June 10, 2009

Medieval Financial Techniques in the 21st Century?

Recently I had the chance to attend the annual Beyond Budgeting Round Table (BBRT) conference to help me keep up on my CPE credits. Those darn accounting licenses have to be maintained, ya know.

I was pleasantly surprised at the conference that SoftLayer was already doing the crux of what this group preaches – namely, that assembling an annual budget and trying to live by it is a colossal waste of time!

One speaker pointed out that budgeting originated back in medieval times long before the Industrial Revolution. During those days, the feudal system was the order of the day. Landowners allowed people to live on their land and raise crops. Once per year, when the harvest came in, the landowners received payment from the people living on the land in the form of a share of the crops or a share of the gold for which the crops were sold. Since the landowners were paid once per year, they had to plan how to make their annual payday last for a whole year. You guessed it – this plan was called “the budget.”

Unfortunately, most companies and organizations today use this horribly outdated financial management technique to run their business in the fast-paced information age economy of today. In most cases, this just flat doesn’t work.

For example, one of the speakers was the CFO of a very large healthcare organization. He said that back in the days when they produced an annual budget, there were 240 budget managers that spent 90 days of full-time effort to produce the annual budget. That equates to 60 man-labor years of total time to produce that budget. If you assume that each of those managers averages $50K per year in compensation, the cost of producing that budget is $3 million. What’s worse is that the CFO said it was worthless before the final version was printed because it was built on stale fundamental assumptions that were several months old.

Once these obsolete documents are produced, they become static financial contracts. They limit spending for each department, and this isn’t always a good thing. Some departments may see some fantastic market opportunities develop halfway through the year, but they can do nothing to take advantage of them because they would exceed their budget. On the other hand, some departments can be allotted too much money, so they go on wasteful spending sprees at year end to be sure and use up their budget or else lose that funding next year. People often ask for permission to exceed budget, but usually no one gives back any unused budget dollars. Even worse, management compensation is often tied to these obsolete financial contracts. Business schools are awash with case studies of bad business decisions that were made to maximize bonus compensation in relation to the budget.

From the beginning, SoftLayer realized the futility of producing an annual budget. In the rapidly developing business of web hosting, the landscape can dramatically change much more quickly than an annual cycle. So we implemented the policy of maintaining a rolling forecast that is updated to the best of our current knowledge each and every month. This practice has served us well, and is one of the “best practices” adopted by the BBRT.

Another best practice recommended by BBRT is to maintain multiple forecast scenarios that factor in macroeconomic possibilities. Then as reality develops, you have a better handle on the tactics to implement because you now know what most of these decisions should be in advance. At SL, we will be implementing the multiple scenario practice over this summer.

June 8, 2009

Instant Gratification!

Wow, where did we come from to get to here?

How many readers remember being your Dad’s remote control for the TV, heating a bit of oil that covered the bottom of a pan till it sizzled to make popcorn, percolating coffee pots, wondering how long it would take for enough hot water to take a shower after your primping older brother hogged it all? What about “fast” forwarding cassette and VCR tapes or thawing a chicken breast for hours on the counter? The list goes on and on.

My absolute favorite was sitting around on a Friday night at about age 10 at the baby sitters with my brother listening to the radio just hoping that “Shake your Booty” would come on the radio so we could record it instead of having to go buy it.

The amount of time we used to sit around waiting for things to happen was huge! Today, it’s all in an instant!

We have five remote controls or at the very least one really smart one that can do it all. Microwave popcorn that takes minutes and no cleanup, instant coffee – just add water, instant hot water heaters that never go cold, mp3 players that you can just click and go from song to song with no waiting; DVD/DVR that you can just go from scene to scene or skip those boring commercials… and you can use that same microwave to thaw your chicken in no time at all.

Today you can be listening to the radio in your car and click a button and it will tell iTunes what song it was and queue it up for your next download, you just have to love technology and the speed at which it happens.

I also remember the days when we had a rotary phone with an 82.5 foot cord that you could string across the house to the bathroom or in front of the TV and keep talking. Then it became the wall phone with the 84 foot stretchy cord and the number keys were on the handset, how cool was that? It never failed though- no matter how long the cord, you always needed more!

Today, you can Facebook, Tweet, chirp, yell, chat, and instant message from just about anywhere, even from a Jet Blue jet flying through the air. That is just pretty cool stuff.

In my previous life before I became a booth babe and a bloghogger I was known for being fairly technical in the world of Microsoft Windows Server and Citrix MetaFrame. They actually worked pretty well for a few of the company apps I had to deal with along my career path. The hardest part was actually setting up the application server to be just perfect and getting it on the wire to allow the employees to do their jobs.

The real challenge was getting more servers added to the pool in a timely fashion at month end for accounting or at rush times of the year for the sales group. It takes time to blast an OS no matter what method you are using, then get the app installed and functioning and then add it to the pool. Sure, I came up with a few tricks on how to image Citrix and they worked but it was still a waiting game trying to procure the hardware, install the image, get the server racked and cabled, etc. It never failed, a week before I had them ready the sales and/or accounting group managers were all over me because it was MY fault that they had slow applications. A few times just about the time I had the servers ready they didn’t need them anymore, I missed the rush.

Welcome to Instant Servification! CloudLayer, oh CloudLayer, I would have paid out of my own pocket back then to have this technology. With the release of hourly billing you can just use them when you need them even if your peak loads are only a fraction of one day. You create your golden image, save it, and push it out to as many as you need for as long as you need, and then when your peak usage is over, cancel them like high interest credit cards!

That is instant Gratification at its best! Welcome to SoftLayer how can we help you?

June 8, 2009

Does College Really Prepare You for the Real World?

As I am entering my final semester of college, SoftLayer has given me the opportunity to experience what it's like to have a "real job." I very am lucky to have the chance to work for a great company and gain valuable work experience before I graduate. Although, I have only been here for a little over a week, it is very exciting to be a part of a hardworking team and innovative company. Everybody in the office is a strong believer in Softlayer, and that is why they are here.

The question at hand is: Does college prepare you for the real world? The obvious answer should be yes. We spend four or more years of our life at universities and colleges, and most of us are still in debt for it. I sometimes wondered how Aristotle or The Canterbury Tales had any application to my future career. Although many of the courses we studied outside our majors seemed irrelevant, I see now that we did learn something from it. We learned how to meet deadlines and work diligently. College is strenuous for a reason, and now that I have been a part of the work force, I understand this. Being able to complete college coursework proves to employers that you have the ability to learn and take on large tasks.

There are many aspects of college that have definitely prepared me for this job. The most important skill I have gained from college so far has been working with Excel. Being a market analyst, I spend most of my days in excel spreadsheets. College has also helped me gain a sense of independence and responsibility, two very important attributes for an efficient employee. Your boss needs to trust you not only to get the tasks done, but to get them done well, and professors do not hold you to any lesser standards. During college, there are also many essential lessons learned outside the classroom like learning to deal with roommates, getting along with a diverse group of people, paying bills on time, and being punctual.

In conclusion, college does prepare us for the real world. Sometimes I would sit in class and say to myself “I’m never going to use this”, and I am sure I was not the only one. The most important thing I took from college is to work hard. Sometimes your boss will ask you do things that you do not want to do, but that is life. Life takes hard work, and hard work will let you experience the best things in life that you value.

June 3, 2009

Microsoft Still Following the Leader with Offering

The new search engine “Bing” by the software colossus Microsoft is a sad attempt at capturing some of the search engine traffic that internet superstar Google has dominated for quite some time. Based on the preview video at, the search engine offers little in new features or innovation, instead catering to the ‘too-lazy-to-click-the-back-button” crowd with expanded link previews from the search results page. I have personally found this type of feature to be near worthless, as information of value is typically more than a few lines from the top. Then again maybe my 5 button mouse has numbed me to the indignation so many users have suffered by having to move the cursor to click the back button after discovering the web page wasn’t quite what they were after. (Google added longer previews in March.)

Microsoft representatives point out the technologic advancement of augmenting the standard fare keyword searches with some semantic based algorithms. This alone should yield significantly better results than the current Microsoft engine, “MSN Live Search.” (Google rolled out its semantic searches months ago.)

Next, Microsoft offers the “Conjecture Circle” to combat Google’s “Wonder Wheel”. OK, I’m just kidding on that one. Besides, it is only June, and Microsoft is still catching up with Google’s March features. They will not be taking on the “Wonder Wheel” until August or September.

I think I see a pattern here! This “innovation” reeks of lag. While taking the conservative copycat approach might be the safe thing for the boys from Redmond, it will never vault them to the front of the line in this market. The turbo boost for technology industries is clearly tied to new ideas and advancement. We see this time and time again as startups bring new whiz-bang tools to market and shoot right past the established giants. Time will of course tell. Fortunately in the fast paced world of the internet, we will not have to wait long it see if Bing will go bang.

June 3, 2009

Strange Dreams, Work and Hippies

So there I am at Softlayer Headquarters as Lance, Steven, Amanda and I are walking out to our cars to go home for the day and we begin walking to an underground garage. When we turn the corner I notice a lone hippie standing there. As we continue to walk I begin to see more and pretty soon there are about 15-20 hippies, the number ever growing. Some are sitting around cars dressed in elaborate hippie “outfits”. I find this rather odd and I make the comment: “hey look! hippies!”

Now as we all know from our friends at Southpark, “if you see one hippie there are usually a lot more you’re not seeing. You get a few hippies playing drums the next thing you know you got yourself a colony.”


As we approach the seemingly harmless, but growing colony, I notice that one of them has a baby elephant (yes, an elephant) on a leash that is dressed like the hippies. They all begin to glare menacingly at us as if we’re imposing on their territory. We stop in our tracks so as to not provoke them or their hippie elephant. Suddenly and without warning a SWAT team of police emerges and attack the hippie colony. The baby elephant is unleashed and begins to fight with the police as well. Tie-dyed colored clothing, necklaces, bandanas, sunglasses and bongo drums are flying through the air as the fight progresses. The SWAT team then pulls out their taser guns and begins zapping the Hippies. I yell “They’re attacking the Hippies! AHHHH – that ones tasering the hippies! Watch out – Elephant attack!” During the entire battle between the police and hippie colony Lance, Steven, Amanda and I are laughing hysterically at the insane situation that we’re currently witnessing.

The next thing you know it was over and the police, hippies and their elephant have completely disappeared while we were all doubled over in laughter. This is when I wake myself up literally giggling myself out of my strange and bizarre dream. Of course, I had to email myself the details to write this blog post so I’d remember.

Yes – my dreams are weird…

June 1, 2009

Proper Care

Over the years I have had many motorized toys, including boats, cars, trucks, dirt bikes, quads, riding lawn mowers and others. I got my first mini bike when I was about 6 years old. That thing was powerful - it had a 4HP Engine on it. One day I was riding it on our 100 acre homestead and the chain broke. Well I just popped the kick stand up and left it there waiting for Dad to get home. Upon my father arriving I let him know the chain broke, he explained to me the proper maintenance one must do in order to keep a chain working, proper oiling techniques, making sure it has the right tension and more. A few years later I got my first two stroke dirt bike. I loved that thing! I rode it all weekend long and then I mixed the gas too lean and blew the top head of it. That’s when I learned how to maintain a 2 cycle engine. My uncle helped me rebuild the bike engine (or shall I say I handed him the tools, and he rebuilt it) With all motorized engines they need proper care and maintenance. I now take my car for an oil change every 4000 miles (even though they say it can go 5,000) and get everything checked out.

The same thing can be said for internet servers. Quite often I talk to people and they think they can just install their operating system, upload the applications they want to run and/or data they want to serve, and walk away from that machine for the next 12 months. That is wrong! Computer software is always updating and you need to stay on top of updating your software. Security threats are found hourly, Viruses are written daily to attack the threats found yesterday. Proper maintenance is the only way to make sure your data is safe and secure. That is why SoftLayer has partnered with companies that offer extended server management. We call them SoftLayer Certified Management Companies. You can find them in our forums. These companies like,, Bitpusher, and many more have all been certified by SoftLayer to know our infrastructure and work closely with us and many of our clients. They provide the same great level of customer service that is standard at SoftLayer and do a lot of the advanced administration tasks for our customers. We have teamed up with these managed services partners in order to provide our customers with the proper maintenance of their infrastructure. So if you haven’t done a security audit on one of your machines in a few months, I would suggest taking it to the service center and contacting one of these companies, so you can insure your machine is safe and secure!

May 28, 2009

Hardware Heros

The techs that build the servers here at SoftLayer are known as Server Build Engineers or SBE’s. These guys are on the front line of Operations. They are responsible for building out customer server orders, maintenances, fixing cranky provisions, and many other hardware related tasks.

One might think that a hardware tech is a simple job. Well, not the SBE position at SoftLayer. Not only are they responsible for time sensitive hardware builds and provision troubleshooting, but they work directly with all the other departments. We don’t have bazillion hardware techs like other companies might. We train ours up to be one man hardware machines.

Sometimes a provision might have a weird error that needs to be escalated to development. The SBE will work directly with the dev team to resolve the issue.

Sales might have questions about some hardware they are trying to sell. SBE’s answer the call.

SBE’s even jump in to help CSA’s (Customer Service Administrators) when the ticket load or phones get hectic.

SBE’s do numerous projects, too. From helping with large scale hardware compatibility testing to troubleshooting hardware, they are the jack of all trades at SoftLayer.

We have a pseudo paramilitary way of doing things in the hardware department. It’s all in fun, but we get down and dirty and have a “can do” and “yes sir” attitude. We pride ourselves in being able to tackle any problem. If we are asked to do it, we do it, regardless of whether or not it’s our job, we are too busy, or whatever the obstacle.

Be all you can be? Join the army. Be more than you expect you can be? Join the SoftLayer Hardware Team.

The few, the badass, the SBE’s!

May 26, 2009

Be Prepared

The biggest headache in owning an IT company is security. Its also one of those things especially for a smaller company you don’t think you need till something happens. This always reminds me of when I was in boy scouts. “Be Prepared”.

IT security is a big business, but there are a lot of things we can do to prepare ourselves so we don’t have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Everyone in the IT world has to spend money on this one way or another. It could be spending your own time to secure your services, or paying someone to do it for you. If you don’t do either one of these, you’re going to end up losing money when you do get attacked or hacked.

The key is to be proactive, and not reactive. If you are always running after something its harder to catch than if your in front of it ready for it to come. So what we need is a plan, or maybe two. One plan is needed to set up security, and a second should be used to keep an eye on what is going on so things don’t get out of hand.

Some may know where to start when it comes to securing your server. You are in luck. I am going to go over the simple and most important steps to securing your server.


This is the most important step to security. You don’t want people to be able to gain access to your system. There are some very simple steps to doing this.

1. Remote Console

The first thing you should do when setting up your server is to restrict the remote access to your server.

1 = Change the access port ( you can change the access port of both sshd and remote desktop)

2 = Use a secure password (SoftLayer has tools in the portal just to help you make a secure password)

3 = Only allow connections to remote access from trusted networks (this can be done by a firewall solution)

SoftLayer provides one solution that makes this really easy: our Internal Network and VPN. You can just setup your software to allow connections from network and you are now protected!

2. Firewalls

This is a must have, and the good thing is that software firewalls are FREE. Both Windows and Linux O/S come with firewalls. Now we just have to set it up. Setting up firewalls can sometimes be hard, but most people don’t need anything fancy. Accept for the services you use, and deny everything else. Also remember if you do want remote access available via your public IPs, your really should restrict those ports via a firewall to make sure only your networks can access it.


This is next most important step to be proactive. The great thing is yet again SoftLayer provides you with the tools for FREE!

1. IDS (Intrusion Detection System)

This technology works by looking at all the little packets coming in and decides if it is bad traffic or good traffic. The hardware and software of this can be very hard to setup, and or very expensive. But you don’t have to worry about this. SoftLayer has farms of IDS hardware there for you, FOR FREE!

2. Scanning

1 = Virus

You will always want to make sure your data is clean and the best way to do that is a weekly virus scanning on your machine. The great thing is we also provide you with the software to do this FREE!

2 = Network

One of the best ways to looks for security problems is to have someone run a network scan on your system. These tools let you find all the holes that you may need to patch up so that your system is secure. Yet again SoftLayer provides you this tool for FREE!

So there you have it a short list of things to do, that will help you keep your data safe and out of the hands of hackers. Security is very important to you as an owner, and for your customers. Just remember if you are proactive, you can cut out a lot of the headaches later on. The other thing to keep in mind when doing this stuff for the first time is to document your steps. Now that you did all the leg work once, now you have a check list on how to do it every time you business expands and you order a new server.

May 21, 2009

Anti-Spyware Workshop

I just got back from participating in a panel discussion at the most recent Anti-Spyware Coalition Public Workshop. The title of the panel session was “Who Owns the Problem”. You can see who all of the participants were, but it was a good session with representation from the FBI, Symantec, Paypal, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and KnujOn.

A lot of the session was focused on end user security regarding spyware, rogue anti-virus, malware and other general badware. But part of the discussion was in regards to the security efforts of the hosting industry in general and SoftLayer specifically. Some of the things we deal with in the hosting industry are second nature to those of us that have been here for a while. But when you start talking about it in front of a different crowd, you begin to appreciate the different perspectives that are out there.

For instance, one common perception (held by some, but obviously not by all) is that once we are made aware of a server that has malware on it, all we have to do is pull the plug on the server and the problem is resolved. However, sometimes the consequences of doing so are high enough to be worthy of a second look. For instance, consider the scenario where SoftLayer rents a server to a customer. That customer slices the server into virtuals using Parallel’s Virtuozzo product and rents a virtual to another customer. That customer puts Cpanel on it to sell shared hosting accounts. Now SoftLayer is 2 layers removed from the actual end user. If that end user’s website gets compromised and begins to distribute malware, how do we at SoftLayer deal with the problem. Ideally, we tell our customer and they tell their customer and they tell the end user about the problem. The end user reacts quickly and cleans up the site. That’s not anywhere close to “best case scenario”, but I would call that a reasonable real-world response.

The problem is, if any of the individuals in that chain of communication fails to react quickly, then the response time for that issue is drastically impacted and more people are potentially victimized by the malware. At what point do we pull the plug on the server? At what point do we decide that all of the other customers on the server have to suffer because of the one bad apple or because of a slow response time from one customers in the chain of communication? Websense did a study that showed in the second half of 2007, over half of all sites distributing malware were themselves compromised sites so the scenario described above is actually a very common problem. It also highlights that there is one more victim in the incident; the web site owner.

We tend to deal with each case as prudently and expeditiously as possible in every abuse report that we receive. In some cases, we pull the plug immediately. In others, we try very hard to work with the customer to resolve the issue. But in all cases, we are constantly working to act as quickly as possible on each individual case.

This is just one of the many scenarios that we have to deal with and it highlights why having a good relationship with your provider is such an important factor when choosing someone to help supply or service your IT needs.


May 20, 2009

Dealing with Customer Service

No – this isn’t one of those blogs or editorials ranting and railing about how no one out there is able to provide good customer service anymore. This isn’t about how no one in the service industry – from restaurants to retail and everything in between – seems to care about the customer anymore. People have been writing those stories for the past 50 years (about half as long as they have been writing about the coming demise of baseball). This is just a short little missive lamenting how the same people that complain about lack of service are often people that work in the service industry themselves.

I often find myself in a retail store wondering why I can’t get help locating an object. Or in a restaurant wondering where the wait staff is. Or trying to work my way through an automated phone help system. Part of me sympathizes with the wait staff knowing that they are probably just too busy to get to my table. Maybe the restaurant is understaffed or maybe they have an unexpected rush of customers. And part of me even realizes the operational value of the automated phone system. The ability to reduce head count and lower costs with an automated system seems like a great idea (and sometimes it is).

But when I find myself in those aggravating situations and my anger is just about to get the better of me, I generally come back to the fact that myself and everyone else that works at SoftLayer is in the customer service industry. Oh, I might complain to a manager or I might tip less or I might shop at that location less. But more important than that, I try to use that experience as a reminder of how important customer service is. I’m not talking about just the ability to provide the product the customer is looking for – I mean the ability to be able to answer questions in a timely manner, to answer the phone as quickly as possible, to handle outages as quickly and professionally as possible, to provide customers with frequent updates and most importantly, to treat every customer interaction with the level of urgency that the customer thinks it deserves.

And THAT’s the important part – not just solving the problem, but making sure that the customer’s expectations are met.



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