Posts Tagged 'Network'

July 24, 2013

Deconstructing SoftLayer's Three-Tiered Network

When Sun Microsystems VP John Gage coined the phrase, "The network is the computer," the idea was more wishful thinking than it was profound. At the time, personal computers were just starting to show up in homes around the country, and most users were getting used to the notion that "The computer is the computer." In the '80s, the only people talking about networks were the ones selling network-related gear, and the idea of "the network" was a little nebulous and vaguely understood. Fast-forward a few decades, and Gage's assertion has proven to be prophetic ... and it happens to explain one of SoftLayer's biggest differentiators.

SoftLayer's hosting platform features an innovative, three-tier network architecture: Every server in a SoftLayer data center is physically connected to public, private and out-of-band management networks. This "network within a network" topology provides customers the ability to build out and manage their own global infrastructure without overly complex configurations or significant costs, but the benefits of this setup are often overlooked. To best understand why this network architecture is such a game-changer, let's examine each of the network layers individually.

SoftLayer Private Network

Public Network

When someone visits your website, they are accessing content from your server over the public network. This network connection is standard issue from every hosting provider since your content needs to be accessed by your users. When SoftLayer was founded in 2005, we were the first hosting provider to provide multiple network connections by default. At the time, some of our competitors offered one-off private network connections between servers in a rack or a single data center phase, but those competitors built their legacy infrastructures with an all-purpose public network connection. SoftLayer offers public network connection speeds up to 10Gbps, and every bare metal server you order from us includes free inbound bandwidth and 5TB of outbound bandwidth on the public network.

Private Network

When you want to move data from one server to another in any of SoftLayer's data centers, you can do so quickly and easily over the private network. Bandwidth between servers on the private network is unmetered and free, so you don't incur any costs when you transfer files from one server to another. Having a dedicated private network allows you to move content between servers and facilities without fighting against or getting in the way of the users accessing your server over the public network.

It should come as no surprise to learn that all private network traffic stays on SoftLayer's network exclusively when it travels between our facilities. The blue lines in this image show how the private network connects all of our data centers (find our most up-to-date data center map here) and points of presence:

SoftLayer Private Network

To fully replicate the functionality provided by the SoftLayer private network, competitors with legacy single-network architecture would have to essentially double their networking gear installation and establish safeguards to guarantee that customers can only access information from their own servers via the private network. Because that process is pretty daunting (and expensive), many of our competitors have opted for "virtual" segmentation that logically links servers to each other. The traffic between servers in those "virtual" private networks still travels over the public network, so they usually charge you for "private network" bandwidth at the public bandwidth rate.

Out-of-Band Management Network

When it comes to managing your server, you want an unencumbered network connection that will give you direct, secure access when you need it. Splitting out the public and private networks into distinct physical layers provides significant flexibility when it comes to delivering content where it needs to go, but we saw a need for one more unique network layer. If your server is targeted for a denial of service attack or a particular ISP fails to route traffic to your server correctly, you're effectively locked out of your server if you don't have another way to access it. Our management-specific network layer uses bandwidth providers that aren't included in our public/private bandwidth mix, so you're taking a different route to your server, and you're accessing the server through a dedicated port.

If you've seen pictures or video from a SoftLayer data center (or if you've competed in the Server Challenge), you probably noticed the three different colors of Ethernet cables connected at the back of every server rack, and each of those colors carries one of these types of network traffic exclusively. The pink/red cables carry public network traffic, the blue cables carry private network traffic, and the green cables carry out-of-band management network traffic. All thirteen of our data centers have the same colored cables in the same configuration doing the same jobs, so we're able to train our operations staff consistently between all thirteen of our data centers. That consistency enables us to provide quicker service when you need it, and it lessens the chance of human error on the data center floor.

The most powerful server on the market can be sidelined by a poorly designed, inefficient network. If "the network is the computer," the network should be a primary concern when you select your next hosting provider.


August 15, 2012

Managing Support Tickets: Email Subscriptions

This week, the development team rolled out some behind-the-scenes support functionality that I think a lot of our customers will want to take advantage of, so I put together this quick blog post to spread the word about it. With the new release, the support department is able to create "Ticket Email Subscriptions" for different ticket groups on every customer account. As a customer, you might not be jumping up and down with joy after reading that one-sentence description, but after you hear a little more about the functionality, if you're not clapping, I hope you'll at least give us a thumbs-up.

To understand the utility of the new ticket email subscription functionality, let's look at how normal tickets work in the SoftLayer portal without email subscriptions:

User Creates Ticket

  1. User A creates a ticket.
  2. User A becomes the owner of that ticket.
  3. When SoftLayer responds to the ticket, an email notification is sent to User A to let him/her know that the ticket has been updated.

SoftLayer Creates Ticket

  1. SoftLayer team creates a ticket on a customer's account.
  2. The primary customer contact on the account is notified of the new ticket.
  3. Customer logs into the portal and responds to ticket.
  4. Customer gets notifications of updates (as described above).

There's nothing wrong with the existing support notification process, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to make the process better. What if User A creates an urgent ticket on his/her way out the door to go on vacation? User B and User C aren't notified when an update is posted on User A's ticket, so the other users aren't able to get to the ticket and respond as quickly as they would have if they received the notification. What if the primary customer contact on the account isn't the best person to receive a monitoring alert? The administrator who will investigate the monitoring alert has to see the new ticket on the account or hear about it from the primary contact (who got the notification).

Ticket email subscriptions allow for customers to set contact addresses to be notified when a ticket is created, edited or moved in a particular ticket group. Here are the ticket groups differentiated in our initial release:

  • Billing - Any ticket in our Billing department
  • Maintenance - Scheduled maintenance notifications for specific servers
  • Network Protection - DDoS mitigation and Null Routes
  • Monitoring - Host Down Alerts
  • CST, SysAdmin and Hardware - Any ticket in our support and data center departments
  • Managed Services - Tickets that relate to any managed services
  • Network Maintenance - Scheduled network maintenance

You'll notice that Abuse isn't included in this list, and the only reason it's omitted is because you've always been able to designate a contact on your account for abuse-related tickets ... Ticket subscriptions extend that functionality to other ticket groups.

Because only one email address can be "subscribed" to notifications in each ticket group, we recommend that customers use their own distribution lists as the email contacts. With a DL as the contact, you can enable multiple users in your organization to receive notifications, and you can add and remove users from each distribution list on your end quickly and easily.

When User A creates a ticket with the data center and goes on vacation, as soon as SoftLayer responds to the ticket, User A will be notified (as usual), and the distribution will get notified as well. When a network maintenance is ticket is created by SoftLayer, the distribution will be notified.

Ticket email subscriptions are additive to the current update notification structure, and they are optional. If you want to set up ticket email subscriptions on your account, create a ticket for the support department and provide us with the email addresses you'd like to subscribe to each of the ticket groups.

We hope this tool helps provide an even better customer experience for you ... If you don't mind, I'm going to head back to the lab to work with the dev team to cook up more ways to add flexibility and improvements into the customer experience.


August 9, 2012

Startup Series: Dudepins

The Catalyst startup incubator has been running at full-throttle for a while now, and I've been blown away by the killer startups that have joined the program. The best part of my job is meeting entrepreneurs who see a need in the marketplace and have a vision for how to meet that need in a targeted way, and the story behind Dudepins — one of the startups in Catalyst — is a perfect example of that kind of thinking. Their goal: Macho visual bookmarking.

Dudepins: Dudes like sharing stuff. Man up. Sign up. Pin up.

Pinterest has been getting a lot of attention since 2011, but it still hasn't really been able to penetrate the male demographic; maybe because it's been so effective at cultivating content around fashion, recipes, DIY home ideas and cute puppies (Watch College Humor's "The Fall of Pinterest," and you'll see what I mean). The Dudepins team noticed an unmet demand for a male-oriented visual bookmarking site, and they seized the opportunity to build that platform.

Their Formula: 2 dudes + 2 computers + 1 idea + infinite scotch – non-infinite income = Dudepins!

Dudepins: Dudes like sharing stuff. Man up. Sign up. Pin up.

I fired off a few questions to the Dudes at Dudepins to get a little insight into how they built their business and what they'd recommend to other entrepreneurs in the same position ... They did not disappoint:

Q: How do you describe what Dudepins does?

Dudepins is a collection of montages — or personal boards — of pictures and videos, sorted into various categories. Dudepins is a place where you can easily save, share and collect everything that you find on the Internet, and you're able to organize that content into different montages (i.e. cars, style, watches, cigars, planes, food, travel, etc.). When you want to see the stuff thousands of other Dudes just like you have uploaded, we make that easy as well.

More simply: Dudes, Gentlemen, Guys, Sirs and whatever else a Man might call himself can use Dudepins to collect, save, view and browse everything associated with being a Dude.

Q: How did you find out about SoftLayer?

A: We were initially contacted by two seriously awesome Dudes: Josh Krammes and Kelley Hilborn. Both Josh and Kelley were in Vancouver on business, and fortunately, we were able to get together with them for some dinner. Sparks flew, and Dudepins was invited to join Catalyst.

Q: What has your experience been since you signed up?

A: We knew we'd get solid hosting when we signed on with SoftLayer, but we were most surprised by how far the support and benefits of Catalyst go beyond the infrastructure actually running Dudepins. The SoftLayer team has been a great resource for technical questions, and they've helped us meet several industry experts who, in turn, have provided a lot of amazing feedback about what can help us take Dudepins to the next level.

You guys (Josh, Kelley, Paul and John) are rockstars, and we highly recommend Catalyst to any startup looking for a bulletproof hosting infrastructure and network of brilliant advisers.

Q: What advice would you give to other startups?

A: It's extremely important to stay focused, motivated, goal-oriented and (most importantly) driven. Don't get married to your ideas, and don't let passions overrule logic ... especially when the sky gets cloudy.

Check out Dudepins at, and make sure you visit their "about us" page ... Trust me, it's awesome.

I hate to cut the Q&A short, but TechStars Boulder Demo Day is starting, and I have to go meet the next class of future SoftLayer customers!

If you've got a brilliant, creative, innovative or otherwise awesome startup, and you think Catalyst could be a good fit for you, make sure you hit us up from the "Apply" page on the SoftLayer Catalyst site.


July 27, 2012

SoftLayer 'Cribs' ≡ DAL05 Data Center Tour

The highlight of any customer visit to a SoftLayer office is always the data center tour. The infrastructure in our data centers is the hardware platform on which many of our customers build and run their entire businesses, so it's not surprising that they'd want a first-hand look at what's happening inside the DC. Without exception, visitors to a SoftLayer data center pod are impressed when they walk out of a SoftLayer data center pod ... even if they've been in dozens of similar facilities in the past.

What about the customers who aren't able to visit us, though? We can post pictures, share stats, describe our architecture and show you diagrams of our facilities, but those mediums can't replace the experience of an actual data center tour. In the interest of bridging the "data center tour" gap for customers who might not be able to visit SoftLayer in person (or who want to show off their infrastructure), we decided to record a video data center tour.

If you've seen "professional" video data center tours in the past, you're probably positioning a pillow on top of your keyboard right now to protect your face if you fall asleep from boredom when you hear another baritone narrator voiceover and see CAD mock-ups of another "enterprise class" facility. Don't worry ... That's not how we roll:

Josh Daley — whose role as site manager of DAL05 made him the ideal tour guide — did a fantastic job, and I'm looking forward to feedback from our customers about whether this data center tour style is helpful and/or entertaining.

If you want to see more videos like this one, "Like" it, leave comments with ideas and questions, and share it wherever you share things (Facebook, Twitter, your refrigerator, etc.).


July 26, 2012

Global IP Addresses - What Are They and How Do They Work?

SoftLayer recently released "Global IPs" to a good amount of internal fanfare, and I thought I'd share a little about it with the blog audience in case customers have questions about what Global IPs are and how they work. Simply put, Global IP addresses can be provisioned in any data center on the SoftLayer network and moved to another facility if necessary. You can point it to a server in Dallas, and if you need to perform maintenance on the server in Dallas, you can move the IP address to a server in Amsterdam to seamlessly (and almost immediately) transition your traffic. If you spin up and turn down workloads on cloud computing instances, you have the ability to maintain and a specific IP address when you completely turn down an environment, and you can quickly reprovision the IP on a new instance when you spin up the next workload.

How Do Global IPs Work?

The basics of how the Internet works are simple: Packets are sent between you and a server somewhere based on the location of the content you've requested. That location is pinpointed by an IP address that is assigned to a specific server or cloud. Often for various reasons, blocks of IP addresses are provisioned in one region or location, so Global IPs are a bit of a departure from the norm.

When you're sending/receiving packets, you might thing the packets "know" the exact physical destination as soon as they're directed to an IP address, but in practice, they don't have to ... The packets are forwarded along a path of devices with a general idea of where the exact location will be, but the primary concern of each device is to get the all packets to the next hop in the network path as quickly as possible by using default routes and routing tables. As an example, let's follow a packet as it comes from an external webserver and detail how it gets back to your machine:

  1. The external webserver sends the packet to a local switch.
  2. The switch passes it to a router.
  3. The packet traverses a number of network hops (other routers) and enters the Softlayer network at one of the backbone routers (BBR).
  4. The BBR looks at the IP destination and compares it to a table shared and updated with the other routers on SoftLayer's network, and it locates the subnet the IP belongs to.
  5. The BBR determines behind which distribution aggregate router (DAR) the IP is located, then it to the closest BBR to that DAR.
  6. The DAR gets the packet, looks at its own tables, and finds the front-end customer router (FCR) that the subnet lives on, and sends it there.
  7. The FCR routes the packet to the front-end customer switch (FCS) that has that IP mapped to the proper MAC address.
  8. The switch then delivers the packet through the proper switchport.
  9. Your server gets the packet from the FCS, and the kernel goes, "Oh yes, that IP on the public port, I'll accept this now."

All of those steps happen in an instant, and for you to be reading this blog, the packets carrying this content would have followed a similar pattern to the browser on your computer.

The process is slightly different when it comes to Global IP addresses. When a packet is destined for a Global IP, as soon as it gets onto the SoftLayer network (step 4 above), the routing process changes.

We allocate subnets of IP addresses specifically to the Global IP address pool, and we tell all the BBRs that these IPs are special. When you order a global IP, we peel off one of those IPs and add a static route to your chosen server's IP address, and then tell all the BBRs that route. Rather than the server's IP being an endpoint, the network is expecting your server to act as a router, and do something with the packet when it is received. I know that could sound a little confusing since we aren't really using the server as a router, so let's follow a packet to your Global IP (following the first three steps from above):

  1. The BBR notes that this IP belongs to one of the special Global IP address subnets, and matches the destination IP with the static route to the destination server you chose when you provisioned the Global IP.
  2. The BBR forwards the packet to the DAR, which then finds the FCR, then hands it off to the switch.
  3. The switch hands the packet to your server, and your server accepts it on the public interface like a regular secondary IP.
  4. Your server then essentially "routes" the packet to an IP address on itself.

Because the Global IP address can be moved to different servers in different locations, whenever you change the destination IP, the static route is updated in our routing table quickly. Because the change is happening exclusively on SoftLayer's infrastructure, you don't have to wait on other providers propagate the change. Think of updating your site's domain to a new IP address via DNS as an example: Even after you update your authoritative DNS servers, you have to wait for your users' DNS servers to recognize and update the new IP address. With Global IPs, the IP address would remain the same, and all users will follow the new path as soon as the routers update.

This initial release of Global IP addresses is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to functionality. The product management and network engineering teams are getting customer feedback and creating roadmaps for the future of the product, so we'd love to hear your feedback and questions. If you want a little more in-depth information about installation and provisioning, check out the Global IP Addresses page on KnowledgeLayer.


July 12, 2012

An Insider's Look at SoftLayer's Growth in Amsterdam

Last week, SoftLayer was featured on the NOS national news here in the Netherlands in a segment that allowed us to tell our story and share how we're settling into our new Amsterdam home. I've only been a SLayer for about nine months now, and as I watched the video, I started to reflect on how far we've come in such a surprisingly short time. Take a second to check it out (don't worry, it's not all in Dutch):

To say that I had to "hit the ground running" when I started at SoftLayer would be an understatement. The day after I got the job, I was on a plane to SoftLayer's Dallas headquarters to meet the team behind the company. To be honest, it was a pretty daunting task, but I was energized at the opportunity to learn about how SoftLayer became largest privately owned hosting company in the world from the people who started it. When I look back at the interview Kevin recorded with me, I'm surprised that I didn't look like a deer in the headlights. At the time, AMS01 was still in the build-out phase, so my tours and meetings in DAL05 were both informative and awe-inspiring.

When I returned to Europe, I was energized to start playing my role in the company's new pursuit of its global goals.

It didn't take long before I started seeing the same awe-inspiring environment take place in our Amsterdam facility ... So much so that I'm convinced that at least a few of the "Go Live Crew" members were superhuman. As it turns out, when you build identical data center pods in every location around the world, you optimize the process and figure out the best ways to efficiently use your time.

By the time the Go Live Crew started packing following the successful (and on-time) launch of AMS01, I started feeling the pressure. The first rows of server racks were already being filled by customers, but the massive data center space seemed impossibly large when I started thinking of how quickly we could fill it. Most of my contacts in Europe were not familiar with the SoftLayer name, and because my assigned region was Europe Middle East and Africa — a HUGE diverse region with many languages, cultures and currencies — I knew I had my work cut out for me.

I thought, "LET'S DO THIS!"

EMEA is home to some of the biggest hosting markets in the world, so my first-week whirlwind tour of Dallas actually set the stage quite nicely for what I'd be doing in the following months: Racking up air miles, jumping onto trains, attending countless trade shows, meeting with press, reaching out to developer communities and corresponding with my fellow SLayers in the US and Asia ... All while managing the day-to-day operations of the Amsterdam office. As I look back at that list, I'm amazed how the team came together to make sure everything got done.

We have come a long way.

As I started writing this blog, BusinessReview Europe published a fantastic piece on SoftLayer in their July 2012 magazine (starting on page 172) that seems to succinctly summarize how we've gotten where we are today: "Innovation Never Sleeps."

BusinessReview Europe

Our first pod is almost full of servers humming and flashing. When we go to tradeshows and conferences throughout Europe, people not only know SoftLayer, many of them are customers with servers in AMS01. That's the kind of change we love.

The best part of my job right now is that our phenomenal success in the past nine months is just a glimmer of what the future holds. Come to think of it, we're going to need some more people.


July 5, 2012

Bandwidth Utilization: Managing a Global Network

SoftLayer has over 1,750 Gbit/s of network capacity. In each of our data centers and points of presence, we have an extensive library of peering relationships and multiple 10 Gbit/s connections to independent Tier 1 carriers. We operate one of the fastest, most reliable networks on the planet, and our customers love it:

From a network operations standpoint, that means we have our work cut out for us to keep everything running smoothly while continuing to build the network to accommodate a steady increase in customer demand. It might be easier to rest on our laurels to simply maintain what we already have in place, but when you look at the trend of bandwidth usage over the past 18 months, you'll see why we need to be proactive about expanding our network:

Long Term Bandwidth Usage Trend

The purple line above plots the 95th percentile of weekly outbound bandwidth utilization on the SoftLayer network, and the red line shows the linear trend of that consumption over time. From week to week, the total usage appears relatively consistent, growing at a steady rate, but when you look a little deeper, you get a better picture of how dynamic our network actually is:

SoftLayer Weekly Bandwidth Usage

The animated gif above shows the 2-hour average of bandwidth usage on our entire network over a seven-week period (times in CDT). As you can see, on a day-to-day basis, consumption fluctuates pretty significantly. The NOC (Network Operations Center) needs to be able to accommodate every spike of usage at any time of day, and our network engineering and strategy teams have to stay ahead of the game when it comes to planning points of presence and increasing bandwidth capacity to accommodate our customers' ever-expanding needs.

But wait. There's more.

Let's go one level deeper and look a graph of the 95th percentile bandwidth usage on 5-minute intervals from one week in a single data center:

Long Term Bandwidth Usage Trend

The variations in usage are even more dramatic. Because we have thirteen data centers geographically dispersed around the world with an international customer base, the variations you see in total bandwidth utilization understate the complexity of our network's bandwidth usage. Customers targeting the Asian market might host content in SNG01, and the peaks in bandwidth consumption from Singapore will counterbalance the valleys of consumption at the same time in the United States and Europe.

With that in mind, here's a challenge for you: Looking at the graph above, if the times listed are in CDT, which data center do you think that data came from?

It would be interesting to look at weekly usage trends, how those trends are changing and what those trends tell us about our customer base, but that assessment would probably be "information overload" in this post, so I'll save that for another day.


P.S. If you came to this post expecting to see "a big truck" or "a series of tubes," I'm sorry I let you down.

July 4, 2012

Cedexis: Tech Partner Spotlight

This guest blog features Cedexis, a featured member of the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. Cedexis a content and application delivery system that offers strategies and solutions for multi-platform content and application delivery to companies focused on maximizing web performance. In this video we talk to Cedexis Co-Founder Julien Coulon.

Company Website:
Tech Partners Marketplace:

A Multi-Cloud Strategy - The Key to Expansion and Conversion

Web and mobile applications have collapsed geographic barriers to business, bringing brand and commerce experiences ever-closer to increasingly far-flung customers. While web-based business models are powerful enablers for global expansion, they also create new a new challenge in managing availability and performance across diverse and distributed markets: How do you ensure consistent web performance across all markets without investing in physical infrastructure in all of those markets?

Once a business gets its core business on a consistent and reliable provider like SoftLayer, we typically recommend that they consider a multi-cloud strategy that will spread availability and performance risk across a global infrastructure of public and private data centers, delivery networks and cloud providers. Regardless of how fantastic your core SoftLayer hosting is, the reality is that single-source dependency introduces significant business risk. Fortunately, much of that business risk can be mitigated by adding a layer of multi-cloud architecture to support the application.

Recent high-profile outages speak to the problem that multi-sourcing solves, but many web-based operations remain precariously dependent on individual hosting, CDN and cloud providers. It's a lot like having server backups: If you never need a backup that you have, that backup probably isn't worth much to you, but if you need a backup that you don't have, you'd probably pay anything to have it.

A multi-cloud strategy drives revenue and other conversions. Why? Because revenue and conversions online correlate closely with a site's availability and performance. High Scalability posted several big-name real-world examples in the article, "Latency is Everywhere and it Costs You Sales." When an alternative vendor is just one click away, performance often makes a difference measured in dollars.

How Cedexis Can Help

Cedexis was founded to help businesses see and take advantage of a multi-cloud strategy when that strategy can provide better uptime, faster page loads, reliable transactions, and the ability to optimize cost across a diverse network of platforms and providers. We built the Cedexis Radar to measure the comparative performance of major cloud and delivery network providers (demo), and with that data, we created Openmix to provide adaptive automation for cloud infrastructure based on local user demand.

In order to do that effectively, Cedexis was built to be provider-agnostic, community-driven, actionable and adaptive. We support over 100 public cloud providers. We collect performance data based on crowd-sourced user requests (which represent over 900 million measurements per day from 32,000 individual networks). We allow organizations to write custom scripts that automate traffic routing based on fine-grained policies and thresholds. And we go beyond rules-driven traffic routing, dynamically matching actual user requests with the most optimal cloud at a specific moment in time.

Getting Started with Cedexis

  1. Join the Community
    Get real-time visibility into your users' performance.
  2. Compare the Performance of Your Clouds and Devliery Network
    Make informed decisions to optimize your site performance with Radar
  3. Leverage Openmix to optimize global web performance
    Optimize web and mobile performance to serve global markets

The more you can learn about your site, the more you can make it better. We want to help our customers drive revenue, enter new markets, avoid outages and reduce costs. As a SoftLayer customer, you've already found a fantastic hosting provider, and if Openmix won't provide a provable significant change, we won't sell you something you don't need. Our simple goal is to make your life better, whether you're a geek or a suit.

-Julien Coulon, Cedexis

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
June 25, 2012

Tips from the Abuse Department: Part 2 - Responding to Abuse Reports

If you're a SoftLayer customer, you don't want to hear from the Abuse department. We know that. The unfortunate reality when it comes to hosting a server is that compromises can happen, mistakes can be made, and even the most scrupulous reseller can fall victim to a fraudulent sign-up or sly spammer. If someone reports abusive behavior originating from one of your servers on our network, it's important to be able to communicate effectively with the Abuse department and build a healthy working relationship.

Beyond our responsibility to enforce the law and our Acceptable Use Policy, the Abuse department is designed to be a valuable asset for our customers. We'll notify you of all valid complaints (and possibly highlight security vulnerabilities in the process), we'll assist you with blacklist removal, we can serve as a liaison between you and other providers if there are any problems, and if you operate an email-heavy platform or service, we can help you understand the steps you need to take to avoid activity that may be considered abuse.

At the end of the day, if the Abuse department can maintain a good rapport with our customers, both our jobs can be easier, so I thought this installment in the "Tips from the Abuse Department" series could focus on some best practices for corresponding with Abuse from a customer perspective.

Check Your Tickets

This is the easiest, most obvious recommendation I can give. You'd be surprised at how many service interruptions could be avoided if our customers were more proactive about keeping up with their open tickets. Our portal is a vital tool for your business, so make sure you are familiar with how to access and use it.

Keep Your Contact Information Current

Our ticket system will send notifications to the email address you have on file, so making sure this information is correct and current is absolutely crucial, especially if you aren't in the habit of checking the ticket system on a regular basis. You can even set a specific address for abuse notifications to be sent to, so make use of this option. The quicker you can respond to an abuse report, the quicker the complaint can be resolved, and by getting the complaint resolved quickly, you avoid any potential service interruption.

If we are unable to reach you by ticket, we may need to call you, so keep your current phone numbers on file as well.

Provide Frequent Updates

Stay in constant communication in the midst of responding to an abuse report, and adhere to the allotted timeline in the ticket. If we don't see updates that the abusive behavior is being addressed in the grace period we are able to offer, your server is at risk of disconnection. By keeping us posted about the action you're taking and the time you need to resolve the matter, we're able to be more flexible.

If a customer on your servers created a spamming script or a phishing account, taking immediate steps to mitigate the issue by suspending that customer is another great way to respond to the process while you're performing an investigation of how that activity was started. We'll still want a detailed resolution, but if the abuse is not actively ongoing we can work with you on deadlines.

Be Concise ... But Not Too Concise

One-word responses: bad. Page long responses: also not ideal. If given the option we would opt for the latter, but your goal should be to outline the cause and resolution of any reported abusive activity as clearly and succinctly as possible in order to ease communication and expedite closing of the ticket.

Responding to a ticket with, "Fixed," is not sufficient to for the Abuse department to consider the matter resolved, but we also don't need a dump of your entire log file. Before the Abuse team can close a ticket, we have to see details of how the complaint was resolved, so if you don't provide those details in your first response, you can bet we'll keep following up with you to get them. What details do we need?

Take a Comprehensive Approach

In addition to stopping the abusive activity we want to know:

  1. How/why the issue occurred
  2. What steps are being taken to prevent further issues of that nature

We understand that dealing with abuse issues can often feel like a game of Whack-A-Mole, but if you can show that you're digging a bit deeper and taking steps to avoid recurrence, that additional work is very much appreciated. Having the Abuse department consider you a proactive, ethical and responsible customer is a worthy goal.

Be Courteous

I'm ending on a similar note to my last blog post because it's just that important! We understand getting an abuse ticket is a hassle, but please remember that we're doing our best to protect our network, the Internet community and you.

Unplugging your server is a last resort for us, and we want to make sure everyone is on the same page to prevent us from getting to that last resort. In the unfortunate event that you do experience an abuse issue, please refer back to this blog — it just might save you some headaches and perhaps some unnecessary downtime.


June 20, 2012

How Do You Build a Private Cloud?

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

The Platform: Citrix CloudPlatform

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

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

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

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

The Hardware

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

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

The Hardware Configurations

A CloudPlatform environment can be broken down into these components:

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

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

SoftLayer Private Clouds

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

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

The Network Configuration

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

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

SoftLayer Private Clouds

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

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

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


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