Posts Tagged 'Partner'

September 21, 2011

UserVoice: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from UserVoice CEO Richard White. UserVoice offers a complete customer engagement solution that gives businesses a simple process for managing customer feedback and support functions all from a single, easy-to-use environment.

What NOT to Do in Support

The fact that you're reading this blog post means you probably understand social media. You probably also understand why providing great customer service is important, so I'll spare you that as well. What you may not know is that there are much better tools to provide outstanding customer service than the ones you're already using. Here are four big tips for you as you're planning your support channels:

1. Don't build a custom contact form.
Building a custom contact form on your website takes valuable time and resources away from your core business. Instead, sign up and get a widget from UserVoice (or one of our competitors) and in less than 30 seconds you'll have a contact form that supports any number of custom fields you want to add, allows you to append your own customer-specific metadata, supports attachments and, most importantly, will auto-suggest relevant FAQ articles even before the customer submits the form.

2. Don't use shared email for customer support.
It's true that you can take managing customer support via a shared email inbox pretty far. You won't really feel the pain until a couple of issues slip through the digital crack because it wasn't clear who on your team was responsible for following up with the customer. But why go through that? These days you can choose from a number of inexpensive, purpose-built tools, like UserVoice, targeted at companies that want to provide better customer service. Starting at $5/mo you can have a complete support solution that will grow with your business when you are finally ready to add that 2nd or 3rd support rep to your team.

3. Don't waste time gathering feedback on message boards.
Scanning message boards to gather user feedback sounds like a good idea, but it's really painful. Forums are both noisy and insular. Someone posts "I want you to add X" then a few people reply "+1" but then someone else says "I think X is good but only if you do Y to it." Very quickly you don't know what anyone really wants. And you especially don't have an easy way to follow-up with people directly. Worst of all, you're only hearing from a vocal minority. Casual users won't go into your forums and won't wade through 10 pages of +1's to add their voice, they'll just give up.

UserVoice Feedback gives you a better way to harness customer feedback and turn it into something useful. It starts with a simple prompt: How can we make ___insert_your_company___ better? Customers give their feedback and vote up the best ideas. It's easier for customers to get involved and give you feedback, and it's much easier for you to follow-up and keep these important customers in the loop.

4. Don't hide from your customers.
This really should be the first recommendation. The sad fact is, people still don't expect great customer service, and they certainly don't expect you to be ready and willing to listen to their feedback, especially with that small gray "contact" link buried in your footer. Show customers that their experience and their feedback is important, nay, vital to your business. Put a big link at the top of the page, or a widget on the side of it. Something that tells people you're not "business as usual." Show them you really care.

I started UserVoice because I wanted to make doing all of these things simple so that companies could focus on what really matters: building their products and communicating with their customers, not setting up all this stuff. I hope you'll find it as useful as our thousands of existing customers have in getting you back to work. :)

-Richard White, UserVoice

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
September 15, 2011

PHIL’s DC: HostingCon

HostingCon 2011 in San Diego may have been a huge success for SoftLayer, but I walked away with a different experience following my intense pursuit of building the PHIL's DC brand. Apparently, the hosting industry wants to see my data center succeed before they believe it, and I think it's really just fear rearing its ugly head. People are afraid of what they don't understand, so the uninitiated would probably be terrified as they try to learn what I'm doing.

In an effort to help some of the bigger names in the hosting industry get in on the ground floor of PHIL's DC, I took a stroll down the HostingCon aisles. Vendors like Parallels and cPanel were obvious choices to discuss business partnerships, and I was sure TheWHIR wanted the scoop on the next big thing in hosting, so I made sure to give them all a chance to speak with me. The documentary film team I hired (the guy I met outside the San Diego Convention Center who said he'd follow me with a camera for $3.50/hour) recorded our interactions for posterity's sake:

I'd like send shouts out to thank Candice Rodriguez from TheWHIR, Aaron Phillips from cPanel and John McCarrick from Parallels for agreeing to let us film our organic interactions. They've further inspired me to build a data center that will make these apparent "snubs" and "rejections" a thing of the past. To Summer and Natalie at the SoftLayer booth: Please stop making fun of my Server Challenge attempt every time you see me at the office ... I think I had something in my eye when I was competing, so it wasn't a fair measure of my skillz.

Oh, and if you didn't get a chance to attend our "Geeks Gone Wild" party at HostingCon, you'd probably be interested in seeing video from The Dan Band's performance of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," cPanel posted it here: http://www.vimeo.com/28160105 (NSFW language, The Dan Band take artistic license with profanity)

-PHIL

September 14, 2011

FaxLogic: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from FaxLogic CEO Eric Lenington. The unique FaxLogic service combines the best of analog fax, Internet fax, and fax servers to create a highly reliable, secure and scalable collaborative environment.

Why the (Right) Cloud is the Best Place for Your Documents

Every business produces and consumes documents — this includes both paper and digital, both those created internally and those received from customers and business partners — all needing to be sorted and organized and most needing to be safely stored and easily retrieved (and ultimately, securely disposed of when they are no longer needed). The vast majority of companies find themselves trying to do this today in highly fragmented ways and usually with radically different approaches for paper documents than with digital ones. Often different departments, or even different groups within a department, develop their own way to deal with "their" documents, a way that "works for them."

Digital documents are usually stored on in-house servers, on "shares" with folder structures that may only make sense to the person that originally built it — not to the person trying to find something in it. And few companies can say that they don't have reams of paper files stored in file rooms or in "personal" file cabinets. FaxLogic helps our customers solve this problem by seamlessly integrating their paper and digital worlds.

We do this by supporting their existing network of fax machines, scanners and multi-function printers (the "gateways" to the digital world for paper documents) and by incorporating key features of current technologies that we are all familiar with – like email and search engines – into the realm of organizing, archiving, retrieving and sharing documents. FaxLogic is a cloud-based service, running on a cloud-based infrastructure, and it uses "the cloud" to safely and securely store our customer's documents (whether paper or digital). This was no accident, and that is what I will focus on in this article, trying to "demystify" the cloud a bit, and discuss why it's the best place for your documents.

What is "the Cloud" and What Value does it Bring?
Wikipedia, one of my favorite sources for good information, defines "cloud computing" like this:

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).

As I said earlier, FaxLogic is a cloud-based service; we are the "application" (document management) that is delivered to the "client" (our customer's web browser). And we run on a cloud-based infrastructure, using providers like SoftLayer to manage the hardware layer that our application runs on and the networking layer that we use to deliver our service to our customers. Leveraging that "best of breed" infrastructure is a huge win for us, letting us focus where we add value – our application – while leaving the "plumbing" to others. Of course, a choice like that isn't made lightly.

From Wikipedia's definition, the term "shared resources" is the key. By leveraging cloud-based infrastructure and platform resources, we are able to use a small portion of a much larger and more robust environment than we could economically build ourselves. But the big kicker is that even though we are using only a small portion of that environment, we get to take advantage of the whole architecture and all its capabilities, just as if we were the only application running on it.

The "80% Rule"
An anecdotal number that's been thrown around a lot, the "80% rule" says that 80% of all businesses fail within some short time period after a major catastrophe, like a fire, flood or earthquake. But this isn't just an anecdote, numbers in the 60-90% range are real and well-documented. A study conducted by the insurance giant Chubb in 2008 put the likelihood of business failure after a fire at 70%. According to FEMA, of businesses without a disaster recovery plan already in place, 80% of those affected by hurricane Andrew in 1992 were out of business within three years. I won't bore you with a long list of depressing statistics, a quick Google search will turn up many more. The point is that data loss, whether caused by natural disaster, human error, or malicious activity, is, more often than not, very difficult to overcome.

Paper files stored in file cabinets, and even digital files stored on backed-up in-house servers, are vulnerable. Ask yourself what you would do tomorrow if even half of the documents critical to your business were destroyed tonight.

The FaxLogic Cloud Solution
Now, I don't want to suggest for one second that FaxLogic is the single solution for surviving such an event or that our platform should be thought of as a comprehensive disaster recovery solution. It is neither. But it is a critical part of the solution. When it comes to disaster recovery, Ben Franklin's "ounce of prevention" couldn't be more relevant. And as it applies to your business documents, that ounce is to get those documents out of harms way in the first place. This is where the cloud comes in.

Companies like SoftLayer provide cloud storage as a service – a highly scalable, secure environment to safely store files of virtually any kind. The architecture that such services are built on and the layers of redundancy they incorporate are beyond the reach of most small and many medium sized companies, but through the magic of cloud computing, we only need a small portion of that shared resource, while still getting to take advantage of the whole thing. The bottom line is that a well-designed cloud storage service will be hundreds or even thousands of times more reliable and durable than anything most businesses could economically build themselves, not to mention more secure.

FaxLogic takes our small portion of that shared resource, and through our application, makes it even more reliable and durable, by doing things like ensuring broad geographic distribution of multiple copies of each file, so there is no single point of failure even in the face of a major regional disaster.

Beyond the Worst Case Scenario
Secure, reliable cloud-based storage is just the basic building block that our application makes useful. Just the fact that your business documents are safer in the cloud isn't the whole story, nor is it the whole value proposition of the cloud. Beyond the worst case scenario, storing your documents in the cloud brings real and tangible benefits to your day-to-day activities. We make it easy to capture both paper and digital documents and store them in the cloud, organize and easily find your documents when you need them, collaborate and share documents while controlling who has access to confidential information, and manage everything from a simple browser-based interface.

Think about how much easier day-to-day activity would be with capabilities like being able to access a shared document library from any Internet-enabled device, instantly find a faxed copy of a purchase order from six months ago by knowing only the name of the sender, or easily pull up a client's latest work order revision without having to figure out who's desk the client's folder is on. We use the cloud to make this possible. By getting your documents out of their hiding places (stacks of paper on people's desks, file cabinets down the hall, or even "shares" on local servers) that information is more freely accessible to those who need it.

Take Action
Businesses of all sizes can and are benefiting today from a wide range of cloud-based services, most of which weren't even available five years ago. The underlying value proposition they all have in common is that they give each customer access to a small piece of a large "shared resource," one that generally wouldn't be economically feasible to build and support in-house. And each customer can take advantage of the scale and capabilities of the whole resource. When it comes to capturing, storing, organizing, retrieving and sharing documents, the cloud's value proposition offers a clear advantage over any on-site approach.

FaxLogic has built a best-in-class cloud-based application on top of best-in-class cloud-based infrastructure and platform services, giving our customers a multiple of that value proposition. By letting our customers leverage their existing equipment and without requiring radical changes to their existing business processes, we make it easy to start taking advantage of the benefits of cloud storage for all of their paper and digital documents.

-Eric Lenington, FaxLogic

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.
August 31, 2011

Verecloud: Tech Partner Spotlight

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

Cloudwrangler from Verecloud

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

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

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

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

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

Cloudwrangler Services

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

-Russel Wurth, Verecloud

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
August 17, 2011

SendGrid: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Tim Falls of SendGrid, a technology partner that provides cloud-based email infrastructure for reliable delivery, scalability, real-time analytics and flexible APIs for customers who want to focus on driving their own growth and profitability.

Company Website: http://sendgrid.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/sendgrid

Understanding the Value of [Email] Infrastructure Services

The Fall of DIY ... As We Know It
Today more than ever before, businesses depend on third party services to operate efficiently and achieve their objectives. As a business leader, you have countless web applications and software as service solutions at your fingertips, which collectively address just about any problem or demand imaginable. Examples include cloud-based file storage, cloud and dedicated web hosting, recurring billing applications, online HR management portals, APIs for telephony and geo-data, and managed email infrastructure and delivery services. Startups and established corporations alike can utilize these tools quickly and simply with a credit card and a few clicks on a trackpad.

So, what does this mean, and why is it worth recognizing and appreciating? Well, it means that your life is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. And if you fail to recognize the opportunities and advantages that these resources offer, your competitors will soon leave you in their proverbial dust ... if they haven't already.

The gist:

  • You don't have to do everything yourself anymore ... So don't!
  • Be the best at what you do, and rely on other experts to help with everything outside of your realm.

The Email Puzzle
Let's face it. Email sucks. Not email in and of itself - obviously, it is an essential part of our lives and is arguably one of the most transformative communication tools in human history. But, from a business standpoint, the implementation and maintenance of an effective and efficient email system is truly a nightmare. If there is one thing that web developers across the world can agree upon, it may be this: Successfully integrating email into a web application just ain't fun!

To better understand the challenges developers face when integrating email into their web applications, let's look at an example (fresh from my imagination). Through this discussion, we'll uncover the clear advantages of working with a partner in email infrastructure and delivery.

Let's say you're building PitLovabull.com -- a social, online community for dog owners. Sound lame? Well, it's not ... because it's "different." As the clever name indicates, it's specifically for pit bull owners and advocates. Community members interact with each other and your company in a number of ways: Forum discussions, photo sharing, commenting, direct messages, the "give a dog a bone" button (think "like") and buying cool doggy stuff. Each of these features involves email notifications ... "Sporty's owner just responded to your forum post on Healthy Dog Diets." "Barney's owner just tagged your puppy Stella in a photo." "Thanks for purchasing a new collar for Boss! We'll notify you by email when your package has shipped!"

After six months of grassroots marketing, tens of thousands of passionate pit bull owners have joined your community, and your email volume has grown from 800/week to 8,000/day (that's almost 250k/month!). As a budding bootstrapped startup, you cut costs wherever you can, and you choose to manage your own email servers. You quickly find out that server costs grow substantially as you send more mail, customers are complaining that they aren't receiving their email notifications, and your support team is stretched thin dealing with confused and frustrated customers. The end result: Poor deliverability is directly (and negatively) affecting revenue! What's more: You have no insight into what is happening to your emails - Are they being delivered? Opened? Are links within them being clicked? Have you been blacklisted by an ISP?

Upon deep reflection, you realize that your developers are spending more time on email than they spend building awesome features for the community! Plus, you find yourself, the CEO/Founder of the company, researching mundane crap like ISP rate limits, Sender Policy Framework, DKIM, and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 — a few of the less-than-interesting aspects of email that must be understood in order to achieve optimal deliverability of your notifications and newsletters.

Luckily, you just hired Joey, a fresh, young hacker who's active in the developer ecosystem and always on top of the latest technologies. While exploring PitLovabull's web hosting control panel on your SoftLayer servers, he discovers a better alternative: The Softlayer Email Delivery Service &ndahs; a hosted and managed email infrastructure that's already built for you! Joey signs up with a credit card for $150/month (which covers a full 250k emails/month), changes a few settings on your web application, and within minutes all of your email is being relayed through SendGrid.

May All Your Email Dreams Come True
A few months go by ... Email is in your customers' inboxes. Deliverability is being tracked and displayed on your web dashboard, along with open and click rates, blocks, bounces, spam reports and unsubscribes. Customer Support receives fewer emails, calls, and IM chat requests. Engineering is busy implementing a backlog of feature requests (not doing email stuff). Sales are gradually increasing and overall customer satisfaction is higher than ever.

Empowering Developers
But wait, it gets better! After researching SendGrid's APIs, you recognize the potential for extreme customization, in the form of internal and external features. Internally, the SMTP API allows you to assign a "category" to each of your emails (password reminders, purchase confirmations, etc.) and in turn collect unique statistics for each category. Externally, the Parse API allows you to receive incoming emails to your web app. In a single day, Joey codes up a new feature, and now any community member can email a picture of their pup to post@pitlovabulls.com, include a caption in the subject line, and the picture and caption are automagically posted to that user's profile!

The New Meaning of Do-It-Yourself
We all know it's difficult to trust a third party to handle the critical elements of any operation. With the help of proven SaaS models that employ advanced technology, cloud-based infrastructures and dedicated experts, companies can now feel more comfortable moving into a modern mode of doing-it-themselves: Pay a nominal monthly fee to a service that handles email (or recurring billing, or telephony), and let the service do the dirty work and liberate the brains of your brilliant developers so they can focus on innovating with the tools available to them.

I hope this story helps entrepreneurs and business leaders think smarter as they build their dream. The lessons illustrated in the context of email apply across the board. We're in a fascinating time, where building an internet business has never required less capital and has never allowed for the laser focus that is afforded to companies today. Open your toolbox, work smart, and build something that people love!

-Tim Falls, SendGrid

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.
July 27, 2011

ClickTale: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Shmuli Goldberg of ClickTale, an industry leader in customer experience analytics, providing businesses with revolutionary insights into their customers' online behavior.

Understanding the User Experience with In-Page Analytics

Since ClickTale's start back in 2006, we understood that engaging visitors on a website is the first step to increase conversions. Although traditional web analytics are great for delivering general statistics such as number of visitors or pages per visit, they leave a big black hole when it comes to understanding what happens inside the pages themselves.

ClickTale's In-Page Analytics feature set enables you to identify, observe, aggregate and analyze visitors' actual interaction inside your site, so you know exactly what page elements work, what to optimize and how to increase visitor engagement.

Our wide range of web optimization tools include Mouse Tracking, Heatmap Suite and Conversion Analytics solutions, but was our Visitor Recordings feature that started it all. Giving you a front row seat to your visitors' browsing sessions and delivering a thorough, in-depth view into what your visitors are focusing on and interacting with inside the pages themselves. All you need to do is grab the popcorn.

Our Heat maps are aggregated reports that visually display what parts of a webpage are looked at, clicked on, focused on and interacted with by your online visitors. See exactly what images, text and call to action buttons your visitors' think are hot and what's not!

Both these features allow you to instantly see how to go about optimizing your website instantly so you don't have to guess.

As a fully hosted subscription service, ClickTale is quick and easy to set up. We believe our wide range of heatmaps, behavioral analytics and full video playback make ClickTale the perfect way to round out your traditional web analytics suite. For more information, please visit www.clicktale.com.

- Shmuli Goldberg, ClickTale

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 29, 2011

Visualize ROI: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Mike Genstil of Visualize ROI, a SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partner providing a flexible platform for enabling sales and marketing professionals to place ROI models on the web in an engaging format.

Don't Tell Me ... SHOW Me the Numbers

We are living in a new world of increased corporate accountability and frugality. Thanks to unpredictable markets and unscrupulous leaders, the stakes have been raised in corporate decision-making. We have entered an "ROI revolution," where CFOs, CMOs, and CIOs are demanding detailed business cases before they will make a purchase. Questions asked of vendors by executives are, "What is the Return on Investment?" and, "What is my Total Cost of Ownership?"

Based on our research, less than 5% of companies that sell into B2B environments have an effective and efficient way of creating engaging, credible business cases for customers. Most companies that sell to businesses have developed some type of spreadsheet-based "ROI calculator" to help salespeople and customers understand the ROI. Best-in-class companies often have created multiple models – one for a "business case," one for "a competitive comparison," and one for "persona-based selling." Unfortunately, these spreadsheets are not effective for several reasons:

  • They are confusing and not easily modified
  • They suffer from version control issues
  • They don't integrate with existing CRM and marketing automation systems
  • They don't easily enable the creation of scenario comparisons
  • They can't create professional looking reports

VisualizeROI solves these problems ... and more. VisualizeROI is the first SAAS-based approach to business-case selling. We launch web-based Visualizers in days, integrate with existing systems and capture a rich set of prospect data that allows management to do analysis of customers and prospects that just isn't possible today. Salesperson customization options are available, and salespeople can be notified when customers do their own analysis. It's addictive.

To get an idea of the flexibility and functionality a "Visualizer" can provide, check out the Drive vs. Fly? Visualizer I mentioned in the video with Kevin. To see business examples, you can head to www.visualize-roi.com/examples/ to see a few of the Visualizers we created to feature the platform.

If you already have your ROI model and you want to make your own Visualizer, we're ready for you: www.visualize-roi.com/create/!

-Mike Genstil, Visualize ROI

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 15, 2011

Relenta: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome Dmitri Eroshenko from Relenta. In his guest post, Dmitri explains Relenta's inspiration and history to help you better understand how Relenta's online app can benefit your business.

Relenta

Company Website: http://www.relenta.com
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/relenta

Relenta: Get Things Done with One Click

We're all suffocating from information clutter. Our customer data and communications are scattered all over the place — multiple email accounts, social networks, CRMs and contact managers, instant messengers and chats, spreadsheets, various productivity and collaboration apps, calendars, and so on. We enter and re-enter data in different apps, which we endlessly cross-reference to reconcile discrepancies. We worry constantly that we're missing something.

At some point, we reach the threshold where pain becomes unbearable, stop and say, "There must be a better way!"

Our small software development team started working on Relenta six years ago with these very words. The idea was to take several apps our team used regularly — including email, of course — and distill them into one single program. Soon after we started building the program, we realized that by storing different types of customer records in the same backend database, we'd actually only begun the process of consolidating the information ... And that's where we started building Relenta's interface to truly streamline the process.

Instead of displaying various bits of customer information on separate screens, we created an interface that aggregated ALL data in one single activity stream. These "news feeds" provide at-a-glance views on the history of each of the customer relationships being tracked by the system. The feeds also put you in a one-click zone, from which no information is more than a single click away and no activity takes more than a single click to perform.

The rest is history. Today, Relenta is an elegant online application that lets you organize your entire customer-related life so that nothing is more than one click away.

The idea of building our platform around the one-click zone became our mantra and guiding principle. To put you into a one-click zone,
Relenta offers:

  • A unified inbox for all customer communications, including email and social network messages from LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter
  • A centralized platform for contact management, shared calendar, internal messaging, workflow management and document management
  • A built-in email marketing and email-autoresponder solution
  • A product philosophy that emphasizes disciplined process management and minimizes the number of steps it takes to get things done
  • A framework that enables asynchronous and geographically dispersed collaboration by keeping everyone and everything on the same page

As a result of this streamlined workflow, your data isn't fragmented or unnecessarily duplicated across your systems and you can be more efficient in your operations. By interlinking all communication activity between our team and each customer, we found ourselves getting twice as much work done in half the time.

If you find yourself bouncing between platforms to manage your customer relationships, Relenta might be a great fit for you. While I can talk about the value Relenta can provide and send you as many customer testimonials as you want to read, what matters is whether the app meets your needs. Check out our Live Demo and sign up for a Free Trial to put us to the test.

-Dmitri Eroshenko, Relenta

Join the one-click revolution at www.relenta.com!

June 9, 2011

Postling: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog with David Lifson from our partner Postling. Postling is an ideal social media management tool for small businesses. Postling's dashboard allows the user to take control of their online presence by aggregating all of their social media accounts in one place. David will be sharing some social media tips and tricks in a separate blog in the near future.

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.
May 18, 2011

Panopta: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Jason Abate of Panopta, a SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partner specializing in monitoring your servers and managing outages with tools and resources designed to help minimize the impact of outages to your online business.

5 Server Monitoring Best Practices

Prior to starting Panopta, I was responsible for the technology and operations side of a major international hosting company and worked with a number of large online businesses. During this time, I saw my share of major disasters and near catastrophes and had a chance to study what works and what doesn't when Murphy's Law inevitably hits.

Monitoring is a key component of any serious online infrastructure, and there are a wide range of options when it comes to monitoring tools — from commercial and open-source software that you install and manage locally to monitoring services like Panopta. The best solution depends on a number of criteria, but there are five major factors to consider when making this decision.

1. Get the Most Accurate View of Your Infrastructure
Accuracy is a dual-edged sword when it comes to monitoring that can hurt you in two different ways. Check too infrequently and you'll miss outages entirely, making you think that things are rosy when your customers or visitors are actually encountering problems. There are tools that check every 30 minutes or more, but these are useless to real production sites. You should make sure that you can perform a complete check of your systems every 60 seconds so that small problems aren't overlooked.

I've seen many people setup this high-resolution monitoring only to be hit with a barrage of alerts for frequent short-lived problems which were previously never detected. It may hurt to find this, but at least with information about the problem you can fix it once and for all.

The flip side to accuracy is that your monitoring system needs to verify outages to ensure they are real in order to avoid sending out false alerts. There's no faster way to train an operations team to ignore the monitoring system than with false alerts. You want your team to jump at alerts when they come in.

High-frequency checks that are confirmed from multiple physical locations will ensure you get the most accurate view of your infrastructure possible.

2. Monitor Every Component of Your Infrastructure
There are lots of components that make up a modern website or application, and any of them could break at any time. You need to make sure that you're watching all of these pieces, whether they're inside your firewall or outside. Lots of monitoring providers focus purely on remotely accessible network services, which are important but only one half of the picture. You also want an inside view of how your server's resources are being consumed, and how internal-only network devices (such as backend database servers) are performing.

Completeness also means that it's economically feasible to watch everything. If the pricing structure of your monitoring tool is setup in a way that makes it cost prohibitive to watch everything then the value of your monitoring setup is greatly diminished. The last thing you want to run into when troubleshooting a complex problem is to find that you don't have data about one crucial server because you weren't monitoring it.

Make sure your monitoring system is able to handle all of your server and network components and gives you a complete view of your infrastructure.

3.Notify the Right People at the Right Time
You know when the pager beeps or the phone rings about an outage, your heart beats a little faster. Of course, it's usually in the middle of the night and you're sleeping right?! As painful as it may be, you want your monitoring system to get you up when things are really hitting the fan - it's still better than hearing from angry customers (and bosses!) the next morning.

However, not all outages are created equally and you may not want to be woken up when one of your clustered webservers briefly goes down and then corrects itself a few minutes later. The key to a successful monitoring solution is to have plenty of flexibility in your notification setup including being able to setup different notification types based on the criticality of the service.

You also want to be able to escalate a problem, bringing in additional resources for long-running problems. This way outages don't go unnoticed for hours while the on-call admin who perpetually sleeps through pages gets more shut-eye.

Make sure that when it comes to notification, your monitoring system is able to work with your team's preferred setup, not the other way around.

4. Don't Just Detect Problems, Streamline Fixing Them
Sending out alerts about a problem is important, but it's just the first step in getting things back to normal. Ideally after being alerted an admin can jump in and solve whatever the problem is and life goes on. All too often though, things don't go this smoothly.

You've probably run into situations where an on-call admin is up most of the night with a problem. That's great, but when the rest of the team comes in the next morning they have no idea what was done. What if the problem comes up again? Are there important updates that need to be deployed to other servers?

Or maybe you have a big problem that attracts interest from your call center and support staff (your monitoring system did alert you before they walked up, right?) Or management from other departments interrupt to get updates on the problem so they can head off a possible PR disaster.

These are important to the operation of your business, but they pull administrators away from actually solving the problem, which just makes things worse. There should be a better way to handle these situations. Given it's central role in your infrastructure management, your monitoring system is in a great position to help streamline the problem solving process.

Make sure your monitoring system gives you tools to keep everyone on the same page by letting everyone easily communicate and log what was ultimately done to resolve the problem.

5. Demonstrate how Your Infrastructure is Performing
Your role as an administrator is to keep your infrastructure up and running. It's unfortunately a tough spot to be in - do your job really well and no one notices. But mess up, and it's clearly visible to everyone.

Solid reporting capabilities from your monitoring system give you a tool to help balance this situation. Be sure to get summary reports that can demonstrate how well things are running or make the argument for making changes and then following up to show progress. Availability reports also let you see a "big picture" view of how your infrastructure is performing that often gets lost in the chaos of day-to-day operations.

Detailed reporting gives you the data you need to accurately assess and promote the health of your infrastructure.

The Panopta Difference
There are quite a few options available for monitoring your servers, each of which come with trade offs. We've designed Panopta to focus on these five criteria, and having built on top of SoftLayer's infrastructure from the very beginning are excited to be a part of the SoftLayer Technology Marketplace.

I would encourage you to try out Panopta and other solutions and see which is the best fit to the specific requirements for your infrastructure and your team - you'll appreciate what a good night's sleep feels like when you don't have to worry about whether your infrastructure is up and running.

-Jason Abate, Panopta

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.
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