technology

August 27, 2007

Ditch Klunky, Hot-Running Servers for iPhones

Yes, servers shrink with size over time, but after reading this post about iPhones being web servers, I'm thinking about sending the following to David Letterman:

And now, the Top Ten Reasons Hosting Companies Should Replace Their Servers with iPhones

#10: At $500 a pop, they’re cheaper than new servers
#9: They come with more standard RAM than most servers
#8: They use less power than servers (just think how many you could cram on a rack!)
#7: They’ve got a multi-hour battery backup soldered right inside – so dispo your UPS’s also
#6: There’s no spinning disk drive to wear out
#5: You can ditch your bandwidth providers and leverage AT&T’s blistering fast EDGE network
#4: The operating system (Mac OS X) is pre-loaded – just rack it up and go
#3: Since you can’t crack it open, the expense of delivering custom builds is gone
#2: There’s a YouTube shortcut icon standard on every one
#1: They just look cool!

</sarcasm>

-Gary

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August 24, 2007

Globalization and the Internet

Globalization is now, and forever will be, an ubiquitous topic in most political, economic, and social forums. The term "globalization" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets." The latter of the traits has emerged as the strongest point of contention due to outsourcing. Markedly, Fortune Magazine recently published a story on a new "insourcing" trend. It's a trend so new that my spellchecker doesn't even recognize the word.

Though "free trade" and "free flow of capital" are explicitly declared in the definition of globalization, free flow of information is somehow absent. The role that the Internet has played in globalization and the development of the global economy cannot be overstated. Continued advancements in the Internet and Telecommunications have literally connected suppliers, vendors, sellers, and buyers that historically had been segmented by barriers such as geography and time zones. What this phenomenon has come to shape is the global marketplace, where products from across the world compete for the preference of an endless consumer base. With an increase in competition comes an increase in the consumer expectations for quality and performance. As a growing company with a significant international client base, SoftLayer continues to strive towards providing quality solutions and support that exceeds our customers' expectations.

Though the Internet has helped to fuel the soaring growth of the global marketplace in the recent decade, there are still many obstacles that impede its progression. Most of the hazards have a legal connotation surrounding hot-button issues such as Intellectual Property, Copyright Infringement, and most notably in the hosting world, Abuse (bandwidth theft, computer viruses, fraud, etc.). It's certainly enough to keep our abuse department busy as international standards and governing policies are fortified to help combat these areas of concern.

This observation merely skims the surface of globalization and the development of the global economy as there are many arguments both for and against its advancement. At the forefront or behind the scenes (depending on your vantage), you will find the Internet. It has been stated that “the Internet is the backbone of the global economy" with evidence cited in the form of web transactions going from "virtually nothing in 1994 to nearly $657 billion in 2000."1 Care to guess what that number is now? As SoftLayer furthers its commitment to quality, our objective is to continue to strengthen the platform from which our domestic, international, and multinational customers launch into and compete in the global marketplace.

-DJ

1Charles W. L. Hill, International Business: Competing in the Global Marketplace (Irwin/McGraw-Hill; Fifth Edition, 2004), p.13.

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August 22, 2007

SaaS Who?

I'm always on the lookout for drivers of the hosting industry. One of those drivers is "Software as a Service" (SaaS). After seeing this article where Gartner thinks that the SaaS market will basically triple over the next four years, I wondered if the SaaS movement was affecting me yet.

I then realized that the SaaS market had grabbed me in one very important area – personal finance software. I had become disenchanted with my common desktop personal finance package – it had a lot of features that I didn't use and it didn't do some things that I need. So I began searching for options and discovered Mvelopes.

Mvelopes is a SaaS solution. Rather than buy the software, you subscribe to it over the Web. Anywhere you have an Internet connection you can access it, even from a mobile phone. It logs into the web sites of your bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, credit card accounts, etc., and brings your account info together in a convenient one-screen view. It will download info from accounts that your old desktop software can’t touch. And because it’s a subscription, you never have to worry about keeping up with new versions, patches, etc. Every time you log on you have the latest production software updates at your disposal.

It doesn't do asset allocation, portfolio analysis, technical analysis, stock screens or other fancy things that desktop personal finance software attempts to do. But it does planning and budgeting VERY well. This is what I need my personal financial software to do most of all, and my old software didn’t do this very well.

Probably the biggest hurdle in latching on to a SaaS solution like this is getting comfortable with placing the data security outside of your control since it doesn't reside on your local machine. But when you realize that the vendor hosts the data at a secure data center and has far better data security, physical security, and network security than your spare upstairs bedroom office, it is possible to make the move.

According to Gartner, software consumers will quickly realize the simplicity of subscribing to secure hosted solutions that are accessible from anywhere. Naturally, these rapidly growing SaaS solutions need a home. Consequently, we at SoftLayer would like to ask these SaaS providers such as Mvelopes, "Who does your hosting?"

-Gary

Categories: 
August 8, 2007

From Packet Exchanges to Application Exchanges

I once ran across an article that said Equinix customers can access over 90% of the world’s internet networks and users due to the number of carriers, content providers and peering located in their IBX facilities. That is a very staggering thought if you really think about it. The Internet is an endless array of fiber spread across the globe and most of it touches an Equinix facility somewhere along the path. There is little doubt about the value in being located inside an Equinix facility. The world’s largest carriers have standardized on using their facilities as global POPs to reach anyone and everyone connected to the net

While reading Mark Cuban’s latest blog, he proposes using an IntraNet vs the InterNet for large scale application deployment. He basically outlines the inability to sustain high bandwidth quality of service across the public internet. He believes that if the hosted application were to reside on the same network as the end user, the probability of success would be greatly enhanced. Although not quite the traditional IntraNet as we know it today, I do agree that having the content and user on the same network will probably lead to a much higher quality of service.

Taking that thought process and merging it into the latest Web2.0 initiative creates interesting possibilities. Isabel Wang has very provoking thoughts on social networking, SaaS, grid technology, EC2, S3, web integration and an endless list of possibilities. SWSoft and VMWare are talking SaaS and virtualization integration. Vlad and his team at 3Tera are deploying grids like there’s no tomorrow and Facebook, Salesforce, and Amazon are now building apps on an open API system designed to cater to developers. The whole world is reaching out to interact, merge, integrate, build, piggyback, and coordinate technology to make the geek world user friendly.

So I come back to SoftLayer and think – where do we fit into this big picture. It seems our network-within-the-network approach appears to fulfill Mark Cuban’s desire for both Intranet and Internet. The ability to rapidly deploy dedicated, virtualized, and grid technologies at the click of button serves the fundamental need of the Web2.0 entries. The ability of these companies to interact/integrate publicly and privately among each other is well served through our customer exchange. It sounds like if we were to strategically drop SoftLayer PODs inside the Equinix’s of the world – we could bring the world a much needed service for the future. On network Application exchanges to your local IntraNet. Now, there’s an idea.

-@lavosby

August 6, 2007

HostingCon 2007 / More Green

The SoftLayer contingency recently returned from attending HostingCon 2007 in Chicago and I have to say, it was a great experience. We had a lot of opportunities to meet up with many of our customers, meet with a lot of vendors and potential vendors as well as visit with some of our competitors.

While there, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on "Green Hosting: Hope or Hype". Isabel Wang did a great job of moderating the discussion with Doug Johnson, Dallas Kashuba, and myself. The overall premise of the panel discussion was to talk about green initiatives, how they affect the hosting industry, what steps can hosting companies take and is it something we should be pursuing.

It was interesting to hear the different approaches that companies take to be green. Should companies focus their efforts on becoming carbon neutral by purchasing carbon credits such as DreamHost, by promising to plant a tree for each server purchased such as Dell, by working on virtualization strategies such as SWSoft or by working to eliminate the initial impact on the environment such as we have done at SoftLayer. You can probably tell from one of my previous blog posts where SoftLayer is focusing our efforts to help make a difference.

Besides the efforts of the individual companies on the panel, there were some good questions from the audience that helped spur the conversation. Does the hosting industry need its own organization for self regulation or are entities such as The Green Grid sufficient? Do any of the hosting industry customers really care if a company is "green"? Should a hosting company care if it’s "green"? And, what exactly does "being green" mean?

While there are differing opinions to all of those questions, there really isn't a "wrong" answer. Ultimately all of the steps companies take - no matter how small - will help to some extent. And no matter what the motivation - whether a company is "being green" in an effort to gain publicity, to save money or to simply "make a difference" - it's all worth it in the end.

-SamF

August 3, 2007

Is Your Company Ethical?

Thanks to my financial brethren at Enron, Worldcom, Barings, BCCI and all the companies currently embroiled in the stock back-dating scandals, I have sit through an ethics seminar every other year to maintain my status as a certified public accountant.

In my position as Chief Financial Officer, ethics and integrity are of paramount importance and as a company, we work hard to hire staff with these characteristics. Keeping that in mind, a survey was taken in 2005 by Deloitte and Touche of American youth between the ages of 13 and 18 in which they were asked the question, “If your boss told you to do something you thought was unethical, would you do it anyway”? An astounding (at least to me) 53% of the kids said they would do what their boss asked them to do.

As a technology company with a work force that gets ever younger as kids become more and more technologically savvy, that is frightening statistic. However, what it points out is the need for us to set the behavioral standards and to train our staff in what those standards are.

What are those standards? For every company those will differ somewhat but a recent survey points out the types of unethical behavior every company faces on a daily basis. In 2005, the American Management Association’s Human Resources Institute asked companies why their employees behaved unethically. The top five reasons:

  1. Pressure to meet unrealistic business objectives
  2. Desire to further one’s career
  3. Desire to protect one’s livelihood
  4. Working with a cynical, demoralized environment
  5. Ignorance that the act was unethical

We have all faced having to make decisions in light of one or more of those five reasons at some point in our lives. How we have reacted to those situations has helped define each of us as we moved through our careers.

How will you know what the ethical choice is when you are trying to make a decision? Let me leave you with one final quote from Potter Stewart, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice on his definition of ethics:

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is the right thing to do.

Are you doing the right thing? And are you demonstrating that to your peers and those you lead? The world is watching.

-Mike

August 1, 2007

Web 2.D'oh!

What in the world is going on? There are people out there who are always determining that we must be labeled something. The Early 2000s was the dot.com era, then there was the bubble bursting era and it seems now that we live in the "Web 2.0 Era". Whatever label is put on any era there are always head-scratchers out there who catch someone's eye and this has definitely caught mine. In a recent article on webware.com, one of the brightest, high-flying Web 2.0 companies is now up for sale oneBay. Per the listing, these are the following attributes that make Xcellery an excellent Acquisition target (outside of the "buy on the cheap from ebay" thing):

  • The startup was ranked among the Top 5 at the Office 2.0 conference.
  • Approx. 10,000 subscriptions include paying customers on SalesForce.com/AppExchange
  • Huge waiting list for Xcellery Enterprise Edition (XEE) customers
  • State of the art technology: C#, ASP.NET 2.0, AJAX, MySQL/SQL server
  • Two years development time was invested to build Xcellery
  • Xcellery is integrated into SalesForce.com/AppExchange including a payment system with PayPal
  • www.xcellery.com has reached a PR five and is in the top three when searching for "Online Excel" and others
  • The founder team is interested to stay on board and help continue the venture

What this tells me is that no matter how technology changes our lives and how optimistic we are about conquering the world, underlying fundamentals of business are the key to any company's success. We (Softlayer) host a tremendous number of web 2.0 firms and are excited to see the growth and opportunities that are presented to many of these companies. After all, our customers' successes equate to a long-term relationship with us, so we are rooting for all of you.

So Web 2.0'ers, as we all set our sights for greatness, don't forget -- old school business-fundamentals drive a lot of the abilities for us to be innovative and ground breaking!

Keep thinking!!

-Sean

Categories: 
July 30, 2007

Being in Sales

Being in SLales (SL + Sales = SLales - we're so clever), I talk to around 200 people or so a day via email/tickets/telephone/chat/etc. I like to think of our SLales team as the "A" team in the industry. Going along with Jason's “we wear many hats”, we must have detailed knowledge of every single product and service that we offer -- networking capabilities, what program/software/application works with what hardware all the while fitting what each particular clients unique needs are into their budget.

A typical day for the SLales team involves getting to work and going straight for the Monster or coffee (or both) depending on your preference. Get to our cubes and login to our side of the customer portal, chat and check our email. This is when the fun begins. Immediately we are engaging people on chat, catching up our shared SLales and personal email inboxes, talking to clients or potential clients on the telephone, verifying orders, IMing with different divisions, putting through payments, credit card changes and grabbing tickets from existing clients looking to cut a deal for upgrading and/or adding servers and services – all at the same time. We take multitasking seriously here!

On top of all of that we have to make sure that customer billing is accurate when ordering these services depending on the deals we have available, which are always going to be inventory-based. Also, we are making sure that everything is working correctly on each customer's server and if not, coordinating a game-plan to make sure that the client is satisfied and running along smoothly, as quickly as possible.

At the end of the day we want all of our clients to be comfortable, happy, making money and enjoying themselves – because if you are, we are too!

-Michael

July 27, 2007

Remote Access Success Story

In previous posts, there have been mentions of the datacenter of the future, kvm over IP and a reference to an elevator. Then, just the other day, someone in the office pointed out this article: "How remote management saved me an emergency flight overseas"

The article discusses the successful deployment of servers from a remote location. The author talks about being able to remotely configure and deploy some new servers from the confines of a ski lodge. Of course, they had to have someone at their offices to receive the server shipment, unbox the servers, rack them up, get them all cabled, make sure space, power and cooling would all be sufficient and then put in a CD. Things that weren't mentioned probably included throwing away all of the packaging material, doing QA on the hardware to verify it was all correct and changing any BIOS settings.

Beyond all of that, there are many things that are just inherent to the process that they didn’t refer to, including having to find the right server vendor, negotiating pricing for the servers, making sure all of the pieces and parts were going to be shipped, tracking the shipment dates, contacting the vendor multiple times to try to find out why the shipment wasn't going to be on time, having available datacenter space and infrastructure, putting those dang cage nuts in the server racks, having available switch ports, making sure the network was configured correctly, providing network security, making sure all of the software licenses were up to date, etc, etc, etc.

Or, as so many of you already know - they could have gotten their servers from a dedicated hosting provider such as SoftLayer (hint, hint) and had the servers purchased, configured, QA’d and online within just a couple of hours and with no more effort than just filling out a signup form. It’s hard to imagine there are still so many people out there doing things the hard way.

-SamF

July 25, 2007

The OSI Model - Reworked

The Open Systems Interconnection Basic Reference Model (OSI Model) or 7-layer model has been around for decades. It was actually developed in 1977 by the ISO as an abstract model of networking protocols which is divided into seven layers. Each layer interacts with the layer beneath it or above it depending in the directionality of the conversion. The 7-layer model was written from a broader point of view and in today's world is not really used as it was intended. The most common protocol and the one most of us have heard of is the Internet protocol know as TCP/IP. The TCP/IP model only uses four of the layers to more simplify the architecture making it streamlined and easier for most to understand. Here are both models and a brief description and example of each.

OSI Model (7 layer)

  1. Physical – The electrical and physical connections for devices (example: wires, electrical signals, hubs, network cards)
  2. Data Link – Functional means of transferring data between network devices via switches and protocols (example: Ethernet, Token-Ring and switches)
  3. Network – This layer is responsible for transferring data between multiple networks via routing protocols (example: Internet Protocol (or IP), ARP, and RIP)
  4. Transport – this layer provides a reliable transparent transfer control of data between hosts (example: TCP and UDP)
  5. Session – This layer controls the connections between hosts. Establishes, maintains, and terminates connections between hosts. (example: NetBIOS and DNS)
  6. Presentation – This is the layer the data is transformed and formatted to provide a standard interface for the Application layer (example: ASCII to XML conversion)
  7. Application – Provides services and data to user defined applications (example: RPC, FTP, HTTP)

 
TCP/IP Model (4 layer)

  1. Network Access – This is the physical layer like cables, hubs, switches, and routers necessary for communications
  2. Internetworking – This is the IP address and layer that allows hosts to be able to find one another on the Internet
  3. Transport – Connection protocols like TCP and UDP operate here. This layer deal with the opening, maintaining, and closing connections between hosts
  4. Process/Application – High level protocols like HTTP, FTP, SMTP, POP3 operate

Back in the day when I got started in the networking field for a small ISP in Dallas, I had to study the OSI model for Cisco exams. I had to use anagrams to remember the different layers such as (P-D-N-T-S-P-A) "Please Do Not Throw Sausage Pizza Away" or in reverse (A-P-S-T-N-D-P) "All People Seem To Need Domino's Pizza" so I could keep them all straight. Once I was actually starting to get my hands wet in the field, I found the OSI model to come in handy when trying to troubleshoot networking issues. I had to morph the definitions of the layers to fit my needs, and used them as a daily reference on how to isolate issues and come to a resolution by stepping up and down the layers. Here is what I used to simplify my life when troubleshooting a dial-up connection (analog, ISDN and sometimes a T1).

Network Troubleshooting (7 layer/step)

  1. Physical layer – Is there good working cable between point A and point B? (the router and switch let's say). Have you tested the cable to make sure it works?
  2. Data link layer – Is there a link light on the router or switch? Is it plugged into the correct ports on both ends? Are the port speeds and duplex settings on either end matched up? (10/full, 100/full or 1000/full)
  3. Network layer – Can I ping across the link from the router to the switch? Am I using the correct IP address information?
  4. Transport – Am I able to get out of the local network? Is there a firewall that might be blocking something? Is the default gateway setup correctly?
  5. Session – Am I able to reach (ping) the end host I are trying to reach? (the web server in this case)
  6. Presentation – Is the service I am trying to reach installed and running? (like IIS or Apache) Is there a firewall blocking inbound requests? (hardware or software)
  7. Application – Is there actually content on the server to present? (HTML pages) Does the web server config have the appropriate permissions applied and pointed to the correct directory for content?

I know this might seem a little simplistic, but sometimes getting back to the basics is the best way to solve problems. It is also an effective way to teach people interested in networking how to troubleshoot issues that come up in our industry on a daily basis. I hope you find this approach useful and apply it in your environment.

A funny little known factoid is that when we started this company a couple years ago, the OSI model actually came up when designing our logo. When brainstorming and jotting down ideas one of our founders (guess who?) used the 7 Layer theme to design our current logo. Shows you how influential the OSI model has been in today's Internet driven world.

Let's see what anagrams you can come up with for "P-D-N-T-S-P-A" or "A-P-S-T-N-D-P" Give me your best shot. (keep it clean though!)

-Ric

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