Posts Tagged 'Knowledgelayer'

March 12, 2014

Name Servers: Don't Get Lost in (Domain) Translation

The Domain Name System (DNS) is vital to keeping the Internet in order and easily accessible. Every byte on the World Wide Web lives in (at least) one specific place on the planet, and it's mapped to that location with an IP address like 66.228.118.53 (IPv4) or 2607:f0d0:4545:3:200:f8ff:fe21:67cf (IPv6). DNS translates the domain names you know and love to the correct IP addresses, so without DNS, you would have to memorize a 32-bit or 128-bit IP address for your favorite websites. Remember the last time your cell phone died? How many phone numbers did you have memorized?

There are plenty of resources available online to explain How DNS Works, so in this post, we'll focus on the basics of how we use DNS. Here's the scenario: We want to register a domain — softlayer.com — and make it available to the masses.

1. Reserve and Register a Domain Name
The first thing we need to do is purchase and register our domain name. To do this, we need to choose a domain registrar and verify that our domain is available. Every domain registrar effectively provides the same service: It will reserve an available domain on your behalf, and it will let you dictate where that domain will live. There's not a lot of differentiation or value-add in that service, so many registrars offer cheap or free domains as loss-leaders for higher margin hosting or Web services. Be sure to check the fine print to make sure you're not committing to a year of hosting to get a $0.99 domain name. Some registrars make the process of updating and configuring where a domain resolves more difficult than others, but for the sake of this example we'll assume that your registrar allows the same easy accessibility SoftLayer provides our customers in the customer portal.

The domain name we want is softlayer.com, and in this example, that domain name is available for us to reserve. Once we go through the ordering process, we'll need to associate the domain with a set of authoritative name servers. Authoritative name servers are effectively the go-to address book for a specified domain. By default, your domain registrar will provide name servers for your domain, but they can be changed easily to meet your needs. You have four typical options when it comes to choosing your domain's name servers:

  • Use the domain registrar's default name servers.
  • Use you hosting provider’s name servers.
  • Use a third party DNS service to manage your domain names.
  • Run your own name servers on your server to manage your domain names.

Each of these options has its own pros and cons, but because we're just interested in getting our domain online, we'll use SoftLayer's DNS control panel to manage our new domain name.

2. Create DNS Records
When we access our hosting provider's DNS control panel, we see this:

DNS Management

This is an extremely high level view of DNS, so we’re just going to focus on what we must have in order to make softlayer.com reachable via browser. The first thing we'll do is add a DNS zone. This is usually our domain, but in some situations, it can be a bit different. In this example, we'll create a “softlayer.com” zone to be responsible for the whole softlayer.com domain:

DNS Management

With that zone created, we now need to add new "Address Records" (A Records) within that zone:

DNS Management
DNS Management

The terminology used in different DNS control panels may vary, so let’s breakdown what the four sections in those screenshots mean:

  • Resource Type: This is our DNS record type. In our example, we have A records which link a hostname to our IP address. There are a number of DNS record types, each serving a different purpose.
  • Host: This is the host node or owner name — the name of the node that this record applies to. Using the @ symbol in the A record allows visitors to reach our website without the leading www. If we wanted blog.softlayer.com to live at a different IP address, we'd make that happen here.
  • Points To: This is the IP address of the host node. You might see this section referred to elsewhere as content, data or value. The standard term is RDATA — resource record data. This is specific to each data type.
  • TTL (Time-to-Live): TTL dictates how long your name server should keep a particular record before refreshing for possible updates. Generally speaking, longer TTLs work well if you’re just adding new entries and or don’t anticipate frequent record changes.

Once we save these changes in our DNS control panel, we play the waiting game. Because these DNS changes have to propagate across our DNS servers to be accessible to the Internet as a whole, the process typically takes 24-48 hours, if not sooner. SoftLayer’s customer portal has DNS check built-in as one a few different network tools. If you aren't a current customer, you can use What's my DNS? This is what the SoftLayer tool looks like:

DNS Management

3. Create rDNS Records
The last step we want to take in setting up our domain is to create Reverse DNS (rDNS) records. These records do the same thing as DNS records, but (as the name suggests) they function in the opposite direction. With rDNS, we can assign an IP address to a domain name. This step isn't required, but I recommend it to help ensure better performance of online activities like email and website visitor tracking.

DNS is a central piece of the Internet as we know it, so by understanding how to use it, you'll have a much better understanding of how the Internet works. It seems challenging at first glance, but as you see from this simple walkthrough, when you break down and understand each step, you won't get overwhelmed. A wealth of DNS tools and tutorials are available for free online, and our DNS documentation might be a great resource to bookmark so you'll never get lost in domain translation.

- Landon

October 3, 2013

Improving Communications for Customer-Affecting Events

Service disruptions are never a good thing. Though SoftLayer invests extensively in design, equipment, and personnel training to reduce the risk of disruptions to our customers, in the technology world there are times where scheduled events or unplanned incidents are inevitable. During those times, we understand that restoring service is top priority, and almost as important is communicating to customers regarding the cause of the incident and the current status of our work to resolve it.

To date we've used a combination of tickets, emails, forum posts, portal "yellow" notifications, as well as RSS and Twitter feeds to provide status updates during service-affecting events. Many of these methods require customers to "come and get it," so we've been working on a more targeted, proactive approach to disseminating information.

I'm excited to report that our Development and Operations teams have collaborated on new functionality in the SoftLayer portal that will improve the way we share information with customers about unplanned infrastructure troubles or upcoming planned maintenances. With our new Event Communications toolset, we're able to pinpoint the accounts affected by an event and update users who opt-in to receive notifications about how these events may impact their services.

Notifications

As the development work is finalized, we plan to roll out a few phases of improvements. The first phase of implementation, which is ready today, enables email alerts for unplanned incidents, and any portal user account can opt-in to receive them. These emails provide details about the impact and current status of an unplanned incident in progress (UIP). In this phase, notifications can be sent for devices such as physical servers, CCIs and shared SLB VIPs, and we will be adding additional services over time.

In future phases of this project, we plan to include:

  • A new "Event" section of the Customer Portal which will allow customers to browse upcoming scheduled maintenances or current/recent unplanned incidents which may impact their services. In the past, we generated tickets for scheduled maintenances, so separating these event notifications will improve customer visibility.
  • Enhanced visibility for events in our mobile apps (phone/tablet).
  • Updates to affected services for a given event as customers add / change services.
  • Notification of newly added or newly updated events that have not been read by the user (similar email "inbox" functionality) in the portal.
  • Identification of any related current or recent events as a customer begins to open a ticket in the portal.
  • Reminders of upcoming scheduled maintenances along with progress updates to the event notification throughout the maintenance in some cases.
  • Improved ability to correlate specific incidents to customer service troubles.
  • Dissemination of RFO (reason-for-outage) statements to customers following a post-incident review of an unplanned service disruption.

Since we respect our customers' inboxes, these notifications will only be sent to user accounts that have opted in. If you'd like to receive them, simply log into the Customer Portal and navigate to "Notification Subscriptions" under the "Administration" menu (direct link). From that page, individual users can control event subscriptions, and portal logins that have administrative control over multiple users on the account can control the opt-in for themselves and their downstream users. For a more detailed walkthrough of the opt-in process, visit the KnowledgeLayer: "Update Subscription Settings for the Event Management System"

The Network Operations Center has already begun using this customer notification toolset for customer-affecting events, so we recommend that you opt-in as soon as possible to benefit from this new functionality.

-Dani

December 1, 2008

Customer Education

If you read through some of the previous blogs on this site such as our CEO’s “SoftLayer Thinks ‘Outside the Box’” or the blog written by one of our super developers, Mr McAloon, entitled “Simplicity”, or Mr Rushe’s “An Interview with an elevator” (OK – that has nothing to do with what I’m referring to, but it’s one of the funniest blogs on this site), one thing you’ll notice is that at SoftLayer, we try to automate and simplify things for the customer. Our customer portal has a LOT of customer features. There are automated OS reloads, the ability to boot into a rescue kernel, the capability to add IP addresses on demand, add and configure a firewall or a local or global load balancer, the ability to edit your DNS settings (forward or reverse) and – my favorite – the ability to reboot your server via IPMI or the power strip. You can also manage your CDN services, monitor your NAS or iSCSI storage, configure backups, use the free KVM services, check your bandwidth and of course, handle all of the usual things like opening support tickets or checking your invoice. Or, if you want to integrate any or all of those features into your own management system, there is a full API available for your use.

With all of that functionality in the portal, one of the challenges we continuously run into is educating new customers on all of the features. Not just educating them on how to use the features – but that the features actually exist in the customer portal. A lot of our customers are either new to On-Demand IT Infrastructure Services (aka the hosting environment) or come from other competitors that only offer a fraction of the features that we are able to provide. For instance, you would be amazed at how many customers open “reboot” tickets. While we respond to tickets quickly, it is actually faster for the customer to click on the “reboot” button in the portal than to click on the “create new ticket” link in the portal and then type out a reboot request.

As ways to address that issue, we created a private customer forum so that customers can share ideas, comments and suggestions with each other. We have also not only created the KnowledgeLayer FAQ database, but we have integrated that directly into the support ticket feature of the portal (when you open a ticket, the FAQ system will automatically recommend related fixes before you even submit the ticket). We also have tutorials directly linked inside the portal and even have all of our API documentation available for review.

So one of the challenges we have at SoftLayer isn’t just creating and deploying the new features and services that keep us out in front of the pack, but educating our customers of their existence and their ease of use. BTW, that’s a great problem to have!

-SamF

August 11, 2008

Knowledge is Power

A few years ago, I once had a few managers who made quite an impression on me… each of them pushed me to learn as much as I could about my given profession. Each of them had a personal guideline that really stuck with me. One’s was to “learn two new things a day”, while the other’s was to “improve yourself at every opportunity”.

To this day, I still strive to learn as much as I can about the different facets of my profession. As time permits I enjoy asking my peers questions regarding the plethora of Operating Systems we use here at SoftLayer. Needless to say, there’s a limitless amount of knowledge here to learn.

Additionally, we have such resources as the local Wiki (er, SLiki – sorry Brad) where we can find almost any answer to any question we can fathom. Between the Wiki, the brain trust here at the NOC, and the wondrous internet, there’s no shortage of resources to get the answers to the questions that baffle me.

Lucky for you, the customer, we have our KnowledgeLayer, in which our team takes their knowledge, and passes it on to you, so that you, too, can benefit and quite possibly learn two new things a day.

Now, of course, I sit around and ponder - Two things per day? Why would he have set his bar so low?

-Matthew

April 29, 2008

SoftLayer University

WOW…Am I the only one that has noticed the sky-rocketing cost of formal education these days? Or, what about the exorbitant amounts charged for Internet educational programs? (Hello, RH! *I am a student in an online RH course…yes, I paid a ton!)

I truly enjoy learning. I must always have something that I am actively involved in learning. And, I am always looking for something new to learn. Hmmm….maybe that’s why I am in IT…

We all know there is always something more to learn in the world of IT. As a CSA, I can learn more in a day from investigating, researching, and resolving customer issues than most university students learn about a specific subject in an entire semester. I know because I was a university student at one time. The range of issues that we CSA’s face on a daily basis is truly amazing. It makes sense when you look at the vast array of businesses/business models, and therefore applications for their servers, that our customers enjoy. I believe there is another blog in here somewhere in which one of my colleagues outlines some of the hats that we as CSA’s wear on a daily basis. All this is to say that, in the relatively short time that SoftLayer has been around, there has been a massive amount of information that has been learned, communicated, AND SAVED FOR YOUR EDUCATIONAL BENEFIT AND PLEASURE!!!

That’s right! For an unlimited time (as long as you are a SoftLayer customer), you too can benefit from the wealth of information that numerous techs have struggled with, fought for, and, at times, felt like dying for! Volumes of knowledge have been painstakingly documented as a resource for our very own SoftLayer technicians, AND, this same information has been made available to our customers! This amazing resource is available for the bargain basement price of $0.00. Think of all the money you could spend at a university taking classes at inconvenient times of the day. Think of the mounds of cash you could spend for an online course or weekend crash course just to teach you the much needed information found very conveniently in SoftLayer’s very own “KnowledgeLayer”!

You might say, “What if I need a tutor?” Think of the cash you could spend on a personal tutor. No need to spend cash on a tutor when you are a customer of SoftLayer! The SoftLayer forums are filled with tutors ready, willing, and excited to answer your questions, share in your accomplishments, and bask in the glow of your success! There are industry “experts” in there to help advise you when you need to make a decision regarding the next step for your growing business. Did I mention the SoftLayer “tutorials”, which can be found in the SoftLayer portal under the Support tab? Yes, we have our very own customized video tutorials in the portal! SoftLayer is almost a “one-stop-shop” for all your server-related educational needs.

But, wait, there is more! If, after learning from the KnowledgeLayer and being tutored in the forums, you still feel that you need more personalized attention in order to truly understand an issue that you are studying, you can always open a ticket with Support, and a CSA will personally work with you to teach you everything that you need to know regarding that specific issue!

So, in summary, when purchasing a server with SoftLayer, you have not only made an investment in the success of your business by choosing the industries’ best on-demand datacenter provider, you have also enrolled in SoftLayer University!

What courses of study would you like to pursue?

-David

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