a CWOT and say “CYAL8R”. CMIIW but hosting demand r0x0rs. The SMB market sk00lz all else but there are other factors. I’ll mention just a couple here:

I’ll call one the “middle school” factor. I have a 13 year-old boy. He and his classmates are absolutely addicted to Internet chatting. He’ll open six or more windows at once and at least four of them are girls who are also chatting with IDK, their BFFs AFAIK. They will ROTFLOL for hours even if OMG, PAW. It’s NBD to them.

I doubt that as these kids grow up they’ll give up the chat habit, and the n00bs that come along will only add to the ranks. Thus, another driver of internet fundamentals grows seemingly forever and demands more servers to relay the ever growing messages.

I’ll call the other factor the “mullet factor”. I knew our CEO back in the 80’s and he sported quite the mullet, I can assure you (see image to the left for proof).

Punch in the word “mullet” into Google and in .05 seconds you’ll get links to about 3.8 million web sites somehow related to mullets. w00t! A few are related to the fish, but most have to do with the hairstyle. YKW, these websites have to live on a server somewhere. Strange websites like this only seem to proliferate over time. AWHFY?


May 31, 2007

If You Can't Beat 'em - Sue 'em!!

I just ran across an article that grossly embarrasses me to be associated with the legal profession. In a recent  NetworkWorld article I found the following paragraph:

Lawsuits are a fact of life for organizations today. Recent surveys show that the average U.S. company faces 305 suits at any one time; that number jumps to 556 for companies with $1 billion or more in revenue.

As a licensed attorney I realize that legitimate disputes do exist between parties. I take no issue with legitimate disputes. I do find it hard to believe that the average U.S. Company has over 305 active lawsuits at any one time!!

As a consumer of goods and services (individual or business), you should be angered by false and litigious lawsuits because the cost is ultimately born by you - the end consumer.

The truly alarming trend in business litigation is companies suing each other for “strategic purposes.” These cases are filed and announced in press releases as the plaintiff shouts from the courthouse steps. These types of cases have very little to do with the law, include very fuzzy causes of action and seem to languish endlessly. The goal is to slow down a competitor, burn money, waste productive resources and disparage companies.

Has corporate America forgotten how to compete? Does corporate America really feel like it must lie, cheat and manipulate the legal system to achieve their business goals? Didn’t we learn from Michael Milken and his Bond trading, Enron and their financial house of cards, Tyco and the incredulous expenditures; that cheating the system never results in a long term victory? Just because other companies are doing it doesn’t make it right. Looking down the road, some company will be “the example” when the day comes to reform the system.   

Personally, I think the penalty for a plaintiff abusing the legal process by filing a “strategic suit” should be the death penalty and the lawyers should be disbarred. That should be a sufficient deterrent for potential future players. Let’s not create SarBox for the legal profession because we abused the intended use.  Business Ethics should apply all the time, not just when required by law.


May 30, 2007

Mike Jones?

Yes, Mike Jones is my real name.

I am the least liked guy in the whole company. I am the one who has to say no. No to the fully enclosed domed cubicles with sliding doors and skylights. No to the quad processor quad core desktop PCs. No to 6 flat screen 30 inch monitors for each developer (3 is plenty). No to the recumbent Herman Miller massage desk chairs. No to the offices large enough to fly more than 3 RC toys at any one time. No to the “must haves” outside the budget. In short, I am the evil CFO. Some have even called me Iron Fist.

In spite of my constant no’s, we have built an amazing culture of innovation by saying "yes", a lot more often than saying "no" over the last two years.
Here are some of the things we've said yes to:

  • Yes to 10 of us starting the company when no one believed we had a prayer of surviving.
  • Yes to outside investment.
  • Yes to going ahead with the idea of a private network.
  • Yes to building out data center space not knowing when or if we would ever see that first customer.
  • Yes to not taking salary the first year to get the business started.
  • Yes to investing in programmers to build a portal that gives customers what they want.
  • Yes to spending extra money on infrastructure to allow us to build server farms on a scale never seen before.
  • Yes to the API project.
  • Yes to giving our developers time to be creative and come up with new ideas.
  • Yes to Muenster Fest!! (Lavosby or Samf can explain in a future blog)

In the future, I hope to be able to share more with you from a financial standpoint about how we make this business work.

-The Real Mike Jones (CFO, SoftLayer)

p.s. To put the rumors to rest, this is not me. In fact, none of these are either.

May 29, 2007

The Real Price of Retail

A few days ago Dell made a splash by telling the world they had established a partnership with Wal-Mart to sell their computers and other products throughout Wal-Mart’s 3,000 stores worldwide. This marks an interesting milestone in Dell's corporate existence. Dell has always been acknowledged as an innovative and cutting edge company through their direct sales model which took a layer of distribution (in this case retail) out of the sales process and allowed customers to "have it their way", so to speak.

With the competitiveness in the PC market and Dell’s admission of trailing behind the likes of HP and IBM, the motivation for this transition in their sales channel is clearly predicated on increasing overall volume to boost the market's perception of their thriving company and the goal of being #1 worldwide in the PC market. Obviously, this has sparked a debate on their ability to maintain a differentiated strategy in the branding of "Dell", which has generally been perceived as a higher quality because of their direct channel strategy.

In hearing the news of this new marriage between Dell and Wal-Mart it reminded me of an article that I ran across at entitled "The man who said no to Wal-Mart" and it hit home with the story of Jim Wier, CEO of Simplicity (owner of Snapper Lawn Mowers) who was at a crux in his company's life cycle where he would have to choose a path that would shape the course of his company going forward. Was he going to choose a path of high volume, low margins products or high quality and sustained margins product sets at levels that his company needed to maintain its proper corporate health? To the surprise of many, including Wal-Mart, Mr. Wier respectfully choose the path that many others had not in the past -- the one without Wal-Mart. Although two unique industries here with technology and durable consumer goods, the thoughts have to be the same in the minds of both management teams. It’s a fascinating article and I would encourage anyone who runs a business that struggles with pricing and volume levels to read.

There is no doubt Dell has been one of the most influential companies of the last 20 years in the technology industry and their management teams, through addition and attrition, have paved the way for tremendous success both financially and technologically over those years. Not many other companies have the ability to coin a phrase such as "Dellionaire". With this shift, I trust the powers that be have thought long and hard regarding the pros and cons of the retail markets, primarily in the retail technology sectors. If volume is what they want, then volume is what they are likely to receive. The real question lies in “at what price?” and which of these two corporate giants has a bigger muscle to flex in the room, Dell or Wal-Mart?


May 25, 2007

The 8 Keys to Successful Tickets

Tickets are a tough animal to tackle because everyone is predisposed to their own "best way". After eleven years in the hosting world (3 in mass virtuals, 3 in enterprise, and 5 in high volume dedicated), the trouble ticket is always tough to perfect.

From our side, here are some pointers that will streamline your ticket:

The 8 Keys to Successful Tickets

1. One Ticket = One Issue - If possible, keep the tickets as simple and targeted as you can. Don't worry about opening multiple tickets with different issues...we actually prefer it. Having multiple issues can impede proper support. Here's why:

1) It can make it hard to troubleshoot because we don't know which one to work on first.
2) We don't always know which issue is more important (to you) and needs resolution first.
3) It can require different departments and may be shuffled around.
4) The longer the ticket gets, the more the next tech has to read and the higher the propensity to miss key information.
5) Multi-issue tickets seem to be never-ending, frustrating both the customer and the technicians trying to help.

2. Username / Password / Server / IP - start with the basics. We lob about half the tickets back within minutes asking for server credentials which slows the process. It's your server -- if you don't want us in there just tell us. You won't hurt our feelings. It makes troubleshooting more difficult when we don't have access, but we do respect your right and privacy. Just understand there is a trade-off with slower troubleshooting and limited server access. We will not login to your server unless we have to.

3. Come Clean and tell the truth - if you flubbed up a kernel upgrade, deleted key files, installed new software, or just don't know what you're doing, don't worry about it. We will not parade you down the data-center hall of shame. We all learned this stuff somehow and most of that learning came from making mistakes. Being honest will get your resolution much faster and your technician will appreciate you not playing "hide the ball". We all make mistakes -- even seasoned veterans. We are here to help you and that is our goal.

4. Close the ticket - if your problem is resolved, just update the ticket and say "please close this one". Otherwise, tickets can hang out, get stale, and fill up the queue, slowing the whole ticket resolution process. The techs will greatly appreciate your response.

5. Clear, Concise & Complete - "I installed this, made these changes and now the server does _______" (good). We get a lot of tickets where it states "Server seems slow?" (bad). Does that mean network, hardware, disk IO, application, everything? If you don't know, general is fine, but if you mean Disk I/O seems slow, tell us you mean disk I/O. Don't leave off that key piece of info like "I run a forum that gets 10,000 hits an hour".

6. Network Issues - include trace-routes or ping times (as many as you can possibly get). Attach them to the ticket. The vast majority of network issues are outside the network between you and the server. We are very interested in finding those locations so we can:

1) you resolve this issue.
2) the carriers for further assistance.
3) ...manually route around clogged public peering points.

Chances are, if it is affecting you, it also affects at least one of our other customers as well.

7. Research & Info - help us help you by giving us any ideas you may have. The forums are chock full of goodies. Google solves half my problems on the first search, and the vendor websites are a goldmine. Remember that when we log into your server for the first time, its like going into a home you have never been in while it's dark. It takes a few minutes to feel around to see what is running and where things are. We appreciate any help or insight you may have in the process.

8. Throw them a Bone - I am convinced that being a support technician is one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in this world. Every phone call, ticket, or chat involves a problem that must be resolved and the person on the other end is potentially anxious or agitated because downtime is bad. When you get to resolution, top off a ticket with thanks....great job.....or end the phone call with thanks for all the hard work. At the end of the day, we are all human and need a little recognition for a job well done.


May 23, 2007

Who is SamF?

Since this is my first blog post, I thought I would take the time to introduce myself and explain my role here at SoftLayer. That way, if you wind up reading any future posts, your first question won’t be “who is this guy and why do I care?”

Like many of you, I’ve been in this business for quite some time. My first job in the industry was back in 1992 when I was working with the CIS department at Texas A&M helping to manage the university Gopher system. I remember going around campus to the various departments helping to convince people that putting information online in Gopher was the end-all/be-all for sharing information. Of course, that evangelizing didn't last long. Shortly after going to GopherCon '94 in Minnesota, our attention started to shift to the Mosaic browser and HTTP protocol. From there, things just steamrolled.

After A&M, I went to work for Oracle Corp where we started work on an online learning website. The goal was to take all Oracle related CBT courses and find ways to put them online under one site. This was before such things were designed for the web and it meant working with the various vendors and all the different CBT formats to find ways to get them online.

Next was an ISP / shared hosting company named (now known as We provided all the typical Internet services including dial up access, DSL, shared hosting, domain name registration, online storefronts as well as hosting for some extremely large enterprise organizations. We did a lot with that company and it still continues on today with a pretty solid product offering and services.

From there, it was into the enterprise datacenter hosting and dedicated server hosting markets. Now it's all about SoftLayer and the services we can provide customers with our latest and greatest infrastructure.

As COO at SoftLayer, I am basically in charge of day to day operations including support, facilities management, internal systems infrastructure and anything else that gets dreamed up on a daily basis. What's the funnest part of my job? Every bit of it! I love the daily challenges in the support group. Facilities planning and forecasting allow me to really dig into the numbers. And, since I originally started out as a developer and system administrator, I love being involved with internal systems. Now at this point, I’ve got to be honest; we've got some really good people here at SoftLayer that do all of the dirty work (the actual fun stuff), but I do get to stay involved in all of it. However, because these guys are so good at what they do, I don't have to lose sleep over any one particular thing – instead, I get to stay involved in every piece of it. Maybe in future posts I’ll explain how we determine the number of chassis fans that go inside each server (over 35,000 chassis fans in production so far) or how many different types of SAS and SATA cables we need with how many different types of connectors (so many of differing types that it eventually became cheaper and more efficient to just have them custom made), where to put all of these servers, etc.

I guess the point of all that was to introduce myself and to let you know - having been in the industry for so long now and having dealt with everything from Gopher to dial up access to enterprise hosting to being in the dedicated server market now for quite a while, I feel I have a pretty decent understanding of what our customers are looking for and what their pain points are. While overall operations are critical for everyone, enterprise customers running CRM apps, file servers and domain controllers view things from a different standpoint than someone running a personal mail server or even a large shared hosting or VPS business. As I read through tickets on a daily basis, I try to put myself back in the customers’ shoes to make sure that the services we provide cover the needs of all the different types of customers we have. Having been a customer or provider at pretty much every level, I certainly understand the challenges many of you face on a regular basis. It’s our job to help you overcome as many of those as possible.

We have a lot of really cool things going on at SoftLayer and I hope to share some of those in future posts. In my next post, I’ll tell you all about Truck Day at SoftLayer.


May 21, 2007

Project Funky Trunk

This is probably the single best and worst code name for a project in the history of man.

A little history is in order, so bear with me. When TeamShovel formed SoftLayer, our office consisted of a private residence with lush couches surrounded by card tables and folding chairs (aka executive furniture). During those months, we focused on brainstorming on whiteboards as we began to draft what would eventually become SoftLayer. During periodic breaks, the group would become restless and we needed ways to continue the flow of creative ideas. After our 700th run to Dairy Queen for blizzards, Nathan, our Chief Technology Officer, found a game called Funky Truck and shared it with the group.

Well, twelve propeller heads can’t be in the same room with a dumb little game without someone mastering the game to claim superiority. Then all others need to complete the game so we can rank intelligence and pecking order by how quickly it takes you to master the game. The single greatest obstacle to the creation of Softlayer was Funky Truck. It took several days for the group to complete the game and then of course, high score became an issue, then fastest time, with the final round of "style points" in which the group generated its own scoring procedures (we have charts and graphs if you need them). The game brought levity to our world, allowed the brains to veg and fostered open thinking and innovation when it came to designing SoftLayer.

The summer and fall of 2005 saw many new hosting ideas as the creative minds began to churn. It was inevitable that this project would become code named "Funky Truck" since it was one of our main obsessions and a point of contention at times because of excessive play (if you ask me). Sometime during our whiteboard brainstorming sessions, someone scribbled it on the board and it became official. Project Funky Truck was born.

SoftLayer went live in January 2006 with a handful of features and huge aspirations to become the newest, most innovative, dedicated hosting company in the industry. Funky Truck was our secret sauce and part of it went live on day one with our deployment of the private network. Those first few months were brutal as the private network was used less than my jogging shoes. How could it be possible that the basis of our Funky Truck idea could be so misunderstood? We anguished over the time, effort and cost expended on the private network – but we pressed on.

I remember the first ticket in reference to the private network. It was pretty simple: "What is it?" After a few discussions in the forums, the momentum began to build. First one user, then two, then three …whoa look – there’s 10 people connected to the private network managing their servers!! I felt like the parent of a newborn baby that just took that first step. Our company was growing up.

2006 saw tremendous growth and project Funky Truck got bigger and more complicated each meeting. At one point, I stopped having meetings just so Funky Truck could catch up to the grandiose ideas that everyone had. Even accounting was dreaming up features for Funky Truck; it was that insane. Our goal was a Funky Truck end of year bash, but that came and went. We continued to install thousands of dedicated servers and the feature list grew.

In February 2007, Funky Truck was dubbed "close," so we planned for an April 1 launch. I took it upon myself to post in the forums to build some excitement and anticipation around Funky Truck and then fat fingered the post. I had actually written Funk Trunk – not Truck – D’oh!! Well, it immediately took off in the forums and I was left feeling a little stupid then came to the realization that Funky Truck had merely evolved into Funky Trunk (yea…that’s it).

Needless to say, April came and went (thanks dev team – Lance missed another date), then May 1 was proclaimed the new date for deployment. Well, May 1 came and went and then finally the project was carved down in scope. Funky Trunk was born May 20, 2007.

What is it? Does it live up to the hype? I am not sure anything can by now, but we are still very excited about the possibilities. In layman’s terms, Funky Trunk is an open API for our backend systems. Any of the features and functionality you see in our portal will be available through a direct connection with the API. We launched today with a handful of features so you can grab them, break them and show us how to improve them. After about 60 days, we will add more features and begin to give you complete control over your IT environment.

You must be asking, "How can I use the API?" The simplest answer: lots of ways. You can integrate features directly into your favorite server control panel like cPanel, Plesk or Helm. You will be able to integrate features into commercial software to control the "physical layer" or you can build your own apps or clients to control stuff from your own desktop. Resellers will build their own portals, enterprise users may integrate features back into their intranet or you may do a combination of all of these. The goal is to give you ultimate control and of course, the SL customer portal is still active if you simply don’t care.

Support is available via the SLDN and over time we anticipate users will build plugins and tools and share them with the group (sharing is good). My guys have built a couple to get you rolling. I have seen your servers; I can only imagine what you are going to do with this type of power. At the end of the day, we believe this opens a new door to dedicated hosting and further differentiates our service from the competition.

So – from TeamShovel to you – here comes Funky Truck/Trunk!!


March 21, 2007


SoftLayer recognizes the importance of connecting with people, customers or not, in every way — especially in social media. We understand that people want to know what we are thinking and how we feel about various aspects of the hosting industry, so we're happy to share those thoughts and feelings. Most of the posts will be about hosting, but every now and then, you'll get a glimpse into the SoftLayer culture or read some outside-the-office expertise from one of our SLayers.

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