Posts Tagged 'IBM'

April 23, 2014

Security: 10 Tips for Hardening a Linux Server

In light of all the complex and specialized attacks on Internet-facing servers, it’s very important to protect your cloud assets from malicious assailants whose sole purpose is to leach, alter, expose, siphon sensitive data, or even to shut you down. From someone who does a lot of Linux deployments, I like to have handy a Linux template with some extra security policies configured.

Securing your environment starts during the ordering process when you are deploying server resources. Sometimes you want to deploy a quick server without putting it behind an extra hardware firewall layer or deploying it with an APF (Advance Policy Firewall). Here are a couple of security hardening tips I have set on my Linux template to have a solid base level of security when I deploy a Linux system.

Note: The following instructions assume that you are using CentOS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

1. Change the Root Password
Log in to your server and change the root password if you didn’t use a SSH key to gain access to your Linux system.

  • passwd - Make sure it’s strong.
  • Don't intend on using root.

2. Create a New User
The root user is the only user created on a new Linux install. You should add a new user for your own access and use of the server.

  • useradd <username>
  • passwd <username> (Make sure this is a strong password that’s different from your root password.)

3. Change the Password Age Requirements
Change the password age so you’ll be forced to change your password in a given period of time:

  • chage –M 60 –m 7 –w 7 <username>
    • M: Minimum of days required between password changes
    • m: Maximum days the password is valid
    • w: The number of days before password will warn of expiration

4. Disable Root Login
As Lee suggested in the last blog, you should Stop Using Root!

  • When you need super-user permissions, use sudo instead of su. Sudo is more secure than using su: When a user uses sudo to execute root-level commands, all commands are tracked by default in /var/log/secure. Furthermore, users will have to authenticate themselves to run sudo commands for a short period of time.

5. Use Secure Shell (SSH)
rlogin and telnet protocols don’t use an encrypted format, just plain text. I recommend using SSH protocol for remote log in and file transfers. SSH allows you to use encryption technology while communicating with your sever. SSH is still open to many different types of attacks, though. I suggest using the following to lock SSH down a little bit more:

  • Remove the ability to SSH as root:
    1. vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
    2. Find #PermitRootLogin yes and change to PermitRootLogin no.
    3. Run service sshd restart.
  • Change the default SSH 22 port. You can even utilize RSA keys instead of passwords for extra protection.

6. Update Kernel and Software
Ensure your kernel and software patches are up to date. I like to make sure my Linux kernel and software are always up to date because patches are constantly being released with corrected security flaws and exploits. Remember you have access to SoftLayer’s private network for updates and patches, so you don’t have to expose your server to the public network to get updates. Run this with sudo to get updates in RedHat or CentOS: yum update.

7. Strip Your System
Clean your system of unwanted packages. I strip my system to avoid installing unnecessary software to avoid vulnerabilities. This is called “reducing the attack surface.” Packages like NFS, Samba, even the X Windows desktops (i.e., Gnome or KDE) contain vulnerabilities. Here’s how reduce the attack surface:

  • List what is installed: yum list installed
  • List the package name: yum list <package-name>
  • Remove the package: yum remove <package-name>

8. Use Security Extensions
Use a security extension such as SELinux on RHEL or CentOS when you’re able. SELinux provides a flexible Mandatory Access Control (MAC); running a MAC kernel protects the system from malicious or flawed applications that can damage or destroy the system. You’ll have to explore the official Red Hat documentation, which explains SELinux configuration. To check if SELinux is running, run sestatus.

9. Add a Welcome/Warning
Add a welcome or warning display for when users remote into your system. The message can be created using MOTD (message of the day). MOTD’s sole purpose is to display messages on console or SSH session logins. I like for my MOTDs to read “Welcome to <hostname>. All connections are being monitored and recorded.”

  • I recommend vi /etc/motd

10. Monitor Your Logs
Monitor logs whenever you can. Some example logs that you can audit:

  • System boot log: /var/log/boot.log
  • Authentication log: /var/log/secure
  • Log in records file: /var/log/utmp or /var/log/wtmp:
  • Where whole system logs or current activity are available: /var/log/message
  • Authentication logs: /var/log/auth.log
  • Kernel logs: /var/log/kern.log
  • Crond logs (cron job): /var/log/cron.log
  • Mail server logs: /var/log/maillog

You can even move these logs to a bare metal server to prevent intruders from easily modifying them.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when securing your Linux server. While not the most secure system, it gives you breathing room if you have to deploy quick servers for short duration tests, and so on. You can build more security into your server later for longer, more permanent-type servers.

- Darrel Haswell

Darrel Haswell is an advisory SoftLayer Business Partner Solution Architect.

Categories: 
March 19, 2014

An Inside Look at IBM Cloud Event 2014 in Hong Kong

On March 17 in Hong Kong, IBM and SoftLayer successfully concluded the first of many intimate cloud events. IBM Cloud Event 2014 marked the beginning of the $1.2 billion investment committed towards our global expansion plans.

Growing from 13 to 40 data centers is no mean feat, and Hong Kong is the starting point. Not only does this give our customers data redundancy in Asia-Pacific, but also provides data residency to our Hong Kong-based customers. Quite simply, we are growing where you want to grow.

For me, there were three key takeaways from the event.

We’re seeing overwhelming support from our customers.
Not only did we have an opportunity to host our Hong Kong clientele, but many also traveled from cities in Greater China to be a part of this milestone. It was immensely gratifying to see them being vocal advocates of SoftLayer services. Natali Ardianto from Tiket.com, Chris Chun from 6waves and Larry Zhang representing ePRO all shared their brilliant stories with the audience.

Tiket.com’s co-founder, Natali, is especially proud of the fact that the company sold out 6,000 tickets for the K-Pop Big Bang Alive concert in 10 minutes, while their competitor’s site was unable to meet the huge demand and shut down for four hours during the peak period. Tiket.com, founded in 2011, faced TCP, DoS and DDoS attacks and tried hosting unsuccessfully on two different IaaS providers before moving to SoftLayer’s infrastructure services in 2012.

6Waves, a gaming publisher, was started in 2008. Today, built on SoftLayer, 6waves has grown to the #1 third-party publisher on Facebook. 6waves manages 14 million monthly active users and 2 million daily active users. Chris, 6waves’ CTO and co-founder, shared that since 2009 6waves has launched more than 200 games on SoftLayer.

Larry Zhang, ePRO’s senior IT manager and architect, had a similar story to share. The B2C e-commerce platform, part of China-based DX Holdings, supports more than 200,000 items in 15 categories and saw a 66 percent increase in customers from October 2011 to September 2013. ePRO is now looking to cater to the US and Australian markets, and Larry believes that SoftLayer’s aggressive expansion plans will help them meet their goal.

SoftLayer in Hong Kong

There is a vested interest in the SoftLayer-IBM integration roadmap.
Large enterprises are moving towards the cloud. This is not a forward-looking statement, it's a fact. And from the feedback gathered and the questions put up by these organizations, it is clear that they are investing in leveraging cloud services for improving their internal processes and for bringing services to their end customers more quickly. Lance Crosby presented a SoftLayer-IBM integration roadmap. With SoftLayer forming the foundation of IBM's cloud offerings—SaaS, PaaS and BPaaS—there is no doubt that we are as invested in this partnership as our clientele.

The strong startup community in Hong Kong is committed to growing with Softlayer.
Catalyst, SoftLayer's startup incubator, has always had a strong presence in Hong Kong, and the startup spirit was evident on March 17 as well. The dedicated roundtable conducted for the community with Lance Crosby and Casey Lau, SoftLayer's Catalyst representative for APAC, was the highlight of the day. Lance left us with a powerful thought, "We are here to be an extension to your infrastructure... The question is what can you build on us."

All in all, this was a great start to our new journey!

- Namrata

March 6, 2014

SoftLayer at SXSW 2014

When attending South by Southwest (SXSW), the streets of Austin can feel like a giant maze. Keeping up with all the events in and around the conference is exhausting (if not impossible), so we thought we'd create a simple "SoftLayer at SXSW 2014" cheat sheet to eliminate the twists, turns and Internet searches that you'd otherwise make to track us down.

SXSW Interactive (SXSWi) Tradeshow

You will find the SoftLayer team in the Austin Convention Center Exhibit Hall at Stands 404 and 406. SLayers will be on-hand to give you a guided tour of the SoftLayer customer portal and answer any questions you have about moving your business into the cloud in general or moving it onto SoftLayer, specifically. If you have trouble locating our booth, we've got an 8-bit-inspired milestone for you to look for: The Server Challenge II.

We launched the original Server Challenge at SXSW in 2011, and since then, we've been tweaking and improving the competition to engage with conference attendees and help us tell the SoftLayer story. The objective of the competition is to popular 24 drive trays into two 2U servers and plug the network cables into the correct switches in the fastest time possible. If at the end of the show you have the fastest time, you will walk away with a MacBook Air and major bragging rights. As a reward for reading the SoftLayer Blog, we'll give you a leg up on the competition by letting you watch the current 43-second Server Challenge II world record completion:

SoftLayer Speakeasy

If you're looking to chill, recharge or get work done in the midst of the SXSW craziness, sign up to join us at the SoftLayer Speakeasy, featuring the Catalyst Startup Lounge. Our Catalyst team is taking over a great 6th Street venue on Sunday and Monday to provide a relaxed co-working space for customers, partners, and startups. Entrepreneurs, investors, developers and individuals in the startup ecosystem are welcome to stop in for free WiFi, coffee and drinks all day, and after 7pm, you'll enjoy live music!

Catalyst Startup Lounge

Register Now
Location: 501 East 6th Street, on the 2nd floor
Dates/Times: Sunday, March 9 at 12:00 PM to Monday, March 10 at 10:00 PM

SoftLayer Catalyst Incubator Program - SXSWi Panel

SoftLayer VP of Community Development Joshua Krammes joins a panel of customers and partners on Monday for a look at the tangible resources startup companies need to succeed:

SoftLayer’s Catalyst Incubator Program
@JoshuaKrames, VP Community Development (+ Panel)
Monday, March 10 @ 12:30pm — Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon B

IBM Cognitive Food Truck

While you're in town for SXSW, you're going to get hungry. Luckily, the Austin food truck scene is amazing, and you have quick and convenient access to any kind of food you can think of. This year, you'll even have quick and convenient access to any kind of food that IBM Watson can think up! Stop by the corner of Red River and 4th Street for a creative, crowd-sourced treat from the IBM Cognitive Food Truck. By using algorithms to determine why people like certain foods, Watson comes up with unique combinations of ingredients that deliver unbelievable results. And the best part...

Cognitive Cooking

Vote for the dishes you want to see the IBM Cognitive Food Truck create at SXSW online or by Tweeting your desired dish using #IBMFoodTruck. And if you get to try any of the food, let us know what you think about it.

With this cheat sheet, finding SoftLayer at SXSW will be a breeze ... Navigating the streets of Austin in the midst of all the crowds and chaos still might be tricky, though.

See you on Sunday!

-Rachel

February 20, 2014

SoftLayer at IBM Pulse 2014

When you plan your IBM Pulse schedule, you'll want to know where to find SoftLayer in the sea of people, sessions and events in Las Vegas next week. I consolidated some of the SoftLayer-specific highlights into this blog post, but by the time I got to the end of the post, it seemed like a daunting amount of content. To give the blog audience a "tl;dr" ("too long; didn't read") alternative, I convinced a few of my coworkers into sharing a quick overview of our activities via video:

Armed with the information from the video, scan down the rest of this post for details about the specific sessions or events that piqued your interest.

SoftLayer-Led IBM Pulse Sessions

Six different SLayers are presenting IBM Pulse 2014 sessions — five technical overviews, one panel, and one general session. Click on any of the topics below to read the session abstracts and learn more about the presenter with the IBM Pulse agenda preview tool.

IAS-2137A: Compute-as-a-Service: More than a Virtual Affair?
Steven Canale, VP of Global Sales
Monday, February 24 @ 11:15am — Room 119
IAS-2145A: Comparing Cloud Computing Models for Performance and Workload Suitability
Marc Jones, VP of Product Innovation
Monday, February 24 @ 1:00pm — Room 101
IAS-2117A: Cloud Performance is Not a Commodity
Nathan Day, Chief Scientist
Monday, February 24 @ 3:45pm — Room 119
IAS-1943A: Elastic OpenStack Private Clouds on SoftLayer
Marc Jones, VP of Product Innovation (+ Panel)
Tuesday, February 25 @ 11:15am — Room 124
IAS-2158A: High-Performance, Scalable Big Data Solutions in a Bare Metal Cloud
Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect
Tuesday, February 25 @ 2:15pm — Room 119
IAS-2167A: Infrastructure at Scale: Best Practices in Scaling Cloud Architectures
Phil Jackson, Developer Advocate Lead
Tuesday, February 25 @ 3:45pm — Room 119
GEN-2539A: General Session Day 3: Inspiring Bold Moves
Lance Crosby, CEO
Wednesday, February 26 @ 9:00am — Grand Garden Arena

Solution EXPO

In addition to those presentations, we'll be making a lot of noise in the Solution EXPO. Visit the IAAS Zone in the Cloud Demo Area to find us at Demo Pad 432-08. Here, you'll get a first-hand look at the ordering, configuration and management tools we use for our bare metal and virtual server cloud resources. Click around in our customer portal, try out our ordering process, and learn more about the automation that drives our cloud platform.

After you learn about SoftLayer in the Demo area, make your way to the Cloud Category Area to compete in the legendary Server Challenge II competition at #332. Your goal will be to repopulate the drives and network cables into a scaled-down version of a SoftLayer server rack, and if you record the best time at the event, you'll walk away with the pride of being the IBM Pulse 2014 Server Challenge champion... and a MacBook Air. To train for your two attempts per day, you might want to watch the current world record: SoftLayer + Supermicro Server Challenge II - World Record.

Dev@Pulse

Happening in parallel with IBM Pulse, Dev@Pulse is a FREE developer-focused event where attendees have access to hands-on labs, lightning talks and a playground of technical toys like the Oculus Rift and Parrot AR Drones. Additionally, IBM subject matter experts will be on-site to answer questions and help developers solve any of the code-related problems they've run into. And yes, as Phil Jackson so humbly explained in the video, he'll be presenting one of those lightning talks.

Pulse Palooza

To relax and unwind a bit after the heavy-hitting sessions on Monday and Tuesday, IBM Pulse is rolling out the red carpet for attendees to party in the MGM Grand Garden Arena from 7:00-10:00pm with live performances by Elvis Costello and Fall Out Boy!

Pulse Palooza

This event is included with all Pulse passes, and as Ryan said in the video, it's guaranteed to be a good time.

I can't even begin to describe the excitement our team has about IBM Pulse 2014, and we hope you feel the same way. Next week will be a great opportunity for you to learn more about SoftLayer, AND it'll give us a chance to learn more about your business and how we help you improve it in the cloud.

-@khazard

January 29, 2014

Get Your Pulse Racing

What will the future bring for SoftLayer and IBM? Over the past six months, you've probably asked that question more than a few times, and the answer you got may have been incomplete. You know that IBM is supercharging SoftLayer expansion and that our platform will be the foundation for IBM's most popular enterprise cloud products and services, but you've really only seen a glimpse of the big picture. At IBM Pulse, you'll get a much better view.

SoftLayer is no stranger to conferences and events. Last year alone, we were involved in around 70 different trade shows, and that number doesn't include the dozens of meetups, events, and parties we participated in without an official booth presence. It's pretty safe to say that Pulse is more important to us than any of the shows we've attended in the past. Why? Because Pulse is the first major conference where SoftLayer will be in the spotlight.

As a major component in IBM's cloud strategy, it's safe to assume that every attendee at IBM's "Premier Cloud Conference" will hear all about SoftLayer's platform and capabilities. We'll have the Server Challenge on the expo hall floor, we're going to play a huge part in connecting with developers at dev@Pulse, a number of SLayers are slated to lead technical sessions, and Wednesday's general session will be presented by our CEO, Lance Crosby.

If you're interested in what's next for IBM in the cloud, join us at Pulse 2014. SoftLayer customers are eligible for a significant discount on registration for the full conference, so if you need details on how to sign up, leave a comment on this blog or contact a SoftLayer sales rep, and we'll make sure you get all the information you need. To make it easier for first-time attendees to experience Pulse, IBM offers a special Pulse Peek pass that will get you into the general sessions and expo hall for free!

If you're a developer, we need to see you at dev@Pulse. Happening in parallel with the main Pulse show, dev@Pulse is focused on helping attendees design, develop, and deploy the next generation of cloud-based systems and applications. In addition to the lightning talks, hands-on labs, free certification testing, and code jam competition, you'll get to try out the Oculus Rift, meet a ton of brilliant people, and party with Elvis Costello and Fall Out Boy. The cost? A whopping $0.

Whether you're chairman of the board or a front-line application developer, you'll get a lot out of IBM Pulse. What happens in Vegas ... could change the way you do business. (Note: The parties, however, will stay in Vegas.)

-@khazard

January 17, 2014

What's Next? $1.2 Billion Investment. 15 New Data Centers.

SoftLayer was founded in a living room on May 5, 2005. We bootstrapped our vision of becoming the de facto platform for cloud computing by maxing out our credit cards and draining our savings accounts. Over the course of eight years, we built a unique global offering, and in the middle of last year, our long-term vision was validated (and supercharged) by IBM.

When I posted about IBM acquiring SoftLayer last June, I explained that becoming part of IBM "will enable us to continue doing what we've done since 2005, but on an even bigger scale and with greater opportunities." To give you an idea of what "bigger scale" and "greater opportunities" look like, I need only direct you to today's press release: IBM Commits $1.2 Billion to Expand Global Cloud Footprint.

IBM Cloud Investment

It took us the better part of a decade to build a worldwide network of 13 data centers. As part of IBM, we'll more than double our data center footprint in a fraction of that time. In 2006, we were making big moves when we built facilities on the East and West coasts of the United States. Now, we're expanding into places like China, Hong Kong, London, Japan, India, Canada and Mexico City. We had a handful of founders pushing for SoftLayer's success, and now we've got 430,000+ IBM peers to help us reach our goal. This is a whole new ballgame.

The most important overarching story about this planned expansion is what each new facility will mean for our customers. When any cloud provider builds a data center in a new location, it's great news for customers and users in that geographic region: Content in that facility will be geographically closer to them, and they'll see lower pings and better performance from that data center. When SoftLayer builds a data center in a new location, customers and users in that geographic region see performance improvements from *all* of our data centers. The new facility serves as an on-ramp to our global network, so content on any server in any of our data centers can be accessed faster. To help illustrate that point, let's look at a specific example:

If you're in India, and you want to access content from a SoftLayer server in Singapore, you'll traverse the public Internet to reach our network, and the content will traverse the public Internet to get back to you. Third-party peering and transit providers pass the content to/from our network and your ISP, and you'll get the content you requested.

When we add a SoftLayer data center in India, you'll obviously access servers in that facility much more quickly, and when you want content from a server in our Singapore data center, you'll be routed through that new data center's network point of presence in India so that the long haul from India to Singapore will happen entirely on the private network we control and optimize.

Users around the world will have faster, more reliable access to servers in every other SoftLayer data center because we're bringing our network to their front doors. When you combine that kind connectivity and access with our unique hybrid offering of powerful bare metal servers and scalable virtual server instances, it's easy to see how IBM, the most powerful technology company of the last 100 years, is positioned to remain the most powerful technology company in the world for the next century.

Now it's time to get to work.

-@lavosby

December 11, 2013

2013 at SoftLayer: Year in Review

I'm going into my third year at SoftLayer and it feels like "déjà vu all over again" to quote Yogi Berra. The breakneck pace of innovation, cloud adoption and market consolidation — it only seems to be accelerating.

The BIG NEWS for SoftLayer was announced in July when we became part of IBM. Plenty has already been written about the significance of this acquisition but as our CEO, Lance Crosby, eloquently put it in an earlier blog, "customers and clients from both companies will benefit from a higher level of choice and a higher level of service from a single partner. More important, the real significance will come as we merge technology that we developed within the SoftLayer platform with the power and vision that drives SmartCloud and pioneer next-generation cloud services."

We view our acquisition as an interesting inflection point for the entire cloud computing industry. The acquisition has ramifications that go beyond IaaS market and include both PaaS and SaaS offerings. As the foundation for IBM's SmartCloud offerings, the one-stop-shop for an entire portfolio of cloud services will resonate for startups and large enterprises alike. We're also seeing a market that is rapidly consolidating and only those with global reach, deep pockets, and an established customer base will survive.

With IBM's support and resources, SoftLayer's plans for customer growth and geographic expansion have hit the fast track. News outlets are already abuzz with our plans to open a new data center facility in Hong Kong in the first quarter of next year, and that's just the tip of the iceberg for our extremely ambitious 2014 growth plans. Given the huge influx of opportunities our fellow IBMers are bringing to the table, we're going to be busy building data centers to stay one step ahead of customer demand.

The IBM acquisition generated enough news to devote an entire blog to, but because we've accomplished so much in 2013, I'd be remiss if I didn't create some space to highlight some of the other significant milestones we achieved this year. The primary reason SoftLayer was attractive to IBM in the first place was our history of innovation and technology development, and many of the product announcements and press releases we published this year tell that story.

Big Data and Analytics
Big data has been a key focus for SoftLayer in 2013. With the momentum we generated when we announced our partnership with MongoDB in December of 2012, we've been able to develop and roll out high-performance bare metal solution designers for Basho's Riak platfomr and Cloudera Hadoop. Server virtualization is a phenomenal boon to application servers, but disk-heavy, I/O-intensive operations can easily exhaust the resources of a virtualized environment. Because Riak and Hadoop are two of the most popular platforms for big data architectures, we teamed up with Basho and Cloudera to engineer server configurations that would streamline provisioning and supercharge the operations of their data-rich environments. From the newsroom in 2013:

  • SoftLayer announced the availability of Riak and Riak Enterprise on SoftLayer's IaaS platform. This partnership with Basho gives users the availability, fault tolerance, operational simplicity, and scalability of Riak combined with the flexibility, performance, and agility of SoftLayer's on-demand infrastructure.
  • SoftLayer announced a partnership with Cloudera to provide Hadoop big data solutions in a bare metal cloud environment. These on-demand solutions were designed with Cloudera best practices and are rapidly deployed with SoftLayer's easy-to-use solution designer tool.

Cutting-Edge Customers
Beyond the pure cloud innovation milestones we've hit this year, we've also seen a few key customers in vertical markets do their own innovating on our platform. These companies run the gamut from next generation e-commerce to interactive marketers and game developers who require high performance cloud infrastructure to build and scale the next leading application or game. Some of these game developers and cutting-edge tech companies are pretty amazing and we're glad we tapped into them to tell our story:

  • Asia's hottest tech companies looking to expand their reach globally are relying on SoftLayer's cloud infrastructure to break into new markets. Companies such as Distil Networks, Tiket.com, Simpli.fi, and 6waves are leveraging SoftLayer's Singapore data center to build out their customer base while enabling them to deliver their application or game to users across the region with extremely low latency.
  • In March, we announced that hundreds of the top mobile, PC and social games with more than 100 million active players, are now supported on SoftLayer's infrastructure platform. Gaming companies -- including Hothead Games, Geewa, Grinding Gear Games, Peak Games and Rumble Entertainment -- are flocking to SoftLayer because they can roll out virtual and bare-metal servers along with a suite of networking, security and storage solutions on demand and in real time.

Industry Recognition
SoftLayer's success and growth is a collective effort, however, it is nice to see our founder and CEO, Lance Crosby get some well-deserved recognition. In August, the Metroplex Technology Business Council (MTBC), the largest technology trade association in Texas, named him the winner of its Corporate CEO of the Year during the 13th Annual Tech Titans Awards ceremony.

The prestigious annual contest recognizes outstanding information technology companies and individuals in the North Texas area who have made significant contributions during the past year locally, as well as to the technology industry overall.

We're using the momentum we've continued building in 2013 to propel us into 2014. An upcoming milestone, just around the corner, will be our participation at Pulse 2014 in late February. At this conference we plan to unveil the ongoing integration efforts taking place between SoftLayer and IBM including how;

  • SoftLayer provides flexible, secure, cloud-based infrastructure for running the toughest and most mission critical workloads on the cloud;
  • SoftLayer is the foundation of IBM PaaS offerings for cloud-native application development and deployment;
  • SoftLayer is the platform for many of IBM SaaS offerings supporting mobile, social and analytic applications. IBM has a growing portfolio of roughly 110 SaaS applications.

Joining forces with IBM will have its challenges but the opportunities ahead looks amazing. We encourage you to watch this space for even more activity next year and join us at Pulse 2014 in Las Vegas.

-Andre

October 24, 2013

Why Hybrid? Why Now?

As off-premise cloud computing adoption continues to grow in a non-linear fashion, a growing number of businesses running in-house IT environments are debating whether they should get on board as well. If you've been part of any of those conversations, you've tried to balance the hype with the most significant questions for your business: "How do we know if our company is ready to try cloud resources? And if we're ready, how do we actually get started?"

Your company is cloud-ready as soon as you understand and accept the ramifications of remote resources and scaling in the cloud model, and it doesn't have to be an "all-in" decision. If you need certain pieces of your infrastructure to reside in-house, you can start evaluating the cloud with workloads that don't have to be hosted internally. The traditional IT term for this approach is "hybrid," but that term might cause confusion these days.

In the simplest sense, a hybrid model is one in which a workload is handled by one or more non-heterogeneous elements. In the traditional IT sense, those non-heterogeneous elements are two distinct operating environments (on-prem and off-prem). In SoftLayer's world, a hybrid environment leverages different heterogeneous elements: Bare metal and virtual server instances, delivered in the cloud.

Figure 1: Traditional Hybrid - On-Premise to Cloud (Through VPN, SSL or Open Communications)

Traditional Hybrid

Figure 2: SoftLayer's Hybrid - Dedicated + Virtual

SoftLayer Hybrid

Because SoftLayer's "hybrid" and traditional IT's "hybrid" are so different, it's easy to understand the confusion in the marketplace: If a hybrid environment is generally understood to involve the connection of on-premise infrastructure to cloud resources, SoftLayer's definition seems contrarian. Actually, the use of the term is a lot more similar than I expected. In a traditional hosting environment, most businesses think in terms of bare metal (dedicated) servers, and when those businesses move "to the cloud," they're generally thinking in terms of virtualized server instances. So SoftLayer's definition of a hybrid environment is very consistent with the market definition ... It's just all hosted off-premise.

The ability to have dedicated resources intermixed with virtual resources means that workloads from on-premise hypervisors that require native or near-native performance can be moved immediately. And because those workloads don't have to be powered by in-house servers, a company's IT infrastructure moves a CapEx to an OpEx model. In the past, adopting infrastructure as a service (IaaS) involved shoehorning workloads into whichever virtual resource closest matched an existing environment, but those days are gone. Now, on-premise resources can be replicated (and upgraded) on demand in a single off-premise environment, leveraging a mix of virtual and dedicated resources.

SoftLayer's environment simplifies the process for businesses looking to move IT infrastructure off-premise. Those businesses can start by leveraging virtual server instances in a cloud environment while maintaining the in-house resources for certain workloads, and when those in-house resources reach the end of their usable life (or need an upgrade), the businesses can shift those workloads onto bare metal servers in the same cloud environment as their virtual server instances.

The real-world applications are pretty obvious: Your company is considering moving part of a workload to cloud in order to handle peak season loads at the end of the year. You've contemplated transitioning parts of your environment to the cloud, but you've convinced yourself that shared resource pools are too inefficient and full of noisy neighbor problems, so you'd never be able to move your core infrastructure to the same environment. Furthering the dilemma, you have to capitalize on the assets you already have that are still of use to the company.

You finally have the flexibility to slowly transition your environment to a scalable, flexible cloud environment without sacrificing. While the initial setup phases for a hybrid environment may seem arduous, Rome wasn't built in a day, so you shouldn't feel pressure to rush the construction of your IT environment. Here are a few key points to consider when adopting a hybrid model that will make life easier:

  • Keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate your environment. Keep networks, topologies and methodologies simple, and they'll be much more manageable and scalable.
  • Keep it secure. Simple, robust security principles will reduce your deployment timeframe and reduce attack points.
  • Keep it sane. Hybrid mixes the best of both worlds, so chose the best assets to move over. "Best" does not necessarily mean "easiest" or "cheapest" workload, but it doesn't exclude those workloads either.

With this in mind, you're ready to take on a hybrid approach for your infrastructure. There's no certification for when your company finally becomes a "cloud company." The moment you start leveraging off-premise resources, you've got a hybrid environment, and you can adjust your mix of on-premise, off-premise, virtual and bare metal resources as your business needs change and evolve.

-Jeff Klink

Jeff Klink is a senior technical staff member (STSM) with IBM Canada.

September 12, 2013

"Cloud First" or "Mobile First" - Which Development Strategy Comes First?

Company XYZ knows that the majority of its revenue will come from recurring subscriptions to its new SaaS service. To generate visibility and awareness of the SaaS offering, XYZ needs to develop a mobile presence to reach the offering's potential audience. Should XYZ focus on building a mobile presence first (since its timing is most critical), or should it prioritize the completion of the cloud service first (since its importance is most critical)? Do both have to be delivered simultaneously?

It's the theoretical equivalent of the "Which came first: The chicken or the egg?" causality dilemma for many technology companies today.

Several IBM customers have asked me recently about whether the implementation of a "cloud first" strategy or a "mobile first" strategy is most important, and it's a fantastic question. They know that cloud and mobile are not mutually exclusive, but their limited development resources demand that some sort of prioritization be in place. However, should this prioritization be done based on importance or urgency?

IBM MobileFirst

The answer is what you'd expect: It depends! If a company's cloud offering consists solely of back-end services (i.e. no requirement or desire to execute natively on a mobile device), then a cloud-first strategy is clearly needed, right? A mobile presence would only be effective in drawing customers to the back-end services if they are in place and work well. However, what if the cloud offering is targeting only mobile users? Not focusing on the mobile-first user experience could sabotage a great set of back-end services.

As this simple example illustrated, prioritizing one development strategy at the expense of the other strategy can have devastating consequences. In this "Is there an app for that?" generation, a lack of predictable responsiveness for improved quality of service and/or quality of experience can drive your customers to your competitors who are only a click away. Continuous delivery is an essential element of both "cloud first and "mobile first" development. The ability to get feedback quickly from users for new services (and more importantly incorporate that feedback quickly) allows a company to re-shape a service to turn existing users into advocates for the service as well as other adjacent or tiered services. "Cloud first" developers need a cloud service provider that can provide continuous delivery of predictable and superior compute, storage and network services that can be optimized for the type of workload and can adapt to changes in scale requirements. "Mobile first" developers need a mobile application development platform that can ensure the quality of the application's mobile user experience while allowing the mobile application to also leverage back-end services. To accommodate both types of developers, IBM established two "centers of gravity" to allow our customers to strike the right balance between their "cloud first" and "mobile first" development.

It should come as no surprise that the cornerstone of IBM's cloud first offering is SoftLayer. SoftLayer's APIs to its infrastructure services allow companies to optimize their application services based on the needs of application, and the SoftLayer network also optimizes delivery of the application services to the consumer of the service regardless of the location or the type of client access.

For developers looking to prioritize the delivery of services on mobile devices, we centered our MobileFirst initiative on Worklight. Worklight balances the native mobile application experience and integration with back-end services to streamline the development process for "mobile first" companies.

We are actively working on the convergence of our IBM Cloud First and Mobile First strategies via optimized integration of SoftLayer and Worklight services. IBM customers from small businesses through large enterprises will then be able to view "cloud first and "mobile first" as two sides of the same development strategy coin.

-Mac

Mac Devine is an IBM distinguished engineer, director of cloud innovation and CTO, IBM Cloud Services Division. Follow him on Twitter: @mac_devine.

July 29, 2013

A Brief History of Cloud Computing

Believe it or not, "cloud computing" concepts date back to the 1950s when large-scale mainframes were made available to schools and corporations. The mainframe's colossal hardware infrastructure was installed in what could literally be called a "server room" (since the room would generally only be able to hold a single mainframe), and multiple users were able to access the mainframe via "dumb terminals" – stations whose sole function was to facilitate access to the mainframes. Due to the cost of buying and maintaining mainframes, an organization wouldn't be able to afford a mainframe for each user, so it became practice to allow multiple users to share access to the same data storage layer and CPU power from any station. By enabling shared mainframe access, an organization would get a better return on its investment in this sophisticated piece of technology.

Mainframe Computer

A couple decades later in the 1970s, IBM released an operating system called VM that allowed admins on their System/370 mainframe systems to have multiple virtual systems, or "Virtual Machines" (VMs) on a single physical node. The VM operating system took the 1950s application of shared access of a mainframe to the next level by allowing multiple distinct compute environments to live in the same physical environment. Most of the basic functions of any virtualization software that you see nowadays can be traced back to this early VM OS: Every VM could run custom operating systems or guest operating systems that had their "own" memory, CPU, and hard drives along with CD-ROMs, keyboards and networking, despite the fact that all of those resources would be shared. "Virtualization" became a technology driver, and it became a huge catalyst for some of the biggest evolutions in communications and computing.

Mainframe Computer

In the 1990s, telecommunications companies that had historically only offered single dedicated point–to-point data connections started offering virtualized private network connections with the same service quality as their dedicated services at a reduced cost. Rather than building out physical infrastructure to allow for more users to have their own connections, telco companies were able to provide users with shared access to the same physical infrastructure. This change allowed the telcos to shift traffic as necessary to allow for better network balance and more control over bandwidth usage. Meanwhile, virtualization for PC-based systems started in earnest, and as the Internet became more accessible, the next logical step was to take virtualization online.

If you were in the market to buy servers ten or twenty years ago, you know that the costs of physical hardware, while not at the same level as the mainframes of the 1950s, were pretty outrageous. As more and more people expressed demand to get online, the costs had to come out of the stratosphere, and one of the ways that was made possible was by ... you guessed it ... virtualization. Servers were virtualized into shared hosting environments, Virtual Private Servers, and Virtual Dedicated Servers using the same types of functionality provided by the VM OS in the 1950s. As an example of what that looked like in practice, let's say your company required 13 physical systems to run your sites and applications. With virtualization, you can take those 13 distinct systems and split them up between two physical nodes. Obviously, this kind of environment saves on infrastructure costs and minimizes the amount of actual hardware you would need to meet your company's needs.

Virtualization

As the costs of server hardware slowly came down, more users were able to purchase their own dedicated servers, and they started running into a different kind of problem: One server isn't enough to provide the resources I need. The market shifted from a belief that "these servers are expensive, let's split them up" to "these servers are cheap, let's figure out how to combine them." Because of that shift, the most basic understanding of "cloud computing" was born online. By installing and configuring a piece of software called a hypervisor across multiple physical nodes, a system would present all of the environment's resources as though those resources were in a single physical node. To help visualize that environment, technologists used terms like "utility computing" and "cloud computing" since the sum of the parts seemed to become a nebulous blob of computing resources that you could then segment out as needed (like telcos did in the 90s). In these cloud computing environments, it became easy add resources to the "cloud": Just add another server to the rack and configure it to become part of the bigger system.

Clouds

As technologies and hypervisors got better at reliably sharing and delivering resources, many enterprising companies decided to start carving up the bigger environment to make the cloud's benefits to users who don't happen to have an abundance of physical servers available to create their own cloud computing infrastructure. Those users could order "cloud computing instances" (also known as "cloud servers") by ordering the resources they need from the larger pool of available cloud resources, and because the servers are already online, the process of "powering up" a new instance or server is almost instantaneous. Because little overhead is involved for the owner of the cloud computing environment when a new instance is ordered or cancelled (since it's all handled by the cloud's software), management of the environment is much easier. Most companies today operate with this idea of "the cloud" as the current definition, but SoftLayer isn't "most companies."

SoftLayer took the idea of a cloud computing environment and pulled it back one more step: Instead of installing software on a cluster of machines to allow for users to grab pieces, we built a platform that could automate all of the manual aspects of bringing a server online without a hypervisor on the server. We call this platform "IMS." What hypervisors and virtualization do for a group of servers, IMS does for an entire data center. As a result, you can order a bare metal server with all of the resources you need and without any unnecessary software installed, and that server will be delivered to you in a matter of hours. Without a hypervisor layer between your operating system and the bare metal hardware, your servers perform better. Because we automate almost everything in our data centers, you're able to spin up load balancers and firewalls and storage devices on demand and turn them off when you're done with them. Other providers have cloud-enabled servers. We have cloud-enabled data centers.

SoftLayer Pod

IBM and SoftLayer are leading the drive toward wider adoption of innovative cloud services, and we have ambitious goals for the future. If you think we've come a long way from the mainframes of the 1950s, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

-James

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