Posts Tagged 'Costs'

June 27, 2012

Cloudability: Tech Partner Spotlight

This guest blog comes to us from Cloudability, a featured member of the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. Cloudability is a cloud budget management service that helps companies manage their cloud spending, prevent overages, reduce waste and save money. In this video we talk to Cloudability Founder and CEO Mat Ellis about how the company developed, and we hear examples of how Cloudability is supporting and businesses money.

5 Things You Need to Know to Control Variable Infrastructure Costs

If you have on premise equipment, then your costs are fixed — you paid your money and now you own a fixed amount of hardware and software. The cloud, on the other hand, has variable costs due to two important features — you only pay for the services you use and it's scalable, providing the resources you need at any given time. By using a cloud infrastructure, you end up with what we call Variable Infrastructure Costs (VICs).

Most of SoftLayer's services meet the criteria for a VIC. You need an extra cloud server for a few hours? No problem. More disk? Done.

With great power, comes great responsibility, and the biggest problem with VICs is that they are just like a faucet: Leave it running, and the water bill can add up fast ... Not to mention all that waste! Unless you keep a close eye on VICs, you could find yourself in front of your CFO, pleading for your budget's life.

Cloudability was created to keep those costs under control, and in the course of working with our customers, we've come up with a simple five-point checklist of best practices:

1. Collation

Make sure you have insight to all your costs, create a single contract database, and review it regularly. Don't forget to include total cloud spending alongside your fixed contracts. Talk to your finance department, then drill your employees and tech teams to make sure you REALLY know the whole truth. There can be — and usually is — a disconnect in the organization about how much cloud is really being used.

2. Analysis

Get into the weeds to see why each project is spending what they are spending. Try to calculate some tangible metrics like cost per thousand web pages served or cost per new customer, and benchmark these against public data and common sense.

3. Organization and Rebalancing

Put each of your projects into one of four quadrants:

  1. High Spend/Low Efficiency
  2. High Spend/High Efficiency
  3. Low Spend/Low Efficiency
  4. Low Spend/High Efficiency.

Focus on the High Spend/Low Efficiency quadrant first. That's where you will find the easiest wins. Then, move onto the High Spend/High Efficiency quadrant where you'll find best practices to use for other projects. Then, if you have the time/resources, focus on the low spend projects and repeat.

4. Renegotiation

Contact your colleagues outside your department and compare unit prices, especially for things like bandwidth, co-lo and staff costs. Make sure you're in the top quartile for value (i.e. lowest costs). Renegotiate with vendors if you aren't, and plan to change vendors and staff when you can't the best value with your current resources.

5. Alignment

Understand your business objectives and get your roadmap tightly aligned. If you need some CAPEX to reduce operational expenses, then ask for it as part of the planning. You've got to spend money to make money right?

VICs can be easily manage once you understand where they're all coming from. After applying these five best practices into the way your business approaches cloud spending, you'll be well on your way. Cloudability's business was built to make the process a little easier and more automated for you, so if you want to use our tool to help you "cover your *aas," we'd love for you to try it out for free: https://app.cloudability.com/signup

-Mat Ellis, Cloudability

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
January 27, 2011

What Does it Cost (Part 3)

Determining the value of "On-Demand"
It's 2011, and as we bookend the tail part of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 in effort to close strong and get a good jump on the year, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. As it turns out, this distracted me, so it's been a while since I cranked out the previous installment of this "What Does it Cost" series.

As a quick refresher, the idea behind this series came from listening to keynote speakers in conferences this past year who harped on the necessity of getting more value for the same (or even less) budget. In What Does it Cost (Part 1), we discussed how opportunity costs are the most overlooked and important part of planning an infrastructure. In What Does it Cost (Part 2), our focus was on how your people relate to your infrastructure.

The goal of this series is to fairly assign a value to what a company like SoftLayer provides relative to the costs of doing it in-house or by using colocation.

Let's start by making sure we know what 'On-Demand' actually means: 'On-Demand' means that you get what you want when you want it and for the time it is needed. No more and no less. It pretty much takes out all opportunity costs. On–Demand is good, it is necessary, and in the future it will be the difference between successful businesses and ones that are destined to fail.

Everyone has heard the term that "time is money." Receiving server and CCI infrastructure without delay when you want them they should be valuable, right? But just how valuable is that delivery? Have you ever wished you could go back in time and change something about your past? I think we all have. If I went back and took a "risk" in the stock market, knowing what I know now, I'd be writing this blog on a platinum-plated computer. But betting on a game you've already watched isn't really risk.

Infrastructure investments are risky. In some cases, their reward will justify their risk, while in other cases, taking a risk-averse On-Demand approach provides the best outcome all around.

It's tough to assign a once-and-for-all value to On-Demand options because it is not only different for every business, but it is also different for the specific scenario that you are provided. An idea is abstract and meaningless unless we can apply it in some kind of practical application, so perhaps the best way I can illustrate the decision between going an On–Demand route is by looking at it through the lens of two scenarios:

  1. Your project your company will grow by a factor of 10 over the next years.
  2. Your company is doing a hardware refresh for an advancement you want to take advantage of.

Growth
If you have to plan these things out ahead of time, it means making commitments and spending upfront capital and time in order to get what you need in order to grow your infrastructure to meet your projections. There is a lot of uncertainty and risk. What happens if the market takes a sudden downturn and your infrastructure needs to also adapt quickly? Everything works out fine as long as the future goes according to plan, but what if the projections we got were wrong?

Even if we grow 50% (which could still be a huge feat), the fact that we planned for 1000% growth could leave us financially crippled. What if the opposite of this scenario happens and your projections underestimate your future needs? This would seem to be less risky, but in reality, not having the tools necessary to provide your services or support your clients can be even more devastating. Never underestimate the cost of not being able to deliver and keep up with demand.

Hardware Refresh
For a hardware refresh, chances are that there is new software available and new ways of doing things to maximize the potential of recent advances in hardware. Generally, I see that companies that lean away from upgrading to "new" and simply keep the status quo. Why? The risk is too high, and time invested by personnel is far too costly. It may not be appealing to take the risk on finding what will make a new solution work when the cost of that investigation is high and the results are uncertain at best.

The problem is that if you stay unaware of changes in technology you'll soon find yourself getting further and further behind. The thought of maintaining the status quo can be as dangerous as quicksand.

Comparing In-House v. Outsourced
OK, now that the scenarios are set, let's look at what would happen when we play out and in-house infrastructure vs. an outsourced On-Demand solution with SoftLayer.

In a data center environment, the decisions you make have a long term impact. Once you make your decision and spend your money to host in-house, you're fully invested in that decision. The only thing that could break from your plan is a catastrophe. The sensible thing to do is to take time to better educate yourself so you can make better decisions. That means businesses will regularly take months (I've even heard of instances taking more than a year) to devise a strategy and months more to execute the implementation of that strategy. As a result, companies try to plan in multi-year cycles (5 years seems fairly typical).

Think about this: What has happened to your business and in your own personal life in the past 3 months? Do you feel confident in predicting exactly what will happen in the next 5 years?

While SoftLayer might not be in a better position to predict what will happen in the next 5 years, we operate an 'adjustable' infrastructure, so we'll be ready for whatever may come. Instead of an upfront capital expenditure, you can pay monthly to get the newest innovations in server hardware, and you can upgrade at any time without penalty. Instead of signing the long term contracts inherent in running your own data center environment (space, power, bandwidth, software, etc.), you can have hour-by-hour terms, month-to-month at the longest.

Running your own facilities means waiting weeks/months for your hardware to arrive so that you can have it racked and put into production. SoftLayer can build you customized dedicated server configurations that can be provisioned in under four hours. Cloud Compute Instances (CCIs) can be added in minutes, and by using templates you can save even more precious work time. You can even go as far as to automate this by utilizing our API-driven customer portal.

Even if the future doesn't go according to plan when you're using an outsourced On-Demand provider, you will have succeeded in eliminating much of your long-term risk. You can make the necessary adjustments to keep your business in the best position, regardless of what happens.

To give this example some teeth I'll tell you about a customer that I recently assisted: Customer X was looking at adding four fairly stacked servers and a SAN Solution to their infrastructure. To manage that infrastructure in-house, they determined that they would need to add two employees. All in all, this was going to cost them $140K in upfront capital for the hardware, and $120K per year on personnel (if they were lucky). This was all before they could see if their current in-house data center environment could support the additional infrastructure.

As it turns out, the data center environment couldn't sustain the power, and they would be forced to re-up on three year-term contracts for more space, power, and bandwidth to move their existing infrastructure to a larger portion of their data center. This project's costs were getting out of control, but they needed to make a change to deal with business growth. The problem with executing this plan is that at the end of the day, the business growth might not be able to justify the cost of expansion.

The worst part of this is that they were "pot committed" (for any readers that play poker) because of the big-money deal on software licensing they had already executed.

SoftLayer helped them by offering different 'on-demand' ways they could get the job done. As it turned out, they were ordering enough hardware to plan 18 months out and they expected further growth on a longer time line. They were not planning around what their hardware needs were today ... which was really about a third of what they were planning to purchase in the short term. We were able to set up dedicated servers, integrate Cloud Compute Instances for short term spikes in CPU needs and work in a storage solution that could be grown as their needs increased. To top this off, we also developed an High Availability (HA) strategy that put pieces in place where they could easily shift their entire operation into a different data center in a different city, should it ever be necessary. This was an added value that they knew they couldn't come close to executing themselves.

The best part of this example is that even after about a year of service and maintaining a consistent growth pattern, they still have not spent what they would have just in paying the additional two employees they would have had to hire. SoftLayer gave them the means to save $140,000 up front and thousands per month ever since. That customer is planning on moving the rest of their infrastructure into our facilities when their current contracts run out ... They've told me every time we've spoken that they want to make this move immediately, but they are still paying for decisions they made years ago.

At least for them there is light at the end of the tunnel, and they will be truly taking control of their infrastructure.

-Doug

October 19, 2010

Sunshine on a Cloudy Afternoon

A lot of time has been spent talking about the advantages of the cloud. I thought it might be instructive to explore some of the pros and cons from the point of view of a software company.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. It goes without saying that not all software companies (or products for that matter) are the same. There is a significant difference between developing and supporting a complex HR package and a word processor.
  2. The cloud will be viewed differently depending where a company is in its life cycle. Consider traditional software companies life Microsoft and SAP versus companies like Salesforce.com or Workday that have started life as SaaS providers.

Pros
Recurring Revenue / Cost Models - A business model based upon monthly recurring revenue has some significant advantages over the traditional license, implementation and maintain model that many vendors use. The predictability of the model makes it easier forecast revenues and costs, thus making enterprise planning easier.

Expanding the Customer Base - A recurring revenue model is also beneficial for a customer because they do not have to worry about significant upfront costs. In effect the cloud helps to expand the customer audience by potentially making a solution affordable across a broader base.

Scalability - The cloud provides that ability to scale up (or down) dependent on customer demand. This means that a vendor only pays for what it uses. Compare this to a model when Company X is dependent on forecasts to drive server / firewall / storage purchases. The end result is often stranded capital. Certainly these dollars are better put to use trying to find new customers and serve existing ones?

Infrastructure - If your cloud provider is good at what they do (like SoftLayer is!); infrastructure inside the DC (servers, memory, storage) and outside the DC (primarily network) will evolve as the market does. Company X will benefit from innovation without paying for it.

Cons
Pre-existing Business Models - Some software companies will simply be cloud-averse. While the cloud may make sense from a development and testing perspective, it may make less sense from a business model perspective. If the company’s revenue model is based on a traditional license, implementation and maintenance model, a shift to the cloud introduces challenges as pricing models and revenue recognition models (i.e. a move to recurring monthly charges) are likely to change. This is not insignificant and if the market isn’t screaming for a change, then change will not come.

Application Customization - A move to the cloud will mean that significant customization on a customer by customer basis makes less sense. It is more cost effective to service multiple customers on a single platform versus multiple customers on individual platforms, particularly if the traditional license, implementation and maintenance model disappears. At the end of the discussion, many customers may need significant customization. Of course this is dependent upon the solution being sold.

A key consideration with the challenges outlined above is that they are mostly at customer touch points. Use of the cloud still makes sense when the consideration is internalized - development and testing environments will still find a useful home in the clouds.

What do you think?

-Sean

Categories: 
October 12, 2010

What Does it Cost (Part 1)

The Overview
I normally like to have a little fun in the blogs that I write and maybe even take the occasional jab at our CFO Mike Jones (all kidding aside about pink shirts and what not he is a really great guy). This blog is intended to have more of a educational goal, and since there is a lot to take into consideration I won’t be able to make any pink shirt cracks, and the reason for this is because I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past year or two in which the question that always comes up is “How does SoftLayer compare to colocation and what is the better move for me?” We’ll look into this further throughout the blog series.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Network World IT Roadmaps events in both New York and Atlanta earlier this year. Now what motivated me to put fingers to keyboard here is the perspective I gained from many people that I talked to during and after the conference. I consider myself to be fortunate to attend because it is rare that SLales staff is able to join in on the marketing campaign and work with people more on a face to face basis. Normally SoftLayer Sales member cannot really help our customers if we are not at our desk to take their calls, chats, emails, or tickets. I enjoy attending events like these because it seems that you can learn so much more speaking with someone face to face as opposed to just over a phone call or email.

Since this was not my first go around with the Network World events I was more familiar with the setup and I was able to take more in from the people speaking at the event. There are some common themes that can affect business from the technology side of things, and if you want to have growth you must invest into your own infrastructure and your own technology. If you are a small mom and pop shop that is fine with maintaining the status quo it may not be as vital for you, but then again you wouldn’t be reading this blog post now would you? The themes I saw (broken down into more simple context) were based around some basic principles.

  • A company is a grouping of people working for a common goal. Your people are your most valuable asset and it is important to put them in positions where they can be successful and ultimately you will be successful as well.
  • The Wayne Gretzky quotes of “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”, and following that up with “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” these have a common sense idea that if you are not looking to the future and figure out what is coming next then you will always be trying to catch up. If you are not innovating or growing then ultimately you are dying.
  • How can I get more? We are constantly pressured to do more with less, or at least get more out of what we already have. This is probably the biggest and most frequent question we all get no matter what our business model is and what we try to achieve.

There are, of course, many other themes than the ones I have just listed and more specific ones too. Even though I certainly took much more away these were some of the main takeaways that brought me back to an always evolving answer to the same question that every speaker seemed to dance around - “What does it cost?”

No matter how big you are or how much budget you have in place there will always be different options presented to you on how to build up your infrastructure. I have no doubt that you have asked yourself the question of what will it cost in relation to many things and possibly asked yourself in many different ways. Making comparisons to figure out what is the cost and what will give me the best possible results is the end goal we are trying to reach. But how can we get there? It can be very difficult to compare data centers to each other in an apple to apples fashion. There are simply too many variables to note in making this all come forth full stream. My goal is to try and help us all tackle this broad issue, and hopefully it will lead to more discussion about pros and cons so that it can be easier to determine the best course of action in future planning.

There are a lot of things to consider in the cost of running a data center. It seems like a never ending list of essential things that cost both money and time (which in some cases can be more valuable). In this series of blogs we’ll break specifics parts of a data center down into the basics of several areas that you’d need to consider. Once we get into the basics we’ll want to look back to ask “what does it take to run a data center?” Most often people only look at the most tangible items with the easiest metrics to apply which essentially comes down to the server hardware, power, space, and bandwidth. Sometimes these are the only things that people look at in making this decision.

Depending who you are and what you want to get out of your data center this could be close to what you’d need to consider, but for 99% of the population who has any business with a data center this only covers the basics. As a society convenience plays an ever increasing role in what we look for and in addition to this 99% looking for data center infrastructure crave things like uptime, speed, reliability, and space/opportunity for scalability and expansion. Each of these things are more than just desires, they are verified needs.

So in getting to the meat of what this blog is about I’ll quickly discuss the different things that add to the total cost beyond the obvious things of Hardware, Space, Power, and Bandwidth. I know this is already pretty long for a blog so I am turning this into a short series and I will follow up with addition blogs to go into more depth about each portion and how they can relate to each other. I will work to add insight from other customers who have asked this of themselves before in addition to giving my own experiences on this topic.

Opportunity Costs
I consider the idea of Opportunity Costs to be amongst the highest and least quantifiable aspect in running a data center. This isn’t something that will have its own blog post because of its broad nature, so instead I’ll simply tie the idea of Opportunity Cost into each other blog and how it relates to the overall discussion.

There is often a simple truth to knowing or stating that if we choose option “A” it will negate the value, relevance, and in many cases the existence of any other previously viable options. Nearly all Opportunity Costs relates back to What Does it Cost by determining what is potentially to be either gained or lost with that decision. This idea can be further broken down into risk vs. reward, and a simple business decision in knowing that if you wish to take on less risk, you’ll need to pay more for it or get less in return. The same can be said for intangibles other than risk like convenience, reliability, and speed.

Human Resource costs
Earlier, I mentioned that one of the main topics of discussion that guest speakers emphasized was that Our people are our biggest assets, but at the same time they can also easily be one of our biggest costs. I think that a lot of businesses can agree with this statement, however, the impact from how we develop our infrastructure does not often take our people and associated costs into account. Every business should have a growth model the cost of growth (or your growing pains) is often overlooked in the planning stages. We’ll look at specific situations and take into account amount of people needed running everything yourself and what that will wind up costing from just the HR standpoint.

This can get more into what is the cost of adding one more qualified employee. This is one of the biggest aspects often overlooked, because it not only takes new people you would need to hire, but how it can monopolize time and production you would get otherwise from people you already have on staff.

The value of "On-Demand" and the cost of not having it.
Have you ever heard the phrase “time is money”? What does this mean to you? What can this mean in a data center? Here we’ll focus the conversation on efficiency and the compare certain costs and benefits between different ways about achieving our goals.

We can take a look at standard processes that we may have to go through if we wish to add capacity as well as integrating new solutions with existing ones. Time has a huge value in today’s business world, and we’ll determine how having on demand infrastructure has the ability to positively impact the bottom line immensely. Having necessary tools in a truly on-demand and versatile environment will be a major point of focus in everything moving forward, and it is an important intangible factor that we should not lose sight of.

Cost of Uptime/ Redundancy
Uptime is one of the most common themes near the top of everyone’s list for data center management. We can all agree that uptime is important, but how important is it to us each individually? We will look at scenarios where if a catastrophic event were to happen we should ask ourselves what it would cost not only in terms of monetary value, but also what would that mean long term and on a strategic level.

Downtime will eventually happen in all things, but if you can plan around this to have redundancy or failover then you can alleviate this risk. So we must again ask ourselves “what will this cost?” Simply put Redundancy can and will be expensive. Generally it will cost much more than just the sum of its parts and it is easy to over look certain aspects of where you may have a “single point of failure”. At the same time we should consider what will the cost be for each additional level of redundancy that we incorporate?

Contracts
In this blog we will relate focus heavily on two main ideas: The value of time in making long term decisions and Opportunity Cost. We’ll be able to look at what having long term commitments really cost in ways that include scalability, large capital costs, accounting on physical resources and their benefits as well as limitations. Once we have this established we can also more easily determine how this can affect your decision making and your ongoing ability to do the right thing for your business.

Accounting
Different accounting practices can make a great difference in your bottom line. Carrying on additional debt, taxes, and taking depreciation can have a lot of costs that go beyond the normal operating costs. For this section I’ll warrant the help of some of our experts who have already previously run several scenarios and may be a bit more qualified than I am to speak on such matters.

In the end this study can make it easier to compare and see if SoftLayer is the right solution for you or someone you may know. I can say that SoftLayer will not be the entire solution for some companies compared to doing things yourself, however, we do make sound business sense in about 95% of cases at some capacity if not full capacity.

-Doug

Categories: 
September 5, 2008

I Have a Crush on Sarah Palin

Let me begin by saying I don’t want to turn our company blog into something political and suggest how you should vote. I still haven’t decided myself for whom I will vote. Full disclosure – I haven’t voted Republican since I cast a vote for Reagan in 1984, when I was first old enough to vote.

But hey, Sarah Palin is a former state champion basketball player and sportscaster who competed in beauty pageants and enjoys hunting and fishing. What’s not to like here? Of course, I don’t want to raise the ire of her husband, Alaska’s “First Dude” Todd Palin. I mean, he’s won a 2,000 mile snowmobile race four times, and the one time I know of that he finished fourth, it was because he broke his arm along the way but still finished the race. First “dude” indeed!

Sarah Palin appears to have a background to which I can relate. She and her family are neither Ivy League educated elitists nor entrenched Washington DC insiders. From what I’ve read, she and her family deal with many of the issues that everyday folks deal with: transporting kids to their activities, going to church, running a small business, balancing a two career family, sending a son off to the military and to battle, raising a special needs child, and handling a teenage pregnancy situation. From this list of things, this family can identify with millions and millions of other families.

What I like most about Sarah Palin is that she and her husband have small business in their background. When asked why they eloped, husband Todd said they had a bad fishing year and thus had no money for a wedding. They understand the ups and downs of small business because they’ve lived it. Consequently, she has been cognizant of supporting small businesses in her policies.

Policies toward small businesses are important to me because small businesses are our bread and butter here at SoftLayer. That is who we serve – small businesses who need enterprise class IT infrastructure and services but are too small to provide them on their own. Though we are larger than most of our customers, SoftLayer still fits in the small business category. Hey, we came from 10 guys with a dream and no revenue for 6 months – you can’t get any more “small business” than that! The small business culture still permeates this place and I hope it always will. When I send out some sort of metrics report to the management team, it usually kicks off an email thread of smart-aleck remarks while we review the metrics.

Just so that I give equal time to both sides here, Barack Obama has outlined some specific policies that will affect small businesses. Along with 40 million others, I watched Obama’s historic speech at the Democratic convention. There were several things that I liked therein, such as his desire to develop new alternative energy sources. But when he talked about helping small businesses, I wonder if he’s out of touch with us because he said that he will eliminate the capital gains tax for small businesses. Well, SoftLayer is responsible for and pays a LOT of taxes (sales taxes, franchise taxes, property taxes, income taxes, etc.) but we have never paid a penny of capital gains taxes. Unless a small business running a small real estate or money management operation, small businesses do not have capital gains. They’re not putting cash into stocks and bonds and holding them to sell them at a later gain – they’re putting the cash into payroll and operating expenses and advertising and capital expenditures to keep their business alive and growing. Word to Obama – if you want to help small businesses, please eliminate a tax that we actually pay!

I am totally in favor of policies that truly help small businesses. You are our customer base and whatever helps you helps us. Consequently, we are very focused on serving your small business. We want to help you establish the best IT cost structure for your needs as well as take away the headache of IT infrastructure so that you can focus on your core business more effectively. Just talk to Steven, Mary, Amanda, Arielle, Chris, Doug, Daniel, Laura, Michael (either one of them), Patrick, Justin, Don, Mathew, or John. They’ll treat you right.

Again, I haven’t decided who to vote for yet. But if I select a Republican candidate for the first time in 24 years, I won’t necessarily say that I voted for John McCain – I’ll say I voted for Sarah Palin!

-Gary

Categories: 
June 18, 2008

Planning for Data Center Disasters Doesn’t Have to Cost a Lot of $$

One of the hot topics over the past couple of weeks in our growing industry has been how to minimize downtime should your (or your host’s) data center experience catastrophic failure leading to outages that could span multiple days.

Some will think that it is the host’s responsibility to essentially maintain a spare data center into which they can migrate customers in case of catastrophe. The reason we don’t do this is simple economics. To maintain this type of redundancy, we’d need to charge you at least double our current rates. Because costs begin jumping exponentially instead of linearly as extensive redundancy is added, we’d likely need to charge you more than double our current rates. You know what? Nobody would buy at that point. It would be above the “reservation price” of the market. Go check your old Econ 101 notes for more details.

Given this economic reality, we at SoftLayer provide the infrastructure and tools for you to recover quickly from a catastrophe with minimal cost and downtime. But, every customer must determine which tools to use and build a plan that suits the needs of the business.

One way to do this is to maintain a hot-synched copy of your server at a second of our three geographically diverse locations. Should catastrophe happen to the location of your server, you will stay up and have no downtime. Many of you do this already, even keeping servers at multiple hosts. According to our customer surveys, 61% of our customers use multiple providers for exactly that reason – to minimize business risk.

Now I know what you’re thinking – “why should I maintain double redundancy and double my costs if you won’t do it?” Believe me, I understand this - I realize that your profit margins may not be able to handle a doubling of your costs. That is why SoftLayer provides the infrastructure and tools to provide an affordable alternative to running double infrastructure in multiple locations in case of catastrophe.

SoftLayer’s eVault offering can be a great cost effective alternative to the cost of placing servers in multiple locations. Justin Scott has already blogged about the rich backup features of eVault and how his backup data is in Seattle while his server is in Dallas, so I won’t continue to restate what he has already said. I will add that eVault is available in each of our data centers, so no matter where your server is at SoftLayer, you can work with your sales rep to have your eVault backups in a different location. Thus, for prices that are WAY lower than an extra server (eVault starts at $20/month), you can keep near real-time backups of your server data off site. And because the data transfer between locations happens on SoftLayer’s private network, your data is secure and the transfer doesn’t count toward your bandwidth allotment.

So let’s say your server is in our new Washington DC data center and your eVault backups are kept in one of our Dallas data centers. A terrorist group decides to bomb data centers in the Washington DC area in an attempt to cripple US government infrastructure and our facility is affected and won’t be back up for several days. At this point, you can order a server in Dallas, and once it is provisioned in an hour or so, you restore the eVault backup of your choice, wait on DNS to propagate based on TTL, and you’re rolling again.

Granted, you do experience some downtime with this recovery strategy. But the tradeoff is that you are up and running smoothly after the brief downtime at a cost for this contingency that begins at only $20 per month. And when you factor in your SLA credit on the destroyed server, this offsets the cost of ordering a new server, so the cost of your eVault is the only cost of this recovery plan.

This is much less than doubling your costs with offsite servers to almost guarantee no downtime. The reason that I throw in the word “almost” is that if an asteroid storm takes out all of our locations and your other providers’ locations, you will experience downtime. Significant downtime.

-Gary

February 11, 2008

Spares at the Ready

In Steve's last post he talked about the logic of outsourcing. The rationale included the cost of redundant internet connections, the cost of the server, UPS, small AC, etc. He covers a lot of good reasons to get the server out of the broom closet and into a real datacenter. However, I would like to add one more often over looked component to that argument: the Spares Kit.

Let's say that you do purchase your own server and you set it up in the broom closet (or a real datacenter for that matter) and you get the necessary power, cooling and internet connectivity for it. What about spare parts?

If you lose a hard drive on that server, do you have a spare one available for replacement? Maybe so - that's a common part with mechanical features that is liable to fail - so you might have that covered. Not only do you have a spare drive, the server is configured with some level of RAID so you're probably well covered there.

What if that RAID card fails? It happens - and it happens with all different brands of cards.

What about RAM? Do you keep a spare RAM DIMM handy or if you see failures on one stick, do you just plan to remove it and run with less RAM until you can get more on site? The application might run slower because it's memory starved or because now your memory is not interleaved - but that might be a risk you are willing to take.

How about a power supply? Do you keep an extra one of those handy? Maybe you keep a spare. Or, you have dual power supplies. Are those power supplies plugged into separate power strips on separate circuits backed up by separate UPSs?

What if the NIC on the motherboard gets flaky or goes out completely? Do you keep a spare motherboard handy?

If you rely on out of band management of your server via an IPMI, Lights Out or DRAC card - what happens if that card goes bad while you're on vacation?

Even if you have all necessary spare parts for your server or you have multiple servers in a load balanced configuration inside the broom closet; what happens if you lose your switch or your load balancer or your router or your... What happens if that little AC you purchased shuts down on Friday night and the broom closet heats up all weekend until the server overheats? Do you have temperature sensors in the closet that are configured to send you an alert - so that now you have to drive back to the office to empty the water pail of the spot cooler?

You might think that some of these scenarios are a bit far fetched but I can certainly assure you that they're not. At SoftLayer, we have spares of everything. We maintain hundreds of servers in inventory at all times, we maintain a completely stocked inventory room full of critical components, and we staff it all 24/7 and back it all up with a 4 hour SLA.

Some people do have all of their bases covered. Some people are willing to take a chance, and even if you convince your employer that it's ok to take those chances, how do you think the boss will respond when something actually happens and critical services are offline?

-SamF

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