Posts Tagged 'Dedicated Servers'

June 28, 2012

Never Break Up with Your Data Again

Wouldn't it be nice if you could keep the parts of a relationship that you like and "move on" from the parts you don't? You'd never have to go through the awkward "getting to know each other" phase where you accidentally order food the other person is allergic to, and you'd never have to experience a break up. As it is, we're faced with a bit of a paradox: Relationships are a lot of work, and "Breaking up is hard to do."

I could tell you story after story about the break ups I experienced in my youth. From the Ghostbuster-jumpsuited boyfriend I had in kindergarten who stole my heart (and my barrettes) to until it was time to take my had-to-have "My Little Pony" thermos lunchbox to another table at lunch after a dramatic recess exchange to the middle school boyfriend who took me to see Titanic in the theater four times (yes, you read that correctly), my early "romantic" relationships didn't pan out in the "happily ever after" way I'd hoped they would. Whether the result of an me unwelcome kiss under the monkey bars or a move to a different school (which might as well have been on Mars), I had to break up with each of the boys.

Why are you reading about my lost loves on the SoftLayer Blog? Simple: Relationships with IT environments — specifically applications and data — are not much different from romantic relationships. You might want to cut ties with a high maintenance piece of equipment that you've been with for years because its behavior is getting erratic, and it doesn't look like it'll survive forever. Maybe you've outgrown what your existing infrastructure can provide for you, and you need to move along. Perhaps you just want some space and need to take a break from a project for six months.

If you feel like telling your infrastructure, "It's not you, it's me," what are your options? Undo all of your hard work, schedule maintenance and stay up in the dead of a weeknight to migrate, backup and restore all of your data locally?

When I talk to SoftLayer customers, I get to be a relationship therapist. Because we've come out with some pretty innovative tools, we can help our customers avoid ever having to break up with their data again. Two of the coolest "infrastructure relationship"-saving releases: Flex Images (currently in public beta) and portable storage volumes for cloud computing instances (CCIs).

With Flex Images, customers using RedHat, CentOS or Windows systems can create and move server images between physical and virtual environments to seamlessly transition from one platform to the other. With about three clicks, a customer-created image is quickly and uniformly delivered to a new dedicated or cloud server. The idea behind Flex Images is to blur the line between physical and virtual environments so that if you feel the need to break up with one of the two, the other is able to take you in.

Portable storage volumes (PSVs) are secondary CCI volumes that can be added onto any public or private CCI. Users can detach a PSV from any CCI and have it persist in the cloud, unattached to any compute resource, for as long as necessary. When that storage volume is needed again, it can be re-attached as secondary storage on any other CCI across all of SoftLayer's facilities. The best relationship parallel would be "baggage," but that's got a negative connotation, so we'll have to come up with something else to call it ... "preparedness."

We want to help you avoid break ups and provide you easy channels to make up with your old infrastructure if you have a change of heart. The result is an infrastructure that's much easier to manage, more fluid and less dramatic.

Now if I can only figure out a way to make Flex Images and portable storage volumes available for real-life relationships .... I'd make millions! :-)

-Arielle

April 23, 2012

Choosing a Cloud: Which Cloud Chooses You?

It's not easy to choose a cloud hosting provider.

In the first post of this series, we talked about the three key deciding factors every cloud customer has to consider, and we set up a Venn diagram to distinguish the surprisingly broad range of unique priorities customers can have:

Cloud Customer Zones

Because every customer will prioritize a cloud's cost, technology and hosting provider a little differently (for completely valid reasons), we mapped out seven distinct "zones" to differentiate some of the basic market segments, or "personas," of cloud hosting buyers. That post was intended to set the stage for a larger discussion on how customers choose their cloud providers and how cloud providers choose their customers, and we're just scratching the surface. We're tackling a pretty big topic here, so as Bill Cosby famously says, "I told you that story to tell you this one."

As a hosting provider, SoftLayer can't expect to be all things for all people. It's impossible to offer a quad-core hex-proc dedicated server for a price that will appeal to a customer in the market for a $49/mo dedicated server.

To better illustrate SoftLayer's vision in the cloud market, we need to take that generic cost v. technology v. hosting provider diagram and give it the "Three Bars" treatment:

SoftLayer Venn Diagram

We're much more interested in living and breathing the Zone 5 "Technology" space rather than the traditional Zone 2 "Hosting Provider" space. That's why in the past two months, you've seen announcements about our launch of the latest Intel Processors, HPC computing with NVidia GPUs, searchable OpenStack Object Storage, and an innovative "Flex Image" approach to bluring the lines between physical and virtual servers. We choose to pursue the cloud customers who make their buying decisions in Zone 3.

That's a challenging pursuit ... It's expensive to push the envelope in technology, customers primarily interested in technology/performance have demanding needs and expectations, and it's easier to make mistakes when you're breaking new ground. The majority of the hosting industry seems to have an eye on the buyer in Zone 1 because they believe the average hosting customer is only interested in the bottom line ... That hosting is more or less a commodity, so the focus should be on some unverifiable qualitative measure of support or the next big special that'll bring in new orders.

As you may have seen recently, GigaOm posted a lovely article that references several high-profile companies in our 25,000+ customer family. We like to say that SoftLayer builds the platform on which our customers build the future, and that short post speaks volumes about the validity of that statement. Our goal is to provide the most powerful, scalable and seamlessly integrated IT infrastructure for the most innovative companies in the world. Innovate or Die isn't just our company motto ... It's our hope for our customers, as well.

We might miss out on your business if you want a $49/mo dedicated server, but if you're looking to change the world, we've got you covered. :-)

-@khazard

April 20, 2012

Choosing a Cloud: Cost v. Technology v. Hosting Provider

If you had to order a new cloud server right now, how would choose it?

I've worked in the hosting industry for the better part of a decade, and I can safely say that I've either observed or been a part of the buying decision for a few thousand hosting customers — from small business owners getting a website online for the first time to established platforms that are now getting tens of millions of visits every day. While each of those purchasers had different requirements and priorities, I've noticed a few key deciding factors that are consistent in a all of those decisions:

The Hosting Decision

How much will the dedicated server or cloud computing instance cost? What configuration/technology do I need (or want)? Which hosting provider should I trust with my business?

Every website administrator of every site on the Internet has had to answer those three questions, and while they seem pretty straightforward, they end up overlapping, and the buying decision starts to get a little more complicated:

The Hosting Decision

The natural assumption is that everyone will choose a dedicated server or cloud computing instance that falls in the "sweet spot" where the three circles overlap, right? While that makes sense on paper, hosting decisions are not made in a vacuum, so you'll actually see completely valid hosting decisions targeting every spot on that graph.

Why would anyone choose an option that wouldn't fit in the sweet spot?

That's a great question, and it's a tough one to answer in broad strokes. Let's break the chart down into a few distinct zones to look at why a user would choose a server in each area:

The Hosting Decision

Zone 1

Buyers choosing a server in Zone 1 are easiest to understand: Their budget takes priority over everything else. They might want to host with a specific provider or have a certain kind of hardware, but their budget doesn't allow for either. Maybe they don't need their site to use the latest and greatest hardware or have it hosted anywhere in particular. Either way, they choose a cloud solely based on whether it fits their budget. After the initial buying decision, if another server needs to be ordered, they might become a Zone 4 buyer.

Zone 2

Just like Zone 1 buyers, Zone 2 buyers are a pretty simple bunch as well. If you're an IT administrator at a huge enterprise that does all of your hosting in-house, your buying decision is more or less made for you. It doesn't matter how much the solution costs, you have to choose an option in your data center, and while you might like a certain technology, you're going to get what's available. Enterprise users aren't the only people deciding to order a server in Zone 2, though ... It's where you see a lot of loyal customers who have the ability to move to another provider but prefer not to — whether it's because they want their next server to be in the same place as their current servers, they value the capabilities of a specific hosting provider (or they just like the witty, interesting blogs that hosting provider writes).

Zone 3

As with Zone 1 and Zone 2, when a zone doesn't have any overlapping areas, the explanation is pretty easy. In Zone 3, the buying decision is being made with a priority on technology. Buyers in this area don't care what it costs or where it's hosted ... They need the fastest, most powerful, most scalable infrastructure on the market. Similar to Zone 1 buyers, once Zone 3 buyers make their initial buying decision, they might shift to Zone 5 for their next server or cloud instance, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Zone 4

Now we're starting to overlap. In Zone 4, a customer will be loyal to a hosting provider as long as that loyalty doesn't take them out of their budget. This is a relatively common customer ... They'll try to compare options apples-to-apples, and they'll make their decision based on which hosting provider they like/trust most. As we mentioned above, if a Zone 1 buyer is adding another server to their initial server order, they'll likely look to add to their environment in one place to make it easier to manage and to get the best performance between the two servers.

Zone 5

Just like the transitional Zone 1 buyers, when Zone 3 buyers look to build on their environment, they'll probably become Zone 5 buyers. When your initial buying decision is based entirely on technology, it's unusual to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your next buying decision. While there are customers that will reevaluate their environment and choose a Zone 3 option irrespective of where their current infrastructure is hosted, it's less common. Zone 5 users love having he latest and greatest technology, and they value being able to manage it through one provider.

Zone 6

A Zone 6 buyer is usually a Zone 1 buyer that has specific technology needs. With all the options on the table, a Zone 6 buyer will choose the cloud environment that provides the latest technology or best performance for their budget, regardless of the hosting provider. As with Zone 1 and Zone 3 buyers, a Zone 6 buyer will probably become a Zone 7 buyer if they need to order another server.

Zone 7

Zone 7 buyers are in the sweet spot. They know the technology they want, they know the price they want to pay, and they know the host they want to use. They're able to value all three of their priorities equally, and they can choose an environment that meets all of their needs. After Zone 6 buyers order their first server(s), they're going to probably become Zone 7 buyers when it comes time for them to place their next order.

As you probably noticed, a lot of transitioning happens between an initial buying decision and a follow-up buying decision, so let's look at that quickly:

The Hosting Decision

Regardless of how you make your initial buying decision, when it's time for your next server or cloud computing instance, you have a new factor to take into account: You already have a cloud infrastructure at a hosting provider, so when it comes time to grow, you'll probably want to grow in the same place. Why? Moving between providers can be a pain, managing environments between several providers is more difficult, and if your servers have to work together, they're generally doing so across the public Internet, so you're not getting the best performance.

Where does SoftLayer fit in all of this? Well beyond being a hosting provider that buyers are choosing, we have to understand buyers are making their buying decisions, and we have to position our business to appeal to the right people with the right priorities. It's impossible to be all things for all people, so we have to choose where to invest our attention ... I'll leave that post for another day, though.

If you had to choose a zone that best describes how you made (or are currently making) your buying decision, which one would it be?

-@khazard

February 1, 2012

Flex Images: Blur the Line Between Cloud and Dedicated

Our customers are not concerned with technology for technology's sake. Information technology should serve a purpose; it should function as an integral means to a desired end. Understandably, our customers are focused, first and foremost, on their application architecture and infrastructure. They want, and need, the freedom and flexibility to design their applications to their specifications.

Many companies leverage the cloud to take advantage of core features that enable robust, agile architectures. Elasticity (ability to quickly increase or decrease compute capacity) and flexibility (choice such as cores, memory and storage) combine to provide solutions that scale to meet the demands of modern applications.

Another widely used feature of cloud computing is image-based provisioning. Rapid provisioning of cloud resources is accomplished, in part, through the use of images. Imaging capability extends beyond the use of base images, allowing users to create customized images that preserve their software installs and configurations. The images persist in an image library, allowing users to launch new cloud instances based their images.

But why should images only be applicable to virtualized cloud resources?

Toward that end, we're excited to introduce SoftLayer Flex Images, a new capability that allows us to capture images of physical and virtual servers, store them all in one library, and rapidly deploy those images on either platform.

SoftLayer Flex Images

Physical servers now share the core features of virtual servers—elasticity and flexibility. With Flex Images, you can move seamlessly between and environments as your needs change.

Let's say you're running into resource limits in a cloud server environment—your data-intensive server is I/O bound—and you want to move the instance to a more powerful dedicated server. Using Flex Images, you can create an image of your cloud server and, extending our I/O bound example, deploy it to a custom dedicated server with SSD drives.

Conversely, a dedicated environment can be quickly replicated on multiple cloud instances if you want the scaling capability of the cloud to meet increased demand. Maybe your web heads run on dedicated servers, but you're starting to see periods of usage that stress your servers. Create a Flex Image from your dedicated server and use it to deploy cloud instances to meet demand.

Flex Image technology blurs the distinctions—and breaks down the walls—between virtual and physical computing environments.

We don't think of Flex Images as new product. Instead—like our network, our portal, our automated platform, and our globe-spanning geographic diversity—Flex Image capability is a free resource for our customers (with the exception of standard nominal costs in storing the Flex Images).

We think Flex Images represents not only great value, but also provides a further example of how SoftLayer innovates continually to bring new capabilities and the highest possible level of customer control to our automated services platform.

To sum up, here are some of the key features and benefits of SoftLayer Flex Images:

  • Universal images that can be used interchangeably on dedicated or cloud systems
  • Unified image library for archiving, managing, sharing, and publishing images
  • Greater flexibility and higher scalability
  • Rapid provisioning of new dedicated and cloud environments
  • Available via SoftLayer's management portal and API

In public beta, Flex Images are available now. We invite you to try them out, and, as always, we want to hear what you think.

-Marc

June 21, 2011

Ghostin' the Machine - SoftLayer Customer Portal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, those days are gone.

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

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

-Chris

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

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

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

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