Posts Tagged 'Infrastructure'

October 8, 2012

Don't Let Your Success Bring You Down

Last week, I got an email from a huge technology conference about their new website, exciting new speaker line up and the availability of early-bird tickets. I clicked on a link from that email, and I find that their fancy new website was down. After giving up on getting my early-bird discount, I surfed over to Facebook, and I noticed a post from one of my favorite blogs, Dutch Cowboys, about another company's interesting new product release. I clicked the link to check out the product, and THAT site was down, too. It's painfully common for some of the world's most popular sites and applications buckle under the strain of their own success ... Just think back to when Diablo III was launched: Demand crushed their servers on release day, and the gamers who waited patiently to get online with their copy turned to the world of social media to express their visceral anger about not being able to play the game.

The question everyone asks is why this kind of thing still happens. To a certain extent, the reality is that most entrepreneurs don't know what they don't know. I spoke with an woman who was going to be featured on BBC's Dragons' Den, and she said that the traffic from the show's viewers crippled most (if not all) of the businesses that were presented on the program. She needed to safeguard from that happening to her site, and she didn't know how to do that.

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to keep sites and applications online with on-demand infrastructure and auto-scaling tools. Unfortunately, most business owners don't know how easy it is, so they don't take advantage of the resources available to them. Preparing a website, game or application for its own success doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming. With pay-for-what-you-use pricing and "off the shelf" cloud management solutions, traffic-caused outages do NOT have to happen.

First impressions are extremely valuable, and if I wasn't really interested in that conference or the new product Dutch Cowboys blogged about, I'd probably never go back to those sites. Most Internet visitors would not. I cringe to think about the potential customers lost.

Businesses spend a lot of time and energy on user experience and design, and they don't think to devote the same level of energy on their infrastructure. In the 90's, sites crashing or slowing was somewhat acceptable since the interwebs were exploding beyond available infrastructure's capabilities. Now, there's no excuse.

If you're launching a new site, product or application, how do you get started?

The first thing you need to do is understand what resources you need and where the potential bottlenecks are when hundreds, thousands or even millions of people want to what you're launching. You don't need to invest in infrastructure to accommodate all of that traffic, but you need to know how you can add that infrastructure when you need it.

One of the easiest ways to prepare for your own success without getting bogged down by the bits and bytes is to take advantage of resources from some of our technology partners (and friends). If you have a PHP, Ruby on Rails or Node.js applications, Engine Yard will help you deploy and manage a specialized hosting environment. When you need a little more flexibility, RightScale's cloud management product lets you easily manage your environment in "a single integrated solution for extreme efficiency, speed and control." If your biggest concern is your database's performance and scalability, Cloudant has an excellent cloud database management service.

Invest a little time in getting ready for your success, and you won't need to play catch-up when that success comes to you. Given how easy it is to prepare and protect your hosting environment these days, outages should go the way of the 8-track player.

-@jpwisler

September 21, 2012

Powering Cloud Automation Through Partnerships

When SoftLayer began back in 2005, the term “cloud computing” was rarely used if at all. The founders of SoftLayer had an ambitious vision and plan to build a service platform that could easily automate, scale and meet the demands of the most sophisticated IT users. They were obviously onto something. Since then, we’ve emerged as the world’s largest privately held Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, helping the next generation of web savvy entrepreneurs realize their dreams. But we didn’t do it alone. We had partnerships in place—including working with Parallels.

Today everyone is trying to scramble and figure out how this “new” IT shift will work itself out. Our friends over at Parallels had a similar ambitious undertaking—trying to automate and enable a complete gamut of hosting and cloud services. This created a framework for our partnership. We worked with their engineering and sales teams, starting back in 2005, which resulted in Parallels Plesk Panel being offered as an option on every SoftLayer server. That was just the beginning. We are now deploying Parallels Automation for hosting partners and have plans to integrate with their Application Packaging Standard offering. Plans to integrate with other products like Parallels Cloud Server are also on the horizon. It all comes down to helping hosting companies and other joint customers thrive and succeed.

To find out more about our partnership and how it can help streamline your entry into cloud computing click here. We are also the only “Diamond” sponsor at the Parallels Summit 2012 APAC in Singapore this year. We share a heritage and understanding with Parallels borne from a need to simplify and solve IT problems on a broad scale. Now that’s what I call a likeminded partnership.

-@gkdog

September 17, 2012

Joining the Internet Infrastructure Coalition

In January, we posted a series of blogs about legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that would have had a serious impact on the hosting industry. We talked about SOPA and PIPA, and how those proposed laws would "break the Internet" as we know it. The hosting industry rallied together to oppose the passage of those bills, and in doing so, we proved to be a powerful collective force.

In the months that followed the shelving of SOPA and PIPA, many of the hosting companies that were active in the fight were invited to join a new coalition that would focus on proposed legislation that affects Internet infrastructure providers ... The Internet Infrastructure Coalition (or "i2Coalition") was born. i2Coalition co-founder and Board Chair Christian Dawson explains the basics:

SoftLayer is proud to be a Charter Member of i2Coalition, and we're excited to see how many vendors, partners, peers and competitors have joined us. Scrolling the ranks of founding members is a veritable "Who's who?" of the companies that make up the "nuts and bolts" of the Internet.

The goal of i2Coalition is to facilitate public policy education and advocacy, develop market-driven standards formed by consensus and give the industry a unified voice. On the i2Coalition's Public Policy page, that larger goal is broken down into focused priorities, with the first being

"In all public policy initiatives of the i2Coalition will be to encourage the growth and development of the Internet infrastructure industry and to protect the interests of members of the Coalition consistent with this development."

Another huge priority worth noting is the focus on enabling and promoting the free exercise of human rights — including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the protection of personal privacy. Those rights are essential to fostering effective Internet advancement and to maintain a free and open Internet, and SoftLayer is a strong supporter of that platform.

If you operate in the hosting or Internet infrastructure space and you want to be part of the i2Coalition, we encourage you to become a member and join the conversation. When policymakers are talking about getting "an Internet" from their staff members, we know that there are plenty of opportunities to educate and provide context on the technical requirements and challenges that would result from proposed legislation, and the Internet Infrastructure Coalition is well equipped to capitalize on those opportunities.

-@toddmitchell

August 17, 2012

SoftLayer Private Clouds - Provisioning Speed

SoftLayer Private Clouds are officially live, and that means you can now order and provision your very own private cloud infrastructure on Citrix CloudPlatform quickly and easily. Chief Scientist Nathan Day introduced private clouds on the blog when it was announced at Cloud Expo East, and CTO Duke Skarda followed up with an explanation of the architecture powering SoftLayer Private Clouds. The most amazing claim: You can order a private cloud infrastructure and spin up its first virtual machines in a matter of hours rather than days, weeks or months.

If you've ever looked at building your own private cloud in the past, the "days, weeks or months" timeline isn't very surprising — you have to get the hardware provisioned, the software installed and the network configured ... and it all has to work together. Hearing that SoftLayer Private Clouds can be provisioned in "hours" probably seems too good to be true to administrators who have tried building a private cloud in the past, so I thought I'd put it to the test by ordering a private cloud and documenting the experience.

At 9:30am, I walked over to Phil Jackson's desk and asked him if he would be interested in helping me out with the project. By 9:35am, I had him convinced (proof), and the clock was started.

When we started the order process, part of our work is already done for us:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

To guarantee peak performance of the CloudPlatform management server, SoftLayer selected the hardware for us: A single processor quad core Xeon 5620 server with 6GB RAM, GigE, and two 2.0TB SATA II HDDs in RAID1. With the management server selected, our only task was choosing our host server and where we wanted the first zone (host server and management server) to be installed:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

For our host server, we opted for a dual processor quad core Xeon 5504 with the default specs, and we decided to spin it up in DAL05. We added (and justified) a block of 16 secondary IP addresses for our first zone, and we submitted the order. The time: 9:38am.

At this point, it would be easy for us to game the system to shave off a few minutes from the provisioning process by manually approving the order we just placed (since we have access to the order queue), but we stayed true to the experiment and let it be approved as it normally would be. We didn't have to wait long:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

At 9:42am, our order was approved, and the pressure was on. How long would it take before we were able to log into the CloudStack portal to create a virtual machine? I'd walked over to Phil's desk 12 minutes ago, and we still had to get two physical servers online and configured to work with each other on CloudPlatform. Luckily, the automated provisioning process took on a the brunt of that pressure.

Both server orders were sent to the data center, and the provisioning system selected two pieces of hardware that best matched what we needed. Our exact configurations weren't available, so a SBT in the data center was dispatched to make the appropriate hardware changes to meet our needs, and the automated system kicked into high gear. IP addresses were assigned to the management and host servers, and we were able to monitor each server's progress in the customer portal. The hardware was tested and prepared for OS install, and when it was ready, the base operating systems were loaded — CentOS 6 on the management server and Citrix XenServer 6 on the host server. After CentOS 6 finished provisioning on the management server, CloudStack was installed. Then we got an email:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

At 11:24am, less than two hours from when I walked over to Phil's desk, we had two servers online and configured with CloudStack, and we were ready to provision our first virtual machines in our private cloud environment.

We log into CloudStack and added our first instance:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

We configured our new instance in a few clicks, and we clicked "Launch VM" at 11:38am. It came online in just over 3 minutes (11:42am):

SoftLayer Private Clouds

I got from "walking to Phil's desk" to having a multi-server private cloud infrastructure running a VM in exactly two hours and twelve minutes. For fun, I created a second VM on the host server, and it was provisioned in 31.7 seconds. It's safe to say that the claim that SoftLayer takes "hours" to provision a private cloud has officially been confirmed, but we thought it would be fun to add one more wrinkle to the system: What if we wanted to add another host server in a different data center?

From the "Hardware" tab in the SoftLayer portal, we selected "Add Zone" to from the "Actions" in the "Private Clouds" section, and we chose a host server with four portable IP addresses in WDC01. The zone was created, and the host server went through the same hardware provisioning process that our initial deployment went through, and our new host server was online in < 2 hours. We jumped into CloudStack, and the new zone was created with our host server ready to provision VMs in Washington, D.C.

Given how quick the instances were spinning up in the first zone, we timed a few in the second zone ... The first instance was online in about 4 minutes, and the second was running in 26.8 seconds.

SoftLayer Private Clouds

By the time I went out for a late lunch at 1:30pm, we'd spun up a new private cloud infrastructure with geographically dispersed zones that launched new cloud instances in under 30 seconds. Not bad.

Don't take my word for it, though ... Order a SoftLayer Private Cloud and see for yourself.

-@khazard

July 25, 2012

ServerDensity: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome David Mytton, Founder of ServerDensity. Server Density is a hosted server and website monitoring service that alerts you when your website is slow, down or back up.

5 Ways to Minimize Downtime During Summer Vacation

It's a fact of life that everything runs smoothly until you're out of contact, away from the Internet or on holiday. However, you can't be available 24/7 on the chance that something breaks; instead, there are several things you can do to ensure that when things go wrong, the problem can be managed and resolved quickly. To help you set up your own "get back up" plan, we've come up with a checklist of the top five things you can do to prepare for an ill-timed issue.

1. Monitoring

How will you know when things break? Using a tool like Server Density — which combines availability monitoring from locations around the world with internal server metrics like disk usage, Apache and MySQL — means that you can be alerted if your site goes down, and have the data to find out why.

Surprisingly, the most common problems we see are some that are the easiest to fix. One problem that happens all too often is when a customer simply runs out of disk space in a volume! If you've ever had it happen to you, you know that running out of space will break things in strange ways — whether it prevents the database from accepting writes or fails to store web sessions on disk. By doing something as simple as setting an alert to monitor used disk space for all important volumes (not just root) at around 75%, you'll have proactive visibility into your server to avoid hitting volume capacity.

Additionally, you should define triggers for unusual values that will set off a red flag for you. For example, if your Apache requests per second suddenly drop significantly, that change could indicate a problem somewhere else in your infrastructure, and if you're not monitoring those indirect triggers, you may not learn about those other problems as quickly as you'd like. Find measurable direct and indirect relationships that can give you this kind of early warning, and find a way to measure them and alert yourself when something changes.

2. Dealing with Alerts

It's no good having alerts sent to someone who isn't responding (or who can't at a given time). Using a service like Pagerduty allows you to define on-call rotations for different types of alerts. Nobody wants to be on-call every hour of every day, so differentiating and channeling alerts in an automated way could save you a lot of hassle. Another huge benefit of a platform like Pagerduty is that it also handles escalations: If the first contact in the path doesn't wake up or is out of service, someone else gets notified quickly.

3. Tracking Incidents

Whether you're the only person responsible or you have a team of engineers, you'll want to track the status of alerts/issues, particularly if they require escalation to different vendors. If an incident lasts a long time, you'll want to be able to hand it off to another person in your organization with all of the information they need. By tracking incidents with detailed notes information, you can avoid fatigue and prevent unnecessary repetition of troubleshooting steps.

We use JIRA for this because it allows you to define workflows an issue can progress along as you work on it. It also includes easy access to custom fields (e.g. specifying a vendor ticket ID) and can be assigned to different people.

4. Understanding What Happened

After you have received an alert, acknowledged it and started tracking the incident, it's time to start investigating. Often, this involves looking at logs, and if you only have one or two servers, it's relatively easy, but as soon as you add more, the process can get exponentially more difficult.

We recommend piping them all into a log search tool like (fellow Tech Partners Marketplace participant) Papertrail or Loggly. Those platforms afford you access to all of your logs from a single interface with the ability to see incoming lines in real-time or the functionality to search back to when the incident began (since you've clearly monitored and tracked all of that information in the first three steps).

5. Getting Access to Your Servers

If you're traveling internationally, access to the Internet via a free hotspot like the ones you find in Starbucks isn't always possible. It's always a great idea to order a portable 3G hotspot in advance of a trip. You can usually pick one up from the airport to get basic Internet access without paying ridiculous roaming charges. Once you have your connection, the next step is to make sure you can access your servers.

Both iPhone and Android have SSH and remote desktop apps available which allow you to quickly log into your servers to fix easy problems. Having those tools often saves a lot of time if you don't have access to your laptop, but they also introduce a security concern: If you open server logins to the world so you can login from the dynamic IPs that change when you use mobile connectivity, then it's worth considering a multi-factor authentication layer. We use Duo Security for several reasons, with one major differentiator being the modules they have available for all major server operating systems to lock down our logins even further.

You're never going to escape the reality of system administration: If your server has a problem, you need to fix it. What you can get away from is the uncertainty of not having a clearly defined process for responding to issues when they arise.

-David Mytton, ServerDensity

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.
July 19, 2012

The Human Element of SoftLayer - DAL05 DC Operations

One of the founding principles of SoftLayer is automation. Automation has enabled this company to provide our customers with a world class experience, and it enables employees to provide excellent service. It allows us to quickly deploy a variety of solutions at the click of a button, and it guarantees consistency in the products that we deliver. Automation isn't the whole story, though. The human element plays a huge role in SoftLayer's success.

As a Site Manager for the corporate facility, I thought I could share a unique perspective when it comes to what that human element looks like, specifically through the lens of the Server Build Team's responsibilities. You recently heard how my colleague, Broc Chalker, became an SBT, and so I wanted take it a step further by providing a high-level breakdown of how the Server Build Team enables SoftLayer to keep up with the operational demands of a rapidly growing, global infrastructure provider.

The Server Build Team is responsible for filling all of the beautiful data center environments you see in pictures and videos of SoftLayer facilities. Every day, they are in the DC, building out new rows for inventory. It sounds pretty simple, but it's actually a pretty involved process. When it comes to prepping new rows, our primary focus is redundancy (for power, cooling and network). Each rack is powered by dual power sources, four switches in a stacked configuration (two public network, two private network), and an additional switch that provides KVM access to the server. To make it possible to fill the rack with servers, we also have to make sure it's organized well, and that takes a lot of time. Just watch the video of the Go Live Crew cabling a server rack in SJC01, and you can see how time- and labor-intensive the process is. And if there are any mistakes or if the cables don't look clean, we'll cut all the ties and start over again.



 

In addition to preparing servers for new orders, SBTs also handle hardware-related requests. This can involve anything from changing out components for a build, performing upgrades / maintenance on active servers, or even troubleshooting servers. Any one of these requests has to be treated with significant urgency and detail.



 

The responsibilities do not end there. Server Build Technicians also perform a walk of the facility twice per shift. During this walk, technicians check for visual alerts on the servers and do a general facility check of all SoftLayer pods. Note: Each data center facility features one or more pods or "server rooms," each built to the same specifications to support up to 5,000 servers.



 

The DAL05 facility has a total of four pods, and at the end of the build-out, we should be running 18,000-20,000 servers in this facility alone. Over the past year, we completed the build out of SR02 and SR03 (pod 2 and 3, respectively), and we're finishing the final pod (SR04) right now. We've spent countless hours building servers and monitoring operating system provisions when new orders roll in, and as our server count increases, our team has grown to continue providing the support our existing customers expect and deserve when it comes to upgrade requests and hardware-related support tickets.



 

To be successful, we have to stay ahead of the game from an operations perspective. The DAL05 crew is working hard to build out this facility's last pod (SR04), but for the sake of this blog post, I pulled everyone together for a quick photo op to introduce you to the team.

DAL05 Day / Evening Team and SBT Interns (with the remaining racks to build out in DAL05):
DAL05 DC Ops

DAL05 Overnight Server Build Technician Team:
DAL05 DC Ops

Let us know if there's ever anything we can do to help you!

-Joshua

July 13, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks

I've been working in the web hosting industry for nearly five years now, and as is the case with many of the professionals of my generation, I grew up side by side with the capital-I Internet. Over those five years, the World Wide Web has evolved significantly, and it's become a need. People need the Internet to communicate, store information, enable societal connectivity and entertain. And they need it 24 hours per day, seven days a week. To affirm that observation, you just need to look at an excerpt from a motion submitted to the Human Rights Council and recently passed by the United Nations General Assembly:

The General Session ... calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries.

After a platform like the Internet revolutionizes the way we see the world, it's culturally impossible to move backward. Its success actually inspires us to look forward for the next world-changing innovation. Even the most non-technical citizen of the Internet has come to expect those kinds of innovations as the Internet and its underlying architecture have matured and seem to be growing like Moore's Law: Getting faster, better, and bigger all the time. The fact that SoftLayer is able to keep up with that growth (and even continue innovating in the process) is one of the things I admire most about the company.

I love that our very business model relies on our ability to enable our customers' success. Just look at how unbelievably successful companies like Tumblr and HostGator have become, and you start to grasp how big of a deal it is that we can help their businesses. We're talking billions of pageviews per month and hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on SoftLayer through our customers. And that's just through two customers. Because we're on the cutting edge, and we provide unparalleled access and functionality, we get to see a lot of the up-and-coming kickstarts that are soon to hit it big, and we get to help them keep up with their own success.

On a personal level, I love that SoftLayer provides opportunities for employees. Almost every department has a career track you can follow as you learn more about the business and get a little more experience, and you're even able to transition into another department if you're drawn to a new passion. I recently move to the misty northwest (Seattle) when given the opportunity by SoftLayer, and after working in the data center, I decided to pursue a role as a systems administrator. It took a lot of hard work, but I made the move. Hard work is recognized, and every opportunity I've taken advantage of has been fulfilled. You probably think I'm biased because I've done well in the organization, and that might be a fair observation, but in reality, the opportunities don't just end with me.

One of my favorite stories to share about SoftLayer is the career path of my best friend, Goran. I knew he was a hard worker, so I referred him to the company a few years ago, and he immediately excelled as an Operations Tech. He proved himself on the Go-Live Crew in Amsterdam by playing a big role in the construction of AMS01, and he was promoted to a management position in that facility. He had been missing Europe for the better part of a decade, SoftLayer gave him a way to go back home while doing what he loves (and what he's good at).

If that Goran's story isn't enough for you, I could tell you about Robert. He started at SoftLayer as a data center tech, and he worked hard to become a systems administrator, then he was named a site manager, then he was promoted to senior operations manager, and now he's the Director of Operations. You'll recognize him as the guy with all of the shirts in Lance's "Earn Your Bars" blog post from December. He took every rung on the ladder hand-over-hand because no challenge could overwhelm him. He sought out what needed to be done without being asked, and he was proactive about make SoftLayer even better.

I could tell you about dozens of others in the company that have the same kinds of success stories because they approached the opportunities SoftLayer provided them with a passion and positive attitude that can't be faked. If being successful in an organization makes you biased, we're all biased. We love this environment. We're presented with opportunities and surrounded by people encouraging us to take advantage of those opportunities, and as a result, we can challenge ourselves and reach our potential. No good idea is ignored, and no hard work goes unrecognized.

I'm struggling to suppress the countless "opportunity" stories I've seen in my tenure at SoftLayer, but I think the three stories above provide a great cross-section of what it looks like to work for SoftLayer. If you like being challenged (and being rewarded for your hard work), you might want to take this opportunity to see which SoftLayer Career could be waiting for you.

When opportunity knocks, let it in.

-Hilary

Categories: 
June 28, 2012

Never Break Up with Your Data Again

Wouldn't it be nice if you could keep the parts of a relationship that you like and "move on" from the parts you don't? You'd never have to go through the awkward "getting to know each other" phase where you accidentally order food the other person is allergic to, and you'd never have to experience a break up. As it is, we're faced with a bit of a paradox: Relationships are a lot of work, and "Breaking up is hard to do."

I could tell you story after story about the break ups I experienced in my youth. From the Ghostbuster-jumpsuited boyfriend I had in kindergarten who stole my heart (and my barrettes) to until it was time to take my had-to-have "My Little Pony" thermos lunchbox to another table at lunch after a dramatic recess exchange to the middle school boyfriend who took me to see Titanic in the theater four times (yes, you read that correctly), my early "romantic" relationships didn't pan out in the "happily ever after" way I'd hoped they would. Whether the result of an me unwelcome kiss under the monkey bars or a move to a different school (which might as well have been on Mars), I had to break up with each of the boys.

Why are you reading about my lost loves on the SoftLayer Blog? Simple: Relationships with IT environments — specifically applications and data — are not much different from romantic relationships. You might want to cut ties with a high maintenance piece of equipment that you've been with for years because its behavior is getting erratic, and it doesn't look like it'll survive forever. Maybe you've outgrown what your existing infrastructure can provide for you, and you need to move along. Perhaps you just want some space and need to take a break from a project for six months.

If you feel like telling your infrastructure, "It's not you, it's me," what are your options? Undo all of your hard work, schedule maintenance and stay up in the dead of a weeknight to migrate, backup and restore all of your data locally?

When I talk to SoftLayer customers, I get to be a relationship therapist. Because we've come out with some pretty innovative tools, we can help our customers avoid ever having to break up with their data again. Two of the coolest "infrastructure relationship"-saving releases: Flex Images (currently in public beta) and portable storage volumes for cloud computing instances (CCIs).

With Flex Images, customers using RedHat, CentOS or Windows systems can create and move server images between physical and virtual environments to seamlessly transition from one platform to the other. With about three clicks, a customer-created image is quickly and uniformly delivered to a new dedicated or cloud server. The idea behind Flex Images is to blur the line between physical and virtual environments so that if you feel the need to break up with one of the two, the other is able to take you in.

Portable storage volumes (PSVs) are secondary CCI volumes that can be added onto any public or private CCI. Users can detach a PSV from any CCI and have it persist in the cloud, unattached to any compute resource, for as long as necessary. When that storage volume is needed again, it can be re-attached as secondary storage on any other CCI across all of SoftLayer's facilities. The best relationship parallel would be "baggage," but that's got a negative connotation, so we'll have to come up with something else to call it ... "preparedness."

We want to help you avoid break ups and provide you easy channels to make up with your old infrastructure if you have a change of heart. The result is an infrastructure that's much easier to manage, more fluid and less dramatic.

Now if I can only figure out a way to make Flex Images and portable storage volumes available for real-life relationships .... I'd make millions! :-)

-Arielle

June 27, 2012

Cloudability: Tech Partner Spotlight

This guest blog comes to us from Cloudability, a featured member of the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. Cloudability is a cloud budget management service that helps companies manage their cloud spending, prevent overages, reduce waste and save money. In this video we talk to Cloudability Founder and CEO Mat Ellis about how the company developed, and we hear examples of how Cloudability is supporting and businesses money.

5 Things You Need to Know to Control Variable Infrastructure Costs

If you have on premise equipment, then your costs are fixed — you paid your money and now you own a fixed amount of hardware and software. The cloud, on the other hand, has variable costs due to two important features — you only pay for the services you use and it's scalable, providing the resources you need at any given time. By using a cloud infrastructure, you end up with what we call Variable Infrastructure Costs (VICs).

Most of SoftLayer's services meet the criteria for a VIC. You need an extra cloud server for a few hours? No problem. More disk? Done.

With great power, comes great responsibility, and the biggest problem with VICs is that they are just like a faucet: Leave it running, and the water bill can add up fast ... Not to mention all that waste! Unless you keep a close eye on VICs, you could find yourself in front of your CFO, pleading for your budget's life.

Cloudability was created to keep those costs under control, and in the course of working with our customers, we've come up with a simple five-point checklist of best practices:

1. Collation

Make sure you have insight to all your costs, create a single contract database, and review it regularly. Don't forget to include total cloud spending alongside your fixed contracts. Talk to your finance department, then drill your employees and tech teams to make sure you REALLY know the whole truth. There can be — and usually is — a disconnect in the organization about how much cloud is really being used.

2. Analysis

Get into the weeds to see why each project is spending what they are spending. Try to calculate some tangible metrics like cost per thousand web pages served or cost per new customer, and benchmark these against public data and common sense.

3. Organization and Rebalancing

Put each of your projects into one of four quadrants:

  1. High Spend/Low Efficiency
  2. High Spend/High Efficiency
  3. Low Spend/Low Efficiency
  4. Low Spend/High Efficiency.

Focus on the High Spend/Low Efficiency quadrant first. That's where you will find the easiest wins. Then, move onto the High Spend/High Efficiency quadrant where you'll find best practices to use for other projects. Then, if you have the time/resources, focus on the low spend projects and repeat.

4. Renegotiation

Contact your colleagues outside your department and compare unit prices, especially for things like bandwidth, co-lo and staff costs. Make sure you're in the top quartile for value (i.e. lowest costs). Renegotiate with vendors if you aren't, and plan to change vendors and staff when you can't the best value with your current resources.

5. Alignment

Understand your business objectives and get your roadmap tightly aligned. If you need some CAPEX to reduce operational expenses, then ask for it as part of the planning. You've got to spend money to make money right?

VICs can be easily manage once you understand where they're all coming from. After applying these five best practices into the way your business approaches cloud spending, you'll be well on your way. Cloudability's business was built to make the process a little easier and more automated for you, so if you want to use our tool to help you "cover your *aas," we'd love for you to try it out for free: https://app.cloudability.com/signup

-Mat Ellis, Cloudability

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.
June 20, 2012

How Do You Build a Private Cloud?

If you read Nathan's "A Cloud to Call Your Own" blog, and you wanted to learn a little more about private clouds in general or SoftLayer Private Clouds specifically, this post is for you. We're going take a little time to dive deeper into the technology behind SoftLayer Private Clouds, and in the process, I'll talk a little about why particular platforms/hardware/configurations were chosen.

The Platform: Citrix CloudPlatform

There are several cloud infrastructure frameworks to choose from these days. We have surveyed a number of them and actively work with several of them. We are active members of the happenings around OpenStack and we have working implementations of vSphere, Nimula, Eucalyptus and other stacks in our data centers. So why CloudPlatform by Citrix?

First off, it's one of the most mature of these options. It's been around for several years and now has the substantial backing of Citrix. That backing includes investment, support organizations and the multitude of other products managed by Citrix. There are also some futuristic ideas we have regarding how to leverage products like CloudBridge and Netscaler with Private Clouds. Second, CloudPlatform operates in accordance with how we believe a private cloud should work: It's simple, it doesn't have a huge management infrastructure and we can charge for it by the CPU per month, just like all of our other products. Finally, CloudPlatform has made good inroads with enterprise customers. We love the idea that an enterprise ops team could leverage CloudPlatform as the management platform for both their on-premise and their off-premise private cloud.

So, we selected CloudPlatform for a multitude of reasons; not just one.

Another huge key was our ability to integrate CloudPlatform into the SoftLayer portals/mobile apps/API. Because many SoftLayer customers manage their environments exclusively through the SoftLayer API, we knew that a seamless integration there was an absolute necessity. With the help of the SoftLayer dev team and the CloudStack folks, we've been able to automate private clouds the same way we did for public cloud instances and dedicated servers.

The Hardware

When it came to choosing what hardware the private clouds would use, the decision was pretty simple. Given our need for automation, SoftLayer Private Clouds would need to be indistinguishable from a standard dedicated server or CloudLayer environment. We use the latest and greatest server hardware available on the market, and every month, you can see thousands of new SuperMicro boxes being delivered to our data centers around the world. Because we know we have a reliable, powerful and consistent hardware foundation on which we can build the private clouds product, it makes the integration of the system even easier.

When it comes to the specs of the hardware provided for a private cloud environment, we provide as much transparency and flexibility as we can for a customer to build exactly what he or she needs. Let's look into what that means...

The Hardware Configurations

A CloudPlatform environment can be broken down into these components:

  • A single management server (that can manage multiple zones across layer 2 networks)
  • One or more zones
  • One or more clusters in a zone
  • One or more hosts in a cluster
  • Storage shared by a cluster (which can be a single server)

A simple diagram of a two-zone private cloud might look like this:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

We've set a standard "management server" configuration that we know will be able to accommodate all of your needs when it comes to running CloudPlatform, and how you build and configure the rest of your private cloud infrastructure is up to you. Whether you want simple dual proc, quad core Nehalem box with a lot of local disk space for a dev cloud or an environment made up of quad proc 10-core Westmeres with SSDs, you have the freedom to choose exactly what you want.

Oh, and everything can be online in two to four hours, and it's offered on a month-to-month contract.

The Network Configuration

When it comes to where the hardware is provisioned, you have the ability to deploy zones in multiple geographies and manage them all through a single CloudPlatform management node. Given the way the SoftLayer three-tier network is built, the management node and host nodes do not even need to be accessible by our public network. You can choose to make accessible only the IPs used by the VMs you create. If your initial private cloud infrastructure is in Dallas and you want a node online in Singapore, you can just click a few buttons, and the new node will be provisioned and configured securely by CloudPlatform in a couple of hours.

Imagine how long it would have taken you to build this kind of infrastructure in the past:

SoftLayer Private Clouds

It doesn't take days or weeks now. It takes hours.

As you can see, when we approached the challenge of bringing private clouds to the SoftLayer platform, we had to innovate. In Texas, that would be roughly translated as "Go big or go home." Given the response we've seen from customers and partners since the announcement of SoftLayer Private Clouds, we know the industry has taken notice.

Will all of our customers need their own private cloud infrastructure? Probably not. But will the customers who've been looking for this kind of functionality be ecstatic with the CloudPlatform environment on SoftLayer's network? Absolutely.

-Duke

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