Serverchallenge Posts

October 2, 2014

SoftLayer Rocks the 2014 cPanel Conference

For the past two days, SoftLayer set up shop at the 2014 cPanel® Conference held in Houston, TX. We mingled. We administered the Server Challenge II (more on that later) . . . And, we talked to Aaron Phillips, chief business officer at cPanel.

Holy cup of coffee; this guy has so much energy! Clad in shorts, a t-shirt, and Adidas Gazelle’s, this CBO was not what I expected, but neither is cPanel for that matter. Reading Phillips’ bio offers a glimpse into the cPanel culture; he pokes fun at the fact he never thought he would be working for a “company started by a 14-year-old genius.”(Maybe that’s why he can get away with the shorts.)

Regardless, you can’t dismiss cPanel’s expertise when it comes to specializing in control panel software. The cPanel software package automates server tasks by providing an accessible interface to help website owners manage their sites.

So Aaron, can you give us a brief overview of what the cPanel conference is all about?

The cPanel Conference is in its ninth year, and we really put this together to network, talk about web hosting, and give our partners a sneak peek at what we’re up to. I attended the event even before I came onboard at cPanel, and each year just gets bigger and better. It’s the conference I look forward to each year.

Oh yeah? Any big announcements this week?

Yep. We have a new update to our system. Our user interface is available in 29 languages. It’s really going to help our global customers and help our partners that have global customers like SoftLayer.

How so?

The quality of translations have improved dramatically. The older system we called LANG often created partial sentences which caused a lot of problems with translations. Our ‘newer model,’ Maketext, is more flexible and feature rich. We’ve also edited our content on the interface making it easier to translate. This also eases translation in languages read from right-to-left.

When do you anticipate a go-live date?

We’re in the beta stage but will be complete soon. Like, any day now.

Speaking of SoftLayer, what does cPanel think of us?

You guys were one of our first customers, and you’re one of our biggest customers. We go way back . . . like EV1 days. We love you guys over at SoftLayer. Enjoy the conference! Gotta run.

[Maybe that’s why he wears the Gazelle’s].

Speaking the Language – 29 Languages

Arabic French Japanese Spanish
Chinese German Korean Swedish
Czech Greek Latin American Spanish Thai
Danish Hebrew Malay Traditional Chinese
Dutch Hungarian Norwegian Turkish
English Iberian Spanish Polish Ukrainian
Filipino Indonesian Portuguese Vietnamese
Finnish Italian Romanian

The Server Challenge II Continues to Kick aaS and Take Names
We don’t like to brag, but we have the best booth setup of all time. Why? Because of the Server Challenge II. We would like to congratulate Mike Levine, Product Manager at OpenSRS (with the high score of 1:00.05) who beat out the hundreds of contenders who participated at the 2014 cPanel Conference.

-JRL

May 14, 2013

Interop 2013 - SoftLayer + Supermicro Server Challenge II

The SoftLayer team visited Las Vegas for Interop 2013, and attendees from around the world stopped by our booth to take on the infamous Server Challenge II. The challenge was completed more than two hundred and fifty times with an average time of 1:31.34.

The Server Challenge II "Hall of Fame" was particularly competitive at Interop 2013. Only 8 seconds separated our first place finisher from tenth place:

Interop Server Challenge

Jim Chrapowicz recorded the competition-winning time of 58.40 seconds (after a 5-second penalty for not closing one of the latches), edging out the second place time by a razor-thin margin of less than two tenths of a second. For his Server Challenge II heroics, Jim is being rewarded with the MacBook Air grand prize, and everyone who made the top ten list will be receiving $25 iTunes gift cards. Here's video of the winning completion:

Take a look at some of the other action from the show floor:

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

About the Server Challenge II

The Server Challenge II is a race to reassemble a scaled-down version of a SoftLayer server rack. Participants are tasked with repopulating the drive bays of two 2U Supermicro servers and plugging 18 network cables into network switches. The competition provides conference attendees with a fun opportunity to get hands-on with the servers and network gear that fuel SoftLayer's global cloud infrastructure platform. For more information about the Server Challenge II, check out "Server Challenge II: How SoftLayer Saves the World."

About SoftLayer

SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. Spanning 13 data centers in the United States, Asia and Europe and a global footprint of network points of presence, SoftLayer's modular architecture provides unparalleled performance and control, with a full-featured API and sophisticated automation controlling a flexible unified platform that seamlessly spans physical and virtual devices, and a global network for secure, low-latency communications. With 100,000 devices under management, SoftLayer is the largest privately held Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider in the world with a portfolio of leading-edge customers from Web startups to global enterprises. For more information, visit softlayer.com.

About Supermicro

Supermicro, the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and Embedded Systems worldwide. Supermicro is committed to protecting the environment through its "We Keep IT Green" initiative and provides customers with the most energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly solutions available on the market. For more information, visit supermicro.com.

April 23, 2013

Server Challenge II: How SoftLayer Saves the World

SoftLayer made our way to San Francisco for another great year of digital marketing fun at ad:tech. This event is always a blast because it allows us trade show roadies to change up our usual dialogue and talk about SoftLayer in a unique way ... Instead of fielding technical questions about our platform, we get to talk about our cloud hosting solutions from a "big picture" perspective. This year, the bridge between those "big picture" discussions and the hardware and technical side of our business was the Server Challenge II.

This isn't the first time the advertising-focused crowd at ad:tech has seen the Server Challenge, but with the competition's new retro arcade game design, it was much more of a focal point this year than it has been in years past ... And it didn't hurt that we were in an awesome location right at the entrance of the expo floor:

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

Given the fact that most people who stopped at our booth were drawn to us as part of a crowd around the Server Challenge, the first question we heard was subtly different than the "What does SoftLayer do?" question we're used to answering at ad:tech. This year, most of my conversations started with an attendee asking, "What in the world does this game have to do with SoftLayer?" Luckily, the graphic on the front of the Server Challenge with three simple objectives provides a great outline for the competition's relevance to our business:

  1. Load the Data
  2. Connect the Network
  3. Save the World

1. Load the Data

Game Application: Insert all 24 of the drive trays into the drive bays of two Supermicro servers.
SoftLayer Significance: We have more than 100,000 Supermicro servers in our 13 data centers around the world. When you walk into one of our facilities in Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Jose, Amsterdam or Singapore, you'll see racks filled with servers just like the ones in the Server Challenge II, and those servers are loaded up with the hard drives you choose when you order from us.

2. Connect the Network

Game Application: Connect the 18 network cables into the three network switches.
SoftLayer Significance: The three different colors of network cables are the same colors you'll see in our data centers. The red cables carry public network traffic, the blue cables carry private network traffic, and the green cables carry out-of-band management network traffic. This is a huge differentiator for SoftLayer because those three physical networks allow for much greater flexibility for our customers. While the public network is serving public traffic to your websites, games and apps, you could be running an off-site backup of your database over the private network (where you don't incur bandwidth charges), and you can manage your server over SSL, PPTP and IPSEC connections via the out-of-band management network carried by the green cables.

3. Save the World

Game Application: Win a MacBook Air!
SoftLayer Significance: SoftLayer provides the flexible, scalable platform on which you can build your application, run your game or push an advertising campaign. The fact that all of our servers are racked, networked and ready for your order means that we're ready to "Save the World" for you by provisioning on-demand bare metal cloud servers and virtual cloud computing instances.

At least four or five times per show, I hear attendees talking about how the Server Challenge is the most fun game at the conference (even at GDC ... where the entire expo hall is filled with gaming companies). While it draws crowds for being fun, the best part of the competition is that it helps us tell our story and creates memories at the same time. When Server Challenge competitors hear that their companies need a new server, they're going to have a flashback to stepping up to a SoftLayer server rack and learning what makes SoftLayer the best choice as a cloud hosting provider. With the crowds we see at every show, that means we've got a lot of future customers:

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

Thanks to all of the ad:tech attendees who took on the Server Challenge II this year. The show actually had one of the most dramatic conclusions of any we've ever had before! Yuki Matsumoto broke the one-minute mark early on Day 2 of the expo with his first attempt of the day, and John Li managed to squeak by him with a time of 0:58.05 less than five minutes before the show floor closed:

Yuki had one shot at redemption as the last competitor of the show, but he wasn't able to beat John's 58-second completion, so the MacBook Air went to John Li! Keep practicing your server-building skills and come look for SoftLayer (and the Server Challenge) in an expo hall near you!

-Summer

April 5, 2013

Server Challenge II Soliloquy: GDC 2013

This guest blog comes to us from one of the most popular members of the SoftLayer trade show team: The SoftLayer + Supermicro Server Challenge II. You've seen our coverage of conference attendees competing to win a MacBook Air, but you've never gotten the story from the Server Challenge's perspective ... until now. We secretly recorded the Server Challenge's introspective reflections on the competition at GDC 2013 to share with the world.

To compete, or not to compete, that is the question ... Or at least the question I see most conference attendees struggle with when they see me. Some people light up with excitement at the sight of me while others turn away in fear, and I've even noticed a few of them start shaking uncontrollably as they recount the years of toil they survived in data centers when they managed server hardware for a living. I don't take it personally, though ... which is fitting because I'm not a person.

I am just a simple server rack with an ambitious purpose. I was made to give conference attendees a tangible, server-related experience when they visit SoftLayer's booth, and I can humbly say that I've served that role faithfully and successfully. As attendees step up before me, they may have never touched a server in their lives, but by the time they finish their first attempt at the competition, that naivete is completely vanquished ... Some even spend hours asking questions and studying strategy about how to most effectively install drive trays and plug in network cables. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the people reading this post are doing so in preparation for their next attempt.

When I was chosen as one of only a few server racks to don the Server Challenge II moniker, I knew my life would be difficult and dangerous. Luckily, I've been equipped with Supermicro servers that have proven to be even more resilient and durable than my creators would have hoped. While hard drive bays are designed to be hot-swappable, no one could have ever expected those bays would be swapped thousands of times by (often careless) conference attendees, but I haven't needed a single server to be replaced, and my hard drive trays have also held up remarkably well. As I was sleeping last night, I had a flashback to GDC in San Francisco:

It's dizzying to have flashbacks of time-lapse pictures, but those pictures painted a pretty accurate picture of what a single day of competition looks like for me. It's clear that I'm serving my purpose when I see crowds of attendees looking on as competitors set amazingly fast times. As I hear the conversations about strategies and techniques that might shave tenths or hundredths of seconds off the next attempt, I stand a little taller and play my 8-bit music a little louder.

I am the Server Challenge II ... Who's next?

-The Server Challenge II

March 8, 2013

Server Challenge II: Strata Conference 2013

If you want to find the Server Challenge II on an exhibit hall floor, just look for a crowd in one of the aisles and listen for cheers. When SoftLayer partnered with Supermicro to build a retro upgrade for our original Server Challenge, we knew the results would be phenomenal, and we haven't been disappointed. Other booths are chatting with one or two attendees while we've got the attention of 20+ as we explain what the Server Challenge II is all about and how it relates to what we do.

Strata Conference

About a dozen Strata Conference attendees asked where the Server Challenge II would show up next, and upon hearing that we'd have it at SXSW next week, one (semi-jokingly) begged us to let him rent the unit so he could practice beforehand. It almost seems like the competition is getting a cult following. And we love it.

Beyond the simple fact that the Server Challenge II affords us to talk about SoftLayer's differentiators as a cloud infrastructure provider, the competition actually brings flocks of attendees to our booth at the *end* of a show when other booths are already starting to packing up to go home. At Strata, the top four times were set in the last two hours of the show, and the very last attempt (which started right when the lights were flashing to signal the end of the show) was less than five seconds for taking the top spot.

In the end, Jonathan Heyne Galli bested the competition to take home bragging rights and a MacBook Air with a speedy time of 1:04.45. To showcase the winning attempt in a unique way, I grabbed my phone and fired up Vine:

If you have twelve more seconds to watch two other attempts, the Second Place and Third Place attempts were also captured with Vine.

In the midst of all of this competition, I've been blown away at the sportsmanship between competitors. I know how cheesy that sounds given the fact that we're talking about a game with a server rack in an expo hall, but it's true. Carson, the third place finisher, actually beat Jonathan's 1:04.45 toward the end of the show, but one of the drive tray arms wasn't clipped closed when he stopped the timer. We explained that we couldn't give him the top spot but that we could wipe that score and give him one more chance to replicate the result (with no errors), and he was quick to agree. He wouldn't want someone else to win with an "incomplete" build if he were in first place, so he didn't want to win that way.

Here was the final leader board from Strata 2013:

Strata Leader Board

Given the floods of traffic to our booth wherever the Server Challenge II turns up, it's only a matter of time until someone makes a documentary on the Server Challenge like The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. I can see it now ... The Server Sultan: Get in Line to Bring Servers Online.

-@khazard

February 18, 2013

What Happen[ed] in Vegas - Parallels Summit 2013

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," but we absconded from Caesars Palace with far too many pictures and videos from Parallels Summit to adhere to their suggestion. Over the course of three days, attendees stayed busy with presentations, networking sessions, parties, cocktails and (of course) the Server Challenge II. And thanks to Alan's astute questions in The Hangover, we didn't have to ask if the hotel was pager-friendly, whether a payphone bank was available or if Caesar actually lived at the hotel ... We could focus on the business at hand.

This year, Parallels structured the conference around three distinct tracks — Business, Technical and Developer — to focus all of the presentations for their most relevant audiences, and as a result, Parallels Summit engaged a broader, more diverse crowd than ever before. Many of the presentations were specifically geared toward the future of the cloud and how businesses can innovate to leverage the cloud's potential. With all of that buzz around the cloud and innovation, SoftLayer felt right at home. We were also right at home when it came to partying.

SoftLayer was a proud sponsor of the massive Parallels Summit party at PURE Nightclub in Caesar's palace on the second night of the conference. With respect to the "What Happens in Vegas" tagline, we actually powered down our recording devices to let the crowd enjoy the jugglers, acrobats, drinks and music without fear of incriminating pictures winding up on Facebook. Don't worry, though ... We made up for that radio silence by getting a little extra coverage of the epic Server Challenge II competition.

More than one hundred attendees stepped up to reassemble our rack of Supermicro servers, and the competition was fierce. The top two times were fifty-nine hundredths of a second apart from each other, and it took a blazingly fast time of 1:25.00 to even make the leader board. As the challenge heated up, we were able to capture video of the top three competitors (to be used as study materials for all competitors at future events):

It's pretty amazing to see the cult following that the Server Challenge is starting to form, but it's not very surprising. Given how intense some of these contests have been, people are scouting our events page for their next opportunity to step up to the server rack, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that people are mocking up their own Server Challenge racks at home to hone their strategy. A few of our friends on Twitter hinted that they're in training to dominate the next time they compete, so we're preparing for the crowds to get bigger and for the times to keep dropping.

If you weren't able to attend the show, Parallels posted video from two of the keynote presentations, and shared several of the presentation slide decks on the Parallels Summit Agenda. You might not get the full experience of networking, partying or competing in the Server Challenge, but you can still learn a lot.

Viva Las Vegas! Viva Parallels! Viva SoftLayer!

-Kevin

November 19, 2012

How It's Made (and Won): The Server Challenge II

Every year, we attend more than fifty trade shows and conferences around the world. We want to spread the word about SoftLayer and connect with each conference's technical audience (also known as future SoftLayer customers). That goal is pretty straightforward on paper, but when it comes to executing on it, we're faced with the same challenge as all of our fellow exhibitors: How do we get our target audience to the our booth?

Walk down any aisle of an expo hall, and you'll see collateral and swag beckoning to attendees like a candy bar at the grocery store register. Some exhibitors rely on Twitter to monitor an event's hashtag and swoop in at every opportunity to reach the show's influential attendees. Other exhibitors might send out emails to their clients and prospects in the area to invite them to the show. We see value in each of those approaches, but what we found to be most effective was to bring a SoftLayer data center to our booth ... or at least a piece of one.

The Server Challenge has come a long way over the years. Its meager beginnings involved installing RAM and hard drive cables in a tower server. Shortly thereafter, a rack-mount server replaced the tower server, but you were still tasked with "inside the server" challenges. As we started looking for ways to tell the bigger SoftLayer story with the Server Challenge, we moved to miniature server rack, and the competition really started to pick up steam. This year, we made it our goal to take the Server Challenge to the next level, and when Supermicro stepped in to sponsor the next iteration of the the competition, we started thinking BIG.

Why use a miniature version of a SoftLayer rack when we could use a full-size version? Why have a standalone screen when rack-mount monitors can make the display part of the unit? Why rely on speakers behind the booth to pump "Eye of the Tiger" while attendees are competing when we could easily build those into the next version of the challenge? What was initially intended to be a "tweak" of the first Server Challenge became a complete overhaul ... Hence the new "Server Challenge II" moniker.

Harkening back to the 8-bit glory days of Pac Man and Space Invaders, the Server Challenge II uses a full-size 42U server rack with vintage arcade-style branding, a built-in timer and speakers that blast esoteric video game music. The bread and butter of the challenge is the actual server hardware, though ... Supermicro provided two new 2U servers to replace the previous version's five 1U servers, and we installed the same Cisco (public and private networks) and SMC (out-of-band management network) switches you see in SoftLayer's pods.

Server Challenge II

We had two instances of the original Server Challenge (one in the US, one in Amsterdam), so in order for the Server Challenge II to be bigger and better, we had to increase that total to five — one instance in Europe, one in Asia and three in the United States. Things might get a little crazier logistically, but as a potential conference attendee, it means you're even more likely to encounter the Server Challenge II if you attend any events with us.

The Server Challenge II's Internal Debut

The first instance of the Server Challenge II made its debut at GDC Online in Austin, and we immediately knew we had a hit. By the time the rack got back to our office, we had to get it ready for its next destination (Cloud Expo West), but before we sent it on its way, we gave it an official internal debut ... and raised some money for the American Heart Association in the process.

Server Challenge II at SoftLayer

SLayers at the SoftLayer HQ in Dallas could pay $3 for one attempt or $5 for two attempts to reach the top of the Server Challenge II leader board. Needless to say, it was competitive. If you click on the image above, you'll notice that our fearless leader, Lance Crosby, stopped by and gave tips to (and/or heckled) a few participants. Unsurprisingly, one of our very talented Server Build Technicians — Ellijah Fleites — took home a MacBook Air and bragging rights as SoftLayer champion with a record time of 1:03.79 ... But records are made to be broken.

In Two Places at Once

Immediately after the AHA fundraiser, we crated up the rack and sent it along to Cloud Expo West in Santa Clara. A few days later, we put the finishing touches on the second Server Challenge II rack, and because we got it done quickly, we were able to get it shipped to the other side of the country for ad:tech NYC. We would finally have the competition running in two places at the exact same time!

We weren't disappointed.

On both coasts, the retro style of the Server Challenge II lured some fantastic competitors (excellent!), and started a lot of great conversations (even better!). Here are the final leader boards from the shows:

Server Challenge II
Server Challenge II

You probably notice that the times in the ad:tech leader board are a little higher than the times in the Cloud Expo leader board, and our team figured out why that was in the middle of the second day of the conference ... The way we bound the network cables differed slightly between the two instances, and we were using different switches to time the competition (one that required only one hand to activate/deactivate, the other requiring both hands). In order to have an "apples-to-apples" comparison between all of our shows, we're going to make sure everything is consistent with all of the instances, and we plan on keeping a running list of fastest overall challenge times ... and maybe even a "World Championship" one day.

Given the early success of the Server Challenge II, you can bet that it's not going anywhere any time soon. If we have multiple shows running the challenge at one time, we might even fire up a video chat where you can compete against an attendee at a completely different conference ... so be prepared.

In the next year, we'll have all five of the Server Challenge II instances in rotation across three continents, and with the popularity of the competition growing by leaps and bounds after every show, we hope by next holiday season, a home version of the Server Challenge II is at the top of every wish list on the planet. :-)

For now, though, I'll just leave you with a glimpse at the action from Cloud Expo West (click for more pictures from the show):

Cloud Expo West

-Raleigh

March 21, 2012

Server Challenge = Global Domination?

The Server Challenge has become an all-out attraction. What started out as a little game we brought to SxSW last year has evolved into a competition attendees anxiously await. In the past month, we've had two phenomenal Server Challenge competitions — one at the Technology for Marketing and Advertising (TFM&A) conference in London and the other at Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco — and it's only getting bigger.

At TFM&A, we had a steady stream of competitors step up to the Server Challenge installation that lives in Europe. Quite a few of them were lured to our booth after trying their hands at the challenge during its European debut at Cloud Expo Europe in January. The winning time at TFM&A of 1:10.08 was recorded by Gary Barclay in the midst of some fierce competition.

SoftLayer Server Challenge - TFM&A

To give you a unique look at what it's like to experience the Server Challenge, we set up a time-lapse camera with a bird's eye view over the timer, and we pulled out a few of our favorite "Start!" shots:

Back in North America as things were humming along in London, our second Server Challenge box was making its way to San Francisco. We were able to share the Server Challenge with the GDC community last year at GDC Online in Austin, and we learned that there is nothing better than bringing a game to a conference full of gamers. I guess you could call it a match made in game developer heaven because we broke the record of number of server challenge participants for a single conference! Not only did we have a ton of participants, we had a huge number that returned day after day to keep pushing the record time lower and lower. All of this attention definitely left the booth staffers pretty exhausted, but we felt kinda like "the cool kids" all week.

On the last day of the conference, I talked to a few of the repeat participants who spent a lot of time at our booth, and I asked them a few questions about the Server Challenge. The first question I asked was, "Why do you like the Server Challenge?" and the responses were extremely interesting. Many said they liked the game so much because it was so interactive while others were drawn to the game because it gave them a way to win an iPad with skill rather than having to be "lucky" in a drawing. Because you don't have to know anything about server assembly to be good at it, it was universal, and it was quite a spectacle when dozens of people crowded around to get their own strategy and prepare for their turns.

I captured a few of their responses on video:

Given the crowd around the booth, you could assume the competition would be close, and you'd be absolutely correct. EJ Fernald won with a time of 1:06.06, beating the second place time by 0.15 seconds ... Yes, 15 hundredths of a second.

Congrats, Gary and EJ!! We hope you enjoy your new iPads!

If you want to be the next lucky winner of an iPad, check out our blog post with tips on how to be the fastest and start practicing ... if you happen to have a few retired servers lying around somewhere. If you're a SoftLayer customer, you can use the ones you replaced with all of your new SoftLayer servers!

-Summer

February 3, 2012

Server Hardware "Show and Tell" at Cloud Expo Europe

Bringing server hardware to a "Cloud Expo" is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Why would anyone care about hardware? Isn't "the cloud" a magical land where servers and data centers cease to exist and all that matters is that your hardware-abstracted hypervisor can scale elastically on demand?

You might be surprised how many attendees at Cloud Expo Europe expressed that sentiment in one way or another when SoftLayer showed up in London with the infamous Server Challenge last week. Based on many of the conversations I had with attendees, some of the most basic distinctions and characteristics of physical and virtual environments are widely misunderstood. Luckily, we had a nice little server rack to use as a visual while talking about how SoftLayer fits in (and stands out) when it comes to "the cloud."

When we didn't have a line of participants waiting to try their hand at our in-booth competition, we were able to use it to "show and tell" what a cloud hardware architecture might look like and what distinguishes SoftLayer from some of the other infrastructure providers in the industry. We're able to show our network-within-a-newtork topology, we explain the pod concept of our data centers and how that streamlines our operations, and we talk about our system automation and how that speeds up the provisioning of both physical and virtual environments. Long-term memory is aided by the use of multiple senses, so when each attendee can see and touch what they're hearing about in our booth, they have a much better chance to remember the conversation in the midst of dozens (if not hundreds) they have before and after they talk to us.

And by the time we finish using the Server Challenge as a visual, the attendee is usually ready to compete. As you probably noticed if you caught the Cloud Expo Europe album at Facebook.com/SoftLayer, the competition was pretty intense. In fact, the winning time of 1:08.16 was set just about twenty minutes before the conference ended ... In the short video below, Phil presents the winner of the Cloud Expo Europe Server Challenge with his iPad 2 and asks for some insight about how he was able to pull off the victory:

Being the international debut of the Server Challenge, we were a bit nervous that the competition wouldn't have as much appeal as we've seen in the past, but given the response we received from attendees, it's pretty safe to say it's not the last time you'll see the Server Challenge abroad.

To all of the participants who competed last week, thanks for stopping by our booth, and we hope you're enjoying your "torch" (if you beat the 2:00.00 flashlight-winning time)!

-@khazard

November 21, 2011

The SoftLayer Server Challenge - ad:tech Expertise

If you've visited SoftLayer at a large conference this year, you probably came face-to-rack with our Server Challenge. Your task: Reassemble our miniature rack of SuperMicro servers in the fastest time at the conference. To do this, you need to install twenty drive trays in five servers and connect network cables in the correct switches to mirror the server rack setup on our data centers. If you're able to score the best time, you win an iPad 2!

In the sometimes-boring world of collateral and T-shirts at trade shows, the activity around this competition stands in stark contrast. It's been huge hit everywhere we go, so if you haven't had a chance to try your hand at the challenge, I'm sure we'll bring it to several of our 2012 shows. As a way of rewarding those of you who loyally follow our blog, I thought I could give you an advantage by sharing some tips for when you're in front of the Server Challenge rack ... And to give you an idea of how important these tips can be, look at how close the top two times were at ad:tech NYC:

That's right. 17 hundredths of a second between victory and defeat. Now are you ready to take some notes?

SoftLayer Server Challenge

The Start
When you start the challenge, don't look at the timer to see if your time started ... If it doesn't start, we'll stop you. By focusing your attention on the network cables or drive trays (whichever you choose to start with), you can save yourself a half of a second.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Network Cables
You don't have to connect the network cables first, but I have to choose something to complete first, so the network cables won the coin flip. When you're connecting the network cables, it's best to grab all three cables of the same color and try to snap them in together. Plugging in the cables one-by-one requires three times the work.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Hard Drives
When you're tackling the hard drives, the key is to line up the drives and have them installed completely before moving on. My tip for installing the drives is to tilt them in on a sideways angle, not at an upwards angle. If you try and tilt the drives upwards, you'll most likely get the drive tray stuck and have to remove it to try again. If you can do it precisely, picking up two drives at one time has worked well, and our all-time record of around 54 seconds took that approach.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

One last pointer: Lock them in place immediately after installing them. If you leave the latch open, it makes it harder to get neighboring drives installed, and it's such a small incremental effort to close the latch that even if you perfect a "close all the latches" technique at the end, you'd still end up spending more time.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

The Finish
Don't forget to put both hands back on the timer to stop your time. :-)

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Now that you're equipped with some of the best Server Challenge tips and tricks, we want you to start training. In 2012, we expect to see someone complete it in under 50 seconds ... And that person probably will carry the all-time record home – along with a new iPad 2!

Keep an eye on our Event Schedule for upcoming shows, and if there's a conference where you really want to see the Server Challenge, let us know and we'll see if we can set it up.

Good Luck!

-Summer

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