Posts Tagged 'Customer Portal'

October 3, 2013

Improving Communications for Customer-Affecting Events

Service disruptions are never a good thing. Though SoftLayer invests extensively in design, equipment, and personnel training to reduce the risk of disruptions to our customers, in the technology world there are times where scheduled events or unplanned incidents are inevitable. During those times, we understand that restoring service is top priority, and almost as important is communicating to customers regarding the cause of the incident and the current status of our work to resolve it.

To date we've used a combination of tickets, emails, forum posts, portal "yellow" notifications, as well as RSS and Twitter feeds to provide status updates during service-affecting events. Many of these methods require customers to "come and get it," so we've been working on a more targeted, proactive approach to disseminating information.

I'm excited to report that our Development and Operations teams have collaborated on new functionality in the SoftLayer portal that will improve the way we share information with customers about unplanned infrastructure troubles or upcoming planned maintenances. With our new Event Communications toolset, we're able to pinpoint the accounts affected by an event and update users who opt-in to receive notifications about how these events may impact their services.

Notifications

As the development work is finalized, we plan to roll out a few phases of improvements. The first phase of implementation, which is ready today, enables email alerts for unplanned incidents, and any portal user account can opt-in to receive them. These emails provide details about the impact and current status of an unplanned incident in progress (UIP). In this phase, notifications can be sent for devices such as physical servers, CCIs and shared SLB VIPs, and we will be adding additional services over time.

In future phases of this project, we plan to include:

  • A new "Event" section of the Customer Portal which will allow customers to browse upcoming scheduled maintenances or current/recent unplanned incidents which may impact their services. In the past, we generated tickets for scheduled maintenances, so separating these event notifications will improve customer visibility.
  • Enhanced visibility for events in our mobile apps (phone/tablet).
  • Updates to affected services for a given event as customers add / change services.
  • Notification of newly added or newly updated events that have not been read by the user (similar email "inbox" functionality) in the portal.
  • Identification of any related current or recent events as a customer begins to open a ticket in the portal.
  • Reminders of upcoming scheduled maintenances along with progress updates to the event notification throughout the maintenance in some cases.
  • Improved ability to correlate specific incidents to customer service troubles.
  • Dissemination of RFO (reason-for-outage) statements to customers following a post-incident review of an unplanned service disruption.

Since we respect our customers' inboxes, these notifications will only be sent to user accounts that have opted in. If you'd like to receive them, simply log into the Customer Portal and navigate to "Notification Subscriptions" under the "Administration" menu (direct link). From that page, individual users can control event subscriptions, and portal logins that have administrative control over multiple users on the account can control the opt-in for themselves and their downstream users. For a more detailed walkthrough of the opt-in process, visit the KnowledgeLayer: "Update Subscription Settings for the Event Management System"

The Network Operations Center has already begun using this customer notification toolset for customer-affecting events, so we recommend that you opt-in as soon as possible to benefit from this new functionality.

-Dani

June 21, 2011

Ghostin' the Machine - SoftLayer Customer Portal

The hosting business is a really great place to be these days. It may morph rapidly, but some things ring consistently clear. The dedicated server is one of those things. In the brief 10 years or so of my Internet hosting career, the way dedicated servers are delivered to customers and the way they are managed has gone from prop-jet to auto-pilot.

I got started in the dedicated hosting business under Lance Crosby (our current CEO) in October of 2003. At that time we had less than 100 employees, and it may have been less than 50. "Auto-provisioning" consisted of Lance offering pizza and cash bonuses for each white-box PC that we'd 'ghost' with a boot floppy using a networked imaging server (in between our support tasks of answering calls and responding to tickets). We used a popular product made by Norton* in those days to deliver servers as quickly as possible to feed what seemed like an endless demand. As time has gone by, our systems have vastly improved, and true automation is the rule now; Manual intervention, the exception.

Today, SoftLayer has 600+ employees, 80,000+ dedicated servers, 26,000+ customers and is on the verge of launching our international presence. One of the biggest reasons SoftLayer has been so successful is because we offer customers maximum control.

When you need online computing power these days, you have hundreds of choices. Most of your options are still centered on the general idea of the dedicated server, but there are variations depending on what needs are being targeted. Physical dedicated servers are now complimented by Cloud Compute Instances and Virtualized Instances to provide a more flexible platform to tailor to specific use cases. Some providers do better than others at integrating those platforms, and when we began incoporating cloud and dedicated in an integrated environment, our goal was to enable customers to control all aspects of their environment via a single 'pane of glass,' our customer portal.

If you've heard us talk about the features and functionality in the customer portal but have never seen how easy it is to actually navigate the interface, today's your lucky day:

In a nutshell, you get the kind of server control that used to require driving down to the data center, popping on your parka and performing some troubleshooting in the freezing cold cage. You may have been troubleshooting hardware cooling, wiring or other hardware issues, and you'd usually need direct console access to all the different types of servers and devices loaded on your rack.

Thankfully, those days are gone.

Now you can order a dedicated server and have it online in 2-4 hours (or a Cloud Computing Instance which can be online in 15 minutes). You can configure their private network so that they can talk to each other seamlessly; you can add firewalls, load balancing, backup services, monitoring instantly. For maintenance issues, you have the convenience of BIOS-level access via the standard KVM over IP card included in every server so you can see low-level hardware indicators like fan speeds and core temperatures and perform soft IPMI reboots. Firmware upgrades for your hard drive, motherboard, or RAID card that once required the ever-hated floppy disk can now be done with a few button clicks, and speaking of RAID cards, our systems will report back on any change to an ideal status for your disk subsystem. If that weren't enough, you've got monitoring alerts and bandwidth graphs to give you plenty of easy to reference eye-candy.

No more messy wiring, no more beeping UPS units, no more driving, no more parkas.

-Chris

*As a rather humorous aside: My former manager, Tim, got a call one night from one of the newer NOC staff. He was a systems guy, many of the internal systems were under his SysAdmin wing. He was awakened by a tech with broken English who informed him that his name was on the escalation procedures to be called whenever this server went down:

Tim: (groggily) "What is the server name?"
Tech: "G - Host - Me"
Tim: "Huh? Why did you wake me up? ... Why don't you call that hosting company? ... I don't think that's one of my boxes!"
Tech: "No, no sir, so sorry, but your name is on the escalation. Server Label is 'G' ... um 'HOSTME.'"
Tim: "Whaa? — Wait, do you mean Ghost Me?" (GHOSTME was the actual hostname for the Norton imaging server that we used for a while as our 'provisioning' platform)

Laughter ensued and this story was told many times over beers at the High Tech pub.

May 27, 2011

SoftLayer Mobile - Coming of Age

The SoftLayer Mobile application allows customers to work with support tickets, examine and control servers, monitor bandwidth information and more. The application is available on two platform: Apple iOS - supporting iPhones and iPads, and the Google Android operating system - supporting mobile phones and devices from a variety of vendors.

The SoftLayer Mobile application is quickly approaching its first birthday. The application was first introduced to the world in June of 2010. Frequent visitors to this blog may remember when we introduced the iPhone application right here in the SoftLayer blog. We got back with you again when the Android application reached the milestone of 100 downloads. Our success with the application continues to this day with the both the iOS and Android versions sporting impressive download statistics which multiply those of a year ago many dozens of times over.

In the course of the past year, we've gotten some great suggestions for improvements from our customers. The first request was for the application to store account passwords a feature which we implemented quickly. From those humble beginnings we added some larger, more complex functionality based on your feedback like two-factor authentication using VeriSign Identity Protection, bandwidth charting, and the ability to check account balances and make one-time payments against those balances from your phone.

We'd love to continue that trend and hope to tap into the experience of the thousands of you who are working with the application. In the coming year, we hope to expand our existing functionality, include new features, and support both new operating systems and new devices. We'd love to hear about your ideas on how we can best improve the SoftLayer Mobile application to make it an even more valuable tool for you.

Would you like improved tracking of your bandwidth? Can we offer greater control over your server's network ports? Do you need to monitor your server's CPU usage even while you're in line at the bank? Is there one particular task that compels you to visit the SoftLayer Customer Portal time and again? If so, and if it would be convenient for you to have that information on the phone in your pocket rather than on the computer at your desk, please let us know!

To offer your suggestions, please create a support ticket in your SoftLayer account detailing your needs. Alternatively, if you are already using the SoftLayer Mobile application, drop us a line through the feedback links built into the Support section.

If you haven't been using the SoftLayer Mobile application, then we'd like to invite you to download it and explore its features. For more information, and for links and information about downloading and installing the application, visit our Mobile Application resource page.

Keep watching that page over the coming months as well. We have some exciting projects in the works and hope to share them with you very soon!

-Scott

July 6, 2010

SoftLayer API Updates

Our API has gone through more than a few changes since the middle of 2006 when it was first released in beta to a few of our customers. Since then, it has grown from a handful of available features to your one stop shop for infrastructure automation needs. Providing all the functionality our customer portal has, plus putting automation in your/the customers’ hands that was only dreamed of a few short years ago. We have a few NEW note worthy features we just released concerning the API that numerous people have asked for. So here goes:

1.Opened the API up to the public network

We now have two ways to access the SoftLayer API. The first is the same method you have been using utilizing our private network. Some developers have asked for a way to bypass the VPN and private network. So we have added a publicly accessible entry point for the API in addition to the private network. This should open up your development to new exciting desktop widgets and consumption of our API for external software projects without requiring the VPN overhead. More information is available in the SLDN wiki.

2. RESTful web services

We added a simple Representational State Transfer (REST) interface to the arsenal of already supported SOAP and XML-RPC protocols. REST is great if you want to perform simple requests that do not require the complexity of SOAP and for simple integration into AJAX related operations on web pages.

3.New documentation

We have just revised our documentation located in the SLDN wiki. We added more examples, updated connection information for public access and usage for our new REST protocol support. We have also been busy working on our growing collection of open source projects.

4.New Code Samples

As you may or may not have heard Softlayer has a github account now. We are uploading projects and examples as fast as we can. You might want to check out Stratos a white label portal example, Client libraries for Python, Perl and PHP, as well as our growing gist examples which outline common tasks requested by customers.

We would love to hear any feature requests you are looking for, so let us hear from you.

September 2, 2009

SSL Comes to SoftLayer

Those who keep a close eye on the menu options in the customer management portal will have noticed that recently there was added an option under Security where you can now order SSL certificates. For those not familiar with SSL, a certificate is used by an application to establish identity and provide encryption services. Naturally you do not have to order your SSL certificates through us. Certificates ordered other places will work just fine on your server here. Certificates ordered here will work fine elsewhere.

So why order your SSL through SoftLayer? To me, its a convenience and security thing. Ordering with us is convenient because you can place and manage the order via the portal just like you manage aspects of your account already. Management includes being able to see when your certificates are going to expire and the ability to renew them. If the certificate file itself is deleted by accident you can get a copy of it e-mailed via the portal. From a security point of view you already have a billing arrangement with us so why give your credit card information to another party?

I can see someone thinking "But is that safe.. what if I leave SoftLayer?" Yes, it is safe. The only information you have to provide to us in doing the ordering is the Certificate Signing Request and some billing verification. Both of these are things that would be provided to any SSL vendor. The private key, which is the core of SSL security, is not kept or handled by SoftLayer. The private key is generated and remains with your administration staff on your server.

Let us chat about the private key for a moment. The private key is meant to be known only by the server applications to which it is assigned on your server. If it is lost, corrupted, deleted, whatever it will require a new certificate. What this all means is that you should only allow people you really trust access to the private key and above all you must keep a good, safe backup of the file. SoftLayer support can perform quite a bit of server voodoo but recreating a lost private key isn't an option.

I'd invite anyone with a bit of time to experiment with the SSL functionality we offer. You might find something useful for your business.

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