Posts Tagged 'Delivery'

May 9, 2012

Nexmo: Tech Partner Spotlight

This guest blog comes to us from Nexmo, a featured member of the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. Nexmo is the wholesale messaging API that lets you send and receive high volumes of SMS at a global level. In this video we talk to Nexmo CEO Tony Jamous about the benefits of Nexmo, how it came to be and the problem it solves for you.

Cutting out the Middleman with Nexmo

These days, optimizing mobile messaging deliverability comes at a price. Businesses must connect to multiple carriers, operate heavy infrastructure, and build their own data analytics. On top of that, many third-party SMS solutions require contracts, price negotiations and significant up-front costs.

Nexmo was created to eliminate the need for a business to connect to carriers or complex third party protocols through simple, powerful RESTful and SMPP APIs. Our scalable infrastructure allows you to send and receive SMS in high volumes to over 5 billion users around the world. This is a market need that hasn't been addressed, and we approached it with a few ideas in mind. If you were going to replicate the functionality of Nexmo on your own, these are the key areas you'd have to look at:

Direct to Carrier Model

With every hop, the quality of a connection has the potential to degrade, and cost inflates. Adding intermediaries in the chain also impact the granularity of collected data, such as delivery reports and reasons of failure. By reducing the number of hops to the final subscriber you'll see:

  • An improved delivery ratio and lower latency
  • Enhanced security
  • Fewer single points of failure
  • Reduced cost, less fat in the chain

With a closer position to the final carrier, a business can access more "Telco" data like phone status, whether it is ported to another network, or if it's roaming abroad. With that information, you can also make better routing decisions and ultimately see higher delivery ratios.

Get Your own SMS-Enabled Phone Numbers

We've seen in the last two years the emergence of "Over the Top" (OTT) messaging apps such as Google Voice and TextPlus. Those apps provide a virtual phone number to each user, and Nexmo behaves similarly by enabling apps to behave like a "super virtual carrier" without the need for heavy Telco infrastructure. North America is the most mature market with OTT players generating significant SMS traffic, and now these models are going abroad. We pinpointed a unique need in the value chain:

  • Source virtual phone numbers from global carriers
  • Build the business models that protect carriers' interests without eliminating the opportunity for innovative apps
  • Provide the elastic and scalable cloud infrastructure for high volume two-way transactions

Nexmo approached those needs with APIs that enabled app developers to search for available phone numbers, provision new numbers and cancel numbers they weren't using any more. It doesn't take days or weeks to launch in a new market ... Apps can launch in a new market in a matter of hours with minimal upfront investment!

Improve and Track Deliverability

Enterprises and developers have shifted the focus in the buying process. They are looking for more transparency and accountability, so tracking and monitoring hundreds, thousands or even millions of messages can be of utmost importance.

For every SMS sent, the Nexmo API provides a detailed report of delivery. We push this data into the cloud in real time, displayed in two ratios:

  • The Success Ratio: The percentage of message received by the phone. This ratio measures how well traffic is performing.
  • The DLR Ratio: The percentage of messages with a delivery receipt. This ratio tracks infrastructure and route performance.

Follow the Life of a Message from the Cloud

Most B2C services and resellers that send millions of SMS for things like alerts, phone verifications and access codes can get swarmed when it comes to user support. We know that's an intimidating prospect for any business looking to add SMS functionality to their app or platform, so we let our customers follow the life of a message from the cloud and gather more information about it. Some of the information we've found most helpful to track:

  • How fast was the message was delivered?
  • Was the phone available for receiving SMS?
  • Did the user enter the correct phone number?

Keeping an eye on these basic kinds of stats reduces the pain of supporting a large user base and enables your support staff to answer questions quickly because they have a good foundation of information.

Receive Outstanding Support

Building a customer centric culture is a sustainable competitive advantage. It is even more meaningful in a commoditized, price-driven industry like wholesale telecom. If you're going to approach the world of SMS messaging and deliverability, the need for outstanding support is even more urgent because, given the nature of SMS messaging, results are expected immediately.

When we started Nexmo, we knew that, and I'm proud to report that we constantly score over 95% in customer satisfaction, and we've noticed a few tricks that have helped us maintain that level of support:

  • Hire the right people: Empathy and service mindset are more important than technical skills
  • Provide self-help tools and open knowledge bases: Customers appreciate finding solutions by themselves
  • Measure help-desk performance and constantly improve: KPI includes first meaningful reply time, resolution time and satisfaction ratio.

We hope these tips can help you build on your existing support or give you a jumping-off point if you're just getting started.

There is so much more I could tell you about our experience in building Nexmo into the platform it is today, but it's a lot easier for you to just see for yourself. If you're interested in learning more about Nexmo, visit http://nexmo.com, sign up, and be ready to go live with us in a matter of minutes ... And to make it even easier, you can use the free credits we provide to give the platform a test drive.

If you've been intimidated by the daunting task of knocking on the doors of telcos and carriers to get easy-to-use and easy-to-track SMS functionality in your app, Nexmo can save you a lot of headaches.

-Tony Jamous, Nexmo

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.
August 17, 2011

SendGrid: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Tim Falls of SendGrid, a technology partner that provides cloud-based email infrastructure for reliable delivery, scalability, real-time analytics and flexible APIs for customers who want to focus on driving their own growth and profitability.

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

Understanding the Value of [Email] Infrastructure Services

The Fall of DIY ... As We Know It
Today more than ever before, businesses depend on third party services to operate efficiently and achieve their objectives. As a business leader, you have countless web applications and software as service solutions at your fingertips, which collectively address just about any problem or demand imaginable. Examples include cloud-based file storage, cloud and dedicated web hosting, recurring billing applications, online HR management portals, APIs for telephony and geo-data, and managed email infrastructure and delivery services. Startups and established corporations alike can utilize these tools quickly and simply with a credit card and a few clicks on a trackpad.

So, what does this mean, and why is it worth recognizing and appreciating? Well, it means that your life is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. And if you fail to recognize the opportunities and advantages that these resources offer, your competitors will soon leave you in their proverbial dust ... if they haven't already.

The gist:

  • You don't have to do everything yourself anymore ... So don't!
  • Be the best at what you do, and rely on other experts to help with everything outside of your realm.

The Email Puzzle
Let's face it. Email sucks. Not email in and of itself - obviously, it is an essential part of our lives and is arguably one of the most transformative communication tools in human history. But, from a business standpoint, the implementation and maintenance of an effective and efficient email system is truly a nightmare. If there is one thing that web developers across the world can agree upon, it may be this: Successfully integrating email into a web application just ain't fun!

To better understand the challenges developers face when integrating email into their web applications, let's look at an example (fresh from my imagination). Through this discussion, we'll uncover the clear advantages of working with a partner in email infrastructure and delivery.

Let's say you're building PitLovabull.com -- a social, online community for dog owners. Sound lame? Well, it's not ... because it's "different." As the clever name indicates, it's specifically for pit bull owners and advocates. Community members interact with each other and your company in a number of ways: Forum discussions, photo sharing, commenting, direct messages, the "give a dog a bone" button (think "like") and buying cool doggy stuff. Each of these features involves email notifications ... "Sporty's owner just responded to your forum post on Healthy Dog Diets." "Barney's owner just tagged your puppy Stella in a photo." "Thanks for purchasing a new collar for Boss! We'll notify you by email when your package has shipped!"

After six months of grassroots marketing, tens of thousands of passionate pit bull owners have joined your community, and your email volume has grown from 800/week to 8,000/day (that's almost 250k/month!). As a budding bootstrapped startup, you cut costs wherever you can, and you choose to manage your own email servers. You quickly find out that server costs grow substantially as you send more mail, customers are complaining that they aren't receiving their email notifications, and your support team is stretched thin dealing with confused and frustrated customers. The end result: Poor deliverability is directly (and negatively) affecting revenue! What's more: You have no insight into what is happening to your emails - Are they being delivered? Opened? Are links within them being clicked? Have you been blacklisted by an ISP?

Upon deep reflection, you realize that your developers are spending more time on email than they spend building awesome features for the community! Plus, you find yourself, the CEO/Founder of the company, researching mundane crap like ISP rate limits, Sender Policy Framework, DKIM, and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 — a few of the less-than-interesting aspects of email that must be understood in order to achieve optimal deliverability of your notifications and newsletters.

Luckily, you just hired Joey, a fresh, young hacker who's active in the developer ecosystem and always on top of the latest technologies. While exploring PitLovabull's web hosting control panel on your SoftLayer servers, he discovers a better alternative: The Softlayer Email Delivery Service &ndahs; a hosted and managed email infrastructure that's already built for you! Joey signs up with a credit card for $150/month (which covers a full 250k emails/month), changes a few settings on your web application, and within minutes all of your email is being relayed through SendGrid.

May All Your Email Dreams Come True
A few months go by ... Email is in your customers' inboxes. Deliverability is being tracked and displayed on your web dashboard, along with open and click rates, blocks, bounces, spam reports and unsubscribes. Customer Support receives fewer emails, calls, and IM chat requests. Engineering is busy implementing a backlog of feature requests (not doing email stuff). Sales are gradually increasing and overall customer satisfaction is higher than ever.

Empowering Developers
But wait, it gets better! After researching SendGrid's APIs, you recognize the potential for extreme customization, in the form of internal and external features. Internally, the SMTP API allows you to assign a "category" to each of your emails (password reminders, purchase confirmations, etc.) and in turn collect unique statistics for each category. Externally, the Parse API allows you to receive incoming emails to your web app. In a single day, Joey codes up a new feature, and now any community member can email a picture of their pup to post@pitlovabulls.com, include a caption in the subject line, and the picture and caption are automagically posted to that user's profile!

The New Meaning of Do-It-Yourself
We all know it's difficult to trust a third party to handle the critical elements of any operation. With the help of proven SaaS models that employ advanced technology, cloud-based infrastructures and dedicated experts, companies can now feel more comfortable moving into a modern mode of doing-it-themselves: Pay a nominal monthly fee to a service that handles email (or recurring billing, or telephony), and let the service do the dirty work and liberate the brains of your brilliant developers so they can focus on innovating with the tools available to them.

I hope this story helps entrepreneurs and business leaders think smarter as they build their dream. The lessons illustrated in the context of email apply across the board. We're in a fascinating time, where building an internet business has never required less capital and has never allowed for the laser focus that is afforded to companies today. Open your toolbox, work smart, and build something that people love!

-Tim Falls, SendGrid

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 12, 2011

Follow 750 Servers from Truck to DC Rack

What do you call the day after you finish building a new data center server room and cabling the server racks in it? If you're an employee at SoftLayer, you call it Truck Day.

Last week, a few of the folks from marketing were invited to celebrate in the Truck Day festivities for Pod 2 in DAL05 (SR02.DAL05), and I jumped at the opportunity. I don't go anywhere without at least one camera on-hand to document and share what's going on with the SoftLayer community, and Truck Day wasn't an exception ... In fact, I had three different cameras going at all times!

The truck arrived at around 7 a.m. with a few dozen pallets of servers, and about forty employees from all around the company immediately jumped into action. As the pallets moved from the loading dock to the inventory room, people were unboxing servers and piling them on carts. When a cart was full, it was whisked to the data center and unloaded. The data center techs plugged in each of the servers to confirm its configuration and stacked it with matching configurations in designated areas around the data center. By the time one cart got back to the inventory room, another was on its way to the data center, so very little time was lost.

Back in 2007, SamF did a great job of explaining the process, so I won't reinvent the wheel. Instead, I'll let you see the activities as they were captured by the three cameras I toted along:

To give you an idea of how fast all of this was done, each the time lapse cameras set up in the data center and in the inventory room captured images every five seconds. When the video was compiled, the frame rate was set to 20 frames per second, so each second of time lapse video is the equivalent of 100 seconds of work. In a matter of just a few hours, we received, inventoried, racked, cabled and started selling around 750 servers in a brand new data center pod. Competitors: Be afraid. Be very afraid. :)

Pictures from DAL05 Pod 2 Truck Day have been posted on our Flickr Account: http://sftlyr.com/8g

In the past three weeks, we brought three different data center pods online in three different parts of the country: On April 25, it was our first server room in San Jose (SJC01); on May 2, the second server room in DAL05; and on May 10, our second server room in WDC01. As far as I know, we don't have a new pod planned for next month, but given how quickly the operations team has been building data center space, I wouldn't be surprised to get a call asking me to come in a little early to help unload servers in a new data center next week.

-@khazard

Music Credit: The background track in the video is "Your Coat" from SoftLayer's very own Chris Interrante. Keep an eye out for his soon-to-be released EP: OVERDRAFT.

July 29, 2010

What Makes SoftLayer Different?

I often get asked “what makes SoftLayer different?” The problem with that simple question is – SoftLayer is so different from all the competition out there that it’s not a simple question to answer. I have my standard version that I run thru – but I’m not sure people really grasp how different SoftLayer really is. After talking to my wife, she recommended doing a Letterman style top 10 reason why SoftLayer is different. I figured I would give it a shot – so here it is..

  1. SoftLayer terminates 40Gbps to every single rack!! 20Gbps to the public internet and 20Gbps to the private network.
  2. SoftLayer offers three types of VPN services for out-of-band connectivity (SSL, PPTP, IPSEC)
  3. SoftLayer manages its own nationwide MPLS network with 10 PoPs and over 1000Gbps of transit and peer connectivity
  4. SoftLayer offers free enterprise grade DNS services through our DNS farms located in all 10 PoPs in North America
  5. SoftLayer has over 1600 APIs for custom integration, a full service control panel for ease of use and a private label option for resellers
  6. Every single server in every datacenter is a rackmount, hotswap, tool-less chassis offering enterprise grade hardware with ultra-fast modifications
  7. SoftLayer has downloadable iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps in addition to our mobile phone friendly .mobi site for complete control.
  8. Only hybrid solution available – dedicated, virtualized, and cloud instances operating in a single environment and control thru a single interface or API
  9. Private Network – connect any server to any other server in any datacenter with a click of a button
  10. Fastest service delivery
  • Over 1000 servers in stock
  • Dedicated servers – 4 hours or less
  • Servers with virtualization – 2 hours or less
  • Cloud instances & storage – 5 to 15 minutes
  • Firewalls, Load Balancers, SAN Storage – added real time w/ no downtime

-@lavosby

September 15, 2009

Managing Your Traffic in the Modern Era

Over the past 10 years, I’ve run or helped run all sizes of web sites and internet applications. I’ve seen everything from single-page brochure web sites to horizontally scaled interactive portals. And what I’ve learned is that it is all about the end-user experience.

I’m not a graphics specialist or a GUI designer. I just don’t have that in my DNA. I focus more on the technical side of things working on better ways to deliver content to the user. And in the purely technical area, the best thing to do to improve the user experience is to improve the delivery speed to the user.

There are a lot of tools out there that can be used to speed up delivery. CDN, for example, is an awesome way to get static content to an end user and is very scalable. But what about scaling out the application itself?

Traditionally, a simple Layer-4 Load Balancer has been a staple component of scalable applications. This type of Load Balancing can provide capacity during traffic peaks as well as increase availability. The application runs on several servers and the load balancer uses some simple methods (least connections, round robin, etc) to distribute the load. For a lot of applications this is sufficient to get content reliably and quickly to the end user. SoftLayer offers a relatively inexpensive load-balancing service for our customers that can provide this functionality.

There is another, more sophisticated, tool that can be used to manage internet application traffic. That is the “Application Delivery Controller” (obligatory Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_Delivery_Controller) or “Load Balancer on Steroids”. This class of traffic manager can act in Layer-7, the data layer. These devices can make decisions based on the actual content of the data packets, not just the source and destination.

And an ADC can do more than load balance. It can act as a Web Application Firewall to protect your data. It can speed up your application using SSL Offloading, Content Caching, TCP Optimization, and more. This type of device is very smart and very configurable and will help in the delivering the application to the end user.

At SoftLayer we have seen our customers achieve a lot of success with our Layer-4 Load Balancer product. But we are always looking for other tools to help our customers. We always have admired the advanced functionality in the appliance-based Application Delivery Controllers on the market. Finding a way to get this enterprise-grade technology to our customers in an affordable manner was problematic. When Citrix announced that they were going to create a version of their NetScaler product that didn’t require an appliance we were thrilled. With the announcement of the NetScaler VPX we finally thought we had found the right product that we could use to affordably provision this advanced technology on-demand to our customers.

SoftLayer is VERY excited to partner with Citrix to provide the NetScaler VPX Application Delivery Controller to our customers. Our customers can order a NetScaler VPX, and in a matter of minutes be managing the delivery of their online applications using one of the most sophisticated tools on the market. Citrix does a better job of promoting the product than I do, so here is the link to their site: http://citrix.com/English/ps2/products/product.asp?contentID=21679&ntref=hp_nav_US.

Remember, it’s all about the experience of the user at the other end of the wire. Find the right tools to manage that experience and you are most of the way there. Oh yeah, and find a good graphics designer too. That helps. So does good content.

-@nday91

July 11, 2007

Truck Day Operations

How do you unload 1,000 servers and have them ready to go live in a datacenter in five hours? With lots and lots of planning. Every month we take in a shipment of servers to accommodate the next 30 days of sales. Preparation for each delivery starts several months in advance with forecasting models. You have to look far enough ahead in your models to continually adjust forecasts for sales, facilities and available resources. Some vendors need more lead time than others so you have to constantly update your forecasts, all the way up to final order placement.

Also, you don't just walk into a datacenter with a server and set it down. There's a lot of work that goes into physical prep for the datacenter as well. You have to plan the datacenter layout, order and assemble racks, add rails, power strips, switches, power cord bundles, network cable bundles, etc. Every rack we deploy has almost 400 cage nuts and just under 200 cables in it. We don't just string a bunch of cables up and call it a day. Every cable bundle is meticulously routed, combed and hung to make them look professional. With that much cabling, you have to make it right or you'll never be able to work around it.

With one week to go before the trucks arrive, all of the datacenter prep starts wrapping up. And with just a few days left, we have our last manager meeting to review server placement, personnel, timing and other delivery details.

Next is Truck Day - this is when the fun begins.

On Truck Day, we leave plenty of people behind to handle sales, support and accounting, but everyone else is expected at the loading dock. After all the pallets are pulled off the truck and accounted for, the team gets busy un-boxing. As servers are unboxed, all of the spare parts in the boxes - spare screws, riser cards, SATA cables, and various other pieces - are sorted into bins on the dock. The servers themselves are then placed in custom transport carts and moved to the datacenter.

From there, the teams inside the datacenter sort the servers according to type and perform a strict QA process that includes verifying the hardware configurations and verifying that the components are all seated properly.

Once sorted, the servers get scanned into the system and racked up. As all of the cables are plugged in, another QA process is completed to verify that all of the ports are correct. At that point, it's just a matter of turning each server on and watching them check in, get their bios flashed with the latest and greatest release and having the system update any component firmware that is needed. As the systems check themselves into inventory, they go through two more QA processes that include an inventory check and a burn-in process.

By the time the truck is empty, the last box is stashed and the final server is racked up, everyone is ready to get back to their day jobs. Months worth of planning - all wiped out in a matter of hours.

Mary is working on a great post about what Truck Day looks like from a Salesperson's perspective. It explains why we have everyone get involved in the process.

-SamF

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