Posts Tagged 'Out Of Band'

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 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.

-@khazard

June 2, 2008

Lights Out!

A couple weeks ago, I made a quick stop by my friendly neighborhood drug store to pick up some film for my camera. When I came out of the store, I hopped in my car, turned the key, and then… BOOM! That’s right—there was an explosion. Nothing earth shattering, but alarming none-the-less. The explosion was certainly loud enough to turn a few heads. And it gave me a bit of a scare as there was a moment where I found myself wondering if my ex wife had finally saved up enough money to have me taken out.

After giving the smoke a few minutes to clear out, and my heart a few beats to find its way out of my throat and back into my chest, I got out and looked under the hood. Not because I know anything about what makes a car tick, but because looking under hoods is what guys do. Especially when people are watching. In fact, another guy nearby came over and looked under the hood too. And as soon as he opened his mouth I realized that like me, he was only looking under the hood because that is what guys do in these situations.

“I don’t think your battery is supposed to have a big crack down the middle like that,” he said to me.

“Me neither,” I mumbled. I suppressed the urge to ask Mr. Obvious where he went to automotive school.

“You try it again?” he asked me.

For a second I thought he was joking. Then I realized he wasn’t and more importantly that I didn’t have any better ideas. So I hunted around the engine block until I found where the top of the battery case had been propelled, just sort of laid it over the smoking remnants of the battery, then slid back into the car and tried the key. It didn’t start. When I turned the key all the lights came on, all the dials and gauges swung wildly from side to side, and then everything went dark. Lights out. I tried again. But this time there weren’t even any lights. My sporty Mazda 6 might as well have turned into a pumpkin for all the good it was going to be getting me home. So much for zoom, zoom, zoom.

“You might need to call for a tow,” said Nostradamus now standing by my car window with his hands in his pockets.

“Thanks again,” I said unenthusiastically, “I got it from here.” I hoped he’d take the hint.

He did.

I waited till I saw him drive off then tried the key one more time. Nothing. So I broke down and called the towing service. Rather than calling a friend or a taxi, I opted to walk the two miles home from the drug store. During which I had some time to think. It occurred to me that the idea I might start up my car and drive it to the nearest shop for diagnostics after it just got done blowing up in my face was pretty outlandish. And yet, that is exactly what we offer with the servers we sell at SoftLayer.

Lights Out Management (LOM) or Out Of Band Management (OOB) as it is sometimes called is a feature we include with all of our servers at SoftLayer. If you’re a current customer, you have probably noticed the “management ip address” noted for your servers in our portal. That’s exactly what I’m referring to. And while LOM is the stuff of science fiction in automobiles, in our world class servers it’s a reality. That’s right, with our OOB offerings you can:

  • Cycle the power on a server even if the operating system has crashed, locked, or otherwise blown up.
  • Start up a dead server with the push of a button.
  • Get critical readings of system health indicators like processor temperature and fan speeds, regardless of what operating system or software you have installed on that server.
  • Manipulate system BIOS and perform diagnostics remotely with full video, keyboard, and mouse support.
  • And a whole slew of other things that will make your life much much easier.

In essence, SoftLayer’s OOB management features are the next best thing to driving to one of our data centers and plugging a keyboard into your server. Maybe even better, since you don’t have to fight the traffic. It’s the sort of thing a system administrator dreams of. The sort of thing that sets SoftLayer apart from the myriad of other hosting companies out there.

As for my car, two days and two hundred dollars later it was back in my driveway. Apparently the mechanic who worked on my vehicle went to the same school of engineering as the Good Samaritan who provided me so much insight two days prior. The diagnosis, according to the invoice, was: cracked battery. Then just to give me a warm and fuzzy written in big block letters at the bottom of the page was:

IF THIS HAPPENS AGAIN BRING IT BACK IN

I can’t wait till the automotive industry catches up to SoftLayer.

-William

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