Posts Tagged 'Data Center'

July 29, 2013

A Brief History of Cloud Computing

Believe it or not, "cloud computing" concepts date back to the 1950s when large-scale mainframes were made available to schools and corporations. The mainframe's colossal hardware infrastructure was installed in what could literally be called a "server room" (since the room would generally only be able to hold a single mainframe), and multiple users were able to access the mainframe via "dumb terminals" – stations whose sole function was to facilitate access to the mainframes. Due to the cost of buying and maintaining mainframes, an organization wouldn't be able to afford a mainframe for each user, so it became practice to allow multiple users to share access to the same data storage layer and CPU power from any station. By enabling shared mainframe access, an organization would get a better return on its investment in this sophisticated piece of technology.

Mainframe Computer

A couple decades later in the 1970s, IBM released an operating system called VM that allowed admins on their System/370 mainframe systems to have multiple virtual systems, or "Virtual Machines" (VMs) on a single physical node. The VM operating system took the 1950s application of shared access of a mainframe to the next level by allowing multiple distinct compute environments to live in the same physical environment. Most of the basic functions of any virtualization software that you see nowadays can be traced back to this early VM OS: Every VM could run custom operating systems or guest operating systems that had their "own" memory, CPU, and hard drives along with CD-ROMs, keyboards and networking, despite the fact that all of those resources would be shared. "Virtualization" became a technology driver, and it became a huge catalyst for some of the biggest evolutions in communications and computing.

Mainframe Computer

In the 1990s, telecommunications companies that had historically only offered single dedicated point–to-point data connections started offering virtualized private network connections with the same service quality as their dedicated services at a reduced cost. Rather than building out physical infrastructure to allow for more users to have their own connections, telco companies were able to provide users with shared access to the same physical infrastructure. This change allowed the telcos to shift traffic as necessary to allow for better network balance and more control over bandwidth usage. Meanwhile, virtualization for PC-based systems started in earnest, and as the Internet became more accessible, the next logical step was to take virtualization online.

If you were in the market to buy servers ten or twenty years ago, you know that the costs of physical hardware, while not at the same level as the mainframes of the 1950s, were pretty outrageous. As more and more people expressed demand to get online, the costs had to come out of the stratosphere, and one of the ways that was made possible was by ... you guessed it ... virtualization. Servers were virtualized into shared hosting environments, Virtual Private Servers, and Virtual Dedicated Servers using the same types of functionality provided by the VM OS in the 1950s. As an example of what that looked like in practice, let's say your company required 13 physical systems to run your sites and applications. With virtualization, you can take those 13 distinct systems and split them up between two physical nodes. Obviously, this kind of environment saves on infrastructure costs and minimizes the amount of actual hardware you would need to meet your company's needs.

Virtualization

As the costs of server hardware slowly came down, more users were able to purchase their own dedicated servers, and they started running into a different kind of problem: One server isn't enough to provide the resources I need. The market shifted from a belief that "these servers are expensive, let's split them up" to "these servers are cheap, let's figure out how to combine them." Because of that shift, the most basic understanding of "cloud computing" was born online. By installing and configuring a piece of software called a hypervisor across multiple physical nodes, a system would present all of the environment's resources as though those resources were in a single physical node. To help visualize that environment, technologists used terms like "utility computing" and "cloud computing" since the sum of the parts seemed to become a nebulous blob of computing resources that you could then segment out as needed (like telcos did in the 90s). In these cloud computing environments, it became easy add resources to the "cloud": Just add another server to the rack and configure it to become part of the bigger system.

Clouds

As technologies and hypervisors got better at reliably sharing and delivering resources, many enterprising companies decided to start carving up the bigger environment to make the cloud's benefits to users who don't happen to have an abundance of physical servers available to create their own cloud computing infrastructure. Those users could order "cloud computing instances" (also known as "cloud servers") by ordering the resources they need from the larger pool of available cloud resources, and because the servers are already online, the process of "powering up" a new instance or server is almost instantaneous. Because little overhead is involved for the owner of the cloud computing environment when a new instance is ordered or cancelled (since it's all handled by the cloud's software), management of the environment is much easier. Most companies today operate with this idea of "the cloud" as the current definition, but SoftLayer isn't "most companies."

SoftLayer took the idea of a cloud computing environment and pulled it back one more step: Instead of installing software on a cluster of machines to allow for users to grab pieces, we built a platform that could automate all of the manual aspects of bringing a server online without a hypervisor on the server. We call this platform "IMS." What hypervisors and virtualization do for a group of servers, IMS does for an entire data center. As a result, you can order a bare metal server with all of the resources you need and without any unnecessary software installed, and that server will be delivered to you in a matter of hours. Without a hypervisor layer between your operating system and the bare metal hardware, your servers perform better. Because we automate almost everything in our data centers, you're able to spin up load balancers and firewalls and storage devices on demand and turn them off when you're done with them. Other providers have cloud-enabled servers. We have cloud-enabled data centers.

SoftLayer Pod

IBM and SoftLayer are leading the drive toward wider adoption of innovative cloud services, and we have ambitious goals for the future. If you think we've come a long way from the mainframes of the 1950s, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

-James

Categories: 
February 8, 2013

Data Center Power-Up: Installing a 2-Megawatt Generator

When I was a kid, my living room often served as a "job site" where I managed a fleet of construction vehicles. Scaled-down versions of cranes, dump trucks, bulldozers and tractor-trailers littered the floor, and I oversaw the construction (and subsequent destruction) of some pretty monumental projects. Fast-forward a few years (or decades), and not much has changed except that the "heavy machinery" has gotten a lot heavier, and I'm a lot less inclined to "destruct." As SoftLayer's vice president of facilities, part of my job is to coordinate the early logistics of our data center expansions, and as it turns out, that responsibility often involves overseeing some of the big rigs that my parents tripped over in my youth.

The video below documents the installation of a new Cummins two-megawatt diesel generator for a pod in our DAL05 data center. You see the crane prepare for the work by installing counter-balance weights, and work starts with the team placing a utility transformer on its pad outside our generator yard. A truck pulls up with the generator base in tow, and you watch the base get positioned and lowered into place. The base looks so large because it also serves as the generator's 4,000 gallon "belly" fuel tank. After the base is installed, the generator is trucked in, and it is delicately picked up, moved, lined up and lowered onto its base. The last step you see is the generator housing being installed over the generator to protect it from the elements. At this point, the actual "installation" is far from over — we need to hook everything up and test it — but those steps don't involve the nostalgia-inducing heavy machinery you probably came to this post to see:

When we talk about the "megawatt" capacity of a generator, we're talking about the bandwidth of power available for use when the generator is operating at full capacity. One megawatt is one million watts, so a two-megawatts generator could power 20,000 100-watt light bulbs at the same time. This power can be sustained for as long as the generator has fuel, and we have service level agreements to keep us at the front of the line to get more fuel when we need it. Here are a few other interesting use-cases that could be powered by a two-megawatt generator:

  • 1,000 Average Homes During Mild Weather
  • 400 Homes During Extreme Weather
  • 20 Fast Food Restaurants
  • 3 Large Retail Stores
  • 2.5 Grocery Stores
  • A SoftLayer Data Center Pod Full of Servers (Most Important Example!)

Every SoftLayer facility has an n+1 power architecture. If we need three generators to provide power for three data center pods in one location, we'll install four. This additional capacity allows us to balance the load on generators when they're in use, and we can take individual generators offline for maintenance without jeopardizing our ability to support the power load for all of the facility's data center pods.

Those of you who are in the fondly remember Tonka trucks and CAT crane toys are the true target audience for this post, but even if you weren't big into construction toys when you were growing up, you'll probably still appreciate the work we put into safeguarding our facilities from a power perspective. You don't often see the "outside the data center" work that goes into putting a new SoftLayer data center pod online, so I thought it'd give you a glimpse. Are there an topics from an operations or facilities perspectives that you also want to see?

-Robert

July 27, 2012

SoftLayer 'Cribs' ≡ DAL05 Data Center Tour

The highlight of any customer visit to a SoftLayer office is always the data center tour. The infrastructure in our data centers is the hardware platform on which many of our customers build and run their entire businesses, so it's not surprising that they'd want a first-hand look at what's happening inside the DC. Without exception, visitors to a SoftLayer data center pod are impressed when they walk out of a SoftLayer data center pod ... even if they've been in dozens of similar facilities in the past.

What about the customers who aren't able to visit us, though? We can post pictures, share stats, describe our architecture and show you diagrams of our facilities, but those mediums can't replace the experience of an actual data center tour. In the interest of bridging the "data center tour" gap for customers who might not be able to visit SoftLayer in person (or who want to show off their infrastructure), we decided to record a video data center tour.

If you've seen "professional" video data center tours in the past, you're probably positioning a pillow on top of your keyboard right now to protect your face if you fall asleep from boredom when you hear another baritone narrator voiceover and see CAD mock-ups of another "enterprise class" facility. Don't worry ... That's not how we roll:

Josh Daley — whose role as site manager of DAL05 made him the ideal tour guide — did a fantastic job, and I'm looking forward to feedback from our customers about whether this data center tour style is helpful and/or entertaining.

If you want to see more videos like this one, "Like" it, leave comments with ideas and questions, and share it wherever you share things (Facebook, Twitter, your refrigerator, etc.).

-@khazard

July 19, 2012

The Human Element of SoftLayer - DAL05 DC Operations

One of the founding principles of SoftLayer is automation. Automation has enabled this company to provide our customers with a world class experience, and it enables employees to provide excellent service. It allows us to quickly deploy a variety of solutions at the click of a button, and it guarantees consistency in the products that we deliver. Automation isn't the whole story, though. The human element plays a huge role in SoftLayer's success.

As a Site Manager for the corporate facility, I thought I could share a unique perspective when it comes to what that human element looks like, specifically through the lens of the Server Build Team's responsibilities. You recently heard how my colleague, Broc Chalker, became an SBT, and so I wanted take it a step further by providing a high-level breakdown of how the Server Build Team enables SoftLayer to keep up with the operational demands of a rapidly growing, global infrastructure provider.

The Server Build Team is responsible for filling all of the beautiful data center environments you see in pictures and videos of SoftLayer facilities. Every day, they are in the DC, building out new rows for inventory. It sounds pretty simple, but it's actually a pretty involved process. When it comes to prepping new rows, our primary focus is redundancy (for power, cooling and network). Each rack is powered by dual power sources, four switches in a stacked configuration (two public network, two private network), and an additional switch that provides KVM access to the server. To make it possible to fill the rack with servers, we also have to make sure it's organized well, and that takes a lot of time. Just watch the video of the Go Live Crew cabling a server rack in SJC01, and you can see how time- and labor-intensive the process is. And if there are any mistakes or if the cables don't look clean, we'll cut all the ties and start over again.



 

In addition to preparing servers for new orders, SBTs also handle hardware-related requests. This can involve anything from changing out components for a build, performing upgrades / maintenance on active servers, or even troubleshooting servers. Any one of these requests has to be treated with significant urgency and detail.



 

The responsibilities do not end there. Server Build Technicians also perform a walk of the facility twice per shift. During this walk, technicians check for visual alerts on the servers and do a general facility check of all SoftLayer pods. Note: Each data center facility features one or more pods or "server rooms," each built to the same specifications to support up to 5,000 servers.



 

The DAL05 facility has a total of four pods, and at the end of the build-out, we should be running 18,000-20,000 servers in this facility alone. Over the past year, we completed the build out of SR02 and SR03 (pod 2 and 3, respectively), and we're finishing the final pod (SR04) right now. We've spent countless hours building servers and monitoring operating system provisions when new orders roll in, and as our server count increases, our team has grown to continue providing the support our existing customers expect and deserve when it comes to upgrade requests and hardware-related support tickets.



 

To be successful, we have to stay ahead of the game from an operations perspective. The DAL05 crew is working hard to build out this facility's last pod (SR04), but for the sake of this blog post, I pulled everyone together for a quick photo op to introduce you to the team.

DAL05 Day / Evening Team and SBT Interns (with the remaining racks to build out in DAL05):
DAL05 DC Ops

DAL05 Overnight Server Build Technician Team:
DAL05 DC Ops

Let us know if there's ever anything we can do to help you!

-Joshua

July 13, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks

I've been working in the web hosting industry for nearly five years now, and as is the case with many of the professionals of my generation, I grew up side by side with the capital-I Internet. Over those five years, the World Wide Web has evolved significantly, and it's become a need. People need the Internet to communicate, store information, enable societal connectivity and entertain. And they need it 24 hours per day, seven days a week. To affirm that observation, you just need to look at an excerpt from a motion submitted to the Human Rights Council and recently passed by the United Nations General Assembly:

The General Session ... calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries.

After a platform like the Internet revolutionizes the way we see the world, it's culturally impossible to move backward. Its success actually inspires us to look forward for the next world-changing innovation. Even the most non-technical citizen of the Internet has come to expect those kinds of innovations as the Internet and its underlying architecture have matured and seem to be growing like Moore's Law: Getting faster, better, and bigger all the time. The fact that SoftLayer is able to keep up with that growth (and even continue innovating in the process) is one of the things I admire most about the company.

I love that our very business model relies on our ability to enable our customers' success. Just look at how unbelievably successful companies like Tumblr and HostGator have become, and you start to grasp how big of a deal it is that we can help their businesses. We're talking billions of pageviews per month and hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on SoftLayer through our customers. And that's just through two customers. Because we're on the cutting edge, and we provide unparalleled access and functionality, we get to see a lot of the up-and-coming kickstarts that are soon to hit it big, and we get to help them keep up with their own success.

On a personal level, I love that SoftLayer provides opportunities for employees. Almost every department has a career track you can follow as you learn more about the business and get a little more experience, and you're even able to transition into another department if you're drawn to a new passion. I recently move to the misty northwest (Seattle) when given the opportunity by SoftLayer, and after working in the data center, I decided to pursue a role as a systems administrator. It took a lot of hard work, but I made the move. Hard work is recognized, and every opportunity I've taken advantage of has been fulfilled. You probably think I'm biased because I've done well in the organization, and that might be a fair observation, but in reality, the opportunities don't just end with me.

One of my favorite stories to share about SoftLayer is the career path of my best friend, Goran. I knew he was a hard worker, so I referred him to the company a few years ago, and he immediately excelled as an Operations Tech. He proved himself on the Go-Live Crew in Amsterdam by playing a big role in the construction of AMS01, and he was promoted to a management position in that facility. He had been missing Europe for the better part of a decade, SoftLayer gave him a way to go back home while doing what he loves (and what he's good at).

If that Goran's story isn't enough for you, I could tell you about Robert. He started at SoftLayer as a data center tech, and he worked hard to become a systems administrator, then he was named a site manager, then he was promoted to senior operations manager, and now he's the Director of Operations. You'll recognize him as the guy with all of the shirts in Lance's "Earn Your Bars" blog post from December. He took every rung on the ladder hand-over-hand because no challenge could overwhelm him. He sought out what needed to be done without being asked, and he was proactive about make SoftLayer even better.

I could tell you about dozens of others in the company that have the same kinds of success stories because they approached the opportunities SoftLayer provided them with a passion and positive attitude that can't be faked. If being successful in an organization makes you biased, we're all biased. We love this environment. We're presented with opportunities and surrounded by people encouraging us to take advantage of those opportunities, and as a result, we can challenge ourselves and reach our potential. No good idea is ignored, and no hard work goes unrecognized.

I'm struggling to suppress the countless "opportunity" stories I've seen in my tenure at SoftLayer, but I think the three stories above provide a great cross-section of what it looks like to work for SoftLayer. If you like being challenged (and being rewarded for your hard work), you might want to take this opportunity to see which SoftLayer Career could be waiting for you.

When opportunity knocks, let it in.

-Hilary

Categories: 
July 12, 2012

An Insider's Look at SoftLayer's Growth in Amsterdam

Last week, SoftLayer was featured on the NOS national news here in the Netherlands in a segment that allowed us to tell our story and share how we're settling into our new Amsterdam home. I've only been a SLayer for about nine months now, and as I watched the video, I started to reflect on how far we've come in such a surprisingly short time. Take a second to check it out (don't worry, it's not all in Dutch):

To say that I had to "hit the ground running" when I started at SoftLayer would be an understatement. The day after I got the job, I was on a plane to SoftLayer's Dallas headquarters to meet the team behind the company. To be honest, it was a pretty daunting task, but I was energized at the opportunity to learn about how SoftLayer became largest privately owned hosting company in the world from the people who started it. When I look back at the interview Kevin recorded with me, I'm surprised that I didn't look like a deer in the headlights. At the time, AMS01 was still in the build-out phase, so my tours and meetings in DAL05 were both informative and awe-inspiring.

When I returned to Europe, I was energized to start playing my role in the company's new pursuit of its global goals.

It didn't take long before I started seeing the same awe-inspiring environment take place in our Amsterdam facility ... So much so that I'm convinced that at least a few of the "Go Live Crew" members were superhuman. As it turns out, when you build identical data center pods in every location around the world, you optimize the process and figure out the best ways to efficiently use your time.

By the time the Go Live Crew started packing following the successful (and on-time) launch of AMS01, I started feeling the pressure. The first rows of server racks were already being filled by customers, but the massive data center space seemed impossibly large when I started thinking of how quickly we could fill it. Most of my contacts in Europe were not familiar with the SoftLayer name, and because my assigned region was Europe Middle East and Africa — a HUGE diverse region with many languages, cultures and currencies — I knew I had my work cut out for me.

I thought, "LET'S DO THIS!"

EMEA is home to some of the biggest hosting markets in the world, so my first-week whirlwind tour of Dallas actually set the stage quite nicely for what I'd be doing in the following months: Racking up air miles, jumping onto trains, attending countless trade shows, meeting with press, reaching out to developer communities and corresponding with my fellow SLayers in the US and Asia ... All while managing the day-to-day operations of the Amsterdam office. As I look back at that list, I'm amazed how the team came together to make sure everything got done.

We have come a long way.

As I started writing this blog, BusinessReview Europe published a fantastic piece on SoftLayer in their July 2012 magazine (starting on page 172) that seems to succinctly summarize how we've gotten where we are today: "Innovation Never Sleeps."

BusinessReview Europe

Our first pod is almost full of servers humming and flashing. When we go to tradeshows and conferences throughout Europe, people not only know SoftLayer, many of them are customers with servers in AMS01. That's the kind of change we love.

The best part of my job right now is that our phenomenal success in the past nine months is just a glimmer of what the future holds. Come to think of it, we're going to need some more people.

-@jpwisler

June 19, 2012

Proud to be a SLayer

Changing a career can be a challenge, especially when it feels like you are starting from scratch. I know that feeling well. I'd always been interested in networking, IT and cloud computing, but it wasn't until I joined SoftLayer that had an opportunity to start building a career on top of those interests. I know you might've already read a few introductions and SoftLayer culture posts in the past, but I wanted to share my experience in joining the hardware tech team to give my own unique perspective on what it was like becoming a SLayer.

Like Jonathan, I joined SoftLayer in San Jose (SJC01), and despite my interest in the technology SoftLayer manages for customers on a day-to-day basis, I didn't have many of the skills I'd need in the data center. That's where the training program came into play ... I can't tell you how valuable it was to learn how SoftLayer approaches cloud and data center operations. My previous jobs were in manufacturing, so I was accustomed to working with hardware and machines, so after a bit of a learning curve, I started to feel comfortable with the instruction and hands-on challenges that were put in front of me during the training program.

Once I was able to start applying what I learned in training, I started feeling "at home" when I got to the data center. I'm one of the many people responsible for supporting data center operations, and while I'm more of a "hands on" person, I don't forget the "big picture" of the significance of that responsibility. SoftLayer servers are the lifeblood of businesses around the world, and I owe it to those customers to provide the best service I can when it comes to managing their hardware. If that starts feeling daunting, I can look to my peers and ask questions about any problem, and I know I'll get a quick, helpful answer. I know SoftLayer is built on innovation and automation, but the unstated "education" piece is what has appealed to me the most as an employee.

One of my favorite resources to consult on a daily basis is the SoftLayer wiki — SLiki. If I ever forget any technical specifications or get confused about how to configure a specific type of hardware, I fire up my browser and hit the SLiki. If I'm not sure how to troubleshoot a given transaction or want to learn a little more about a topic like cloud computing or object storage, I can search the SLiki and get the answer in no time.

When friends and family have asked me what it's like to work at SoftLayer, I tell them that I'm constantly amazed and impressed impressed by my coworkers. It's hard to explain in a way that doesn't sound corny, but everyone I work with seems to enjoy supporting customers, interacting with other SLayers and making the SJC01 data center run like a top.

Pretty recently, I had my first Truck Day, and it made me love working for SoftLayer even more. It was pretty awe-inspiring to see SLayers from every department in our office joining the SBTs at the loading dock to unpack, sort and rack a huge shipment of SuperMicro servers. Everyone was sweaty, and I'm sure a few people were pretty sore the next day, but after all was said and done, we all felt like we'd accomplished something significant for our customers.

I'm proud to be a SLayer.

-Cuong

June 14, 2012

My First Week as a SLayer in San Jose

As I write this post, I'm finishing my first week as an employee with SoftLayer. It might seem premature, but I think it's safe to say that it's the best job I've ever had. My friend Marcos gave me a great reference to get my foot in the door at SoftLayer in San Jose (SJC01) as a Server Build Technician (SBT), and I owe him a LOT for that help. Because first impressions are usually pretty significant, I thought I'd take a few minutes share my short experience with the company to provide a bit of perspective to anyone interested in "what it's really like" to work at SoftLayer.

To give you the best picture of what it's like to work at SoftLayer, I have to start with the other SLayers I've met. So far, my coworkers and supervisors have been easy to get along with, and they clearly know their stuff. SoftLayer's "Challenging, but not Overwhelming" motto isn't just for show ... I've got a long way to go to catch up with my peers when it comes to knowledge about the data center, but everyone around me has been so supportive that it doesn't feel too intimidating. The work environment is very casual, and while the tasks at hand are all serious, my coworkers are always telling jokes and fostering a friendly and welcoming work environment.

The second aspect of the job I should focus on is the day-to-day responsibilities I'm learning how to perform. In the data center, we're responsible for building and performing hardware maintenance on all of our customer servers, and a lot of our customer interaction is done via tickets. When a ticket is added to our data center queue, it's pretty wild to see an SBT claim it quickly and immediately spring into action. If a customer orders a new server in our facility, and that server configuration isn't readily available, we get notified, and we have to move quickly to make a hardware change so the server can get provisioned in under four hours. That's been my favorite part of the job so far.

I've always enjoyed putting computers together, so being able to do it on such a large scale (and having the chance to do it a few times per day) is a thrill for me. Even though I've built more than my share of computers in my lifetime, I still find myself learning a lot from the processes and procedures Softlayer has in place. It's pretty cool to see the inventory of high-power server hardware we have in our spare parts room, too.

Being new to a job usually involves a span of time where you feel like a "new guy," but that hasn't been the case at SoftLayer. The crew here at SJC01 has made me feel at home quickly, and they've been patient and helpful when I've had any questions. In fact, as I'm thinking about it, I can't say anything negative about my experience so far with Softlayer.

I'm excited about integrating into the team, and given how much my coworkers hang out during lunch, breaks and after work, I'm sure that'll happen quickly. I want to put on a big office potluck where I can bring down my barbecue grill and cook for them some afternoon ... And given SoftLayer's love of BBQ, I'd imagine that would be a big hit.

Man, all this talk of food is making me hungry.

-Jonathan

May 30, 2012

What Does Automation Look Like?

Innovation. Automation. Innovation. Automation. Innovation. Automation. That's been our heartbeat since SoftLayer was born on May 5, 2005. The "Innovation" piece is usually the most visible component of that heartbeat while "Automation" usually hangs out behind the scenes (enabling the "Innovation"). When we launch a new product line like Object Storage, add new functionality to the SoftLayer API, announce a partnership with a service provider like RightScale, or simply receive and rack the latest and greatest server hardware from our vendors, our automated platform allows us to do it quickly and seamlessly. Because our platform is built to do exactly what it's supposed to without any manual intervention, it's easily overlooked.

But what if we wanted to show what automation actually looks like?

It seems like a silly question to ask. If our automated platform is powered by software built by the SoftLayer development team, there's no easy way to show what that automation looks like ... At least not directly. While the bits and bytes aren't easily visible, the operational results of automation are exceptionally photogenic. Let's take a look at a few examples of what automation enables to get an indirect view of what it actually looks like.

Example: A New Server Order

A customer orders a dedicated server. That customer wants a specific hardware configuration with a specific suite of software in a specific data center, and it needs to be delivered within four hours. What does that usually look like from an operations perspective?

SoftLayer Server Rack

If you want to watch those blinking lights for two or three hours, you'll have effectively watched a new server get provisioned at SoftLayer. When an order comes in, the automated provisioning system will find a server matching the order's hardware requirements in the requested data center facility, and the software will be installed before it is handed over to the the customer.

Example: Server Reboot or Operating System Reload

A customer needs to reboot a server or install a new operating system. Whether they want a soft reboot, a hard reboot with a full power cycle or a blank operating system install, the scene in the data center will look eerily familiar:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Gone are the days of server build technicians wheeling a terminal over to every server that needs work done. From thousands of miles away, a customer can remotely "unplug" his or her server via the rack's power strip, initiate a soft reboot or reinstall an operating system. But what if they want even more accessibility?

Example: What's on the Screen?

When remotely rebooting or power cycling a server isn't enough, a customer might want someone in the data center to wheel over to their server in the rack to look at any of the messages that can only be read with a monitor attached. This would generally happen behind the server, but for the sake of this example, we'll just watch the data center technician pass in front of the servers to get to the back:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Yeah, you probably could have seen that one coming.

Because KVM over IP is included on every server, physical carts carrying "keyboard, video and mouse" are few and far between. By automating customers' access to their server and providing as much virtual access as we possibly can, we're able to "get out of the way" of our technical users and only step in to help when that help is needed.

I could go on and on with examples of cloud computing upgrades and downgrades, provisioning a firewall or adding a load balancers, but I'll practice a little restraint. If you want the full effect, you can scroll up and watch the blinking lights a little while longer.

Automation looks like what you don't see. No humanoid robots or needlessly complex machines (that I know of) ... Just a data center humming along with some beautiful flashing server lights.

-Duke

P.S. If you want to be able to remotely bask in the glow of some blinking server lights, bookmark the larger-sized SoftLayer Rack animated gif ... You could even title the bookmark, "Check on the Servers."

May 4, 2012

From "Computer Guy" to SoftLayer Server Build Technician

As I sat down to brainstorm ideas for this blog, I began to think about where I was when I started a few years ago and where I am now. When I was hired, I knew next to nothing about the inner-workings of data center IT. I was just your average computer nerd, or "the computer guy" as I became known around the house and to my friends. I had plenty of experience with hardware, but I had no clue just how deep the IT rabbit hole went ... I jumped in anyway.

Before I give you an example of one of the challenges I had to tackle early on, I should back up and explain a pretty important observation I had about SoftLayer: Despite how cheesy it may sound, SoftLayer is a family. If you are willing to learn and have a good work ethic, SoftLayer will to take you under its wing, and the sky is the limit. I was willing to learn, and I'd like to think I have a good work ethic, so I took on a pretty ambitious task: Learn Linux.

As a Server Build Technician — the physical "hands and eyes" in a data center — you can't get by without an intimate knowledge of Linux. As it turns out, trying to learn everything there is to know about Linux is sort of like saying "Get to the end of the Internet." Even after a few years of working with Linux, I still learn new things almost daily, and I'm sure that I'll continue to learn as long as I'm surrounded by Linux servers and other brilliant technicians who can share their Linux expertise. I could probably write a whole series of blog posts about all of the crazy things I've seen Linux servers do, but I'll focus on this "intro" blog first. Since starting with SoftLayer, my tenuous grasp of Linux was strengthened and eventually validated by my Linux+ certification!

That's only one little example of the kind of environment SoftLayer creates, and I could share dozens more.

When SLayers are treated like individuals rather than "employees," the culture is different. Managers and supervisors LISTEN to your problems/frustrations and are quick to offer their help and advice. I can feel comfortable to express personal issues with anyone in management, and I've had a handful of heartfelt talks with higher-ups that I would never dreamed of having at previous jobs. As a result, I'm excited when I walk into work because I feel like I get to hang out and work with friends for eight hours every day.

My coworkers and I can joke around one minute, and the next minute, we can have a serious and thoughtful conversation about how we could improve our processes or serve customers better better. Not only does that experience make for a comfortable working environment, it also creates a net of trust among coworkers. You know without a doubt that you can rely on your coworkers for anything.

I know it sounds like I'm stretching the truth (and the blog word count), but to be honest, there isn't enough room on this page to describe exactly how awesome I think the people at SoftLayer are. I've made many, many friends and roughly zero enemies. That's a pretty good ratio if you ask me. If you are even a TINY bit interested in IT, there's no better place to get your career started (or continued) than SoftLayer. There are positions for every skill set and level, and it doesn't stop there ... You aren't locked into one position or department if you find yourself more passionately drawn to another area of the business. SoftLayer encourages you to branch out and explore your career options, and if you want to move up, you're encouraged and supported by management to put forth the effort.

TL;DR If you're interested in getting into anything IT related, SoftLayer has a place for you, and as a very happy employee, I'd highly recommend taking advantage of that opportunity.

-Broc

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