Posts Tagged 'Fun Facts'

December 8, 2010

Cultural Leanings

Culture is important. It is important to individuals, to countries and to companies. Sometimes a culture is nuanced and difficult to get your arms around; sometimes it is in your face leaving you no doubt. Think of Joni Mitchell and Slayer. Nuance versus a ball peen hammer to the forebrain.

Over the past 18 years, I have worked for a number of companies in a number of geographies. I have spent time in smaller, ego-driven companies and time in large organizations that have years of cultural baggage to weigh them down. I have worked in Japan, the UK, France, Spain, and Germany where country specific nuance has a great impact on company culture. In all of that time, across all of those geographies, I have not come across a corporate culture as strong as SoftLayer’s.

When newly minted SoftLayer employees arrived at the Alpha facility, it was a curious thing to observe because (being relatively new, myself) I could not tell the difference between old and new employees. Everyone was decked out in the unofficial SoftLayer uniform – a black SoftLayer shirt and jeans. On the official move in day, a tattoo artist was on site to ink people. In the two days he was there 15 people were tattooed, including a couple of people who did not work at SL, but were married to someone who did.

The proviso was that each tattoo had to be SoftLayer related. I am still awed by this – I have never seen this before. I cannot remember anyone from anyplace else that I worked making the suggestion, never mind actually going through with it. And if I think about it for a second, no one would have done it even though we all professed pride in the company and what it represented. Either we BELIEVE in where SoftLayer is going, and are proud to be a part of it, or we are all a little off-center, crazy even.

Think of it in terms of chickens and pigs – a chicken is involved in the breakfast process. The pig is committed. We are committed to making SoftLayer succeed.

The guy who applied the ink is now the official SoftLayer tattoo artist. He will be back and I suspect that he will have a line up as long as he had previously; perhaps longer given we now have 13 souls who wear the battle scars resultant from conversations with wives and girlfriends to explain what was done. Those who sit in the chair next will have the benefit of lessons learned from those conversations – they would be better prepared to successfully navigate them.


August 4, 2010

All in the Family

Any place you spend hours upon hours every week, you tend to get to know people pretty well. During my time on my shift, I’ve gotten to know my fellow SLayers quite well. You learn their favorite foods (I’ll tell you right away what almost everyone on my shift orders from our favorite Chinese deliver place – almost like clockwork), their choices in music, their favorite computer games (yes, WoW tops this list, seemingly a standard in the IT Industry), and even how they react in certain situations. While the operations team is a tight knit group, we also have our extended families in SLales, InfoSys, Dev, and the other departments.

As many know, they recently opened up our new HQ. Yes, it’s as awesome as every has said it is. Lance made it a point to acquire a Sonic-style ice machine, our facilities are state of the art, and the building is just simply awe-inspiring. I suppose you could consider it our new home. As a new home, we’ve recently brought all of our departments together under one roof. Operations can grab a quick break with SLales, Dev can bounce some questions off of the CSAs or SBEs simply by walking a few feet, and even better, the friendly trash talking and joking just got easier (we’re a family, of course we’re going to mess with each other every chance we get!).

I’m sure employees everywhere are akin to this metaphor, but here it seems to ring true. We have our family quarrels, we know each other like the backs of our hands, and when things get heavy, we’re there to watch each others’ backs to ensure the mission is accomplished, and we continue to dominate the hosting industry.

August 2, 2010


So here I am at the new “SoftLayer Global HQ” on Alpha Road in Dallas that we moved into last Monday, July 12th. We had a very warm welcome; our landlords catered bagels, pastries, and fruit for breakfast that day, and they also provided Maggiano’s for lunch (I’m still in need of lasagna detox).

Another thing that was (and still is, and will unfortunately be for a while) warm is the weather outside. Blisteringly hot, actually. Also, our new office space is huge compared to the one we just moved from. Being the only residents in our building, we have lots of room for growth (and we will definitely grow). As a result, most of the departments that were nestled right in next to each other at the “horseshoe” location in Plano are now isolated from each other and separated by light-years of deep space (the ridiculously huge spaces between galaxies) in the name of room for future growth. If I were a scientist, I would probably now make up some cool, true analogy derived from real data for someone to understand how vast deep space is, (you know, like saying the Earth and the Sun’s relative sizes are like a pea and a soccer ball or something like that), but I’m not a scientist; I’m a summer intern who classifies transactions all day, so I’ll just read Wikipedia and then say that it’s just huge and that there’s nothing there except random bits of energy and this theoretical weird stuff called “dark” matter and “dark” energy. Stuff like that is what’s separating the Accounting department from certain amenities such as the front door, the main café…oh, and our CFO and VP. But who cares about them, because it’s not like we work for them or anything.

Trivia question! What is uncomfortable about deep space? It’s really, really, really, incredibly cold. You pretty much don’t want to go there, at all, ever. I don’t care how cold the DC and Seattle guys say it is where they live compared to Dallas; compared to deep space, even Siberia would feel like Death Valley. What’s the temperature? Infinitesimally close to absolute zero. What is absolute zero? It’s the lowest temperature theorized to exist, and while no one has ever measured something with this temperature because it’s nearly impossible to do so, it’s highly likely that this theory is true. What is the scientific definition of temperature? Temperature is just the measurement of the effect of thermal energy (heat) on the movement of matter. Heat gives things kinetic energy (which makes them move), and we measure the average kinetic energy of a set of particles and call that the temperature. Imagine particles of matter as zillions of microscopic foam balls in a large pot. If the pot is held still or nearly still (a low temperature), it appears as a solid. As more heat is present, the pot shakes more and more, and if there were zillions of microscopic balls, at a certain temperature it would appear to you that there was a liquid in the pot rather than a solid because the heat was giving the particles more kinetic energy to the point where they were moving so much they began to flow like a liquid (melting). And if it shook so much that the balls flew out of the pot, it would appear as a gas. Absolute zero is the theoretical temperature where there is a complete absence of thermal energy (a completely still pot). Well, you know about the Celsius scale, right? Water freezes at zero and boils at one hundred degrees Celsius. In 1848 a scientist named William Thomson, however better known as Lord Kelvin, got lazy (or innovative, who knows) and made up a new scale where absolute zero, was, in fact, zero. Absolute zero is located at about negative 273 degrees Celsius, or zero Kelvins. So deep space is cold and dark.

Now that I’m done rambling, what do deep space (which as established above, is cold and dark) and SoftLayer have in common? Both! Apparently the warm temperatures outside were slightly winning in the battle against the air conditioners on Monday (just a simple calibration issue), so a few people in my sector of the galaxy politely requested a slight temperature adjustment to cool down the office just a tiny bit. The result was an Antarctic chill of biblical proportions that plummeted the office temperature close to that of absolute zero. I’m not kidding. I’m now sitting in my cube typing this blog extremely slowly, because as I explained earlier, you can’t exactly move very well at deep space temperatures. I’m dreaming of a pair of astronaut gloves while wearing a sweater I found in my car that I had during the winter. So that’s the cold part. Well, for the dark part, among other slight issues that can be expected upon a new office location that is still not completely finished, we encountered one that prevented Bryan Chamberlain (my boss) from having lights in his office. Apparently the motion sensor that turns them on is not communicating with the power grid, and so a new part has to be ordered and replaced during off-hours. Congratulations, Bryan, you now have two things in common with interstellar space. However the moral of the story is, cold places are great for housing heat-producing servers.

And Wikipedia makes me sound really smart.

June 22, 2010

Fajitas, Chicken Wings, and Cloud Computing

Three of Lance Crosby’s favorite things are fajitas, chicken wings, and cloud computing. Believe it or not, there is a common thread between all three. See if you can figure it out.

First, let’s consider fajitas. What are they? Well, the only true fajita is beef outside skirt steak. Everything else is just grilled meat that you stuff in a tortilla. For many years, the outside skirt steak was a “throwaway” cut often given to vaqueros as part of their pay <> . I know a man who grew up in a family of migrant farm workers, and in his youth they would visit slaughterhouses to ask for free throwaway cuts. They often got fajitas.

Back in the ‘80s, the retail price of fajitas skyrocketed. Tex-mex restaurants suddenly made that cut of meat popular. Then, in 1988, a treaty with Japan allowed the Japanese to import American outside skirt steak without the usual 200% tariff. Thus, 90% of our outside skirt steak winds up in Japan. Bottom line, a previously unutilized throwaway cut of meat became a gold mine and boosted the utilization of a side of beef. Consequently, when you order fajitas today, you usually get some sort of substitute beef <> , not true outside skirt steak.

Next, think about the lowly chicken wing. I just saw an ad for a local chicken wing place offering their “boneless” chicken wings for a special low price. These aren’t really wings. They are pure white tender boneless chicken breast strips – what you would think is the premium cut of a chicken. The fine print on the ad says that bone-in wings may NOT be substituted for this promotion. Huh? You can’t sub a worse cut of meat that’s mostly bone for a premium cut that’s all meat and no bone?

As it turns out, the demand for the formerly throwaway cut of chicken wings has driven up their price such that boneless breast strips yield a higher profit margin <> than the bony wings. Once again, a formerly thrown away item becomes a gold mine and allows for higher utilization of the whole bird.

Finally, let’s add in cloud computing to this puzzle. When dedicated servers are used, they each often perform a single task, whether it’s an email server, a web server, an application server, a database server, etc. Such servers frequently have a resource utilization rate of less than 20%, which means that 80% of the server’s processing power is thrown away.

Enter cloud computing. When done correctly, cloud computing increases the utilization rate of each individual server and turns the formerly thrown away processing power into a gold mine. This allows for more efficient capital investments and a higher return on assets.

So what’s the common thread between fajitas, chicken wings, and cloud computing? You’ve probably already figured it out. All three have taken something that previously was almost worthless and thrown away and turned it into something valuable and highly demanded by boosting utilization.

SoftLayer plans to take this to another level later this year when we release BYOC – Build Your Own CloudTM. You’ll then be able to tailor your processing power to exactly what you need. Just select the amount of RAM, number of processors, storage space, an operating system, select hourly or monthly billing, and go. You don’t pay for resources you don’t need or use, and we have less unused processing capacity in our datacenters. It’s a win-win for our customers, our company, and the environment since power and real estate will be used more efficiently.

June 15, 2010

How do you earn your keep?

Years ago, while I was in the Marines, I had a bit of a mentor who taught me quite a few things – not only about my duties as a communicator, but also interesting little factoids, and theorems of his. One of those I took to heart, and refer to quite often. He surmised that there were three types of ways to earn an income, a job, a career, and a profession. Allow me to clarify:

A job is simply something you do to bring in some cash. Whether you’re mowing lawns, flipping burgers, or fixing computers – it’s not necessarily your dream, but it pays the bills.

A career is something that you invest time into. It becomes a part of your identity. Over time your skills improve and you can continue to move up the ladder.

A profession is the next step up from a career. A professional is one who not only invests his time at work, but they take their personal time to learn their trade – not just the tricks of the trade, but the whole darn thing. Professional burger flippers become master chefs, professional lawn mowers become expert landscapers, and professional computer fixers become SoftLayer Technicians! Many of the technicians here host their own websites, utilize their own time and resources to learn more about their trade, or they tweak, hack, and play with computers as a hobby. Being a professional is an integral part of your identity. Professionals take pride in their trade, and often identify themselves by this trade (ie, “I’m an IT Professional”, or “I’m a Chef at a five star restaurant).

I would like to consider myself a professional. I spend countless hours of my free time in pursuit of a college degree and enjoy learning new things about various operating systems, and always like to help others who are less intuitive with computers out as well. While I’m by no means the “super-tech”, I certainly strive to do so, much like those who surround me every day here in the NOC.

May 5, 2010


I am just curious how many ways we use the word network and how many different meanings it has. If you think about it we use it in many ways. The word was first seen in the 1500’s and related to knitting and weaving silk like a net and then in the 1600’s it refers to reticulate structures in animals and plants. In the 1800’s it is used to refer to rivers, canals, railways, and a distribution of electrical cables. In 1914 it is used to describe a wireless broadcasting system. Yep, I said 1914 and wireless in the same sentence (think Radio). Read more here.

As you can see the word has the possibility for quite a few meanings. We use the word today for quite a few things. We do this with other words in the English language as well. Here are a couple of my favorites.

“They’re over there talking about their cars.” And “He should sell those sails while they are on sale.”

The English language can be very tricky because the same words can have different meaning or different words can sound the same when spoken. Here is my best attempt at a network sentence.

“I was on my wireless network, networking with some of my in-network physicians while watching my favorite network TV show.” Um, could I get some help diagramming this sentence over here?

According to Google Webmaster tools SoftLayer uses the word Network 1916 times on our entire site. The only other word we use more is of course the word SoftLayer (because we like our name I assume!) and it has a total of 7235. I think you will see in the coming months that these two numbers will get closer together as we have just rolled out our new network.

You can read all about it here and if you like what you see then please click our “Like” button in the upper right corner of the page. Here are a few of the fun details:

  • 1,000 Gbps of connectivity between 3 data centers and 7 points of presence – It makes a great network that looks like a net!
  • Increased number of transit providers and peers - more control, lower latency, improved routes - PING times will improve.
  • VPN Access to all PoPs – reduces latency between you and our network.
  • Enterprise Grade DNS located in all 10 PoPs – this will improve d performance and help with DDOS mitigation.
  • Direct Connections to PoPs – Get a Metro WAN direct to SoftLayer private network.

Keep looking for more new announcements in the coming weeks. I would make a checklist but it would be very long and would take too much of my time to manage!

April 12, 2010

How Much Is a Trillion?

Since the budget surpluses of the seemingly long ago Clinton administration have vanished, the government as managed by both major political parties has been on a spending spree. These folks have been throwing down trillions like rappers throw down Benjamins!
Speaking of Benjamins, how big is a pile of a trillion dollars made up of Benjamins? Click here for a quick look.
I did something yesterday that gave me a whole new view of how large of a number a trillion really is. I work with some big spreadsheets of data that I query from our database systems here at work. Using Excel 2007, I can analyze worksheets that are a million records long. So I needed to use the VLOOKUP function in Excel to grab a field of data in one worksheet of a million records and move it into another worksheet of a million records. I run these types of jobs on a server (not my desktop machine) and this process brought my server to its knees.
This particular VLOOKUP job involved a trillion comparisons. For each of the million rows in worksheet #1, it had to search a specified range of one million fields in spreadsheet #2, find the exact match, and bring a specific field of data back into spreadsheet #1. A million rows searching a million fields = 1,000,000 x 1,000,000. And a million times a million equals a trillion.
Now, my server is not a wimpy machine. It has Nehalem processors with 16 total processing cores running at 2.93 GHz. It doesn’t have a stupendous amount of RAM because Excel can only use just so much RAM. But many functions in Excel such as VLOOKUP can utilize all the processing cores you can throw at them.
So when I hit the return key at 5:12 PM yesterday to kick off this VLOOKUP, I noticed that it was taking a while. So I went to Task Manager and I saw that all 16 cores were maxed out at 100% utilization. All sixteen cores remained maxed out until 5:47 PM at which time the job finished successfully.
So, for all the techies out there, that’s your representation of how big a trillion really is. It takes 16 processing cores running at 2.93 GHz each maxed out for 35 straight minutes to run a VLOOKUP involving a trillion comparisons.

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!

September 23, 2009

Who Are Our Customers?

When talking to a wide variety of outsiders about SoftLayer, one question inevitably comes up. “Who are your customers?” It always takes a bit of explaining – it’s a bit like asking the power company the same question. In the power company’s case, the answer is “anyone who needs electricity.” SoftLayer’s customers run the gamut. There is no one particular industry vertical that dominates our customer base. Pretty much anyone who needs dependable, robust, hosted IT services is our customer, or potential customer.

Now, if we look outside of the silos of industry verticals, there is one type of customer that stands out more than others. That is the entrepreneurial small business. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the engine of economic growth, and thus I need to keep up with what is going on with things that affect small businesses.

So I ran across a study worth passing along via a blog post. It is produced by Kauffman: The Foundation of Entrepreneurship and is entitled “The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation.” It contains some valuable insights into some traits of the majority of our customers. These traits below are taken straight from the report:

Company founders tend to be middle-aged and well-educated, and did better in high school than in college

  • The average and median age of company founders
    in our sample when they started their current
    companies was 40. (This is consistent with our
    previous research, which found the average and
    median age of technology company founders to
    be 39).
  • 95.1 percent of respondents themselves had earned
    bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent had more
    advanced degrees.

These entrepreneurs tend to come from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds, and were better educated and more entrepreneurial than their parents

  • 71.5 percent of respondents came from middle-class
    backgrounds (34.6 percent upper-middle class and
    36.9 percent lower-middle class). Additionally, 21.8
    percent said they came from upper-lower-class
    families (blue-collar workers in some form of
    manual labor).
  • Less than 1 percent came from extremely rich or
    extremely poor backgrounds

Most entrepreneurs are married and have children

  • 69.9 percent of respondents indicated they were
    married when they launched their first business. An
    additional 5.2 percent were divorced, separated, or
  • 59.7 percent of respondents indicated they had at
    least one child when they launched their first
    business, and 43.5 percent had two or more

Early interest and propensity to start companies

  • Of the 24.5 percent who indicated that they were
    “extremely interested” in becoming entrepreneurs
    during college, 47.1 percent went on to start more
    than two companies (as compared to 32.9 percent
    of the overall sample).
  • The majority of the entrepreneurs in our sample
    were serial entrepreneurs. The average number of
    businesses launched by respondents was
    approximately 2.3; 41.4 percent were starting their
    first businesses.

Motivations for becoming entrepreneurs: building wealth, owning a company, startup culture, and capitalizing on a business idea

  • 74.8 percent of respondents indicated desire to
    build wealth as an important motivation in
    becoming an entrepreneur. This factor was rated as
    important by 82.1 percent of respondents who
    grew up in “lower-upper-class” families.
  • 68.1 percent of respondents indicated that
    capitalizing on a business idea was an important
    motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
  • 66.2 percent said the appeal of a startup culture
    was an important motivation.
  • 60.3 percent said that working for others did not
    appeal to them. Responses to this question were
    relatively evenly distributed in a rough bell curve,
    with 16 percent of respondents citing this as an
    extremely important factor and 16.8 percent of
    respondents citing it as not at all a factor.

Not only do the traits above describe a big chunk of SoftLayer’s customers – they also describe the people of SoftLayer.

If you are an entrepreneurial small business and you need a hosted IT service provider who understands your needs, you will find a likeminded partner in SoftLayer. Many of the small businesses who joined with us two or three years ago aren’t so small anymore, and that’s fine! When our customers succeed, we succeed. We get that.

February 15, 2008

Ordering Lunch - How Hard Can it Be?

Every so often on a slammed sale days, I offer to pay for lunch for the sales team to keep everyone at their desks focused on sales rather than worrying about food. Other times, a very nice customer might offer to pay for lunch one day for the sales team. Regardless of the situation, I usually task someone with ordering and picking up the food so the rest of the team can focus on sales. Seems pretty simple right? Somehow it never seems to go as planned.

Here are two examples:

How to spend $200 on lunch for 6:

Daniel one of our Senior Account Managers calls me on his way into work (he comes in at 11:00PM), here is the conversation:

Daniel: "Hey Steven, I see its really slammed at work want me to pick up lunch on the way in?"

Steven: "Sure, go ahead no one has had time to get up from their desk much less get lunch. Pick something up an Ill buy lunch today for the team".

Daniel: "What should I get"

Steven: "Whatever is fine, gotta go the phone is ringing"

Daniel shows up a bit later with a ton of food, enough to feed half the office not just sales. A really nice Fajitas feast with all the fixings, hot sauce, cheese, beans, guacamole, rice, pretty much everything. I thought to myself, wow Daniel did a really good job here this is excellent. Then I get the bill... It was over $200 for takeout lunch for 6 people. I promptly tell Daniel he is no longer on lunch delivery team, and that $200 for lunch is a bit much. Two months later I am still trying to work up the courage to put that one on an expense report.

How to spend $25 on lunch for 10:

A particularly grateful customer contacted us saying that he wanted to buy lunch for the sales and a couple of networking team members that helped him out with a recent issue. Mary another one of our Senior Account Managers was tasked with the order this time and after much discussion back and forth between Pizza and Mexican food, we settle on Mexican food. I am thinking to myself, thank goodness Daniel isn't in charge of this order, Vik (the customer) probably doesn't want to pay $200 for lunch. When the food arrives, I step out into the sales area to examine the feast. Much to my surprise there is only two very small bags of food half full.

I announce out loud:

"Where is the rest of the food? This isn't close to enough to feed 10 people."
I'm told "that's it, that's all we got".

No cheese, no hot sauce, no guacamole... this is a far cry from the spread Daniel got last time and there was no chance of it feeding 8 people. Ultimately I send someone back for more food.

So what is the lesson learned here? The sale team is excellent at selling SoftLayer services, and managing customer relationships. They can tell you the difference between and why you want a Single processor 5000 series server vs. a Single processor 3000 series server, they can tell you why your video streaming site needs to run on a server with SAS drives and not SATAII drives, and they can tell you all about StorageLayer and how it can help you. What cant they do for you? They can't get the Mexican food order for lunch correct.

Next time we will stick with Pizza.


Subscribe to fun-facts