Posts Tagged 'Innovation'

March 1, 2012

MassChallenge = Massive Opportunity

What would you do if your business received $50,000-$100,000 with no strings attached and no equity given up? Spend it to market to new customers? Invest in your infrastructure to scale your application? Use it lease office space that doesn't sit above a bowling alley? Buy all of your employees puppies? It's a dilemma that every startup on the planet would love to face, and with the launch of this year's MassChallenge Startup Accelerator and Competition, that "dilemma" won't just be theoretical.

MassChallenge

If you haven't heard of MassChallenge before, here's the quick rundown: MassChallenge is the largest startup accelerator and competition in the world, and the first to support high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs with no strings attached. Participants are invited to a three-month accelerator program with world-class mentorship and training, free office space, access to funding, media and more. 15-20 startups are selected as winners of $50,000-$100,000, totaling $1.1M in cash awards. $4M+ in-kind support is provided (including some hosting goodness from SoftLayer). It's open to all: Any startup can enter, from anywhere, in any industry. No equity is taken. No restrictions apply.

Every entrant, not just the winners, will receive access to workshops, mentors, executives, other team members and sources of funding. Experts from the Massachusetts tech ecosystem will identify the highest potential startups, which will receive cash prizes and will qualify for privileged access to funding sources from across Massachusetts.

Why is MassChallenge important to SoftLayer? Well SoftLayer Loves Startups, and as an expression of that love, SoftLayer's Catalyst Program — our technology entrepreneur mentorship initiative will provide $25,000 cash to MassChallenge in addition to $1,000 per month of credit for qualifying participants to use on the SoftLayer platform (servers, cloud instances, storage, etc.) for one full year ... Which is reason enough to participate, right?

We're no strangers to the startup scene, and the reception we've received from organizations like MassChallenge, TechStars Cloud and Beta have only reinforced our commitment to communities created to foster entrepreneurship and innovation. I can't count the number of killer startups I've met in the past month (much less the past year), and I'm blown away by the portfolio of startup companies already in the Catalyst Program ... That's not a reason to be satisfied, though. We're not resting on our laurels; we're speeding up.

What does it mean for you as an entrepreneur? Easy: You need to sign up immediately, if not sooner. The deadline for applications for the 2012 competition is April 11, and if you apply before March 15, you'll be eligible for a $100 discount on the application fee. Visit masschallenge.org to learn more and get the ball rolling.

-@PaulFord

February 1, 2012

Flex Images: Blur the Line Between Cloud and Dedicated

Our customers are not concerned with technology for technology's sake. Information technology should serve a purpose; it should function as an integral means to a desired end. Understandably, our customers are focused, first and foremost, on their application architecture and infrastructure. They want, and need, the freedom and flexibility to design their applications to their specifications.

Many companies leverage the cloud to take advantage of core features that enable robust, agile architectures. Elasticity (ability to quickly increase or decrease compute capacity) and flexibility (choice such as cores, memory and storage) combine to provide solutions that scale to meet the demands of modern applications.

Another widely used feature of cloud computing is image-based provisioning. Rapid provisioning of cloud resources is accomplished, in part, through the use of images. Imaging capability extends beyond the use of base images, allowing users to create customized images that preserve their software installs and configurations. The images persist in an image library, allowing users to launch new cloud instances based their images.

But why should images only be applicable to virtualized cloud resources?

Toward that end, we're excited to introduce SoftLayer Flex Images, a new capability that allows us to capture images of physical and virtual servers, store them all in one library, and rapidly deploy those images on either platform.

SoftLayer Flex Images

Physical servers now share the core features of virtual servers—elasticity and flexibility. With Flex Images, you can move seamlessly between and environments as your needs change.

Let's say you're running into resource limits in a cloud server environment—your data-intensive server is I/O bound—and you want to move the instance to a more powerful dedicated server. Using Flex Images, you can create an image of your cloud server and, extending our I/O bound example, deploy it to a custom dedicated server with SSD drives.

Conversely, a dedicated environment can be quickly replicated on multiple cloud instances if you want the scaling capability of the cloud to meet increased demand. Maybe your web heads run on dedicated servers, but you're starting to see periods of usage that stress your servers. Create a Flex Image from your dedicated server and use it to deploy cloud instances to meet demand.

Flex Image technology blurs the distinctions—and breaks down the walls—between virtual and physical computing environments.

We don't think of Flex Images as new product. Instead—like our network, our portal, our automated platform, and our globe-spanning geographic diversity—Flex Image capability is a free resource for our customers (with the exception of standard nominal costs in storing the Flex Images).

We think Flex Images represents not only great value, but also provides a further example of how SoftLayer innovates continually to bring new capabilities and the highest possible level of customer control to our automated services platform.

To sum up, here are some of the key features and benefits of SoftLayer Flex Images:

  • Universal images that can be used interchangeably on dedicated or cloud systems
  • Unified image library for archiving, managing, sharing, and publishing images
  • Greater flexibility and higher scalability
  • Rapid provisioning of new dedicated and cloud environments
  • Available via SoftLayer's management portal and API

In public beta, Flex Images are available now. We invite you to try them out, and, as always, we want to hear what you think.

-Marc

January 13, 2012

The Challenge of Conveying Culture

Last week, Cracked.com ran an article about "9 Quirky Things Every 'Cool' Workplace Is Required to Have." The post points out several seemingly trite characteristics of "trendy" and "fun" companies, and SoftLayer was one of the companies the author used to illustrate her point about quirky conference room names. The "obscure inside jokes" we chose as the naming convention for our conference rooms in our Dallas headquarters inspired this fantastic analogy:

I'm sure visiting vendors and consultants enjoy as much as adults enjoy hearing a gaggle of teenage girls joke about which one of them is the craaaziest.

The post's mock homage to "fun company culture" as seen by outsiders got me thinking ... Why do I think SoftLayer is such a cool place to work, and how could I talk about that in a way that didn't seem hokey or insincere? Given the cynicism of the Internet in general, it may be impossible to execute, so I realize that all I can do is give my honest take on why I enjoy coming to work every day:

SoftLayer's culture is defined authentically and organically by our people, traditions and stories.

I agree that red walls, orange couches and scooters in an office do not create a cool workplace, and I don't think our "obscure inside joke" conference room names make us cool either. When we moved to our new headquarters in Dallas, every employee at the company was encouraged to submit ideas for what we should name the rooms, and after voting on dozens of great ideas, the "inside joke" submission from SoftLayer General Council Suzy Fulton ended up winning (and Suzy was awarded an iPad for submitting the winning idea). The reason her naming convention won is what makes SoftLayer a great place to work: Each name gives a different piece of the overall story that explains, "This is who we are, what we do and where we come from."

Take our conference room named Muenster for example. Muenster is a small town in Texas where the annual GermanFest is held. The 3 Bars BBQ team breaks out their secret recipes to compete with other BBQ teams from around the state, and the coworkers that don't don aprons get to kick back and eat some awesome BBQ, enjoy a drink (or two... or three...) and have a great time. The event has been such a fun tradition that we wanted to incorporate it into our new office for the days we're not eating brisket fresh off the grill. It means something to SoftLayer as a company, and if vendors/consultants coming into the office don't appreciate it in the same way, we're pretty sure we'll survive. Naming conference rooms to the least common denominator would sure be functional, but in practice, it would be (ironically) "outside the box" for SoftLayer.

We're just group of people (with a few inside jokes) working together to create the best hosting experience in the business. We value both customers and employees. We like startups (because we were a startup a few short years ago), innovation, automation and BBQ. We have fun together, and as a result, we have plenty of stories to tell (and more obscure inside jokes to use for our next conference rooms).

Oh, and we're also "guilty" of having a few red accent walls, employees riding around on scooters (and Segways), Nerf guns, foam rockets, and foosball tables in our offices. If that means getting mentioned in the same (mocking) breath as Facebook, Yahoo!, Zappos and Twitter, we're in a pretty good spot.

-Summer

January 3, 2012

Hosting Resolutions for the New Year

It's a new year, and though only real change between on January 1 is the last digit in the year, that change presents a blank canvas for the year. In the past, I haven't really made New Year's resolutions, but because some old Mayan calendar says this is my last chance, I thought I'd take advantage of it. In reality, being inspired to do anything that promotes positive change is great, so in the spirit of New Year's improvements, I thought I'd take a look at what hosting customers might want to make resolutions to do in 2012.

What in your work/hosting life would you like to change? It's easy to ignore or look past small goals and improvements we can make on a daily basis, so let's take advantage of the "clean slate" 2012 provides us to be intentional about making life easier. A few small changes can mean the difference between a great day in the office or a frantic overnight coffee binge (which we all know is so great for your health). Because these changes are relatively insignificant, you might not recognize anything in particular that needs to change right off the bat. You might want to answer a daunting question like, "What should you do to improve your work flow or reduce work related stress?" Luckily, any large goals like that can be broken down into smaller pieces that are much easier to manage.

Enough with the theoretical ... let's talk practical. In 2012, your hosting-related New Year's resolutions should revolve around innovation, conservation, security and redundancy.

Innovation

When it comes to hosting, a customer's experience and satisfaction is the most important focus of a successful business. There's an old cliche that says, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten," and that's absolutely correct when it comes to building your business in the new year. What can you change or automate to make your business better? Are you intentionally "thinking outside the box?"

Conservation

The idea of "conservation" and "green hosting" has been written off as a marketing gimmick in the world of hosting, but there's something to be said for looking at your utilization from that perspective. We could talk about the environmental impact of hosting, and finding a host that is intentional about finding greener ways to do business, but if you're renting a server, you might feel a little disconnected from that process. When you're looking at your infrastructure in the New Year, determine whether your infrastructure is being used efficiently by your workload. Are there tools you can take advantage of to track your infrastructure's performance? Are you able to make changes quickly if/when you find inefficiencies?

Security

Another huge IT-related resolution you should make would be around security. Keeping your system tight and locked up can get forgotten when you're pushing development changes or optimizing your networking, so the beginning of the year is a great time to address any possible flaws in your security. Try to start with simple changes in your normal security practices ... Make sure your operating systems and software packages are regularly patched. Keep a strict password policy that requires regular password updates. Run system log checks regularly. Reevaluate your system firewall or ACL lists.

All of these safety nets may be set up, but they may not be functioning at their best. Even precautions as simple as locking your client or workstation when not in use can help stop attacks from local risks and prying eyes ... And this practice is very important if you keep system backups on the same workstations that you use. Imagine if someone local to your workstation or client was able to retrieve your backup file and restore it ... Your security measures would effectively be completely nullified.

Redundancy

Speaking of backups, when was your most recent backup? When is your next backup? How long would it take you to restore your site and/or data if your current server(s) were to disappear from the face of the Earth? These questions are easy to shrug off when you don't need to answer them, but by the time you do need to answer them, it's already too late. Create a backup and disaster recovery plan. Today. And automate it so you won't have the ability to forget to execute on it.

Make your objectives clear, and set calendar reminders throughout the year to confirm that you're executing on your goals. If some of these tasks are very daunting or difficult to implement in your current setup, don't get discouraged ... Set small goals and chip away at the bigger objective. Progress over time will speak for itself. Doing nothing won't get you anywhere

Happy New Year!

-Jonathan

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: 
November 25, 2011

Online in Amsterdam: Innovators Wanted

Since I started with SoftLayer a couple of months ago, I have been asked by industry analysts, customers, interviewees and my drinking friends ... ahem, I mean networking event associates, "Why did SoftLayer choose Amsterdam for its European headquarters?"

My answer has always been consistent: It's all about the products and the people.

On the product side, having our data center on the AMS-IX gives us lightning fast connectivity to one of the biggest data exchanges in Europe. Combined with our 10GB PoPs in Frankfurt and London, it means we have minimal latency, so your customers are happy. With these arrangements, we're able to extend the ability for customers only to pay for outbound public traffic. Did I mention that the three-tier network is up and running? Public, private and management ... Okay, okay, you get it: Being in Amsterdam extends our industry leading global network.

Amsterdam is not the only game in town where we could get a great connection, though. SoftLayer wanted to make the other kinds of connections to grow a global business ... connections with the right people.

It was not that not that long ago when ten guys were working out of a living room to change the way hosting was done. Now you're reading the blog of a global company with several hundred million in turnover, and the entrepreneurial spirit is stronger than ever. SoftLayer wanted to be in a place where we could hire and conspire with other global pioneers, and with Amsterdam's long history of creativity, innovation and global trade (not to mention Oliebollen), SoftLayer selected Amsterdam for its EMEA HQ.

This video from Don Ritzen and the Rockstart Accelerator team articulate the environment we are glad to be a part of:

With the Amsterdam data center officially online, we've had a chance to get out of the facility and into the community, and we are fitting right in. A couple of weeks ago, I was honored to speak at the Appsterdam Launch Party 2.0 Overwinter. The Appsterdam team is developing an infrastructure so that startups can more easily thrive and focus on what they do what they do best: innovate.

Mike Lee, mayor of Appsterdam asked all the speakers to tell the pan-European audience why we were speaking at the event and what we had to offer the developer community. For me it was an easy answer: We bring automated on demand hosting infrastructure to the community so people can focus on building great products. We also support the community with a referral program, so if developers refer clients to SoftLayer, we will pay them a generous commission ... Not to mention that empowerment and innovation are core SoftLayer values, so we will continue to improve our platform so our customers can control their IT environment with the latest and greatest technologies in the industry.

Needless to say, the audience was intrigued. And I didn't even show them what a SoftLayer pod looks like ...

SoftLayer Amsterdam
SoftLayer Amsterdam

We're looking at the tip of the iceberg in Europe, and we're ecstatic about the opportunities and possibilities that await us as we build on our foothold here and continue our worldwide expansion. If you want to join a young startup-like team in Amsterdam, we want to hear from you ... We're hiring like crazy right now: SoftLayer Careers

-Jonathan

November 23, 2011

SoftLayer: My Kind of Work Atmosphere

When I tell friends and family that I work for a fun and diverse company where I get hands-on experience and am surrounded by knowledgeable and savvy coworkers, some stare at me in disbelief. In most minds, a job normally doesn't have all of those characteristics at the same time.

From 1999–2009, I worked as a senior transactional paralegal (with a specialty in securities and exchange regulations) in the private equity industry. I was doing the right things in life — I had a college degree, a career, and I was a dedicated mother for my son. The problem was that I was working at a company where employees were seen but not heard. It was brutal. My daily work schedule involved me waking up at 5:30 a.m., getting my son ready for school, dressing to meet strict "professional" business attire requirements, and heading off to a stressful office for 9 to 12 hours. After my long day, I had to fight to stay alert through evenings filled with karate, soccer and P.T.A. meetings. Later, my son and I would head home to homework and bedtime stories. Then the cycle repeated itself. My son was the BEST sport ... He understood this "work ethic," and he dealt with the monotonous routine as part of his daily philosophy, too.

When the finance industry went "kaput," and my former company was drastically affected, I vowed to my son (and myself) to never work in a boring, white collar job ever again. That was easier said than done, though. I tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I finally "grew up," and I even thought about going back to teaching ... Which would have been an improvement, but it would have still been regimented. I kept looking.

I hunted for a job in corporate America that didn't emulate the pattern I was escaping: A place with a happy work environment, an opportunity to get work done and come home content, the ability to rely on co-workers as associates rather than adversaries, and the freedom to be a good mom in the process. In my job hunt, I took job in a legal department in the entertainment sector, and I started to see that jobs could be fun. Exciting companies exist, and they had to be looking for dedicated workers, so I wouldn't settle for anything less.

The first day I walked in the building at SoftLayer, it seemed like EVERYONE was smiling from ear-to-ear. I met a great team of educated, experienced professionals from all walks of life, each passionately serving his/her purpose for the company. When I left the office, I felt like I made a difference, and I was energized to show up the next day.

The most interesting thing about working here was the hands-on experience I got in the data center. Living in legal departments for my entire professional career, I was clueless about what happened behind the locked data center doors when new servers were delivered, but that cluelessness didn't last very long. I was given the opportunity to volunteer and get my hands "dirty" with many of my colleagues on a "Truck Day," and I got a first-hand look at what it takes to delivering superior servers to our customers.

As SLayers, we were chosen to be part of an innovative and expanding company that redefines, reinvents and innovates on a daily basis, and as I look back at my old job, I really appreciate the honor. When someone asks me where I work and what the company does, I can't just say "SoftLayer" and "web hosting." I have to explain all about how all of SoftLayer's data centers (domestic and international) provide nonstop service for businesses around the world via the best cloud and dedicated hosting platforms in the industry. And that doesn't even start talking about the people I work with.

Every day, I meet new coworkers from around the world and learn interesting facts about them. I remember chatting with a coworker who said, "I hate going home from this place, because I love coming to work here." That statement is priceless because it embodies the work mentality of everyone who walks through the doors in the morning. To the surprise of friends and family, I've trashed my stuffy business attire for good, and I'm excited to show up at work every day where creativity and knowledge are respected, there is an admiration for individuality, and everyone lives and breathes the a "Challenging But Not Overwhelming" philosophy.

SoftLayer Technologies, Inc.: The best career move I've ever made and finally a workplace I can call "my kind of work atmosphere." That's definitely something to be thankful for this time of year.

And it should go without saying that my son loves his mom's new job, too.

-Chinenye

October 15, 2011

Lower Latency: Neutrino Network?

SoftLayer is on the "bleeding edge" of technology, and that's right where I'm comfortable. I love being a part of something new and relevant. I also love science fiction and find that it's mixing together with reality more and more these days. Yay for me and my nerdyness! Beam me up Luke Skywalker! (I wonder how many nerds cringed at that statement!)

In a recent post from New Scientist, a test showed neutrino particles being clocked faster than the speed of light, and a dimension-hop might be the reason. Rather than go into the nerdy parts of the article that I'm sure you read before continuing to this sentence, I want to compare how SoftLayer would use this to our (and more importantly our customers') advantage: A neutrino network! We could have the fastest network in the world, and we could use the technology for faster motherboards and components too. Because that's how we roll.

BanzaiEnter science fiction. Let's say neutrinos were indeed using another dimension to travel. Like, say, the 8th dimension as referred to in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension." This dimension also happens to be a prison used by the Lectroids of Planet 10 to store criminals. Go figure, right? Obstacles always come up, so if our neutrino network was targeted by those Lectroids, Dody Lira and the abuse team would have no problems taking them down ... After all, Lectroid's fiddling with data can be bad for business (Not to mention the possibility of Lectroid's using our network to come back to this dimension, wreak havoc, and eat all our junk food). Dody would have to upgrade some of the tools his team uses, like a Jet Car with an "Oscillation Overthruster" (which looks eerily similar to the Flux Capacitor) to travel in and out of the 8th dimension to hunt down those pesky Lectroids that won't comply.

Then, after Dody and crew wrangle the Lectroids (as I'm sure they would), we could offer the Lectroids email and Internet service. Bam! More customers on top of a supernatural network!

Coming back to reality (a bit), we have an interesting world ahead of us. Technologies we have only seen in movies and some we haven't even imagined yet are becoming reality! If they fall into the usable realm of SoftLayer, you can bet we'll be one of the first to share them with the world. But not before we get all the bugs (and Lectroids) out.

-Brad

October 7, 2011

On the Passing of a Giant

In March of 2000, Apple was set to launch the first version of Mac OS X. At the time, I was working for a company called Macromedia (creators of Flash, subsequently purchased by Adobe) on a professional illustration program called FreeHand. Part of the Mac OS X transition was a system that reimplemented the programming interfaces from Mac OS 9 on the operating system kernel of Mac OS X. That system was called Carbon and was key to the strategy that let Mac OS 9 application transition to the Mac OS X platform. We had worked very hard with Apple and FreeHand was one of the first applications to run under the new system. I was invited to demo FreeHand running on Mac OS X at the Mac OS X launch event.

The launch was held on the Apple Campus in the "Town Hall," the same venue that recently hosted the launch of iOS 5 and the iPhone 4s. Members of The Press were across the hallway in an adjacent room while those of us who were going to present were reviewing our parts, being fitted with microphones, and anxiously milling about. At one point an Apple employee stuck her head into the room and announced that Steve Jobs would be arriving in a few minutes. Most people took the announcement in stride and continued about their business.

At some point in this process, two of the representatives from Apple's Developer Relations team that I had been working with seated themselves about halfway up the auditorium; they were innocently waiting for the event to start.

When Steve walked into the room, he did so through a side door that was just to the left of my seat. I was standing in front of the seat, and Steve came to stop right in front of me. The moment he walked into the room, all conversation died out. The entire room held it's breath for a few heart beats while Steve stretched and commented aloud about being "ready to do this thing."

As the conversations around the room came back on-line, Steve turned to me, pointed at the Developer Relations folk halfway up the auditorium and forcefully asked "Who are those people?" Naturally I fumbled to find a reply and was explaining that they worked for Developer Relations. Thankfully the VP of Developer Relations was nearby. He tapped Steve on the shoulder and told him "Those are my people, Steve." I often tell folks at that point that "The Eye of Sauron turned" as Steve went off to review his presentation.

This was my first encounter with Steve Jobs. I've had a couple more over the years, minor interactions that I have no doubt he would never have remembered. Still, I have been working on Apple products since I was very young. Over the years my specialization in the field of Apple development has allowed me to care for myself and my family. Apple's products continue to be an important part of my life.

Shortly the official press event announcing Mac OS X, I was invited to the cafeteria at Apple, Caffe Macs, and heard Steve talk about how Mac OS X was going to change everything. Over 10 years later, and that operating system now powers not only the Macintosh computer, but the host of iOS devices as well. A decade away I'm now working at SoftLayer to bring some of that innovation, and excellence to our mobile products.

I am one of millions whose lives have been touched by Steve Jobs. I know that while he was here he seized life with an intensity that inspires many of us. I hope that where he has gone he will have time to relax, reflect, and rest for a time.

That is, I have no doubt, before he starts "One More Thing..."

Rest in Peace, Steve.

-Scott

Categories: 
October 4, 2011

An Introduction to Redis

I recently had the opportunity to get re-acquainted with Redis while evaluating solutions for a project on the Product Innovation team here at SoftLayer. I'd actually played with it a couple of times before, but this time it "clicked." Or my brain broke. Either way, I see a lot of potential for Redis now.

No one product is a perfect fit for all of your data storage needs, of course. There are such fundamental tradeoffs to be made in designing storage architectures that you should be immediately suspicious of any product that claims to fit every need.

The best solutions tend to be products that actually embrace these tradeoffs. Redis, for instance, has sacrificed a small amount of data durability in exchange for being awesome.

What is it?

Redis is a key/value store, but describing it that way is sort of like calling a helicopter a "vehicle." It's a technically correct description, but it leaves out some important stuff.

You can think of it like a sophisticated older brother of Memcached. It presents a flat keyspace, and you can set those keys to string values. Another feature of Memcached is the ability to perform remote atomic operations, like "incr" and "append." These are really handy, because you have the ability to modify remote data without fetching, and you have an assurance that you're the only one performing that operation at that instant.

Redis takes this concept of remote commands on data and goes completely nuts with it. The database is aware of data structures like hashes, lists and sets in addition to simple string values. You can sort, union, intersect, slice and dice to your heart's content without fetching any data. Redis is a data structure server. You can treat it like remote memory, and this has an awesome immediate benefit for a programmer: your code and brain are already optimized for these data types.

But it's not just about making storage simpler. It's fast, too. Crazy fast. If you make intelligent use of its data structures, it's possible to serve a lot of traffic from relatively modest hardware. Redis 2.4 can easily handle ~50k list appends a second on my notebook. With batching, it can append 2 million items to a list on a remote host in about 1.28 seconds.

It allows the remote, atomic and performant manipulation of data structures. It took me a little while to realize exactly how useful that is.

What's wrong with it?

Nothing. Move along.

OK, it's a little short on durability. Redis uses memory as its primary store and periodically flushes to disk. A common configuration is to do so every second.

That sounds pretty reasonable. If a server goes down, you could lose a second of data. Keep in mind, however, how many operations Redis can perform in a second. If you're in a high-volume environment, that could be a lot of data. It's not for your financial transactions.

It also supports relatively limited availability options. Currently, it only supports master/slave replication. Clustering support is planned for an upcoming release. It's looking pretty powerful, but it will take some real-world testing to know its performance impact.

These challenges should be taken into consideration, and it's probably clear if you're in a situation where the current tradeoffs aren't a good fit.

In my experience, a lot of developers seriously overestimate the consequences of their application losing small amounts of data. Also consider whether or not the chance of losing a second (or less) of data genuinely represents a bigger threat to your application than any other compromises you might have made.

More Information
You can check out the slightly aging docs or browse the impressively simple source. There are probably already bindings for your language of choice as well.

-Tim

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