Posts Tagged 'Global'

March 30, 2015

The Importance of Data's Physical Location in the Cloud

If top-tier cloud providers use similar network hardware in their data centers and connect to the same transit and peering bandwidth providers, how can SoftLayer claim to provide the best network performance in the cloud computing industry?

Over the years, I've heard variations of that question asked dozens of times, and it's fairly easy to answer with impressive facts and figures. All SoftLayer data centers and network points of presence (PoPs) are connected to our unique global network backbone, which carries public, private, and management traffic to and from servers. Using our network connectivity table, some back-of-the-envelope calculations reveal that we have more than 2,500Gbps of bandwidth connectivity with some of the largest transit and peering bandwidth providers in the world (and that total doesn't even include the private peering relationships we have with other providers in various regional markets). Additionally, customers may order servers with up to 10Gbps network ports in our data centers.

For the most part, those stats explain our differentiation, but part of the bigger network performance story is still missing, and to a certain extent it has been untold—until today.

The 2,500+Gbps of bandwidth connectivity we break out in the network connectivity table only accounts for the on-ramps and off-ramps of our network. Our global network backbone is actually made up of an additional 2,600+Gbps of bandwidth connectivity ... and all of that backbone connectivity transports SoftLayer-related traffic.

This robust network architecture streamlines the access to and delivery of data on SoftLayer servers. When you access a SoftLayer server, the network is designed to bring you onto our global backbone as quickly as possible at one of our network PoPs, and when you're on our global backbone, you'll experience fewer hops (and a more direct route that we control). When one of your users requests data from your SoftLayer server, that data travels across the global backbone to the nearest network PoP, where it is handed off to another provider to carry the data the "last mile."

With this controlled environment, I decided to undertake an impromptu science experiment to demonstrate how location and physical distance affect network performance in the cloud.

Speed Testing on the SoftLayer Global Network Backbone

I work in the SoftLayer office in downtown Houston, Texas. In network-speak, this location is HOU04. You won't find that location on any data center or network tables because it's just an office, but it's connected to the same global backbone as our data centers and network points of presence. From my office, the "last mile" doesn't exist; when I access a SoftLayer server, my bits and bytes only travel across the SoftLayer network, so we're effectively cutting out a number of uncontrollable variables in the process of running network speed tests.

For better or worse, I didn't tell any network engineers that I planned to run speed tests to every available data center and share the results I found, so you're seeing exactly what I saw with no tomfoolery. I just fired up my browser, headed to our Data Centers page, and made my way down the list using the SpeedTest option for each facility. Customers often go through this process when trying to determine the latency, speeds, and network path that they can expect from servers in each data center, but if we look at the results collectively, we can learn a lot more about network performance in general.

With the results, we'll discuss how network speed tests work, what the results mean, and why some might be surprising. If you're feeling scientific and want to run the tests yourself, you're more than welcome to do so.

The Ookla SpeedTests we link to from the data centers table measured the latency (ping time), jitter (variation in latency), download speeds, and upload speeds between the user's computer and the data center's test server. To run this experiment, I connected my MacBook Pro via Ethernet to a 100Mbps wired connection. At the end of each speed test, I took a screenshot of the performance stats:

SoftLayer Network Speed Test

To save you the trouble of trying to read all of the stats on each data center as they cycle through that animated GIF, I also put them into a table (click the data center name to see its results screenshot in a new window):

Data Center Latency (ms) Download Speed (Mbps) Upload Speed (Mbps) Jitter (ms)
AMS01 121 77.69 82.18 1
DAL01 9 93.16 87.43 0
DAL05 7 93.16 83.77 0
DAL06 7 93.11 83.50 0
DAL07 8 93.08 83.60 0
DAL09 11 93.05 82.54 0
FRA02 128 78.11 85.08 0
HKG02 184 50.75 78.93 2
HOU02 2 93.12 83.45 1
LON02 114 77.41 83.74 2
MEL01 186 63.40 78.73 1
MEX01 27 92.32 83.29 1
MON01 52 89.65 85.94 3
PAR01 127 82.40 83.38 0
SJC01 44 90.43 83.60 1
SEA01 50 90.33 83.23 2
SNG01 195 40.35 72.35 1
SYD01 196 61.04 75.82 4
TOK02 135 75.63 82.20 2
TOR01 40 90.37 82.90 1
WDC01 43 89.68 84.35 0

By performing these speed tests on the SoftLayer network, we can actually learn a lot about how speed tests work and how physical location affects network performance. But before we get into that, let's take note of a few interesting results from the table above:

  • The lowest latency from my office is to the HOU02 (Houston, Texas) data center. That data center is about 14.2 miles away as the crow flies.
  • The highest latency results from my office are to the SYD01 (Sydney, Australia) and SNG01 (Singapore) data centers. Those data centers are at least 8,600 and 10,000 miles away, respectively.
  • The fastest download speed observed is 93.16Mbps, and that number was seen from two data centers: DAL01 and DAL05.
  • The slowest download speed observed is 40.35Mbps from SNG01.
  • The fastest upload speed observed is 87.43Mbps to DAL01.
  • The slowest upload speed observed is 72.35Mbps to SNG01.
  • The upload speeds observed are faster than the download speeds from every data center outside of North America.

Are you surprised that we didn't see any results closer to 100Mbps? Is our server in Singapore underperforming? Are servers outside of North America more selfish to receive data and stingy to give it back?

Those are great questions, and they actually jumpstart an explanation of how the network tests work and what they're telling us.

Maximum Download Speed on 100Mbps Connection

If my office is 2 milliseconds from the test server in HOU02, why is my download speed only 93.12Mbps? To answer this question, we need to understand that to perform these tests, a connection is made using Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to move the data, and TCP does a lot of work in the background. The download is broken into a number of tiny chunks called packets and sent from the sender to the receiver. TCP wants to ensure that each packet that is sent is received, so the receiver sends an acknowledgement back to the sender to confirm that the packet arrived. If the sender is unable to verify that a given packet was successfully delivered to the receiver, the sender will resend the packet.

This system is pretty simple, but in actuality, it's very dynamic. TCP wants to be as efficient as possible ... to send the fewest number of packets to get the entire message across. To accomplish this, TCP is able to modify the size of each packet to optimize it for each communication. The receiver dictates how large the packet should be by providing a receive window to accommodate a small packet size, and it analyzes and adjusts the receive window to get the largest packets possible without becoming unstable. Some operating systems are better than others when it comes to tweaking and optimizing TCP transfer rates, but the processes TCP takes to ensure that the packets are sent and received without error takes overhead, and that overhead limits the maximum speed we can achieve.

Understanding the SNG01 Results

Why did my SNG01 speed test max out at a meager 40.35Mbps on my 100Mbps connection? Well, now that we understand how TCP is working behind the scenes, we can see why our download speeds from Singapore are lower than we'd expect. Latency between the sending and successful receipt of a packet plays into TCP’s considerations of a stable connection. Higher ping times will cause TCP to send smaller packet sizes than it would for lower ping times to ensure that no sizable packet is lost (which would have to be reproduced and resent).

With our global backbone optimizing the network path of the packets between Houston and Singapore, the more than 10,000-mile journey, the nature of TCP, and my computer's TCP receive window adjustments all factor into the download speeds recorded from SNG01. Looking at the results in the context of the distance the data has to travel, our results are actually well within the expected performance.

Because the default behavior of TCP is partially to blame for the results, we could actually tweak the test and tune our configurations to deliver faster speeds. To confirm that improvements can be made relatively easily, we can actually just look at the answer to our third question...

Upload > Download?

Why are the upload speeds faster than the download speeds after latency jumps from 50ms to 114ms? Every location in North America is within 2,000 miles of Houston, while the closest location outside of North America is about 5,000 miles away. With what we've learned about how TCP and physical distance play into download speeds, that jump in distance explains why the download speeds drop from 90.33Mbps to 77.41Mbps as soon as we cross an ocean, but how can the upload speeds to Europe (and even APAC) stay on par with their North American counterparts? The only difference between our download path and upload path is which side is sending and which side is receiving. And if the receiver determines the size of the TCP receive window, the most likely culprit in the discrepancy between download and upload speeds is TCP windowing.

A Linux server is built and optimized to be a server, whereas my MacOSX laptop has a lot of other responsibilities, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the default TCP receive window handling is better on the server side. With changes to the way my laptop handles TCP, download speeds would likely be improved significantly. Additionally, if we wanted to push the envelope even further, we might consider using a different transfer protocol to take advantage of the consistent, controlled network environment.

The Importance of Physical Location in Cloud Computing

These real-world test results under controlled conditions demonstrate the significance of data's geographic proximity to its user on the user's perceived network performance. We know that the network latency in a 14-mile trip will be lower than the latency in a 10,000-mile trip, but we often don't think about the ripple effect latency has on other network performance indicators. And this experiment actually controls a lot of other variables that can exacerbate the performance impact of geographic distance. The tests were run on a 100Mbps connection because that's a pretty common maximum port speed, but if we ran the same tests on a GigE line, the difference would be even more dramatic. Proof: HOU02 @ 1Gbps v. SNG01 @ 1Gbps

Let's apply our experiment to a real-world example: Half of our site's user base is in Paris and the other half is in Singapore. If we chose to host our cloud infrastructure exclusively from Paris, our users would see dramatically different results. Users in Paris would have sub-10ms latency while users in Singapore have about 300ms of latency. Obviously, operating cloud servers in both markets would be the best way to ensure peak performance in both locations, but what if you can only afford to provision your cloud infrastructure in one location? Where would you choose to provision that infrastructure to provide a consistent user experience for your audience in both markets?

Given what we've learned, we should probably choose a location with roughly the same latency to both markets. We can use the SoftLayer Looking Glass to see that San Jose, California (SJC01) would be a logical midpoint ... At this second, the latency between SJC and PAR on the SoftLayer backbone is 149ms, and the latency between SJC and SNG is 162ms, so both would experience very similar performance (all else being equal). Our users in the two markets won't experience mind-blowing speeds, but neither will experience mind-numbing speeds either.

The network performance implications of physical distance apply to all cloud providers, but because of the SoftLayer global network backbone, we're able to control many of the variables that lead to higher (or inconsistent) latency to and from a given data center. The longer a single provider can route traffic, the more efficiently that traffic will move. You might see the same latency speeds to another provider's cloud infrastructure from a given location at a given time across the public Internet, but you certainly won't see the same consistency from all locations at all times. SoftLayer has spent millions of dollars to build, maintain, and grow our global network backbone to transport public and private network traffic, and as a result, we feel pretty good about claiming to provide the best network performance in cloud computing.


October 6, 2014

G’day, Melbourne! SoftLayer’s LIVE in Australia.

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of the newest SoftLayer data center in Melbourne, Australia! This facility is our first on the continent (with Sydney planned for later in the year), and it delivers that trademark SoftLayer service to our clients Down Under.

Our Aussie Mates

Over the years, our customer base has grown phenomenally in Australia, and it should come as no surprise that customers in the region have been clamoring for a SoftLayer data center Down Under to bring high performance cloud infrastructure even closer to them. These customers have grown to immense proportions with ahead-of-their-time value propositions and innovative ideas that have turned heads around the world.

A perfect example of that kind of success is, an online travel platform designed to streamline the process of searching for and reserving hotel rooms around the world. Their story is nothing short of brilliant. A startup in 2005, they today serve more than 25 million visitors a month, has more than 20,000 affiliates, and a database of 800,000+ properties worldwide. partnered with SoftLayer to provision bare metal servers, virtual servers, load balancers, and redundant iSCSI storage around the world to best serve their global customer base. Additionally, they implemented data warehouse and predictive analytics capabilities on SoftLayer for their real-time predictive models and business intelligence tools.

Another great story is that of The Loft Group. I wrote about how they chose our cloud platform to roll out their Digital Learning Platform in a previous blog. They needed performance, analytics, monitoring, and scalability to accommodate their massive growth, and we were able to help.

Benefiting Down Under

Many of you have seen news about IBM’s plans to expand SoftLayer into Australia for a few months now. In fact, at the recent IBM Cloud Pre-Launch event (view the full event on demand here), Lance Crosby shared our vision for the region and the synergy that we are looking to create in the market.

Our expansion into Melbourne means that our customers have even more choice and flexibility when building their cloud infrastructure on our platform. With Australian data residency, many of our customers in Australia with location-sensitive workloads or regulatory/compliance data requirements immediately benefit from the new location. Additionally, with network points of presence in Sydney and Melbourne, users in Australia will see even better network performance when connecting to servers in any SoftLayer data center around the world. Users looking for additional redundancy in APAC have another location for their data, and customers who want to replicate data as though they are in the same rack can do so between Australia and one of our other locations.

Let the Bash Commence

To celebrate this exciting milestone, we have quite a few things lined up for the region. First up, a special promotion for all those who would like to check out the performance of this facility—new customers and our existing loyalists. You can get US$500 off on your first month's order (bare metal, private virtual, public virtual—anything and everything listed in our store!) for the Melbourne data center. More details on the promo, features, and services are available here.

Next up—parties! We have a couple of networking events planned. SoftLayer customers, partners, enthusiasts, and friends are invited to join us in Melbourne on October 9, and Auckland, New Zealand, on October 15 for a fun evening with SLayers and peers. If you’re in the area and want more details, email us at with the following information:

  • Subject: I Would Like to Attend SoftLayer Night: Celebrating Data Centre Go-Live
  • Body: Your Name, contact phone number, city where you would like to attend, and one line about why you would like to attend.

Space is limited, and you don’t have much time to reserve your spot, so let us know as soon as possible.

These are exciting times. I’m extremely eager to see how Australian businesses leverage these new in-country facilities and capabilities. Stay tuned for new stories as we hear from other happy customers.


August 20, 2014

SoftLayer is in Canada, eh?

Last week, we celebrated the official launch of our Toronto (TOR01) data center—the fourth new SoftLayer data center to go live in 2014, and our first in Canada! To catch you up on our progress this year, we unveiled a data center in Hong Kong in June to provide regional redundancy in Asia. In July, we added similar redundancy in Europe with the grand opening of our London data center, and we cut the ribbon on a SoftLayer data center designed specifically for federal workloads in Richardson, TX. The new Toronto location joins our data center pods in Washington, D.C., as our second location in the northeast region of North America.

As you can imagine, our development and operations teams have been working around the clock to get these new facilities built, so they were fortunate to have Tim Hortons in Toronto to keep them going. Fueled by countless double-doubles and Timbits, they officially brought TOR01 online August 11! This data center launch is part of IBM’s massive $1.2 billion commitment to in expanding our global cloud footprint. A countless number of customers have asked us when we were going to open a facility in Canada, so we prioritized Toronto to meet that demand. And because the queue had been building for so long, as soon as the doors were opened, we had a flood of new orders to fulfill. Many of these customers expressed a need for data residency in Canada to handle location-sensitive workloads, and expanding our private network into Canada means in the region will see even better network performance to SoftLayer facilities around the world.

Here are what a few of our customer had to say about the Toronto launch:

Brenda Crainic, CTO and co-founder of Maegan said, “We are very excited to see SoftLayer open a data center in Toronto, as we are now expanding our customer base in Canada. We are looking forward to host all our data in Canada, in addition to their easy-to-use services and great customer service."

Frederic Bastien, CEO at mnubo says, “We are very pleased to have a data center in Canada. Our customers value analytics performance, data residency and privacy, and deployment flexibility—and with SoftLayer we get all that and a lot more! SoftLayer is a great technology partner for our infrastructure needs.”

With our new data center, we’re able to handle Canadian infrastructure needs from A to Zed.

While we’d like to stick around and celebrate with a Molson Canadian or two, our teams are off to the next location to get it online and ready. Where will it be? You won’t have to wait very long to find out.

I’d like to welcome the new Canucks (both employees and customers) to SoftLayer. If you’re interested in getting started with a bare metal or virtual server in Canada, we’re running a limited-time launch promotion that’ll save up to $500 on your first order in Toronto: Order Now!


P.S. I included a few Canadianisms in this post. If you need help deciphering them, check out this link.

July 14, 2014

London Just Got Cloudier—LON02 is LIVE!

Summer at SoftLayer is off to a great start. As of today, customers can order SoftLayer servers in our new London data center! This facility is SoftLayer's second data center in Europe (joining Amsterdam in the region), and it's one of the most anticipated facilities we've ever opened.

London is the second SoftLayer data center to go live this year, following last month's data center launch in Hong Kong. In January, IBM committed to investing $1.2 billion to expand our cloud footprint, and it's been humbling and thrilling at the same time to prepare for all of this growth. And this is just the beginning.

When it comes to the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region (EMEA), SoftLayer's largest customer base is in the U.K. For the last two and a half years I’ve been visiting London quite frequently, and I've met hundreds of customers who are ecstatic to finally have a SoftLayer data center in their own backyard. As such, I'm especially excited about this launch. With this data center launch, they get our global platform with a local address.

The SoftLayer Network

Customers with location-sensitive workloads can have their data reside within the U.K. Customers with infrastructure in Amsterdam can use London to add in-region redundancy to their environments. And businesses that target London's hyper-competitive markets can deliver unbelievable performance to their users. LON02 is fully integrated with the entire SoftLayer platform, so bare metal and virtual servers in the new data center are seamlessly connected to servers in every other SoftLayer data center around the world. As an example of what that means in practice, you can replicate or integrate data between servers in London and Amsterdam data centers with stunning transfer speeds. For free. You can run your databases on bare metal in London, keep backups in Amsterdam, spin up virtual servers in Asia and the U.S. And your end users get consistent, reliable performance—as though the servers were in the same rack. Try beating that!

London is a vibrant, dynamic, and invigorating city. It's consistently voted one of the best places for business in the region. It's considered a springboard for Europe, attracting more foreign investors than any other location in the region. A third of world’s largest companies are headquartered in London, and with our new data center, we're able to serve them even more directly. London is also the biggest tech hub in-region and the biggest incubator for technology startups and entrepreneurs in Europe. These cloud-native organizations have been pushing the frontiers of technology, building their businesses on our Internet-scale platform for years, so we're giving them an even bigger sandbox to play in. My colleagues from Catalyst, our startup program, have established solid partnerships with organizations such as Techstars, Seedcamp and Wayra UK, so (as you can imagine) this news is already making waves in the U.K. startup universe.

For me, London will always be the European capitol of marketing and advertising (and a strong contender for the top spot in the global market). In fact, two thirds of international advertising agencies have their European headquarters in London, and the city boasts the highest density of creative firms of any other city or region in the world. Because digital marketing and advertising use cases are some of the most demanding technological workloads, we're focused on meeting the needs of this market. These customers require speed, performance, and global reach, and we deliver. Can you imagine RTB (real-time-bidding) with network lag? An ad pool for multinationals that is accessible in one region, but not so much in another? A live HD digital broadcast to run on shared, low-I/O machines? Or a 3D graphic rendering based on a purely virtualized environment? Just thinking about those scenarios makes me cringe, and it reinforces my excitement for our new data center in London.

MobFox, a customer who happens to be the largest mobile ad platform in Europe and in the top five globally, shares my enthusiasm. MobFox operates more than 150 billion impressions per month for clients including Nike, Heineken, EA, eBay, BMW, Netflix, Expedia, and McDonalds (as a comparison I was told that Twitter does about 7 billion+ a month). Julian Zehetmayr, the brilliant 23-year-old CEO of MobFox, agreed that London is a key location for businesses operating in digital advertising space and expressed his excitement about the opportunity we’re bringing his company.

I could go on and on about why this news is soooo good. But instead, I'll let you experience it yourself. Order bare metal or virtual servers in London, and save $500 on your first month service.

Celebrate a cloudy summer in London!


April 17, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Te(ch)xas: SXSW 2014

SXSW 2014 was bigger and crazier than ever. For anyone who has been sleeping under a rock, SXSW is one of the largest, most intense start-up technology, music, and film festivals on the planet. Held in March, SXSW turns Austin, Texas, into the global epicenter of everything (startup) technology.

As in years past, SoftLayer hosted the Speakeasy lounge, a daytime co-working space and community/networking lounge in the evening. For the second straight year, the lounge blew our expectations out of the water. Over the course of 48 hours, we saw over a thousand partners, start-up clients, fellow colleagues, and members of the global start-up community come through the doors. To give you an idea of how “global” the community was, I walked through the lounge at one point and heard six different languages being spoken.

Our start-up partners used the lounge to escape the chaos of the festival so they could get work done. In the space, they could relax, send emails, connect with clients and friends, or just find some peace and quiet away from the cacophonous show floor (and even-noisier 6th Street).

Catalyst Lounge SXSW 2014

One of the biggest highlights at SXSW for the Catalyst team was a panel that I moderated about building meaningful, organic communities around brands. The panelists for this discussion were George Karidis, COO of SoftLayer; Ben Rigby, CEO of Sparked; Samar Birwadker, CEO of; and Justin Johnson, director of developer evangelism for The group explained how their brands’ approaches to community engagement helped them build momentum and succeed faster, and I was humbled to hear how the SoftLayer Catalyst program impacted their decisions shaping their own communities. To cap off the session, the panelists also brought up the benefits of using Catalyst for testing and scaling during their early stages, so they could understand how to use the infrastructure as they grew. You need look no further for validation of our model than to have three of our most successful clients attributing their success to it.

In addition to the Speakeasy and the panel discussion, SoftLayer was also well represented on the SXSW show floor. Over the course of the show, clients, partners, and prospects stopped by to try their hands at the Server Challenge, and we had some phenomenal conversations about the future of the cloud and how SoftLayer is forging a new path in the infrastructure as a service game.

What a lot of people don’t realize about SXSW is that the majority of business gets done outside of the show floor. Each night presents opportunities to connect with and learn about individuals in the global start-up community. For example, Catalyst partner Planwise held a party and barbecue where they discussed best practices for start-ups in financial technology. We got in on the fun as well when we partnered with Techstars to host one of the hottest parties at SXSW Interactive. DJed by Thievery Corporation and attended by over a thousand guests, if you managed to get a hard-to-come-by ticket, you had a great time and met a lot of amazing people.

SoftLayer & Techstars Party SXSW 2014

Over the years, SXSW has proven to be a melting pot for creativity and innovation on a global scale. As businesses look for new ways to gather and present information, providers like SoftLayer become an integral part of their approaches. Our goal with Catalyst is to stay front-and-center in the startup movement … So it’s a safe bet that you’ll see us again at SXSW 2015.


April 22, 2013

Going Global: How to Approach Expansion into Asia

Asia is an amazing place for business, but companies from outside the region often consider it mysterious and prohibitive. I find myself discussing Asian business customs and practices with business owners from other regions on an almost daily basis, so I feel like I've become an informal resource when it comes to helping SoftLayer customers better understand and enter the Asian markets. As the general manager for SoftLayer's APAC operations, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about what companies outside of Asia should consider when approaching new business in the region.

Before we get too far into the weeds, it's important to take a step back and understand the Asian culture and how it differs from the business cultures in the West. The Asian market is much more relational than the market in the United States or Europe; significant value is placed on the time you spend in the region building new networks and interacting with other your prospective customers and suppliers. Even for small purchases, businesses in Asia are much more comfortable with face-to-face agreements than they are with phone calls or emails. Many of the executives I speak to about entering Asia argue they don't have time to spend weeks and months in the region, and they make whistle-stop trips in various countries to get a snapshot of what they need to know to make informed decisions. Their businesses often fail at breaching the market because they don't invest the time and resources they need to create the relationships required to succeed. Books, blogs (even this one), consultants and occasional visits aren't nearly as important to your success as investing yourself in the culture. Even if you can't physically travel to your target market for some reason, find ways to plug into the community online and become a resource.

Asia is not homogenous. There are 20 distinct countries and cultures, dozens of languages and hundreds of dialects. There are distinct legal systems, currencies, regulatory frameworks and cultural norms. From a business perspective, that means that what you do to appeal to an audience in Singapore won't be as effective for an audience in Japan ... This is not the United States of Asia nor is there an Asian Union. Having partners in Hong Kong does not get you into China; if you want to access markets in China, you need to build relationships with partners and customers in China. One of the biggest reasons for this in-country presence to understand and avoid a "death by a thousand cuts" situation where minor, seemingly insignificant questions and problems cumulatively prevent a business from successfully entering the market. Take these questions from customers as an example:

  • When I buy from your office in Bangkok, where is the contract jurisdiction?
  • I'm in Hong Kong. Can I pay in Hong Kong Dollars? Who takes the currency risk?
  • Corporate credit cards aren't common in Vietnam. Can I pay for my online purchase in cash?
  • If I sign up for a webinar, is it at a time convenient for me (i.e. repeated for other time zones), or do I have to be at my PC at 3am?
  • If you invite me to a meeting on 12/4, is that April 12th, or December 4th?
  • When I print whitepapers from your website, do I need to resize to a different paper size?

The way you handle currencies, time zones and how you present information are barometers of how approachable your business is for users and businesses in a particular market. Most users won't reach out to you to ask those kinds of questions; they'll just move on to a competitor who answers their questions without them asking. You learn about these sticking points by having people on the ground and talking to potential customers and partners. Since globalization is "flattening" the World Wide Web, the mechanics of hosting a site, application or game in a data center in Singapore are identical to hosting the same content in Dallas. It's easy to make your data locally available and have infrastructure available in your target market, but that's only a start. You need to approach Asian countries as unique opportunities to redefine your business in a way that fits the culture of your potential customers and partners.

In my next blog, I plan to share a few best practices about management, responsiveness and responsibility, positioning, operations and marketing in Asia. These posts are intended to get you thinking about how your business can approach expanding into Asia smartly, and if you have any questions or want any advice about your business in particular, please feel free to email me directly:


December 4, 2012

Big Data at SoftLayer: MongoDB

In one day, Facebook's databases ingest more than 500 terabytes of data, Twitter processes 500 million Tweets and Tumblr users publish more than 75 million posts. With such an unprecedented volume of information, developers face significant challenges when it comes to building an application's architecture and choosing its infrastructure. As a result, demand has exploded for "big data" solutions — resources that make it possible to process, store, analyze, search and deliver data from large, complex data sets. In light of that demand, SoftLayer has been working in strategic partnership with 10gen — the creators of MongoDB — to develop a high-performance, on-demand, big data solution. Today, we're excited to announce the launch of specialized MongoDB servers at SoftLayer.

If you've configured an infrastructure to accommodate big data, you know how much of a pain it can be: You choose your hardware, you configure it to run NoSQL, you install an open source NoSQL project that you think will meet your needs, and you keep tweaking your environment to optimize its performance. Assuming you have the resources (and patience) to get everything running efficiently, you'll wind up with the horizontally scalable database infrastructure you need to handle the volume of content you and your users create and consume. SoftLayer and 10gen are making that process a whole lot easier.

Our new MongoDB solutions take the time and guesswork out of configuring a big data environment. We give you an easy-to-use system for designing and ordering everything you need. You can start with a single server or roll out multiple servers in a single replica set across multiple data centers, and in under two hours, an optimized MongoDB environment is provisioned and ready to be used. I stress that it's an "optimized" environment because that's been our key focus. We collaborated with 10gen engineers on hardware and software configurations that provide the most robust performance for MongoDB, and we incorporated many of their MongoDB best practices. The resulting "engineered servers" are big data powerhouses:

MongoDB Configs

From each engineered server base configuration, you can customize your MongoDB server to meet your application's needs, and as you choose your upgrades from the base configuration, you'll see the thresholds at which you should consider upgrading other components. As your data set's size and the number of indexes in your database increase, you'll need additional RAM, CPU, and storage resources, but you won't need them in the same proportions — certain components become bottlenecks before others. Sure, you could upgrade all of the components in a given database server at the same rate, but if, say, you update everything when you only need to upgrade RAM, you'd be adding (and paying for) unnecessary CPU and storage capacity.

Using our new Solution Designer, it's very easy to graphically design a complex multi-site replica set. Once you finalize your locations and server configurations, you'll click "Order," and our automated provisioning system will kick into high gear. It deploys your server hardware, installs CentOS (with OS optimizations to provide MongoDB performance enhancements), installs MongoDB, installs MMS (MongoDB Monitoring Service) and configures the network connection on each server to cluster it with the other servers in your environment. A process that may have taken days of work and months of tweaking is completed in less than four hours. And because everything is standardized and automated, you run much less risk of human error.

MongoDB Configs

One of the other massive benefits of working so closely with 10gen is that we've been able to integrate 10gen's MongoDB Cloud Subscriptions into our offering. Customers who opt for a MongoDB Cloud Subscription get additional MongoDB features (like SSL and SNMP support) and support direct from the MongoDB authority. As an added bonus, since the 10gen team has an intimate understanding of the SoftLayer environment, they'll be able to provide even better support to SoftLayer customers!

You shouldn't have to sacrifice agility for performance, and you shouldn't have to sacrifice performance for agility. Most of the "big data" offerings in the market today are built on virtual servers that can be provisioned quickly but offer meager performance levels relative to running the same database on bare metal infrastructure. To get the performance benefits of dedicated hardware, many users have chosen to build, roll out and tweak their own configurations. With our MongoDB offering, you get the on-demand availability and flexibility of a cloud infrastructure with the raw power and full control of dedicated hardware.

If you've been toying with the idea of rolling out your own big data infrastructure, life just got a lot better for you.


November 16, 2012

Going Global: Domo Arigato, Japan

I'm SoftLayer's director of international operations, so I have the unique pleasure of spending a lot of time on airplanes and in hotels as I travel between Dallas, Amsterdam, Singapore and wherever else our event schedule dictates. In the past six months, I've spent most of my time in Asia, and I've tried to take advantage of the opportunity relearn the culture to help shape SoftLayer Asia's business.

To really get a sense the geographic distance between Dallas and Singapore, find a globe and put one index finger on Dallas and put your other index finger on Singapore. To travel from one location to the other, you fly to the other side of the planet. Given the space considerations, our network map uses a scaled-down representative topology to show our points of presence in a single view, and you get a sense of how much artistic license was used when you actually make the trip to Singapore.

Global Network

The longest currently scheduled commercial flight on the planet takes you from Singapore to Newark in a cool 19 hours, but I choose to maintain my sanity rather than set world records for amount of time spent in a metal tube. I usually hop from Dallas to Tokyo (a mere 14 hours away) where I spend a few days, and I get on another plane down to Singapore.

The break between the two legs of the trip serves a few different purposes ... I get a much needed escape from the confines of an airplane, I'm able to spend time in an amazing city (where I lived 15 years ago), and I can use the opportunity to explore the market for SoftLayer. Proximity and headcount dictated that we spend most of our direct marketing and sales time focusing on the opportunities radiating from Singapore, so we haven't been able to spend as much time as we'd like in Japan. Fortunately, we've been able organically grow our efforts in the country through community-based partnerships and sponsorships, and we owe a great deal of our success to our partners in the region and our new-found friends. I've observed from our experience in Japan that the culture breeds two contrasting business realities that create challenges and opportunities for companies like SoftLayer: Japan is insular and Japan is global.

When I say that Japan is insular, I mean that IT purchases are generally made in the realm of either Japanese firms or foreign firms that have spent decades building reputation in market. Becoming a trusted part of that market is a time-consuming (and expensive) endeavor, and it's easy for a business to be dissuaded as an outsider. The contrasting reality that Japanese businesses also have a huge need for global reach is where SoftLayer can make an immediate impact.

Consider the Japanese electronics and the automobile industries. Both were built internally before making the leap to other geographies, and over the course of decades, they have established successful brands worldwide. Japanese gaming companies, social media companies and vibrant start-up communities follow a similar trend ... only faster. The capital investment required to go global is negligible compared to their forebears because they don't need to build factories or put elaborate logistics operations in place anymore. Today, a Japanese company with a SaaS solution, a game or a social media experience can successfully share it with the world in a matter minutes or hours at minimal cost, and that's where SoftLayer is able to immediately serve the Japanese market.

The process of building the SoftLayer brand in Asia has been accelerated by the market's needs, and we don't take that for granted. We plan to continue investing in local communities and working with our partners to become a trusted and respected resource in the market, and we are grateful for the opportunities those relationships have opened for us ... Or as Styx would say, "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto."


July 5, 2012

Bandwidth Utilization: Managing a Global Network

SoftLayer has over 1,750 Gbit/s of network capacity. In each of our data centers and points of presence, we have an extensive library of peering relationships and multiple 10 Gbit/s connections to independent Tier 1 carriers. We operate one of the fastest, most reliable networks on the planet, and our customers love it:

From a network operations standpoint, that means we have our work cut out for us to keep everything running smoothly while continuing to build the network to accommodate a steady increase in customer demand. It might be easier to rest on our laurels to simply maintain what we already have in place, but when you look at the trend of bandwidth usage over the past 18 months, you'll see why we need to be proactive about expanding our network:

Long Term Bandwidth Usage Trend

The purple line above plots the 95th percentile of weekly outbound bandwidth utilization on the SoftLayer network, and the red line shows the linear trend of that consumption over time. From week to week, the total usage appears relatively consistent, growing at a steady rate, but when you look a little deeper, you get a better picture of how dynamic our network actually is:

SoftLayer Weekly Bandwidth Usage

The animated gif above shows the 2-hour average of bandwidth usage on our entire network over a seven-week period (times in CDT). As you can see, on a day-to-day basis, consumption fluctuates pretty significantly. The NOC (Network Operations Center) needs to be able to accommodate every spike of usage at any time of day, and our network engineering and strategy teams have to stay ahead of the game when it comes to planning points of presence and increasing bandwidth capacity to accommodate our customers' ever-expanding needs.

But wait. There's more.

Let's go one level deeper and look a graph of the 95th percentile bandwidth usage on 5-minute intervals from one week in a single data center:

Long Term Bandwidth Usage Trend

The variations in usage are even more dramatic. Because we have thirteen data centers geographically dispersed around the world with an international customer base, the variations you see in total bandwidth utilization understate the complexity of our network's bandwidth usage. Customers targeting the Asian market might host content in SNG01, and the peaks in bandwidth consumption from Singapore will counterbalance the valleys of consumption at the same time in the United States and Europe.

With that in mind, here's a challenge for you: Looking at the graph above, if the times listed are in CDT, which data center do you think that data came from?

It would be interesting to look at weekly usage trends, how those trends are changing and what those trends tell us about our customer base, but that assessment would probably be "information overload" in this post, so I'll save that for another day.


P.S. If you came to this post expecting to see "a big truck" or "a series of tubes," I'm sorry I let you down.

December 6, 2011

Go, Tell it on the Mountain

Because SoftLayer is now a global hosting company and the holidays are upon us, I thought I'd tweak another Christmas classic with some SoftLayer-specific content ... We're going to need a few more tracks to add to SoftLayer is Coming to Town if we hope to compile an album that'll compete with Justin Bieber.

Go, Tell it on the Mountain

While SLayers kept their watching
O'er customer servers by night,
Another DC opened,
and SoftLayer's now worldwide.

Go, tell it on Facebook
Over on Reddit and everywhere
Go, tell it on LinkedIn
That SoftLayer hosts your site!

Our competitors feared and trembled
When lo! around the earth
Rang out the three bars chorus
That hailed of SoftLayer's worth.

Go, tell it on Facebook
Over on Reddit and everywhere
Go, tell it on LinkedIn
That SoftLayer hosts your site!

From in a lowly basement
Our humble business came;
Innovation and Automation
Would change the hosting game.

Go, tell it on Facebook
Over on Reddit and everywhere
Go, tell it on LinkedIn
That SoftLayer hosts your site!

Before I was a SLayer
I searched both day and night
For a company that was perfect,
And SoftLayer turned out right.

Go, tell it on Facebook
Over on Reddit and everywhere
Go, tell it on LinkedIn
That SoftLayer hosts your site!

I was made a SLayer
A few short years ago,
And since I joined SoftLayer
I've seen us really grow, sooooo...

Go, tell it on Facebook
Over on Reddit and everywhere
Go, tell it on LinkedIn
That SoftLayer hosts your site!

If you sing this carol in front of the house of one of our 26,000+ customers, I can almost guarantee that you'll be invited in for hot chocolate ... Or they'll think you're a crazy stalker because you know about their hosting provider, and they'll call the police.

Either way, thanks for "listening"!


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