technology

December 11, 2007

Record SLales Day

117 Servers in one day. That's right -- We sold and fully provisioned 117 servers yesterday. Words can't express how proud this makes me as we've come a long way from when I started at Softlayer just over a year and a half ago. When I got here I was the 25th employee and we were in a very small, weird office and I was always within (literally) arms reach of Lance and Steven and a good (great) day was selling and provisioning double digit servers. Now things have gotten much bigger and we are still humming along coming out with new products, new datacenters (Seattle and more to come) and innovating new and never before seen ideas and services in the hosting world.

We now have over 100 employees, nearing 15,000 servers in production, a new (bigger) office and record revenue being generated daily. Two years ago when we opened our doors for business we had zero (0) in all of the above categories. We have grown up fast while continuing to be the best out there with our innovation and services.

I'm just so proud. *tear*

-Michael

Categories: 
December 7, 2007

Time for Change

As I watched the Dallas Cowboys dismantle the Green Bay Packers last Thursday night, I noticed an ever so slight – almost invisible – passing of the torch from Brett Favre to Tony Romo. It became quite clear – Football is a young man's game.

As I sat and pondered what that must feel like for Brett and his crew, I noticed frightening similarities between hosting and football. Hosting appears to be a young man's sport as well.

Now, before you guys (there I go again) pile on and beat me down – hear me out. I am not saying that Brett and his older brethren are washed up and incapable of playing football – but I am saying, their primetime has passed and any future success should be considered borrowed time on a great career coming to conclusion. Facts are facts – professional football is a very physical and mental job and the youth + skill appears to outweigh age + experience.

This leads me back to hosting. A world full of very young and extremely talented players. An industry where degrees and certifications come in a distant second behind skill and innovative thinking. I often find my thirty-something (barely) resume on-the-line with both new and old competitors. I can assure you, the young competitors terrify me, and the older ones typically bore me.

The recent interviews for potential new hires here at SL are eye-opening. Young Guns coming out of high school with Cisco Certs, college students working on cutting edge technologies and of course – the prodigy that shows up from time to time who was born to design and innovate beyond all our wildest dreams.

I often tell Mike, our CFO, that technology is changing the rules of business and how things will be done going forward. In Mike's accounting world, graduates come out of college with lots of book knowledge and very little experience and gain experience over their career. In the technology world, I would argue the younger talent holds more technical knowledge (book or real world) than the older more established crowd What I bring to the table is business and technical experience; but I find myself learning more and more technology from my younger team members everyday. It's a never ending battle to stay on the leading edge – but I wonder – how long will it be before I hand the torch?

Go Cowboys!!

-@lavosby

December 7, 2007

Why I Love Working in SoftLayer SLales

SoftLayer is a very unique company. It is a rare find and it is a pleasure to be associated with this company. I certainly hope our customers feel the same way (and if you don’t, please talk to us so we can make our service with you more valuable). I am a Senior Sales Representative at SL and I would like to give you more of a behind the scenes feel for why we are the best sales staff in the industry.

I am a people pleaser, and I truly love to help people find satisfaction. I have had several sales positions since I graduated from college many years ago. The thing those previous sales positions had in common was that the salesman was incented to take his own needs into consideration first and foremost. This directly conflicts with what I want to accomplish in business. It is understood that everyone goes into business not to play Barbie dolls, but to earn a profit. Still, this seems fundamentally wrong to me. I have direct experience (even in this industry) where sales positions are incented to put their own needs and wants before those of the customer, or even the company they are working for. This misappropriation of incentive or motivation can cause any number of scenarios that are bad for business on both sides. Luckily this is not how things are done at Softlayer. The customer’s needs come first, as it should be.

The main reason why I came to SoftLayer was because of the way that its sales staff is designed. We are put together as a team, for the customer's benefit. Customers do not need to worry about working with a single individual sales person unless they simply prefer to. I know that I prefer to build up business relationships because this makes for a good understanding of what the main goals are for each customer, and I can have a better grasp of what I can personally do to help. We are not individually commissioned so customers can rest assured knowing that we are doing everything possible to put them in the best situation imaginable. This allows us to avidly search for those “win – win” situations that are positive for everyone involved.

The SoftLayer Sales staff is also very diverse in the styles and talents that we offer. Everyone here has had several years of industry experience and is quite knowledgeable about not only product lines, but also the businesses of our customers. I would go so far as to say that we have the most knowledgeable staff in the industry.

The bottom line is that an intelligent sales staff working for the right reasons ends up with satisfied customers. Satisfied customers are inclined to do more business with a company, and a positive culture between the company and customer is created as opposed to a negative one where it seems that there is always a disparity between the two.

Because of the culture we have created here, it makes me happy to come to work each day.

-Doug

December 4, 2007

Team SoftLayer

When we first opened our doors, Jeaves and Josh used to split 24-hour shifts in the DC to provide 24x7 support coverage, and there was a “napping couch” in the office for the occasional overnight work shift up in Plano. Most of us had a toothbrush if not a change of clothes in our desk drawer, and a fun Friday night entailed sitting around a whiteboard talking numbers, and coming up with new ideas for the datacenter.

Team SoftLayer is much much larger now, but the spirit is much the same. This picture is from a swingin’ SL party we had a few Thursdays ago, where the office got together to label power cables for the new Seattle DC. There are members of Dev, Sales, Accounting, Marketing, & Management here working together. It makes me so proud.

November 21, 2007

Smells Like SoftLayer

Seattle baby! That's what's next. With that being said I thought I would blog about Tom Hanks. I know you wish you had thought of this one too. I chose him because I figure he has done enough movies and other things that I can actually have enough content and he did do "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" and they are both closely related to our expansion. Why, you ask? Right now we have a few guys in Seattle installing cage nuts -- 17,280 to be exact. That is 1 cage nut installed every 5 seconds for 24 hours straight (Sleepless!). I hate that I am missing out on that fun. Writing blogs is nice too I suppose.
So here we go Tom Hanks and SoftLayer!

SoftLayer works because we are all "Bosom Buddies". We all get along. Hopefully all of us will continue to be famous afterwards and not just half of us. That would make for a lot of "Happy Days" in the future. We also have quite a few "Family Ties" as we have a brother/sister pair (Fleitman), and 3 brother pairs (Kinman/Laude/Guerra/Harris) and we can't forget the Father/Son set (Rushe) family keeps things fun and busy! If we continue to grow at this rate we will all be making a "Splash" soon when we leave our competitors in the dust. When that happens we will have a party to rival the likes of the "Bachelor Party" and we can invite "The Man with One Red Shoe" and will need some "Volunteers" to serve the Hors D'oeuvres.

I bet most of you didn't know that Tom Hanks was in "Real Genius" but I will use it anyway because we really do have some real geniuses here (Everyone take a bow). This keeps us from turning into a "Money Pit" and on the top of our game. I could say that before SoftLayer all of us would have been just a bunch of guys with "Nothing in Common" but it seems that "Every Time We Say Goodbye" we seem to end up back together. Even having to go through the "Dragnet" is worth it, because we all want to be "Big" and have the last laugh in the "Punchline".

We all drive in from "The Burbs" almost daily just to make sure we make our customers happy and we let the kids watch "Turner and Hooch" on the in-car DVD on the way to daycare. Once we get here we keep the "Joe Versus the Volcano" attitude and will take on any problem and get it solved.

To keep it light, once a year we go play in Muenster and Sam cooks up the BBQ on "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and we pig out and have a blast. There are some great "Tales from the Crypt" after those parties. Sam and his cooking crew won 3rd place last year and that puts them truly in "A League of Their Own".

Meanwhile the guys are still "Sleepless in Seattle" and Lance is spending his nights thinking of the next location. I really doubt it will be "Philadelphia" at least I hope not, too many Eagles up there. Go Cowboys!

Note: I am pretty sure I am the "Forrest Gump" of SoftLayer. I think Gump had ADHD like me and that is why he wanted to be and do so many things in his life. I take pride in that! You can always tell by my blogs.

Back to being the best -- in "Apollo 13" the most famous line in the movie (true story too) was "Houston, we have a problem" I bet there are some competitors to SoftLayer out there that are saying that same thing right about now with our continued growth and that isn't some kid's "Toy Story" that is the honest truth. We do it with customer service and the best product. Why? We just like hearing our customers say over and over, keep doing "That thing you do" and we will keep buying your service. That hurts the competition sometimes. We aren't sorry about that. We will go "From the Earth to the Moon" to continue to make our customers happy and we will make sure "You've got Mail" when something important is coming and it will not be just another "Toy Story 2". Even if it is like "Saving Private Ryan" we do anything we can to make it happen. All while walking "The Green Mile" because taking care of our environment is very important to us. (You didn't think I was going to talk about the death penalty did you?)

Some people like to look at us as a "Castaway", but we truly are a "Band of Brothers" on the road to fruition instead of the "Road to Perdition" like so many others. I welcome all readers to try and "Catch me if you can" in this blog and let me know of the movies I have missed so far. I will admit I have skipped a few TV appearances so you have to let me slide on those.

One of these days I might have to blog on "Freedom: A History of Us" and let you know where we all came from and what got us here. It is a long list of "Great Performances" that would impress you. Some of us were the smart geeky type and some of us were "The Ladykillers" and could have fun at an airport in "The Terminal".

I am getting close to the end now so the Narrator would now say, "Elvis has left the Building" on the "Polar Express" or was it in a pack of "Cars", oh well either way. I hope reading this blog has been an enjoyable experience and not like trying to "Crack the Da Vinci Code".

-Skinman

November 21, 2007

There's Too Much Blood in my Caffeine System

I've never been one to do things in half measures. Growing up, my tree-house had 3 stories, a deck and indoor plumbing- if you can call a garden hose run up a tree "plumbing".

Softlayer has been a good fit for me because we're not used to doing things in half measures here either. Within the last two months we've announced the addition of Passmark certification, Rescuelayer, Urchin, StorageLayer, EVault Backups, Load Balancing, KnowledgeLayer and even a new datacenter.

All of these things require countless hours to implement. There's development to be done, as well as testing, building, re-testing, documenting, and then some more testing. These things can stack up on you pretty fast if you're not giving them your full attention.

In this 100mph lifestyle, I have found that there is one friend that I can count on to never let me down. My friend will always be there when I need him to get me through the hard times.

That friend is caffeine.

In previous blogs we've seen how dependant our Sales team is on their caffeine fix, and it's no different for the Support team. However, we're much more versatile with our means of intake, and it's important to keep a well stocked fridge to keep everyone happy. Nothing can ruin your morning faster than coming to work to find that the supply of caffeine has been depleted overnight. The vast emptiness of the refrigerator echoes your cries of despair, and your mind scrabbles for a contingency plan. Wasn't there a 7-11 close by? Does Starbucks deliver?

There are as many methods of caffeine delivery as there are species of beetle, but here are some of our favorite ways to curb the insanity:

Monster – The undisputed king of the castle. Monsters disappear faster than we can chill them, and it doesn't matter what flavor we've got.

Upshot – These little guys will pick you up and shake you, and in a serious way. They've got a lot of kick for being as small as they are, which means that you can down 3 or 4 of them without knowing what you've just done to yourself. Plus, they're easy to hide from your caffeine deprived co-workers when they're on the hunt.

Coffee – Believe it or not, we're not big coffee drinkers in the Support department. Still, there's nothing quite like a hot cup of joe to get you going.

Soda – We keep a well stocked supply of various kinds of sodas for when we're all out of serious caffeine. They're usually the last to go, but they get the job done.

Caffeine has helped me through so many late nights and pressing deadlines that I can't even look at it as a vice anymore. It's evolved from a crutch to an extra set of legs.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I hear the coffee pot percolating.

-Jeaves

Categories: 
November 19, 2007

A Feature Too Far

I just finished the best Software Project Management book I have ever read. It covered proper planning, requirements gathering, resource management, inter-organizational communication, and even discussed the immeasurable factor of individual effort. The book's title is 'A Bridge too Far' by Cornelius Ryan. The book is actually a historical account of "Operation Market-Garden" which was an attack by the Allied forces against Nazi Germany in World War II.

First let me say that I am not comparing Software Development to War. I do appreciate the difference between losing one's job and losing one's life. But as I was reading the book, the parallels between the job of a project manager preparing for, managing, and executing a large project are not unlike that of the job of a General's planning staff preparing for a major offensive.

Operation Market-Garden was a combined ground and paratrooper attack into The Netherlands by the Allies a few months after the invasion of Normandy. Things seemed to be going well for the Allies in the months after D-Day and the Allied Generals became confident that they could launch a lightening strike that would end the war sooner rather than later. The operation seemed simple, Airborne paratroopers would be dropped deep in Nazi territory and would capture key bridges along a route into The Netherlands. A ground offensive would quickly follow using the bridges that were captured by the paratroopers to get almost all the way to Germany's borders. The short version of the story is that the ground offensive never caught up to the paratroopers and the offensive didn't succeed.

Reading the historical account, with the benefit of hindsight, it became obvious that the Allied Generals underestimated the difficulty of the task. The offensive scope was too big for the resources on hand and perfect execution of all the individual engagements was required. The schedule the Generals developed was impossible to keep and schedule slips meant death for many of the soldiers. Communications between elements of the units involved was critical but did not occur. However, because of heroic actions of some individuals and personal sacrifice of many, the offensive almost succeeded.

In the early stages of a project, setting realistic goals, and not putting on blinders as to the quantity and quality of your resources are key to a projects success. Going on the assumptions that the 'development weather' will always be perfect, communications will always work, and that all tasks will be completed on schedule is a recipe for disaster. And you can't always plan on individual heroics to save a project.

I usually try to inject some levity into my posts, but not this one. 17,000 Allied soldiers, 13,000 German soldiers, and 10,000 civilians were killed, missing, or wounded as a result of this failed offensive.

-@nday91

November 16, 2007

The Value of a Customer

For the two people who actually read my posts, you know that I blogged about how I look at the value of a server. Basically, it should be valued by the cash flow it produces. Without a customer to use the server, the cash flow it generates is negative, i.e., less than $0 due to the costs of keeping it racked up, powered up, and connected.

So, how do you place a value on a customer? Customers and servers are not a one-to-one connection because many customers have more than one server. They also buy more than just servers, such as additional software and/or backup services.

Like most of us in the industry, I spend a few minutes each day scrolling through the customer forums, both ours and 3rd party sites – you probably know which ones :). I look at the customer comments and sometimes I wonder if the folks in our industry understand the value of these customers judging from the way some customers are treated.

Granted, some customers are abusive and need to be fired, so to speak. Others appear to be high value customers with multiple servers and solid business models where someone has dropped the ball and caused them to seek greener hosting pastures. If companies understood the dollar figure valuation of each customer, they might think twice about their next course of action with a particular customer.

To value a customer, I look at the statistical expectation of how long that customer will stay with the company, how much the customer currently buys with us, the statistical expectation of how much additional business they will place with us, the gross profit generated by the customer, and that old stand-by -- the minimum acceptable rate of return for an investor in the company. From these data points, I do a simple Present Value calculation and arrive at the value of the customer, which is the amount of cash that would have to be invested to yield the economic equivalent of the expected gross profit that the customer will produce. I'd give you a sample calculation, but a) it would make this post even more boring, and 2) some things we like to keep secret :).

This is important because it can make the growth of a hosting company less "slippery" -- sort of like when Eric takes off from a red light in this:

For example, if you sell 100 new servers but customers release 90 back to you during the same period, your growth doesn't have the traction it would have if only 10 servers were released back to you. By retaining valuable customers, you don't spin your wheels as much. Spinning the tires at a hosting company is not nearly as much fun as watching Eric drive.

-Gary

Categories: 
November 6, 2007

Stress is Free

Wikipedia defines stress as the condition that results when person-environment transactions lead the individual to perceive a discrepancy, whether real or not, between the demands of a situation and the resources of the persons biological, psychological or social systems. In a nutshell that says Stress is your mind telling you that you are in over your head for a multitude of reasons. I have worked many jobs in the past where those transactions were out of control and they became high stress jobs. Let's hit the "wayback" machine and relive the stressful ones. I am assuming some of you will relate to this and some will just think it's funny.

The Burger years - It all started at Burger King. I know if you haven't done the fast food thing you are thinking, "Right, that isn't a stressful job!" I'll tell you though, during a lunch rush when the order screen is full and backlogged and you are the only one making burgers and you are about 30 behind, it can be a little stressful. Then there are the times when non-paying customers are eating food from the salad bar and you have to tell them to leave, but that is a separate (and funny) blog entry. Anyway, I decided that the burger future just wasn't for me and it was adding to my ham hocks so I left for...

The Factory Months - Repetition became the word of the day for the next 8 months. I lifted 100lb bags of powder repeatedly, then cut the bags and dumped the chemicals into a vat. After hours of mixing it magically and chemically became glaze for toilets. I even made pretty colors with Black being the most time consuming, specific, and expensive (if you have ever priced a black toilet now you know why it is so high). Really the only stress there was just trying to get it all done in 8 hours correctly and not hold up the day guys and make them wait on me. Driving the forklift through the wall and losing 50 pounds of Burger King induced ham hocks was just a bonus. After that it was off to…

The Mall years - Any of you ever hear of Babbage's? I took a store manager position and you would be amazed at how stressful working from 9am to 10pm during Christmas hours was. Normally it was just the kids kicking and screaming but during Christmas it was THE PARENTS! "I was first in line! No! I was" All that for games for the Linx hand held (it was SO cool and so before it's time), Nintendo, or Sega. Even during the slow months the monotony of standing there just waiting for a customer was almost as stressful. I thought it was time to get a real job so I went to work for...

The Clone wars - Computer clone manufacturer as a sales person. A sales position is very stressful. I bet all you folks out there that have to meet a quota know exactly what I mean. The last day of the month you are popping the champagne corks and getting big bonuses and commissions and then the very next day your sales are at $0.00 and you are at square one again. It's numbing and nerve-wracking. I am no longer a sales guy after 5 years of that hell and my hat is off to those of you who are good at that gig. I learned a few technical things while being in sales so it was time to try them out.

The "Internot" years – Phone support at its finest! Phone support in the early days was different than today. Today we have remote control tools and things of that nature where in the past it was all trial and error with some folks who just bought that new computer (and very first computer) with a Winmodem in it. Oh, the good old winmodems (I just shivered). I can't even begin to explain how stressful a 12-hour shift of phone support talking about winmodems can be. If any of you remember that I bet you just shivered too. Two years of phone support was enough so...

The Geek years – Systems admin/engineer. I stressed out like crazy taking my MCSE all to get this phone call while working at a fortune 500 company. "Email is down! For everyone! Fix it! We can't do anything without it! We are dead in the water!" MORE STRESS! I have found that CEOs can't live without email anymore when in the past they actually played golf on the golf course, now they claim to still work! I worked with Terminal services, Citrix, and Exchange, the things that companies just CAN'T live without. Sleep was optional during this time so I decided...

Management! – Get the title. Manager, Director, I want to be a VP, etc. Life will be stress free closer to the top. What was I thinking? I think this one is better broken into two categories, managing up and the WIT method (I just made that up!). We will start with managing up. Managing up? It's the fine art of making your boss think you are interested, patting yourself on the back, seeking new "out of your comfort zone" responsibilities, getting noticed at all costs, act like and work like one level above your title, and knowing what matters to your boss and his boss even if they don't matter to your group or the people you manage. So for the short definition Managing up = Stress! I took pride in being the laid back easy going manager that gains respect from his employees by trusting the people he puts in a place to do their job and letting them succeed and helping when necessary. If you mix that style with a micromanager you are looking for trouble. I think stress starts at the top and is instilled in everyone all the way down to the very bottom. A workaholic CEO = a stressed out workaholic staff. I'm not saying that you shouldn't manage up as it is a very good form of getting promoted etc. I am simply saying it adds stress to your life. On we go to...

WIT – Whatever it takes. There is something to be said about a company that has one simple motto from the top to the bottom; whatever it takes and at the same time actually living to that standard. I have found that place. When my alarm goes off now in the morning, I hit the ground running. I can't wait to get to work and be part of the fun and productive team and do whatever it takes. I can honestly say that everyone at Softlayer has one goal - to be the best! THAT makes for an extremely stress-free and fun workplace. We don't need to work in the Bank of America tower in beautiful downtown Dallas to be happy, we are happy already! Just keep up the free coffee and Monster and I am good to go!

If you own a small business then you most likely deal with stressful situations daily. Why not let us ease some of your IT stress and outsource your infrastructure to the best stress-free IT Company out there - SoftLayer!

Disclaimer:The events depicted in this blog are true. Any similarity to a company living or dead is most likely coincidental.

-Skinman

November 2, 2007

No-Huddle

With the NFL season in full swing and the usual suspects up to their usual tricks, a question was raised as to why some teams opt to run a "no-huddle" or "hurry-up" offense when their backs are against the wall with the clock ticking away, while other teams seem to constantly be in a "hurry-up" mode throughout the game and have a significant degree of success with it. In either case, the objective is to keep the competition off balance and have steady advances to the goal. An obvious example of an undeniably successful team that employs such methods is the reigning NFL Champion Indianapolis Colts.

Before I go further into lumping praise onto the Colts, I feel that I am obligated to state that I am not a die-hard Indy fan. The team that I root for shall remain nameless for this article as I am still traumatized by the hammer that they leveled on my team of choice on the NFL's opening night (Hint: Rhymes with "The Aints.").

Okay, so this observation invites the question: how did the Colts become champions by performing in a manner that, to outsiders, may appear to be rushed and distressed? One could say it's because they have trusted, senior individuals in their skill positions implementing the plan. Another might say that by focusing on rapid incremental results, they are able to execute more efficiently. An additional point might be that the constant communication amongst the players allows them to adapt to the circumstances that are constantly changing so that they may deliver and reach their goals.

To those of you not caught up in the imagery of football, you might recognize that these are some of the same traits that characterize successful adaptations of Agile Software Development. With the goal of delivering continuous and valued improvements to our applications and supporting software, the Softlayer Development team practices many of the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto. While "moving the chains" toward the end-zone alludes to the incremental success of an NFL team's offense, we speak more in terms of functional and valued releases towards achieving greater customer satisfaction. This is afforded to us by the skilled players on our team, constant communication, and a continued focus on producing measurable results. We are determined to keep "moving the chains" so, stay tuned to the Developer Network, Forums, and all channels Softlayer as we continue to push towards our goal.

-DJ

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