Posts Tagged 'Cables'

April 23, 2013

Server Challenge II: How SoftLayer Saves the World

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

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

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

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

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

1. Load the Data

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

2. Connect the Network

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

3. Save the World

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

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

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

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

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

-Summer

July 19, 2012

The Human Element of SoftLayer - DAL05 DC Operations

One of the founding principles of SoftLayer is automation. Automation has enabled this company to provide our customers with a world class experience, and it enables employees to provide excellent service. It allows us to quickly deploy a variety of solutions at the click of a button, and it guarantees consistency in the products that we deliver. Automation isn't the whole story, though. The human element plays a huge role in SoftLayer's success.

As a Site Manager for the corporate facility, I thought I could share a unique perspective when it comes to what that human element looks like, specifically through the lens of the Server Build Team's responsibilities. You recently heard how my colleague, Broc Chalker, became an SBT, and so I wanted take it a step further by providing a high-level breakdown of how the Server Build Team enables SoftLayer to keep up with the operational demands of a rapidly growing, global infrastructure provider.

The Server Build Team is responsible for filling all of the beautiful data center environments you see in pictures and videos of SoftLayer facilities. Every day, they are in the DC, building out new rows for inventory. It sounds pretty simple, but it's actually a pretty involved process. When it comes to prepping new rows, our primary focus is redundancy (for power, cooling and network). Each rack is powered by dual power sources, four switches in a stacked configuration (two public network, two private network), and an additional switch that provides KVM access to the server. To make it possible to fill the rack with servers, we also have to make sure it's organized well, and that takes a lot of time. Just watch the video of the Go Live Crew cabling a server rack in SJC01, and you can see how time- and labor-intensive the process is. And if there are any mistakes or if the cables don't look clean, we'll cut all the ties and start over again.



 

In addition to preparing servers for new orders, SBTs also handle hardware-related requests. This can involve anything from changing out components for a build, performing upgrades / maintenance on active servers, or even troubleshooting servers. Any one of these requests has to be treated with significant urgency and detail.



 

The responsibilities do not end there. Server Build Technicians also perform a walk of the facility twice per shift. During this walk, technicians check for visual alerts on the servers and do a general facility check of all SoftLayer pods. Note: Each data center facility features one or more pods or "server rooms," each built to the same specifications to support up to 5,000 servers.



 

The DAL05 facility has a total of four pods, and at the end of the build-out, we should be running 18,000-20,000 servers in this facility alone. Over the past year, we completed the build out of SR02 and SR03 (pod 2 and 3, respectively), and we're finishing the final pod (SR04) right now. We've spent countless hours building servers and monitoring operating system provisions when new orders roll in, and as our server count increases, our team has grown to continue providing the support our existing customers expect and deserve when it comes to upgrade requests and hardware-related support tickets.



 

To be successful, we have to stay ahead of the game from an operations perspective. The DAL05 crew is working hard to build out this facility's last pod (SR04), but for the sake of this blog post, I pulled everyone together for a quick photo op to introduce you to the team.

DAL05 Day / Evening Team and SBT Interns (with the remaining racks to build out in DAL05):
DAL05 DC Ops

DAL05 Overnight Server Build Technician Team:
DAL05 DC Ops

Let us know if there's ever anything we can do to help you!

-Joshua

November 21, 2011

The SoftLayer Server Challenge - ad:tech Expertise

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

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

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

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

Good Luck!

-Summer

December 4, 2007

Team SoftLayer

When we first opened our doors, Jeaves and Josh used to split 24-hour shifts in the DC to provide 24x7 support coverage, and there was a “napping couch” in the office for the occasional overnight work shift up in Plano. Most of us had a toothbrush if not a change of clothes in our desk drawer, and a fun Friday night entailed sitting around a whiteboard talking numbers, and coming up with new ideas for the datacenter.

Team SoftLayer is much much larger now, but the spirit is much the same. This picture is from a swingin’ SL party we had a few Thursdays ago, where the office got together to label power cables for the new Seattle DC. There are members of Dev, Sales, Accounting, Marketing, & Management here working together. It makes me so proud.

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