technology

December 16, 2009

Buying a New TV?

Going out and looking for a new TV is not what it used to be. Of course, since this was the first time I actually bought a TV instead of just inheriting a used one, I really don’t know what the old way was. But I’ve heard stories, and I expected a fairly easy experience.

I first decided to get myself a new TV after a great month here at SoftLayer. I figured it was high time I rewarded myself with the biggest and best picture money could buy. I went to Best Buy thinking there can’t be that much to look at in TVs. Man was I wrong. I literally spent more than three and a half hours staring at all the TVs they have on display. I even talked with one of the guys that are supposed to “help you,” but all that did was make me more confused. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted, big TV with a crystal clear picture. But after wasting all that time, I left Best Buy confused and empty handed.

I knew there had to be a better way to choose a new TV than staring at the store display until I was cross-eyed. When I got home I started a 2-week research project to find the perfect TV for me. I read all sorts of blogs, forums, and recommendations online. In those 2 weeks I compared all aspects of all the TVs that are available. I found out that there are currently 4 types of TVs on the market: DLP, Plasma, LCD, and LED. I knew DLP wasn’t the way to go, because it is becoming an extinct technology for TVs as LCD and LEDs are the newer types of TVs. Plasmas are also becoming a dying type of technology but every person I talked to and all my research said Plasma TV gives you the best picture hands down. So, naturally I started leaning towards Plasmas. But while there are advantages to Plasmas, there are disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage with a Plasma TV is the risk of “burn-in” on the screen. This is when you leave a still image on the screen for a long time and the plasma burns a ghost image on the screen. This could become annoying if you were to change channels and you still have the score of a game on the top corner. In the newer models this “burn-in” issue is almost completely gone. It still could happen; but, that is if you leave an image on your TV for over 2 hours, and really who does that anyway?

After an exhaustive look at all the reviews, forum, and searches on the best TV, I finally came to a decision. I was going to buy myself a new Plasma TV and that was that. Sunday I got in my car and went back to Best Buy. This time I was prepared so I walked right up to one of the guys and talked with him for the better part of an hour. I asked a few more questions and then decided I was going with the 50” Panasonic Plasma TV. Once I made the purchase and figured the hard part was over, Best Buy Guy, asks me how I was planning to get my new TV home. Our conversation goes a little like this, with him laughing at me the whole time:

Best Buy Guy: So how are you getting this TV to your house?

Me: I was hoping we could put it in the back seat of my car, will that not work?

Best Buy Guy: (with a smirk on his face) We can try, but I doubt it.

Me: Well doesn’t Best Buy deliver?

Best Buy Guy: Yes, we do. It’s free if your purchase is over $1,000.00

Me: (My TV cost me total $1070 with warranty, so I’m thinking no problem, right.) Ok well can I have it delivered then?

Best Buy Guy: Sure, not a problem. It will be about 2 weeks from now.

Me: Are you serious?

Best Buy Guy: Yea, I am.

Me: Well, I was hoping to be watching it today. What else is there?

Best Buy Guy: Well you could call a friend who has a SUV or truck. Or you could go to Lowe’s across the street and rent one of their trucks for $20 for 75 minutes.

Me: Well, let’s try fitting it in the back of my car first.

Best Buy Guy: (With a smirk on his face) Sure.

I move my car to the front of the store and we try to get it in the back but sure enough Best Buy Guy knows what he is talking about and it doesn’t fit. So what is a guy who wants his TV now to do since they won’t deliver it for 2 weeks? I went over to Lowe’s and rented a truck. Cost me $20.80 for the whole 10 min that I used it, but I figured waiting another 2 weeks for my TV was not an option. I drove this big ass truck over to Best Buy and had the guys load my TV in the back. It was about this time I realized I didn’t have any straps or string to hold the TV secure while I drove home. One of the guys who loaded it in the back told me, “If you just don’t gas it hard the TV should be fine.” I just looked at this guy thinking, “Yea that’s really going to work.” I asked them if they have any string. The guy tells they can’t give me any because if they give me string and it breaks, and the TV breaks, then they are liable for the string breaking. Funny how they cover their ass over string; STRING! As I was trying to figure out how I was going to get this TV home with the load boy staring at me, I saw a piece of string that was already tied to the truck. It was a small white string tied in knots to the corner of the truck. I asked the guy to put some slits in the corner of the top of the box so I could use this one piece of string on the corner to keep it from falling. He did and eventually I got my TV to my house, going 15mph the whole way home.

I love my new TV, once I got it home, but I have never been so frustrated tying to buy and move a TV, and I hope I never have to do this again….until either the TV goes out or I decided to buy a bigger one! This was an experience I encourage everyone to try at least once. My advice is to do your research before going to the store, and have a truck or SUV to be able to move it from the store to your home. And be sure to bring your own string!

December 14, 2009

‘Tis the Season to Get Things Done

It’s the holiday season, and that means everyone is getting busier. On top of all the existing responsibilities, millions of people are going shopping for gifts, decorating their houses, and navigating the bad weather. On top of all that, many people take their time off during the holiday season!

With this kind of time crunch, it’s best for your business to lie low until after the new year, right? Not so! With all this buying, selling, and giving going on, there’s a lot of extra retail data to process. Plus, it’s the end of the calendar year, many businesses have to get their finances in order too. ALSO, all these newly purchased electronic devices are soon going to be turned on and hooked up to the Internet, where they will almost surely put a new load on your servers.

Systems and network administrators need to be prepared for this influx of new traffic. Sometimes, this means purchasing new servers. However, it’s inefficient to buy the servers so far in advance when you don’t yet know what you will need. It’s best to wait until you’re sure you will need more servers and how many to order. At another hosting company, that would be a problem. People in our industry take the holidays off, too. Lowering the number of sales people and technicians and raising the number of new server requests would normally result in a disaster.

Luckily, SoftLayer does automatic provisioning. As soon as you order your server, it will be provisioned in two to four hours. Day or night, June 3rd or December 31st, if we have it, you can have control over it in two to four hours.

And therein lies the beauty of the SoftLayer system. You don’t have to wait for US to scale your business. If you need another server, get it. When it’s ready, it will automatically be added to your account’s private network and be available to you. You can even automate your server configuration and setup. Depending on the amount of data you need to transfer to a new server, you can have another server up and running your website less than 5 hours from the time you realized you needed it.

In fact, by using the SoftLayer API (and some clever configuration scripts on your servers) you can do live scaling on your website. Using the API, you can provision new servers exactly like the ones you already have. Once they’re available, a script can mirror the configurations from an existing machine to the new machine. Use the SoftLayer API once more to add the new servers to your load balancer rotation, and you’re in business! All without relying on any humans, even yourself! Treat yourself to some R&R this holiday season, while your website continues to get things done for you.

December 11, 2009

Newly Married

So, for those of you who don’t know, I just got married. It was awesome. It happened on the 21st of November in Tulsa. Mandy and I got a chance to see a bunch of our college friends that we have not seen in a long time. Two weeks have passed, and we are still getting phone calls from different people telling us stories about the night. Everything went well, and now we are back in Dallas living the married life.

The thing that I want to talk about is the fact that Mandy changed her last name to Collins. This concept raised a memory of mine from childhood. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I woke up one day and walked into our family’s living room. My immediate family was there, plus some cousins, uncles etc. They were all over to watch some football.

Well, I made an entrance and just yelled, “I HATE MY NAME! Cody is a stupid name and I do not want to be called this anymore!!!” Then, I ran out of the room to ponder what name I should be called from this point on…

About two minutes later, I came up with my new name. I was set on it. For sure, this was going to be my name! I ran back into the living room and said, “I will no longer respond to people when they call me ‘Cody’. I will only respond if I am called ‘William’!”

So the day went on, and I stayed strong. I would not respond to my brother, sister, mom, dad, or anyone that was over at our house if they called me by my “old name”. So, people ended up giving in and started calling me William for the day. Then the night came, and I became upset and cried to my parents. “I don’t want to be William. I want to be Cody again,” and I ran into my bedroom and went to sleep.

Well, that was my story, and the point is… I hope Mandy is happy with her new last name! I guess she has no choice. Haha. She’s stuck with it!

Categories: 
December 9, 2009

SoftLayer - Unbelievable Control, Capabilities and Innovation

I have been working at SoftLayer for 2 + years now as a CSA and it has been quite the experience! Imagine working at a place where you get to put your hands on the latest technologies, where customers can manage servers as if they were in their own datacenter, and where innovation is a daily norm. Welcome to my job at SoftLayer. I have seen this company grow at an amazing rate, and to whom do we owe the credit? YOU – The customer! Everything that we do, offer and build is a testament to the customers that use our services. This helps make us a forerunner in the industry and allows the customers that use our services to grow and achieve anything that their business requires. I am going to list just a few of my favorite capabilities we offer below:

VPN – The ability to control your server through a private, secure connection and to use our backend services without incurring usage against bandwidth.

IPMI – Having the power of a local console attached and with some cards a virtual dvdrom to install any operating system of your choice.

OS Reloads – We offer several types of operating systems to choose from and keep up to date with the latest versions.

Secondary DNS – You can host your own DNS and allow zone transfers into the SoftLayer Portal and use our resolvers as secondary failovers.

Content Delivery Network – This Feature is awesome as you can deliver your site or video from the closest point to an end user geographically to ensure a great viewing experience.

Support – 24x7 support that truly cares about the customer’s needs. We love what we do and this attitude shows in everything we do.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and barely touches on what we offer our customers. If you are not yet a customer I would strongly encourage you to speak with one of our Sales representatives as they are here and ready to help and will guide you in building the platform you need to get the job done.

December 7, 2009

Availability with NetScaler VPX and Global Load Balancing

The concept Single Point of Failure refers to the fact that somewhere between your clients and your servers there is a single point that if it fails downtime happens. The SPoF can be the server, the network, or the power grid. The dragon Single Point of Failure is always going to be there stalking you; the idea is to push SPoF far enough out to where you have done the best you can with your ability and budget.

At the server level you could combat SPoF by using redundant power supplies and disks. You can also have redundant servers fronted by a load balancer. One of the benefits when using load balancer technology is that the traffic for an application is spread between multiple app servers. You have the ability to take an app server out of rotation for upgrades and maintenance. When you’re done you bring the server back online, the load balancer notices it UP on the next check and the server is back in service.

Using a NetScaler VPX you can even have two groups of servers—one group which generally answer your queries and another group which usually does something else—with the second group functioning as a backup against all of the primary servers for a service having to be taken down through the Backup Virtual Server function.

Result: no Single Point of Failure for the app servers.

What happens if you are load balancing and have to take the load balancer out of service for upgrades or maintenance? Right, now we’ve moved SPoF up a level. One way to handle this is by using the NetScaler VPX product we have at SoftLayer. A pair of VPX instances (NodeA/NodeB) can be teamed in a failover cluster so that if the primary VPX is taken down (either by human action or because the hardware failed) the secondary VPX will begin answering for the IPs within a few seconds and processing the actions. When you bring NodeA back online it slips into the role of secondary until such time as NodeB fails or is taken down. I will note here that VPX instances do have dependency on certain network resources and that dependency can take both VPX instances down.

Result: Loss of a single VPX is not a Single Point of Failure.

So what’s next? A wide-ranging power failure or general network failure of either the frontend or the backend network could render both of the NetScalers in a city unusable or even the entire facility unusable. This can be worked around by having resources in two cities which are able to process queries for your users and by using the Global Load Balancer product we offer. GLB load balances between the cities using DNS results. A power failure taking down Seattle just means your queries go to Dallas instead. Why not skip the VPX layer and just GLB to the app servers? You could, if you don’t have a need for the other functionalities from the VPX.

Result: no single point of failure at the datacenter level

Having redundant functionality between cities takes planning, it takes work, and it takes funding. You have to consider synchronization of content. The web content is easy. Run something like an rsync from time to time. Synching the database content between machines or across cities is a bit more complicated. I’ve seen some customers use the built-in replication capabilities of their database software while others will do a home-grown process such as having their application servers write to multiple database servers. You also have to consider issues of state for your application. Can your application handle bouncing between cities?

Redundancy planning is not always fun but it is required for serious businesses, even if the answer is ultimately to not do any redundancy. People, hardware and processes will fail. Whether a failure event is a nightmare or just an annoyance depends on your preparation.

December 3, 2009

Hey, I just got an email saying I won a million dollars! *Click* Wait, what just happened to my computer?

This is usually how it starts. Some shady person sends out spam telling people they have one a million dollars or a free laptop or mp3 player with a link a form they need to fill out to claim their prize. Only you don’t win an mp3 player or laptop. You win an infected computer that is now a drone in a much larger botnet. This botnet is either for direct malicious purposes (Denial-of-Service attacks) or indirect malicious purposes (spam, phishing, etc). How do you stop this from happening to you and you becoming “that guy”? Don’t click links in email unless you’re 100% sure who it’s from and what it’s for. That’s the basic rule to remember. Secondly, make sure you have an anti-virus program that’s capable of scanning email and keeping your system protected from malicious browser exploits. Thirdly, (and this should go without being said, but I’m saying it anyways) make sure your computer (and all software) is up-to-date. Sure, there’s the occasional bug and 0-day exploit on up-to-date systems, but there’s a whole slew of exploits and things that can be done to an un-patched system. Keep your systems up-to-date and you reduce the “known” exploits from literally thousands to maybe a few.

Think about this, 80% of the world’s email is considered spam. Of that 80%, the vast majority (more than 75%) is sent using infected computers (drones). If everyone would re-think blindly clicking links in emails and on webpages (social networking sites have a history of people trying to fool users into clicking bad links) then the spammers wouldn’t have drones available to them to send spam. Interesting thought, isn’t it? Let’s stop spam by being smart internet users and denying the “bad guys” the resources they need to send out the spam.

December 1, 2009

Holiday Seasons and Holiday Shopping

It’s that time of year again. No, not time to spread joy and cheer to your family (it can be that, too), but rather the time of waiting in long lines when it’s freezing outside hoping to get a good deal or the perfect gift. It’s the holiday shopping season. With the holiday shopping season comes the holiday “holy cow it’s freezing cold out here” or the holiday “hey! that person just cut in line” season as well. Of course, one thing people need to remember this time of year is that it’s not about the shopping and spending money (Money? What money?) but rather it’s about spending time with family and looking back at the year that has passed. Of course, retailers and scammers would like you to think otherwise. They’re trying their hardest to get you to part with your hard earned money. What does this mean to you? It means that you have to watch out who you’re buying from and what websites you are giving your personal information to. This is the perfect season for scammers to get your grandparents to give up their personal information (and with it everything in their bank accounts). Of course, this is easily avoided. Most reputable websites will have SSL certificates from a reputable vendor. Being a customer of SoftLayer you are already aware of a (fairly) new service we offer… A short while back SoftLayer began to offer VeriSign and GeoTrust SSL certificates (for more information: http://www.softlayer.com/partners_geotrust.html). Simply making sure that the site you are buying from has a certificate installed like the ones we offer will help ensure that your information isn’t going to some thief hiding in his basement. What’s the moral of this story? (All Holiday stories have a moral…) Stay safe, be careful, and enjoy the holidays!

November 25, 2009

The Secret Mind of a SoftLayer Tech

I sit right in the middle of the NOC (Network Operations Center) here at SoftLayer. I hear all the tech calls, project discussion, and random banter from the techs on a daily basis. Most techs are also propeller heads on their own time. They have servers of their own, apps they like to run, preferences as to what hardware and software they like best, etc. Now, working in this field for most of my life I know that techs are not company loyal when it comes to their personal geeky funness (yes, that’s a word) I don’t care if spell check, Google and the rest of the world doesn’t think so (but I digress) they like what does the best job regardless of where it comes from.

I routinely hear techs talking about their personal servers, apps, etc. and referring back to SoftLayer with comments like, “I just host it on my server here at SoftLayer so I don’t have an issue.” With the issue being whatever the topic of conversation might have been. Network speed and stability, hardware and software reliability, ease of access (KVM over IP, the portal in general, multiple remote control options) cost, endless amount of add-ons, and the latest and greatest in everything!

I can relate.

I realized the potential of SoftLayer from the beginning and this place continues to exceed my expectations- and my expectations are always over the top! Simply put, after working in the corporate world and realizing what could be done with the right people and the right attitudes, I vowed only to work with a company that shared those views. And quite honestly I never thought I would see it happen. Then along came SoftLayer.

When techs constantly refer back to SoftLayer for their own fun computer projects as being the best solution, it just confirms what I already knew:

SoftLayer Rocks!

November 20, 2009

The Art of the Apology

I wrote a blog but it got ixnayed by legal. (That should be funny because I am “legal.” At this time I shall choose to remain cryptic, but as God is my witness, I’ll publish that blog someday after X, Y, and Z happens). Now, where was I – ah, yes, a new and different blog.

Today, boys and girls, we shall talk about the art of the apology. Since we were little, we’ve been taught to say “sorry.” (Well, most of us, but maybe not he whose names starts with J and ends in O-N-E-S, but I digress again). “Little Johnny, say sorry to your sister for bonking her on the head.” And Little Johnny will usually say sorry to avoid your wrath, rather than actually being sorry for the head bonking. This is the first lesson in the art of the apology – make sure it is sincere and that you mean it. Otherwise, it is really better if you say nothing at all. Maybe wait until it can become sincere, and if it can never become sincere, go back to step one and don’t say anything at all. The Boy often gets in trouble for head bonkings and other various and sundry misdeeds committed upon The Girl. He gets sent to time-out and then is supposed to apologize to The Girl. More often than not The Boy gets extremely defiant and grunts out a “sor-ry” as belligerently as he can. This only serves to piss The Mommy off and gets The Boy in even more trouble. (Can I use that word?) The takeaway on this is that The Boy needs to say sorry like he means it, or not bother getting out of time-out until he can do so. Another example of an apology that is better left unsaid is the disingenuous-apology-that-is-really-not-an-apology apology. Example: “I’m sorry you are an idiot, but….” Go back to time-out!!

Often a simple, sincere heart-felt apology can go a long way towards diffusing a situation that might otherwise result in hurt feelings, anger, and bitterness or, in my world, lawsuits. Maybe a manager loses his/her cool with an employee in one of the many stressful situations we face on a daily basis. When the manager calms down, an apology may be the cure to a situation that might later spiral out of control and explode. Maybe you have two feuding employees – an apology by one or both parties may be all it takes to turn a situation that may have resulted in a termination or two into one in which the working relationship is restored. This might involve a situation with your co-worker, your friend, your spouse or a client. Many times what happens is that we want to be right, rather than do what’s right. A meaningful apology to a client might save a $30,000/month account, but dad gummit, you are right and the client is wrong and they are an idiot and you are not. All of that may be true, but is it worth it? Is it really, really worth it? Is it worth that account? Is it worth that friendship? Is it worth your job? Is it worth that marriage?

Here, let me practice: “Mike, I am sorry you are mean and that I implied your upbringing was nothing less than stellar…..” Alright, alright – I’ll keep practicing.

*Note: This blog was inspired by the esteemed labor and employment lawyer Michael Maslanka and one of his recent blogs at http://texaslawyer.typepad.com/work_matters/2009/10/rudeness-and-resulting-resentment-can-foster-cheating.html, which I forwarded to our managers for their digestion.

I deeply and sincerely apologize in advance for any copyright infringement or any other legal no-no’s in my blog.

Categories: 
November 18, 2009

SLeinfeld

The show about nothing that took over NBC years ago is being lived out at SoftLayer. In case you haven’t been keeping up, SoftLayer has a team called STAT and without making you sit through the gory details we use ninja tactics in our efforts to keep the churn rate low. Much like the show Seinfeld which was about everything and nothing at the same time, the STAT group does everything and nothing as well.

It has been said that the team does simply enough to stay employed and we get a little grief from just about everyone in the company but I just blame the stealthy ninja tactics for all that. We haven’t built a bed under our desks just yet but a prototype is being designed as we speak. When the products, support, and culture are so cool why would customers want to leave?

The STAT group has been around since the dawn of time (2008 to be exact!) and have many years of tradition handed down which we must use daily to complete our mission. Some of the traditions have gone away over the long journey since our inception like a loud and proud bell ring when a customer was saved. It seemed to annoy some of our non SLeinfeld co-workers. Those crazy developers said “No bell for you!” There are other traditions that have gone away over time but we continue to make more as often as possible.

Our latest episode is a pretty cool one so we will not be “jumping the shark” just yet. It is one that the industry may have never seen. If so, it is very rare and this makes the STAT team very proud. In the on-demand virtual datacenter industry, churn is defined as, “when a customer doesn’t want your services anymore!” That being said we have designated churn as a bad thing (like Elaine dancing!). A higher churn percentage is not as good as a lower one. Get the picture? From this day forward let it be said that in October 2009 the STAT team and every other person involved with SoftLayer including every employee in every department and our resellers and customers have achieved a monumental goal! The year over year churn numbers are equal in raw numbers and LOWER in percentage for the month of October. When you incorporate the sales growth into that equation this is an impressive accomplishment because typically when you add servers month after month the churn rate grows due to sheer volume. So I say to everyone involved, take a few hours today and go hit some golf balls into the ocean (except Jones), you deserve a break!

Just know that the next time the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you feel like someone is watching you or their might be someone or something lurking in the shadows and Kramer doesn’t burst through your door, don’t be frightened it is most likely just a STAT team member waiting to help you in a time of need or maybe just goofing off in a relatively close proximity to you and creating yet another day in SLeinfeld land.

RIP Seinfeld!

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