Posts Tagged 'Cabling'

August 22, 2013

Network Cabling Controversy: Zip Ties v. Hook & Loop Ties

More than 210,000 users have watched a YouTube video of our data center operations team cabling a row of server racks in San Jose. More than 95 percent of the ratings left on the video are positive, and more than 160 comments have been posted in response. To some, those numbers probably seem unbelievable, but to anyone who has ever cabled a data center rack or dealt with a poorly cabled data center rack, the time-lapse video is enthralling, and it seems to have catalyzed a healthy debate: At least a dozen comments on the video question/criticize how we organize and secure the cables on each of our server racks. It's high time we addressed this "zip ties v. hook & loop (Velcro®)" cable bundling controversy.

The most widely recognized standards for network cabling have been published by the Telecommunications Industry Association and Electronics Industries Alliance (TIA/EIA). Unfortunately, those standards don't specify the physical method to secure cables, but it's generally understood that if you tie cables too tight, the cable's geometry will be affected, possibly deforming the copper, modifying the twisted pairs or otherwise physically causing performance degradation. This understanding begs the question of whether zip ties are inherently inferior to hook & loop ties for network cabling applications.

As you might have observed in the "Cabling a Data Center Rack" video, SoftLayer uses nylon zip ties when we bundle and secure the network cables on our data center server racks. The decision to use zip ties rather than hook & loop ties was made during SoftLayer's infancy. Our team had a vision for an automated data center that wouldn't require much server/cable movement after a rack is installed, and zip ties were much stronger and more "permanent" than hook & loop ties. Zip ties allow us to tighten our cable bundles easily so those bundles are more structurally solid (and prettier). In short, zip ties were better for SoftLayer data centers than hook & loop ties.

That conclusion is contrary to the prevailing opinion in the world of networking that zip ties are evil and that hook & loop ties are among only a few acceptable materials for "good" network cabling. We hear audible gasps from some network engineers when they see those little strips of nylon bundling our Ethernet cables. We know exactly what they're thinking: Zip ties negatively impact network performance because they're easily over-tightened, and cables in zip-tied bundles are more difficult to replace. After they pick their jaws up off the floor, we debunk those myths.

The first myth (that zip ties can negatively impact network performance) is entirely valid, but its significance is much greater in theory than it is in practice. While I couldn't track down any scientific experiments that demonstrate the maximum tension a cable tie can exert on a bundle of cables before the traffic through those cables is affected, I have a good amount of empirical evidence to fall back on from SoftLayer data centers. Since 2006, SoftLayer has installed more than 400,000 patch cables in data centers around the world (using zip ties), and we've *never* encountered a fault in a network cable that was the result of a zip tie being over-tightened ... And we're not shy about tightening those ties.

The fact that nylon zip ties are cheaper than most (all?) of the other more "acceptable" options is a fringe benefit. By securing our cable bundles tightly, we keep our server racks clean and uniform:

SoftLayer Cabling

The second myth (that cables in zip-tied bundles are more difficult to replace) is also somewhat flawed when it comes to SoftLayer's use case. Every rack is pre-wired to deliver five Ethernet cables — two public, two private and one out-of-band management — to each "rack U," which provides enough connections to support a full rack of 1U servers. If larger servers are installed in a rack, we won't need all of the network cables wired to the rack, but if those servers are ever replaced with smaller servers, we don't have to re-run network cabling. Network cables aren't exposed to the tension, pressure or environmental changes of being moved around (even when servers are moved), so external forces don't cause much wear. The most common physical "failures" of network cables are typically associated with RJ45 jack crimp issues, and those RJ45 ends are easily replaced.

Let's say a cable does need to be replaced, though. Servers in SoftLayer data centers have redundant public and private network connections, but in this theoretical example, we'll assume network traffic can only travel over one network connection and a data center technician has to physically replace the cable connecting the server to the network switch. With all of those zip ties around those cable bundles, how long do you think it would take to bring that connection back online? (Hint: That's kind of a trick question.) See for yourself:

The answer in practice is "less than one minute" ... The "trick" in that trick question is that the zip ties around the cable bundles are irrelevant when it comes to physically replacing a network connection. Data center technicians use temporary cables to make a direct server-to-switch connection, and they schedule an appropriate time to perform a permanent replacement (which actually involves removing and replacing zip ties). In the video above, we show a temporary cable being installed in about 45 seconds, and we also demonstrate the process of creating, installing and bundling a permanent network cable replacement. Even with all of those villainous zip ties, everything is done in less than 18 minutes.

Many of the comments on YouTube bemoan the idea of having to replace a single cable in one of these zip-tied bundles, but as you can see, the process isn't very laborious, and it doesn't vary significantly from the amount of time it would take to perform the same maintenance with a Velcro®-secured cable bundle.

Zip ties are inferior to hook & loop ties for network cabling? Myth(s): Busted.

-@khazard

P.S. Shout-out to Elijah Fleites at DAL05 for expertly replacing the network cable on an internal server for the purposes of this video!

May 14, 2013

Interop 2013 - SoftLayer + Supermicro Server Challenge II

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

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

Interop Server Challenge

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

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

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

About the Server Challenge II

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

About SoftLayer

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

About Supermicro

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

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

March 23, 2012

AMS01 DC Tour: Built by SoftLayer, Powered by Innovators

About a month ago, Kevin Hazard visited SoftLayer Amsterdam after a conference in London, and while he was here, I invited him on a data center tour. You saw a few glimpses of the data center in his "This is Different" video, but he turned the camera around on me to give a simpler "Data Center Tour" video to show off some of the key characteristics of the server room environment in AMS01.

Given the fact that nearly everything in the data center is the same, if you've ever seen a SoftLayer data center, this tour will seem very familiar. The configuration and architecture of all 13 of our data centers are identical, and with the exceptions of a few Dutch words on the walls, this tour could be given (and is frequently given to customers) in all of our facilities around the world:

As we were recording this video, I started thinking about all the similarities and differences between all the entrepreneurs I have worked with during my career — which coincidentally lines up well with Clayton's "Building. Business. SoftLayer." blog. I cut my technology teeth in Silicon Valley during the dot-com tsunami of the late 90's, and since then, I have collaborated on-location with entrepreneurs from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Chile, Ukraine and Italy. While these cultures often vary widely with customs, manners, food and methods of business, I would have to say that entrepreneurs have far more similarities than they do differences.

At the peak of the dot-com boom, money was raining from the sky, and anyone with a decent PowerPoint presentation containing the word "Internet," could raise million dollars of dollars in a matter of days. After the bubble popped, funding all but dried up. Even real businesses with profitable business models couldn't raise a cent. My neighbor went from being worth over $10M on paper and keeping company with the Queen of the Netherlands to scrambling to pay the rent and fighting for a seat at the local coffee shop.

In my opinion, that's when the real magic happened: The creators just kept on creating. Despite all our friends making fun of us — telling us "the Internet thing" was dead — we kept building cool stuff and coming up with innovative products that pushed the limits of technology.

While entrepreneurs liked the idea of making tons of money and building a global company from a simple idea, money and fame are not the primary drivers of true entrepreneurs. They were really more interested in creating something that would impact peoples' everyday lives and disrupt tired industries ... Just look at SoftLayer. In 2005, "tired" would have been one of the nicest things you could have said about the hosting industry, and in response to that environment, our "Innovate or Die" mentality shot us to the front of the pack.

Entrepreneurs are a lot like our data centers ... They may look a little different from the outside, but they are exactly the same on the inside. Ask them how they'd change the world, and take note of the wild look in their eyes. Our growth is fueled by the passions of our customers, and as long as we have brilliant customers doing amazing things, you can expect to see more and more of these "new data center" tour videos in the coming months and years.

-@jpwisler

P.S. If you don't have time to watch the video right now, you can head to our Flickr page to see a few pictures we snapped while recording the tour: AMS01 - Amsterdam Data Center

P.P.S. Make sure you watch the video all the way to the end. :-)

November 3, 2011

Global Expansion: Floating Like a Butterfly

Growing up, one of my heroes was Mohammad Ali. While I admired his athletic ability, with my scrappy build I was never going to be a boxer. What I liked the most about Ali was that he said whatever he wanted and backed up his words with action. That is what distinguished Ali from the others.

I'm sure you've been to job fairs and read companies' websites where they talk about how their company encourages teamwork, employee empowerment and innovation ... It's usually right next to a picture of someone skydiving or kite boarding, right? Well I've been with SoftLayer for about a month now, and as you saw from my 3 Bars 3 Questions interview, I spent my first two weeks on the job in Dallas.

I can tell you without hesitation (and with no need for a kite boarding picture) that when you walk around the office in Dallas, you can feel a buzz in the hallways ... An energy that only comes from from people who are passionate and work well together. When I made the trek back to Amsterdam, I knew the environment and culture our team in Europe would need to foster to earn our three bars.

Last week, we had our first Truck Day in the new Amsterdam data center, and it was a perfect opportunity to show off the SoftLayer spirit and work ethic to our newest AMS01 SLayers with the help of the Go Live Crew:

As soon as two large truckloads of servers were delivered, the team jumped into action. We unpacked, sorted, scanned and racked the servers in record time, and it was actually a lot fun. When I walked into the data center the next day, it felt like Christmas: new toys, flashing lights and Barbara Striesand.

It's safe to say that SoftLayer is the Mohammed Ali of hosting. We make bold statements and can back up them up!

If you're interested in joining the SoftLayer team in Amsterdam, we're hiring for several different positions right now, and we'd love to have you join us. When talking to prospective employees in interviews, I always tell the SoftLayer story with Ali-like pride, and moving forward, Truck Day is going to be a perfect example to share. Where else are you going to find a company culture where everyone in the company (even the CEO) celebrates the company's continued growth by helping to unpack and sort hardware?

Based on the conversations I've had since Truck Day, I can tell if they are right for the team simply by their reaction to that story. If you're ready to roll up your sleeves to help out your teammates and have fun doing it, call me.

-@jpwisler

May 12, 2011

Follow 750 Servers from Truck to DC Rack

What do you call the day after you finish building a new data center server room and cabling the server racks in it? If you're an employee at SoftLayer, you call it Truck Day.

Last week, a few of the folks from marketing were invited to celebrate in the Truck Day festivities for Pod 2 in DAL05 (SR02.DAL05), and I jumped at the opportunity. I don't go anywhere without at least one camera on-hand to document and share what's going on with the SoftLayer community, and Truck Day wasn't an exception ... In fact, I had three different cameras going at all times!

The truck arrived at around 7 a.m. with a few dozen pallets of servers, and about forty employees from all around the company immediately jumped into action. As the pallets moved from the loading dock to the inventory room, people were unboxing servers and piling them on carts. When a cart was full, it was whisked to the data center and unloaded. The data center techs plugged in each of the servers to confirm its configuration and stacked it with matching configurations in designated areas around the data center. By the time one cart got back to the inventory room, another was on its way to the data center, so very little time was lost.

Back in 2007, SamF did a great job of explaining the process, so I won't reinvent the wheel. Instead, I'll let you see the activities as they were captured by the three cameras I toted along:

To give you an idea of how fast all of this was done, each the time lapse cameras set up in the data center and in the inventory room captured images every five seconds. When the video was compiled, the frame rate was set to 20 frames per second, so each second of time lapse video is the equivalent of 100 seconds of work. In a matter of just a few hours, we received, inventoried, racked, cabled and started selling around 750 servers in a brand new data center pod. Competitors: Be afraid. Be very afraid. :)

Pictures from DAL05 Pod 2 Truck Day have been posted on our Flickr Account: http://sftlyr.com/8g

In the past three weeks, we brought three different data center pods online in three different parts of the country: On April 25, it was our first server room in San Jose (SJC01); on May 2, the second server room in DAL05; and on May 10, our second server room in WDC01. As far as I know, we don't have a new pod planned for next month, but given how quickly the operations team has been building data center space, I wouldn't be surprised to get a call asking me to come in a little early to help unload servers in a new data center next week.

-@khazard

Music Credit: The background track in the video is "Your Coat" from SoftLayer's very own Chris Interrante. Keep an eye out for his soon-to-be released EP: OVERDRAFT.

May 6, 2011

Cabling a SoftLayer Server Rack

A few weeks ago, SamF posted "Before They Were SoftLayer Data Centers," a virtual scrapbook from the San Jose data center construction process, and based on the surge of traffic we saw to the post, our customers loved it. It's incredible to see an open warehouse-looking space transformed into an enterprise data center environment, and there's more amazingness where that came from.

In addition to the pre-"Truck Day" pictures we posted on the blog and in the San Jose DC Construction album on Flickr, we trained a video camera on a row in the data center to capture the cabling process.

What's so interesting about plugging in cables?

Consider the fact that each of the network switches we use in a rack has at least 48 ports. Now consider that each rack has two public network switches, two private network switches and one out-of-band management network switch that need to be connected to every SoftLayer server in the rack. That's 240 pre-measured network cables that need to be labeled and routed to specific heights in each rack ... without getting tangled and knotted up (see: behind your TV or under your computer desk).

The cabling process is so precise that if a single cable is out of place, the zip-tie on an entire bundle will be cut, and the process is started from scratch. The process is time-consuming, but the results speak for themselves:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Without further ado, here's the SJ data center team in action. The video is playing at 20x normal speed, and given the amount of time it takes to complete the cabling process for each rack, we enlisted the help of Spongebob SquarePants in our use of the "Two Hours Later" cut:

Impressed? Amazed?

Just wait until you see the time-lapse from Truck Day.

-Kevin

March 14, 2011

SoftLayer SxSW Server Challenge

As the doors open to the trade show at South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive 2011, SoftLayer is poised and ready to greet attendees with a brand new "Server Challenge" in booth 400. In previous iterations, the Server Challenge involved reassembling a single server with about a dozen components. In this challenge, we're going bigger. Literally.

In SoftLayer's booth, we have a 12U rack loaded with five servers and three network switches, and the challenge is to put it all back together as fast as possible. Check it out:

If you're roaming the trade show aisles, swing by and try your hand! Fastest time wins an iPad 2.

-@khazard

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