Posts Tagged 'Features'

May 1, 2014

New App Release: SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Today, the SoftLayer development team is launching a new platform accessibility tool for SoftLayer customers who want to easily manage their infrastructure from Windows. We've gotten a great response from the users of SoftLayer Mobile app for Windows Phone, so we turned our attention to creating an app for customers on Windows 8.1: SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1.

With a growing number of users adopting and embracing Windows 8.1 on their PCs, and the Windows Store is becoming a vibrant community of useful apps for those customers. There are more than 145,000 apps on the Windows Store, and that number is expected to increase exponentially following Microsoft’s recent introduction of "Universal Apps for Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1.” With all that goodness and an expanding market, it was imperative for our mobile development team to build an app for customers using Windows 8.1 as their default OS or carrying Windows RT tablets.

Why Windows 8.1?

Our team wants to provide simple, efficient ways for customers to connect to SoftLayer infrastructure and perform any necessary management tasks while on-the-go. Our team is inspired by the power of connected devices in Windows ecosystem. By developing an app for Windows 8.1, we will slowly bring the phone, tablet and PC onto one streamlined platform — a concept many smart devices are adopting quickly.

What’s Fresh?

New Dashboard

The SoftLayer Mobile app for Windows 8.1 is a fresh new approach to its Windows Phone sibling. The app provides a dashboard view after authentication that provides a snapshot of some of the most commonly used information and controls in the portal.

Currently, the dashboard supports four different panels: Tickets, devices, accounting and bandwidth. All display an overview of relevant information for you and your environment. The dashboard also allows you to quickly add a ticket or make a one-time payment on your account.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

In-line Ticket Updates

In the new tickets module, you can update tickets without ever leaving the page. This functionality is similar to what you see on many social websites, and it's integrated to be seamless.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Search Everywhere!

One of the coolest additions to the new app is the introduction of search functionality in each module. Now, you can search a ticket, a device, or an invoice by just typing into the search box! The search capability lets you spend less time scrolling and more time working.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Bandwidth Display

Smart phones have apps that measure and report how much data you are using, and your infrastructure should be similarly transparent Bandwidth usage is an important aspect of server management, so we built the bandwidth module to show your infrastructure's public and private traffic for current and previous billing cycles. This view also helps you see when a server is about to reach its limits so that you can plan accordingly.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

The module provides two ways to look at the data:

  • In a tabular form by clicking the “Show/Hide Traffic Details” button.
  • In a graphic representation by clicking the “View Graph” button.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

Same Functionality. Better Experience.

Sometimes change is not always needed for a nicely crafted feature. The new app keeps the same feature richness of the Windows Phone app and arranges it in a user-friendly way. For example, in the devices module, you can navigate to between different tabs to get the information you need, from password lists and attached tickets to a specific device or monitoring alarms.

The “Remote Control” section on the module allows you to perform actions such as rebooting, power cycles, restarts and pinging servers. In addition, you can view hardware and software installed on the device along with the hardware and network components attached. In the current phone version, you can only see the root password for the device, but in the Windows 8.1 app, you see all passwords for the server.

SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

What's Next?

During the development of this app, the team's goal was to test to adopt a framework that would be ideal for scaling. More and more developers are adopting a Model-View-Model (MVVM) approach to mobile and web app development, so our goal was to use that approach for this project. The significant challenge we faced when adopting this approach was finding a well-supported framework that met our application's needs. We weren't able to find suitable frameworks that committed regular updates in SDKs or in APIs, so we ended up using the same MVVM principles without any underlying framework. In the end, the project allowed us to create our own framework for future projects!

There are many exciting features that are lined up for the Windows 8.1 app. Download it now: SoftLayer Mobile for Windows 8.1

After you try it out, please submit your feedback ... We want to keep improving the app by providing the features and functionality that matter most to you.

-Imran

January 31, 2013

ActiveCampaign: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome Peter Evans from ActiveCampaign. ActiveCampaign is a complete email marketing and marketing automation platform designed to help small businesses grow.

The Challenge of Sending Email Simply

You need to send email. Usually, that's a pretty simple task, so it's not uncommon to find users who think that sending a monthly newsletter is more or less the same task as sending a quick note to a friend about going to see a movie. In fact, those two email use-cases are completely different animals. With all of the nuances inherent in sending and managing large volumes of email, a plethora of email marketing services are positioned to help users better navigate the email marketing waters. It's tough to differentiate which features you might need and which features are just there to be a "Check" in a comparison checklist. ActiveCampaign set out to make the decision-making process simpler ... We knew that we needed the standard features like auto-responder campaigns, metrics reports and email templates, but we also knew we had to differentiate our service in a meaningful way. So we focused on automation.

Too often, the "automation" provided by a platform can be very cumbersome to set up (if it's available at all), and when it's actually working, there's little confirmation that actions are being performed as expected. In response, we were intentional about ActiveCampaign's automation features being easy to set up and manage ... If automation saves time and money, it shouldn't be intimidatingly difficult to incorporate into your campaigns. Here is a screenshot of what it takes to incorporate automation in your email campaigns with ActiveCampaign:

ActiveCampaign Screenshot

No complicated logic. No unnecessary options. With a only a few clicks, you can select an action to spark a meaningful response in your system. If a subscriber in your Newsletter list clicks on a link, you might want to move that subscriber to a different list. Because you might want to send a different campaign to that user as well, we provide the ability to add multiple automated actions for each subscriber action, and it's all very clear.

One of the subscriber actions that might stand out to you if you've used other email service providers (or ESPs) is the "When subscriber replies to a campaign" bullet. ActiveCampaign is the first ESP (that we're aware of) to provide users the option to send a series of follow-up campaigns (or to restrict the sending of future campaigns) to subscribers who reply to a campaign email. Replies are tracked in your campaign reports, and you have deep visibility into how many people replied, who replied, and how many times they replied. With that information, you can segment those subscribers and create automated actions for them, and the end result is that you're connecting with your subscriber base much more effectively because you're able to target them better ... And you don't have to break your back to do it.

SoftLayer customers know how valuable automation can be in terms of infrastructure, so it should be no surprise that email marketing campaigns can benefit so much from automation as well. Lots of ESPs provide stats, and it's up to you to figure out meaningful ways to use that information. ActiveCampaign goes a step beyond those other providers by helping you very simply engage your subscribers with relevant and intentional actions. If you're interested in learning more, check us out at http://www.activecampaign.com.

-Peter Evans, ActiveCampaign

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.
November 29, 2011

SoftLayer Mobile v. 1.1 on Windows Phone: New Features

I was on a Caribbean cruise during the second week of November, and I kept telling myself that the first thing I needed to taste was a delicious mango. Even though I knew it's out of season, I still had hopes. I had a chance to indulge in that tropical fruit, and I couldn't help but think about a mango that gets tastier with every day: the new Windows Phone OS 7.1, codenamed "Mango."

I'm not going to talk about Mango or its new sensational features, but I do want to share a few of the changes that we pushed out to the Windows Phone Marketplace as a version 1.1 of SoftLayer Mobile. While I could ramble for pages about all of the updates and our strategy in building out and improving the mobile platform, but I'll try to be brief and only share four of the biggest new features the team included in this release.

Verisign Authentication
The first update you'll notice when you fire up SoftLayer Mobile 1.1 on Windows Phone is the security-rich inclusion of VeriSign authentication. You are able to activate an additional layer of security by requiring that users confirm their identity with a trusted third party tool before they get access to your account. In this case, the third party vendor is VeriSign. Every customer looking to bake in additional security on their account will appreciate this addition.

SoftLayer Mobile WP

VeriSign authentication in SoftLayer Mobile on WP7

Device-Based Bandwidth
The next big addition to this Windows Phone app release is the inclusion of device-based bandwidth for two billing cycles – your current cycle and the previous cycle. In v. 1.0 of SoftLayer Mobile, users were only able to see bandwidth data for the current billing cycle ... It's useful, but you don't have a frame of reference immediately available. This release provides that frame of reference. One of the coolest parts is the aesthetically pleasing presentation: our metro-style container, "pivot control." Just slide through and see your billing cycles in one long view!

SoftLayer Mobile WP

Billing cycle view along with a button to view graph for that cycle

Bandwidth Graphs
If you didn't notice from the picture, its caption or the heading of this section, the next big update is the inclusion of bandwidth graphs! The bandwidth graph page gives you a bird's eye view of your bandwidth activity for any selected billing cycle. You'll see the max "Inbound," "Outbound" and "Total" values. Those different marks are very useful if you're tracking which days your device uses the most bandwidth and when those surges subside. The application uses the built-in charting functionality that comes with Silverlight libraries. Since we're taking advantage of those goodies, you can bet it looks beautiful. No, it's not a bitmap image ... it's a real bandwidth chart. As with the other bandwidth update, the graphs are available for both the current and the previous billing cycle.

SoftLayer Mobile WP

Bandwidth chart for a previous billing cycle

Ticket Updates
The next addition to the family is a new way to visually distinguish your unread updates on tickets while viewing a ticket list page. The "toast" notification for the ticket list view gives flags unread ticket updates, and the ticket list will feature bold text on the ticket's subject if that ticket is marked with an "unread update" *ndash; meaning an employee or someone has an update to that ticket which you haven't seen yet. This is very much Outlook-y style and very native to Windows Phone.

SoftLayer Mobile WP

Toast notification along with Outlook-style unread ticket

What's Next?
With this release, we're not resting on our laurels, so what are we doing in our labs? Right now we're working on OS migration to move our existing app from OS 7.0 to the new Mango-flavored Windows Phone 7 version I mentioned a little earlier. Now you see why I was so fixated on mangoes while I was on vacation. The migrated mango app will only be available to devices that are mango-licious (Upgraded to 7.1).

Stay tuned, and you'll see some of the other new features we're working on very soon. If you have a Windows Phone, you need to download SoftLayer Mobile, rate it and give us your feedback!

-Imran

November 1, 2011

SoftLayer on the iPad

Shortly after we began implementing the SoftLayer Mobile application for the iPhone and Android, Apple released the iPad. With our development resources limited, we focused on adding the functionality our customers required to the iPhone application with only a few small features added to support the new device.

As we became more familiar with the iPad, we started seeing a few key areas where SoftLayer Mobile could benefit from the large format iPad user interface. We've been able to incorporate a phenomenal feature set in the SoftLayer Mobile application, and as our desired feature set has become more and more complete, we've gotten a bit of breathing room from our iPhone releases. We used that breathing room to re-visit the iPad and what it could mean for the SoftLayer Mobile customer experience on a tablet. The result of that investigation is the SoftLayer Mobile HD application:

SL HD

As you might expect, SoftLayer Mobile HD shares quite a bit of functionality with its iPhone sibling. The application offers a window into your SoftLayer environment so that you can browse, create and edit support tickets; discover information about computing resources and bandwidth; and keep up-to-date on the latest notifications from our data centers. The iPad application also helps you keep track of financial information by allowing you to browse your account and its invoices. All this functionality benefits from the intuitive interface of the iPad. You have more room to browse, more room to edit, and fewer screens to navigate as you manage and explore your virtual SoftLayer data center.

SL HD

SL HD

Best of all: The application is only in its first release, and already shows great promise! We have plenty of room to grow and tons of ideas about the next features and functions we want to add. If you're iPad-equipped, get the SoftLayer Mobile HD application in the iTunes App Store. When you're navigating through the interface, take note of anything you'd like to see us change or add, and let us know!

-Scott

October 27, 2011

SoftLayer Features and Benefits - Data Centers

When we last talked, I broke down the differences between features and benefits. To recap: a feature is something prominent about a person, place or thing, while a benefit is a feature that is useful to you. In that blog, I discussed our customer portal and the automation within, so with this next installment, let's move into my favorite place: the data center ... Our pride and joy!

If you have not had a chance to visit a SoftLayer data center, you're missing out. The number one response I get when I begin a tour through any of our facilities is, "I have been through several data centers before, and they're pretty boring," or my favorite, "We don't have to go in, they all look the same." Then they get a glimpse at the SoftLayer facility through the window in our lobby:

Data Center Window

What makes a SoftLayer DC so different and unique?

We deploy data centers in a pod concept. A pod, or server room, is a designed to be an identical installation of balanced power, cooling and redundant best-in-class equipment in under 10,000 square feet. It will support just about 5,000 dedicated servers, and each pod is built to the same specifications as every other pod. We use the same hardware vendor for servers, the majority of our internal network is powered by Cisco gear and edge equipment is now powered by Juniper. Even the paint on the walls matches up from pod to pod, city to city and now country to country. That's standardization!

That all sounds great, but what does that mean for you? How do all these things benefit you as the end user?

First of all, setting standards improves our efficiency in support and operations. We can pluck any of our technicians in DAL05 and drop him into SJC01, and he'll feel right at home despite the outside world looking a bit different. No facility quirks, no learning curve. In fact, the Go Live Crews in Singapore and Amsterdam are all experienced SoftLayer technicians from our US facilities, so they help us make sure all of the details are exactly alike.

Beyond the support aspect, having data centers in multiple cities around the world is a benefit within itself: You have the option to host your solution as close or as far away from you as you wish. Taking that a step further, disaster recovery becomes much easier with our unique network-within-a-network topology.

The third biggest benefit customers get from SoftLayer's data centers is the quality of the server chassis. Because we standardize our SuperMicro chassis in every facility, we're able to troubleshoot and resolve issues faster when a customer contacts us. Let's say the mainboard is having a problem, and your Linux server is in kernel panic. Instead of taking time to try and fix the part, I can hot-swap all the drives into an identical chassis and use the portal to automatically move all of your IP addresses and network configurations to a new location in the DC. The server boots right up and is back in service with minimal downtime.

Try to do that with "similar" hardware (not "identical"), and see where that gets you.

The last obvious customer benefit we'll talk about here is the data center's internal network performance. Powered by Cisco internal switches and Juniper routers on the edge, we can provide unmatched bandwidth capacity to our data centers as well as low latency links between servers. In one rack on the data center floor, you can see 80Gbps of bandwidth. Our automated, high-speed network allows us to provision a server anywhere in a pod and an additional server anywhere else in the same pod, and they will perform as if they are sitting right next to each other. That means you don't need to reserve space in the same rack for a server that you think you'll need in the future, so when your business grows, your infrastructure can grow seamlessly with you.

In the last installment of this little "SoftLayer Features and Benefits" series, we'll talk about the global network and learn why no one in the industry can match it.

-Harold

September 13, 2011

SoftLayer Features and Benefits - Automation

Features and benefits ... They're like husband and wife, horse and carriage, hammer and nails! They are inseparable and will always complement each other. I wanted to jump right into a key "features and benefits" analysis of one of the value propositions of the SoftLayer platform, but before I did, I want to make sure we are all on the same page about the difference between the two.

A feature is something prominent about a person, place or thing. It's usually something that stands out and makes whatever you're talking about stand out — for the purpose of this discussion it will be, at least. It could be something as simple as the new car you're buying having a front windshield or the house you're looking to buy having a garage. Maybe it's something a little more distinct like having your car's air conditioner stay cool and blow for 15 min after the ignition is switched to the ACC position when you turn your engine off while pumping gas. Maybe your house has a tank-less water heater. These examples are indeed real features, but the first two are more or less expected ... The last two make this particular car and this particular house stand out.

So where do the benefits come in? Benefits are features that are useful or profitable to you. With you being the operative word here. Think about it: If a feature does not provide any use to you, why would you care? Let's go back to the car with its unique A/C feature. What if you live in Greenland? Who cares that the A/C will stay on? You may not even care for the feature of having an air conditioner at all! Talk about that feature in Dallas, TX, where it has been over 100 degrees for the last 2 months and counting, and all of a sudden, this feature provides a real benefit!

It's now your cue to ask how all of this relates to hosting or, more specifically, SoftLayer.

{ ... Waiting for you to ask ... }

I am glad you asked! If you haven't noticed, SoftLayer boasts a wide array of features on our website, and I would like to point out some of the benefits that may not be apparent to everyone, starting with automation. You're probably aware that SoftLayer has one of the most robust and full featured automation platforms in the industry.

Automation

Think about the last time your IT director sent an email that went into your junk mail folder ... You happen to see it on Sunday night, and it reads, "Please stand up five test servers for a new project by the Monday morning meeting." You know that the vendors you typically use take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to stand up new servers, so you wouldn't have had a problem if you saw the email a week ago when it was sent — but you didn't. So to avoid getting a smudge on your perfect employee record, you stumble across softlayer.com where automation enables us to deliver your five servers in 2 hours. Talk about a benefit: You still have time to watch a little TV before going to bed ... Five servers, to your exact specifications, all deployed before you could Google the orgin of "rubber baby buggy bumbers." (For those who care, it was a tag line said by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Last Action Hero.)

At the heart of our automation platform lives the dedicated server, and the blood that courses though our network is the API. All that's left is the pretty face (which we call the Customer Portal). Our portal provides a graphical user interface to control every aspect of your account from ordering new servers, IP allocations and hardware reboots to port control, port speed selection and billing matters. If you're more into the behind-the-scenes stuff, then you can use all the same controls from the comfort of your own application via the API. Sounds like a lot of features to me, where are the benefits?

To start, you have options! Who doesn't like options? You get to choose how you want to manage your account and infrastructure. We don't force you into "our" way. Secondly, being able to do most functions yourself enables you to be more efficient. You know what you want, so you can log in and get it. No need to wait two hours for your firewall rule set to update; just log in and change it. You want to add load balancing to your account? Log in and order it! How about SAN replication? ... I think you see where I'm going with this. Our portal and automation bring this control to your computer anywhere in the world! Some of these features even extend to your iPhone and android platform. Now you can update your support tickets while at the park with the kids.

Look for a second installment of our study on SoftLayer Features and Benefits! There are many more features that I want to translate into benefits for you, so in the more familiar words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back"!

-Harold

February 8, 2010

Droid Power!

After purchasing my new Droid phone, I started to dive further into its uses. I initially liked the open source operating system (Google’s Android OS) and the features available. Now I have found that I can do almost anything with this ‘pocket computer’, from work to play.

I’m sure the iPhone fans are saying ‘yeah my phone does that’, but I didn’t buy an iPhone for a reason. I can do all the regular stuff, find a restaurant or movie without even opening Google. I can play games, update facebook, take pictures and post them online or email, etc. etc. etc.

Can you talk to your phone? Let’s say I need to find a product for my home computer:

Me: Droid, locate ‘firewire card Dallas’.

Droid: Micro Warehouse, Phone Number, Address – Would you like to call? Do you need driving directions with GPS tracking?

Me: Dial for me please. ‘Do you guys carry firewire cards for…..blahblah.’

When I get into the store, the guy doesn’t know if the firewire card has windows 7 drivers. Hmm… Droid scans the barcode and takes me to the manufacturer’s product page where I can see that drivers are downloadable. Thanks Droid!

I can connect to a VPN, RDP to my workstation or SSH to my server! I can write text messages with my voice, read emails while talking on the phone, even translate by voice into other languages (never getting lost in Spain again)! I still have so much to learn about the abilities of this device, but it does point to our ‘futuristic’ intentions in having a computer in our palm that allows us to interact with the world.

Oops, did I forget to turn off the coffee pot at home? ‘Droid….?’ I don’t think they are on speaking terms yet. I’ll have to get the coffee maker control application. Droid says no results…

Categories: 
December 1, 2008

Customer Education

If you read through some of the previous blogs on this site such as our CEO’s “SoftLayer Thinks ‘Outside the Box’” or the blog written by one of our super developers, Mr McAloon, entitled “Simplicity”, or Mr Rushe’s “An Interview with an elevator” (OK – that has nothing to do with what I’m referring to, but it’s one of the funniest blogs on this site), one thing you’ll notice is that at SoftLayer, we try to automate and simplify things for the customer. Our customer portal has a LOT of customer features. There are automated OS reloads, the ability to boot into a rescue kernel, the capability to add IP addresses on demand, add and configure a firewall or a local or global load balancer, the ability to edit your DNS settings (forward or reverse) and – my favorite – the ability to reboot your server via IPMI or the power strip. You can also manage your CDN services, monitor your NAS or iSCSI storage, configure backups, use the free KVM services, check your bandwidth and of course, handle all of the usual things like opening support tickets or checking your invoice. Or, if you want to integrate any or all of those features into your own management system, there is a full API available for your use.

With all of that functionality in the portal, one of the challenges we continuously run into is educating new customers on all of the features. Not just educating them on how to use the features – but that the features actually exist in the customer portal. A lot of our customers are either new to On-Demand IT Infrastructure Services (aka the hosting environment) or come from other competitors that only offer a fraction of the features that we are able to provide. For instance, you would be amazed at how many customers open “reboot” tickets. While we respond to tickets quickly, it is actually faster for the customer to click on the “reboot” button in the portal than to click on the “create new ticket” link in the portal and then type out a reboot request.

As ways to address that issue, we created a private customer forum so that customers can share ideas, comments and suggestions with each other. We have also not only created the KnowledgeLayer FAQ database, but we have integrated that directly into the support ticket feature of the portal (when you open a ticket, the FAQ system will automatically recommend related fixes before you even submit the ticket). We also have tutorials directly linked inside the portal and even have all of our API documentation available for review.

So one of the challenges we have at SoftLayer isn’t just creating and deploying the new features and services that keep us out in front of the pack, but educating our customers of their existence and their ease of use. BTW, that’s a great problem to have!

-SamF

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