Posts Tagged 'Control'

September 18, 2014

The Cloud Doesn't Bite, Part III

Why it's OK to be a server-hugger—a cloud server hugger.

(This is the final post in a three-part series. Read the first and second posts here.)

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

“[The] reason that companies are hesitant to commit all of their IT to the cloud [relates to] keeping control. It's not about jobs, it's about being sure that critical services are available when you need them. Whenever you see ‘in the CLOUD!’, mentally replace it with ‘using someone else's server’—all of a sudden it looks a whole lot less appealing. Yes, you gain some flexibility, but you lose a LOT of control. I like my data to not be in the hands of someone else. If I don't control the actual machine that has my data on it, then I don't control the data.”

You guys are control FREAKS! And rightfully so. But some of us actually don't take that away from you. Believe it or not, we make it easier for you.

In fact, sometimes you even get to manage your own infrastructure—and that means you can do anything an employee can do. You'll probably even get so good at it that you'll wonder why we don't pay you.

But it doesn't stop at mere management. Oh, no, no, no, friends. You can even take it one further and build, manage, and have total control over your very own private cloud of virtual servers. Yes, yours, and yours only. Now announcing you, the shot caller.

The point is, you don't lose control over your data in the cloud. None. 'Cause cloud companies don't play like that.

“The first rule of computer security is physical access, which is impossible with cloud services, which means they are inherently insecure.”

Curious. So since you can't physically touch your money in your bank account, does that mean it's a free-for-all on your savings? Let us know; we'll bring buckets.

“These cloud guys always forget to mention one glaring problem with their model— they're not adding any new software to the picture.”

Ready for us to blow your minds? We're actually adding software all the time; you just don't see it—but you do feel it.

Your friendly Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers out there are doing a lot of development behind the scenes. An internal software update might let us deploy servers 10 minutes faster, for example. You won't see that, but that doesn't mean it's not happening. If you're happy with your servers, then rest assured you're seeing some sweet software in action. Some cloud companies aren't exclusively focused on software (think Salesforce), but that doesn't mean the software is dial-up grade.

“I personally don't trust the cloud. Think about it for a moment. You are putting your data on a server, and you have no clue as to where it is. You have no clue about who else is able to see that data, and you have no clue about who is watching as you access your data and probably no clue if that server is up to date on security patches.”

Just ask. Simply ask all these questions, and you'd have all these answers. Not to be cheeky, but all of this is information you can and do have a right to know before you commit to anything. We're not sure what makes you think you don't, but you do. Your own due diligence on behalf of your data makes that a necessity, not a luxury.

“As long as I'm accountable, I want the hardware and software under my control. That way when something goes wrong and my boss calls and asks 'WTF?', I can give him something more than ’Well I called Amazon and left a message with our account representative.’"

We can't speak for Amazon, but cloud companies often offer multiple ways you can get a hold of a real, live person because we get that you want to talk to us, like, yesterday. Yes, we totally get you. And we want to fix whatever ails you. In the cloud, that is.

But what makes you think we won't know when something goes wrong before you do? (Checkmate.)

“No matter how much marketing jargon you spew at people, ‘the cloud’ is still just a bunch of servers. Stop lying.”

Why yes, yes, it is. Who's lying to you about that? You're right. "They" should stop lying.

The concept of "the cloud" is simply about where the servers are located and how you consume computing, storage, and networking resources. In "the cloud," your servers are accessed remotely via a network connection (often the Internet, for most of the clouds you know and love) as opposed to being locally accessed while housed in a server room or physical location on the company premises. Your premises, as in wherever you are while performing your computing functions. But no one's trying to pull the wool over your eyes with that one.

Think about it this way: If servers at your location are "on the ground," then servers away from your location can be considered "in the cloud." And that's all there is to it.

Did we help? Did we clear the cloudy haze? We certainly hope so.

But this is just the beginning, and our door is always open for you to question, criticize, and wax philosophical with us when it comes to all things cloud. So get at us. You can chat with us live via our homepage, message us or post up on Facebook, or sling a tweet at a SLayer. We've got real, live people manning their stations. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

-Fayza

November 1, 2011

SoftLayer on the iPad

Shortly after we began implementing the SoftLayer Mobile application for the iPhone and Android, Apple released the iPad. With our development resources limited, we focused on adding the functionality our customers required to the iPhone application with only a few small features added to support the new device.

As we became more familiar with the iPad, we started seeing a few key areas where SoftLayer Mobile could benefit from the large format iPad user interface. We've been able to incorporate a phenomenal feature set in the SoftLayer Mobile application, and as our desired feature set has become more and more complete, we've gotten a bit of breathing room from our iPhone releases. We used that breathing room to re-visit the iPad and what it could mean for the SoftLayer Mobile customer experience on a tablet. The result of that investigation is the SoftLayer Mobile HD application:

SL HD

As you might expect, SoftLayer Mobile HD shares quite a bit of functionality with its iPhone sibling. The application offers a window into your SoftLayer environment so that you can browse, create and edit support tickets; discover information about computing resources and bandwidth; and keep up-to-date on the latest notifications from our data centers. The iPad application also helps you keep track of financial information by allowing you to browse your account and its invoices. All this functionality benefits from the intuitive interface of the iPad. You have more room to browse, more room to edit, and fewer screens to navigate as you manage and explore your virtual SoftLayer data center.

SL HD

SL HD

Best of all: The application is only in its first release, and already shows great promise! We have plenty of room to grow and tons of ideas about the next features and functions we want to add. If you're iPad-equipped, get the SoftLayer Mobile HD application in the iTunes App Store. When you're navigating through the interface, take note of anything you'd like to see us change or add, and let us know!

-Scott

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

February 15, 2011

Five Ways to Use Your VPN

One of the many perks of being a SoftLayer customer is having access to your own private network. Perhaps you started out with a server in Dallas, later expanded to Seattle, and are now considering a new box in Washington, D.C. for complete geographic diversity. No matter the distance or how many servers you have, the private network bridges the gaps between you, your servers, and SoftLayer's internal services by bringing all of these components together into a secure, integrated environment that can be accessed as conveniently as if you were sitting right in the data center.

As if our cutting-edge management portal and API weren't enough, SoftLayer offers complimentary VPN access to the private network. This often-underestimated feature allows you to integrate your SoftLayer private network into your personal or corporate LAN, making it possible to access your servers with the same security and flexibility that a local network can offer.

Let's look at a few of the many ways you can take advantage of your VPN connection:

1. Unmetered Bandwidth

Unlike the public network that connects your servers to the outside world, the traffic on your private network is unlimited. This allows you to transfer as much data as you wish from one server to another, as well as between your servers and SoftLayer's backup and network storage devices – all for free.

When you use the VPN service to tap into the private network from your home or office, you can download and upload as much data as you want without having to worry about incurring additional charges.

2. Secure Data Transfer

Because your VPN connection is encrypted, all traffic between you and your private network is automatically secure — even when transferring data over unencrypted protocols like FTP.

3. Protect Sensitive Services

Even with strong passwords, leaving your databases and remote access services exposed to the outside world is asking for trouble. With SoftLayer, you don't have to take these risks. Simply configure sensitive services to only listen for connections from your private network, and use your secure VPN to access them.

If you run Linux or BSD, securing your SSH daemon is as easy as adding the line ListenAddress a.b.c.d to your /etc/ssh/sshd_config file (replace a.b.c.d with the IP address assigned to your private network interface)

4. Lock Down Your Server in Case of Emergency

In the unfortunate event of a security breach or major software bug, SoftLayer allows you to virtually "pull the plug" on your server, effectively cutting off all communication with the outside world.

The difference with the competition? Because you have a private network, you can still access your server over the VPN to work on the problem – all with the peace of mind that your server is completely off-limits until you're ready to bring it back online.

5. Remote Management

SoftLayer's dedicated servers sport a neat IP management interface (IPMI) which takes remote management to a whole new level. From reboots to power supply control to serial console and keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) access, you can do anything yourself.

Using tools like SuperMicro's IPMIView, you can connect to your server's management interface over the VPN to perform a multitude of low-level management tasks, even when your server is otherwise unreachable. Has your server shut itself off? You can power it back on. Frozen system? Reboot from anywhere in the world. Major crash? Feeling adventurous? Mount a CD-ROM image and use the KVM interface to install a new operating system yourself.

This list is just the beginning. Once you've gotten a taste of the infinite possibilities that come with having out-of-band access to your hosted environment, you'll never want to go back.

Now, go have some fun!

-Nick

January 26, 2011

Time for an Oil Change?

<Fade In>
Man driving into Jiffy Lube, car sputtering and smoking.
Attendant: "Looks like you need an oil change buddy."
Buddy: "Yep, I think so. I was here last week and I think they used the wrong oil!"
Attendant: "Nah, we wouldn't do that. In fact we only have one kind of oil here and that's SAS 70."
Buddy: "Well, that's odd; I am told that I need SSAE 16 for mine to work right."
<Mass Confusion>

Welcome to my world! We have SAS 70 today, but soon we will have the new synthetic, non abrasive, engine-cleaning SSAE 16. Sounds fun right? I sure hope so.

Why the change? Good question. When SAS 70 first appeared in the early 90s, the world's economies weren't quite as intertwined as they are today. It was much harder to do business globally than it is now. (I think the "fad" called the internet has a little something to do with that but I could be wrong!) Now that the oceans have shrunk to a more manageable size, there is a need for the standards that companies use worldwide to match more closely. The goal of the U.S. Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements 16 (SSAE 16) is to meet a more uniform reporting standard.

What's the difference? It's an "attestation" not an "audit." Google and thefreedictionary.com define attestation as "To affirm to be correct, true, or genuine," and audit as "an inspection, correction, and verification of business accounts." Though they are closely related, they mean different things.

What stay's the same? The focus will still be on controls at service organizations when the controls are relevant to their user entities' internal control over financial reporting. (For some reason, servers tend to have quite a bit to do with that!) There will still be a Type 1 and Type 2 with similar scopes in format. The reports will look very similar but they should be a bit more descriptive. The report will still be used in the same methods and by the same type of user.

What Changes? SSAE 16 is now an attestation and not really an audit. The service auditor will still provide an opinion but it will align itself more closely with existing international attestation standards.

  • Written Management Assertion - Management will be required to provide an assertion, to be included in the report, stating the system is fairly represented, suitably designed and implemented and the related controls were suitably designed to achieve the stated control objectives, and that the controls operated effectively throughout the period. The report will reference that management is responsible for preparing the system description, providing the stated services, specifying the control objectives, identifying the risks, selecting the criteria and designing, implementing and documenting controls that are suitably designed and operating effectively. The auditor's opinion remains in the role of providing assurance, not as the entity responsible for the communication.
  • System Description - The more inclusive description must detail the services covered, classes of transactions, events other than transactions, report preparation processes, control objectives and related controls, complementary user controls and other relevant aspects of the organization's control environment, risk assessment process, information and communication systems, control activities and monitoring controls. (I think an accountant came up with all of that!)

There are quite a few other differences but I think these are the big headliners. SoftLayer is committed to making this change and having it available for our customers that require it. Our normal SAS 70 schedule is Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 but we will be accelerating the process to have the SSAE 16 in place as soon as possible.

We are continuously looking at other compliance, reporting, audits and certifications. If you have any that would help you and your business, let us know.

-Skinman

Categories: 
November 10, 2010

The Custom-Made Cloud

Not to toot my own horn, but I am an actual Rocket Scientist (well an Aerospace Engineer, but Rocket Scientist sounds way cooler). When you are a Rocket Scientist, most of your time is spent in dealing with facts – universal constants, formulas, and a data set that has been validated countless times over. My role at the CTO at SoftLayer is sometimes a challenge because I have to deal with the terrific hyperbole that the tech world inevitably creates. Consider the Segway, Unified Messaging, etc. I think that cloud computing has also fallen prey.

The cloud promises a lot and it does deliver a lot.

  • Control puts decisions and actions in the hands of the customer. Self-service interfaces enable automated infrastructure provisioning, monitoring, and management. APIs provide even greater automation by supporting integration with other tools and processes, and enabling applications to self-manage.
  • Flexibility provides a broader range of capabilities and choices, enabling the customer to strike ideal balance of capital and operating expenses. In addition, access to additional infrastructure resources happens in minutes rather than week enabling you to respond "on demand" to changes in demand.
  • Flexibility and control combined give administrators more choice. Who manages infrastructure (Internal staff or service provider?) Where are workloads processed in an internal datacenter or in the public cloud? When are workloads processed – is this resource-driven or priority-driven? How much to consume – is this policy-driven or demand-driven? How is IT consumed – via central administration or self-service?

Despite its numerous benefits, the operational and cost effectiveness for many enterprises is challenged by the fact that most cloud services come in limited configurations and only serve as standalone solutions. One cloud does not fit all – Fixed specs do not allow administrators to optimize a cloud environment with the ratio of processing power, memory or storage that its intended application needs for its best performance. Most cloud service providers offer a relatively small number of preconfigured virtual machine images (VMI), often starting with small, medium and large VMIs, each with preset amounts of CPU, RAM and storage. The challenge is that even a few sizes (versus only one) don't fit everybody's needs. For example, applications perform best when they are running on servers with optimized configurations. And every application has unique resource demands. If the server is "too small," performance issues may arise. If the server is "too large," the customer ends up paying for more resources than necessary.

To a degree we have already been doing lots of "cloudy" things given our focus on automation. Combine that with a set of tools that let customers self-provision and I think you see where I am headed. The next step up the value chain is SoftLayer's "Build Your Own Cloud" solution. It delivers all of the benefits that I discussed above, but adds the logical step of handing configuration control to the customer. Customers are able to determine a number of things about the environment that their cloud sits on.

Cloud Computing Options
Cloud Computing Options Part Two (Monthly)

The end result is a cloud environment that is fit for customer purpose and customer cost. A classic win-win situation. I wonder what we will think of next.

-@nday91

October 20, 2010

Happiness is a Warm Firmware Update

I thought this was pretty cool. SoftLayer has just launched a firmware upgrade tool to the customer portal. No more waiting for SoftLayer to upgrade your firmware, no more uncontrollable downtime when you don’t want it. The new upgrade tool places upgrade control firmly in the hands of customers, giving them the ability to march to their own drummer.

Simply click the relevant radio button, press update and the upgrade begins. If there is a problem, SoftLayer gets notified and we will replace any failed components to get a customer back on line. Done. How cool is that??

New Account

-@quigleymar

February 15, 2010

Automation + Innovation = Success

In the beginning butter was churned by hand and water was fetched from a well. However, as we humans take a step forward, we acknowledge that time is of great value and we quickly redefine a process or function to allow for more precious time. Here at SoftLayer, our evolution hasn’t been much different. With each passing day new ideas are brought to the table, discussed and executed; later giving fruit to more success. As part of this fast growing company our Accounting Department has gone through its share of growth and discovery. In the beginning everyone from our Controller to our CFO helped in answering tickets and billed for upgrades. Now that our department has grown larger in size they can tend to more important tasks while we take care of our customers.

It is while executing every day responsibilities that we find new alternatives to simplifying our customer’s experience with us. Alternatives such as automation of Ram and Port Speed upgrades give our customers easier access to business expansion. Bandwidth upgrades no longer take a series of steps to complete. With a few clicks of our mouse we not only upgrade a server’s bandwidth capacity but we have the ability to choose the time in which this upgrade will take effect. In a matter of minutes a customer can move one or several of their servers into their Virtual Dedicated Rack. While this is all taking place their invoice is automatically being updated to show the recent changes and hence bandwidth allotment is immediately brought up to date.

Nevertheless we could not brag about our awesome tools if it weren’t for the genius minds of our friendly neighbors; our Development Department. Every single department within SoftLayer has their share of gratitude towards this great group of people. Here in the Accounting realm, many of our ideas have come to pass because of the effort of these developers. When something happens to go wrong as naturally things do, we turn to a developer for help. Within a matter of minutes a piece of code is revised and our world is back to normal once more. Automation continues to simplify not only our daily jobs but our customer’s path to business success. There is always a better way to do things and you can bet that there is more than one person coming up with the next “big” idea as I write this. Whether it’s redefining a process or writing the code that will make it all happen, innovation is in the hands of all of us here at SoftLayer.

June 22, 2009

Really?

In catching up on some of my blog reading, I ran across this blog by Jill Eckhaus of AFCOM (a professional organization for data center managers). Yes, I realize that article is four months old, but like I said – I’m catching up.

One of the things that really concerns me with articles and blogs such is this one are the repetitive concerns about “data security” and “loss of control” of your infrastructure. Both of those points are easy to state because they prey on the natural fear of any system administrator or data center manager.

System administrators have long ago come to realize that, in the proper environment, there is no real downside to not being able to physically place their hands upon their servers. In the proper environment the system administrator can power on or off the server, can get instant KVM access to the server, can boot the server into a rescue kernel to try to salvage a corrupt file system, can control network port speeds and connectivity, can reload the operating system, can instantly add and manage services such as load balancers and firewalls, can manage software licenses and naturally, can control full access to the server with root or administrator level privileges. In other words, there is no “loss of control” and “data security” is still up to the system administrator.

The data center managers are understandably concerned about outsourcing because it can potentially impact their jobs. But let’s face it – in today’s economy, the capital outlay required to acquire new datacenter space or additional datacenter equipment is extremely difficult to justify. In those cases sometimes the only two options are to do nothing or to outsource to an available facility. Of course, another option is to jeopardize your existing facility by trying to cram even more services into an already overloaded data center. If a data center manager is trying to build a fiefdom of facilities and personnel, outsourcing is certainly going to be a concern. One interesting aspect of outsourcing is – datacenter management jobs are still there; they are just at consolidated and often times more efficient facilities.

In reality, “data security” and “loss of control” should be of no more or less concern if you are using your own data center versus if you are doing the proper research and selecting a viable outsourcing opportunity with a provider that can prove it has the processes, procedures and tools in place to handle the job for you.

(In the spirit of full disclosure; I am both a local and national AFCOM member and find the organization and the information they make available to be quite useful.)

-SamF

June 14, 2007

KVM over IP or Sliced Bread?

I’m spoiled. Really, really spoiled. I have a test lab full of servers to play with about thirty paces away from my office. Most of them have KVM over IP on a daughtercard. When I need to jam an OS on a server or manage to lock myself out by screwing up a network config, do you think I stand up and take a short walk? Nope. I fire up the KVM/IP and take care of business from my comfy office chair.

Let’s see how old the audience is. Raise your hand if you ever had to yell into a phone telling a datacenter tech what to type.

“'S' as in Sam, 'H' as in Harry, 'O' as in Oscar, 'W' as in Wally, SPACE, 'D' as in David, 'E' as in Edward, 'V' as in Victor, 'I' as in Isabel, 'C' as in Charlie, 'E' as in Edward, ENTER” (extra credit to whoever can name the OS without using a search engine or reading ahead).

For some of you this is a recent event, but there will come a day when our IT generation can regale the youngsters with stories of “When I first started in IT, we didn’t have this fancy KVM stuff you kids have today…”.

KVM over IP isn’t exactly brand new. It has been around for a few years starting with external devices hanging off the back of the server. But it is becoming much more common to find daughtercards from your favorite motherboard manufacturer with this capability. The motherboard suppliers have already added other server control technologies like IPMI and iAMT to the motherboard. I wonder how long until KVM over IP makes the jump from the optional daughtercard to coming standard on the motherboard? I’ll bet we’ll see it before you can spell VMS.

-@nday91

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