Posts Tagged 'Hardware'

May 12, 2011

Follow 750 Servers from Truck to DC Rack

What do you call the day after you finish building a new data center server room and cabling the server racks in it? If you're an employee at SoftLayer, you call it Truck Day.

Last week, a few of the folks from marketing were invited to celebrate in the Truck Day festivities for Pod 2 in DAL05 (SR02.DAL05), and I jumped at the opportunity. I don't go anywhere without at least one camera on-hand to document and share what's going on with the SoftLayer community, and Truck Day wasn't an exception ... In fact, I had three different cameras going at all times!

The truck arrived at around 7 a.m. with a few dozen pallets of servers, and about forty employees from all around the company immediately jumped into action. As the pallets moved from the loading dock to the inventory room, people were unboxing servers and piling them on carts. When a cart was full, it was whisked to the data center and unloaded. The data center techs plugged in each of the servers to confirm its configuration and stacked it with matching configurations in designated areas around the data center. By the time one cart got back to the inventory room, another was on its way to the data center, so very little time was lost.

Back in 2007, SamF did a great job of explaining the process, so I won't reinvent the wheel. Instead, I'll let you see the activities as they were captured by the three cameras I toted along:

To give you an idea of how fast all of this was done, each the time lapse cameras set up in the data center and in the inventory room captured images every five seconds. When the video was compiled, the frame rate was set to 20 frames per second, so each second of time lapse video is the equivalent of 100 seconds of work. In a matter of just a few hours, we received, inventoried, racked, cabled and started selling around 750 servers in a brand new data center pod. Competitors: Be afraid. Be very afraid. :)

Pictures from DAL05 Pod 2 Truck Day have been posted on our Flickr Account: http://sftlyr.com/8g

In the past three weeks, we brought three different data center pods online in three different parts of the country: On April 25, it was our first server room in San Jose (SJC01); on May 2, the second server room in DAL05; and on May 10, our second server room in WDC01. As far as I know, we don't have a new pod planned for next month, but given how quickly the operations team has been building data center space, I wouldn't be surprised to get a call asking me to come in a little early to help unload servers in a new data center next week.

-@khazard

Music Credit: The background track in the video is "Your Coat" from SoftLayer's very own Chris Interrante. Keep an eye out for his soon-to-be released EP: OVERDRAFT.

December 2, 2010

Once a Bug Killer, Now a Killer Setup

Not everyone enjoys or has the benefit of taking what they learn at work to apply at home in personal situations, but I consider myself lucky because the things I learn from work can often be very useful for hobbies in my own time. As an electronics and PC gaming fanatic, I always enjoy tips that would increase the performance of my technological equipment. Common among PC gaming enthusiasts is the obsession with making their gaming rig excel in every aspect by upgrading video card, ram, processor, etc. Before working at SoftLayer, I had only considered buying better hardware to improve performance but never really looked into the advantages of different types of setups for a computer.

This new area of exploration for me started shortly after my first days at SoftLayer when I was introduced to RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) for our servers. In the past, I had heard mention of the term but never had any idea of what that entailed and was only familiar with our good ole bug killer brand Raid. You can imagine my excitement as I learned more about its intricacies and how the different types of RAID could benefit my computer’s performance.

Armed with this new knowledge, I was determined to reconfigure my gaming pc at home to reap the benefits. Upon looking at the different RAID setups, I decided to go with a RAID 0 because I did not want to sacrifice storage space and my data was not critical enough that I would need a mirror such as provided with RAID 1.

One thing led to another as I became occupied for a good amount of time with benchmarking drive performance in my old setup versus my new setup. In the end, I was happy to report a significant performance gain in what I now refer to as my “killer setup”. Applications would launch noticeably faster and even in games where videos were stored locally on hard drives, the cinematic scenes would come up faster than before.

To add to the hype, a coworker was also building a new computer in anticipation of a new game called Final Fantasy XIV. It felt like a competition to exceed each other with better scores. I’m already planning ahead for future upgrades since this time around I had only used SATA drives. For my next upgrade I would love to run a RAID 0 with two SSD drives to see what kind of boost I would get.

So for business or pleasure, have you ever considered the benefits of setting up a RAID system?

-Danny

October 27, 2010

Oh No CoLo, Go Go Godzilla (Apologies to Blue Oyster Cult)

A traditional Co-location has certain advantages and for some customers it makes a great deal of sense. At least it does at first blush. Take a look:

  • Colo is cheaper than doing it yourself as physical infrastructure costs are shared across a number of customers.
  • The hardware is yours, not the co-location company’s. This means you can scale in the manner you please versus what suits the business model of the co-location company. The potential downside is that this assumes you were smart enough to pre-buy the space to grow into…
  • The software is yours, too. You are not limited to the management suite provided by the co-location company. Use what you wish.
  • Colo centers are usually more robust than a typical business environment. They deploy more physical security in an environment that is designed to properly manage power (multiple generators on-site for example) and the risks associated with fire and other natural disasters.
  • Upgrade paths are determined by you versus the hosting provider.

But what about the cost side of the equation? What does that look like? It goes without saying that it is (usually) cheaper to use a provider like SoftLayer to host your gear, but by how much? We have built a relatively simple model to get at some of these answers.

Assumptions:

  • A mix of 75 small servers (Xeon 5503, 2 GB RAM, 250 GB SATA) and 75 large servers (Xeon 5520, 3 GB RAM, 250 GB SATA)
  • Colo pricing was based on $100 per U per month, or $2,500 per 40U rack per month cost. Colo capex assumed the same base configuration but at current market prices.
  • We assumed a $199 price point for SoftLayer’s small servers and $359 for large servers
  • Bandwidth consumption of 2500 GB per server per month (this is about 50% of what we see in house). A price of $50 per Mbps was used.
  • A refresh schedule of 50% at 36 months, 25% at 48 months and 25% at 60 months

So what do the numbers tell us? Well, I think it paints a pretty compelling picture for SoftLayer. The 60 month Total Cash Outlay (TCO) for Colocation is 131% of the SoftLayer cost.

Total Cash Outlay

  Collocation Softlayer
Initial Capital Expenditure (Cash Outlay) $341,700 $0
Monthly Recurring Charges $64,778 $60,450
60 Month TCO $4,740,917 $3,627,000

In addition to the total cash outlay, we can add in a bunch of additional “hassle costs” – the hassle of driving to the DC in the middle of the night for an emergency, the hassle of doing your own software patching, setting up your own monitoring, waiting on hardware delivery (and you are not going to be first in line given your volumes are likely to be low compared to SoftLayer), the hassle of booking assets to the balance sheet, depreciation entries, salvage accounting entries, actual equipment disposal, downtime while you perform upgrades – ugh, the list is almost endless.

The argument for a SoftLayer solution is pretty strong based on the numbers alone. And I think that they ought to be persuasive enough for most to rethink a colocation decision. That said colocation decisions are not made from a cost perspective alone.

For example:

  • Issues around data integrity and security often drive companies to adopt a corporate philosophy that dictates co-location (or an on premise solution) over an outsourced solution. There is a deemed corporate need to have data / applications running over their own iron. Indeed, for many, colocation represents a significant and progressive decision.
  • Many companies have infrastructure in place and a decision will not be made to veer from the current solution until a technology refresh is in order. Never mind that fact that a transition to an outsourced solution (and this is the case when lots of things are outsourced, not just infrastructure) can generate significant internal anxiety.

Many outsourcing adoption models seem to show a similar trend. To a degree much of this becomes a market evolution consideration.

  1. Adoption is very slow to start. Companies do not understand the new model and as a result do not trust vendor promises of cost savings and service delivery. To be fair to customers, service delivery for many solutions is poor at the beginning and cost savings often disappear as a result.
  2. The vendor population responds to initial concerns regarding service delivery and perceptions around cost savings. Innovation drives significant improvements from a product and service delivery perspective. The solution now seems more viable and adoption picks up.
  3. For some services (payroll is a good example), the cost savings of outsourcing the solution are realized across the marketplace with excellent service delivery and support being commonplace. We are close to mass market adoption, but some companies will opt to keep things in house regardless.

So where are we on the evolutionary curve? That is a difficult question to answer as there are numerous things to consider dependent upon where you want to look.

For most SMBs, outsourcing functions like HR/Payroll or their IT infrastructure is a no brainer – capital is not as readily available and existing staff is likely overburdened making sure everything else works. At the end of the day, the desire is to focus on running their business, not the technology that enables it. The decision is relatively easy to make.

As we go further up the food chain, the decision matrix gets infinitely more complex driven by an increase in geographic reach (local – national – international), an increase in the complexity of requirements, an increase in the number (and complexity) of systems being used and typically large IT organization that can be a terrific driving (or drowning?) force in the organization. The end result is that decisions to outsource anything are not easy to reach. Outsourcing occurs in pockets and SoftLayer certainly sees some of this where enterprise customers use us for a few things versus everything.

At the end of the day, the hosting market will continue to be multifaceted. All businesses are not alike and different needs (real or otherwise) will drive different business decisions. While I believe colocation will remain a viable solution, I believe that it will be less important in the future. The advantages presented by companies like SoftLayer only get more powerful over time, and we are going to be ready.

-Mike

October 12, 2010

What Does it Cost (Part 1)

The Overview
I normally like to have a little fun in the blogs that I write and maybe even take the occasional jab at our CFO Mike Jones (all kidding aside about pink shirts and what not he is a really great guy). This blog is intended to have more of a educational goal, and since there is a lot to take into consideration I won’t be able to make any pink shirt cracks, and the reason for this is because I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past year or two in which the question that always comes up is “How does SoftLayer compare to colocation and what is the better move for me?” We’ll look into this further throughout the blog series.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Network World IT Roadmaps events in both New York and Atlanta earlier this year. Now what motivated me to put fingers to keyboard here is the perspective I gained from many people that I talked to during and after the conference. I consider myself to be fortunate to attend because it is rare that SLales staff is able to join in on the marketing campaign and work with people more on a face to face basis. Normally SoftLayer Sales member cannot really help our customers if we are not at our desk to take their calls, chats, emails, or tickets. I enjoy attending events like these because it seems that you can learn so much more speaking with someone face to face as opposed to just over a phone call or email.

Since this was not my first go around with the Network World events I was more familiar with the setup and I was able to take more in from the people speaking at the event. There are some common themes that can affect business from the technology side of things, and if you want to have growth you must invest into your own infrastructure and your own technology. If you are a small mom and pop shop that is fine with maintaining the status quo it may not be as vital for you, but then again you wouldn’t be reading this blog post now would you? The themes I saw (broken down into more simple context) were based around some basic principles.

  • A company is a grouping of people working for a common goal. Your people are your most valuable asset and it is important to put them in positions where they can be successful and ultimately you will be successful as well.
  • The Wayne Gretzky quotes of “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”, and following that up with “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” these have a common sense idea that if you are not looking to the future and figure out what is coming next then you will always be trying to catch up. If you are not innovating or growing then ultimately you are dying.
  • How can I get more? We are constantly pressured to do more with less, or at least get more out of what we already have. This is probably the biggest and most frequent question we all get no matter what our business model is and what we try to achieve.

There are, of course, many other themes than the ones I have just listed and more specific ones too. Even though I certainly took much more away these were some of the main takeaways that brought me back to an always evolving answer to the same question that every speaker seemed to dance around - “What does it cost?”

No matter how big you are or how much budget you have in place there will always be different options presented to you on how to build up your infrastructure. I have no doubt that you have asked yourself the question of what will it cost in relation to many things and possibly asked yourself in many different ways. Making comparisons to figure out what is the cost and what will give me the best possible results is the end goal we are trying to reach. But how can we get there? It can be very difficult to compare data centers to each other in an apple to apples fashion. There are simply too many variables to note in making this all come forth full stream. My goal is to try and help us all tackle this broad issue, and hopefully it will lead to more discussion about pros and cons so that it can be easier to determine the best course of action in future planning.

There are a lot of things to consider in the cost of running a data center. It seems like a never ending list of essential things that cost both money and time (which in some cases can be more valuable). In this series of blogs we’ll break specifics parts of a data center down into the basics of several areas that you’d need to consider. Once we get into the basics we’ll want to look back to ask “what does it take to run a data center?” Most often people only look at the most tangible items with the easiest metrics to apply which essentially comes down to the server hardware, power, space, and bandwidth. Sometimes these are the only things that people look at in making this decision.

Depending who you are and what you want to get out of your data center this could be close to what you’d need to consider, but for 99% of the population who has any business with a data center this only covers the basics. As a society convenience plays an ever increasing role in what we look for and in addition to this 99% looking for data center infrastructure crave things like uptime, speed, reliability, and space/opportunity for scalability and expansion. Each of these things are more than just desires, they are verified needs.

So in getting to the meat of what this blog is about I’ll quickly discuss the different things that add to the total cost beyond the obvious things of Hardware, Space, Power, and Bandwidth. I know this is already pretty long for a blog so I am turning this into a short series and I will follow up with addition blogs to go into more depth about each portion and how they can relate to each other. I will work to add insight from other customers who have asked this of themselves before in addition to giving my own experiences on this topic.

Opportunity Costs
I consider the idea of Opportunity Costs to be amongst the highest and least quantifiable aspect in running a data center. This isn’t something that will have its own blog post because of its broad nature, so instead I’ll simply tie the idea of Opportunity Cost into each other blog and how it relates to the overall discussion.

There is often a simple truth to knowing or stating that if we choose option “A” it will negate the value, relevance, and in many cases the existence of any other previously viable options. Nearly all Opportunity Costs relates back to What Does it Cost by determining what is potentially to be either gained or lost with that decision. This idea can be further broken down into risk vs. reward, and a simple business decision in knowing that if you wish to take on less risk, you’ll need to pay more for it or get less in return. The same can be said for intangibles other than risk like convenience, reliability, and speed.

Human Resource costs
Earlier, I mentioned that one of the main topics of discussion that guest speakers emphasized was that Our people are our biggest assets, but at the same time they can also easily be one of our biggest costs. I think that a lot of businesses can agree with this statement, however, the impact from how we develop our infrastructure does not often take our people and associated costs into account. Every business should have a growth model the cost of growth (or your growing pains) is often overlooked in the planning stages. We’ll look at specific situations and take into account amount of people needed running everything yourself and what that will wind up costing from just the HR standpoint.

This can get more into what is the cost of adding one more qualified employee. This is one of the biggest aspects often overlooked, because it not only takes new people you would need to hire, but how it can monopolize time and production you would get otherwise from people you already have on staff.

The value of "On-Demand" and the cost of not having it.
Have you ever heard the phrase “time is money”? What does this mean to you? What can this mean in a data center? Here we’ll focus the conversation on efficiency and the compare certain costs and benefits between different ways about achieving our goals.

We can take a look at standard processes that we may have to go through if we wish to add capacity as well as integrating new solutions with existing ones. Time has a huge value in today’s business world, and we’ll determine how having on demand infrastructure has the ability to positively impact the bottom line immensely. Having necessary tools in a truly on-demand and versatile environment will be a major point of focus in everything moving forward, and it is an important intangible factor that we should not lose sight of.

Cost of Uptime/ Redundancy
Uptime is one of the most common themes near the top of everyone’s list for data center management. We can all agree that uptime is important, but how important is it to us each individually? We will look at scenarios where if a catastrophic event were to happen we should ask ourselves what it would cost not only in terms of monetary value, but also what would that mean long term and on a strategic level.

Downtime will eventually happen in all things, but if you can plan around this to have redundancy or failover then you can alleviate this risk. So we must again ask ourselves “what will this cost?” Simply put Redundancy can and will be expensive. Generally it will cost much more than just the sum of its parts and it is easy to over look certain aspects of where you may have a “single point of failure”. At the same time we should consider what will the cost be for each additional level of redundancy that we incorporate?

Contracts
In this blog we will relate focus heavily on two main ideas: The value of time in making long term decisions and Opportunity Cost. We’ll be able to look at what having long term commitments really cost in ways that include scalability, large capital costs, accounting on physical resources and their benefits as well as limitations. Once we have this established we can also more easily determine how this can affect your decision making and your ongoing ability to do the right thing for your business.

Accounting
Different accounting practices can make a great difference in your bottom line. Carrying on additional debt, taxes, and taking depreciation can have a lot of costs that go beyond the normal operating costs. For this section I’ll warrant the help of some of our experts who have already previously run several scenarios and may be a bit more qualified than I am to speak on such matters.

In the end this study can make it easier to compare and see if SoftLayer is the right solution for you or someone you may know. I can say that SoftLayer will not be the entire solution for some companies compared to doing things yourself, however, we do make sound business sense in about 95% of cases at some capacity if not full capacity.

-Doug

Categories: 
September 10, 2010

Who is Your IT Guy?

In any environment where the need for quick transfer and access of information is required, an “IT guy” is a must. Most people have a bit of a preconceived notion as to what a tech should look like. Most think of large glasses, pocket protectors, and a social anxiety that is idiosyncratic to that particular group. Fans of Saturday Night Live will recall Nick Burns, the condescending technician who fixed the computers in his little corner of TV Land.

SNL IT Guy Nick Burns

While popular culture seems to think that the standard IT Guy fits the above criteria, allow me to be the first to dispel that rumor. For living proof, I submit to you, the SoftLayer NOC.

The technicians here are more exceptions to this seemingly universally accepted rule of what an IT Technician should be. While we possess a large wealth of knowledge, our technicians are all but condescending. To those who don’t know, we’re here to teach you. Being a server administrator has it’s challenges, but our technicians can be your eyes and ears in the datacenter, and instead of replying with “was that so hard?!”, we’ll provide as much information and assistance as we can to get you back on your feet. Our technicians are not just the geeky typecasts that one would expect. Our techs come from all walks of life. Some are self taught, some were taught in a university, while others learned their skills in the Military. Our hobbies run the gamut, including the piloting of aircraft, gaming, sports, outdoor activities, and music – Heck, we even have some former rock stars in our ranks.

Just remember, don’t be afraid to ping your IT Guy for information. A lot of us like to share some of the ninja tricks, war stories, and other anecdotes about our times in battle with hardware, software, and everything in between. Not only do we like to share our technical knowledge, but our individual stories, interests, and fun facts as well. Remember: IT guys are people too!

August 5, 2010

Security Myths part 2

Security Myth #4: A hardware firewall will stop the evil hackers from the internet. They also stop viruses and spam emails.

The Facts: A hardware firewall will filter your traffic based on a set of rules. If properly configured, this will certainly harden your system from certain types of attacks. However, if you want to stop intrusion attempts on your server, you probably want to implement brute force protection or intrusion detection (IDS). Most operating systems nowadays include brute force protection in one form or another (although it may not be turned on by default). If you want an IDS, there are several options available. Here at SoftLayer, we offer McAfee Host Intrusion Protection System (or HIPS for short) for Windows systems. This will offer you some additional protection against intrusion attempts, but it is no substitute for a well patched system with strong passwords. This is especially important to know if you contract with an outside agency to configure your firewall for you. It’s easy to delude yourself into a “set it and forget it” attitude toward security. I can’t tell you how many administrators I’ve talked to that have asked “how did I get hacked? I had a firewall!”

The Side Effects:

  • Having a hardware firewall means an additional step to allow access to ports. Can be time consuming.
  • Having a hardware firewall can potentially mean an additional point of failure.
  • Too many rules can mean degraded performance.

Security Myth #5: I run a Unix/Linux based system, so I can’t get hacked.

The Facts: I have seen a fair share of Unix based systems get hacked, simply because the user is unfamiliar with the OS. Running everything from within a control panel is convenient, but make sure you or one of your administrators is familiar with command line access.

The Side Effects:

  • Running a control panel can cause more security holes

Security Myth #6: I have my Wordpress (or other web application) patched to the latest version, so I should be fine.

The Facts: WordPress is a piece of cake to install. You don’t even need to know how to code in HTML. This means you can install it and have it working properly, and still forget to correct your filesystem permissions. You need to make sure that you read the installation documentation and complete all steps. If you just stop reading once the application starts working, you could potentially forget to correct your permissions and someone could gain access as an administrative user. I ran into a situation one time where a user was utilizing a web interface to manage an online marketplace. I was shocked to find out that the link he sent me allowed me in without the use of a password! Make sure that your application doesn’t use the default password or a blank password.

The Side Effects:

  • Having the latest version is great, but make sure you take a 360 degree look around to make sure nothing is out of place

Security Myth #7: I am getting SPAM messages, but I have a firewall.

The Facts: A firewall does not filter SPAM messages. You might look into the free SpamAssassin software that will filter email for potential SPAM. http://spamassassin.apache.org/

March 17, 2010

Redrum

How many of you when you were kids were scared to death of the movie The Shining? I know I was. I think it still scares me today. The movie even made a little kid scary; his voice is what pulled it off. I can still get in trouble with my wife for getting our 6 year old to say "redrum" in a scratchy, scary voice.*

What do The Shining and redrum have to do with SoftLayer? We're all about redrum but only when it comes to destroying left over customer data. What do I mean by destroying customer data you ask?

When you have a server that you spent Capex on and have it in front of you and can touch it and set coffee on it or use it for a plant stand, you know where your data is. When you replace that server or upgrade the hard drive you can then do what most people do with the old one and chunk it in the dumpster or be a little more secure and format the hard drive or even a little more secure and take the drive out and smash it into pieces. Now, that is secure.

So what do you do when you outsource your hardware to a provider like SoftLayer? You put your old data in our hands and we redrum the data and make Jack Nicholson seem like an angel.

It is a little more difficult for us to protect your old data because we are an on-demand provider. When you cancel a server we reuse that server for another customer. You probably don't want your data in that new customers hands so we have to do a little more than format the drive and we can't just take it outside and bash it into pieces because then we couldn't reuse the drive. So we use a little technology to make sure your old data is safe.

When you cancel a server, it sits in limbo for a while just to make sure we can't change your mind and have you keep it. After the waiting period we erase the data. This is a destructive process, so when you do cancel a server, make sure you have the data you still require somewhere else. Our system uses algorithms developed by the Department of Defense and several independent agencies that are considered military grade as defined by the DOD 5220.22-M (sounds official right?). Utilizing this process residual drive data is destroyed. This process is monitored and logged and we can track the history of any drive. Once complete the drive is ready to be redeployed to a new customer.

I know you are thinking, "That isn't redrum," but what do we do with a drive when it is at the end of its productive life? If it's too small, not fast enough, or dead and out of warranty? We redrum it for sure! We complete the steps above and then send them offsite to get destroyed and then get them back after they are destroyed for tracking and verification of redrum! Yes, we could get them shredded but then we would have no proof they were destroyed. Here is what they look like when they return:

hard drive 1
Note the hole in the center.
hard drive 2
This is looking down from the "top".
hard drive 3
And last but not least, a view from the bottom. Note the platters are bent and protruding through the board.

*Just in case you haven't seen The Shining (Spoiler Alert) a small boy in the movie mumbles "redrum" in an eerie voice in the beginning of the movie. He continues to say it more and more and finally he writes it on the bathroom door. When you see it reversed in the bathroom mirror you then understand what he is saying.

-@Skinman454

October 22, 2009

Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful.

People just can't take a joke.

I'd like to start this tale of revenge by letting you know what a family affair Truck Day is around here. All month long, every month, SoftLayer's lightning fast infrastructure team works to build our high density racks from the ground up. They put in some serious hours to meet our fast paced deadlines, and at the end of the month everyone pitches in to fill those racks up with servers. Early in the morning all of our team members will pile in, sleepy eyed and jonesing for coffee (with the exception of the overnight "SLombies," who are jonesing for bed), to unload a semi truck full of servers.

Here's some pics of the event from way back.

Truck Day 1
The Unload
Truck Day 2
The Stack and Sort

True, it's not as fun as.. well, most things. But SoftLayer's Truck Day is an institution. A bonafide tradition! And I'd hate for anyone to think that I forgot one.

After scrimping and saving (and accepting generous handouts from family members) I finally got to cut loose and fly to Hawaii for a few days in the sun. The Mrs. and I made the most of it and headed to the beach as often as we could. While I was there I took this harmless photo and uploaded it to Facebook, to let everyone know that I was thinking of them on truck day:

Beach Day
Happy Truck Day

Apparently, it wasn't taken in the light hearted manner in which it was meant.

Desk 1
Desk 2
Desk 3

It's dangerous to go on vacation.

-Jeaves

September 21, 2009

Hardwhere? - Part Deux: Softwhere (as in soft, fluffy clouds)

I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the cloud software we use (okay, maybe a little :),) but I know the gist of it as far as hardware is concerned- redundancy. Entire servers were the last piece of the puzzle needed to complete entire hardware redundancy. In my original article, Hardwhere?, (http://theinnerlayer.softlayer.com/2008/hardwhere/) I talked about using load balancers to spread the load to multiple servers (a service we already had at the time) and eluded to cloud computing.

Now cloud services are a reality.

This is a dream come true for me as the hardware manager. Hardware will always have failures and living in the cloud eliminates customer impact. Words cannot describe what it means to the customer. Never again will a downed server impact service.

Simply put, when you use a SoftLayer CloudLayer Computing Instance, your software is running on one or more servers. If one of these should fail, the load of your software is shifted to another server in the “cloud” seamlessly. We call this HA or High Availability.

If there is a sad part to all of this, it would be that I have spent considerable effort optimizing the hardware department to minimize customer downtime in the even on hardware failures. But I have a rather odd way of looking at my job. I believe the end game of any job I do is complete automation and/or elimination of the task altogether. (Can you say the opposite of job security?) I have a going joke where I say: “Until I have automated and/or proceduralized everything down to perfection with one big red button, there is still work to be done!”

Cloud computing eliminates the customer impact of hardware failures. Bam! Even though this has nothing to do with my hardware department planning, policies and procedures, I have no ego in the matter. If it solves the problem, I don’t care who did the work and was the genius behind it all, as long as it moves us forward with the best products and optimal customer satisfaction!

We have taken the worry out of hosting- no more deciding what RAID is best. No more worrying about how to keep your data available in the event of a hardware failure. CloudLayer does it for you and has all the same service options as a dedicated server and more! One more step to a big red button for the customer!

Now back to working on the DC patrol sharks (they keep eating the techs!) New project- tech redundancy!

July 1, 2009

Pre-configuration and Upgrades

I recently bought a new computer for my wife. Being a developer, and a former hardware engineering student, I opted the buy the parts and assemble the machine ourselves. Actually assembling a computer these days doesn't take too long, it's the software that really gets you. Windows security updates, driver packs, incompatibilities, inconsistencies, broken websites, and just plain bad code plagued me for most of the night. The video card, in particular, has a “known issue” where it just “uh-oh” turns off the monitor when Windows starts. The issue was first reported in March of 2006, and has yet to be fixed.

This is why SoftLayer always tests and verifies the configurations we offer. We don't make the end user discover on their own that Debian doesn't work on Nehalems, we install it first to be sure. This is also why our order forms prevent customers from ordering pre-installed software that are incompatible with any of the rest of the order. We want to make sure that customers avoid the frustration of ordering things only to find out later that they don't work together.

The problem with desktop computers, especially for people who are particular about their configurations, is that you cannot buy a pre-configured machine where all the parts are exactly what you want. We attempted to get a computer from Dell, and HP, but neither company would even display all the specifications we were interested in, nevermind actually having the parts we desired. Usually pre-built systems skimp on important things like the motherboard or the power supply, giving you very little room to upgrade.

At SoftLayer, we don't cut corners on our systems, and we ensure that each customer can upgrade as high as they possibly can. Each machine type can support more RAM and hard drives than the default level, and we normally have spare machines handy at all levels so that once you outgrow the expansion capabilities of your current box, you can move to a new system type. If you're thinking of getting a dedicated server, but you're worried about the cost, visit the SoftLayer Outlet Store and start small. We have single-core Pentium Ds in the outlet store, and you can upgrade from there until you're running a 24-core Xeon system.

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