Posts Tagged 'Automation'

March 29, 2012

SoftLayer Singapore - The Impact of Automation

We hosted our first quarterly networking event in Singapore yesterday, and as I spoke with the partners, prospects, customers and SLayers in attendance, I heard some incredible stories about struggles with scaling infrastructure and how SoftLayer has revolutionized the way our customers look at their physical and virtual infrastructure. As we talked about our experiences, one of my own "war stories" came to mind, and I got to share it:

On on a Sunday afternoon in March 2002, an earthquake hit Taiwan. It measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, and it shook buildings across the island, flattening some of them and wreaking general havoc in cities. Beyond the visible damage it caused, it took out the fiber landing stations in Taiwan, cutting off Asia Pacific Internet traffic from the US. Typically when a fiber cable system is cut, telcos will scramble to re-route their traffic to the next available path, but because North Asia was crippled by the quake, all Internet traffic in Asia was being routed through Australia, causing major congestion down under, resulting in virtually zero Internet connectivity to the rest of the world.

At that time, I was VP of Sales for a leading Singapore-based hosting company. I received a call on my sales hotline at 7am on the morning after the earthquake. The caller was the CEO of a major gaming company in Australia, and he sounded desperate. All his servers — hosted in the US at the time — were unreachable, and he had been calling hosting companies all over Asia to buy some dedicated servers to host the game for his Asian customers. While I couldn't help him when it came to getting connectivity to his servers in the US, I thought it would be easy to accommodate his request for hardware based in Asia.

I asked him what server configurations he needed, and he detailed 20 identical servers that needed to be up and running for his gaming application within 24 hours, highlighting that he was losing thousands in revenue by the day. He explained that the projected revenue loss would exponentially increase to thousands per hour if the game remained offline for 24 hours more. He gave me his RAM, hard disk, OS and Database requirements, and he added, "We need all of them to be on Woodcrest!"

I remember vividly saying, "Woodcrest what? Oh, yes, yes, we have those!" I told him I'd get back to him, hung up the phone and went straight to our provisioning manager. We stock to provide 20 servers, but we didn't have any Woodcrest CPUs. There was no way we could locate, rack and provision the requested servers 24 hours ... The best we could commit to was 10 days. Obviously, that wasn't going to work, but I wasn't discouraged. I was going to solve the problem.

I managed to scrape together 20 Woodcrest CPUs from different local electronics retailers, and after wrangling cheques from the finance department and getting the CEO to apply pressure the provisioning manager, I was able to "fast-track" the servers to a four-day provisioning time. When all was said and done, he was able to bring his game back online after losing out on 8 days of business. Despite the losses, being able to turn around that kind of order that "quickly" made me pretty proud.

10 years later, I can't believe how much things have changed.

SoftLayer automates almost all of the manual processes, and we're able to provision a dedicated servers in 2-4 hours. While that's a pretty impressive feat, it's even more amazing when you consider that we can bring up 20, 50 or 100 dedicated servers in the same time frame. Just look at what OMGPOP was able to do when their "Draw Something" app was downloaded 36 million times. That's what automation is all about. Anything that we can automate, we automate, and that makes for an unbeatable user experience.

If someone came to us today with the an urgent order similar to the one I dealt with in 2002, the entire interaction above would boil down to, "What specs do you need? *typing* Here's your order number. You can expect the machines to be provisioned within 4 hours." We'd be off the phone by about 7:20am, and by noon, all of the servers would be online and hosting the game. The craziest part is that we're not even satisfied with that turnaround time yet. Our commitment is to continue to innovate, automate and empower our customers through our customer portal and APIs, and because our goals are to get better and serve our customers faster, the carrot will always be in front of us ... the same way UPS has a philosophy of "constructive dissatisfaction."

I want to thank everyone who came to our networking event yesterday. I hope you learned a little something about SoftLayer because I certainly learned a lot about our customers in the dozens of conversations I had. If you weren't able to attend and want to see what you missed, we posted a few pictures on Flickr: SoftLayer Singapore - Quarterly Networking Event - March 28, 2012

SoftLayer Singapore

Do you have any infrastructure horror stories from the past like mine?

-Michael

September 13, 2011

SoftLayer Features and Benefits - Automation

Features and benefits ... They're like husband and wife, horse and carriage, hammer and nails! They are inseparable and will always complement each other. I wanted to jump right into a key "features and benefits" analysis of one of the value propositions of the SoftLayer platform, but before I did, I want to make sure we are all on the same page about the difference between the two.

A feature is something prominent about a person, place or thing. It's usually something that stands out and makes whatever you're talking about stand out — for the purpose of this discussion it will be, at least. It could be something as simple as the new car you're buying having a front windshield or the house you're looking to buy having a garage. Maybe it's something a little more distinct like having your car's air conditioner stay cool and blow for 15 min after the ignition is switched to the ACC position when you turn your engine off while pumping gas. Maybe your house has a tank-less water heater. These examples are indeed real features, but the first two are more or less expected ... The last two make this particular car and this particular house stand out.

So where do the benefits come in? Benefits are features that are useful or profitable to you. With you being the operative word here. Think about it: If a feature does not provide any use to you, why would you care? Let's go back to the car with its unique A/C feature. What if you live in Greenland? Who cares that the A/C will stay on? You may not even care for the feature of having an air conditioner at all! Talk about that feature in Dallas, TX, where it has been over 100 degrees for the last 2 months and counting, and all of a sudden, this feature provides a real benefit!

It's now your cue to ask how all of this relates to hosting or, more specifically, SoftLayer.

{ ... Waiting for you to ask ... }

I am glad you asked! If you haven't noticed, SoftLayer boasts a wide array of features on our website, and I would like to point out some of the benefits that may not be apparent to everyone, starting with automation. You're probably aware that SoftLayer has one of the most robust and full featured automation platforms in the industry.

Automation

Think about the last time your IT director sent an email that went into your junk mail folder ... You happen to see it on Sunday night, and it reads, "Please stand up five test servers for a new project by the Monday morning meeting." You know that the vendors you typically use take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to stand up new servers, so you wouldn't have had a problem if you saw the email a week ago when it was sent — but you didn't. So to avoid getting a smudge on your perfect employee record, you stumble across softlayer.com where automation enables us to deliver your five servers in 2 hours. Talk about a benefit: You still have time to watch a little TV before going to bed ... Five servers, to your exact specifications, all deployed before you could Google the orgin of "rubber baby buggy bumbers." (For those who care, it was a tag line said by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Last Action Hero.)

At the heart of our automation platform lives the dedicated server, and the blood that courses though our network is the API. All that's left is the pretty face (which we call the Customer Portal). Our portal provides a graphical user interface to control every aspect of your account from ordering new servers, IP allocations and hardware reboots to port control, port speed selection and billing matters. If you're more into the behind-the-scenes stuff, then you can use all the same controls from the comfort of your own application via the API. Sounds like a lot of features to me, where are the benefits?

To start, you have options! Who doesn't like options? You get to choose how you want to manage your account and infrastructure. We don't force you into "our" way. Secondly, being able to do most functions yourself enables you to be more efficient. You know what you want, so you can log in and get it. No need to wait two hours for your firewall rule set to update; just log in and change it. You want to add load balancing to your account? Log in and order it! How about SAN replication? ... I think you see where I'm going with this. Our portal and automation bring this control to your computer anywhere in the world! Some of these features even extend to your iPhone and android platform. Now you can update your support tickets while at the park with the kids.

Look for a second installment of our study on SoftLayer Features and Benefits! There are many more features that I want to translate into benefits for you, so in the more familiar words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back"!

-Harold

May 10, 2011

SoftLayer's Core Values

On my first day on the job at SoftLayer, I was taught the core values of the company: Innovation, empowerment, automation and integration. Initially, I wasn't sure if this was "marketing talk" or actually the actual driving force behind SoftLayer. Now, almost a year and a half later, I see how these core values really do power SoftLayer's success every day.

In April, I was chatting with companies at Cloud Connections in Las Vegas, and I had the chance to give them some examples of how those core values make SoftLayer so much more than just another hosting provider:

Innovation
We're constantly bringing products to market before others in the industry realize the need for them. One example of this is our early adoption of IPv6. SoftLayer was the very first hosting provider to offer our customers IPv6 and to make sure our entire data centers were IPv6-ready.

Empowerment
We give our customers full root access to their hardware so that they are able to configure their environment exactly how they want it. Beyond that, each server comes with free KVM over IP and out-of-band management network capabilities. We give complete control to our customers so that they can create their own virtual data center experience on demand.

Automation
We've completely automated the provisioning process, so we can deliver fully provisioned, customized dedicated servers in 1-4 hours and fully provisioned cloud instances in 5-25 minutes. Most of SoftLayer's competitors take a few days (sometimes even weeks) to provision what we have online in hours.

Integration
We're the only hosting provider that can offer a truly integrated solution for dedicated servers and cloud computing instances. We offer a single portal and API to manage both of these solutions. We also offer a private network that connects your dedicated servers and cloud computing instances and allows them to communicate without going out over the public network.

If you're familiar with SoftLayer, you know that these core values permeate our business. By innovating, empowering, automating and integrating, we're trying to stay ahead of the game. If you would like to experience a way-better-than-average hosting experience, I am sure SLales would love to hear from you!

3B4L!

-Summer

January 13, 2011

API Basics: What is the API?

Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. An API allows a developer to create software that directly interfaces with another system. A simple example would be an online retail site that drop ships products from a distributor. Without an API, the retail site administrator might have to manually update stock availability and product information, but with an API, the retail site administrator can link directly to the distributor's database to display real-time stock and product changes.

SoftLayer has taken this concept to a whole new level. Most APIs are added to an existing system allowing the developer to interact with a small part of the overall architecture. SoftLayer took a different approach. We built our entire system on the API. This means anything you can do from our Portal, you can do via the API.

The breadth of the API can be seen in its current use cases. On one end of the usage spectrum, customers simply incorporate a few API calls to keep track of their hosting account details like bandwidth usage and invoice information. On the other end, users have built the API into complete management systems that allow control over all aspects of their SoftLayer experience - essentially a custom, personalized portal.

What gives an API its true power is its ability to automate. In a standard system, you can plans for any situation, but someone needs to see the situation and react to it. With the API, the system can automatically react. For example, an administrator could design a system that requires a minimum number of IP addresses for every X number of clients on a server. If a new client is added to the server and a new IP address is needed, the administrator's application can use the API to automatically request an additional block of IPs to be provisioned to the server.

This level of automation can be taken even further: A system is in place that needs to dynamically scale based on traffic. With the power of the API and the use of Cloud Instances, this can be achieved. By designing a system to monitor the current traffic trends, when certain thresholds are reached, the system can automatically request additional instances to be provisioned or excess instances to be removed from the pool and terminated. This system would function without any manual intervention to recognize the issue and react to it. Obviously, the real-time automation saves money because instances are turned up and turned down as they are needed, and it ensures your systems stay up and running. It might even let your systems administrator get a full night of sleep.

There is no limit to the potential applications of the SoftLayer API. Whether you are an individual just starting to program or have a team of developers with years of experience, the API has the tools that you will need to get started.

-Mathew

November 24, 2010

Bigger, Better, Badder!

Part of the branding exercise that we are going through post-merger revolves around the tag line “Bigger, Better, Badder”. And it is true. Every word of it.

Bigger: We will have 75,000 servers under our control. That is more than Rackspace (63,996). We are the largest dedicated hosting provider in the world, possibly the galaxy. That is kool.

Better: We have all of these servers and yet we have less than 20% of the people that Rackspace do. Automation (sorry, automagic) and innovation rule the SoftLayer world. We are better at this than anyone else.

Badder: Our CEO is Lance Crosby. He is 6’6”, tips the scales at 350, drives an F250 and rides an Iron Horse. Need I say more?

-@quigleymar

November 17, 2010

SLAyers 'R Us

Mergers are a true test of a company’s mettle – the stress involved with working an integration process with the need to continue to drive the business is almost overwhelming at times (CBNO!). The activity that is going on around me at present is awe inspiring – everybody is pitching in to make this work. It is great to see that we are making it happen – just rewards for all the effort expended.

Mergers also mean change. And I don’t just refer to the fact that we are welcoming new colleagues to the SoftLayer team. I am also referring to the fact that we are changing how we do business. We are bringing together two different organizations and combining the best components of each to drive the most value for our customers.

This inevitably means that customers are going to see some change in how they interact with SoftLayer. For example, the portal is going to morph into something that is much better than what SoftLayer or the Planet were doing separately and new product additions will arrive by combining The Planet offers with SoftLayer’s automated (automagic from now on) implementation and service delivery. We think these things are big wins for the existing and new customers.

A tangible example that I can talk about now (we need time to get portals and new products to market!) revolves around SLAs. The new SLAs will work to the benefit of existing Softlayer and the Planet customers as well as new customers.

The SoftLayer SLA is improved upon by changing the SLA for hardware and hardware upgrades. The old world considered a 4 hour promise before credits started to accumulate; the new world moves that to 2 hours. In addition, service outage credits start accumulating after 30 minutes of down time versus 43 minutes under the old 99.9% uptime guarantee.

The Planet SLA is improved upon by introducing a hardware SLA across the board versus just for customers of a managed services product. In addition to the 100% uptime promise that we are keeping, we have erased the need for a customer to raise a ticket before the clock starts ticking. Once there is a problem, we start the clock running.

At the end of the day, the reason we have SLAs in place is simple. Service credits on next month’s invoice are of less value to you than the fact that the SLA is driving SoftLayer to deliver on a service promise. If it’s broke, we are going to fix it. Think of the service credits as a bonus – the real value is getting your stuff up and running again.

-Steven

November 3, 2010

Our Competition

It doesn’t come as a big surprise to anyone when I say that I spend a lot of time thinking about the competition. I want to understand what motivates them. I need to understand how they see the marketplace evolving. What are they doing about the cloud? What about IPv6? What about the network? No surprises there.

What I do think would surprise people is that I do not think of Rackspace, Saavis or Amazon as the competition. I think that real competition is found within the small medium business or the enterprise. I don’t have any hard statistics on it, but a number of analysts seem to settle on a 25:75 split. That is, they believe that only 25% of businesses go outside the corporate walls for their hosting needs. The other 75% have their own data centers, or have servers in various closets around the organization (and I mean real closets in some cases). It is not that we don’t want to win the other 25% of the world (we obviously win our fair share of customers there), but the attraction of the rest of the marketplace for SoftLayer is apparent – the opportunity is 3x larger. And that is really exciting.

In 2004, Nicholas Carr authored a book called “Does IT Matter”. One of his central arguments was the notion that IT adoption no longer meant implicit competitive advantage, essentially because IT has become commonplace, standardized and cheaper. I agree with him to a degree, particularly when it comes to larger companies and certain types of IT deployments. For example, there is not much competitive advantage to ERP or HR systems anymore – there are very few larger organizations that don’t have something in place. The same can be said for the Internet or mobile computing – everybody has access, and everybody uses fixed and mobile email. That said, you are dead without either function in place – the lack of adoption is a definite disadvantage. I can only assume that he did not have infrastructure as a service (sounds like IT to me…) in mind when he wrote the book.

I think that there is significant advantage to a relationship with SoftLayer. The difference is that we are taking some IT burden away to give some competitive advantage, versus adding IT burden to deliver an advantage.

What competitive advantage does SoftLayer bestow that is lost when everything is kept within the walls?

  1. Cost. This one is easy. We can deliver at a price point much lower that what you can do internally. This means that resources are available for other things, perhaps product innovation or marketing innovation.
  2. Expertise. Infrastructure is our business. We are better at this than you are. We invest in systems, network and people to make sure this is always the case. Think of less downtime and better security.
  3. Technology. Our ongoing investment in technology and our commitment to innovation means that our customers have access to the cutting edge before most others do. For example, we are already native IPv6 in the network.
  4. Focus. What happens when some of that burden gets shifted externally? It means that the company can focus more of its resources on growing business, versus merely supporting the business.
  5. Automation. If something around here gets done more than twice manually, then it is time to automate. The end result is that we are efficient – no waiting for servers to be racked and stacked. Give us an order and you are up and running in less than four hours. Think of this in terms of speed to market, and speed to scale.

I think you get the point, and I think that the 75% is slowly getting the point too. We deliver a significant competitive advantage by helping to drive your business forward versus delivering as a ‘back office’ that serves to drive costs. We’re waiting for you….

-@lavosby

September 17, 2008

I Need Help, STAT!

I am sure everyone can remember the overwhelming feeling of getting their first server. The SoftLayer family recognizes that this can be a very discouraging time, thus we created a group of technical wizards who have the very specific goal of assisting newer clients who are in the process of learning how to use the tools provided by SoftLayer.

Have you ever wished you could copy data to your server without bandwidth concerns, or wondered how to reboot a server that is no longer responding? Ever wonder what the RescueLayer is and who it rescues? What is NAS, iSCSI, a firewall, how do I load balance? What is the CDNLayer and how can it help me? These are just a few of things we can help you better understand. This will allow you the leisure to ponder the ways to make your server more profitable. No more wasting time creating support tickets when you can do it yourself fast and easy. We can show you how. Here is a little more about the team:

What do we do for fun - Our hobbies include Aviation, Camping, Music, and Automotive Engineering. Some like the outdoors, golf, Karate, poker, etc and some spend their off hours with the family and kids. Smarts - The technical abilities in the group range from Automation to Xen and everything in between including disaster recovery, portal and backend database design, server administration, load balancing, hosting in general (the what to do’s and what not to do’s), ASP and PHP development, developing online collaborations sites, MMO gaming, and LAMP stacks to Windows. We try to be as well rounded as we can. The group has years and years of experience in the hosting, internet, ISP, and system administration arena and we are here and ready to help.

We are STAT! The SoftLayer Technical Assurance Team, pleasure to meet you. How can we help?

-John

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