Posts Tagged 'Customer'

December 2, 2011

Global Network: The Proof is in the Traceroute

You've probably heard a lot about SoftLayer's global expansion into Asia and Europe, and while the idea of geographically diversifying is impressive in itself, one of the most significant implications of our international expansion is what it's done for the SoftLayer Network.

As George explained in "Globalization and Hosting: The World Wide Web is Flat," our strategic objective is to get a network point of presence within 40ms of all of our users and our users' users to provide the best network stability and performance possible anywhere on the planet. The reasoning is simple: The sooner a user gets on on our network, the quicker we can efficiently route them through our points of presence to a server in one of our data centers.

The cynics in the audience are probably yawning and shrugging that idea off as marketing mumbo jumbo, so I thought it would be good to demonstrate how the network expansion immediately and measurably improved our customers' network experience from Asia to the United States. Just look at the traceroutes.

As you're probably aware, a traceroute shows the "hops" or routers along the network path from an origin IP to a destination IP. When we were building out the Singapore data center (before the network points of presence were turned up in Asia), I ran a traceroute from Singapore to SoftLayer.com, and immediately after the launch of the data center, I ran another one:

Pre-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  10.151.60.1 (10.151.60.1)  1.884 ms  1.089 ms  1.569 ms
 2  10.151.50.11 (10.151.50.11)  2.006 ms  1.669 ms  1.753 ms
 3  119.75.13.65 (119.75.13.65)  3.380 ms  3.388 ms  4.344 ms
 4  58.185.229.69 (58.185.229.69)  3.684 ms  3.348 ms  3.919 ms
 5  165.21.255.37 (165.21.255.37)  9.002 ms  3.516 ms  4.228 ms
 6  165.21.12.4 (165.21.12.4)  3.716 ms  3.965 ms  5.663 ms
 7  203.208.190.21 (203.208.190.21)  4.442 ms  4.117 ms  4.967 ms
 8  203.208.153.241 (203.208.153.241)  6.807 ms  55.288 ms  56.211 ms
 9  so-2-0-3-0.laxow-cr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.238)  187.953 ms  188.447 ms  187.809 ms
10  ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  184.143 ms
    ge-4-1-1-0.sngc3-dr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.138)  189.510 ms
    ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  289.039 ms
11  203.208.171.98 (203.208.171.98)  187.645 ms  188.700 ms  187.912 ms
12  te1-6.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (66.109.11.42)  186.482 ms  188.265 ms  187.021 ms
13  ae7.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.166)  188.569 ms  191.100 ms  188.736 ms
14  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  381.645 ms  410.052 ms  420.311 ms
15  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  415.379 ms  415.902 ms  418.339 ms
16  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  417.426 ms  417.301 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  416.692 ms
17  * * *

Post-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  192.168.206.1 (192.168.206.1)  2.850 ms  1.409 ms  1.206 ms
 2  174.133.118.65-static.reverse.networklayer.com (174.133.118.65)  1.550 ms  1.680 ms  1.394 ms
 3  ae4.dar01.sr03.sng01.networklayer.com (174.133.118.136)  1.812 ms  1.341 ms  1.734 ms
 4  ae9.bbr01.eq01.sng02.networklayer.com (50.97.18.198)  35.550 ms  1.999 ms  2.124 ms
 5  50.97.18.169-static.reverse.softlayer.com (50.97.18.169)  174.726 ms  175.484 ms  175.491 ms
 6  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  203.821 ms  203.749 ms  205.803 ms
 7  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.253)  306.755 ms
    ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  208.669 ms  203.127 ms
 8  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  203.518 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  305.534 ms
    po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  204.150 ms
 9  * * *

I won't dive too deep into what these traceroutes are telling us because that'll need to be an entirely different blog. What I want to draw your attention to are a few key differences between the pre- and post-launch traceroutes:

  • Getting onto SoftLayer's network:. The first reference to "networklayer" in the pre-launch trace is in hop 12 (~187ms). In the post-launch trace, we were on "networklayer" in the second hop (~1.5ms).
  • Number of hops: Pre-launch, our network path took 16 hops to get to SoftLayer.com. Post-launch, it took 8.
  • Response times from the destination: The average response time from SoftLayer.com to Singapore before the launch of our network points of presence in Asia was about 417ms (milliseconds). After the launch, it dropped to an average of about ~250ms.

These traceroutes demonstrate that users in Singapore travel a much better network path to a server in one of our U.S. data centers than they had before we turned up the network in Asia, and that experience isn't limited to users in Singapore ... users throughout Europe and Asia will see fewer hops and better speeds now that the data centers and points of presence on those continents are live. And that's without buying a server in either of those markets or making any changes to how they interact with us.

Managing a worldwide network for a worldwide customer base with thousands of different ISPs and millions of possible routes is not a "set it and forget it" endeavor, so we have a team of engineers in our Network Operations Center that focuses on tweaking and optimizing routes 24x7. Branching out into Europe and Asia introduces a slew of challenges when working with providers on the other side of the globe, but I guess it's true: "If it were easy, everyone would do it."

Innovate or die.

-@toddmitchell

October 26, 2011

MODX: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from the MODX team. MODX offers an intuitive, feature-rich, open source content management platform that can easily integrate with other applications as the heart of your Customer Experience Management solution.

Company Website: http://modx.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/modx

Free your Website with MODX CMS

Just having a website or a blog is no longer a viable online strategy for smart businesses. Today's interconnected world requires engaging customers — from the first impression, to developing leads, educating, selling, empowering customer service and beyond. This key shift in online interaction is known as Customer Experience Management, or CXM.

For businesses to have success with CXM, they need an efficient way to connect all facets of their communications and information together with a modern and consistent look and feel, and without long learning curves or frustrating user experiences. You don't want a Content Management System (CMS) that restricts your ability to meet brand standards, that lives in isolation from your other systems and data, or that fails to fulfil your businesses needs.

MODX is a content management platform that gives you the creative freedom to build custom websites limited only by your imagination. It certainly can play the central role in managing your customer experience.

Freedom from Hassle & Frustration
The most productive tools are those that simply allow you get your work done. To make life easy for content editors MODX uses familiar concepts like a hierarchical tree – similar to the folders and files on your computer. This allows content editors to relate their content to the overall website structure. But, like everything else in MODX, you aren't limited to hierarchical content and can easily employ taxonomy-, list- or category-based structures.

Similarly, editing documents should be easy. With MODX, anyone who can open a web browser and send email has the skillset to create and edit content in MODX. Most tasks are a matter of filling out simple form fields into which content is placed and is accompanied by a sensible MS Word-like editor for your main content. Furthermore, site builders and developers are able to create custom fields for custom content types and custom data allowing non-technical employees to work in an intuitive, tailored environment.

Total Creative Freedom
Your website is one of the most visible parts of your brand and you certainly don't want it limited by your CMS. MODX makes it possible to do anything that's on the modern web now — you don't have to wait for a year or hack the core to launch an HTML5 or mobile optimized site. MODX can do it all now, and even what's coming next. It outputs exactly and only what you or your site builder dictate.

MODX uses a brilliantly simple template engine that allows web designers to work with what they already know, like HTML, CSS and any JavaScript library they chose. MODX can even output things not typically associated with most content management platforms like XML, JSON or even Comma Separated Value (CSV) files that automatically download to your desktop.

Freedom to Extend
MODX provides all the requisite tools for CMS, but it also functions as a fully capable web development platform upon which you can extend functionality, employ custom applications and do just about anything you can dream up. In fact, the "X" in MODX comes from the word "extensible". Whether you want to build a Member-only website, Client Extranet, Resort Booking and Reservations system or private Social Network, you can do it on MODX.

For developers the fully-documented Object Oriented API and xPDO, MODXs database layer, provide all you need to build almost anything with MODX, even extending or overriding its core functionality. Critically, you can do all this using the API and retain a painless upgrade path without hacking the core. The MODX API architecture provides all the flexibility you or your developer might need to make MODX your own without painting your self into a corner.

Freedom from Bottlenecks
Modern web pages are made up of many component parts – site-wide headers and footers, navigation menus, articles, products and more. At some point, all these pieces need to be put together and delivered to the visitor as a single page that users expect to load quickly or they'll leave your site.

To deliver pages fast, top-performing sites use server-side caching to take all those pieces and pre-process them for fast delivery to a browser. The problem with many CMS applications is that they manually rebuild pages every single time someone visits your site. That's fine if you only have a few visitors, but your site can bog down or even fail under moderate traffic. In these circumstances, it would be disastrous if your website is featured on an industry magazine or website, national media or on a popular TV show. Your site could literally grind to a halt, costing you customers, damaging your reputation and ultimately making a bad first impression.

MODX's native page caching delivers your site quickly by default. Additionally, MODX can use high-end caching like memcache to further improve performance under load. To handle millions of pageviews daily, you need robust servers and you need to optimize your environment ... That's where scaling across multiple servers and replication with SoftLayer works perfectly with MODX.

Free Your Legacy Systems
Keeping your data, content and business information in disconnected silos is ineffective and costly. Accessing existing systems, like an Active Directory or Enterprise Content repository, makes huge difference in getting your work done headache-free. You don't have to worry about data duplication across systems, significant extra work to make everything work or synchronization issues. A new website platform should increase your productivity and enable your employees, customers and everyone else surrounding your business to find what they need and to interact efficiently and effectively.

MODX works with the tools and technology that organizations already have in place. It can easily interact with external web services or data feeds and can drive other applications via RESTful web services.

Security and Freedom to Rest Easy
Website Security is a topic that rarely surfaces during the early stages of a web project and often never comes up until your site has been compromised.

A high-quality hosting environment like those from SoftLayer are the foundation of website security. Your web CMS and its add-ons, plugin-ins or modules should not be a liability. MODX is designed with security at its core to protect your valuable website from malicious attacks. Every input is filtered, and every database query using the API eliminates the possibility of SQL injection compromises. Most importantly, the development team rigorously and continuously audits MODX to make sure its up to date and patching any new issues that may arise.

Freedom in the Community
With MODX and the MODX Community you're not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of websites built on MODX and we have a friendly, active and growing community of raving fans over 37,000 strong to whom you can look for assistance, support, education and camaraderie.

In fact, the MODX Community is one of our greatest assets.

They provide mentorship, assistance and help make MODX software better through active reporting of issues and feature requests and contributing improvements for integration by the core team.

If you're not a site builder or developer, but you want your website powered by MODX, one of the best places to start is with a MODX Solution Partner. Our network of 90+ global Solution Partners enables you to get the right-fit expertise for your project and in many cases work locally. Solution Partners are experts at MODX and know how to do things right.

Get Free
There really is a cure for the all too often restrictive, unintuitive and frustrating experience of putting content on the web. Get on the road to content management freedom with MODX. It's easy to start since MODX Revolution itself is free to download and use.

Learn more at http://modx.com/.

-Jay Gilmore, MODX

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.
October 11, 2011

Building a True Real-Time Multiplayer Gaming Platform

Some of the most innovative developments on the Internet are coming from online game developers looking to push the boundaries of realism and interactivity. Developing an online gaming platform that can support a wide range of applications, including private chat, avatar chats, turn-based multiplayer games, first-person shooters, and MMORPGs, is no small feat.

Our high speed, global network significantly minimizes reliability, access, latency, lag and bandwidth issues that commonly challenge online gaming. Once users begin to experience issues of latency, reliability, they are gone and likely never to return. Our cloud, dedicated, and managed hosting solutions enable game developers to rapidly test, deploy and manage rich interactive media on a secure platform.

Consider the success of one of our partners — Electrotank Inc. They’ve been able to support as many as 6,500 concurrent users on just ONE server in a realistic simulation of a first-person shooter game, and up to 330,000 concurrent users for a turn-based multiplayer game. Talk about server density.

This is just scratching the surface because we're continuing to build our global footprint to reduce latency for users around the world. This means no awkward pauses, jumping around, but rather a smooth, seamless, interactive online gaming experience. The combined efforts of SoftLayer’s infrastructure and Electrotank’s performant software have produced a high-performance networking platform that delivers a highly scalable, low latency user experience to both gamers and game developers.

Electrotank

You can read more about how Electrotank is leveraging SoftLayer’s unique network platform in today's press release or in the fantastic white paper they published with details about their load testing methodology and results.

We always like to hear our customers opinions so let us know what you think.

-@nday91

July 27, 2011

ClickTale: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Shmuli Goldberg of ClickTale, an industry leader in customer experience analytics, providing businesses with revolutionary insights into their customers' online behavior.

Understanding the User Experience with In-Page Analytics

Since ClickTale's start back in 2006, we understood that engaging visitors on a website is the first step to increase conversions. Although traditional web analytics are great for delivering general statistics such as number of visitors or pages per visit, they leave a big black hole when it comes to understanding what happens inside the pages themselves.

ClickTale's In-Page Analytics feature set enables you to identify, observe, aggregate and analyze visitors' actual interaction inside your site, so you know exactly what page elements work, what to optimize and how to increase visitor engagement.

Our wide range of web optimization tools include Mouse Tracking, Heatmap Suite and Conversion Analytics solutions, but was our Visitor Recordings feature that started it all. Giving you a front row seat to your visitors' browsing sessions and delivering a thorough, in-depth view into what your visitors are focusing on and interacting with inside the pages themselves. All you need to do is grab the popcorn.

Our Heat maps are aggregated reports that visually display what parts of a webpage are looked at, clicked on, focused on and interacted with by your online visitors. See exactly what images, text and call to action buttons your visitors' think are hot and what's not!

Both these features allow you to instantly see how to go about optimizing your website instantly so you don't have to guess.

As a fully hosted subscription service, ClickTale is quick and easy to set up. We believe our wide range of heatmaps, behavioral analytics and full video playback make ClickTale the perfect way to round out your traditional web analytics suite. For more information, please visit www.clicktale.com.

- Shmuli Goldberg, ClickTale

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.
May 23, 2011

Behind SoftLayer's Growth

SoftLayer isn't a publicly traded company, but in the interest of transparency, we do our best to share as much information about the business as we can with our customers. Earlier this week, we released our revenue and operations growth for the first quarter of 2011, and while we're happy to reach so many amazing milestones, we can't take any time to rest on our laurels.

It's no secret that we've gotten to where we are today because our 26,000+ customers trust us with their businesses. We can quantify success with revenue numbers and server counts, but at the end of the day, our business will be successful when we provide a platform for our customers to be successful. The growth of our customer base is a testament to the hard work the team has put in behind the scenes, and it also presents an interesting challenge: We need to continue to meet the needs of 26,000+ different businesses in 140+ countries around the world.

Given the amount of hair-pulling you might encounter by something as simple as setting up dinner with a group of friends, it's a pretty daunting task to incorporate thousands of disparate perspectives in our road map as we move forward, but with that challenge comes great opportunity to build SoftLayer into an even better business. Whether the request is for something as straightforward as a hardware product or as complex as geographic expansion into specific international markets, the feedback we get from our customers shapes our internal conversations (and ultimately our long-term plans).

Understanding that need for constant feedback, we're doing our best to listen to what our customers have to say. We're listening to conversations on our forums, watching updates from our customers on various social media platforms, and monitoring our sales and support customer experiences to ensure we're moving in the right direction. Recently, we incorporated a Get Satisfaction widget on our site to give our customers a platform to share their ideas, questions, problems and praises. Additionally, users can vote on existing suggestions to give us a sense of our customer base's priorities.

To all of our customers, thank you for trusting SoftLayer with your business. In response to your past requests, we've opened a new data center in San Jose, christened new pods in Dallas and Washington, D.C., launched our managed hosting service and released servers powered by the latest and greatest Intel Xeon "Sandy Bridge" and "Westmere EX" processors ... And all of those accomplishments have come since we closed the books on the success we shared from Q1.

As we continue to improve our feedback loops, you're going to see even more impressive numbers from SoftLayer, and that success will fuel our ability to continue growing the business to meet more of our customers' requests. Because we officially completed our integration with The Planet in Q1, we're able to shift our focus completely to maintaining and growing the combined business. By the end of the year, you'll see SoftLayer data centers in Europe and Asia, and as new products and technologies are released, you'll see them first from SoftLayer.

What else can we do for you? (And no, that's not a rhetorical question.)

-@gkdog

May 5, 2011

Giving Customers More Than They Expect

Giving a customer the ability to do something that they didn't know they could (or even know was possible) can make for an exceptional customer experience.

I've had a season mini-pack of Dallas Mavericks tickets for a handful of years now and have always gotten the exact experience that I expected: The same seats every time, consistent food and drink, great entertainment, and a quality team on the court that wins considerably more often than not.

However, this year it's been a little different. This year, they have thrown in several perks that cost them nothing or next to nothing but have made a huge difference in the overall experience.

One game in particular sticks out in my mind. A couple of weeks before a game against the Wizards, I got an email about a no-cost chance for me and one other person to stand in a high five line to give fives to the players as they came out for warmups. I had no idea fans actually got to do this, so I gladly signed up and took my 5 year-old son to the game. I had also received an invite from the sales rep to choose a date to spend the first half of a game in one of the suites, so I made it the same night.

That night, we joined a small group of people down by the tunnel before the game, and we got to give all the players, Mark Cuban, the Mavs Maniacs and even a few security guards high fives. My son was over-the-moon to "meet" his favorite players - Dirk, Kidd, and Jet - could hardly contain himself.

This game also happened to be the week before the Super Bowl. I only mention it because on the way to our suite, I was blinded by the biggest ring I had ever seen. It turned out to be a Super Bowl ring and the guy wearing it was James Harrison (the linebacker for Steelers that lost a bunch of money to fines for helmet to helmet hits last season), so I got to meet him and wish him luck for the big game.

Oh, and and I can't forget to mention the free hats, shirts, and Roddy B. bobblehead.

Long story short, I probably couldn't tell you who won the other ten games I went to this year, but I don't think I'll forget anything about this particular game.

The thing I took away from this experience is when you give a customer something above and beyond what is expected, however seemingly insignificant, you can monumentally improve their customer experience.

To bring it back around to SoftLayer, we give customers a great API - a REST API at that. We give them VPN, a private network, IPv6, and a fully provisioned server in a couple of hours. Each of these differentiators enables us to provide products and services that our competitors can only hope to imitate.

The first time the customer uses the API to automatically create a new Cloud Instance from their own program, it'll be a Maverick-game experience. When they transfer data from Washington, D.C., to San Jose, CA, on our private network with zero bandwidth charge, they'll feel like they're high-fiving Dirk Nowitski. When they access their server over the free KVM over IP, they're walking up to the suite and meeting a Super Bowl champion. And all of that is on top of a stable, speedy server environment!

What can we do to improve your customer experience?

-Brad

February 23, 2011

A Journey into the SoftLayer Billing Portal

Since SoftLayer's merger with The Planet in November, we have been working tirelessly to combine our legacy Orbit and SoftLayer customer portals, and we've got some great news: We're ready to move all of our billing information and functionality onto the SoftLayer platform! The changes are designed to make managing your account quicker and easier. While change isn't always welcome, when you see some of the new features and functionality in the SoftLayer billing portal, we're sure you'll be as excited as we are.

Once your Orbit account's billing information is migrated to the SoftLayer portal, you will receive an email confirmation. As soon as you're ready to start exploring the new system, you can log in at http://manage.softlayer.com with your master username and password. We recommend you use the master username to log in because some users may have access restrictions in the portal, and you need to be logged into a user that has accounting access. Once you are logged in, click on the "Administrative" tab near the top-left of your page. From the drop-down menu, you will choose “Accounting" to bring you to the billing-related section on your account.

Wait ... Instead of just guiding you through the process via text, how about we walk you through a quick tour of the billing portal as a bit of show-and-tell?

In the Accounting section, you can retrieve invoices, check pricing and even see your next monthly invoice. As a legacy Orbit customer, you'll also be happy to hear that when your billing information is moved to the new portal, PayPal is available as a payment method! Among other changes, you'll also note that we have a One-Time Payment option to enable some flexibility in how your account is paid in a given month.

In the new system, you'll also notice that order reconciliation is made much simpler. You can easily view invoices by type, date or status. You can even view invoices within a specified date range and save invoices in interactive PDF or Excel formats. Updates to your user and payment information are much more accessible, too.

Our interactive invoices make it much simpler to review your equipment and the costs on your account. The interactive PDF will give you a summary of all charges broken down by type and then by server. If you click on any one of your servers, you are instantly taken to the full pricing detail of that server by component. If you have any items not listed under a server on your invoice you can use our Associate Billing Orphans section to attach unassociated items to a server.

With these invoices, you can track your costs and equipment clearly to make sure the right gear is getting charged the right amount. You can even use our Show Next Invoice feature to project costs for the following month!

We hope you'll be amazed at all the features you now have at your fingertips! Please give us your feedback so we can be sure all questions are answered!

-Nikki

July 15, 2009

Subjecting Subjectivity To Math

I recently read an article about an endeavor that is currently being undertaken to develop a “Speech Analysis Algorithm Crafted to Detect and Help Dissatisfied Customers”. In short, a team of engineers are hoping to create software that will recognize when a caller is becoming stressed and immediately phone a manager to alert them of a developing situation. Wow! It is rare that you would see math and science applied to something that is so subjective. After all, math is used to quantify and measure things all based on a known or a baseline. In this particular effort, I would surmise that the team of engineer’s most difficult task will be to determine how to establish a unique baseline for each unique call and caller. Once upon a time as a student of Electrical Engineering, I took on my share of convolution integrals and that’s a path that I do not care to venture down again. I’ve also taken on my share of convoluted customer calls in a past life and witnessed our frontline assisting customers in complex situations here at SoftLayer.

Until there is such an application that can detect and address a conversation that may be heading in the wrong direction, we have to rely on good ole’ training and experience. With each call and query, the baseline is reset. I’d even go further to say that with each exchange; the baseline is reset as our Customer Service Agents seek information to get to the root of the issue. It’s not hard to imagine the frustration that can build in a back-and-forth conversation as two people look to come to a solution or an amiable conclusion just as it is understandable that sometimes, a customer may simply need to vent. How do you calculate and anticipate those scenarios?

I wish much success to the team involved in the customer service speech analysis program. And programmatically speaking, I see many CASE, SWITCH, FOR, WHILE, BREAK, CONTINUE, IF, ELSE, ELSE IF, NEXT statements in your future. Good Luck!

May 21, 2009

Anti-Spyware Workshop

I just got back from participating in a panel discussion at the most recent Anti-Spyware Coalition Public Workshop. The title of the panel session was “Who Owns the Problem”. You can see who all of the participants were, but it was a good session with representation from the FBI, Symantec, Paypal, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Stopbadware.org and KnujOn.

A lot of the session was focused on end user security regarding spyware, rogue anti-virus, malware and other general badware. But part of the discussion was in regards to the security efforts of the hosting industry in general and SoftLayer specifically. Some of the things we deal with in the hosting industry are second nature to those of us that have been here for a while. But when you start talking about it in front of a different crowd, you begin to appreciate the different perspectives that are out there.

For instance, one common perception (held by some, but obviously not by all) is that once we are made aware of a server that has malware on it, all we have to do is pull the plug on the server and the problem is resolved. However, sometimes the consequences of doing so are high enough to be worthy of a second look. For instance, consider the scenario where SoftLayer rents a server to a customer. That customer slices the server into virtuals using Parallel’s Virtuozzo product and rents a virtual to another customer. That customer puts Cpanel on it to sell shared hosting accounts. Now SoftLayer is 2 layers removed from the actual end user. If that end user’s website gets compromised and begins to distribute malware, how do we at SoftLayer deal with the problem. Ideally, we tell our customer and they tell their customer and they tell the end user about the problem. The end user reacts quickly and cleans up the site. That’s not anywhere close to “best case scenario”, but I would call that a reasonable real-world response.

The problem is, if any of the individuals in that chain of communication fails to react quickly, then the response time for that issue is drastically impacted and more people are potentially victimized by the malware. At what point do we pull the plug on the server? At what point do we decide that all of the other customers on the server have to suffer because of the one bad apple or because of a slow response time from one customers in the chain of communication? Websense did a study that showed in the second half of 2007, over half of all sites distributing malware were themselves compromised sites so the scenario described above is actually a very common problem. It also highlights that there is one more victim in the incident; the web site owner.

We tend to deal with each case as prudently and expeditiously as possible in every abuse report that we receive. In some cases, we pull the plug immediately. In others, we try very hard to work with the customer to resolve the issue. But in all cases, we are constantly working to act as quickly as possible on each individual case.

This is just one of the many scenarios that we have to deal with and it highlights why having a good relationship with your provider is such an important factor when choosing someone to help supply or service your IT needs.

-SamF

December 1, 2008

Customer Education

If you read through some of the previous blogs on this site such as our CEO’s “SoftLayer Thinks ‘Outside the Box’” or the blog written by one of our super developers, Mr McAloon, entitled “Simplicity”, or Mr Rushe’s “An Interview with an elevator” (OK – that has nothing to do with what I’m referring to, but it’s one of the funniest blogs on this site), one thing you’ll notice is that at SoftLayer, we try to automate and simplify things for the customer. Our customer portal has a LOT of customer features. There are automated OS reloads, the ability to boot into a rescue kernel, the capability to add IP addresses on demand, add and configure a firewall or a local or global load balancer, the ability to edit your DNS settings (forward or reverse) and – my favorite – the ability to reboot your server via IPMI or the power strip. You can also manage your CDN services, monitor your NAS or iSCSI storage, configure backups, use the free KVM services, check your bandwidth and of course, handle all of the usual things like opening support tickets or checking your invoice. Or, if you want to integrate any or all of those features into your own management system, there is a full API available for your use.

With all of that functionality in the portal, one of the challenges we continuously run into is educating new customers on all of the features. Not just educating them on how to use the features – but that the features actually exist in the customer portal. A lot of our customers are either new to On-Demand IT Infrastructure Services (aka the hosting environment) or come from other competitors that only offer a fraction of the features that we are able to provide. For instance, you would be amazed at how many customers open “reboot” tickets. While we respond to tickets quickly, it is actually faster for the customer to click on the “reboot” button in the portal than to click on the “create new ticket” link in the portal and then type out a reboot request.

As ways to address that issue, we created a private customer forum so that customers can share ideas, comments and suggestions with each other. We have also not only created the KnowledgeLayer FAQ database, but we have integrated that directly into the support ticket feature of the portal (when you open a ticket, the FAQ system will automatically recommend related fixes before you even submit the ticket). We also have tutorials directly linked inside the portal and even have all of our API documentation available for review.

So one of the challenges we have at SoftLayer isn’t just creating and deploying the new features and services that keep us out in front of the pack, but educating our customers of their existence and their ease of use. BTW, that’s a great problem to have!

-SamF

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