Posts Tagged 'Evolution'

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: 
October 8, 2011

Smart Phones: Technology Replacing Contact?

So much of our life has been moved to digital devices these days. Smart phones are one of many devices that have made an impression on our lives. Smart phones these days have become a must for most, whether it is for business or personal use, almost everyone has one.

On the plus side, smart phones enable users to conduct business from just about anywhere in the world. Access to email accounts, VPNs and other tools that make business move on a daily basis have become accessible from the palm of your hand. You can even administer your web server from your smart phone with the right application setup.

You're carrying a small computer around in your pocket. It'll be interesting to see what new devices will emerge in the market in the next few years. Tablets are becoming wildly popular, and mainstream consumers are starting to keep an eye on the newest innovations, joining the "tech geeks" in the "early adopter" line.

There are several players in this market with Google, RIM and Apple leading the pack, and dedicated fans rally behind each. With smart phones becoming so increasingly common, I've started wondering if it's really for the best. Do we really need to check our e-mail every 10 minutes? If we're not on Twitter, Facebook or one of our other social networks, will they be there when we get to our computer?

Being digitally connected all the time give us a false sense of "socializing" in the old school face-to-face sense, and that pull us away from those IRL (in real life) encounters. Numerous crashes have been caused by people texting or updating their statuses while driving, and there have been cases of people walking into a busy street while being distracted by their phones.

When it comes to technology like smart phones, how do you keep those devices from becoming a dependency? How do you keep yourself from letting them take the place of direct human contact rather? It's something to think about as technology continues to evolve and permeate our lives.

-James

September 24, 2011

The NEW New Facebook Layout

There are so many different types of Social Networks nowadays: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Channels, the faded MySpace and recently popular Google+. They all have different features but are essentially used for the same purpose. Facebook is the largest player in the market, and every time it makes a change, the world collectively gasps ... And a lot of people start yelling.

When Facebook launched back in 2004, it was designed with college kids in mind. I remember when you HAD to have a college email address to set up a Facebook account – the good ole days. A year or two later, Facebook created a separate section for high school students, and not too long after that, anyone on the planet could get a Facebook account, and the growing/changing audience necessitated changes in the platform.

Facebook is a great way to find old friends and catch up, and it's also an easier way to update everyone all at once what you are doing. I found out my best friend was engaged on Facebook ... That's right. I found out by Facebook before I got a phone call. Facebook is like a drug - it's addictive. Some people live there all day.

If you work for an IT company, you know that technology is constantly changing. To keep up with evolutions in technology and perceived needs of the growing user base, Facebook will update its platform every few months. If you have a Facebook account, you've probably noticed that they released a new layout this week. You've probably also noticed all of your friends' status changes complaining about how they hate the way it looks, how "It's too hard to use." Those friends hated the old "new Facebook," and somewhere down the road, they've learned to love and/or depend on that "new Facebook" which is now in the "old Facebook" category. It's pretty annoying right?

Here's my advice for the change-averse:

  1. If Facebook didn't change, it would get stagnant and someone else would introduce something better ... The same way Facebook supplanted MySpace. DEAL WITH IT.
  2. If you don't like the changes Facebook makes, DELETE your account and move to a new Social Network like Twitter or try out Google+.
  3. Instead of complaining how hard the new Facebook is to use, take the time to READ the instructions they have provided for you ... From a desktop you are able to mouse over a section and it will tell you what it means and how to use it.
  4. Last but not least – whining is for babies and last time I checked you were in your 20's, 30's, 40's, and up - so suck it up!

Whew! Now that felt good ... :-)

- Natalie

Categories: 
February 15, 2010

Automation + Innovation = Success

In the beginning butter was churned by hand and water was fetched from a well. However, as we humans take a step forward, we acknowledge that time is of great value and we quickly redefine a process or function to allow for more precious time. Here at SoftLayer, our evolution hasn’t been much different. With each passing day new ideas are brought to the table, discussed and executed; later giving fruit to more success. As part of this fast growing company our Accounting Department has gone through its share of growth and discovery. In the beginning everyone from our Controller to our CFO helped in answering tickets and billed for upgrades. Now that our department has grown larger in size they can tend to more important tasks while we take care of our customers.

It is while executing every day responsibilities that we find new alternatives to simplifying our customer’s experience with us. Alternatives such as automation of Ram and Port Speed upgrades give our customers easier access to business expansion. Bandwidth upgrades no longer take a series of steps to complete. With a few clicks of our mouse we not only upgrade a server’s bandwidth capacity but we have the ability to choose the time in which this upgrade will take effect. In a matter of minutes a customer can move one or several of their servers into their Virtual Dedicated Rack. While this is all taking place their invoice is automatically being updated to show the recent changes and hence bandwidth allotment is immediately brought up to date.

Nevertheless we could not brag about our awesome tools if it weren’t for the genius minds of our friendly neighbors; our Development Department. Every single department within SoftLayer has their share of gratitude towards this great group of people. Here in the Accounting realm, many of our ideas have come to pass because of the effort of these developers. When something happens to go wrong as naturally things do, we turn to a developer for help. Within a matter of minutes a piece of code is revised and our world is back to normal once more. Automation continues to simplify not only our daily jobs but our customer’s path to business success. There is always a better way to do things and you can bet that there is more than one person coming up with the next “big” idea as I write this. Whether it’s redefining a process or writing the code that will make it all happen, innovation is in the hands of all of us here at SoftLayer.

November 2, 2009

It’s All About Perception

American cars aren’t reliable. That is what the 70’s and 80’s taught me. Up until then it was about the only choice. Enter the Datsun’s, Toyota’s and Mazda’s they were lower priced and didn’t break down as often and it wasn’t like breaking a chicken bone to turn on the blinker. Today, American cars are much more reliable and the 3 or 4 I have had in the last 10 years have had few or no problems at all. But ask anyone my age and you got it; America cars aren’t reliable. You know what they say, “perception is 9/10th’s of the law” or is that possession. Oh well.

Would you rather have an RCA Small Wonder or Flip Video device? I bet that due to the great marketing minds of the world and the type of folks that read blogs you want the Flip Video and you are now on Google trying to find out what the heck an RCA Small Wonder is. This is probably more related to marketing but even now that you have searched and you know what the Small Wonder is, which would you buy? It’s the perception that RCA is old and wasn’t and still isn’t very reliable. It’s also why Radio Shack is now just The Shack, it was time to rebrand because Radio Shack was for the “Bolt-On” generation and The Shack is for the “integrated” generation. Where is all this leading?

In a recent meeting I was asked why we sell more LAMP stack operating systems (RedHat, CentOS, Debian, Etc.) than we do Microsoft Servers and the point was made that there is still the perception that Windows in insecure and has lots of bugs. I believe Microsoft has a huge mountain to climb to rid the world of this perception whether it is true or not, much like the American auto industry. Even if they release a secure and stable product today, and they have, it would still take many years for our society to realize it. Why? Because much like RCA, Microsoft was around when technology was just starting to become cool. As Lance (our CEO) would say, “RCA and Windows NT Server came out in a time period when the people using them were in a bolt-on mentality and today’s users are fully integrated into the technological lifestyle.” What does that mean? The bolt-on generation saw things happen and had do adapt: knobs on TV’s became remotes, rotary phones became push button became cordless became bag became cellular phones, arcade games became pong became Atari became Nintendo became Wii video games, Commodore became IBM XT became clones (running Windows 3.1) became Dell (running Windows 95) became servers (running NT4.0) became the Internet (running LAMP stacks and Windows servers), and this list could go on and on. I think I need a t-shirt that says “I’m a Bolt-on”. My kids however, are fully integrated into this lifestyle and don’t realize how bad some things were in technology to get to where we are today. They wake up every day and technology is everywhere they turn. Of course technology still changes quickly and people have to adapt, but the changes aren’t as life changing as they were when technology was young. The bolt-on society is much more forgiving of mistakes with technological advances where the integrated society wants perfection. They hear on TV and the radio that Windows is insecure and had/has bugs and they want instant gratification and perfect technology. Some of the bad stigma Windows has is due to the bolt-on generation using Windows desktop software and applying those bad memories to the new Server products from Microsoft. If Vista is unstable and insecure then Server 2008 must be as well, right? Linux, on the other hand, was a server OS first and then became a desktop tool. It just didn’t get scrutinized like the Windows OS’s and since it’s desktop product isn’t as mainstream its issues are mainly low key and under the radar.

Microsoft has some challenges in the coming years and may need to take a few lessons from the American car manufacturers and “The Shack”. I believe a large separation of the desktop OS’s and the Server OS’s is needed and it all starts with rebranding the server choices. Maybe the desktop OS keeps the Windows name but change the Server Operating System to “Insert cool trendy name here” and drop Windows from it completely. This is just my opinion and I could be wrong.

This was a long read so I think I will go get in my unreliable American truck and hit the road, I am just 33,000 miles from hitting 300K!

Subscribe to evolution