Posts Tagged 'Customers'

September 23, 2010

Movies are Becoming Like Books

One thing that I’ve noticed about our customer behavior at SoftLayer is that as these Internet-centric businesses grow and they add more servers, their bandwidth usage per server also grows. A lot. Why? Their customers are using more bandwidth. I’ll wager that this trend is not unique to SoftLayer customers, but it’s something that’s happening across the board.

Here’s how I’ve been contributing to this end user bandwidth demand. Back in June, I ordered an iPad. Since I was already a Netflix customer, I downloaded their free iPad app. I found that the instant movie streaming is awesome. Every few days now, I look at what’s been newly released for instant streaming, put it in list view and sort by star rating high to low. It’s not only new movies but also old movies just newly set up for instant streaming. Then I pick something I’ve never seen and start watching.

What I really like is that I don’t have to budget the time to watch the whole movie. With my iPad, I can catch 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there, and watch the movie at my leisure over two or three days. Netflix restarts the movie where I left off when I open the app again.

This makes watching a movie much like reading a book. You can mark the spot you left off and pick it up again when you get a chance. You can stop the movie and back up to a particular time stamp to review a plot twist that you didn’t fully understand, or see that action sequence once again, just like my DVR at home. I’m currently working through “Eight Men Out” in this way.

So if I run to the car wash (which provides free wifi) and I know I’ll be waiting 15-20 minutes, I can grab my iPad and I have a choice of reading a book, watching a movie, playing games, or even getting some work done. If I go the movie route, I’m helping to increase the demand for bandwidth.

I’d actually like Netflix to let watching a movie become even more like reading a book. Like allowing “highlighting” to mark a beginning and ending timestamp to a clip you can save for future use. Or the ability to save notes at a particular timestamp. Or even better – allow you to do vocal commentary on a separate audio track. There are a couple of clips in “Eight Men Out” that I’d like to save for future use.

So, get to work on all that Netflix. :-)

September 1, 2010

Ford Mustang and SoftLayer Upgrades

Each morning as I back my car of out the drive way, I ask myself, “I wonder how bad traffic will be this morning?” My commute through Dallas traffic is always a challenge making it to work on time. My 1997 Monte Carlo may not be much to look at, but it always gets me to work in one piece. My car has been through multiple wrecks and its biggest flaw is no air conditioning. Wow does it get hot in Texas! To quote that country song “she aint a Cadillac, and she ain’t a Rolls, but there ain’t nothin’ wrong with the radio.”

Picture 1 - Westmoreland

I finally decided to purchase a new vehicle . Any kind of an upgrade would be a vast improvement. I did not care what it looked like, my main concern was, “does it have air conditioning?” I stopped by a Toyota dealership on the way home one night after work. After getting the run around, I decided to make one last stop at the Ford dealership before they closed. As the salemen asked me what I was looking for, I told him “something reliable and economical.” He pointed out the Ford Fussion and then all of a sudden, something magical caught my eye.

Sitting there, calling out my name, was a 2011 Ford Mustang with a V6 3.7L and all 305 screaming horses. I just had to take it out for a test ride. After just a few moments, I knew I had found my upgrade. Not only did it look good, but it was very economical. With an estimated 31MPG and a reasonable sticker price, it was love at first sight.

The longer I thought about my upgrade, the more it reminded me of some SoftLayer customers. Some of our customers have a “monte carlo” server with only 1 proc, 2 gig of ram, and an older motherboard. It may have worked great at one time, but it is clearly time for an upgrade. For a while I had been content with my Monte Carlo, but there comes a time when we all have to upgrade.

  • The Mustang spedometer shows a top speed of 160. What speed processor are you using?
  • The Mustang has more interior room. What size ram are you using?
  • The Mustang gets a lot of second glances. What type of performance is your server getting?

When people see my old vehicle compared to the 2011 Ford Mustang, they usually comment “wow what an upgrade.” Just think what type of response you will get after a long overdue upgrade!

Mustang - Westmoreland

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June 30, 2010

Does Everything I Need it to Do!

So for those of you who have been following SoftLayer’s recent push into the mobile application space, you might be aware that we recently released a native application for devices running Google’s Android operating system. As the principal software engineer of the application, one of the exciting parts of my job post launch is monitoring the number of times the application gets downloaded, the ratings it gets in the market place, and of course, reading the user submitted comments.

This morning when I came into work and pulled up Google’s Android Developer Console, I saw that we had just passed 100 downloads of the application. Not too shabby considering the formal press release has not yet been made so those 100 lucky Android owners who found the application heard about it via word of mouth, following SoftLayer on Facebook, or reading our forums.

As the developer of the application even more thrilling than seeing the number of downloads, was for me to see that two users had rated the application—five out of five stars. And one of those users even left a comment. Does everything I need it to do. That’s what the post said. Then I scrolled down to see which of our customers was so pleased with the initial feature set of the app.

What I found caused me to burst out laughing (and get a few strange looks from the guy who sits in the cube across from mine). The comment, does everything I need it to do, was left by my eleven year old son. True, he does have an Android phone, and apparently it’s also true that he downloaded the app. What he doesn’t have is an account with SoftLayer, so the only thing the app can do for him is show him a title screen and direct him to the SoftLayer corporate website for help. Apparently that’s everything he needs it to do!

At any rate, while I am tickled to see my son being so supportive, I’d love to hear comments from users who need the application for something other than to show their friends at band camp their dad has written a program that can be installed on a phone. While I’m admittedly biased, I think the app is pretty cool. Browsing tickets on the phone works particularly well and checking bandwidth and rebooting servers on the go is pretty darn handy.

Alright, its back to work for me. I’m looking forward to hearing from all you Android owners out there though. Download the app. Tell us what you think. And most of all, let us know what you’d like to see in future releases. At SoftLayer, we are all about making things that make your life easier. Help us build an app that does everything YOU need it to do!

June 29, 2010

The 360 degree Network is not a myth!

OK so 360 degrees covers every direction, right? It’s everything top to bottom, front to back, and side to side. Is it possible for a network or datacenter to have you covered by 360 degrees? No way. Impossible. Can’t happen and wont happen in this life nor the next. That kind of total coverage is on the level of other mythological beings, like Big Foot, that are awe-inspiring, and the stuff of legend. The new network extensions in addition to what we had before have brought a lot of light to what the possibilities are. I mean at one point most people in the world thought their world was flat. So if you can see things the way I do you may agree that the 360 degree network is real and SoftLayer is the key to this understanding. Who knows, if we prove this to be true maybe we can even find hard proof evidence of Big Foot too.

Steve Kinman, affectionately known as SKinman, beat me to the punch in writing about the new POPs that have been recently released. If we didn’t know better we’d think it was his job or something to write blogs. But seriously, if you haven’t already, take the time to check out http://theinnerlayer.softlayer.com/2010/network/. I was all hyped up to write up about the new additions, and luckily that there are so many things that this offering has to give Skinman was only able to get in some of the cool stuff about it. The overly quick review of recent updates to the network is that we’ve added POPs in pretty much each and every major Telecom city in America. This not only gives us additional capacities, redundancies, and even luxuries that are not just impossible for you to get anywhere else, but also that you don’t have to pay for it.

So what do we get from this additional network capacity? The answer is a much better overall end user experience. The internet isn’t about just a bunch of tubes, but instead it is about people. It’s about people who want to connect to others, people who want to learn things, and people who want to make life easier. We’ve simply taken one of the widely acclaimed networks in the world and increased its capacity and potential exponentially. We know we get a better end user experience, but I say we also get tons of Value which is what makes this business. “How so” you ask? If you think about it we’ve all been given all of these awesome additional features and it costs us nothing, zip, nada. In fact it probably increases our leverage to make more enterprise level solutions even more affordable and within reach. Geographical diversity is a huge tool to have at your disposal, but most times it costs way too much to think about things like Disaster Recovery, or High Availability solutions and not to mention too complex. Think about it. If you have different facilities in different cities there are few ways of making something work and endless road blocks keeping you from being able to do what you need before you even think of the costs. Let’s face it; Innovation is both expensive and Risky. The value that new POPs bring on top of what our network was already capable of does more to neutralize the cost and risk of expansion more than anything that has ever been available to the masses. The POPs do not even mention what is possible and what often gets overlooked about the private network already. Lets take a look at what matters most to the majority of our customers.

  1. Free inbound bandwidth. – We were the first to introduce this and some have followed to offer as well, but not everyone.
  2. All 10G connections from each Carrier or Peer – In order to make sure you have the best end user experience there is a vast amount of BW capacity and we will not work with any providers that cannot give us 10G in a location. This has caused us to no longer work with providers we have previously worked with to get this done.
  3. Cisco Network Routing and Switch Gear from top to bottom – We use this throughout our infrastructure to make sure we have the best results. We are also constantly testing new technologies to make sure that we do not miss out on pushing the industry from an innovative standpoint.
  4. Arbor Peakflow and Atlas Traffic Analysis - This may not be necessary for everyone at all times, and it is something of a minor point. Still it is somewhat important to note how traffic is coming in and that it is available for you if and when you need it.
  5. Automated IP routing & Management via FCP – This makes sure we use the best routes for your traffic which further ensures a better overall experience.
  6. Individual and Secure Private VLANS – Without this you can be exposed on a network which is a problem and you could have additional unnecessary risk. Without this others in the data center could “sniff your traffic” steal your IPs, or simply see and hack into your servers somewhat easily.
  7. Up to 1000mbps connection on the server - it just includes all of our backbone carriers and our peering partners as well. (this number is expected to grow as we add more peering partners each week)
  8. Geographically Redundant DNS services – this is made even more powerful with the additional POPs available.
  9. This doesn’t even mention higher styles of load balancing, firewalls, or the control that we offer, but that is a whole other blog post.

OK, so now we’ve really tooted the Public network horn pretty hard. Doing this is necessary, because it doesn’t get a lot of attention sometimes. If you are wondering why then it’s important that we cover the other half of the coin: The Private Network. SoftLayer is built from the ground up making sure that we can imperative things to our customers: Unparalleled control, Automation, Integration and all of it is On-Demand with no long term contracts or large CapX to risk. We know this is important to you because it’s also important to us. We have always strived to be the innovative leader and the very first step was the private network. Normally, this is what gets all of the attention in anything that we bring out or offer because it ties everything in without having the normal hassles and complications caused by time and space issues in a datacenter. Where else can you integrate a cloud solution with dedicated servers while setting up a DMZ to make it all PCI compliant? You guessed it, nowhere. Where else could you take the same solution and expand it to multiple datacenters for higher levels of failover and performance?..... OK I guess this is getting kind of redundant and I could keep this up all day long, but I think you get the point. I am interested to hear of things that anyone feels that cannot be done within our network

With as much acclaim as the SoftLayer Private Network has gotten (and well deserved I might add) it is a major feet to provide an extended public network that is equally as impressive. Together they combine to create the 360 degree network, like all 5 lions coming together to form Voltron- Defender of the Universe. I’m just saying that if we have this here…. Keep your eyes out for Big foot.

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June 4, 2010

The Conception and Design of the SoftLayer Mobile Client for iPhone

A few short months ago, SoftLayer began a new application initiative, the Mobile Client. Our overarching goal is straightforward, take the powerful capabilities of the SoftLayer web portal, and put them in the palm of your hand. As is often the case, however, the things that are easiest to say, are not so easily done.

The fundamental problem we face in designing the mobile portal is the sheer volume of functionality available. On the web, the SoftLayer portal keeps the customer in control of their server environment. To offer that level of control the portal offers access to both a broad spectrum of information and a host of useful functionality. With the bar set that high, a mobile device with its comparatively sparse resources and small screen presents something of a challenge.

When computer scientists face a difficult problem, the first step is to narrow that problem down to a manageable size. There are some things you can do the vast, open range of a browser’s web page that are simply impractical on the small screen of a mobile device. Moreover, there are tasks you would perform when sitting at your computer in the office that you would likely never need to do from a mobile device when you are on-the-go. These two criteria helped us set aside some of the functionality found in the Web Portal as being not well suited for implementation on a mobile device.

Of course, a monkey wrench was thrown into this evaluation right in the middle of development. While we were working on the first version of the Mobile Client, Apple released the iPad. Suddenly things that would not have worked well on the small screen of a smart phone, were practical for a mobile device. Unfortunately (since happened in the middle of our development effort) we were unable to fully change our plans to incorporate the iPad, but it does offer an attractive avenue for future consideration.

In the end, what we decided was that the best way to focus our efforts, the best way to ensure that customers get the tools they need at their disposal as quickly as possible, was to make the customers a part of the design process. Our strategy would be to create a small application, one which could be developed quickly, and get that into our customer’s hands. From there we would let the customers help guide us to the additional functionality they desired the most.

Working with the body of experience at hand, we narrowed down the functionality of the vast web portal to a small seed, a set of features that are absolutely crucial for our customers. We focused on that small set of core functionality and planned out an application that would both be an asset to our customers and meet our goal of putting it in their hands quickly. The result is the Mobile Client we offer today.

At SoftLayer we are committed to providing customers with building complete access, control, security, and scalability into all of our portals. For the Mobile Client, however, we have intentionally started with a small, focused subset. As we grow the Mobile Client, we will do so in response to customer feedback to help ensure that the tool focuses on providing the functionality our customers need the most as soon as possible. The Mobile Client team invites you to try our application on your favorite mobile device and add your voice to helping it grow.

May 25, 2010

Customer Service

Customers are the heart of any business. If you don’t have customers you will not have a business. Here at Softlayer we take the meaning of customer service to another level. Yes, we have a Customer Service department but we don’t view customer service as an event, but rather as a series of interrelated pieces of a process. Many departments within our organization in addition to Customer Service provide a degree of customer service whether it’s to an internal or external customer.

Softlayer employs the “best practice” approach to take the perspective of the customer in all that we do. Since our customers come in through our website, the Softlayer team is continually working to improve the online ordering experience with the customer usability in mind at all times. One of my first tasks here at Softlayer was to “act” like a customer and order a server. I then had to do a write up on the experience. I have to be honest; it required some thought as to what could be improved because this process has been fine tuned as it’s been done over and over again. I thought the website and ordering process was very well put together, intuitive and easy to use.

Another way a customer will experience Softlayer is through our portal. Now, working from the inside, the portal is quite overwhelming at first. As you spend more time on it you realize just how powerful it actually is. We have quite a few developers working on it daily and this is to ensure that the customer has every tool, option, and task at their fingertips so they can get the most from their servers. Being in the internet business we understand that a competitor is only one click away.

Also during my first week here, I spent several days working in the NOC. Aside from being thoroughly awed with our facilities and how neat and organized everything was, I was impressed as I listened to the techs on their calls with the customers. The calls are handled with customer satisfaction as the first priority. Yes, I even heard the challenging calls that were very difficult to handle. The techs remained calm and focused to solve the problem at hand. The quality of work depends on the quality of people in place so if you have any technical problems these are the folks you want to speak with.

According to Wikipedia, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.”[i] Here at Softlayer we exceed the customer expectations and will continue to implement and improve best practice processes and initiatives to improve our customer’s experience.

May 12, 2010

First Blog

So this is my first blog here at SoftLayer. I’ve worked here since February, but I am certainly very familiar with the industry. In a previous life I formed the sales department at one of our competitors and learned about the industry. Even though I worked at a competitor, I never heard anyone speak badly about SoftLayer, and in fact it was the ‘bar’ by which we measured ourselves.

Now that I work here, it is even more apparent how and why SoftLayer is the most respected name in the hosting industry. SoftLayer overall has the best reputation due to its people, innovations, dedication, and motivation of the entire team.

I work in the Customer Service department, and it is my responsibility to contact new clients to ensure that they are not running into any problems and to get some feedback on their experience thus far. I have heard virtually nothing but praise from any client I have spoken to (new or old) about their experiences here.

All in all, the only better thing than hosting at SoftLayer is to work at SoftLayer!

May 6, 2010

Listen to your people!

One of the defining traits of a good organization is one that listens to its people, and acts on feedback, input, compliments, and concerns. Organizations that trod along thinking everything is ‘just fine’ are doomed for failure. Imagine how you would react if everything you tried to raise up, whether it be new innovations, specific concerns, or just small tweaks fell upon deaf ears. I’m assuming that at some point you’d just give up, sputter out, and lose your motivation to do your best.

One of the great things about SoftLayer is that many ideas come from the trenches. The support team, both SysAdmins and Hardware Engineers, work with our systems daily. We know the ins and outs, and use those to quickly resolve customer concerns, handle requests, and provide the best possible support to ensure that we provide the best customer experience. Knowing our portal so well also allows us to identify shortcomings (yes, even the amazing SoftLayer portal can be improved, believe it or not). When we see an issue, or a possible improvement, we are able to bring those up through our managers to our development team. By doing so, we streamline the process to allow us to perform our jobs more efficiently. It goes without saying that by improving our internal processes, we can reduce customer downtime, and enhance the speed in which we provide upgrades, allowing our customers’ businesses to be more successful.

I have to provide a specific tip of the hat to our development team. They’re consistently bombarded with requests from the NOC, and are working tirelessly to ensure that those requests are fulfilled to the best degree possible. It is not uncommon for a developer to work all day, and then handle specific requests after hours. I wouldn’t be surprised to know that some members of our development team (I’m looking at you, Kelly…) survive on only a few hours of sleep, only to come back in during the daytime to continue crunching code (something I personally have no desire to do), and enriching our administrative, and customer experiences.

When it comes to listening to the people in the trenches, no one is too high up on the totem pole. Our COO and CEO have been known to get plenty of face time in the NOC and the datacenters. It’s not uncommon to get a quick ping from one of the managers to let us know that one of our requests have been escalated to our developers for improvement. It’s nice to look at that little piece of the portal, and know that it’s there because you addressed it. It is my humble opinion that a company is owned not solely by the investors or others with a stake in it, but by those who come in daily to ensure the continuing success of the organization. It is my belief that is what makes SoftLayer so successful – because the staff speaks, and the company listens.

May 4, 2010

Early Morning Phone Call

Working for a company like SoftLayer requires a lot of dedication. Our staff is on call 24/7, and is ready to react in any given circumstance. Our BlackBerry’s keep us in the know, and allow us to quickly communicate with each other via email, telephone, and SMS. It is this communication that allows us to rise above the competition.

One specific example of this occurred in the wee hours of the morning. As per usual, communication was established via email of a specific customer issue. Having updated the customer, and established the required email thread regarding the request, I proceeded with business as usual, being sure to keep this issue in the back of my mind to brief the inbound shift once they arrived. I was quite surprised as my phone rang shortly afterwards. It was one of the senior members of our management team. While I won’t name specifics, because it’s quite inconsequential, I was particularly impressed that at around 4:00 in the morning (on a Saturday, nonetheless), they were awake and reading their email. Occurrences such as this aren’t unusual. Our team, regardless of the level of responsibility is always ready to take ownership, or assist when necessary.

This says one thing very loudly, it doesn’t matter how high up in the food chain a member of the team is here. We all take customer concerns very seriously, and work diligently to ensure that customer requests are met in a timely fashion. This isn’t limited to the personnel in the NOC, or our management team. Our Sales team works endlessly to communicate with their customers. It’s not uncommon for a member of our sales team to sneak out while hanging out to answer a phone call or an email to ensure that our customers are taken care of. Our InfoSys and development team are frequently contacted in the middle of the night with issues that require their attention. They resolve those issues quickly, and allow us to continue on with keeping our customers up and running. Suffice to say, anyone who sports the three bars does so knowing that they’re the best in the industry. We all take pride in ownership of the issues, and making sure that they’re resolved quickly so that our customers can be successful.

April 30, 2010

Staple Supplements

No one has really talked about anything health related on The Innerlayer and everyone at SoftLayer works hard to stay on top of our customer needs. For that reason in this fast paced industry we all have to stay healthy. Here’s a couple of supplements that help me stay healthy and at the top of my game that I take on a daily basis and I feel they should be considered by anyone who reads this.

The first is Fish Oil. This is a cheap supplement that you can buy practically anywhere and this supplement is rich in Omega-3’s which is an Essential Fatty Acid(EFA). Fish Oil contains Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) both of which are beneficial to the brain. Studies have been done that have found it to also reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and also lower body fat. Fish Oil can practically be called a miracle supplement as many people benefit from its supplementation in practically all ailments in life.

The second group is Pro and Pre “biotics”. These can be cheap or can get a little pricey depending on the number of strains and size of the “colony”. I mention both as one as these in most cases are combined. Probiotics are microorganisms that are known as “good bacteria” in that they balance your intestinal tract and colon. What Prebiotics do is stimulate growth for existing “good bacteria”. The most common culture you will find is Lactobacillus Acidophilus which you will usually find in yogurt products. Furthermore, supplementing Pro/Prebiotics is a must especially after taking antibiotics as this is meant to kill all bacteria in your body as well as the “good bacteria” in your intestinal tract.

Though both of these certainly aren’t a cure all they definitely are supplements that keep your body and mind in check. I can’t recommend any supplement over these two alone and if you haven’t heard of either of these I invite you to do some research on them as the results will astound you. You can start at the links below. I welcome any comments you might have either positive or negative on this subject.

http://www.fishoilbenefit.net/
http://nutrition.about.com/od/therapeuticnutrition1/p/pro_prebiotics.htm

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