Posts Tagged 'Information'

December 5, 2012

Breaking Down 'Big Data' - Database Models

Forester defines big data as "techniques and technologies that make capturing value from data at an extreme scale economical." Gartner says, "Big data is the term adopted by the market to describe extreme information management and processing issues which exceed the capability of traditional information technology along one or multiple dimensions to support the use of the information assets." Big data demands extreme horizontal scale that traditional IT management can't handle, and it's not a challenge exclusive to the Facebooks, Twitters and Tumblrs of the world ... Just look at the Google search volume for "big data" over the past eight years:

Big Data Search Interest

Developers are collectively facing information overload. As storage has become more and more affordable, it's easier to justify collecting and saving more data. Users are more comfortable with creating and sharing content, and we're able to track, log and index metrics and activity that previously would have been deleted in consideration of space restraints or cost. As the information age progresses, we are collecting more and more data at an ever-accelerating pace, and we're sharing that data at an incredible rate.

To understand the different facets of this increased usage and demand, Gartner came up with the three V's of big data that vary significantly from traditional data requirements: Volume, Velocity and Variety. Larger, more abundant pieces of data ("Volume") are coming at a much faster speed ("Velocity") in formats like media and walls of text that don't easily fit into a column-and-row database structure ("Variety"). Given those equally important factors, many of the biggest players in the IT world have been hard at work to create solutions that provide the scale and speed developers need when they build social, analytics, gaming, financial or medical apps with large data sets.

When we talk about scaling databases here, we're talking about scaling horizontally across multiple servers rather than scaling vertically by upgrading a single server — adding more RAM, increasing HDD capacity, etc. It's important to make that distinction because it leads to a unique challenge shared by all distributed computer systems: The CAP Theorem. According to the CAP theorem, a distributed storage system must choose to sacrifice either consistency (that everyone sees the same data) or availability (that you can always read/write) while having partition tolerance (where the system continues to operate despite arbitrary message loss or failure of part of the system occurs).

Let's take a look at a few of the most common database models, what their strengths are, and how they handle the CAP theorem compromise of consistency v. availability:

Relational Databases

What They Do: Stores data in rows/columns. Parent-child records can be joined remotely on the server. Provides speed over scale. Some capacity for vertical scaling, poor capacity for horizontal scaling. This type of database is where most people start.
Horizontal Scaling: In a relational database system, horizontal scaling is possible via replication — dharing data between redundant nodes to ensure consistency — and some people have success sharding — horizontal partitioning of data — but those techniques add a lot of complexity.
CAP Balance: Prefer consistency over availability.
When to use: When you have highly structured data, and you know what you'll be storing. Great when production queries will be predictable.
Example Products: Oracle, SQLite, PostgreSQL, MySQL

Document-Oriented Databases

What They Do: Stores data in documents. Parent-child records can be stored in the same document and returned in a single fetch operation with no join. The server is aware of the fields stored within a document, can query on them, and return their properties selectively.
Horizontal Scaling: Horizontal scaling is provided via replication, or replication + sharding. Document-oriented databases also usually support relatively low-performance MapReduce for ad-hoc querying.
CAP Balance: Generally prefer consistency over availability
When to Use: When your concept of a "record" has relatively bounded growth, and can store all of its related properties in a single doc.
Example Products: MongoDB, CouchDB, BigCouch, Cloudant

Key-Value Stores

What They Do: Stores an arbitrary value at a key. Most can perform simple operations on a single value. Typically, each property of a record must be fetched in multiple trips, with Redis being an exception. Very simple, and very fast.
Horizontal Scaling: Horizontal scale is provided via sharding.
CAP Balance: Generally prefer consistency over availability.
When to Use: Very simple schemas, caching of upstream query results, or extreme speed scenarios (like real-time counters)
Example Products: CouchBase, Redis, PostgreSQL HStore, LevelDB

BigTable-Inspired Databases

What They Do: Data put into column-oriented stores inspired by Google's BigTable paper. It has tunable CAP parameters, and can be adjusted to prefer either consistency or availability. Both are sort of operationally intensive.
Horizontal Scaling: Good speed and very wide horizontal scale capabilities.
CAP Balance: Prefer consistency over availability
When to Use: When you need consistency and write performance that scales past the capabilities of a single machine. Hbase in particular has been used with around 1,000 nodes in production.
Example Products: Hbase, Cassandra (inspired by both BigTable and Dynamo)

Dynamo-Inspired Databases

What They Do: Distributed key/value stores inspired by Amazon's Dynamo paper. A key written to a dynamo ring is persisted in several nodes at once before a successful write is reported. Riak also provides a native MapReduce implementation.
Horizontal Scaling: Dynamo-inspired databases usually provide for the best scale and extremely strong data durability.
CAP Balance: Prefer availability over consistency,
When to Use: When the system must always be available for writes and effectively cannot lose data.
Example Products: Cassandra, Riak, BigCouch

Each of the database models has strengths and weaknesses, and there are huge communities that support each of the open source examples I gave in each model. If your database is a bottleneck or you're not getting the flexibility and scalability you need to handle your application's volume, velocity and variety of data, start looking at some of these "big data" solutions.

Tried any of the above models and have feedback that differs from ours? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!

-@marcalanjones

May 18, 2012

The Weekly Breakdown - Behind the Scenes at SoftLayer

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned scholar in the field of psychology, said, "In large organizations the dilution of information as it passes up and down the hierarchy, and horizontally across departments, can undermine the effort to focus on common goals." That's one of the biggest reasons SoftLayer shares a weekly internal newsletter with SLayers in all departments and in all locations. Keeping coworkers informed of corporate activities (and "common goals") may not be very high on everyone's to-do list, but it's certainly at the top of mine ... literally. As Marketing Coordinator, I'm responsible for sending out a weekly update to ALL SoftLayer staff.

If you have a growing or geographically diverse team, rallying the troops around a shared message is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. If you're not sure where to start with your own internal newsletter, I'd be happy to dissect what goes into our "Weekly Breakdown" as an example you might build from.

SoftLayer Weekly Breakdown

The Weekly Breakdown kicks off with employee birthdays. We want to make sure all 700+ SLayers know when one of their coworkers is getting a year "better," and every month, huge birthday cakes are brought to every office to recognize the SLayers celebrating their birthdays. We haven't written a SoftLayer version of a cheesy-restaurant rendition of the classic "Happy Birthday" song, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK

John Doe 05/17
Jane Smith 05/17
Bill Scurvy 05/18
Kermit the Frog 05/18
Miss Piggy 05/19

In addition to employee birthdays, we'll also call out important days (like SoftLayer's birthday: May 5!) in the birthday section.

The next section in the Breakdown is similar to the "Birthdays" section, but it's a little more relevant to our business: "Anniversaries This Month." When you're hired at SoftLayer, you basically get a SoftLayer birthday, and we want to recognize how long you've been a SLayer:

ANNIVERSARIES THIS MONTH

10 Years!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Doe

8 Years!!!!!!!!

  • Jane Smith
  • Bill Scurvy

5 Years!!!!!

  • Kermit the Frog

1 Year!

  • Miss Piggy

After we recognize the SoftLayer anniversaries, we have a section devoted to keeping employees informed of various activities going on at SoftLayer. That might be a recent press release, an update on holidays or an upcoming company event. This section is the go-to place for employees to know what's new with SoftLayer.

SL SPOTLIGHT

Did you know that SoftLayer employees can get a discount on dedicated servers and CCIs? Talk to any of our sales reps to get started. You will receive a [secret] discount off any dedicated server or a [secret] discount off any CCI!

The next few sections list available SL Job Openings, New Hires from the previous week, and Organizational Changes. Given that SoftLayer is still growing like crazy, we want to make sure all of our employees see the available positions in the organization so they can share with their network of friends or so they can see any opportunities they feel might better suit their talents and passions. It's always nice to know who is helping SoftLayer grow (new employees) and how they are growing with SoftLayer, whether vertically or horizontally (organizational changes).

The next two sections are dedicated to employees "personal" lives: Classifieds and Fundraising Events. These sections let employees list anything they are selling or giving away along with any fundraising activities or events that they, their kids, their neighbor or their dog are involved in. We've had classified items like car wheels, stereos and animal adoptions, and you can bet that employees were voraciously reading the "Fundraising" section when Girl Scout Cookie orders were being taken.

We wrap up the Weekly Breakdown with my favorite section: SoftLayer Praise. There are so many reasons why the section gives me joy. It's amazing how many wonderful comments our customers have about SoftLayer on a weekly basis, and it's a "pat on the back" for teams that may not interact directly with customers on a daily basis. Sharing all of the praise is great for morale, and those little compliments here and there go a long way to making our team continue working hard ... even if just to hear those comments again and again! Here are some of my favorite comments from the past few weeks:

SL Praise

As our business expands we look forward to working with SoftLayer on our projects for many years to come.

My server was down and did not want to come back online without an FSCK. Called support and got a real person on the phone within seconds who was knowledgeable - excellent! He was unable to get the FSCK to run so escalated it. Server Was back online within 10-15 minutes of calling. Thank you. Keep up the great service.

We have been a Customer since 2004 (since the days of servermatrix) and would like to thank you for the wonderful support that we have received over the years. Thank you for an outstanding customer experience!

Great customer services. On numerous occasions was pleasantly surprised.

You people are great!!! I am very Happy with your service. Since 1 year I never face a single server down issue.

Softlayer is the best hosting company I know of, which is why we are hosting with you. You are doing a great job.

I Love SL!

I definitely refer all my colleagues to SoftLayer. Service and quality are amazing!

@SoftLayer always has the coolest stuff at trade shows. I have a shirt from them that is cool enough for me to wear in public!!

SoftLayer it's been wonderful. We been having softlayer rocket battles ... #SENDREINFORCEMENTS

Those kinds of comments can put a smile on any SLayers face! :-)

If you have any wonderful comments to say about SoftLayer or an individual employee, don't be scared to tell us ... Your comment might just be featured in our next "Weekly Breakdown." Comment on this blog, use SoftLayer's "Get Satisfaction" page, tweet @SoftLayer or post to our Facebook page. We love to hearing from you and working hard to remain the "best hosting company [you] know of!"

As you can see, the Weekly Breakdown covers a lot of SoftLayer goodness in a given week. It takes a little work to keep a 700-SLayer organization on the same page, but that work pays off exponentially when the team is able to share accomplishments, praise and goals. I'd highly recommend you trying your own weekly internal newsletter ... Now leave us some SL praise!

-Natalie

December 27, 2011

186,282.4 Miles Per Second

Let's say there are 2495 miles separating me and the world's foremost authority on orthopedics who lives in Vancouver, Canada. If I needed some medical advice for how to remove a screwdriver from the palm of my hand that was the result of a a Christmas toy with "some assembly required," I'd be pretty happy I live in the year 2011. Here are a few of the communication methods that I may have settled with in years past:

On Foot: The average human walks 3.5 mph sustainable. Using this method it would take a messenger 29.7 days to get a description of the problem and a drawing of the damage to that doctor if the messenger walked non-stop. Because the doctor in this theoretical scenario is the only person on the planet who knows how to perform the screwdriver removal surgery, the doctor would have to accompany the messenger back to Texas, and I am fairly sure by the time they arrived, they'd have to visit a grave with a terrible epitaph like "He got screwed," or they'd find me answering to a crass nickname like "Stumpy."

On Horseback: The average speed of a galloping horse is around 30 mph sustainable, so with the help of a couple equestrian friends, the message could reach the doctor in 3.5 days if the horse were to run the whole journey without stopping, the doctor could saddle up and hit the trail back to Houston, getting here in about 7 days. In that span of time, I'd only be able to wave to him with one hand, given the inevitable amputation.

Via High-Speed Rail: With an average speed of 101 mph, it would take a mere 24.7 hour to get from Houston to Vancouver, so if this means of communication were the only one used, I could have the doctor at my bedside in a little over 48 hours. That turnaround time might mean my hand would be saved, but the delay would still yield a terrible headache and a lot of embarrassment ... Seeing as how a screwdriver in your hand is relatively noticeable at Christmas parties.

Via Commercial Flight: If the message was taken by plane and the doctor returned by plane, the round trip would be around 12.4 hours at an average rate of 400 mph ... I'd only have to endure half a day of mockery.

Via E-mail: With the multimedia capabilities of email, the doctor could be sent a picture of the damage instantly and a surgeon in Houston could be instructed on how to best save my hand. There would be little delay, but there are no guarantees that the stand-in surgeon would be able to correctly execute on the instructions given by this theoretical world's only orthopedic surgeon.

Via Video Chat: In milliseconds, a video connection could be made between the stand-in surgeon and the orthopedic specialist. The specialist could watch and instruct the stand-in surgeon on how to complete the surgery, and I'd be using both hands again by Christmas morning. Technology is also getting to a point where the specialist could perform parts of the surgery remotely ... Let's just hope they use a good network connection on both end since any latency would be pretty significant.

I started thinking about the amazing speed with which we access information when I met with CTO Duke Skarda. He gave a few examples of our customers that piqued his interested, given to the innovative nature of their business, and one in particular made me realize how far we've come when I considered the availability and speed of our access to information:

The company facilitated advertisements on the Internet by customizing the advertising experience to each visitor by auctioning off ad space to companies that fit that particular visitor's profile. In the simplest sense, a website has a blank area for an advertisment, the site sends non-sensitive information about the visitor to an advertising network. The advertising network then distributes that information to multiple advertisers who process it, generate targeted ads and place a bid to "purchase" the space for that visitor. The winner of the auction is determined, and the winner's ad would be populated on the website.

All of this is done in under a second, before the visitor even knows the process took place.

We live in a time of instant access. We are only limited by the speed of light, a blazing 186,282.4 miles/second. That means you could, theoretically, send a message around the world in .03 milliseconds. Businesses use this speed to create and market products and services to the global market, I can't wait to see what tomorrow holds ... Maybe some kind of technology that prevents screwdrivers from piercing hands?

-Clayton

Categories: 
December 1, 2011

UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: Permissions

I hope you brought your sweat band ... Today's Boot Camp workout is going to be pretty intense. We're focusing on our permissions muscles. Permissions in a UNIX environment cause a lot of customer issues ... While everyone understands the value of secure systems and limited access, any time an "access denied" message pops up, the most common knee-jerk reaction is to enable full access to one's files (chmod 777, as I'll explain later). This is a BAD IDEA. Open permissions are a hacker's dream come true. An open permission setting might have been a temporary measure, but more often than not, the permissions are left in place, and the files remain vulnerable.

To better understand how to use permissions, let's take a step back and get a quick refresher on key components.

You'll need to remember the three permission types:

r w x: r = read; w = write; x = execute

And the three types of access they can be applied to:

u g o: u = user; g = group; o = other

Permissions are usually displayed in one of two ways – either with letters (rwxrwxrwx) or numbers (777). When the permissions are declared with letters, you should look at it as three sets of three characters. The first set applies to the user, the second applies to the group, and the third applies to other (everyone else). If a file is readable only by the user and cannot be written to or executed by anyone, its permission level would be r--------. If it could be read by anyone but could only be writeable by the user and the group, its permission level would be rw-rw-r--.

The numeric form of chmod uses bits to represent permission levels. Read access is marked by 4 bits, write is 2, and execute is 1. When you want a file to have read and write access, you just add the permission bits: 4 + 2 = 6. When you want a file to have read, write and execute access, you'll have 4 + 2 + 1, or 7. You'd then apply that numerical permission to a file in the same order as above: user, group, other. If we used the example from the last sentence in the previous paragraph, a file that could be read by anyone, but could only be writeable by the user and the group, would have a numeric permission level of 664 (user: 6, group: 6, other: 4).

Now the "chmod 777" I referenced above should make a little more sense: All users are given all permissions (4 + 2 + 1 = 7).

Applying Permissions

Understanding these components, applying permissions is pretty straightforward with the use of the chmod command. If you want a user (u) to write and execute a file (wx) but not read it (r), you'd use something like this:

chmod Output

In the above terminal image, I added the -v parameter to make it "verbose," so it displays the related output or results of the command. The permissions set by the command are shown by the number 0300 and the series (-wx------). Nobody but the user can write or execute this file, and as of now, the user can't even read the file. If you were curious about the leading 0 in "0300," it simply means that you're viewing an octal output, so for our purposes, it can be ignored entirely.

In that command, we're removing the read permission from the user (hence the minus sign between u and r), and we're giving the user write and execute permissions with the plus sign between u and wx. Want to alter the group or other permissions as well? It works exactly the same way: g+,g-,o+,o- ... Getting the idea? chmod permissions can be set with the letter-based commands (u+r,u-w) or with their numeric equivalents (eg. 400 or 644), whichever floats your boat.

A Quick Numeric chmod Reference

chmod 777 | Gives specified file read, write and execute permissions (rwx) to ALL users
chmod 666 | Allows for read and write privileges (rw) to ALL users
chmod 555 | Gives read and execute permissions (rx) to ALL users
chmod 444 | Gives read permissions (r) to ALL users
chmod 333 | Gives write and execute permissions (wx) to ALL users
chmod 222 | Gives write privileges (w) to ALL users
chmod 111 | Gives execute privileges (x) to ALL users
chmod 000 | Last but not least, gives permissions to NO ONE (Careful!)

Get a List of File Permissions

To see what your current file permissions are in a given directory, execute the ls –l command. This returns a list of the current directory including the permissions, the group it's in, the size and the last date the file was modified. The output of ls –l looks like this:

ls -l Output

On the left side of that image, you'll see the permissions in the rwx format. When the permission begins with the "d" character, it means that object is a directory. When the permission starts with a dash (-), it is a file.

Practice Deciphering Permissions

Let's look at a few examples and work backward to apply what we've learned:

  • Example 1: -rw-------
  • Example 2: drwxr-x---
  • Example 3: -rwxr-xr-x

In Example 1, the file is not a directory, the user that owns this particular object has read and write permissions, and when the group and other fields are filled with dashes, we know that their permissions are set to 0, so they have no access. In this case, only the user who owns this object can do anything with it. We'll cover "ownership" in a future blog, but if you're antsy to learn right now, you can turn to the all-knowing Google.

In Example 2, the permissions are set on a directory. The user has read, write and execute permissions, the group has read and execute permissions, and anything/anyone besides user or group is restricted from access.

For Example 3, put yourself to the test. What access is represented by "-rwxr-xr-x"? The answer is included at the bottom of this post.

Wrapping It Up

How was that for a crash course in Unix environment permissions? Of course there's more to it, but this will at least make you think about what kind of access you're granting to your files. Armed with this knowledge, you can create the most secure server environment.

Here are a few useful links you may want to peruse at your own convenience to learn more:

Linuxforums.org
Zzee.com
Comptechdoc.org
Permissions Calculator

Did I miss anything? Did I make a blatantly ridiculous mistake? Did I use "their" when I should have used "they're"??!!... Let me know about it. Leave a comment if you've got anything to add, suggest, subtract, quantize, theorize, ponderize, etc. Think your useful links are better than my useful links? Throw those at me too, and we'll toss 'em up here.

Are you still feeling the burn from your Sysadmin Boot Camp workout? Don't forget to keep getting reps in bash, logs, SSH, passwords and user management!

- Ryan

Example 3 Answer

November 30, 2011

Kred: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from the PeopleBrowsr team about Kred. Kred is the first social scoring system to provide people with a comprehensive, contextual score for their Influence and Outreach within interest-based communities.

Company Website: http://kred.ly/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/Kred

We All Have Influence Somewhere

The social networking revolution provides the unprecedented opportunity to observe, filter and analyze conversations in real time. For marketers and anyone interested in human behavior, it's now possible to examine the collective consciousness for insights into consumer behavior and detection and engagement with the most influential people.

Increasingly, we find that the elements that determine "influence" in online networks are the same as they are in "real life" relationships: Trust and Generosity within small close networks of friends and subject matter experts. These in turn have become the foundations for Kred, a brand new way to understand anyone's Influence and Outreach across social media and within Communities formed around interests and affinities.

Kred

'We All Have Influence Somewhere,' so Kred sifts through billions of social posts from over 110 million people in real time to uncover who is most influential on any subject, keyword or hashtag. This all summarized in Kredentials, which displays anyone's history on Twitter over the last three years with a single click, including their top communities, most used words, most clicked links and much more.

Kred

Here are just a few of the other ways Kred is an evolution of influence measurement:

Dual Scores for Influence and Outreach
Influence – scored on a 1-1000 scale – shows the likelihood that your posts provoke actions from others. Outreach demonstrates your generosity in ReTweeting and replying to others.

Community
Real influence comes from expertise and passion. Kred is calculated for everyone in Communities that naturally form around interests and affinities.

Complete Transparency
Visitors to Kred.ly can see how all of their social actions count towards their scores - and how their connections' actions affect them as well. Those who want a more thorough accounting of their score can take advantage of our Score Audit feature.

Offline Kred
Kred is the only influence measure to integrate offline achievements with online identity. Visitors can add their accomplishments - anything from academic honors to club memberships - by sending us a PDF from the 'Get More Kred' menu tab inside the Kred site. We will then hand score it and manually add points.

Kred is free for everyone at http://kred.ly and deeply integrated into Playground, PeopleBrowsr's social analytics platform. For those who wish to build custom applications off of our datamine of 1,000 days of social data, Kred can be accessed via our Playground API, Kredentials API and through a standalone API.

Many key unique features of Kred – including score audits, privacy controls and real-time activity statements – are based on feedback from our community of friends and colleagues. What would you like to see in its next evolution?

Give Kred a try and let us know what you think via email: kred@peoplebrowsr.com or on Twitter: @kred.

- Shawn Roberts, PeopleBrowsr

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
November 15, 2011

UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: User Management

Now that you're an expert when it comes to bash, logs, SSH, and passwords, you're probably foaming at the mouth to learn some new skills. While I can't equip you with the "nunchuck skills" or "bowhunting skills" Napoleon Dynamite reveres, I can help you learn some more important — though admittedly less exotic — user management skills in UNIX.

Root User

The root user — also known as the "super user" — has absolute control over everything on the server. Nothing is held back, nothing is restricted, and anything can be done. Only the server administrator should have this kind of access to the server, and you can see why. The root user is effectively the server's master, and the server accordingly will acquiesce to its commands.

Broad root access should be avoided for the sake of security. If a program or service needs extensive abilities that are generally reserved for the root user, it's best to grant those abilities on a narrow, as-needed basis.

Creating New Users

Because the Sysadmin Boot Camp series is geared toward server administration from a command-line point of view, that's where we'll be playing today. Tasks like user creation can be performed fairly easily in a control panel environment, but it's always a good idea to know the down-and-dirty methods as a backup.

The useradd command is used for adding users from shell. Let's start with an example and dissect the pieces:

useradd -c "admin" -d /home/username -g users\ -G admin,helpdesk -s\ /bin/bash userid

-c "admin" – This command adds a comment to the user we're creating. The comment in this case is "admin," which may be used to differentiate the user a little more clearly for better user organization.
-d /home/username – This block sets the user's home directory. The most common approach is to replace username with the username designated at the end of the command.
-g users\ – Here, we're setting the primary group for the user we're creating, which will be users.
-G admin,helpdesk – This block specifies other user groups the new user may be a part of.
-s\ /bin/bash userid – This command is in two parts. It says that the new user will use /bin/bash for its shell and that userid will be the new user's username.

Changing Passwords

Root is the only user that can change other users' passwords. The command to do this is:

passwd userid

If you are a user and want to change your own password, you would simply issue the passwd command by itself. When you execute the command, you will be prompted for a new entry. This command can also be executed by the root user to change the root password.

Deleting Users

The command for removing users is userdel, and if we were to execute the command, it might look like this:

userdel -r username

The –r designation is your choice. If you choose to include it, the command will remove the home directory of the specified user.

Where User Information is Stored

The /etc/passwd file contains all user information. If you want to look through the file one page at a time — the way you'd use /p in Windows — you can use the more command:

more /etc/passwd

Keep in mind that most of your important configuration files are going to be located in the /etc folder, commonly spoken with an "et-see" pronunciation for short. Each line in the passwd file has information on a single user. Arguments are segmented with colons, as seen in the example below:

username:password:12345:12345::/home/username:/bin/bash

Argument 1 – username – the user's username
Argument 2 – password – the user's password
Argument 3 – 12345 – the user's numeric ID
Argument 4 – 12345 – the user group's numeric ID
Argument 5 – "" – where either a comment or the user's full name would go
Argument 6 - /home/username – the user's home directory
Argument 7 - /bin/bash – the user's default console shell

Now that you've gotten a crash course on user management, we'll start going deeper into group management, more detailed permissions management and the way shadow file relates to the passwd usage discussed above.

-Ryan

November 4, 2011

Top 10 SoftLayer Facts

At conferences and tradeshows, I have the opportunity to meet hundreds of people. While a good number of attendees at technical conferences will come up to our booth and tell me they're already customers, we still come across a few people who glance at our collateral and our graphics with a puzzled look on their face before they say, "What's Soft ... Layer?" This is where I spring into action!

To give some context, I'll usually explain, "SoftLayer is an on-demand data center provider. We host dedicated servers, cloud computing instances and integrated solutions for customers around the world." When that overview sinks in and the attendee understands that we are an infrastructure provider, I get to share some of SoftLayer's biggest differentiators along with some pretty amazing statistics about our business. With a huge sample pool of conversations to pull from, I thought it would be fun to put together a "Top 10" list of the facts that usually impress attendees the most.

The Top 10 SoftLayer Facts

Based on "oohs" and "ahhs" from attendees

  1. No Hidden Fees: Our pricing is listed on our website and is straight-forward.
  2. Huge Product Catalog: SoftLayer offers load balancers, CDN, firewalls, managed services, and storage. If you need something we don't offer, we can usually find a way to make it work.
  3. No Long-Term Contracts: Dedicated servers are offered on a month-to-month basis, and cloud instances are available on a monthly or hourly basis. We have to earn your business every month.
  4. Built By Geeks For Geeks: We offer a fully programmable API that gives you complete control of your server(s) from your own application or system.
  5. Free Private Network Traffic: Every SoftLayer facility is interconnected via our private network. All private network traffic and inbound public network traffic is provided at no charge – We only charge for outbound public network traffic.

The Top 5 are facts that almost always amaze:

  1. Global Network: We have 13 data centers in Dallas, Houston, Seattle, San Jose, Washington, D.C., Amsterdam, and Singapore. We also operate 16 additional network Points of Presence (PoPs) around the world.
  2. Our Business is Strong: SoftLayer has 24,000+ customers in more than 150 countries. We manage more than 100,000 active servers, hosting more than 20 million domains. Oh, and we're doing about $350 million in annual revenue.
  3. Infrastructure On-Demand: Our dedicated servers can be deployed in less than four hours, and cloud instances can be provisioned in less than 15 minutes.
  4. Everything Works Together: Our dedicated servers and cloud instances are fully integrated. You can have a dedicated server in Seattle and a cloud instance in Singapore, and they're both managed by a single industry-leading portal. The fact that they can communicate with each other over SoftLayer's private network is a huge plus there as well.

And the simple fact that impresses people most: *drum roll*

  1. SoftLayer is the largest privately held hosting provider in the world!

Every time I shock attendees with these facts, I can't help but be even more proud of our accomplishments. Let's keep up the good work! We're taking over the world, one data center at a time."

-Natalie

September 30, 2011

What's Your KRED?

SoftLayer loves startups. The culture, the energy, the potential ... It's all good stuff. As you may remember from my 3 Bars 3 Questions interview and our Teens in Tech profile, one of the ways we support startups is through an incubator program that provides a phenomenal hosting credit and a lot of technology know-how to participating organizations.

In San Francisco, one of the flagship programs we're excited to be a part of is called PeopleBrowsr Labs, a startup accelerator geared toward technology companies in the area. As you sit in the PeopleBrowsr office, the brilliance in the air is almost palpable ... Young companies doing innovative things with everything they need to be successful at their disposal. One of the fringe benefits for participants in PeopleBrowsr Labs is that they're actually rubbing elbows with the PeopleBrowsr team as well ... Which is almost worth the price of admission.

In addition to the Labs sponsorship, SoftLayer is also the infrastructure provider for PeopleBrowsr and its unbelievable data mine of information. They've got every tweet that's been tweeted since early 2008, and they've been able to take that content and make sense of it in unique and interesting ways ... And that's why we stopped by for a visit this week. Last night, PeopleBrowsr officially launched Kred, a dynamic and innovative social influence measurement platform, to a LOT of fanfare (see: TechCrunch).

In the midst of the launch-day craziness, we grabbed Scott Milener, PeopleBrowsr SVP of business development, to have him explain a little about Kred, what differentiates it from the other social influence measurements and what it means for users interested in engaging more effectively with their social networks. Check it out:

With the clear success of the announcement, we want to send a shout out of congratulations to the PeopleBrowsr team. It looks like a phenomenal leap forward in understanding social engagement, and we know it's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we'll see coming out of the PeopleBrowsr office in the near future.

If you feel a little jaded by the social influence measurements you've seen, Kred's transparency and community-centricity should be refreshing: http://kred.ly

-@PaulFord

September 1, 2011

The Importance of Network Security

On Friday, April 27, 2011, I powered on my Sony Playstaton 3 and prepared to sit down for an enjoyable gaming session. As a Sony customer and a PlayStation Network (PSN) user, I expected my system to be able to connect to a service that I was told would be available. Because I had to sign an agreement to join the PSN, I expected my personal information to be secure. On that morning, I logged in and had no idea that my personal security might be at risk due to a lack of tight-knit practices and possible information redundancy.

My many years of brand loyalty held strong as I was told constantly that the PSN was down as a result of a maintenance. I understand that emergencies happen and proper planning by a professional company is in place to shorten the duration of impact. As it turned out, proper planning for this type of event seemed to have been lost on Sony. A malicious security cracker was able to infiltrate their network to gain access to numerous PSN customers' sensitive personal information. This kind of blunder had every PSN customer wondering what could be done to prevent this kind of event from happening again.

You probably noticed that I used the word "cracker" as opposed to the more common "hacker." A hacker is an extremely knowledgeable person when it comes to computers and programming who knows the ins and outs of systems ... which is completely legal. The typical misconception is that all "hackers" are engaged in illegal activity, which is not true. If the hacker decides to use these skills to circumvent security for the purpose of stealing, altering and damaging (which is obviously illegal), then the hacker becomes a cracker. To put it simply: All crackers are hackers, but not all hackers are crackers.

When I started working at SoftLayer three years ago, I was told to pay very close attention to our company's security policy. Each employee is reminded of this policy very regularly. Proper security practice is essential when dealing with private customer data, and with the advancement of technology comes the availability of even more advanced tools for cracking. As a trusted technology partner, it is our obligation to maintain the highest levels of security.

There is not a day at work that I am not reminded of this, and I completely understand why. Even at a personal level, I can imagine the detrimental consequences of having my information stolen, so multiply that by thousands of customers, and it's clear that good security practices are absolutely necessary. SoftLayer recognizes what is at stake when businesses trust us with their information, and that's one of the big reasons I'm to work here. I've gone through the hassle and stress of having to cancel credit cards due to another company's negligence, and as a result, I'm joining my team in making sure none of our customers have to go through the same thing.

-Jonathan

August 12, 2011

UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: An Intro to SSH

You've got a 'nix box set up. For some reason, you feel completely lost and powerless. It happens. Many a UNIX-related sob has been cried by confused and frustrated sysadmins, and it needs to stop. As a techie on the front lines of support, I've seen firsthand the issues that new and curious sysadmins seem to have. We have a lot of customers who like to dive head-first into a new environment, and we even encourage it. But there's quite a learning curve.

In my tenure at SoftLayer, I've come across a lot of customers who rely almost entirely on control panels provided by partners like cPanel and Parallels to administer their servers. While those panels simplify some fairly complex tasks to the touch of a button, we all know that one day you're going to have to get down and dirty in that SSH (Secure Shell) interface that so many UNIX server newbies fear.

I'm here to tell you that SSH can be your friend, if you treat it right. Graphical user interfaces like the ones used in control panels have been around for quite a while now, and despite the fact that we are in "the future," the raw power of a command line is still unmatched in its capabilities. It's a force to be reckoned with.

If you're accustomed to a UNIX-based interface, this may seem a little elementary, but you and I both know that as we get accustomed to something, we also tend to let those all-important "basics" slip from our minds. If you're coming from a Windows background and are new to the environment, you're in for a bit of a shell shock, no pun intended. The command line is fantastically powerful once you master it ... It just takes a little time and effort to learn.

We'll start slow and address some of the most common pain points for new sysadmins, and as we move forward, we'll tackle advanced topics. Set your brain to "absorbent," and visualize soaking up these UNIX tips like some kind of undersea, all-knowing, Yoda-like sea sponge.

SSH

SSH allows data to be exchanged securely between two networked devices, and when the "network" between your workstation and server is the Internet, the fact that it does so "securely" is significant. Before you can do any actual wielding of SSH, you're going to need to know how to find this exotic "command line" we've talked so much about.

You can use a third-party client such as PuTTY, WinSCP if your workstation is Windows-based, or if you're on Linux or Mac, you can access SSH from your terminal application: ssh user@ipaddress. Once you've gotten into your server, you'll probably want to find out where you are, so give the pwd command a try:

user@serv: ~$ pwd
/home/user
user@serv: ~$

It's as easy as that. Now we know we're in the /home/user directory. Most of the time, you'll find yourself starting in your home directory. This is where you can put personal files and documents. It's kind of like "My Documents" in Windows, just on your server.

Now that you know where you are, you'll probably want to know what's in there. Take a look at these commands (extracted from a RedHat environment, but also usable in CentOS and many other distributions):

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls    
This will give you a basic listing of the current directory.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls /usr/src/redhat    
This will list the contents of another specified directory.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls ./redhat    
Using a "relative pathname," this will perform the same action as above.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ ls redhat    
Most of the time, you'll get the same results even without the "./" at the beginning.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ cd /usr/src/redhat/    
This is an example of using the cd command to change directories to an absolute pathname.

    user@serv: /usr/src $ cd redhat    
This is an example of using the cd command to change directories to a relative pathname.

    user@serv: /usr/src/redhat $ cd /usr/src    
To move back on directory from the working directory, you can use the destination's absolute path.

    user@serv: /usr/src/redhat $ cd ..    
Or, since the desired directory is one step down, you can use two dots to move back.

You'll notice many similarities to the typical Windows DOS prompts, so it helps if you're familiar with navigating through that interface: dir, cd, cd .., cd /. Everything else on the other hand, will prove to be a bit different.

Now that you're able to access this soon-to-be-powerful-for-you tool, you need to start learning the language of the natives: bash. In our next installment, we'll take a crash course in bash, and you'll start to get comfortable navigating and manipulating content directly on your server.

Bookmark the SoftLayer Blog and come back regularly to get the latest installments in our "UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp" series!

-Ryan

Subscribe to information