Posts Tagged 'API'

February 6, 2014

Building a Bridge to the OpenStack API

OpenStack is experiencing explosive growth in the cloud market. With more than 200 companies contributing code to the source and new installations coming online every day, OpenStack is pushing hard to become a global standard for cloud computing. Dozens of useful tools and software products have been developed using the OpenStack API, so a growing community of administrators, developers and IT organizations have access to easy-to-use, powerful cloud resources. This kind of OpenStack integration is great for users on a full OpenStack cloud, but it introduces a challenge to providers and users on other cloud platforms: Should we consider deploying or moving to an OpenStack environment to take advantage of these tools?

If a cloud provider spends years developing a unique platform with a proprietary API, implementing native support for the OpenStack API or deploying a full OpenStack solution may be cost prohibitive, even with significant customer and market demand. The provider can either bite the bullet to implement OpenStack compatibility, hope that a third party library like libclouds or fog is updated to support its API, or choose to go it alone and develop an ecosystem of products around its own API.

Introducing Jumpgate

When we were faced with this situation at SoftLayer, we chose a fourth option. We wanted to make the process of creating an OpenStack-compatible API simpler and more modular. That's where Jumpgate was born. Jumpgate is a middleware that acts as a compatibility layer between the OpenStack API and a provider's proprietary API. Externally, it exposes endpoints that adhere to OpenStack's published and accepted API specification, which it then translates into the provider's API using a series of drivers. Think of it as a mechanism to enable passing from one realm/space into another — like the jumpgates featured in science fiction works.

Connection

How Jumpgate Works
Let's take a look at a high-level example: When you want to create a new virtual instance on OpenStack, you might use the Horizon dashboard or the Nova command line client. When you issue the request, the tool first makes a REST call to a Keystone endpoint for authentication, which returns an authorization token. The client then makes another REST call to a Nova endpoint, which manages the computing instances, to create the actual virtual instance. Nova may then make calls to other tools within the cluster for networking (Quantum), image information (Glance), block storage (Cinder), or more. In addition, your client may also send requests directly to some of these endpoints to query for status updates, information about available resources, and so on.

With Jumpgate, your tool first hits the Jumpgate middleware, which exposes a Keystone endpoint. Jumpgate takes the request, breaks it apart into its relevant pieces, then loads up your provider's appropriate API driver. Next, Jumpgate reformats your request into a form that the driver supports and sends it to the provider's API endpoint. Once the response comes back, Jumpgate again uses the driver to break apart the proprietary API response, reformats it into an OpenStack compatible JSON payload, and sends it back to your client. The result is that you interact with an OpenStack-compatible API, and your cloud provider processes those interactions on their own backend infrastructure.

Internally, Jumpgate is a lightweight middleware built in Python using the Falcon Framework. It provides endpoints for nearly every documented OpenStack API call and allows drivers to attach handlers to these endpoints. This modular approach allows providers to implement only the endpoints that are of the highest importance, rolling out OpenStack API compatibility in stages rather than in one monumental effort. Since it sits alongside the provider's existing API, Jumpgate provides a new API interface without risking the stability already provided by the existing API. It's a value-add service that increases customer satisfaction without a huge increase in cost. Once full implementations is finished, a provider with a proprietary cloud platform can benefit from and offer all the tools that are developed to work with the OpenStack API.

Jumpgate allows providers to test the proper OpenStack compatibility of their drivers by leveraging the OpenStack Tempest test suite. With these tests, developers run the full suite of calls used by OpenStack itself, highlighting edge cases or gaps in functionality. We've even included a helper script that allows Tempest to only run a subset of tests rather than the entire suite to assist with a staged rollout.

Current Development
Jumpgate is currently in an early alpha stage. We've built the compatibility framework itself and started on the SoftLayer drivers as a reference. So far, we've implemented key endpoints within Nova (computing instances), Keystone (identification and authorization), and Glance (image management) to get most of the basic functionality within Horizon (the web dashboard) working. We've heard that several groups outside SoftLayer are successfully using Jumpgate to drive products like Trove and Heat directly on SoftLayer, which is exciting and shows that we're well beyond the "proof of concept" stage. That being said, there's still a lot of work to be done.

We chose to develop Jumpgate in the open with a tool set that would be familiar to developers working with OpenStack. We're excited to debut this project for the broader OpenStack community, and we're accepting pull requests if you're interested in contributing. Making more clouds compatible with the OpenStack API is important and shouldn’t be an individual undertaking. If you're interested in learning more or contributing, head over to our in-flight project page on GitHub: SoftLayer Jumpgate. There, you'll find everything you need to get started along with the updates to our repository. We encourage everyone to contribute code or drivers ... or even just open issues with feature requests. The more community involvement we get, the better.

-Nathan

Categories: 
April 10, 2013

Plivo: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome Mike Lauricella from Plivo. Plivo is an open communications and messaging platform with advanced features, simple APIs, easy management and volume pricing.

Company Website: http://www.plivo.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/plivo

Bridging the Gap Between the Web and Telephony

Businesses face a fundamental challenge in the worlds of telephony and messaging: Those worlds move too slowly, require too much telecom knowledge and take too long to adopt. As a result, developers often forgo phone and SMS functionality in their applications because the learning curves are so steep, and the dated architecture seems like a foreign language. Over the last twenty years, the web has evolved a lot faster than telephony, and that momentum only widens the gap between the "old" telecom world and the "new" Internet world. Plivo was created to bridge that gap and make telephony easy for developers to understand and incorporate into their applications with simple tools and APIs.

I could bore you to tears by describing the ins and outs of what we've learned about telephony and telecom since Plivo was founded, but I'd rather show off some of the noteworthy ways our customers have incorporated Plivo in their own businesses. After all, seeing those real-world applications is much more revealing about what Plivo does than any description of the nuts and bolts of our platform, right?

Conferencing Solution
The purest use-cases for Plivo are when our customers can simply leverage powerful telephony functionality. A perfect example is a conferencing solution one of our customers created to host large-scale conferences with up to 200 participants. The company integrated the solution into their product and CRM so that sales reps and customers could jump on conference calls quickly. With that integration, the executive management team can keep track of all kinds of information about the calls ... whether they're looking to find which calls resulted in closed sales or they just want to see the average duration of a conference call for a given time frame.

Call Tracking
Beyond facilitate conference calls quickly and seamlessly, many businesses have started using Plivo's integration to incorporate call tracking statistics in their environments. Call tracking is big business because information about who called what number, when they called, how long they talked and the result of the call (sale, no sale, follow up) can determine whether the appropriate interaction has taken place with prospects or customers.

Two Factor Authentication
With ever-increasing concerns about security online, we've seen a huge uptick in developers that come to Plivo for help with two factor authentication for web services. To ensure that a new site registrant is a real person who has provided a valid phone number (to help cut down on potential fraud), they use Plivo to send text messages with verification codes to those new registrant.

Mass Alert Messaging
Because emergencies can happen at any time, our customers have enlisted Plivo's functionality to send out mass alerts via phone calls and SMS messages when their customers are affected by an issue and need to be contacted. These voice and text messages can be sent quickly and easily with our automated tools, and while no one ever wants to deal with an emergency, having a solid communication lifeline provides some peace of mind.

WebRTC
An emerging new standard for communications is WebRTC — open project that enables web browsers with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities. WebRTC make communications a feature of the Web without plugins or complex SIP clients. Plivo already supports WebRTC, and even though the project is relatively young, it's already being used in some amazing applications.

These use-cases are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how our customers are innovating on our platform, but I hope it helps paint a picture of the kinds of functionality Plivo enables simply and quickly. If you've been itching to incorporate telephony into your application, before you spending hours of your life poring over complex telecom architecture requirements, head over to plivo.com to see how easy we can make your life. We offer free developer accounts where you can start to make calls to other Plivo users and other SIP endpoints immediately, and we'd love to chat with you about how you can leverage Plivo to make your applications communicate.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a note at hello@plivo.com, and we'll get back to you with answers.

-Mike Lauricella, Plivo

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
March 22, 2013

Social Media for Brands: Monitor Twitter Search via Email

If you're responsible for monitoring Twitter for conversations about your brand, you're faced with a challenge: You need to know what people are saying about your brand at all times AND you don't want to live your entire life in front of Twitter Search.

Over the years, a number of social media applications have been released specifically for brand managers and social media teams, but most of those applications (especially the free/inexpensive ones) differentiate themselves only by the quality of their analytics and how real-time their data is reported. If that's what you need, you have plenty of fantastic options. Those differentiators don't really help you if you want to take a more passive role in monitoring Twitter search ... You still have to log into the application to see your fancy dashboards with all of the information. Why can't the data come to you?

About three weeks ago, Hazzy stopped by my desk and asked if I'd help build a tool that uses the Twitter Search API to collect brand keywords mentions and send an email alert with those mentions in digest form every 30 minutes. The social media team had been using Twilert for these types of alerts since February 2012, but over the last few months, messages have been delayed due to issues connecting to Twitter search ... It seems that the service is so popular that it hits Twitter's limits on API calls. An email digest scheduled to be sent every thirty minutes ends up going out ten hours late, and ten hours is an eternity in social media time. We needed something a little more timely and reliable, so I got to work on a simple "Twitter Monitor" script to find all mentions of our keyword(s) on Twitter, email those results in a simple digest format, and repeat the process every 30 minutes when new mentions are found.

With Bear's Python-Twitter library on GitHub, connecting to the Twitter API is a breeze. Why did we use Bear's library in particular? Just look at his profile picture. Yeah ... 'nuff said. So with that Python wrapper to the Twitter API in place, I just had to figure out how to use the tools Twitter provided to get the job done. For the most part, the process was very clear, and Twitter actually made querying the search service much easier than we expected. The Search API finds all mentions of whatever string of characters you designate, so instead of creating an elaborate Boolean search for "SoftLayer OR #SoftLayer OR @SoftLayer ..." or any number of combinations of arbitrary strings, we could simply search for "SoftLayer" and have all of those results included. If you want to see only @ replies or hashtags, you can limit your search to those alone, but because "SoftLayer" isn't a word that gets thrown around much without referencing us, we wanted to see every instance. This is the code we ended up working with for the search functionality:

def status_by_search(search):
    statuses = api.GetSearch(term=search)
    results = filter(lambda x: x.id > get_log_value(), statuses)
    returns = []
    if len(results) > 0:
        for result in results:
            returns.append(format_status(result))
 
        new_tweets(results)
        return returns, len(returns)
    else:
        exit()

If you walk through the script, you'll notice that we want to return only unseen Tweets to our email recipients. Shortly after got the Twitter Monitor up and running, we noticed how easy it would be to get spammed with the same messages every time the script ran, so we had to filter our results accordingly. Twitter's API allows you to request tweets with a Tweet ID greater than one that you specify, however when I tried designating that "oldest" Tweet ID, we had mixed results ... Whether due to my ignorance or a fault in the implementation, we were getting fewer results than we should. Tweet IDs are unique and numerically sequential, so they can be relied upon as much as datetime (and far easier to boot), so I decided to use the highest Tweet ID from each batch of processed messages to filter the next set of results. The script stores that Tweet ID and uses a little bit of logic to determine which Tweets are newer than the last Tweet reported.

def new_tweets(results):
    if get_log_value() < max(result.id for result in results):
        set_log_value(max(result.id for result in results))
        return True
 
 
def get_log_value():
    with open('tweet.id', 'r') as f:
        return int(f.read())
 
 
def set_log_value(messageId):
    with open('tweet.id', 'w+') as f:
        f.write(str(messageId))

Once we culled out our new Tweets, we needed our script to email those results to our social media team. Luckily, we didn't have to reinvent the wheel here, and we added a few lines that enabled us to send an HTML-formatted email over any SMTP server. One of the downsides of the script is that login credentials for your SMTP server are stored in plaintext, so if you can come up with another alternative that adds a layer of security to those credentials (or lets you send with different kinds of credentials) we'd love for you to share it.

From that point, we could run the script manually from the server (or a laptop for that matter), and an email digest would be sent with new Tweets. Because we wanted to automate that process, I added a cron job that would run the script at the desired interval. As a bonus, if the script doesn't find any new Tweets since the last time it was run, it doesn't send an email, so you won't get spammed by "0 Results" messages overnight.

The script has been in action for a couple of weeks now, and it has gotten our social media team's seal of approval. We've added a few features here and there (like adding the number of Tweets in an email to the email's subject line), and I've enlisted the help of Kevin Landreth to clean up the code a little. Now, we're ready to share the SoftLayer Twitter Monitor script with the world via GitHub!

SoftLayer Twitter Monitor on GitHub

The script should work well right out of the box in any Python environment with the required libraries after a few simple configuration changes:

  • Get your Twitter Customer Secret, Access Token and Access Secret from https://dev.twitter.com/
  • Copy/paste that information where noted in the script.
  • Update your search term(s).
  • Enter your mailserver address and port.
  • Enter your email account credentials if you aren't working with an open relay.
  • Set the self.from_ and self.to values to your preference.
  • Ensure all of the Python requirements are met.
  • Configure a cron job to run the script your desired interval. For example, if you want to send emails every 10 minutes: */10 * * * * <path to python> <path to script> 2>&1 /dev/null

As soon as you add your information, you should be in business. You'll have an in-house Twitter Monitor that delivers a simple email digest of your new Twitter mentions at whatever interval you specify!

Like any good open source project, we want the community's feedback on how it can be improved or other features we could incorporate. This script uses the Search API, but we're also starting to play around with the Stream API and SoftLayer Message Queue to make some even cooler tools to automate brand monitoring on Twitter.

If you end up using the script and liking it, send SoftLayer a shout-out via Twitter and share it with your friends!

-@SoftLayerDevs

February 15, 2013

Cedexis: SoftLayer "Master Model Builder"

Think of the many components of our cloud infrastrucutre as analogous to LEGO bricks. If our overarching vision is to help customers "Build the Future," then our products are "building blocks" that can be purposed and repurposed to create scalable, high-performance architecture. Like LEGO bricks, each of our components is compatible with every other component in our catalog, so our customers are essentially showing off their Master Model Builder skills as they incorporate unique combinations of infrastructure and API functionality into their own product offerings. Cedexis has proven to be one of those SoftLayer "Master Model Builders."

As you might remember from their Technology Partner Marketplace feature, Cedexis offers a content and application delivery system that helps users balance traffic based on availability, performance and cost. They've recently posted a blog about how they integrated the SoftLayer API into their system to detect an unresponsive server (disabled network interface), divert traffic at the DNS routing level and return it as soon as the server became available again (re-enabled the network interface) ... all through the automation of their Openmix service:

They've taken the building blocks of SoftLayer infrastructure and API connectivity to create a feature-rich platform that improves the uptime and performance for sites and applications using Openmix. Beyond the traffic shaping around unreachable servers, Cedexis also incorporated the ability to move traffic between servers based on the amount of bandwidth you have remaining in a given month or based on the response times it sees between servers in different data centers. You can even make load balancing decisions based on SoftLayer's server management data with Fusion — one of their newest products.

The tools and access Cedexis uses to power these Openmix features are available to all of our customers via the SoftLayer API, and if you've ever wondered how to combine our blocks into your environment in unique, dynamic and useful ways, Cedexis gives a perfect example. In the Product Development group, we love to see these kinds of implementations, so if you're using SoftLayer in an innovative way, don't keep it a secret!

-Bryce

December 19, 2012

SoftLayer API: Streamline. Simplify.

Building an API is a bit of a balancing act. You want your API to be simple and easy to use, and you want it to be feature-rich and completely customizable. Because those two desires happen to live on opposite ends of the spectrum, every API finds a different stasis in terms of how complex and customizable they are. The SoftLayer API was designed to provide customers with granular control of every action associated with any product or service on our platform; anything you can do in our customer portal can be done via our API. That depth of functionality might be intimidating to developers looking to dive in quickly and incorporate the SoftLayer platform into their applications, so our development team has been working to streamline and simplify some of the most common API services to make them even more accessible.

SoftLayer API

To get an idea of what their efforts look like in practice, Phil posted an SLDN blog with a perfect example of how they simplified cloud computing instance (CCI) creation via the API. The traditional CCI ordering process required developers to define nineteen data points:

Hostname
Domain name
complexType
Package Id
Location Id
Quantity to order
Number of cores
Amount of RAM
Remote management options
Port speeds
Public bandwidth allotment
Primary subnet size
Disk size
Operating system
Monitoring
Notification
Response
VPN Management - Private Network
Vulnerability Assessments & Management

While each of those data points is straightforward, you still have to define nineteen of them. You have all of those options when you check out through our shopping cart, so it makes sense that you'd have them in the API, but when it comes to ordering through the API, you don't necessarily need all of those options. Our development team observed our customers' API usage patterns, and they created the slimmed-down and efficient SoftLayer_Virtual_Guest::createObject — a method that only requires seven data points:

Hostname
Domain name
Number of cores
Amount of RAM
Hourly/monthly billing
Local vs SAN disk
Operating System

Without showing you a single line of code, you see the improvement. Default values were established for options like Port speeds and Monitoring based on customer usage patterns, and as a result, developers only have to provide half the data to place a new CCI order. Because each data point might require multiple lines of code, the volume of API code required to place an order is slimmed down even more. The best part is that if you find yourself needing to modify one of the now-default options like Port speeds or Monitoring, you still can!

As the development team finds other API services and methods that can be streamlined and simplified like this one, they'll ninja new solutions to make the API even more accessible. Have you tried coding to the SoftLayer API yet? If not, what's the biggest roadblock for you? If you're already a SLAPI coder, what other methods do you use often that could be streamlined?

-@khazard

July 11, 2012

Mandrill: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog with Chad Morris from our partner Mandrill. Mandrill is an email delivery platform built on and managed by MailChimp. Created for developers to set up and manage with minimal coding effort, Mandrill offers advanced tracking, easy-to-understand reports and hundreds of template options. In this video interview, Chad goes into detail about the history of the company as well as the major differences between Mandrill and MailChimp. In the near future, you'll see a separate guest blog from the Mandrill team with best practices for managing your email systems.

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
June 29, 2012

We're Shipping Up to Boston - HostingCon 2012

It's that time of year again ... HostingCon is upon us, and we're faced with an interesting challenge: Go even bigger and badder in Boston than we did at HostingCon 2011 in San Diego. And that's a tall order.

Given the fact that we've already sponsored and participated in dozens of conferences around the world this year, you might be surprised to learn that we've still got a surprises in our bag of tricks. Without giving too much away, I thought I'd share a few of the SoftLayer-specific highlights you make note of if you're planning your HostingCon itinerary.

Conference Sessions

Want some hosting insight from the executive management team of one of the largest privately held hosting providers in the world? You might want to add these sessions to your calendar:

Partnerships Done Right
Lance Crosby, CEO
9:00am – Monday, July 16
Management Track

As more "non-traditional" hosters (telcos, cable companies & VARs) enter the cloud services market finding the right partner is a must. The opportunity is huge but this isn’t a situation where a rising tide will float all boats. Lance Crosby, CEO of SoftLayer will explain how, in order to be successful, you’ll need to understand the following: 1) Building for Internet Scale, 2) Think platform first, and 3) How to automate. The session will include discussion of how SoftLayer leverages partners to drive business growth.

Build vs Buy: Operations & Billing Automation
Nathan Day, Chief Scientist (+ Panel)
9:00am – Tuesday, July 17
Technology Track

The finance, operations and administrative back office of a hosting company can be a complex animal. Some hosts have dedicated software development teams to build in-house solutions, others opt to buy as much as they can from 3rd party vendors. Hear three different approaches to tackling the problem, and learn how your product line can determine the optimal mix of open source, home grown and off-the-shelf solutions.

Finding Your Story: Branding and Positioning in the Hosting Industry
Simon West, CMO
2:00pm – Tuesday, July 17
Sales & Marketing Track

In a crowded marketplace it's critical to establish a clear position and identity in the minds of your customers and prospects. SoftLayer CMO Simon West will discuss best practices for defining and articulating your brand position, illustrating with specific examples drawn from his experience in building some of the industry's most notable brands.

Build, Launch, Sell: Strategies for Launching a Product in the Hosting Business
George Karidis, CSO (+ Panel)
3:00pm – Tuesday, July 17
Management Track

Introducing value-added services around basic hosting can be the strategy that turns a hosting business into a winning venture for the host, and a truly valuable service for the customer. In this interactive session, a panel of product management experts from the hosting business will cover best practices for building (or integrating), launching and selling a new product to your customers, helping you to develop processes, procedures and strategies for seeing a new product launch through from start to finish.

The SoftLayer Booth: #413

When you step into the expo hall at the John B. Hynes Convention Center, you're going to see SoftLayer. In our 20' x 30' space at booth 413, we'll have a few of your favorite SLayers available to answer any and all of your questions about what's new and what's next for SoftLayer ... And to pass out some always-popular SoftLayer swag.

SoftLayer Booth

By popular demand, the Server Challenge will be making its return to HostingCon, and if last year is any indication, the competition will be fierce. The pride of besting all HostingCon attendees in reassembling a server rack is arguably as valuable as the New iPad the winner receives. Though your pride doesn't have a Retina Display.

Host Me All Night Long

Following the phenomenal success of "Geeks Gone Wild" last year (headlined by The Dan Band), we knew we had our work cut out for us when it came to planning a party for HostingCon in Boston. We've teamed up with cPanel and comcure to put together "Host Me All Night Long" at Royale Boston on Monday, July 16.

Host Me All Night Long

One of my favorite comedians, Ralphie May, is going hit the stage at 8pm, and you won't want to miss a second of his set. Following Ralphie, Yellow Brick Road is bringing their award-winning Classic Rock tribute skills from Las Vegas to keep the night going. Given the name of the party, you shouldn't be surprised when a little AC/DC "You Shook Me All Night Long" is played.

Like last year, the attendance is strictly limited, and when the number of tickets available at http://hostingconparty.com/ reaches zero, you're out of luck. Even if you're our best customer ever, you need a ticket to get in the door, so register while you can! If you show a little extra SoftLayer love on Twitter or Facebook, send me a link to it (khazard@softlayer.com), and I might be able to hook you up with a VIP code to get you priority access and into the VIP section at the venue.

Like the Dropkick Murphys, we're "shipping up to Boston," and we hope to see you there!

-@khazard

June 21, 2012

New Swag, New Booth, New Product Announcement: SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East 2012

When a SLayers pack their bags and heads to the 'Big Apple,' we go BIG. Our most recent trip to NYC for Cloud Expo East proved that statement over and over again. When I heard I'd be one of the employees representing SoftLayer at the Javits Convention Center, I did a little dance ... Cloud Expo is one of my favorite conferences, and New York City is one of my favorite cities, so I had a lot to be excited about.

Cloud Expo East and Cloud Expo West are two of the biggest shows SoftLayer sponsors every year. Attendees come from various industries — from digital marketing agencies to software as a service providers to hosting resellers — with their own needs and questions about what's happening "in the cloud." Because our Cloud Expo presences usually get a ton of traffic, we decided to unveil our brand new 20' by 20' booth in New York:

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

For the last few months, we've been sketching, editing and tweaking our vision of the booth. Naturally, our new "Build the Future" branding was present, and you could see the simple "Our Platform. Your Vision." statement from wherever you were. By the time the design was finalized, we were on pins and needles in anticipation, waiting for the booth leap off the paper. We weren't disappointed, and conference attendees weren't either.

In addition to the hundreds of conversations we had with attendees about SoftLayer's cloud computing capabilities, it was pretty amazing to me that so many people commented on our booth design. Many attendees noticed that our booth gets bigger and bigger every year, and the fact that our booth towered over most of the other booths in the area made that a pretty easy observation. As attendees were moving down the escalators into the exhibition hall, they were greeted by the SoftLayer. Because the booth was designed with an open-concept in mind, we never felt too claustrophobic ... Even when a flood of people would come hunting for the new SoftLayer flexi-frisbees we were giving out after they heard Duke or Marc present.

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

Despite the "openness" of the booth design, many attendees were able to gather what SoftLayer is all about from the graphic side panels ... and the Server Challenge:

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

That's right. The infamous Server Challenge continued to draw crowds and spark conversations in the new booth. And it was the perfect "finishing touch" to put the new conference presence over the top. While some attendees were hesitant to step up to try their hands at the competition, others were eager to accept the challenge. And as usual, the leader board was impossibly close:

  1. Dejian Fang - 0:59.08
  2. Corjan Bast - 0:59.59
  3. Logan Best - 1:00.49
  4. Jeffrey Abatayo - 1:01.00
  5. Bryan Wong - 1:01.84

The top time of 59.08 seconds was a mere 2.76 seconds faster than the fifth place time!

When conference attendees weren't watching the Server Challenge craziness or ducking to avoid an errant SoftLayer frisbee, we had a few more "oohs" and "ahhs" to share. In the new booth design, we incorporated four iMacs, one in each corner. If an attendee had a question about our portal, our pricing or our API, we could fire up a browser and use the SoftLayer-sponsored conference wifi to take them where they needed to go. If no one was using the computers, the screens would show a flashy video that included some interesting SoftLayer facts and a look at a SoftLayer Truck Day.

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

Off the expo floor, SoftLayer CTO Duke Skarda and Vice President of Product Innovation Marc Jones announced our new product, Private Clouds. No big deal. If you didn't see that announcement or you want to learn more, Nathan Day (SoftLayer's Chief Scientist) posted a fantastic blog coinciding with SoftLayer's private clouds release, and Duke followed up with an in depth look at how and why we chose to build private clouds the way we did.

Sad that you missed your chance to see the new 20' x 20' booth in person? Don't cry... If you're in the Silicon Valley for Cloud Expo West (November 5-8), we won't be hard to spot.

-Natalie

Categories: 
May 30, 2012

What Does Automation Look Like?

Innovation. Automation. Innovation. Automation. Innovation. Automation. That's been our heartbeat since SoftLayer was born on May 5, 2005. The "Innovation" piece is usually the most visible component of that heartbeat while "Automation" usually hangs out behind the scenes (enabling the "Innovation"). When we launch a new product line like Object Storage, add new functionality to the SoftLayer API, announce a partnership with a service provider like RightScale, or simply receive and rack the latest and greatest server hardware from our vendors, our automated platform allows us to do it quickly and seamlessly. Because our platform is built to do exactly what it's supposed to without any manual intervention, it's easily overlooked.

But what if we wanted to show what automation actually looks like?

It seems like a silly question to ask. If our automated platform is powered by software built by the SoftLayer development team, there's no easy way to show what that automation looks like ... At least not directly. While the bits and bytes aren't easily visible, the operational results of automation are exceptionally photogenic. Let's take a look at a few examples of what automation enables to get an indirect view of what it actually looks like.

Example: A New Server Order

A customer orders a dedicated server. That customer wants a specific hardware configuration with a specific suite of software in a specific data center, and it needs to be delivered within four hours. What does that usually look like from an operations perspective?

SoftLayer Server Rack

If you want to watch those blinking lights for two or three hours, you'll have effectively watched a new server get provisioned at SoftLayer. When an order comes in, the automated provisioning system will find a server matching the order's hardware requirements in the requested data center facility, and the software will be installed before it is handed over to the the customer.

Example: Server Reboot or Operating System Reload

A customer needs to reboot a server or install a new operating system. Whether they want a soft reboot, a hard reboot with a full power cycle or a blank operating system install, the scene in the data center will look eerily familiar:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Gone are the days of server build technicians wheeling a terminal over to every server that needs work done. From thousands of miles away, a customer can remotely "unplug" his or her server via the rack's power strip, initiate a soft reboot or reinstall an operating system. But what if they want even more accessibility?

Example: What's on the Screen?

When remotely rebooting or power cycling a server isn't enough, a customer might want someone in the data center to wheel over to their server in the rack to look at any of the messages that can only be read with a monitor attached. This would generally happen behind the server, but for the sake of this example, we'll just watch the data center technician pass in front of the servers to get to the back:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Yeah, you probably could have seen that one coming.

Because KVM over IP is included on every server, physical carts carrying "keyboard, video and mouse" are few and far between. By automating customers' access to their server and providing as much virtual access as we possibly can, we're able to "get out of the way" of our technical users and only step in to help when that help is needed.

I could go on and on with examples of cloud computing upgrades and downgrades, provisioning a firewall or adding a load balancers, but I'll practice a little restraint. If you want the full effect, you can scroll up and watch the blinking lights a little while longer.

Automation looks like what you don't see. No humanoid robots or needlessly complex machines (that I know of) ... Just a data center humming along with some beautiful flashing server lights.

-Duke

P.S. If you want to be able to remotely bask in the glow of some blinking server lights, bookmark the larger-sized SoftLayer Rack animated gif ... You could even title the bookmark, "Check on the Servers."

May 10, 2012

The SoftLayer API and its 'Star Wars' Sibling

When I present about the SoftLayer API at conferences and meetups, I often use an image that shows how many of the different services in the API are interrelated and connected. As I started building the visual piece of my presentation, I noticed a curious "coincidence" about the layout of the visualization:

SoftLayer API Visualization

What does that look like to you?

You might need to squint your eyes and tilt your head or "look beyond the image" like it's one of those "Magic Eye" pictures, but if you're a geek like me, you can't help but notice a striking resemblance to one of the most iconic images from Star Wars:

SoftLayer API == Death Star?

The SoftLayer API looks like the Death Star.

The similarity is undeniable ... The question is whether that resemblance is coincidental or whether it tells us we can extrapolate some kind of fuller meaning as in light of the visible similarities. I can hear KHazzy now ... "Phil, While that's worth a chuckle and all, there is no way you can actually draw a relevant parallel between the SoftLayer API and The Death Star." While Alderaan may be far too remote for an effective demonstration, this task is no match for the power of the Phil-side.

Challenge Accepted.

The Death Star: A large space station constructed by the Galactic Empire equipped with a super-laser capable of destroying an entire planet.

The SoftLayer API: A robust set of services and methods which provide programmatic access to all portions of the SoftLayer Platform capable of automating any task: administrative, configuration or otherwise.

Each is the incredible result of innovation and design. The construction of the Death Star and creation of the SoftLayer API took years of hard work and a significant investment. Both are massive in scale, and they're both effective and ruthless when completing their objectives.

The most important distinction: The Death Star was made to destroy while the SoftLayer API was made to create ... The Death Star was designed to subjugate a resistance force and destroy anything in the empire's way. The SoftLayer API was designed to help customers create a unified, automated way of managing infrastructure; though in the process, admittedly that "creation" often involves subjugating redundant, compulsory tasks.

The Death Star and the SoftLayer API can both seem pretty daunting. It can be hard to find exactly what you need to solve all of your problems ... Whether that be an exhaust port or your first API call. Fear not, for I will be with you during your journey, and unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, I'm not your only hope. There is no need for rebel spies to acquire the schematics for the API ... We publish them openly at sldn.softlayer.com, and we encourage our customers to break the API down into the pieces of functionality they need.

-Phil (@SoftLayerDevs)

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