Cloud Posts

November 11, 2014

Which storage solution is best for your project?

Before building applications around our network storage, here’s a refresher on what network storage is, how it is used, the different types available, and the best uses for each.

What is network storage? Why would you use it?

Appropriately named, network storage is storage attached to a server over our network; not to be confused with directly attached storage (DAS), which is a hard drive located in the server (or connected with a device like a SCSI or USB cable). Although DAS transfers data to a server faster than network storage due to network latency and system caching, there is still a strong place for network storage.

Many different servers can access network storage, and with some network storage solutions, more than one server can get data from the same shared storage volume simultaneously. This comes in handy if one server dies, because another can pick up a storage device and start where the first left off.

With DAS, planned downtime for server upgrades, potential data loss, and provisioning larger or more servers can slow down productivity. The physical constraints of internal drives and costs associated with servers do not affect network storage.

Because SoftLayer manages the disk space of our network storage products, there’s no need to worry about rebuilding a redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAIDs) or failed disks. If a disk fails, SoftLayer automatically replaces it and rebuilds the RAID—in most cases you would be unaware that the changes occurred.

Select network storage solutions are available with tools for your important data. Schedule snapshots of your data, promote snapshots to full volumes, or reset your data to the snapshot point.

And with network storage, downtime is minimal. Disaster recovery tools available on select storage solutions let you send a command to quickly fail over to a different data center so you can access your data if our network is ever down in a data center.

Types of Network Storage And How They Are Different

Storage Area Network (SAN) or Block Storage

Block storage works like DAS, just remotely—only a single server can access a block storage volume at a time. Using an Internet small computer system interface (iSCSI) protocol over a secure transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) connection, SoftLayer's block storage has excellent features for backup and disaster recovery, and adding snapshot schedules and failover redundancy make it a powerful enterprise solution.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) or File Storage

File storage acts like a remote file system. It has a slim operating system that allows servers to treat it like a remote directory structure. Multiple servers can share files on the same storage simultaneously. Our new consistent performance storage lets you share files quickly and easily using a network file system (NFS) with your choice of performance level and secure connections.

We also have a common Internet file system (CIFS) (Windows), which requires a credential that grants access to any server on our private network. File storage can only be accessed by SoftLayer servers.

Object Storage

Object storage is a standalone storage entity with its own representational state transfer (REST) API that grants applications (not operating systems) access to the files stored there. Located on a public network, servers in any of our data centers can directly access files stored there. Object storage is different in the way those files are stored as well. In object storage there is not a directory structure, but instead metadata tags are used to categorize and search for files. In conjunction with a content delivery network (CDN), you can quickly serve files to your users or to a mobile device in close proximity.

With pay-as-you-go pricing, you don’t have to worry about running out of space. We only charge based on the greatest usage in any given day. That means you can get started right now for free!

Which storage solution is best for your project?

If you are still confused about which network storage option you should build your applications around, take this eight-question quiz to find out if object, file or block storage will work best for you:

-Kevin

October 28, 2014

SoftLayer and AWS: What's the Difference?

People often compare SoftLayer with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

It’s easy to understand why. We’ve both built scalable infrastructure platforms to provide cloud resources to the same broad range of customers—from individual entrepreneurs to the world’s largest enterprises.

But while the desire to compare is understandable, the comparison itself isn’t quite apt. The SoftLayer platform is fundamentally different from AWS.

In fact, AWS could be run on SoftLayer. SoftLayer couldn’t be run on AWS.

AWS provisions in the public cloud.

When AWS started letting customers have virtual machines deployed on the infrastructure that AWS had built for their e-commerce business, AWS accelerated the adoption of virtual server hosting within the existing world of Web hosting.

In an AWS cloud environment, customers order the computing and storage resources they need, and AWS deploys those resources on demand. The mechanics of that deployment are important to note, though.

AWS has data centers full of physical servers that are integrated with each other in a massive public cloud environment. These servers are managed and maintained by AWS, and they collectively make up the available cloud infrastructure in the facility.

AWS installs a virtualization layer (also known as hypervisor) on these physical servers to tie the individual nodes into the environment’s total capacity. When a customer orders a cloud server from AWS, this virtualization layer finds a node with the requested resources available and provisions a server image with the customer’s desired operating system, applications, etc. The entire process is quick and automated, and each customer has complete control over the resources he or she ordered.

That virtualization layer is serving a purpose, and it may seem insignificant, but it highlights a critical difference in their platform and ours:

AWS automates and provisions at the hypervisor level, while SoftLayer automates and provisions at the data center level.

SoftLayer provisions down to bare metal resources.

While many have their sights on beating AWS at its own game, SoftLayer plays a different game.

SoftLayer platform is designed to give customers complete access and control over the actual infrastructure that they need to build a solution in the cloud. Automated and remote ordering, deployment, and management of the very server, storage, and security hardware resources themselves, are hosted in our data centers so that customers don’t have to build their own facilities or purchase their own hardware to get the reliable, high performance computing they need.

Everything in SoftLayer data centers is transparent, automated, integrated, and built on an open API that customers can access directly. Every server is connected to three distinct physical networks so that public, private, and management network traffic are segmented. And our expert technical support is available for all customers, 24x7.

Notice that the automation and integration of our platform happens at the data center level. We don’t need a virtualization layer to deploy our cloud resources. As a result, we can deploy bare metal servers in the same way AWS deploys public cloud servers (though, admittedly, bare metal servers take more time to deploy than virtual servers in the public cloud). By provisioning down to a lower level in the infrastructure stack, we’re able to offer customers more choice and control in their cloud environments:

In addition to the control customers have over infrastructure resources, with our unique network architecture, their servers aren’t isolated inside the four walls of a single data center. Customers can order one server in Dallas and another in Hong Kong, and those two servers can communicate with each other directly and freely across our private network without interfering with customers’ public network traffic. So with every new data center we build, we geographically expand a unified cloud footprint. No regions. No software-defined virtual networks. No isolation.

SoftLayer vs. AWS

Parts of our cloud business certainly compete with AWS. When users compare virtual servers between us, they encounter a number of similarities. But this post isn’t about comparing and contrasting offerings in the areas in which we’re similar … it’s about explaining how we’re different:
  • SoftLayer is able to provision bare metal resources to customers. This allows customers free reign over the raw compute power of a specific server configuration. This saves the customer from the 2–3 percent performance hit from the hypervisor, and it prevents “noisy neighbors” from being provisioned alongside a customer’s virtual server. AWS does not provision bare metal resources.

  • AWS differentiates “availability zones” and “regions” for customers who want to expand their cloud infrastructure into multiple locations. SoftLayer has data centers interconnected on a global private network. Customers can select the specific SoftLayer data center location they want so they can provision servers in the exact location they desire.

  • When AWS customers move data between their AWS servers, they see “Inter-Region Data Transfer Out” and “Intra-Region Data Transfer” on their bills. If you’re moving data from one SoftLayer facility to another SoftLayer facility (anywhere in the world), that transfer is free and unmetered. And it doesn’t fight your public traffic for bandwidth.

  • SoftLayer bare metal servers ordered with monthly billing include 20TB/mo of public outbound bandwidth, and virtual servers ordered with monthly billing include 5TB/mo of public outbound bandwidth. With AWS, customers pay a per-GB charge for bandwidth on every bill.

  • SoftLayer offers a broad range of management, monitoring, and support options to customers at no additional cost. AWS charges for monitoring based on metrics, frequency, and number of alarms per resource. And having access to support requires an additional monthly cost.

Do SoftLayer and AWS both offer Infrastructure as a Service? Yes.

Does that make SoftLayer and AWS the same? No.

-@khazard

October 9, 2014

Meeting Our Customers in Shanghai at Cloud Connect China 2014

At the Cloud Connect China 2014 event in Shanghai last month, SoftLayer met with over 2,000 industry experts, business leaders, and partners from around the world. Through our interactions with event-goers at our booth and following our Regional Sales Director Allen Poon’s keynote, “Growing on The Cloud: Faster, Easier, Economical,” we increased awareness in the APAC market, learned our customers wants and needs, and deepened relationships with our partners.

On top of that, we were honored to host our first exclusive customer luncheon in Shanghai, which included experts from the sales engineer, channel partner, and marketing teams. We were delighted to hear the great job we were doing from our customers:

“There are many things that we enjoy about SoftLayer, including the convenient purchasing process that allows us to easily and quickly try out a variety of cloud computing options. We also appreciate SoftLayer’s prompt support response time, which is very important to us. When we were with different cloud providers and had an outage or issue the support was slow or nonexistent and that hurt our business. SoftLayer’s global cloud footprint of data centers lets us put our game closer to our end users, and the world class CDN helps us improve the speed and reduce latency.”
–Fisher Yu, operations manager for JOYHUBS, a global game developer based in China

“I have been happy with SoftLayer since my first day at iFree Studio. The cloud infrastructure is easy to use and has every configuration I could possibly need. Also, SoftLayer’s service support team responds in a timely manner, and communication is fast and convenient.”
–Jeffery Chen, technical support engineer at iFree Studio, a premier mobile game developer and distributor based in Hong Kong.


It’s always an honor to meet with SoftLayer customers, and I hope to see you at our next event.

For all our readers in Asia below you will find the blog in its Chinese translation!

SoftLayer九月上海客户交流!

在上月的 2014全球云计算大会中国站 , SoftLayer很荣幸能与超过两千全球行业领导, 专家,以及合作伙伴会面。通过我们这次活动的交流以及区域销售主任Allen Poon的主题演讲: “在“云”上成长:更快速、更简单、更经济“, 提高了SoftLayer品牌在亚太区市场的认识,了解到客户及对我司的期望,同时也加深了在中国的合作伙伴关系.

另外, SoftLayer也很荣幸首次在中国与客户午餐聚会。来自销售、 销售工程师、 渠道合作伙伴的专家团队与大家分享最有影响力的游戏案例。 也很高兴听到我们正在从我们的客户做的出色的工作:

“自从用了SoftLayer 以后,有几个好处: 买东西比较方便,也可以先试试(试用)。我们还感谢 SoftLayer 的迅速支持响应时间,这是对我们非常重要。比如说如果一台服务器down机的时候,别的云供应商支持缓慢, 影响我们的业务。用SoftLayer后,一般我在网上发一个ticket就能解决,回复得比较快。 由于SoftLayer的数据中心点比较多,可以选择相应的地点的数据中心, 还可以用CDN去改善玩家的速度,提高玩家的体验速度和减低滞后时间”.”
–Fisher Yu先生, 运维经理, JOYHUBS, 在中国的全球游开发商。

“我从进公司以来就用SoftLayer, 它的云基础设施易于使用,我可能需要配置都有。此外,SoftLayer 的服务支持团队反应及时,沟通快速、 及时。 基本上早上订货,晚上都能找到相对的人, 沟通比较快,很方便。”
–Jeffery Chen先生,技术支持工程师,iFree Studio, 基地设在香港的游戏开发和分销商。

非常感谢大家一直以来对SoftLayer的支持, 希望下次活动再与您见面!

此致.

Winifred Wong (王小姐)
Regional Marketing Manager – GCG

October 6, 2014

G’day, Melbourne! SoftLayer’s LIVE in Australia.

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of the newest SoftLayer data center in Melbourne, Australia! This facility is our first on the continent (with Sydney planned for later in the year), and it delivers that trademark SoftLayer service to our clients Down Under.

Our Aussie Mates

Over the years, our customer base has grown phenomenally in Australia, and it should come as no surprise that customers in the region have been clamoring for a SoftLayer data center Down Under to bring high performance cloud infrastructure even closer to them. These customers have grown to immense proportions with ahead-of-their-time value propositions and innovative ideas that have turned heads around the world.

A perfect example of that kind of success is HotelsCombined.com, an online travel platform designed to streamline the process of searching for and reserving hotel rooms around the world. Their story is nothing short of brilliant. A startup in 2005, they today serve more than 25 million visitors a month, has more than 20,000 affiliates, and a database of 800,000+ properties worldwide.

HotelsCombined.com partnered with SoftLayer to provision bare metal servers, virtual servers, load balancers, and redundant iSCSI storage around the world to best serve their global customer base. Additionally, they implemented data warehouse and predictive analytics capabilities on SoftLayer for their real-time predictive models and business intelligence tools.

Another great story is that of The Loft Group. I wrote about how they chose our cloud platform to roll out their Digital Learning Platform in a previous blog. They needed performance, analytics, monitoring, and scalability to accommodate their massive growth, and we were able to help.

Benefiting Down Under

Many of you have seen news about IBM’s plans to expand SoftLayer into Australia for a few months now. In fact, at the recent IBM Cloud Pre-Launch event (view the full event on demand here), Lance Crosby shared our vision for the region and the synergy that we are looking to create in the market.

Our expansion into Melbourne means that our customers have even more choice and flexibility when building their cloud infrastructure on our platform. With Australian data residency, many of our customers in Australia with location-sensitive workloads or regulatory/compliance data requirements immediately benefit from the new location. Additionally, with network points of presence in Sydney and Melbourne, users in Australia will see even better network performance when connecting to servers in any SoftLayer data center around the world. Users looking for additional redundancy in APAC have another location for their data, and customers who want to replicate data as though they are in the same rack can do so between Australia and one of our other locations.

Let the Bash Commence

To celebrate this exciting milestone, we have quite a few things lined up for the region. First up, a special promotion for all those who would like to check out the performance of this facility—new customers and our existing loyalists. You can get US$500 off on your first month's order (bare metal, private virtual, public virtual—anything and everything listed in our store!) for the Melbourne data center. More details on the promo, features, and services are available here.

Next up—parties! We have a couple of networking events planned. SoftLayer customers, partners, enthusiasts, and friends are invited to join us in Melbourne on October 9, and Auckland, New Zealand, on October 15 for a fun evening with SLayers and peers. If you’re in the area and want more details, email us at marketingAP@softlayer.com with the following information:

  • Subject: I Would Like to Attend SoftLayer Night: Celebrating Data Centre Go-Live
  • Body: Your Name, contact phone number, city where you would like to attend, and one line about why you would like to attend.

Space is limited, and you don’t have much time to reserve your spot, so let us know as soon as possible.

These are exciting times. I’m extremely eager to see how Australian businesses leverage these new in-country facilities and capabilities. Stay tuned for new stories as we hear from other happy customers.

Cheers.
@namrata_kapur

October 1, 2014

Virtual Server Update

Good morning, afternoon, evening, or night, SoftLayer nation.

We want to give you an update and some more information on maintenance taking place right now with SoftLayer public and private node virtual servers.

As the world is becoming aware today, over the past week a security risk associated with Xen was identified by the Xen community and published as Xen Security Advisory 108 (XSA-108).

And as many are aware, Xen plays a role in our delivery of SoftLayer virtual servers.

Eliminating the vulnerability requires updating software on host nodes, and that requires downtime for the virtual servers running on those nodes.

Yeah, that’s not something anyone likes to hear. But customer security is of the utmost importance to us, so not doing it was not an option.

As soon as the risk was identified, our systems engineers and technology partners have been working nonstop to prepare the update.

On Sunday we notified every customer account that would be affected that we would have emergency maintenance in the middle of this week, and updated that notice each day.

And then yesterday we published that the maintenance would begin today at 3pm UTC, with a preliminary order of how the maintenance would roll out across all of our data centers.

We are updating host nodes data center by data center to complete the emergency maintenance as quickly as possible. This approach will minimize disruption for customers with failover infrastructure in multiple data centers.

The maintenance is under way and SoftLayer customers can follow it, live, on our forum at http://sftlyr.com/xs101.

-@SoftLayer

September 18, 2014

The Cloud Doesn't Bite, Part III

Why it's OK to be a server-hugger—a cloud server hugger.

(This is the final post in a three-part series. Read the first and second posts here.)

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

“[The] reason that companies are hesitant to commit all of their IT to the cloud [relates to] keeping control. It's not about jobs, it's about being sure that critical services are available when you need them. Whenever you see ‘in the CLOUD!’, mentally replace it with ‘using someone else's server’—all of a sudden it looks a whole lot less appealing. Yes, you gain some flexibility, but you lose a LOT of control. I like my data to not be in the hands of someone else. If I don't control the actual machine that has my data on it, then I don't control the data.”

You guys are control FREAKS! And rightfully so. But some of us actually don't take that away from you. Believe it or not, we make it easier for you.

In fact, sometimes you even get to manage your own infrastructure—and that means you can do anything an employee can do. You'll probably even get so good at it that you'll wonder why we don't pay you.

But it doesn't stop at mere management. Oh, no, no, no, friends. You can even take it one further and build, manage, and have total control over your very own private cloud of virtual servers. Yes, yours, and yours only. Now announcing you, the shot caller.

The point is, you don't lose control over your data in the cloud. None. 'Cause cloud companies don't play like that.

“The first rule of computer security is physical access, which is impossible with cloud services, which means they are inherently insecure.”

Curious. So since you can't physically touch your money in your bank account, does that mean it's a free-for-all on your savings? Let us know; we'll bring buckets.

“These cloud guys always forget to mention one glaring problem with their model— they're not adding any new software to the picture.”

Ready for us to blow your minds? We're actually adding software all the time; you just don't see it—but you do feel it.

Your friendly Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers out there are doing a lot of development behind the scenes. An internal software update might let us deploy servers 10 minutes faster, for example. You won't see that, but that doesn't mean it's not happening. If you're happy with your servers, then rest assured you're seeing some sweet software in action. Some cloud companies aren't exclusively focused on software (think Salesforce), but that doesn't mean the software is dial-up grade.

“I personally don't trust the cloud. Think about it for a moment. You are putting your data on a server, and you have no clue as to where it is. You have no clue about who else is able to see that data, and you have no clue about who is watching as you access your data and probably no clue if that server is up to date on security patches.”

Just ask. Simply ask all these questions, and you'd have all these answers. Not to be cheeky, but all of this is information you can and do have a right to know before you commit to anything. We're not sure what makes you think you don't, but you do. Your own due diligence on behalf of your data makes that a necessity, not a luxury.

“As long as I'm accountable, I want the hardware and software under my control. That way when something goes wrong and my boss calls and asks 'WTF?', I can give him something more than ’Well I called Amazon and left a message with our account representative.’"

We can't speak for Amazon, but cloud companies often offer multiple ways you can get a hold of a real, live person because we get that you want to talk to us, like, yesterday. Yes, we totally get you. And we want to fix whatever ails you. In the cloud, that is.

But what makes you think we won't know when something goes wrong before you do? (Checkmate.)

“No matter how much marketing jargon you spew at people, ‘the cloud’ is still just a bunch of servers. Stop lying.”

Why yes, yes, it is. Who's lying to you about that? You're right. "They" should stop lying.

The concept of "the cloud" is simply about where the servers are located and how you consume computing, storage, and networking resources. In "the cloud," your servers are accessed remotely via a network connection (often the Internet, for most of the clouds you know and love) as opposed to being locally accessed while housed in a server room or physical location on the company premises. Your premises, as in wherever you are while performing your computing functions. But no one's trying to pull the wool over your eyes with that one.

Think about it this way: If servers at your location are "on the ground," then servers away from your location can be considered "in the cloud." And that's all there is to it.

Did we help? Did we clear the cloudy haze? We certainly hope so.

But this is just the beginning, and our door is always open for you to question, criticize, and wax philosophical with us when it comes to all things cloud. So get at us. You can chat with us live via our homepage, message us or post up on Facebook, or sling a tweet at a SLayer. We've got real, live people manning their stations. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

-Fayza

September 11, 2014

The Cloud Doesn't Bite, Part II

Why it's OK to be a server hugger—a cloud server hugger.

(This is the second post in a three-part series. Read the first post here.)

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

"[With the cloud], someone you don't know manages [your cloud servers], and they can get really unaccountable at times."

Hmm. Sounds like somebody's had a bad experience. (We're sorry to hear that.) But in truth, cloud computing companies are nothing without reputation, integrity, and, well, security upon security upon security measures. Accountability is the name of the game when it comes to you trusting us with your critical information. Research, research, research the company you choose before you hand anything over. If the measures that a potential cloud provider take don't cut the mustard with you, jump ship immediately—your business is way too important! But you're bound to find one that has all the necessary safeguards in place to provide you with plenty of peace of mind.

Oh, and by the way, have we mentioned that some cloud infrastructure providers put the deployment, management, and control in the hands of their customers? Yup. They just hand the reins right over and give you complete access to easy-to-use management tools, so you can automate your cloud solution to fit your unique needs. So there's that.

"The nickel-and-dime billing that adds up awfully damned quickly. Overall, if you're not careful you can rack upwards of $4k/mo just to host a handful of servers with hot backups and a fair amount of data and traffic on them."

You're right. That's why it's important to plan your cloud architecture before you go jumping in. Moving to the cloud isn't something you do with your eyes closed and with a lack of information. Know your company's business needs and find the best solution that fits those needs—every single one of those needs. Be realistic. Assess intelligently. Know your potential provider's add-on costs (if any) ahead of time so that you can anticipate them. Sure, add-ons can pile up if you're caught off-guard. But we know you're too smart for that to be a problem.

Play around with your possibilities before you sign on that dotted line. If you can't, search for a provider who'll let you play before you pay.

"Many cloud services break many privacy laws. The service provider can see/use the data too. Some of us are even bound by law to maintain the integrity of certain classes of information (personal, medical, financial). Yielding physical control to another organization, no matter what their reputation, removes your ability to perform due diligence. How do I know that what I legally have to keep private really is private?"

Sigh. Okay, we hear this fear; we really do, but it's just not true. Not for any reputable cloud solutions provider that wants to stay in business, anyway. We, grown-ups of cloud computing, take the security of your data very, very seriously. There are hackers. There are malicious attacks. There are legal compliance issues. And for those, we have Intrusion Protection Software, firewalls, SSL certificates, and compliance standards, just to name a few. We can handle what you throw at us, and we respect and honor the boundaries of your data.

So let's talk nitty gritty details. You're probably most familiar with the public cloud, or virtual servers. Yes, infrastructure platforms are shared, but that doesn't mean they're pooled—and it certainly doesn't mean universal accessibility. Your virtual server is effectively siloed from the virtual servers of every other client on that public server, and your data is accessible by you and only you. If you think about it like an apartment complex, it makes a lot of sense. The building itself is multi-tenant, but only you have the key to the contents of your individual unit.

On the other hand, bare metal servers are mansions. You're the only one taking up residence on that dedicated server. That big bad house is yours, and the shiny key belongs to you, and you only. (Check you out, Mr. Big Stuff.) You have complete and utter control of this server, and you can log, monitor, and sic the dogs on any and all activity occurring on it. Bare metal servers do share racks and other network gear with other bare metal servers, but you actually need that equipment to ensure complete isolation for your traffic and access. If we use the real estate analogy again and bare metal servers are mansions, then anything shared between bare metal servers are access roads in gated communities and exist only to make sure the mailman, newspaper delivery boy, and milkman can deliver the essential items you need to function. But no one's coming through that front door without your say so.

We cloud folk love our clients, and we love housing and protecting their data—not sneaking peeks at it and farming it out. Your security means as much to us as it means to you. And those who don't need access don't have it. Plain and simple.

"I don't want [my data] examined, copied, or accidentally Googled."

You don't say? Neither do we.

"What happens to my systems when all of your CxOs decide that they need more yachts so they jack up the pricing?"

They stay put, silly. No one takes systems on the boat while yachting. Besides, we don't do yachts here at SoftLayer—we prefer helicopters.

Stay tuned for the last post in this series, where we discuss your inner control freak, invisible software, and real, live people.

-Fayza

September 9, 2014

Building a Secure Cloud-based Solution: Part I

When you begin a household project, you must first understand what you will need to complete the task. Before you begin, you check your basement or garage to make sure you have the tools to do the work. Building a secure cloud-based solution requires similar planning. You’re in luck—SoftLayer has all the tools needed, including a rapidly maturing set of security products and services to help you build, deploy, and manage your cloud solution. Over the next couple of months, we will take a look at how businesses leverage cloud technologies to deliver new value to their employees and customers, and we’ll discuss how SoftLayer provides the tools necessary to deliver your solutions securely.

Hurricane plan of action: Water: Check. Food: Check. Cloud: Check?

Let’s set the scene here: A hurricane is set to make landfall on the United States’ Gulf Coast, and the IT team at an insurance company must elastically scale its new claim application to accommodate the customers and field agents who will need it in the storm’s aftermath. The team needs to fulfill short-term computing needs and long-term hosting of additional images from the claims application, thereby creating a hybrid cloud environment. The insurance company’s IT staff meet to discuss their security requirements, and together, they identify several high-level needs:

  1. Provide secure connectivity, authentication, access control, and audit capabilities for IT administrators and users.

    SoftLayer provides VPNs, multifactor authentication, audit control logs, API keys, and fine-grained access control. This allows insurance agents to securely access claim forms and supporting documentation and connect to the application via https, using the wide range of SSL certificates (Symantec, Geotrust, and more). Plus, agents can authenticate using identity and access management solutions such as IWS Go Cloud ID and IBM Security Access Manager.
  2. Ensure that stringent data security measures are enforced.

    Data cannot be shifted across borders, and data at rest or in use must be encrypted. SoftLayer leaves data where customers place it, and will never transfer customers’ data. IBM Cloud Marketplace partners like Vormetric offer encryption solutions to ensure sensitive data-at-rest is not stored in clear text, and that customers maintain complete control of the encryption keys. Additionally, the IT team in our example would have the ability to encrypt all sensitive PHI data in database using data-in-use solutions from Eperi.
  3. Ensure multi-layered security for network zone segmentation.

    Users and administrators in the confidential area of insurance need confidence that their network is securely partitioned. SoftLayer native and vendor solutions such as SoftLayer VLANs, Vyatta Gateway, Fortigate firewall, and Citrix Netscaler allow administrators to securely partition a network, creating segmentation according to organizational needs, and providing the routing and filtering needed to isolate users, workloads, and domains.
  4. Enforce host security using anti-virus software, host intrusion prevention systems, and other solutions.

    The IT team can apply best-of-breed third-party solutions, such as Nessus Vulnerability Scanner, McAfee Antivirus, and McAfee Host Intrusion Protection. These capabilities give administrators the means to ensure that infrastructure is protected from malware and other host attacks, enhancing both system availability and performance.
  5. Define and enforce security policies for the hybrid cloud environment, and audit any policy changes.

    Administrators can manage overall policies for the combined public-private environment using IBM solutions like QRadar, Hosted Security Event and Log Management Service, and xForce Threat Analysis Service. Admins can use solutions from vendors like CloudPassage, Sumo Logic, and ObserveIT to automatically define policies around firewall rules, file integrity, security configuration, and access control, and to audit adherence to such policies.

The insurance company’s IT department already knew from SoftLayer’s reputation that it is one of the highest performing cloud infrastructures available, with a wide range of integrated and automated cloud computing options, all through a private network and advanced management system, but now it knows from experience that SoftLayer offers the security solutions needed to get the job done.

When business needs spike and companies need additional capacity, SoftLayer delivers quickly and securely. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will talk secure development and test activities.

- Rick Hamilton, IBM Cloud Offering Evangelist

September 3, 2014

The Cloud Doesn’t Bite, Part I

Why it's OK to be a server hugger—a cloud server hugger.

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

"I'm worried about cloud services going down or disappearing, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it."

Let's just get one thing straight here: we're human, and the devices and infrastructures and networks we create are fallible. They're intelligent and groundbreaking and mind-boggling, but they are—like us—susceptible to bad things and prone to error at any given time.

But it's not the end of the world if or when it happens. Your cloud service provider has solutions. And so do you.

First, be smart about who you choose to work with. The larger, more reputable a company you select, the less likely you are to experience outages or outright disappearances. It's the nature of the beast—the big guys aren't going out of business any time soon. And if the worst should happen, they're not going down without a fight for your precious data.

Most outages end up being mere temporary blips that generally don’t last long. It'd take a major disaster (think hurricane or zombie apocalypse) to take any cloud-based platform out for more than a few hours. Which, of course, sounds like a long time, but we're talking worst case scenario here. And in the event of a zombie apocalypse, you probably have bigger fish to fry anyway.

But the buck doesn't stop there. Moving data to the cloud doesn't mean you get to kick up your heels, and set cruise control. (You don't really want that anyway, and you know it.) Be proactive. Know your service-level agreements, and make sure your system structures are built in a way that you're not losing out when it comes to outages and downtime. Know your provider's plan for redundancy. Know what monitoring systems are in place. Identify which applications and data are critical and should be treated differently in the event of a worst case scenario. Have a plan in the event of doomsday. You wouldn't go head first into sharknado season without a strategy for what to do if disaster hits, right? Why would the (unlikely) downfall of your data be any different?

Remember when we backed things up to external hard drives; before we'd ever heard of that network in the sky (a quaint concept, we know)? Well, we think it would behoove you to have a backup of what's essential to you and your business.

In fact, being realistic about technology these days is paramount. We can't prevent failure because we know better. According to Microsoft's chief reliability strategist, David Bills, "It's about designing resilient services in which inevitable failures have a minimal effect on service availability and functionality."

In any event, don't panic. You think you're freaking out about the cloud going down? Chances are, your provider is one step ahead of you already.

"Most of the time you don't find out about the cloud host's deficiencies until far too late." "One cloud company I had a personal Linux server with got hit with a DOS attack, and their response was to ignore their customer service email and phone for almost a week while trying to clean it up.”

Uh. Call us crazy, but we're guessing that company's no longer around—just a hunch.

We cloud infrastructure providers don't exactly pride ourselves on hoarding your data and then being completely inaccessible to you. Do your research on potential providers. Find out how easy it is (or difficult as the case may be) to get a hold of your customer service team. Make sure your potential provider's customer support meets your business needs. Make sure there's extra expertise available to you if you need personal attention or a little TLC. Make sure those response times are to your liking. Make sure those methods of contact are diverse enough and align with the way you do work.

We know you don't want to need us, but when you do need us, we are here for you.

"Of course, you have to either provide backup yourself, or routinely hard-verify the cloud provider's backup scheme. And you'd better have a backup-backup offsite recovery contract for when the cloud provider announces it can't really recover (e.g. Hurricane Sandy). And a super-backup-backup plan in case the cloud provider disappears with no forwarding address or has all its servers confiscated by DHS."

Hey, you don't have to have any of these things if your data's not that important to you. But if you'd have backups of your local servers, why wouldn't you have backups of anything you put in the cloud?

We thought so.

Nota bene: Sounds like you might want to take up some of this beef with Hurricane Sandy.

Stay tuned for part two where we tackle accountability, security, and buying ourselves new yachts.

- Fayza

August 28, 2014

Dude, how do I get into the cloud?

I know you may think that’s just a catchy title to get you to read my blog, but it’s not. I’ve actually had someone ask me that at a party. In fact, that’s the first thing anyone asks me when they find out I work for SoftLayer. The funny thing is, everyone is already in the cloud—they just don’t realize it! To make my point, I pick up their smart phone and tell them they already are in the cloud, and walk away. That, of course, sparks more conversation and the opportunity to educate my friends and family on the magic and mystery that is the cloud. But truthfully, it really is a very simple concept:

  • On demand
  • Compute
  • Consumption-based billing

That’s it. At its core. But if you want more detail, check out this document: NIST.

And, just to shed light on the backend of what the cloud is, well, it’s nothing but servers. I know, you were expecting something more exciting—maybe unicorns and fairy dust. But it’s not. We house the servers. We care for them daily. We store them and protect them. All from our data center.

What makes SoftLayer stand out from others in the cloud space is that we offer more than one-size-fits-all servers. We offer both public and private virtual servers like other cloud providers, but we also offer highly customizable and high performance bare metal, servers. And as with any good infrastructure, we offer all the ancillary services such as load balancing, firewalls, attached storage, DNS, etc…

There’s no magic involved here. We’ve simply taken your infrastructure and removed your capex and headache. You’re welcome.

So when you hear “The Cloud,” don’t be mystified, and don’t feel inadequate. Now you too can be the cloud genius at your next party. When they talk cloud, just say things like, “Oh yeah, it’s totally on demand computing that bills based on consumption.” Chicks dig that, trust me.

-Cheeku

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