Posts Tagged 'GDC'

April 5, 2013

Server Challenge II Soliloquy: GDC 2013

This guest blog comes to us from one of the most popular members of the SoftLayer trade show team: The SoftLayer + Supermicro Server Challenge II. You've seen our coverage of conference attendees competing to win a MacBook Air, but you've never gotten the story from the Server Challenge's perspective ... until now. We secretly recorded the Server Challenge's introspective reflections on the competition at GDC 2013 to share with the world.

To compete, or not to compete, that is the question ... Or at least the question I see most conference attendees struggle with when they see me. Some people light up with excitement at the sight of me while others turn away in fear, and I've even noticed a few of them start shaking uncontrollably as they recount the years of toil they survived in data centers when they managed server hardware for a living. I don't take it personally, though ... which is fitting because I'm not a person.

I am just a simple server rack with an ambitious purpose. I was made to give conference attendees a tangible, server-related experience when they visit SoftLayer's booth, and I can humbly say that I've served that role faithfully and successfully. As attendees step up before me, they may have never touched a server in their lives, but by the time they finish their first attempt at the competition, that naivete is completely vanquished ... Some even spend hours asking questions and studying strategy about how to most effectively install drive trays and plug in network cables. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the people reading this post are doing so in preparation for their next attempt.

When I was chosen as one of only a few server racks to don the Server Challenge II moniker, I knew my life would be difficult and dangerous. Luckily, I've been equipped with Supermicro servers that have proven to be even more resilient and durable than my creators would have hoped. While hard drive bays are designed to be hot-swappable, no one could have ever expected those bays would be swapped thousands of times by (often careless) conference attendees, but I haven't needed a single server to be replaced, and my hard drive trays have also held up remarkably well. As I was sleeping last night, I had a flashback to GDC in San Francisco:

It's dizzying to have flashbacks of time-lapse pictures, but those pictures painted a pretty accurate picture of what a single day of competition looks like for me. It's clear that I'm serving my purpose when I see crowds of attendees looking on as competitors set amazingly fast times. As I hear the conversations about strategies and techniques that might shave tenths or hundredths of seconds off the next attempt, I stand a little taller and play my 8-bit music a little louder.

I am the Server Challenge II ... Who's next?

-The Server Challenge II

November 19, 2012

How It's Made (and Won): The Server Challenge II

Every year, we attend more than fifty trade shows and conferences around the world. We want to spread the word about SoftLayer and connect with each conference's technical audience (also known as future SoftLayer customers). That goal is pretty straightforward on paper, but when it comes to executing on it, we're faced with the same challenge as all of our fellow exhibitors: How do we get our target audience to the our booth?

Walk down any aisle of an expo hall, and you'll see collateral and swag beckoning to attendees like a candy bar at the grocery store register. Some exhibitors rely on Twitter to monitor an event's hashtag and swoop in at every opportunity to reach the show's influential attendees. Other exhibitors might send out emails to their clients and prospects in the area to invite them to the show. We see value in each of those approaches, but what we found to be most effective was to bring a SoftLayer data center to our booth ... or at least a piece of one.

The Server Challenge has come a long way over the years. Its meager beginnings involved installing RAM and hard drive cables in a tower server. Shortly thereafter, a rack-mount server replaced the tower server, but you were still tasked with "inside the server" challenges. As we started looking for ways to tell the bigger SoftLayer story with the Server Challenge, we moved to miniature server rack, and the competition really started to pick up steam. This year, we made it our goal to take the Server Challenge to the next level, and when Supermicro stepped in to sponsor the next iteration of the the competition, we started thinking BIG.

Why use a miniature version of a SoftLayer rack when we could use a full-size version? Why have a standalone screen when rack-mount monitors can make the display part of the unit? Why rely on speakers behind the booth to pump "Eye of the Tiger" while attendees are competing when we could easily build those into the next version of the challenge? What was initially intended to be a "tweak" of the first Server Challenge became a complete overhaul ... Hence the new "Server Challenge II" moniker.

Harkening back to the 8-bit glory days of Pac Man and Space Invaders, the Server Challenge II uses a full-size 42U server rack with vintage arcade-style branding, a built-in timer and speakers that blast esoteric video game music. The bread and butter of the challenge is the actual server hardware, though ... Supermicro provided two new 2U servers to replace the previous version's five 1U servers, and we installed the same Cisco (public and private networks) and SMC (out-of-band management network) switches you see in SoftLayer's pods.

Server Challenge II

We had two instances of the original Server Challenge (one in the US, one in Amsterdam), so in order for the Server Challenge II to be bigger and better, we had to increase that total to five — one instance in Europe, one in Asia and three in the United States. Things might get a little crazier logistically, but as a potential conference attendee, it means you're even more likely to encounter the Server Challenge II if you attend any events with us.

The Server Challenge II's Internal Debut

The first instance of the Server Challenge II made its debut at GDC Online in Austin, and we immediately knew we had a hit. By the time the rack got back to our office, we had to get it ready for its next destination (Cloud Expo West), but before we sent it on its way, we gave it an official internal debut ... and raised some money for the American Heart Association in the process.

Server Challenge II at SoftLayer

SLayers at the SoftLayer HQ in Dallas could pay $3 for one attempt or $5 for two attempts to reach the top of the Server Challenge II leader board. Needless to say, it was competitive. If you click on the image above, you'll notice that our fearless leader, Lance Crosby, stopped by and gave tips to (and/or heckled) a few participants. Unsurprisingly, one of our very talented Server Build Technicians — Ellijah Fleites — took home a MacBook Air and bragging rights as SoftLayer champion with a record time of 1:03.79 ... But records are made to be broken.

In Two Places at Once

Immediately after the AHA fundraiser, we crated up the rack and sent it along to Cloud Expo West in Santa Clara. A few days later, we put the finishing touches on the second Server Challenge II rack, and because we got it done quickly, we were able to get it shipped to the other side of the country for ad:tech NYC. We would finally have the competition running in two places at the exact same time!

We weren't disappointed.

On both coasts, the retro style of the Server Challenge II lured some fantastic competitors (excellent!), and started a lot of great conversations (even better!). Here are the final leader boards from the shows:

Server Challenge II
Server Challenge II

You probably notice that the times in the ad:tech leader board are a little higher than the times in the Cloud Expo leader board, and our team figured out why that was in the middle of the second day of the conference ... The way we bound the network cables differed slightly between the two instances, and we were using different switches to time the competition (one that required only one hand to activate/deactivate, the other requiring both hands). In order to have an "apples-to-apples" comparison between all of our shows, we're going to make sure everything is consistent with all of the instances, and we plan on keeping a running list of fastest overall challenge times ... and maybe even a "World Championship" one day.

Given the early success of the Server Challenge II, you can bet that it's not going anywhere any time soon. If we have multiple shows running the challenge at one time, we might even fire up a video chat where you can compete against an attendee at a completely different conference ... so be prepared.

In the next year, we'll have all five of the Server Challenge II instances in rotation across three continents, and with the popularity of the competition growing by leaps and bounds after every show, we hope by next holiday season, a home version of the Server Challenge II is at the top of every wish list on the planet. :-)

For now, though, I'll just leave you with a glimpse at the action from Cloud Expo West (click for more pictures from the show):

Cloud Expo West

-Raleigh

March 3, 2011

Hosting != Glamorous

Infrastructure. Administration. Interface. Connectivity. Computer Room Air Conditioner. Data Center. Generator. Router.

I know what you're saying to yourself right now: "Hold onto your hat, self ... After that start, this post is going to be wild and crazy!" Actually, you might have literally yawned while reading those words. Why?

Hosting isn't very glamorous.

Go back to that first sentence and substitute exclamation points for each of the periods, then go back and make yourself yawn once between "Interface" and "Connectivity" and then again between "Generator" and "Router." Which one felt more natural? Unless you're on your fifth caffeinated beverage of the day or you happen to work for a hosting provider, the excited response is probably a lot less natural than the sleep-inducing one.

Don't get me wrong ... I'm not insulting hosting. I think it's just hamstrung by terms that reek of lameness to the uninitiated outsider. The closest we've got to an interesting term in the industry is "the cloud," and the industry was so happy about the positive response to that metaphor that everyone started calling everything "cloud" to engender fluffy, happy images in customers' heads. But as Lance said in his Parallels Summit keynote, it has just become a marketing term.

I propose that hosting doesn't need to be glamorous to be awesome. Hosting enables customers to make glamorous things.

In one day on the GDC 2011 expo hall floor, our team has talked to hundreds of attendees that have stopped by SoftLayer's booth (2116) to learn a little more about what SoftLayer does, and I love seeing someone "get it" for the first time. Nine times out of ten, if I'm talking to an attendee without a technical background, a glazed stare will slowly creep across his/her face as I explain a little about private networking and our nationwide MPLS network, but when I start talking about what our customers are doing with those tools, "Eureka!"

One of the most subtle explanations for SoftLayer's monumental growth is that our customers do some amazing things on our platform, and those successes, in turn, legitimize the platform and inspire other customers. Whether the story be about a phenomenally popular social gaming company or a reseller that enables tens of thousands of small businesses to get websites, being able to share a real world example takes our explanation out of the ether ... or maybe it takes the yawn-inducing ether out of our explanation.

SoftLayer's platform was meticulously designed to be spectacularly simple: Make sure everything works together, give customers as much control as possible, and get out of their way to - as Guy Kawasaki puts it - "let a hundred flowers blossom."

If you're at GDC this week and you haven't stopped by SoftLayer's booth yet, you need to listen to Natalie:

When you come by, we'll be happy to tell you anything you want to know about our hosting solutions, but we'll be downright excited to share with you the kinds of things our hosting solutions have done for our customers and could do for you.

-@khazard

P.S. If you're not in San Francisco this week, consider this an open invitation to take us up on the same offer at any of SoftLayer's events in the future.

P.P.S. We sincerely hope that this blog does not offend any "hosters" out there ... especially any that are Warlocks.

June 17, 2010

Mixi is next!

I am sure anyone reading this has heard of Facebook, but do you know about Mixi?

Mixi is the number one social networking site in Japan and technically predates the “full internet” version of Facebook. It shares many features with Facebook, but its social model is a little different. Mixi is by invitation only, and its users almost never use their real name. Instead, users adopt nicknames and use icons or photos of almost anything to represent themselves. Also, Mixi is also only available in Japanese for the moment.

One thing that was noticeably missing from Mixi until recently has been third party social apps. With third party apps, Mixi users can now enjoy social games similar to the ones found on Facebook, which have been around since 2007.

And when it comes to game hosting, SoftLayer is a leader. We have recently won the FindMyHost.com Editors’ Choice Award for Game Servers for May 2010.

SoftLayer is dedicated to supporting the game industry’s IT needs. We regularly attend game related conferences. We were recently at f8 2010 and GDC Canada. You can also find us at GDC Europe and then GDC Online in Austin later this year. You can see our conference schedule on our events page.

As a gamer myself, I feel proud to work for a company with such a presence in the video game industry and community. And as Mixi gains more and more attention, I will be glad when I can say, “You heard about it here first!”.

May 27, 2010

Here I sit

So here I sit broken hearted, oh wait wrong story. Here I sit at the booth at GDC in Vancouver Canada in a traffic lull. There must be a good speaker talking at the moment. It gives me a moment to tell you about the refreshing “youth” of this industry. At this show people get it, they understand the model. This isn’t the largest show we will go to and might not sell a million servers but we are still getting the word out that outsourcing the hard stuff and letting people focus on what they do best is a great thing. Game developers don’t want to waste a day or two setting up a server they would rather be making their game. It’s also interesting listening to the students of game development at this show; I am learning what is going into the next big game. Here it is in a nutshell. You start with Zombies, and then have zombie riots where zombies kill some people and then you have the zombies take over the world and then you have a new breed of zombies that kill and eat the existing zombies. There you have it, the next big game! I want royalties. So for all you game lovers out there this is the place where it all begins and SoftLayer is doing everything we can to make sure these developers have the free time to make the next killer app. You can thank us anytime! And who knows maybe one of these guys will buy a million servers!

May 18, 2010

Skinman’s Travels

Well, I am on the final flight I have for about a month, finally. I left 8 days ago to go to Vancouver for the Game Developer Conference (GDC) for a great part of the trip. Even walking 10 miles with the great “walk-aholic” @gkdog and needing lots of oxygen was cool. We walked around Stanley Park and if you haven’t done it you should. It’s about a 6 mile loop and it gets the attention of all your senses. It was about 60 degrees (Fahrenheit) when we started on the bright, wind free side of the park and all was good.

As we walked we saw some pretty cool sights and I have attached a picture or two for you to see. Once you get past the bridge in the pictures

You round a corner and then the pacific winds hit you in the face and the sun hides behind the rock walls and trees.

I thought at first the temperature difference was about 10 degrees but as we kept walking I soon was glad I wore jeans, and not shorts, and my new comfortable shoes. At about 3 miles I was ready for a taxi but once you hit the backside of the park cars, taxis, helicopters and sea planes are hard to come by as well as “porto-potties”. But we kept walking. We saw giant cable wrapped bundles of lumber that must have fallen from their ships and washed ashore. Then we stumbled upon Kent Avery. The man can balance a rock. This picture is not faked in any way

And here is a cool video about him http://ow.ly/1M3AQ. I watched him stack two or three rocks and he just balances it and then adds another and then another. Did I mention there is a 10mph wind blowing and not one stack of rocks fell.

We made it around the park and then walked the rest of the 10 miles to get to a small restaurant on Robson hill. Yea, I said hill and yea we had to walk up it. After sitting at the restaurant for about 3 hours I could barely move. The hotel bed that night was a welcome site. The next day it was off to San Francisco for Citrix Summit and Synergy. This was a much larger show and the first thing I noticed while walking towards the convention center was the people who had already checked in were wearing branded Citrix and SoftLayer lanyards around their necks to hold their access badge. It was really cool. I can’t count how many people I talked to that noticed my SoftLayer shirt and asked what we did just because we were on the lanyard with Citrix. Overall this was a great show. Nathan Day was on a round table and then discussed Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and Public and Private Clouds. The entire team of 7 stayed extremely busy for the show.

SoftLayer is becoming more and more known everywhere I go. Infrastructure as a service must be here to stay, because I don’t get to stay in one place very long at the moment. Flight 566 from San Fran to Dallas is about 20 minutes out. See you on the ground!

Subscribe to gdc