Posts Tagged 'Application'

September 28, 2011

A Whole New World: SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

As SLayers, our goal is always to bring creativity in every aspect of work we do at SoftLayer. It was not too long ago when the Interface Development team was presented with a new and exciting challenge: To develop a Windows Phone 7 Series app. Like me, many questioned whether we should tap into the market of Windows Phone OS ... What was the scope of this OS? What is the future of Windows Phone OS smartphones? The business relationship that NOKIA and Microsoft signed to produce smartphones with Windows Phone 7 OS will provide consumers with a new interface and unique features, so smartphone users are paying attention ... And we are too.

The SoftLayer Mobile world had already made huge strides with iPhone and Android based apps, so our work was cut out for us as we entered the Windows Phone 7 world. We put together a small, energetic and skilled group of SLayers who wanted to make SoftLayer proud, and I am proud to be a member of that team!

Our focus was to design and develop an application that would not only provide the portal functionality on mobile phone but also incorporate the awesome features of Windows Phone 7. Keeping all that in consideration, the choice of using an enterprise quality framework was essential. After a lot of research, we put our finger on the Microsoft's Patterns and Practices-backed Prism Framework for Windows Phone 7. The Prism Framework is a well-known and recognized name among Silverlight and Windows Presentation Framework developers, and since Windows Phone 7 is built upon the Silverlight and XNA Framework, our choice was clearly justified.

After selecting the framework, we wanted to make the whole asynchronous experience smooth while talking to SoftLayer's mobile API. That' where we met the cool kid on the block: Reactive Extensions for .NET (also known as Rx). The Rx is a library used to compose asynchronous and event-based programs. The learning curve was pretty intense for the team, but we operate under the mantra of CBNO (Challenging-But-Not-Overwhelming), so it was learning we knew would bear fruits.

The team's plan was to create an app that had the most frequently used features from the portal. The features to be showcased in the first release were to be basic but at the same time essential. The features we pinpointed were ticket management, hardware management, bandwidth and account management. Bringing these features to the phone posed a challenge, though ... How do we add a little more spice to what cold be a rather plain and basic app?

Windows Phone 7 controls came to our rescue and we utilized the Pivot and Panorama controls to design the Ticket Lists and Ticket Details. The pivot control works like a tabbed-style control that is viewable by sliding left or right. This lets us put the ticket-based-categories in a single view so users don't have to navigate back-and-forth to see different types of tickets. It also provides context-menu style navigation by holding onto the ticket item, giving an option to view or edit ticket with one tap. Here is a screen shot of pivot control in use to view tickets by categories and device list:

Win7 Phone Screen

Another achievement was made by using the panorama control. The control works like a long page with different relevant sections of similar content. This control was used to show a snap shot of a ticket, and the view displays basic ticket details, updates, attachments and any hardware attached to a ticket. This makes editing a ticket as easy as a tap! This is a screenshot of panorama control in use to view ticket detail:

Win7 Phone Screen

The device list view will help people see the dedicated and virtual devices in a pivot control giving a visual distinction. The list can be searched by tapping on the filter icon at the application bar. The filtering is search-as-you-type style and can be turned off by tapping the icon again. This screenshot shows the device list with a filtering option:

Win7 Phone Screen

To perform further hardware operations like pinging, rebooting and power cycling the server, you can use the hardware detail view as well. The bandwidth view may not be as flashy, but it's a very useful representation of a server's bandwidth information. Charting is not available with this release but will be available in the upcoming releases.

If you own a Windows Phone 7 device, go ahead and download "SoftLayer Mobile" and send us the feedback on what features you would like to see next and most importantly whether you love this app or not. We have and will always strive for excellence, and we know there's always room to improve!

-Imran

September 27, 2011

The Challenges of Cloud Security Below 10,000 Feet

This guest blog was contributed by Wendy Nather, Research Director, Enterprise Security Practice at The 451 Group. Her post comes on the heels of the highly anticipated launch of StillSecure's Cloud SMS, and it provides some great context for the importance of security in the cloud. For more information about Cloud SMS, visit www.stillsecure.com and follow the latest updates on StillSecure's blog, The Security Samurai.

If you're a large enterprise, you're in pretty good shape for the cloud: you know what kind of security you want and need, you have security staff who can validate what you're getting from the provider, and you can hold up your end of the deal – since it takes both customer and provider working together to build a complete security program. Most of the security providers out there are building for you, because that's where the money is; and they're eager to work on scaling up to meet the requirements for your big business. If you want custom security clauses in a contract, chances are, you'll get them.

But at the other end of the scale there are the cloud customers I refer to as being "below the security poverty line." These are the small shops (like your doctor's medical practice) that may not have an IT staff at all. These small businesses tend to be very dependent on third party providers, and when it comes to security, they have no way to know what they need. Do they really need DLP, a web application firewall, single sign-on, log management, and all the premium security bells and whistles? Even if you gave them a free appliance or a dedicated firewall VM, they wouldn't know what to do with it or have anyone to run it.

And when a small business has only a couple of servers in a decommissioned restroom*, the provider may be able to move them to their cloud, but it may not be able to scale a security solution down far enough to make it simple to run and cost-effective for either side. This is the great challenge today: to make cloud security both effective and affordable, both above and below 10,000 feet, no matter whether you're flying a jumbo airliner or a Cessna.

-Wendy Nather, The 451 Group

*True story. I had to run some there.

September 14, 2011

FaxLogic: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from FaxLogic CEO Eric Lenington. The unique FaxLogic service combines the best of analog fax, Internet fax, and fax servers to create a highly reliable, secure and scalable collaborative environment.

Why the (Right) Cloud is the Best Place for Your Documents

Every business produces and consumes documents — this includes both paper and digital, both those created internally and those received from customers and business partners — all needing to be sorted and organized and most needing to be safely stored and easily retrieved (and ultimately, securely disposed of when they are no longer needed). The vast majority of companies find themselves trying to do this today in highly fragmented ways and usually with radically different approaches for paper documents than with digital ones. Often different departments, or even different groups within a department, develop their own way to deal with "their" documents, a way that "works for them."

Digital documents are usually stored on in-house servers, on "shares" with folder structures that may only make sense to the person that originally built it — not to the person trying to find something in it. And few companies can say that they don't have reams of paper files stored in file rooms or in "personal" file cabinets. FaxLogic helps our customers solve this problem by seamlessly integrating their paper and digital worlds.

We do this by supporting their existing network of fax machines, scanners and multi-function printers (the "gateways" to the digital world for paper documents) and by incorporating key features of current technologies that we are all familiar with – like email and search engines – into the realm of organizing, archiving, retrieving and sharing documents. FaxLogic is a cloud-based service, running on a cloud-based infrastructure, and it uses "the cloud" to safely and securely store our customer's documents (whether paper or digital). This was no accident, and that is what I will focus on in this article, trying to "demystify" the cloud a bit, and discuss why it's the best place for your documents.

What is "the Cloud" and What Value does it Bring?
Wikipedia, one of my favorite sources for good information, defines "cloud computing" like this:

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).

As I said earlier, FaxLogic is a cloud-based service; we are the "application" (document management) that is delivered to the "client" (our customer's web browser). And we run on a cloud-based infrastructure, using providers like SoftLayer to manage the hardware layer that our application runs on and the networking layer that we use to deliver our service to our customers. Leveraging that "best of breed" infrastructure is a huge win for us, letting us focus where we add value – our application – while leaving the "plumbing" to others. Of course, a choice like that isn't made lightly.

From Wikipedia's definition, the term "shared resources" is the key. By leveraging cloud-based infrastructure and platform resources, we are able to use a small portion of a much larger and more robust environment than we could economically build ourselves. But the big kicker is that even though we are using only a small portion of that environment, we get to take advantage of the whole architecture and all its capabilities, just as if we were the only application running on it.

The "80% Rule"
An anecdotal number that's been thrown around a lot, the "80% rule" says that 80% of all businesses fail within some short time period after a major catastrophe, like a fire, flood or earthquake. But this isn't just an anecdote, numbers in the 60-90% range are real and well-documented. A study conducted by the insurance giant Chubb in 2008 put the likelihood of business failure after a fire at 70%. According to FEMA, of businesses without a disaster recovery plan already in place, 80% of those affected by hurricane Andrew in 1992 were out of business within three years. I won't bore you with a long list of depressing statistics, a quick Google search will turn up many more. The point is that data loss, whether caused by natural disaster, human error, or malicious activity, is, more often than not, very difficult to overcome.

Paper files stored in file cabinets, and even digital files stored on backed-up in-house servers, are vulnerable. Ask yourself what you would do tomorrow if even half of the documents critical to your business were destroyed tonight.

The FaxLogic Cloud Solution
Now, I don't want to suggest for one second that FaxLogic is the single solution for surviving such an event or that our platform should be thought of as a comprehensive disaster recovery solution. It is neither. But it is a critical part of the solution. When it comes to disaster recovery, Ben Franklin's "ounce of prevention" couldn't be more relevant. And as it applies to your business documents, that ounce is to get those documents out of harms way in the first place. This is where the cloud comes in.

Companies like SoftLayer provide cloud storage as a service – a highly scalable, secure environment to safely store files of virtually any kind. The architecture that such services are built on and the layers of redundancy they incorporate are beyond the reach of most small and many medium sized companies, but through the magic of cloud computing, we only need a small portion of that shared resource, while still getting to take advantage of the whole thing. The bottom line is that a well-designed cloud storage service will be hundreds or even thousands of times more reliable and durable than anything most businesses could economically build themselves, not to mention more secure.

FaxLogic takes our small portion of that shared resource, and through our application, makes it even more reliable and durable, by doing things like ensuring broad geographic distribution of multiple copies of each file, so there is no single point of failure even in the face of a major regional disaster.

Beyond the Worst Case Scenario
Secure, reliable cloud-based storage is just the basic building block that our application makes useful. Just the fact that your business documents are safer in the cloud isn't the whole story, nor is it the whole value proposition of the cloud. Beyond the worst case scenario, storing your documents in the cloud brings real and tangible benefits to your day-to-day activities. We make it easy to capture both paper and digital documents and store them in the cloud, organize and easily find your documents when you need them, collaborate and share documents while controlling who has access to confidential information, and manage everything from a simple browser-based interface.

Think about how much easier day-to-day activity would be with capabilities like being able to access a shared document library from any Internet-enabled device, instantly find a faxed copy of a purchase order from six months ago by knowing only the name of the sender, or easily pull up a client's latest work order revision without having to figure out who's desk the client's folder is on. We use the cloud to make this possible. By getting your documents out of their hiding places (stacks of paper on people's desks, file cabinets down the hall, or even "shares" on local servers) that information is more freely accessible to those who need it.

Take Action
Businesses of all sizes can and are benefiting today from a wide range of cloud-based services, most of which weren't even available five years ago. The underlying value proposition they all have in common is that they give each customer access to a small piece of a large "shared resource," one that generally wouldn't be economically feasible to build and support in-house. And each customer can take advantage of the scale and capabilities of the whole resource. When it comes to capturing, storing, organizing, retrieving and sharing documents, the cloud's value proposition offers a clear advantage over any on-site approach.

FaxLogic has built a best-in-class cloud-based application on top of best-in-class cloud-based infrastructure and platform services, giving our customers a multiple of that value proposition. By letting our customers leverage their existing equipment and without requiring radical changes to their existing business processes, we make it easy to start taking advantage of the benefits of cloud storage for all of their paper and digital documents.

-Eric Lenington, FaxLogic

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.
September 8, 2011

Boston Startup Scene - WebInnovatorsGroup

We love startups and entrepreneurship communities that help startups become successful. Startups are usually all about innovation and approaching existing problems in a new way ... And if you're familiar with SoftLayer's "Innovate or Die" motto, you know that we're cut from the same cloth. We've partnered with incubators like Tech Wildcatters to provide up-and-coming companies with a year of $1,000/mo hosting credits along with a little SoftLayer expertise sprinkled in for good measure, and we are happy to support community partners like non-profits and user groups where new ideas are born every day.

Given our commitment to the startup community, when we heard that a sponsorship opened up for the September 13 WebInnovatorsGroup quarterly meeting, we jumped on the chance to get involved. WebInno events are fueled by a long-standing community of Internet and mobile entrepreneurs founded by David Beisel, and while I could tell you everything I know about what they're doing in Boston, the best person to hear from is David himself:

Boston + Entrepreneurs + Technology + Beer ... It was a no-brainer for us to be a Gold Sponsor of WebInno31.

Visit WebInnovatorsGroup.com to learn more about the WebInno community or head straight to the WebInno31 registration form to reserve your spot at Royal Sonesta Cambridge on Tuesday, September 13, at 6:30pm.

-Kevin

P.S. If you have a startup community or an ongoing event like WebInno that SoftLayer can be involved with, leave a comment on this blog or let us know on Twitter: @SoftLayer

August 3, 2011

CyberlinkASP: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Chris Lantrip, CEO of CyberlinkASP, an application service provider focused on hosting, upgrading and managing the industry's best software.

The DesktopLayer from CyberlinkASP

Hosted virtual desktops – SoftLayer style.

In early 2006, we were introduced to SoftLayer. In 2007, they brought us StorageLayer, and in 2009, CloudLayer. Each of those solutions met a different kind of need in the Application Service Provider (ASP) world, and by integrating those platforms into our offering, DesktopLayer was born: The on-demand anytime, anywhere virtual desktop hosted on SoftLayer and powered by CyberlinkASP.

CyberlinkASP was originally established to instantly web-enable software applications that were not online in the past. Starting off as a Citrix integration firm in the early days, we were approached by multiple independent software vendors asking us to host, manage and deliver their applications from a centralized database platform to their users across multiple geographic locations. With the robust capabilities of Citrix, we were able to revolutionize application delivery and management for several ISV's.

Over time, more ISV's starting showing up at our doorstep, and application delivery was becoming a bigger and bigger piece of our business. Our ability to provision users on a specific platform in minutes, delete them in minutes, perform updates and maintain hundreds of customers and thousands of users all at one time from a centralized platform was very attractive.

Our users began asking us, "Is it possible to put our payroll app on this platform too?" "What about Exchange and Office?" They loved the convenience of not managing the DBs for individual applications, and they obviously wanted more. Instead of providing one-off solutions for individual applications, we built the DesktopLayer, a hosted environment for virtual desktops.

We deliver a seamless and integrated user experience utilizing SoftLayer, Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop. When our users log in they see the same screen, the same applications and the same performance they received on their local machine. The Citrix experience takes over the entire desktop, and the look and feel is indistinguishable. It's exactly what they are accustomed to.

Our services always include the Microsoft suite (Exchange, Office, Sharepoint) and is available on any device, from your PC to your Mac to your iPad. To meet the needs of our customers, we also integrate all 3rd party apps and non-Microsoft software into the virtual desktop – if our customers are using Peachtree or Quickbooks for accounting and Kronos for HR, they are all seamlessly published to the users who access them, and unavailable to those that do not.

We hang our hat on our unique ability to tie all of a company's applications into one centralized user experience and support it. Our Dallas-based call center is staffed with a team of knowledgeable engineers who are always ready to help troubleshoot and can add/delete and customize new users in minutes. We take care of everything ... When someone needs help setting up a printer or they bought a new scanner, they call our helpdesk and we take it from there. Users can call us directly for support and leave the in-house IT team to focus on other areas, not desktop management.

With the revolution of cloud computing, many enterprises are trending toward the eradication of physical infrastructure in their IT environments. Every day, we see more and more demand from IT managers who want us to assume the day-to-day management of their end user's entire desktop, and over the past few years, the application stack that we deliver to each of our end users has grown significantly.

As Citrix would say "the virtual desktop revolution is here." The days of having to literally touch hundreds of devices at users' workstations are over. Servers in the back closet are gone. End users have become much more unique and mobile ... They want the same access, performance and capabilities regardless of geography. That's what we provide. DesktopLayer, with instant computing resources available from SoftLayer, is the future.

I remember someone telling me in 2006 that it was time for the data center to "grow up". It has. We now have hundreds of SMB clients and thousands of virtual desktops in the field today, and we love having a chance to share a little about how we see the IT landscape evolving. Thanks to our friends at SoftLayer, we get to tell that story and boast a little about what we're up to!

- Chris M. Lantrip, Chief Executive, CyberlinkASP

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.
July 7, 2011

Me and My Android

Last weekend I went to an outdoor concert where I saw a pretty decent Beatles tribute band that hails from the great state of Texas and goes by the name Me and My Monkey. The entire excursion from home to the venue and back again lasted just about six hours. I was pulling into my driveway engaged in a phone conversation with a friend about which fake Beatle was her favorite when my Android gave a strangled beep, cut us off and powered down.

At first I thought it was a glitch, but a quick attempt to turn it back on showed me otherwise. I was out of juice. My battery was drained beyond the point of no return — or at least no return without access to an electrical outlet. I wondered if I had forgotten to charge the phone the previous night. After all, I was outside with friends, food, and music all evening. My phone was snug in my pocket on standby ... Or was it?

I was the first to arrive to the venue, so I made a call to let the my freinds know I had staked us out a shady spot. After that, I fired up go sms to coordinate getting the right number of chairs, and I used it again while searching the parking lot for my friend's car to help her carry those chairs. During the Sgt. Pepper set in an attempt to settle an argument, I "Googled" which year the Beatles officially broke up (turns out it was 1970 but the break-up dragged out until 1975). Sometime between Strawberry Fields and Hello, Goodbye I got an email from the office, so I logged into my handy SoftLayer App to check on a support ticket.

During the intermission, a local radio station was piped through the sound system and someone asked me to Shazam what turned out to be a Florence and the Machine cover of a track off Abbey Road. Since my phone was at the ready, I was the point person to find out whether the chorus to I Am the Walrus really said goo goo g'joob. I didn't have a lighter on me, but my Virtual Zippo did the trick nicely during Hey Jude. And did I mention I don't wear a watch because if I just hit the power button on my spiffy smart phone ... ta-da, I get the time!

It's a funny feeling when you realize how something that didn't really exist five years ago has managed to ingrain itself so deeply into your everyday life. That's what I found myself thinking as I was drifting off to sleep Saturday night, me in my bed and my Android recharging on the night stand ... Well, that and who are the eggmen? Goo goo g'joob.

-William

Categories: 
June 21, 2011

Ghostin' the Machine - SoftLayer Customer Portal

The hosting business is a really great place to be these days. It may morph rapidly, but some things ring consistently clear. The dedicated server is one of those things. In the brief 10 years or so of my Internet hosting career, the way dedicated servers are delivered to customers and the way they are managed has gone from prop-jet to auto-pilot.

I got started in the dedicated hosting business under Lance Crosby (our current CEO) in October of 2003. At that time we had less than 100 employees, and it may have been less than 50. "Auto-provisioning" consisted of Lance offering pizza and cash bonuses for each white-box PC that we'd 'ghost' with a boot floppy using a networked imaging server (in between our support tasks of answering calls and responding to tickets). We used a popular product made by Norton* in those days to deliver servers as quickly as possible to feed what seemed like an endless demand. As time has gone by, our systems have vastly improved, and true automation is the rule now; Manual intervention, the exception.

Today, SoftLayer has 600+ employees, 80,000+ dedicated servers, 26,000+ customers and is on the verge of launching our international presence. One of the biggest reasons SoftLayer has been so successful is because we offer customers maximum control.

When you need online computing power these days, you have hundreds of choices. Most of your options are still centered on the general idea of the dedicated server, but there are variations depending on what needs are being targeted. Physical dedicated servers are now complimented by Cloud Compute Instances and Virtualized Instances to provide a more flexible platform to tailor to specific use cases. Some providers do better than others at integrating those platforms, and when we began incoporating cloud and dedicated in an integrated environment, our goal was to enable customers to control all aspects of their environment via a single 'pane of glass,' our customer portal.

If you've heard us talk about the features and functionality in the customer portal but have never seen how easy it is to actually navigate the interface, today's your lucky day:

In a nutshell, you get the kind of server control that used to require driving down to the data center, popping on your parka and performing some troubleshooting in the freezing cold cage. You may have been troubleshooting hardware cooling, wiring or other hardware issues, and you'd usually need direct console access to all the different types of servers and devices loaded on your rack.

Thankfully, those days are gone.

Now you can order a dedicated server and have it online in 2-4 hours (or a Cloud Computing Instance which can be online in 15 minutes). You can configure their private network so that they can talk to each other seamlessly; you can add firewalls, load balancing, backup services, monitoring instantly. For maintenance issues, you have the convenience of BIOS-level access via the standard KVM over IP card included in every server so you can see low-level hardware indicators like fan speeds and core temperatures and perform soft IPMI reboots. Firmware upgrades for your hard drive, motherboard, or RAID card that once required the ever-hated floppy disk can now be done with a few button clicks, and speaking of RAID cards, our systems will report back on any change to an ideal status for your disk subsystem. If that weren't enough, you've got monitoring alerts and bandwidth graphs to give you plenty of easy to reference eye-candy.

No more messy wiring, no more beeping UPS units, no more driving, no more parkas.

-Chris

*As a rather humorous aside: My former manager, Tim, got a call one night from one of the newer NOC staff. He was a systems guy, many of the internal systems were under his SysAdmin wing. He was awakened by a tech with broken English who informed him that his name was on the escalation procedures to be called whenever this server went down:

Tim: (groggily) "What is the server name?"
Tech: "G - Host - Me"
Tim: "Huh? Why did you wake me up? ... Why don't you call that hosting company? ... I don't think that's one of my boxes!"
Tech: "No, no sir, so sorry, but your name is on the escalation. Server Label is 'G' ... um 'HOSTME.'"
Tim: "Whaa? — Wait, do you mean Ghost Me?" (GHOSTME was the actual hostname for the Norton imaging server that we used for a while as our 'provisioning' platform)

Laughter ensued and this story was told many times over beers at the High Tech pub.

May 27, 2011

SoftLayer Mobile - Coming of Age

The SoftLayer Mobile application allows customers to work with support tickets, examine and control servers, monitor bandwidth information and more. The application is available on two platform: Apple iOS - supporting iPhones and iPads, and the Google Android operating system - supporting mobile phones and devices from a variety of vendors.

The SoftLayer Mobile application is quickly approaching its first birthday. The application was first introduced to the world in June of 2010. Frequent visitors to this blog may remember when we introduced the iPhone application right here in the SoftLayer blog. We got back with you again when the Android application reached the milestone of 100 downloads. Our success with the application continues to this day with the both the iOS and Android versions sporting impressive download statistics which multiply those of a year ago many dozens of times over.

In the course of the past year, we've gotten some great suggestions for improvements from our customers. The first request was for the application to store account passwords a feature which we implemented quickly. From those humble beginnings we added some larger, more complex functionality based on your feedback like two-factor authentication using VeriSign Identity Protection, bandwidth charting, and the ability to check account balances and make one-time payments against those balances from your phone.

We'd love to continue that trend and hope to tap into the experience of the thousands of you who are working with the application. In the coming year, we hope to expand our existing functionality, include new features, and support both new operating systems and new devices. We'd love to hear about your ideas on how we can best improve the SoftLayer Mobile application to make it an even more valuable tool for you.

Would you like improved tracking of your bandwidth? Can we offer greater control over your server's network ports? Do you need to monitor your server's CPU usage even while you're in line at the bank? Is there one particular task that compels you to visit the SoftLayer Customer Portal time and again? If so, and if it would be convenient for you to have that information on the phone in your pocket rather than on the computer at your desk, please let us know!

To offer your suggestions, please create a support ticket in your SoftLayer account detailing your needs. Alternatively, if you are already using the SoftLayer Mobile application, drop us a line through the feedback links built into the Support section.

If you haven't been using the SoftLayer Mobile application, then we'd like to invite you to download it and explore its features. For more information, and for links and information about downloading and installing the application, visit our Mobile Application resource page.

Keep watching that page over the coming months as well. We have some exciting projects in the works and hope to share them with you very soon!

-Scott

May 3, 2011

SoftLayer's Android Client Gets an Extreme Makeover

One of the things you expect when you merge two organizations in the same vertical space is for your talent pool to get deeper. SoftLayer had a seriously talented bunch of developers before the merger - I should know, I consider myself one of them - and as I was promised would be the case, after the merger, we were joined by an equally talented group of engineers from The Planet. Where we had two low-level developers, now we have four. Where we had a dozen guys with .NET experience, now we have twenty. It's better for us employees, and better for our customers too.

What I didn't expect as part of the merger was that our talent pool would get wider. No, I don't mean we now employ an army of body builders and Siamese twins. I mean as result of the merger, we ended up with an entirely new group of folks here unlike any SL previously had on the payroll. This new and exotic breed of folks - new and exotic at least from my perspective - are collectively known as "user experience" engineers.

I admit (and I suspect most software engineers will concur) when I develop something, it becomes my baby. Each software engineer has his or her own method for inciting that spark of genius ... I start out with some ideas on a yellow pad, refine them until I can whip up an actual spec, code some unit tests and wait to see if my baby takes its first step or falls flat on its digital face. Either way, over time with gentle nudging and TLC, eventually an application grows. And like any loving parent I'm certain that my application can do no wrong.

So when I was told a "usability study" would be done on one of my babies by the user experience, team you can imagine what went through my mind. After all, I was there when the first API call succeeded. I was the one who got up in the middle of the night when the application got cranky and decided to throw an unhandled exception. Who the heck are these user interface specialist and what do they know that I don't?

In retrospect, I couldn't have been more wrong. I am a professional coder with more than a decade of experience under my belt. But I'm often more interested in how I can squeeze a few more CPU cycles out of a sub-routine than how much easier it would be for the user if I rearranged the order of the GUI's a little bit. The user interface review I received really got me thinking from a user's perspective and excited about the application in a way I hadn't been since the early days when I banged out those first few lines of code.

Two weeks ago, we released a new, radically different looking Android client. If you are a current user of the application, you've undoubtedly received an OTA update by now, and I hope you are as pleasantly surprised by the result as I am. For those of you with Android phones who have not installed the SoftLayer client, I encourage you to do so. You can get more info by visiting http://www.softlayer.com/resources/mobile-apps/.

Before I let you go, what kind of father would I be if I didn't take out my wallet and bore you to tears with pictures of my children? Without further ado, I present to you the latest and greatest Android Mobile Client:

SL Android App

SL Android App

SL Android App

SL Android App

-William

Categories: 
April 27, 2011

AppFirst: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from AppFirst, a SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partner specializing in managing servers and applications with a SaaS-based monitoring solution.

How You Should Approach Monitoring in the Cloud

Monitoring in the cloud may sound like it's easy, but there's one important thing you need to know before you get started: traditional monitoring techniques simply don't work when you're in the cloud.

"But why?" you may ask. "Why can't I use Polling and Byte Code Injection in my cloud infrastructure?"

With Polling, you miss incidents between intervals, you only get the data that you requested, and you can only monitor parts of the application but not the whole thing. If you choose to use Polling for your cloud monitoring, you'll have to deal with missing important data you need.

And with Byte Code Injection, you only get data from within the language run-time, meaning you don't have the real data of what is happening across your application stack. It is inferred.

Using our own product on our production systems, we have learned three lessons about running in the cloud.

Lesson #1: Visibility = Control
By definition, running in the cloud means you are running in a shared environment. You don't have the CPU cycles your operating system reports you have, and sometimes, the hypervisor will throttle you. In our experience, some cloud vendors are much better at managing this than others. When running in some clouds, we've had huge variations in performance throughout the day, significantly impacting our end-users experience. One of the reasons we chose SoftLayer was because we didn't see those kinds of variances.

The reality is until you have visibility into what your application truly needs in terms of resources, you don't have control of your application and your user's experience. According to an Aberdeen study, 68% of the time IT finds out about application issues from end users. Don't let this be you!

Lesson #2: It's Okay to Use Local Storage
The laws of physics reign, so the disk is always the slowest piece. No getting around the fact there are physical elements involved like spindles and disks spinning. And then when you share it, as you do in the cloud, there can be other issues ... It all depends on the characteristics of your application. If it's serving up lots of static data, then cloud-based storage can most likely work for you. However, if you have lots of dynamic, small chunks of data, you are probably best served by using local storage. This is the architecture we had to go with given the nature of our application.

With servers around the world streaming application behavior data to our production system all the time and needing to process it to make it available in a browser, we had to use local storage. In case you are interested in reading more on this and RAM based designs here are some posts:

Lesson #3: Know the Profile of Your Subsystems
Knowing the profile of your subsystems and what they need in terms of resources is imperative to have the best performing application. A cloud-only deployment may not be right for you; hybrid (cloud and dedicated physical servers) might work better.

As we discussed in Lesson #2 you might need to have local, persistent storage. Again, some vendors do this better than others. SoftLayer, in our experience, has a very good, high bandwidth connection between their cloud and physical infrastructure. But you can't make these decisions in a vacuum. You need the data to tell you what parts of your application are network heavy, CPU intensive, and require a lot of memory in certain circumstances. We have learned a lot from using our own application on our production system. It's very quick and easy for you to start learning about the profile of your application too.

We are constantly learning more about deploying in the cloud, NoSQL databases, scalable architectures, and more. Check out the AppFirst blog regularly for the latest.

We'd like to give a special shout out thanks to SoftLayer! We're honored to be one of your launch partners in the new Technology Partners Marketplace.

-AppFirst

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.
Categories: 
Subscribe to application