Posts Tagged 'Expertise'

November 24, 2011

Summer's Specialty: Truffle Mac and Cheese

Over half my time this year has been spent traveling around the US, Canada and Europe where I've shared the SoftLayer story with hundreds (if not thousands) of people. Since most of our trade shows are outside of the Dallas area, I frequently call a hotel room "home," so I really cherish my actual home. One of my favorite things to do while I am home is spend quality time in the kitchen with my husband and our mischievous 2 year old chocolate lab (who is usually close by waiting for food to fall off the counter), and in honor of Thanksgiving Day today, I thought I'd share a quick recipe for you if you're frantically looking for a dish to bring to a turkey day party.

Anyone that knows me well will tell you that I am not the greatest cook, but one thing I do make well is truffle mac and cheese. Since one of the goals on the SoftLayer Blog is to share the culture and expertise of our employees (and given the holiday timing), I thought my expertise in this area would be particularly valuable.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. dried macaroni pasta
  • 2 1/4 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. White truffle oil — Though I usually use more ... I am not–so-secretly obsessed with this stuff!
  • 1/3 cup garlic bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cook macaroni noodles in a pan according to directions on the container.
  2. Add the unsalted butter to a separate saucepan over medium heat until the butter begins to foam (constantly stir to make sure the butter does not burn).
  3. Add the flour to the foaming butter and stir for about 1-2 minutes.
  4. Carefully pour in the milk, whisking constantly until all the milk has been added. The sauce should begin to thicken. Make sure to whisk out any lumps. This should take around 5 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and begin to add in 2 cups of shredded Swiss cheese. Mix this until the cheese has completely melted.
  6. Add truffle oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Drain the water from the cooked macaroni noodles and add the cheese sauce to the noodles. Mix until the cheese has coated the noodles.
  8. Place the mac and cheese in a baking dish. Sprinkle the last 1/4 cup of shredded Swiss cheese and your 1/3 cup of garlic bread crumbs over the top.
  9. Place the dish in the oven on a high broil until the top is crispy and golden brown.

When you take it out of the oven and let it cool, you can load it into your car and whisk it away to your get-together to amaze all of your friends and family ... If you can manage to keep yourself from eating it on the way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Summer

November 3, 2010

Our Competition

It doesn’t come as a big surprise to anyone when I say that I spend a lot of time thinking about the competition. I want to understand what motivates them. I need to understand how they see the marketplace evolving. What are they doing about the cloud? What about IPv6? What about the network? No surprises there.

What I do think would surprise people is that I do not think of Rackspace, Saavis or Amazon as the competition. I think that real competition is found within the small medium business or the enterprise. I don’t have any hard statistics on it, but a number of analysts seem to settle on a 25:75 split. That is, they believe that only 25% of businesses go outside the corporate walls for their hosting needs. The other 75% have their own data centers, or have servers in various closets around the organization (and I mean real closets in some cases). It is not that we don’t want to win the other 25% of the world (we obviously win our fair share of customers there), but the attraction of the rest of the marketplace for SoftLayer is apparent – the opportunity is 3x larger. And that is really exciting.

In 2004, Nicholas Carr authored a book called “Does IT Matter”. One of his central arguments was the notion that IT adoption no longer meant implicit competitive advantage, essentially because IT has become commonplace, standardized and cheaper. I agree with him to a degree, particularly when it comes to larger companies and certain types of IT deployments. For example, there is not much competitive advantage to ERP or HR systems anymore – there are very few larger organizations that don’t have something in place. The same can be said for the Internet or mobile computing – everybody has access, and everybody uses fixed and mobile email. That said, you are dead without either function in place – the lack of adoption is a definite disadvantage. I can only assume that he did not have infrastructure as a service (sounds like IT to me…) in mind when he wrote the book.

I think that there is significant advantage to a relationship with SoftLayer. The difference is that we are taking some IT burden away to give some competitive advantage, versus adding IT burden to deliver an advantage.

What competitive advantage does SoftLayer bestow that is lost when everything is kept within the walls?

  1. Cost. This one is easy. We can deliver at a price point much lower that what you can do internally. This means that resources are available for other things, perhaps product innovation or marketing innovation.
  2. Expertise. Infrastructure is our business. We are better at this than you are. We invest in systems, network and people to make sure this is always the case. Think of less downtime and better security.
  3. Technology. Our ongoing investment in technology and our commitment to innovation means that our customers have access to the cutting edge before most others do. For example, we are already native IPv6 in the network.
  4. Focus. What happens when some of that burden gets shifted externally? It means that the company can focus more of its resources on growing business, versus merely supporting the business.
  5. Automation. If something around here gets done more than twice manually, then it is time to automate. The end result is that we are efficient – no waiting for servers to be racked and stacked. Give us an order and you are up and running in less than four hours. Think of this in terms of speed to market, and speed to scale.

I think you get the point, and I think that the 75% is slowly getting the point too. We deliver a significant competitive advantage by helping to drive your business forward versus delivering as a ‘back office’ that serves to drive costs. We’re waiting for you….

-@lavosby

January 16, 2008

Where Have All the Gurus Gone?

When I was growing up, computers were these wonderful things that sat at the back of the classroom (usually one, or maybe two if the class was lucky). If the school was lucky, there was a "computer lab" where you could have access to the latest and greatest in government approved hardware.

My favorite of the time was the Apple IIe. Our school district had so many of them, they handed 'em out to classrooms (The school district now uses them as very effective door stops). In fact, I got my start with computers by tinkering with a IIe. My first computer experience was hooking up a printer to a IIe, and the wonder of this experience (plug something in, type a command, and print came out!) completely captured me (I was in first grade), and from that moment on I was completely wrapped up in the wonder of computers.

Anyway, I graduated to PC compatibles and DOS. Trying to get a grasp on this computer thing, I got a copy of DOS for Dummies. Near the beginning of the book, they had a paragraph that had some important words of wisdom. While I don't have the book any more, the message is still with me: "This book will teach you the basics of the computer, what you can do, what you can't do, and what you really shouldn't ever do. However, for anything you don't know, contact your local computer guru."

Computer Guru? What is this "Computer Guru"?

According to Wikipedia, Guru means "Teacher, in a religious or spiritual sense." And as luck would have it, I was able to get into contact with Computer Gurus throughout my life. These were the computer equivalents of the small town mechanic: you pull up for some gas and Harvey the mechanic walks around the corner. "Howdy! I heard you pull up. You've got a bit of a timing issue, and I think one of your spark plugs are bad. I can change 'em out in a few minutes, if you like." It's almost like Harvey has a supernatural connection to vehicles. He can hear issues, he can smell problems... he's one with the Motor Vehicle Force.

The same with the Computer Gurus I knew. You walked in and turned on your machine, they'd make a "Hmm" sound (in computer science, "Hmm" is similar to the Indian sacred syllable "Aum" or "Om". It's ritually chanted by a computer guru whilst contemplating your computer's connection to the Universe), type some sacred symbols into the prompt, then tell you the problem and offer to fix it. Most times they would happily fix your computer in exchange for a pizza; sometimes just getting a cup of coffee from the ever present drip dispenser could net you a small fix. And if you were truly interested in computers, you could even ask to become a follower of the Guru. You'd spend your spare time in his or her office, ask meaningful questions about the nature of the Universe, contemplate ancient tomes and user manuals, and take care of the mundane tasks of life (like formatting floppies or installing software) so the Guru could spend their time connecting with his or her latest project (generally spent looking at an arcane flowchart or design document and saying "Hmm" a lot). You knew, one day, with practice and patience, you too could become a Guru, have followers to format your floppies, and say Hmm.

However, the computer industry started changing. User interfaces became simpler, USB made the promise of true plug-and-play a near reality... the command line all but disappeared. Computers stopped being a specialized device and became a commodity. Computers were EVERYWHERE. And there was this belief that computers will become so "user friendly" that there was no need for the long learning process of the Guru.

And for the most part, this has happened. Programs are very user friendly now. There's tons of documentation, and most don't expect you to have a PhD in Computer Science to understand them. Workflows have become "point and click link" instead of "chant this esoteric string into the command prompt".

However, sometimes I really miss my Guru. For example, just this last week, my roommate's computer (which I built) started randomly crashing. There wasn't a specific program that crashed, and it didn't crash at a set time. I knew something was wrong, so I tried to diagnose. 'Course, Vista being user friendly, the computer would automatically reboot, without showing the Bluescreen, except for the subliminal hint of blue to let you know that the computer had crashed. See, blue screens have "Technical Information" (it says so right on the screen!)... and user friendly computers (1) don't crash, and (2) are NOT technical. So I was stuck with a computer that wouldn't run, and a bored Roommate who just realized he has a $1200 paperweight.

As Dr. McCoy would say, "I'm a programmer, not a hardware doctor!" Hardware issues are right outside my realm of experience. I longed for my Guru. I knew how to diagnose; I pulled hardware, changed orders of cards, swapped the memory sticks back and forth... all the standard religious rituals for modern computers. I knew that if I could but approach a Guru, tell him or her my issue, they could give me leads to check. I didn't have the money to buy all new parts at random; I had to work with what I had. I knew I had all the data for a real diagnosis... I simply wasn't able to pick out the error. Working the next day at SoftLayer, I mused about my lack of Guru leadership. At the end of the day, I turned to a coworker and said "Now I get to tinker for a few more hours on this stupid computer. I wish I knew a Computer Guru!"

My coworker smiled and asked what the problem was. I told him and he looked at the ceiling. "Hmm" he said. "Could be a power supply issue. Maybe the power coming out of the supply isn't clean and it's resetting the motherboard." Just then, another coworker walked around the corner.

"What about a power supply?" he asked. The first coworker told him the issue. "Hmm," he said, looking intently at the wall. "I bet it's a RAM issue. I bet your ram is bad. Swap it out with some good RAM and see what happens."

So I went home and crosswired some power supplies. Rebooting the machine, I finally got a bluescreen that crashed itself, locking up the computer and letting me read it. "PAGE_FAULT_IN_NON_PAGED_AREA" "Page Fault?" I thought. "Hmm." My roommate walked in. "What are you doing, meditating? Have you fixed it yet?"

We went to Fry's and bought some new RAM sticks. Going home, I popped 'em in and started the machine. And it worked! It's been running 6 days nonstop. My roommate was really happy. I was finally able to look up the bluescreen message up on the Internet. Sure enough, that specific error almost always pops up when there's bad ram.

So, where have all the Gurus gone? Where else? They all work at SoftLayer! Whenever I've had a software or hardware issue, or an operating system issue, I've found somebody here who knows the issue. They look at the wall, say "Hmm", sip their coffee or Monster (depending on their level of enlightenment), and give me the answer. The guys here are at one with the Network. The DC guys almost seem to be able to FEEL a power issue or a drive problem before it happens. SLales is able to think about your problems and provide a tailor made solution to help. And Development is where all the action takes place; we get to write all the behind the scenes magic.

"You must be some kind of Computer Genius!" shouts my roommate (lucky for me, he's gotten to play some Call of Duty 4, so he's already forgotten the previous week of frustration). "No, not yet." I respond. "I'm working on it, but I'm not a Guru yet."

-Zoey

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