tips-and-tricks

June 29, 2007

Business Ethics Simplified

In this day and age of Sarbanes-Oxley internal controls, SAS 70 certifications, and myriad other regulatory, compliance, and audit issues that I won't get into , business ethics might seem to be a lengthy and complex topic.

In reality, it isn't. Back in the dark ages when I strolled the halls of SMU, a crusty Econ 101 professor named Jack Stieber proclaimed that there is only one ethical mandate in business: "Within the bounds of the law, maximize profit." There are no more ethical rules necessary to follow in business.

I have heard others phrase a similar thought as "maximizing shareholder value". I disagree with that approach because there are things that management can do to influence the stock price that aren't necessarily tied to maximizing profit. Basically, if you can maximize profit, the stock price will take care of itself.

In response to Prof Strieber's proclamation, there were a few students who responded, "But sir, what about ?" and Prof. Stieber shot them all down. Here is one of the more interesting objections:

"But sir, what about a business owner who hikes the price of bottled water to a ridiculous level in a disaster-stricken area that has lost its water supply? Are you saying he's being ethical by maximizing his profit from price gouging?" Prof. Stieber responded something like this:

Assuming that his pricing policy is legal, he's still being unethical because he's actually not maximizing his profit. Sure, he may reap a short-term gain but when the water supply is back on, those forced to buy his extortion-priced water will take their business elsewhere. So in the long term, he hasn't maximized his profit and thus has behaved unethically. An ethical decision during that time might have been to keep selling water at the pre-disaster price or maybe even donating some to build goodwill among his customer base. This could have cemented a long term relationship with the customers who would provide repeat business again and again and thus maximize his profit over time.

That being said, when a business maximizes it's profit within the bounds of the law, it's a "win-win" for the customers, stakeholders, and shareholders. In my next post, I'll explain how SoftLayer earning profit is a win-win for both the customers and the company.

-Gary

Categories: 
June 27, 2007

Spammers Beware: We're on Guard

Something happened today that we feel everyone should be aware of: We currently have no SBL listings for our IP space and we were recognized by the Spamhaus Team as a proactive no-spam-tolerance network.

Our hard work here at keeping spammers off of the network, and our reaction when they do make it on has been recognized. If you visit the Spamhaus ISP page, type in softlayer.com. You will find something that is very rare and something we are very proud of. To be recognized in this manner means a great deal to us.

Abuse is something that happens, there is no way around it. What does matter is how we are perceived to handle the situation, and working day in and day out with other abuse desks and networks does indeed pay off.

-Jacob

Categories: 
June 26, 2007

TTL and propagation

Every DNS record is equipped with a TTL. The TTL (Time To Live) is basically the expiration date on that record. Long story short, it's a countdown from when it was initially received until when it is marked as invalid and discarded for a replacement record. This is a very important piece of information that I've run into often as being either outright ignored or misunderstood.

Let's say you have a domain-something awesome like awesomedomain.wow--and awesomedomain.wow has a TTL of 24 hours. When I go to visit awesomedomain.wow as a new visitor (and you know I would, because it sounds awesome) I'm going to receive a record translating awesomedomain.wow to an IP address that will be valid for 24 hours. Any other time I visit that domain in the next 24 hours, I'm going to use that cached address because the record hasn't expired yet. In 24 hours regardless of if awesomedomain.wow has moved IPs, I'm going to trash that old DNS record I've cached locally and go look it up again. The new record will then be referred to by me for the next 24 hours, at which time I'll do it all over again.

But what happens when you have to change your IP, but you want your visitors to see the smallest amount of downtime possible? My first suggestion is to mirror your sites on both IPs, but that is a different discussion entirely. The second is to manipulate your TTL. First lower it to something smaller-from a day to an hour perhaps. Then give that new record with that new TTL at least 24 hours to propagate. Now you can be certain that at the 25th hour, all of your visitors now have a record that will expire in one hour. Next, change your IP for awesomedomain.wow, the record that your visitors have cached locally will expire in an hour, and then they will have your new record with your new IP. Feel free to bump your TTL back up to what it was originally in this step, since they have the new IP. Now your visitors have only had an old record for an hour rather than 24, and they probably missed that hour it was inaccessible while they were posing for a painting or having their top hats heightened. Because all of your visitors are terribly classy.

-Joshua

June 22, 2007

Money, Money, Money

The term "Digital Super-Highway" seems to be quite prophetic as the monetization of the internet seems to be exploding from all angles. Monetization of the internet is something that we are always focusing on here since a good portion of our customer base turns our underlying infrastructure into a revenue-generating engine for them, be it through Value Added Services, enablement of SaaS business models, e-commerce activities or whatever focus our customers have (which are too many to list).

I always knew the monies on the web were staggering, but I was caught off guard the other day when I came across an article in Business 2.0, "The Man Who Owns the Internet". The article is about Kevin Ham, who has built a $300 Million Dollar portfolio of domain names. $100,000 for Greeting.com, and $31,000 for Christianrock.com and so on. He's a domain name mogul.

In a technology world, this seems to be the "day-trading" of the internet. The other portion of this article that struck me is the monetization of the typographical errors in domains, referred to as "Typo Squatting". We have all accidentally fat-fingered a key here or there and after closing the 85 pop-ups, the monies are moving like a slot machine with triple 7’s across the board. In an article referring to the monetization of Typo Squatting, companies have built multi-million dollar producing firms on capitalizing on a misspelling here, a lack of dash there, etc. Just for reference, it seems that www.softlater.com is already taken, which means my dream of typo squatting my way to retirement has taken a drastic turn.

With the tools we have put in place through the API and the private network we have really streamlined the enablement of the monetization of the internet, which when we talk to our customers it’s at the forefront of both of our minds. The successes of our customers ensure our success, so putting these tools in place are essential. Not to give away the secrets of others, but I have peeked into the private back-end network and seen things like credit card processing gateways, server to server data transfers, licensing gateways and numerous other activities that are surely streamlining the money making processes for our customers.

So I am not sure that when the term "Digital Super Highway" was coined that we ever thought there would be toll-booths along the way, but its clear that these are here to stay.

As a side note, if anyone is interested in sharing their monetization stories, feel free to drop me a line at bizdev@softlayer.com

-Sean

Categories: 
June 21, 2007

What the Heck is a Server?

I had no idea what I was getting myself into the first time I met Lance Crosby. It was a late winter afternoon, quite some time ago. I walked into a job interview, happy-go-lucky, for a sales position at a web hosting company. I thought, “I would love a sales job!" (or any real job for that matter). We sat and had a normal interview, and everything seemed to be going very well. I was unusually relaxed which was far cry from my normal interviewing skills. Relaxed, that is until it was time for the datacenter tour.

We walked through the dark NOC, past the twenty five to thirty television screens showing everything from The Weather Channel, to CNN, also displaying what appeared to be a bunch of meaningless graphs and digits. As we ventured into the badge-access-only datacenter, my head started to spin. I was shown diesel generators, rows of UPS’, HVAC units, switches, routers, and more servers than I had ever seen in my life (I had seen zero). I remember "playing it cool" and acting like it made some sense to me. I am sure this was very entertaining for Lance.

I was offered the job and that is when the terror set in. I began to realize this was much more than a sales job. I was going to be selling servers, at the same time wondering "what the heck IS a server?" Over the course of the following months I was able to learn about the internal components of a server and all they entail – RAM (makes/models), different HDDs (makes/models/sizes/speeds), port speeds, bandwidth usage, operating systems, control panels, backup solutions, etc. Over the phone, chat, and via email I met with and became familiar with our extremely broad customer base, the different businesses they ran, and their likes and dislikes. I dealt with the good, the bad, and the ugly situations. I even learned to take care of issues myself without badgering Steven to death. I finally knew what I was talking about! Now I absolutely love what I do and cannot imagine being in any other field. This is not to mention the wonderful opportunity of working at a young, successful, and innovative company. Not many server sales representatives have the honor of this experience.

I think this story probably sounds familiar to the majority of the sales team. The web hosting industry is an amazing one. When presented with all of the details and information that are vital in selling servers and keeping customers happy, it can be down right scary. However, once you open yourself up to the information that is being handed to you, it all falls into place. It is especially challenging to take in everything you need to know as a SoftLayer sales representative. We are required to be as technical as we possibly can so that there is as little correspondence with our Support technicians as possible during the initial sales process. It is an ever-changing industry, and we do need to be on our toes. Lance likes to kid and say that I did not even know what a computer was when I first started out. While that might not be entirely true, it is not very far fetched. I would like to think that we have all come a long way.

-Amanda

June 20, 2007

An Interview With an Elevator

SL: Good morning, thank you for taking the time to meet with me.
Elevator: Ding.

SL: Excellent. How would you describe the costs maintaining efficiencies in a hosting environment?
Elevator: Going up.

SL: Well, I think that’s obvious, depending on where you start. Perhaps a better way to phrase this would be, “How would you recommend leveraging existing technologies to implement an efficient execution of a hosting environment?”
Elevator: Ground floor

SL: Well said. I agree that it becomes difficult to put solutions into place after-the-fact, and that in order to run smoothly one must start with a solid plan and avoid retrofitting later. That ends up being far too costly and stifles resources a company should be using to grow their product. How would you describe the attitude of most large hosts with regards to “going green”?
Elevator: Please step away from the door.

SL: I too think that many datacenters out there are concerned with “stepping through” as it were to move operations in that direction. But, since the datacenters can hugely benefit from cost-savings due to reduced expenditures for cooling and power, it is very much worth the shift. What factors outside of the DC could play into making this shift easier?
Elevator: Lobby

SL: Well, I’m not sure that lobbying is the answer, though it may help. Really I was asking about computer manufacturers making the shift to properly-matched and high efficiency power supplies and processors. New technologies are making it easier for younger companies to go green, and older hosts are left trying to figure out how they can turn thousands of antiquated servers into efficient appliances. This goes back to your earlier comment regarding starting out with a solid plan making it easier to
Elevator: Ding

SL: Don’t interrupt me. Easier to maintain a plan than adjust and retrofit to a new one.
Elevator: Second Floor

SL: I’m not sure why you said that, it doesn’t make any sense. Having a host that doesn’t play catch-up constantly benefits the customer in several
Elevator: Ding

SL: Stop it.
Elevator: Third Floor

SL: You’re an idiot. I’m going to go interview the printer.

Categories: 
June 18, 2007

Has the Sales Process Changed?

When I first ventured out into the real world beyond the shelter of reality I refer to as college, my professional career started far away from the hosting industry. My first position was with a financial services firm with two clear goals:

  1. Pass the Series 7 exam in 5 weeks
  2. Learn how to “work the phones”

I soon found out that "working the phones" basically meant cold calling prospects, sometimes as many as 500 dials a day. We referred to this process as "dialing for dollars". In the financial services world your phone was your lifeline, all the top guys would tell you that if you mastered the art of a phone call, you where golden. After hearing the word "NO" millions of times and developing a really thick skin, I eventually got comfortable on the phone soliciting new customers. The appointments soon followed and I began to build my book of clients. I spent my career as a financial adviser communicating through tools such as telephone, meetings, and seminars which served as the foundation for building my business.

After living through both sides of the dot-com bubble in the stock market and seeing a lot of devastated stock portfolios, I was surprised to learn about a few thriving hosting companies. Much of what I was hearing about these companies was in stark contrast to the feeling on Wall Street, but after a lot of arm twisting from Lance I took a leap of faith and went to work as an enterprise sales representative.

It didn’t take long for me to realize my trustworthy tools for building clients from my previous career were archaic in this new environment. I was introduced to a world where the methods of communication were foreign to me. Email, IM, text messages, sales chat, forums, blogs, ticketing systems were all new to me and never used in my previous career because of compliance and regulatory issues. I realized I needed to embrace these new methods because it was the method my customers and prospects preferred to use. As I became more comfortable using these new channels, my career progressed into management where my responsibilities were expanded to help others.

I find it impossible to explain to my old financial adviser buddies how SoftLayer is building its client base. When I tell them our sales process involves posting in forums and spending hours on sales chat, they look at me like I am from a different world. I’ve learned to explain it like this:

The sales process really hasn’t changed; it is the same stuff that has been taught for a hundred years. What has changed is the method in which we communicate. Instead of forcing people to communicate in uncomfortable old school methods, we focus on communicating with customers and prospects on their terms in a way they prefer to do business.

-Steven

June 14, 2007

KVM over IP or Sliced Bread?

I’m spoiled. Really, really spoiled. I have a test lab full of servers to play with about thirty paces away from my office. Most of them have KVM over IP on a daughtercard. When I need to jam an OS on a server or manage to lock myself out by screwing up a network config, do you think I stand up and take a short walk? Nope. I fire up the KVM/IP and take care of business from my comfy office chair.

Let’s see how old the audience is. Raise your hand if you ever had to yell into a phone telling a datacenter tech what to type.

“'S' as in Sam, 'H' as in Harry, 'O' as in Oscar, 'W' as in Wally, SPACE, 'D' as in David, 'E' as in Edward, 'V' as in Victor, 'I' as in Isabel, 'C' as in Charlie, 'E' as in Edward, ENTER” (extra credit to whoever can name the OS without using a search engine or reading ahead).

For some of you this is a recent event, but there will come a day when our IT generation can regale the youngsters with stories of “When I first started in IT, we didn’t have this fancy KVM stuff you kids have today…”.

KVM over IP isn’t exactly brand new. It has been around for a few years starting with external devices hanging off the back of the server. But it is becoming much more common to find daughtercards from your favorite motherboard manufacturer with this capability. The motherboard suppliers have already added other server control technologies like IPMI and iAMT to the motherboard. I wonder how long until KVM over IP makes the jump from the optional daughtercard to coming standard on the motherboard? I’ll bet we’ll see it before you can spell VMS.

-@nday91

June 12, 2007

Being Green

For so many years growing up, I heard the "Sam I Am" / "Green Eggs and Ham" comments when being introduced to other kids. At this point, you would think I would hate the color green. On the contrary - being green is good.

One of the biggest costs in a datacenter is power, and if you're involved in datacenter operations you get to experience first hand the challenges of juggling power, cooling and floor space availability. If you use less power, your electrical costs go down and your cooling costs go down and there is a ripple affect across the entire facility. In an effort to reach that goal, we do everything we can to hone down the power requirements of our servers. We start by using 240v circuits to the rack. Doing so eliminates the need to step down to 110v which is much more efficient and it helps eliminate harmonic feedback in the circuit. Add to that “less heat” which means less wear and tear on the servers and that is a good first step.

Once you get power to the server, it helps to spec your servers properly. A properly sized power supply can save more than 25 Watts per server. When you multiply that by just 1,000 servers, that's a cool 25kW of power savings. When you multiply that by the number of servers in our facilities? Well, it's certainly worth the exercise of making sure we are ordering the proper equipment.

Aside from server equipment and datacenter power, SoftLayer has recently joined the Green Grid (more info). We are looking to use that association to join the likes of AMD, Intel, Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and many more to help reduce overall power consumption by datacenters. There are many lessons yet to be learned by IT companies to help reach that goal.

Being green is not confined to datacenter facilities. On SoftLayer Truck Day, we receive hundreds of cardboard boxes. Rather than just throwing those all away, we work with a local vendor to make sure the cardboard and packaging materials inside get recycled. Each server comes with various parts that are not needed (it's cheaper for the vendor to just ship the servers with all misc parts than it is to strip specific parts from specific orders). It would be easiest to just deposit all of those unneeded parts into a dumpster, but being green means doing more than just whatever is easiest. We sort spare power cords and recycle those for the copper. We sort screws and sell them to a local vendor (and use the money to buy Monster). Any spare part that we have not found a specific destination for, gets donated to a group that sells the parts and makes donations to charities.

Being green not only makes good financial sense, but it also makes good ecological sense. And – it keeps us stocked with Monster.

-SamF

June 8, 2007

Your Datacenter is Obsolete

By 2010, the datacenter as we know it today will be dead. Datacenters of the future will be ultra high-density geographically-dispersed IT utility centers. Datacenters will be focused on maximizing all the facets of the IT environment including floor space, HVAC, power, server form factor, security, storage, networking, bandwidth, personnel and preventive maintenance. Physically, I envision 5,000 square foot facilities installed across the globe that are relatively small, lights-out bunkers utilizing commodity infrastructures, owned or leased footprints, and housing servers at a rate of 10 per square foot.

The datacenters will be designed, built, and fully functional on day one -- including the installation of all IT equipment. There will be no movement of physical components as everything will be managed virtually through a series of networks and management tools -- a datacenter grid, if you will. These datacenters will only require personnel for failure-replacement or maintenance. Hardware node failures would automatically route to other nodes in the same datacenter. The failure of a datacenter would result in a re-route of data to other facilities. A series of failsafe datacenters, with all data, will be sitting on the edge near the end user for maximum performance and efficiency. Companies would select geographical regions for their installations of IT services.

The datacenter of the future is indifferent to the technology of the day. Dedicated hosting, virtualization, grid computing or the next emerging technology all work in the datacenter of the future because they will be designed as an IT utility. It's time for the datacenter to grow up.

-@lavosby

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