Posts Tagged 'It'

January 10, 2014

Platform Improvements: VLAN Management

As director of product development, I'm tasked with providing SoftLayer customers greater usability and self-service tools on our platform. Often, that challenge involves finding, testing, and introducing new products, but a significant amount of my attention focuses on internal projects to tweak and improve our existing products and services. To give you an idea of what that kind of "behind the scenes" project looks like, I'll fill you in on a few of the updates we recently rolled out to improve the way customers interact with and manage their Virtual LANs (VLANs).

VLANs play a significant role in SoftLayer's platform. In the most basic sense, VLANs fool servers into thinking they're behind the same network switch. If you have multiple servers in the same data center and behind the same router, you could have them all on the same VLAN, and all traffic between the servers would be handled at the layer-2 network level. For customers with multi-tier applications, zones can be created to isolate specific servers into separate VLANs — database servers, app servers, and Web servers can all be isolated in their own security partitions to meet specific security and/or compliance requirements.

In the past, VLANs were all issued distinct numbers so that we could logically and consistently differentiate them from each other. That utilitarian approach has proven to be functional, but we noticed an opportunity to make the naming and management of VLANs more customer-friendly without losing that functionality. Because many of our customers operate large environments with multiple VLANs, they've had the challenge of remembering which servers live behind which VLAN number, and the process of organizing all of that information was pretty daunting. Imagine an old telephone switchboard with criss-crossing wires connecting several numbered jacks (and not connecting others). This is where our new improvements come in.

Customers now have the ability to name their VLANs, and we've made updates that increase visibility into the resources (servers, firewalls, gateways, and subnets) that reside inside specific VLANs. In practice, that means you can name your VLAN that houses database servers "DB" or label it to pinpoint a specific department inside your organization. When you need to find one of those VLANs, you can easily search for it by name and make changes to it easily.

VLAN List View

VLAN Naming

VLAN Detail Page

VLAN Naming

While these little improvements may seem simple, they make life much easier for IT departments and sysadmins with large, complex environments. If you don't need this kind of functionality, we don't throw it in your face, but if you do need it, we make it clear and easily accessible.

If you ever come across quirks in the portal that you'd like us to address, please let us know. We love making big waves by announcing new products and services, but we get as much (or more) joy from finding subtle ways to streamline and improve the way our customers interact with our platform.

-Bryce

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

August 31, 2011

Verecloud: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Verecloud, a technology partner that makes it easier for small- and medium-sized businesses to shop for, select, purchase, manage and monitor the performance of their cloud services and related spending.

Cloudwrangler from Verecloud

Ubiquitous Internet access and technological advances in virtualization and IT management have caused an explosion in the availability and adoption of cloud services. Just a few years ago, it would take hours – if not days – to activate a new cloud service for a customer. SoftLayer can now perform this feat with servers in minutes, and other providers of email, CRM and accounting solutions have equally fast turn-up times.

The cloud gives small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) access to enterprise grade technology so that they can compete more effectively with little, if any, capital investment, so those SMBs are prime consumers of cloud services. By moving to cloud services, their businesses gains flexibility and affordable scalability to throttle their infrastructure and services up and down as their business grows, changes, moves locations or becomes more mobile.

Even with all of those benefits, adding a little cloud here and a little cloud there ends up making it difficult for these SMBs to manage all of the disparate services. Who is paying for what? Are they accounted for in expense reports? How can you allocate the costs to your sales, marketing, operations or support departments? Is IT aware of all of the cloud services? What happens if someone leaves the company and you need to deactivate their access and reassign all of their data to other employees?

Verecloud's answer to all of these questions is the Cloudwrangler app store for small businesses. Simply put, it is a single source for SMBs to discover, buy, use and manage their cloud services. This platform makes finance happy since they can properly track and manage costs. IT is happy because they are aware of all the services being used in the company and can manage them from a single control panel. HR is happy because they can monitor and regulate employee access when necessary. Everyone is happy.

Verecloud is proud to feature SoftLayer as a key partner and suppler in the Cloudwrangler marketplace (which also happens to be powered by SoftLayer's CloudLayer Computing). In addition to the infrastructure piece, we offer business class email, backup and recovery, and collaboration capabilities that can be incorporated quickly, seamlessly and affordably into any business:

Cloudwrangler Services

We're staying busy building out more features and functionality to the Cloudwrangler marketplace, and we're excited about the partnerships we'll make as we keep the community growing. If you're interested in learning more about Cloudwrangler, visit at Verecloud.com today.

-Russel Wurth, Verecloud

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.
September 16, 2010

I'm Your Blackberry!

Although there are many different brands of smart phones, I’m pleased that SoftLayer has chosen Blackberry for our essential operations form of communication. In the last two and a half years my Blackberry has become my right hand. Any tasks involving information technology that I have needed to complete have been accomplished without much hassle. In both personal and work related situations my Curve has proven it can do the jobs of many tools. Email alone has its crucial place in IT and is managed flawlessly through my phone. My notepad, calculator, browser, calendar, camera, SSH device, VNC/SSH device SFTP device, organizer and alarm clock are many names I could give this little six shooter.

Reliable in the battle as well! Just recently I was on hold in a very important phone call (Important phone call meaning I had just won Washington Redskins tickets on a radio station ;D ) when I started to get a warning about my Curve’s battery running low. I was so worried because I had abused the phone that day and I had no way of recharging where I was. My Blackberry held on for over 30+ minutes until it had to drop radio use. I got my tickets and was still able to call the NOC and let everyone know (In a high pitched voice that is). Looking back I cannot think of a moment where I wished for another choice in a phone. My Curve will continue to stay holstered at my side. What type of smart phone do you prefer to use in everyday tasks?

Jonathan M.

SoftLayer Server Engineer in WDC

Categories: 
July 27, 2010

Security Myths Part 1

The world of IT security is full of partial truths and paranoia - some of which is completely justified. Sometimes, steps are taken that actually are beneficial, but without knowing the reason behind the precautions, many administrators are lulled into a false sense of security. Here are some common misconceptions that I see in action frequently:

Security Myth #1: If I set my password strong enough, my system will be secure.

The Facts: There are many ways to compromise a system. For example: exploitable code on your website, lax filesystem permissions, and publicly accessible services running on your system (such as email or chat). In fact, having a long secure password is often like having a steel security door with retinal scan technology on a grass hut. Don’t get me wrong, having strong passwords is a great thing, but don’t forget to look at the rest of your system!

The Side Effects:

  • Longer passwords take longer to type (obviously).
  • You are more likely to forget a longer password.
  • You are more likely to mistype a longer password (and get locked out).
  • If you force this policy on your end users they are more likely to write the password down (bad).

Security Myth #2: If I replace letters with their corresponding l33t speak numbers (e.g. hello -> h3110), it will make my password more secure.

The Facts: Technically, yes it will make your password more secure, but only marginally. Simple character substitution is a common feature among brute force tools. This will slow down the brute force attack, but your system may still eventually be compromised by a hybrid dictionary attack. You might also consider configuring the brute force protection options on your server.

The Side Effects: There are no side effects - in fact, this is a far greater idea than simply using a dictionary word. However, it is best to also add some additional numbers or letters to throw off brute force tools. Many brute forcers also allow for pre-pending or post-pending a string of numbers (e.g. 123hello or hello123). It is better to place random numbers or characters in the middle of your password so that it is not vulnerable to a dictionary attack (e.g. hagen!23daas). Another alternative to a secure and easy to remember password is make an acronym of a famous phrase or quote. For example: “sticks and stones may break my bones” -> “S&smbMb!$”.

Security Myth #3: If I change the port number for RDP/SSH/Plesk or turn off ping response, my server will be safe.

The Facts: This is the myth of “security through obscurity.” Changing your port number or turning off ping will only reduce attacks from computer worms and extremely lazy hackers. Say for example that you run a website on your server. Anyone who knows the URL of the website can easily find your IP address (by ping or nslookup). Then all they have to do is port scan that IP address (using a port scanning tool such as nmap or SuperScan) to see which ports are open. If your passwords are secure enough, you needn’t worry too much about the brute force attacks from the internet. You should only consider this a secondary safeguard just in case the server happens to have a vulnerable service running on it. Your first priority is making sure your system is properly patched and updated.

The Side Effects:

  • It is very difficult to track or troubleshoot packet loss on servers that have ICMP blocked.
  • Changing ports may confuse your users.
  • You will need to remember to include this port information in any technical support request.
  • Many automated systems or scripts will require custom configuration.
April 23, 2010

One Step Ahead

No matter what industry you are in, a key to a successful business is always being one step ahead of your competitors. Look at Blockbuster, who just filed for bankruptcy. Netflix came along then RedBox, Blockbuster couldn’t keep up. Blockbuster tried mimicking these two versions of video/game rental, but failed. Now you can order Netflix off your Xbox 360. There is a RedBox on almost every corner of the Metroplex or at least at every drug store. There is also video on-demand for almost every cable or satellite provider.

I went to a luncheon recently. The topic was “The Next Generation of IT Delivered Through Innovations.” The speaker was Scott Garvey, Director Enterprise Solutions from Microsoft. Scott brought up a good statistic; most companies only survive on “top”, nowadays, for about 12 years when the timeline used to be 75 years. He spoke about the different ways Microsoft plans to stay one step ahead of their competitors. He stated that his company spends billions of dollars on Research and Development a year. While SoftLayer is not quite to the point of spending that much, it still made me think about how we are keeping one step ahead of our competitors.

We are constantly rolling out new features, certifications, products, and partnerships. While we are not quite on top yet, we will get there. We are only three months into this year and we have already rolled out five new features, one certification, and two new partnerships. This is one reason we are growing so fast; but, even better, we are staying one step ahead of our competitors.

To register for one of these luncheons go here .

April 14, 2010

The “Truth” (Or Common Sentiments) of Data Center and IT Professionals

In a recent column at searchdatacenter.com there was a list presented regarding the 20 universal truths in the Data Center. It’s a pretty funny list, but as an outsourced, on demand data center services provider, we are often catering to the IT operator’s mentality that resides in these truths. We have a good subset of customers that fall into many of these statements and we are continuously working to address, help, and augment—with the idea to help complete the IT story rather than compete with the IT strategy/needs of our customers… Below, I pulled out a few of the “truths” listed and added Softlayer views of them.

#2 - Upgrading Hardware is cheaper than improving Software – In the Softlayer world our services cater to this theory as a baseline for our offerings. We are constantly allowing customers to ‘right-size’ their compute needs and we are able to do this because of the robust compute offering and the flexible structure embedded in our business model.

#9 – Bandwidth is the same as energy. As more is provided, more is used – We have seen bandwidth usage grow almost threefold over the last 4 years and it’s a result of the internet applications demanding more bandwidth for things like video, voice, etc. Also, linear pricing models allow bandwidth to be less of an unknown and move towards a very predictable usage model.

#14 – It is always costlier and more time-consuming to wait and fix it later – Being able to quickly assess through metrics and functionality reviews, we fully subscribe to if it’s broke, fix it quickly and remove the legacy of the deficiencies. We are all human and will make errors and mistakes and being forward enough to recognize and repair these will continue to ensure your customer, employers, and employees that you have a handle on your business. Have you seen Lance Crosby’s printer stand?

#15 – By the time the CEO has learned enough to ask about a technology, it’s no longer a strategic advantage – My Favorite and have you met Lance Crosby?

#16 Exactly what you want will cost you more that you budget – In the spirit of full disclosure, our CFO, Mike Jones, takes our numbers that we budget for purchases and adds the “actual factor” to it of a +20-30%!!

The list of 20 is well worth the quick read and as I did the first time reading, I would imagine that many of you feel like you could have written this yourself. IT and Data Centers are tough. The goal for all of us is to increase efficiency, reduce costs and ensure that we spend more time moving forward and progressing rather than spending the bulk of our time fixing the past!!

March 31, 2010

I Am the Cell Phone Person

Being the “cell phone person” here at SoftLayer has its challenges, to put it mildly. I thought that working with mostly boys (yes, I meant to say boys) would be a breeze compared to a bunch of women (we tend to be a bit ummm, picky?). I was terribly wrong! They are WORSE! Especially with gadgets like cell phones, considering the field we are in. For some reason a lot of them think that because they can configure a server they also know exactly what is wrong with their phone without actually troubleshooting it at all or why they MUST have this phone or that phone.

Reboot?! Why?! Hmmmm that was one of the first things I learned to ALWAYS do. I learned this from Jacob Linscott, my first IT guy back in 1997, who I work with once again; he is our Director of IT – Linux. I learned very quickly that I had better not EVEN think about calling him until I had rebooted my computer. Amazingly enough, I’d say the odds on a reboot fixing the issue with both computers and cell phones is very high, but that’s about the only thing that is similar in regards to issues between the two. I have been amazed at the multitude of varying issues as well as the information you can find online to fix a phone without having to call the carrier; and, that is a real life saver!

What baffles me is that everyone seems to know what’s wrong with their phone without actually researching it. When I say “So you Googled that and found info that said it was most likely the issue?” I get “nah, I just think that’s it.” I just shake my head, take their phone, and walk away. I Google my rear end off all the time! I am as specific as possible when I do a search. Such as, “my 8320 can send SMS, but is not receiving them.” Seems obvious, right? Wrong!

One would think the Geektopia of staff we have would do the same, WRONG! There is a world of knowledge and information out there regarding any number of BlackBerry and iPhone issues if you simply just take a few minutes to type your issue into a search engine. Heck, you don’t have to use Google, you can use whatever search engine you want! I’ve sent out emails regarding tips and tricks, the problem I seem to have is getting people to actually read the info. Admittedly, we get hundreds and hundreds of emails a day, some days thousands, depending on what group lists they are on; so I’ll give a little slack. It’s simply a case of missing the obvious, like when you are trying to fix a computer and it won’t work and it turns out to be the simplest thing that was forgotten, happens with phone issues too. Everyone just goes into panic mode when their phone isn’t functioning, amazing how we lived without cell phones just 20 years ago.

When SL was starting up just a few years ago, our VP of Sales was the cell phone person and he wasn’t too thrilled. He couldn’t WAIT to pass it on to someone else. I was the chosen one or sucker, depending how you look at it. I remember sitting in my cube my first week at SL, which wasn’t too far from his office, and giggling when he had to call the carrier and deal with some phone issues. I don’t giggle anymore. They told me by no means was it a punishment, taking over this particular job duty, but some days I wonder—especially the days when I get stuck on the phone for hours and hours trying to get a phone fixed, repeating myself over and over to 5 different people in 5 departments! It’s a source of some major meltdowns to say the least.

You see, we have about 130 phones throughout the company in four different locations. Dallas has Corporate and the DC and of course Seattle and WDC. So a lot of phones, a lot of folks, a lot of issues; from “My phone got ruined when I went hiking wearing khaki’s and got caught in a rain storm, the rain soaked through and ruined my phone, can I have a better one now?” to, “I lost it at the Christmas Party, sorry” to “If I step on it, does that mean I have to pay for it, because I want a better one?!” Yes, those are just a few of them, and obviously some of my favorites.

I, with the help of a few others, just recently upgraded 31 phones; Lance our CEO is cool like that. You see, the 31 were 8700c BB models, or fondly referred to as “coasters” around here. Of course they were spread across our four locations, so this required lots of coordination with someone on the other end of the line. This upgrade took over a month due to device issues (new phone to market at the time).

The guys in the Dallas NOC all know better than to laugh as they hear my cursing due to being on the phone for countless hours; or if they do, they’ve gotten much better about hiding it. The point of all of this is to remind you that if you have a company cell phone and it has issues, be kind to your cell phone person and know that you are not the only one with an issue. Cell phones break. Cell phones die. Cell phones get dropped on the ground, in the toilet, or, my favorite, thrown across a room in anger every single day. So if your cell phone person can’t get to you RIGHT THAT MINUTE, try trouble shooting it yourself. No, not installing things, but maybe just try and look up your issue, and let them know what you found. Send them the link or print it out. It will make their day. Trust me on this one!

February 18, 2010

Tools for the Job

Back in my younger days I had taken on a few new hobbies that strike fear into the hearts of most mortals; Auto Mechanics. While working on vehicles, especially your own, can be terrifying imagine placing a necessary part on incorrectly that would eventually lead to failure and possibly serious injury to yourself or others. Luckily I had some backup while working on my truck. The individuals at the auto shop, that I did most of my work at, were knowledgeable and always willing to help (when they could get to you).

One specific experience rings loudly in my head to this day (for more than one reason, as you will soon find out). While driving around San Diego, I noticed a rather unnerving grinding/squeaking noise emanating from one off my wheels. I quickly headed to the local parts store to pick up a new ball joint and proceeded to take on the attempt to fix it.

Long story short, after some nuts, bolts, cuts, and bruises, I finally got to where I needed to remove the part. One of the techs there suggested using a hammer to bang it out of the coupling (or whatever it's seated in). Thirty minutes later, I was tired, frustrated, sore, and deaf. Come to find out there was a perfect tool at my disposal, which cut the job down to approximately five minutes. One of the individuals at the shop told me that "no one had been able to make it work". Needless to say, I made a liar out of him.

Similarly, we provide the resources that allow our customers to quickly and effectively attack a possible situation and fix the problem. Our technicians are the best in the industry and our primary focus is to ensure that customer satisfaction is at its highest. We have several tools at our disposal and offer those tools, and guidance on using them. Also, much like the staff at the auto shop, we try and point our customers to the 'tricks of the trade'. We have an extensive knowledge base that can assist with day to day problems.

Quite on the contrary, though, we never discourage using certain tools because we don't think that they'll work. As anyone in IT can attest to, just because something doesn't work the first time doesn't necessarily mean that it's a lost cause. With the right instructions and a little bit of patience, a little can go a long way. The trick is to use the correct tools for the job. While an ICMP request will tell you that the server's online, it won't give you the reason for outages like output from /var/log/messages or event viewer would.

Luckily, I don't think I'll be changing a ball joint on my car any time soon but I'm always learning new tricks and tools that I can use to further enhance my proficiency and I'll always be happy to share those tricks to you; our loyal customers!

November 11, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

I just got back in town from Las Vegas, Nevada. That town is filled with stories and you can really love it or hate it, depending on the hour (or if you are like me whether you are arriving into McCarran or departing). I had a great trip this last go around and actually made money on the tables. However, when they say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas they are really talking about your money. Never forget that the house always wins. Always. Even if you win money you’ll wind up spending it on stuff out there and perpetuating your own good time. There isn’t anything wrong with this at all. In fact I plan on coming up on the short side of the stick on both the tables and on simply spending cash when I go out that way.

I think the really interesting thing that happens when you go through “the Vegas experience” is the perceived value of a dollar. You can take it for granted that all of a sudden you are transplanted into this fantasy world that is reminiscent of Pleasure Island from the story of Pinocchio and you’ll find that you have anything and everything you could want to do, eat, drink, or experience right at your fingertips. As this begins to progress the value of a dollar plummets quickly. You start overpaying for things at a whim, tipping bigger, making bolder and even just dumber bets. I did this and I can admit that I doubled down on my 11 when the dealer was showing a 10 in blackjack. It was blind luck that I hit it and won every single time. It’s a bold and stupid bet to make, but when you are playing with house money the money doesn’t matter and it’s almost as if you are trying to give it all back. My game of choice is craps because it gives you the best odds and there is a lot of action. It’s good and bad as it can all come and go in a hurry.

I have only been to Las Vegas a handful of times, but each time there is a point where even for a second you can feel invincible – that you can’t lose. Or, that even if you do lose you won’t even care. The flight home is a completely different story. I call it the hangover flight. You may be literally hung over, but no matter what, you will start to deal with all of the actions that happened on your trip and how you will need to handle them. As soon as you touch down in your own home town things slowly start to become “real” again. Your own home can even feel somewhat foreign for a while, but you’ll quickly come to the realization that you had become a completely different person for a short time.

I have come to the conclusion that there is always risk in everything that we do. Exposing yourself to the tables of Las Vegas may carry more financial risk than your morning commute to work, but in both cases there are still risks. There are also risks that we take in setting and running a business. There are countless ways that you could be putting your business at risk without the right plan in place. From an IT perspective alone, you need to consider things like redundancy, failover, security, backups, growth, and even data loss. Knowing what is going to happen next for your business may be as likely as knowing what is going to come up on the next roll of the dice. If you know this for certain you can press your luck and come up big, but if you are not prepared you could lose everything you have on the table. It is better to be prepared.

I think of SoftLayer as the house, and remember as I said before, the house always wins. The good thing about this is that you are betting with the house. Even with this you need to bet on yourself and back up your own bet. If the bulk of your business is in your data then you need to have backups. If you absolutely need to have High Availability, then look into Clusters and Load Balancing. But remember, that you are betting with the house because SoftLayer gives you the capacity to do all of it and do it all at a very affordable price compared to trying to do it yourself and also do it without long term commitments. Long term commitments bring the most uncertainty in making moves that will positively affect your business. Imagine if a casino told you that you “had” to make 12 consecutive bets regardless of how well (or poorly) you were doing?

Coming home from Las Vegas to SoftLayer has been a very good thing and makes me thankful for where I am and what I have. There aren’t the levels of uncertainty here that are automatic with other datacenters or even other business models. SoftLayer is steady and it is very easy to get what you need here while cutting out the risk that you don’t want to deal with. SoftLayer is as much of a “sure thing” as any bet you can make!

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