Posts Tagged 'Network'

February 3, 2016

Use TShark to see what traffic is passing through your gateway

Many of SoftLayer’s solutions make excellent use of the Brocade vRouter (Vyatta) dedicated security appliance. It’s a true network gateway, router, and firewall for your servers in a SoftLayer data center. It’s also an invaluable trouble-shooting tool should you have a connectivity issue or just want to take a gander at your network traffic. Built into vRouter’s command line and available to you, is a full-fledged terminal-based Wireshark command line implementation—TShark.

TShark is fully implemented in vRouter. If you’re already familiar with using TShark, you know you can call it from the terminal in either configuration or operational mode.  You accomplish this by prefacing a command with sudo; making the full command sudo tshark – flags.

For those of us less versed in the intricacies of Wireshark and its command line cousin, here are a couple of useful examples to help you out.

One common flag I use in nearly every capture is –i (and as a side note, for those coming from a Microsoft Windows background, the flags are case sensitive). -i is a specific interface on which to capture traffic and immediately helps to cut down on the amount of information unrelated to the problem at hand. If you don’t set this flag, the capture will default to “the first non-loopback address;” or in the case of vRouter on SoftLayer, Bond0. Additionally, if you want to trace a packet and reply, you can set –i any to watch or capture traffic through all the interfaces on the device.

The second flag that I nearly always use to define a capture filter is –f, which defines a filter to match traffic against. The only traffic that matches this pattern will be captured. The filter uses the standard Wireshark syntax. Again, if you’re familiar with Wireshark, you can go nuts; but here are a few of the common filters I frequently use to help you get started:

  • host will match any traffic to or from the specified host. In this case, the venerable Google DNS servers. 
  • net works just like host, but for the entire network specified, in case you don’t know the exact host address you are looking for.
  • dst and src are useful if you want to drill down to a specific flow or want to look at just the incoming or outgoing traffic. These filters are usually paired with a host or net to match against.
  • port lets you specify a port to capture traffic, like host and net. Used by itself, port will match both source and destination port. In the case of well-known services, you can also define the port by the common name, i.e., dns.  

One final cool trick with the –f filter is the and and the negation not. They let you combine search terms and specifically exclude traffic in order to create a very finely tuned capture for your needs.

If you want to capture to a file to share with a team or to plug into more advanced analysis tools on another system, the –w flag is your friend. Without -w, the file will behave like a tcpdump and the output will appear in your terminal session. If you want to load the file into Wireshark or another packet analyzer tool you should make sure to add the –F flag to specify the file format. Here is an example:

Vyatta# sudo tshark –i Bond0 –w testcap.pcap –F pcap –f ‘src and not port 80’

The command will capture on Bond0 and output the capture to a .pcap file called testcap.pcap in the root directory of the file system. It will match only traffic on bond0 from that is not source or destination port 22. While that is a bit of a mouthful to explain, it does capture a very well defined stream! 

Here is one more example:

Vyatta#sudo tshark –I any –f ‘host and not ssh’

This command will capture traffic to the terminal that is to or from the specified IP ( that is not SSH. I frequently use this filter, or one a lot like it, when I am SSHed into a host and want to get a more general idea of what it is doing on the network. I don’t care about ssh because I know the cause of that traffic (me!), but I want to know anything else that’s going to or from the host.

This is all very much the tip of the iceberg; you can find a lot more information at the TShark main page. Hopefully these tips help out next time you want to see just what traffic is passing through your gateway.

- Jeff 


November 2, 2015

The multitenant problem solver is here: VMWare 6 NSX on SoftLayer

We’re very excited to tell you about what’s coming down the pike here at SoftLayer: VMWare NSX 6! This is something that I’ve personally been anticipating for a while now, because it solves so many issues that are confronted on the multitenant platform. Here’s a diagram to explain exactly how it works:

As you can see, it uses the SoftLayer network, the underlay network and fabric, and uses NSX as the overlay network to create the SDN (Software Defined Network).

What is it?
VMware NSX is a virtual networking and security software product from VMware's vCloud Networking and Security (vCNS) and Nicira Network Virtualization Platform (NVP). NSX software-defined networking is part of VMware's software-defined data center concept, which offers cloud computing on VMware virtualization technologies. VMware's stated goal with NSX is to provision virtual networking environments without command line interfaces or other direct administrator intervention. Network virtualization abstracts network operations from the underlying hardware onto a distributed virtualization layer, much like server virtualization does for processing power and operating systems. VMware vCNS (formerly called vShield) virtualizes L4-L7 of the network. Nicira's NVP virtualizes the network fabric, L2 and L3. VMware says that NSX will expose logical firewalls, switches, routers, ports, and other networking elements to allow virtual networking among vendor-agnostic hypervisors, cloud management systems, and associated network hardware. It also will support external networking and security ecosystem services.

How does it work?
NSX network virtualization is an architecture that enables the full potential of a software-defined data center (SDDC), making it possible to create and run entire networks in parallel on top of existing network hardware. This results in faster deployment of workloads and greater agility in creating dynamic data centers.

This means you can create a flexible pool of network capacity that can be allocated, utilized, and repurposed on demand. You can decouple the network from underlying hardware and apply virtualization principles to network infrastructure. You’re able to deploy networks in software that are fully isolated from each other, as well as from other changes in the data center. NSX reproduces the entire networking environment in software, including L2, L3 and L4–L7 network services within each virtual network. NSX offers a distributed logical architecture for L2–L7 services, provisioning them programmatically when virtual machines are deployed and moving them with the virtual machines. With NSX, you already have the physical network resources you need for a next-generation data center.

What are some major features?
NSX brings an SDDC approach to network security. Its network virtualization capabilities enable the three key functions of micro-segmentation: isolation (no communication across unrelated networks), segmentation (controlled communication within a network), and security with advanced services (tight integration with leading third-party security solutions).

The key benefits of micro-segmentation include:

  1. Network security inside the data center: Fine-grained policies enable firewall controls and advanced security down to the level of the virtual NIC.
  2. Automated security for speed and agility in the data center: Security policies are automatically applied when a virtual machine spins up, moved when a virtual machine is migrated, and removed when a virtual machine is deprovisioned—eliminating the problem of stale firewall rules.
  3. Integration with the industry’s leading security products: NSX provides a platform for technology partners to bring their solutions to the SDDC. With NSX security tags, these solutions can adapt to constantly changing conditions in the data center for enhanced security.

As you can see, there are lots of great features and benefits for our customers.

You can find more great resources about NSX on SoftLayer here. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for more great NSX news!


August 12, 2015

Network Performance 101: What is latency, and why does it matter?

We’ve all been there. Waiting for a web page to load can be so frustrating that we end up just closing out. You might ask yourself, “Hey, I have high-speed Internet. Why is this happening to me?” Well, there are a lot of factors outside your control that … control page loads. And whether you have an online store, run big data solutions, or have your employees set up on a network accessing files around the world, you never want to hear that your data, consumer products, information, or otherwise, is keeping you from a sale or slowing down employee productivity because of slow data transfer.

So why are some pages so much slower to load than others?
It could be that poorly written code or large images are slowing the load on the backend, but slow page loads can also be caused by network latency. This might sound elementary, but data is not just floating out there in some non-physical Internet space. In reality, data is stored on hard drives … somewhere. Network connectivity provides a path for that data to travel to end users around the world, and that connectivity can vary significantly—depending on how far it’s going, how many times the data has to hop between service providers, how much bandwidth is available along the way, the other data traveling across the same path, and a number of other variables.

The measurement of how quickly data travels between two connected points is called network latency. Network latency is an expression of the amount of time it takes a packet of data to get from one place to another.

Understanding Network Latency
Theoretically, data can travel at the speed of light across optical fiber network cables, but in practice, data typically travels slower than light due to the variables we referenced in the previous section. If a network connection doesn’t have any available bandwidth capacity, data might temporarily queue up to wait for its turn to travel across the line. If a service provider’s network doesn’t route a network path optimally, data could be sent hundreds or thousands of miles away from the destination in the process of routing to the destination. These kinds of delays and detours lead to higher network latency, which lead to slower page loads and download speeds.

We express network latency in milliseconds (that’s 1,000 milliseconds per second), and while a few thousandths of a second may not mean much to us as we’re living our daily lives, those milliseconds are often the deciding factors for whether we stay on a webpage or give up and try another site. As consumers of high-speed Internet, we like what we like, and we want what we want when we want it. In the financial sector, milliseconds can mean billions of dollars in gains or losses from trade transactions on a day-to-day basis.

Logical conclusion: Everyone wants the lowest network latency to the greatest number of users.

Common Approaches to Minimize Network Latency
If our shared goal is to minimize latency for our data, the most common approaches to addressing network latency involve limiting the number of potential variables that can impact the speed of data’s movement. While we don’t have complete control over how our data travels across the Internet, we can do a few things to keep our network latency in line:

  • Distribute data around the world: Users in different locations can pull data from a location that’s geographically close to them. Because the data is closer to the users, it is handed off fewer times, it has a shorter distance to travel, and inefficient routing is less likely to cause a significant performance impact.
  • Provision servers with high-capacity network ports: Huge volumes of data can travel to and from the server every second. If packets are delayed due to fully saturated ports, milliseconds of time pass, pages load slower, download speeds drop, and users get unhappy.
  • Understand how your providers route traffic: When you know how your data is transferred to users around the world, you can make better decisions about where you host your data.

How SoftLayer Minimizes Network Latency
To minimize latency, we took a unique approach to building our network. All of our data centers are connected to network points of presence. All of our network points of presence are connected to each other via our global backbone network. And by maintaining our own global backbone network, our network operations team is able to control network paths and data handoffs much more granularly than if we relied on other providers to move data between geographies.

SoftLayer Private Network

For example, if a user in Berlin wants to watch a cat video hosted on a SoftLayer server in Dallas, the packets of data that make up that cat video will travel across our backbone network (which is exclusively used by SoftLayer traffic) to Frankfurt, where the packets would be handed off to one of our peering or transit public network partners to get to the user in Berlin.

Without a global backbone network, the packets would be handed off to a peering or transit public network provider in Dallas, and that provider would route the packets across its network and/or hand the packets off to another provider at a network hop, and the packets would bounce their way to Germany. It’s entirely possible that the packets could get from Dallas to Berlin with the same network latency with or without the global backbone network, but without the global backbone network, there are a lot more variables.

In addition to building a global backbone network, we also segment public, private, and management traffic onto different network ports so that different types of traffic can be transferred without interfering with each other.

SoftLayer Private Network

But at the end of the day, all of that network planning and forethought doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you can’t see the results for yourself. That’s why we put speed tests on our website so you can check out our network yourself (for more on speed tests, check out this blog post).

TL;DR: Network Latency
Your users want your data as quickly as you can get it to them. The time it takes for your data to get to them across the Internet is called network latency. The more control you (or your provider) have over your data’s network path, the more consistent (and lower) your network latency will be.

Stay tuned. Next month we will be discussing Network Performance 101: Security, where we’ll discuss all things cloud security—including answering your burning questions: Can other people see or access my data in a public cloud? Is my data more prone to hackers? And, what safeguards do SoftLayer have in place to protect data?


March 30, 2015

The Importance of Data's Physical Location in the Cloud

If top-tier cloud providers use similar network hardware in their data centers and connect to the same transit and peering bandwidth providers, how can SoftLayer claim to provide the best network performance in the cloud computing industry?

Over the years, I've heard variations of that question asked dozens of times, and it's fairly easy to answer with impressive facts and figures. All SoftLayer data centers and network points of presence (PoPs) are connected to our unique global network backbone, which carries public, private, and management traffic to and from servers. Using our network connectivity table, some back-of-the-envelope calculations reveal that we have more than 2,500Gbps of bandwidth connectivity with some of the largest transit and peering bandwidth providers in the world (and that total doesn't even include the private peering relationships we have with other providers in various regional markets). Additionally, customers may order servers with up to 10Gbps network ports in our data centers.

For the most part, those stats explain our differentiation, but part of the bigger network performance story is still missing, and to a certain extent it has been untold—until today.

The 2,500+Gbps of bandwidth connectivity we break out in the network connectivity table only accounts for the on-ramps and off-ramps of our network. Our global network backbone is actually made up of an additional 2,600+Gbps of bandwidth connectivity ... and all of that backbone connectivity transports SoftLayer-related traffic.

This robust network architecture streamlines the access to and delivery of data on SoftLayer servers. When you access a SoftLayer server, the network is designed to bring you onto our global backbone as quickly as possible at one of our network PoPs, and when you're on our global backbone, you'll experience fewer hops (and a more direct route that we control). When one of your users requests data from your SoftLayer server, that data travels across the global backbone to the nearest network PoP, where it is handed off to another provider to carry the data the "last mile."

With this controlled environment, I decided to undertake an impromptu science experiment to demonstrate how location and physical distance affect network performance in the cloud.

Speed Testing on the SoftLayer Global Network Backbone

I work in the SoftLayer office in downtown Houston, Texas. In network-speak, this location is HOU04. You won't find that location on any data center or network tables because it's just an office, but it's connected to the same global backbone as our data centers and network points of presence. From my office, the "last mile" doesn't exist; when I access a SoftLayer server, my bits and bytes only travel across the SoftLayer network, so we're effectively cutting out a number of uncontrollable variables in the process of running network speed tests.

For better or worse, I didn't tell any network engineers that I planned to run speed tests to every available data center and share the results I found, so you're seeing exactly what I saw with no tomfoolery. I just fired up my browser, headed to our Data Centers page, and made my way down the list using the SpeedTest option for each facility. Customers often go through this process when trying to determine the latency, speeds, and network path that they can expect from servers in each data center, but if we look at the results collectively, we can learn a lot more about network performance in general.

With the results, we'll discuss how network speed tests work, what the results mean, and why some might be surprising. If you're feeling scientific and want to run the tests yourself, you're more than welcome to do so.

The Ookla SpeedTests we link to from the data centers table measured the latency (ping time), jitter (variation in latency), download speeds, and upload speeds between the user's computer and the data center's test server. To run this experiment, I connected my MacBook Pro via Ethernet to a 100Mbps wired connection. At the end of each speed test, I took a screenshot of the performance stats:

SoftLayer Network Speed Test

To save you the trouble of trying to read all of the stats on each data center as they cycle through that animated GIF, I also put them into a table (click the data center name to see its results screenshot in a new window):

Data Center Latency (ms) Download Speed (Mbps) Upload Speed (Mbps) Jitter (ms)
AMS01 121 77.69 82.18 1
DAL01 9 93.16 87.43 0
DAL05 7 93.16 83.77 0
DAL06 7 93.11 83.50 0
DAL07 8 93.08 83.60 0
DAL09 11 93.05 82.54 0
FRA02 128 78.11 85.08 0
HKG02 184 50.75 78.93 2
HOU02 2 93.12 83.45 1
LON02 114 77.41 83.74 2
MEL01 186 63.40 78.73 1
MEX01 27 92.32 83.29 1
MON01 52 89.65 85.94 3
PAR01 127 82.40 83.38 0
SJC01 44 90.43 83.60 1
SEA01 50 90.33 83.23 2
SNG01 195 40.35 72.35 1
SYD01 196 61.04 75.82 4
TOK02 135 75.63 82.20 2
TOR01 40 90.37 82.90 1
WDC01 43 89.68 84.35 0

By performing these speed tests on the SoftLayer network, we can actually learn a lot about how speed tests work and how physical location affects network performance. But before we get into that, let's take note of a few interesting results from the table above:

  • The lowest latency from my office is to the HOU02 (Houston, Texas) data center. That data center is about 14.2 miles away as the crow flies.
  • The highest latency results from my office are to the SYD01 (Sydney, Australia) and SNG01 (Singapore) data centers. Those data centers are at least 8,600 and 10,000 miles away, respectively.
  • The fastest download speed observed is 93.16Mbps, and that number was seen from two data centers: DAL01 and DAL05.
  • The slowest download speed observed is 40.35Mbps from SNG01.
  • The fastest upload speed observed is 87.43Mbps to DAL01.
  • The slowest upload speed observed is 72.35Mbps to SNG01.
  • The upload speeds observed are faster than the download speeds from every data center outside of North America.

Are you surprised that we didn't see any results closer to 100Mbps? Is our server in Singapore underperforming? Are servers outside of North America more selfish to receive data and stingy to give it back?

Those are great questions, and they actually jumpstart an explanation of how the network tests work and what they're telling us.

Maximum Download Speed on 100Mbps Connection

If my office is 2 milliseconds from the test server in HOU02, why is my download speed only 93.12Mbps? To answer this question, we need to understand that to perform these tests, a connection is made using Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to move the data, and TCP does a lot of work in the background. The download is broken into a number of tiny chunks called packets and sent from the sender to the receiver. TCP wants to ensure that each packet that is sent is received, so the receiver sends an acknowledgement back to the sender to confirm that the packet arrived. If the sender is unable to verify that a given packet was successfully delivered to the receiver, the sender will resend the packet.

This system is pretty simple, but in actuality, it's very dynamic. TCP wants to be as efficient as possible ... to send the fewest number of packets to get the entire message across. To accomplish this, TCP is able to modify the size of each packet to optimize it for each communication. The receiver dictates how large the packet should be by providing a receive window to accommodate a small packet size, and it analyzes and adjusts the receive window to get the largest packets possible without becoming unstable. Some operating systems are better than others when it comes to tweaking and optimizing TCP transfer rates, but the processes TCP takes to ensure that the packets are sent and received without error takes overhead, and that overhead limits the maximum speed we can achieve.

Understanding the SNG01 Results

Why did my SNG01 speed test max out at a meager 40.35Mbps on my 100Mbps connection? Well, now that we understand how TCP is working behind the scenes, we can see why our download speeds from Singapore are lower than we'd expect. Latency between the sending and successful receipt of a packet plays into TCP’s considerations of a stable connection. Higher ping times will cause TCP to send smaller packet sizes than it would for lower ping times to ensure that no sizable packet is lost (which would have to be reproduced and resent).

With our global backbone optimizing the network path of the packets between Houston and Singapore, the more than 10,000-mile journey, the nature of TCP, and my computer's TCP receive window adjustments all factor into the download speeds recorded from SNG01. Looking at the results in the context of the distance the data has to travel, our results are actually well within the expected performance.

Because the default behavior of TCP is partially to blame for the results, we could actually tweak the test and tune our configurations to deliver faster speeds. To confirm that improvements can be made relatively easily, we can actually just look at the answer to our third question...

Upload > Download?

Why are the upload speeds faster than the download speeds after latency jumps from 50ms to 114ms? Every location in North America is within 2,000 miles of Houston, while the closest location outside of North America is about 5,000 miles away. With what we've learned about how TCP and physical distance play into download speeds, that jump in distance explains why the download speeds drop from 90.33Mbps to 77.41Mbps as soon as we cross an ocean, but how can the upload speeds to Europe (and even APAC) stay on par with their North American counterparts? The only difference between our download path and upload path is which side is sending and which side is receiving. And if the receiver determines the size of the TCP receive window, the most likely culprit in the discrepancy between download and upload speeds is TCP windowing.

A Linux server is built and optimized to be a server, whereas my MacOSX laptop has a lot of other responsibilities, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the default TCP receive window handling is better on the server side. With changes to the way my laptop handles TCP, download speeds would likely be improved significantly. Additionally, if we wanted to push the envelope even further, we might consider using a different transfer protocol to take advantage of the consistent, controlled network environment.

The Importance of Physical Location in Cloud Computing

These real-world test results under controlled conditions demonstrate the significance of data's geographic proximity to its user on the user's perceived network performance. We know that the network latency in a 14-mile trip will be lower than the latency in a 10,000-mile trip, but we often don't think about the ripple effect latency has on other network performance indicators. And this experiment actually controls a lot of other variables that can exacerbate the performance impact of geographic distance. The tests were run on a 100Mbps connection because that's a pretty common maximum port speed, but if we ran the same tests on a GigE line, the difference would be even more dramatic. Proof: HOU02 @ 1Gbps v. SNG01 @ 1Gbps

Let's apply our experiment to a real-world example: Half of our site's user base is in Paris and the other half is in Singapore. If we chose to host our cloud infrastructure exclusively from Paris, our users would see dramatically different results. Users in Paris would have sub-10ms latency while users in Singapore have about 300ms of latency. Obviously, operating cloud servers in both markets would be the best way to ensure peak performance in both locations, but what if you can only afford to provision your cloud infrastructure in one location? Where would you choose to provision that infrastructure to provide a consistent user experience for your audience in both markets?

Given what we've learned, we should probably choose a location with roughly the same latency to both markets. We can use the SoftLayer Looking Glass to see that San Jose, California (SJC01) would be a logical midpoint ... At this second, the latency between SJC and PAR on the SoftLayer backbone is 149ms, and the latency between SJC and SNG is 162ms, so both would experience very similar performance (all else being equal). Our users in the two markets won't experience mind-blowing speeds, but neither will experience mind-numbing speeds either.

The network performance implications of physical distance apply to all cloud providers, but because of the SoftLayer global network backbone, we're able to control many of the variables that lead to higher (or inconsistent) latency to and from a given data center. The longer a single provider can route traffic, the more efficiently that traffic will move. You might see the same latency speeds to another provider's cloud infrastructure from a given location at a given time across the public Internet, but you certainly won't see the same consistency from all locations at all times. SoftLayer has spent millions of dollars to build, maintain, and grow our global network backbone to transport public and private network traffic, and as a result, we feel pretty good about claiming to provide the best network performance in cloud computing.


December 17, 2014

Does physical location matter “in the cloud”?

By now everyone understands that the cloud is indeed a place on Earth, but there still seems to be confusion around why global expansion by way of adding data centers is such a big deal. After all, if data is stored “in the cloud,” why wouldn’t adding more servers in our existing data centers suffice? Well, there’s a much more significant reason for adding more data centers than just being able to host more data.

As we’ve explained in previous blog posts, Globalization and Hosting: The World Wide Web is Flat and Global Network: The Proof is in the Traceroute, our strategic objective is to get a network point of presence (PoP) within 40ms of all our users (and our users' users) in order to provide the best network stability and performance possible anywhere on the planet.

Data can travel across the Internet quickly, but just like anything, the farther something has to go, the longer it will take to get there. Seems pretty logical right? But we also need to take into account that not all routes are created equally. So to deliver the best network performance, we designed our global network to get data to the closest route possible to our network. Think of each SoftLayer PoP as an on-ramp to our global network backbone. The sooner a user is able to get onto our network, the quicker we can efficiently route them through our PoPs to a server in one of our data centers. Furthermore, once plugged into the network, we are able to control the flow of traffic.

Let’s take a look at this traceroute example from the abovementioned blog post. As you are probably aware, a traceroute shows the "hops" or routers along the network path from an origin IP to a destination IP. When we were building out the Singapore data center (before the network points of presence were turned up in Asia), the author ran a traceroute from Singapore to, and immediately after the launch of the data center, ran another one.

Pre-Launch Traceroute to from Singapore

traceroute to (, 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1 (  1.884 ms  1.089 ms  1.569 ms
 2 (  2.006 ms  1.669 ms  1.753 ms
 3 (  3.380 ms  3.388 ms  4.344 ms
 4 (  3.684 ms  3.348 ms  3.919 ms
 5 (  9.002 ms  3.516 ms  4.228 ms
 6 (  3.716 ms  3.965 ms  5.663 ms
 7 (  4.442 ms  4.117 ms  4.967 ms
 8 (  6.807 ms  55.288 ms  56.211 ms
 9 (  187.953 ms  188.447 ms  187.809 ms
10 (  184.143 ms (  189.510 ms (  289.039 ms
11 (  187.645 ms  188.700 ms  187.912 ms
12 (  186.482 ms  188.265 ms  187.021 ms
13 (  188.569 ms  191.100 ms  188.736 ms
14 (  381.645 ms  410.052 ms  420.311 ms
15 (  415.379 ms  415.902 ms  418.339 ms
16 (  417.426 ms  417.301 ms (  416.692 ms
17  * * *

Post-Launch Traceroute to from Singapore

traceroute to (, 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1 (  2.850 ms  1.409 ms  1.206 ms
 2 (  1.550 ms  1.680 ms  1.394 ms
 3 (  1.812 ms  1.341 ms  1.734 ms
 4 (  35.550 ms  1.999 ms  2.124 ms
 5 (  174.726 ms  175.484 ms  175.491 ms
 6 (  203.821 ms  203.749 ms  205.803 ms
 7 (  306.755 ms (  208.669 ms  203.127 ms
 8 (  203.518 ms (  305.534 ms (  204.150 ms
 9  * * *

After the Singapore data center launch, the number of hops was reduced by 50 percent, and the response time (in milliseconds) was reduced by 40 percent. Those are pretty impressive numbers from just lighting up a couple PoPs and a data center, and that was just the beginning of our global expansion in 2012.

That’s why we are so excited to announce the three new data centers launching this month: Mexico City, Tokyo, and Frankfurt.

Of course, this is great news for customers who require data residency in Mexico, Japan, and Germany. And yes, these new locations provide additional in-region redundancy within APAC, EMEA, and the Americas. But even customers without servers in these new facilities have reason to celebrate: Our global network backbone is expanding, so users in these markets will see even better network stability and speed to servers in every other SoftLayer data center around the world!


November 18, 2014

Your Direct Link into the SoftLayer Cloud

Remember the days when cellular companies charged additional fees for calls placed during peak hours or for text messages that exceeded your plan?

The good news is those days are pretty much over for cellular services thanks to unlimited text and data plans. The bad news is there are cloud and hosting providers who adhere to those same old billing practices of charging customers for every single communication their severs send or receive.

At SoftLayer we do things differently. All of our servers come with included terabytes of outbound bandwidth—5TB for virtual servers and 20TB for bare metal servers. Now you probably just noticed I specifically mentioned outbound bandwidth, and that's because we don't charge anything, nothing, zip, zilch for all traffic inbound to any of our servers, nor do we charge for any bandwidth usage across our Global Private Network.

Imagine the possibilities of what you could build on a Global Private Network that essentially comes free of charge just by being a SoftLayer customer.

  • How about building that true disaster recovery solution that you’re always talking about?
  • How about moving all of your backups offsite now that the necessary bandwidth requirements and costs aren’t standing in your way?
  • Or maybe it’s time to offer your app a little GSLB now that replicating data across remote sites, which hasn’t been feasible over the public Internet due to latency or security concerns, is now feasible?

We help put all these dreams within grasp thanks to Direct Link. Tap directly into our Global Private Network at connection speeds of 1Gbps or 10Gbps to establish a Direct Link into any of our 19 network PoPs (more PoPs are being added regularly). You’ll have the ability to seamlessly extend your private networks directly into SoftLayer. Not only does a Direct Link give you access to one of the world’s largest and fastest private networks, it gives you access to elastically scale your compute and storage on demand.

Many companies look to the cloud as a way to reduce capex and adjust spending on demand but hesitate to move workloads due to latency or security concerns. I'd like to say that latency isn’t even worth thinking twice about at SoftLayer. But don't take my word for it; take a peek at our Looking Glass, and see for yourself. In regards to security, a SoftLayer Direct Link enables you to build and deliver secure services on our private network without having to expose your servers to the public Internet.

For more information on Direct Link and connectivity check out KnowledgeLayer or this blog where the author digs into the technical details and explains how enterprise customers benefit from Direct Link with GRE Tunnels.

JD Wells

November 11, 2014

Which storage solution is best for your project?

Before building applications around our network storage, here’s a refresher on what network storage is, how it is used, the different types available, and the best uses for each.

What is network storage? Why would you use it?

Appropriately named, network storage is storage attached to a server over our network; not to be confused with directly attached storage (DAS), which is a hard drive located in the server (or connected with a device like a SCSI or USB cable). Although DAS transfers data to a server faster than network storage due to network latency and system caching, there is still a strong place for network storage.

Many different servers can access network storage, and with some network storage solutions, more than one server can get data from the same shared storage volume simultaneously. This comes in handy if one server dies, because another can pick up a storage device and start where the first left off.

With DAS, planned downtime for server upgrades, potential data loss, and provisioning larger or more servers can slow down productivity. The physical constraints of internal drives and costs associated with servers do not affect network storage.

Because SoftLayer manages the disk space of our network storage products, there’s no need to worry about rebuilding a redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAIDs) or failed disks. If a disk fails, SoftLayer automatically replaces it and rebuilds the RAID—in most cases you would be unaware that the changes occurred.

Select network storage solutions are available with tools for your important data. Schedule snapshots of your data, promote snapshots to full volumes, or reset your data to the snapshot point.

And with network storage, downtime is minimal. Disaster recovery tools available on select storage solutions let you send a command to quickly fail over to a different data center so you can access your data if our network is ever down in a data center.

Types of Network Storage And How They Are Different

Storage Area Network (SAN) or Block Storage

Block storage works like DAS, just remotely—only a single server can access a block storage volume at a time. Using an Internet small computer system interface (iSCSI) protocol over a secure transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) connection, SoftLayer's block storage has excellent features for backup and disaster recovery, and adding snapshot schedules and failover redundancy make it a powerful enterprise solution.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) or File Storage

File storage acts like a remote file system. It has a slim operating system that allows servers to treat it like a remote directory structure. Multiple servers can share files on the same storage simultaneously. Our new consistent performance storage lets you share files quickly and easily using a network file system (NFS) with your choice of performance level and secure connections.

We also have a common Internet file system (CIFS) (Windows), which requires a credential that grants access to any server on our private network. File storage can only be accessed by SoftLayer servers.

Object Storage

Object storage is a standalone storage entity with its own representational state transfer (REST) API that grants applications (not operating systems) access to the files stored there. Located on a public network, servers in any of our data centers can directly access files stored there. Object storage is different in the way those files are stored as well. In object storage there is not a directory structure, but instead metadata tags are used to categorize and search for files. In conjunction with a content delivery network (CDN), you can quickly serve files to your users or to a mobile device in close proximity.

With pay-as-you-go pricing, you don’t have to worry about running out of space. We only charge based on the greatest usage in any given day. That means you can get started right now for free!

Which storage solution is best for your project?

If you are still confused about which network storage option you should build your applications around, take this eight-question quiz to find out if object, file or block storage will work best for you:


October 14, 2014

Enterprise Customers See Benefits of Direct Link with GRE Tunnels

We’ve had an overwhelming response to our Direct Link product launch over the past few months and with good reason. Customers can cross connect into the SoftLayer global private network with a direct link in any of our 22 points of presence (POPs) providing fast, secure, and unmetered access to their SoftLayer infrastructure from their remote data center locations.

Many of our enterprise customers who’ve set up a Direct Link want to balance the simplicity of a layer three cross connection with their sophisticated routing and access control list (ACL) requirements. To achieve this balance, many are using GRE tunnels from their on-premises routers to their SoftLayer Vyatta Gateway Appliance.

In previous blogs about Vyatta Gateway Appliance, we’ve described some typical use cases as well as highlighted the differences between the Vyatta OS and the Vyatta Appliance. So we’ll focus specifically on using GRE tunnels here.

What is GRE?
Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) is a protocol for packet encapsulation to facilitate routing other protocols over IP networks (RFC 2784). Customers typically create two endpoints for the tunnel; one on their remote router and the other on their Vyatta Gateway Appliance at SoftLayer.
How does GRE work?
GRE encapsulates a payload, an inner packet that needs to be delivered to a destination network, within an outer IP packet. Between two GRE endpoints all routers will look at the outer IP packet and forward it towards the endpoint where the inner packet is parsed and routed to the ultimate destination.
Why use GRE tunnels?
If a customer has multiple subnets at SoftLayer that need routing to, these would need multiple tunnels to each if they were not encapsulating with GRE. Since GRE encapsulates traffic within an outer packet, customers are able to route other protocols within the tunnel and route multiple subnets without multiple tunnels. A GRE endpoint on Vyatta will parse the packets and route them, eliminating that challenge.

Many of our enterprise customers have complex rules governing what servers and networks can communicate with each other. They typically build ACLs on their routers to enforce those rules. Having a GRE endpoint on a Vyatta Gateway Appliance allows customers to route and manage internal packets based on specific rules so that security models stay intact.

GRE tunnels can allow customers to keep their networking scheme; meaning customers can add IP addresses to their SoftLayer servers and directly access them eliminating any routing problems that could occur.

And, because GRE tunnels can run inside a VPN tunnel, customers can put the GRE inside of an IPSec tunnel to make it more secure.

Learn More on KnowledgeLayer

If you are considering Direct Link to achieve fast and unmetered access with the help of GRE tunnels and Vyatta Gateway Appliance but need more information, the SoftLayer KnowledgeLayer is continually updated with new information and best practices. Be sure to check out the entire section devoted to the Vyatta Gateway Appliance.

- Seth

October 8, 2014

An Insider’s Look at Our Data Centers

I’ve been with Softlayer over four years now. It’s been a journey that has taken me around the world—from Dallas to Singapore to Washington D.C, and back again. Along the way, I’ve met amazingly brilliant people who have helped me sharpen the tools in my ‘data center toolbox’ thus allowing me to enhance the customer experience by aiding and assisting in a complex compute environment.

I like to think of our data centers as masterpieces of elegant design. We currently have 14 of these works of art, with many more on the way. Here’s an insider’s look at the design:

Keeping It Cool
Our POD layouts have a raised floor system. The air conditioning units chill from the front bottom of the servers on the ‘cold rows’ passing through the servers on the ‘warm rows.’ The warm rows have ceiling vents to rapidly clear the warm air from the backs of the servers.

Jackets are recommended for this arctic environment.

Pumping up the POWER
Nothing is as important to us as keeping the lights on. Every data center has a three-tiered approach to keeping your servers and services on. Our first tier being street power. Each rack has two power strips to distribute the load and offer true redundancy for redundant servers and switches with the remote ability to power down an individual port on either power strip.

The second tier is our batter backup for each POD. This offers emergency response for seamless failover when street power is no more.

This leads to the third step in our model, generators. We have generators in place for a sustainable continuity of power until street power has returned. Check out the 2-megawatt diesel generator installation at the DAL05 data center here.

The Ultimate Social Network
Neither power nor cooling matter if you can’t connect to your server, which is where our proprietary networking topography comes to play. Each bare metal server and each virtual server resides in a rack that connects to three switches. Each of those switches connects to an aggregate switch for a row. The aggregate switch connects to a router.

The first switch, our private backend network, allows for SSL and VPN connectivity to manage your server. It also gives you the ability to have server-to-server communication without the bounds of bandwidth overages.

The second switch, our public network, provides pubic Internet access to your device, which is perfect for shopping, gaming, coding, or whatever you want to use it for. With 20TB of bandwidth coming standard for this network, the possibilities are endless.

The third and final switch, management, allows you to connect to the Intelligent Platform Management Interface that provides tools such as KVM/hardware monitoring/and even virtual CDs to install an image of your choosing! The cables to your devices from the switches are color-coded, port-number-to-rack-unit labeled, and masterfully arranged to maximize identification and airflow.

A Soft Place for Hardware
The heart and soul of our business is the computing hardware. We use enterprise grade hardware from the ground up. We offer our smallest offering of 1 core, 1GB RAM, 25GB HDD virtual servers, to one of our largest quad 10-core, 512GB RAM, multi 4TB HDD bare metal servers. With excellent hardware comes excellent options. There is almost always a path to improvement. Meaning, unless you already have the top of the line, you can always add more. Whether it be additional drive, RAM, or even processor.

I hope you enjoyed the view from the inside. If you want to see the data centers up close and personal, I am sorry to say, those are closed to the public. But you can take a virtual tour of some of our data centers via YouTube: AMS01 and DAL05

-Joshua Fox

January 17, 2014

What's Next? $1.2 Billion Investment. 15 New Data Centers.

SoftLayer was founded in a living room on May 5, 2005. We bootstrapped our vision of becoming the de facto platform for cloud computing by maxing out our credit cards and draining our savings accounts. Over the course of eight years, we built a unique global offering, and in the middle of last year, our long-term vision was validated (and supercharged) by IBM.

When I posted about IBM acquiring SoftLayer last June, I explained that becoming part of IBM "will enable us to continue doing what we've done since 2005, but on an even bigger scale and with greater opportunities." To give you an idea of what "bigger scale" and "greater opportunities" look like, I need only direct you to today's press release: IBM Commits $1.2 Billion to Expand Global Cloud Footprint.

IBM Cloud Investment

It took us the better part of a decade to build a worldwide network of 13 data centers. As part of IBM, we'll more than double our data center footprint in a fraction of that time. In 2006, we were making big moves when we built facilities on the East and West coasts of the United States. Now, we're expanding into places like China, Hong Kong, London, Japan, India, Canada and Mexico City. We had a handful of founders pushing for SoftLayer's success, and now we've got 430,000+ IBM peers to help us reach our goal. This is a whole new ballgame.

The most important overarching story about this planned expansion is what each new facility will mean for our customers. When any cloud provider builds a data center in a new location, it's great news for customers and users in that geographic region: Content in that facility will be geographically closer to them, and they'll see lower pings and better performance from that data center. When SoftLayer builds a data center in a new location, customers and users in that geographic region see performance improvements from *all* of our data centers. The new facility serves as an on-ramp to our global network, so content on any server in any of our data centers can be accessed faster. To help illustrate that point, let's look at a specific example:

If you're in India, and you want to access content from a SoftLayer server in Singapore, you'll traverse the public Internet to reach our network, and the content will traverse the public Internet to get back to you. Third-party peering and transit providers pass the content to/from our network and your ISP, and you'll get the content you requested.

When we add a SoftLayer data center in India, you'll obviously access servers in that facility much more quickly, and when you want content from a server in our Singapore data center, you'll be routed through that new data center's network point of presence in India so that the long haul from India to Singapore will happen entirely on the private network we control and optimize.

Users around the world will have faster, more reliable access to servers in every other SoftLayer data center because we're bringing our network to their front doors. When you combine that kind connectivity and access with our unique hybrid offering of powerful bare metal servers and scalable virtual server instances, it's easy to see how IBM, the most powerful technology company of the last 100 years, is positioned to remain the most powerful technology company in the world for the next century.

Now it's time to get to work.


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