Posts Tagged 'Partner'

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.
May 11, 2011

Acunote: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Gleb Arshinov of Acunote, a SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partner specializing in online project management and Scrum software.

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

Implementing Project Management in Your Business

Project management has a bit of a stigma for being a little boring. In its simplest form, project management involves monitoring and reporting progress on a given initiative, and while it sounds simple, it's often an afterthought ... if it's ever a thought at all. Acunote is in the business of making project management easy and accessible for businesses of all sizes.

I've been in and around project management for years now, and while I could talk your ear off about Acunote, I'd rather share a few "Best Practices" for incorporating project management in your business. As you begin to understand how project management principles can be incorporated into your day-to-day activities, you'll be in a better position to understand the value proposition of tools like Acunote.

Track Planning, Not Just Execution
One of the biggest mistakes many companies make as they begin to incorporate project management is the tendency to track the progress on the execution of a project. While that aspect of the project is certainly the most visible, by monitoring the behind-the-scenes planning, you have a fuller view of where the project came from, where it is now and where it is expected to go in the future. It's difficult to estimate how long projects will take, and a lot of that difficulty comes from insufficient planning. By planning what will need to be done in what order, a bigger project becomes a series of smaller progress steps with planning and execution happening in tandem.

For many projects, especially for developers, it's actually impossible to predict most of what needs to get done upfront. That doesn't mean that there isn't a predictable aspect to a given project, though. Good processes and tools can capture how much of the work was planned upfront, how much was discovered during the project, and how the project evolved as a result. In addition to giving you direction as a project moves forward, documenting the planning and execution of a given project will also give you watermarks for how far the project has come (and why).

Use Tools and Resources Wisely
It's important to note that complexity of coordinating everything in a company increases exponentially as the company grows. With fewer than ten employees working on a project in a single department, you can probably get by without being very intentional in project management, but as you start adding users and departments that don't necessarily work together regularly, project management becomes more crucial to keep everyone on the same page.

The most effective project management tools are simple to implement and easy to use ... If a project management tool is a hassle to use, no one's going to use it. It should be sort of a "home base" for individual contributors to do their work efficiently. The more streamlined project management becomes in your operating practices, the more data it can generate and the more you (and your organization's management team) can learn from it.

Make Your Distributed Team Thrive
More and more, companies are allowing employees to work remotely, and while that changes some of the operations dynamics, it doesn't have to affect productivity. The best thing you can do to manage a thriving distributed team is to host daily status meetings to keep everyone on the same page. The more you communicate, the quicker you can adjust your plans if things move off-track, and with daily meetings, someone can only be a day behind their expectations before the project's status is reevaluated. With many of the collaboration tools available, these daily meetings can be accompanied by daily progress reports and real-time updates.

Acunote is designed to serve as a simple support structure and a vehicle to help you track and meet your goals, whether they be in development, accounting or marketing. We're always happy to help companies understand how project management can make their lives easier, so if you have any questions about what Acunote does or how it can be incorporated into your business, let us know: support@acunote.com

-Gleb Arshinov, Acunote

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 4, 2011

3 Bars | 3 Questions: Community Development

I've been on the hook for a 3 Bars | 3 Questions interview for a few weeks now, and I finally found a few minutes to chat with Kevin about what's going on in the world of SoftLayer Community Development. In the past two months, we've cranked everything up to 11 with the unveiling of our Technology Incubator Program and the Technology Partners Marketplace. Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about:

Over the past few weeks, we've posted video interviews and guest blogs from a few of our featured Technology Partner Marketplace participants, and you can expect to see more where that came from as we sign on new partners with killer applications and services that we can share with our customers. If you want to be one of those new partners, fill out our quick application, and we'll get the ball rolling!

I'm looking forward to the next installment of "3 Bars | 3 Questions" because "The Mitch" - the man, the myth, the legend - will be in the hot seat.

The Mitch

-@PaulFord

April 21, 2011

Standing Cloud: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Dave Jilk of Standing Cloud, a SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partner specializing in automating cloud application deployment and streamlining management.

Standing Cloud's Application Layer for the SoftLayer Cloud

When we first came across the SoftLayer Cloud, we were impressed by the breadth of what it allowed the user to do through a web browser. Beyond the basic infrastructure capabilities of provisioning servers and storage (that you can find from other providers), the SoftLayer console and API allow full access to the networking, security, and server console capabilities of the system. It's as though you can take over the mind of a network administrator and have him or her do your bidding.

A host of networking features that come with the offering with the offering were especially exciting to us (see the end of this post for details). Now, when I say "us," I mean our Founding System Architect, Joel Wampler. Joel breathes network protocols, eats open source technology stacks for most of his meals and speaks in Linux command line. I, in contrast, wouldn't have the first idea how to make good use of those network features, but his amazement was enough to be contagious. I'm a software developer by trade, not a systems or network architect, and increasingly I'm mostly a business user ... And as I've transitioned to more of a business-centric focus, I've become the target demographic for Standing Cloud. The distinction between business users in a technical company and technical users in a business are why the Standing Cloud service is so powerful on the SoftLayer Cloud.

For business users and application developers, what we call the "dark cloud" (IaaS without an application layer) is not very useful and relatively intimidating. Business users primarily want SaaS - the ability to use applications without any consideration of the mechanics. Developers want APaaS or PaaS - the ability to customize existing applications or build them from scratch, without any (or much) consideration of the underlying technology stack or infrastructure.

Standing Cloud delivers all of this, the way it ought to be, on the SoftLayer Cloud. An end user can deploy a pre-packaged application in minutes with just a few clicks. We incorporate best practices so you take advantage of all the Standing Cloud and SoftLayer capabilities without having to know about them. As a developer, you can deploy one of these applications and then customize the code without having to think about system security configuration, memory parameters or other system administration issues. Just sync with your repository on Github or Subversion and the code will be uploaded and ready to run.

These "startup" benefits are just the beginning, though. Standing Cloud makes it easy to "move" your application - to a different server if you need more (or less) capacity, to a shared server if you are a solution provider and want to reduce the cost to your clients, or to a "test drive" if you want to experiment with an upgrade or code changes but don't want to affect the production deployment. We monitor the application and its status 24x7, and you receive notifications if it is down or performing slowly - and optionally, we can automatically revive it on a new server if the situation warrants.

If you want to open the hood, you can. Because of the way Standing Cloud deploys and manages applications, an adventurous end-user can easily access the application code and the PaaS layer. And a developer who has a special need can dive into the infrastructure layer through our browser based terminal window. Unlike most SaaS and PaaS systems, Standing Cloud keeps these details out of your hair but does not prevent you from accessing and changing them.

If you are just getting started with the SoftLayer Cloud, and you are not a system administrator, I highly recommend that you explore the Standing Cloud Application Network. Instead of being faced with the "dark cloud," you'll have more than 80 application choices (and we take requests if your favorites aren't included yet!). For developers, we offer language support for Java, Ruby, PHP, and Python.

If you are a system administrator and an existing SoftLayer customer, you may want to consider Standing Cloud as a time saver. There are so many powerful (and challenging!) capabilities to manage on SoftLayer for your complex, mission critical applications. Is deploying and locking down a server running Drupal or SugarCRM the best use of your time?

Finally, we would love to hear from you. Send an email to support@standingcloud.com, and tell us what you need, how you want to use the cloud, and what we could do better. Our users drive our product evolution, so please tell us what you think!

And for those of you who are curious about the network features I mentioned Joel salivating over at the start of the post, here are a few highlights:

  • Up to Gigabit speeds both internally and to the Internet
  • Private IP blocks are assigned as a VLAN so that other customers cannot access them
  • IPv6 capable
  • Free inbound bandwidth, and 1000GB of outbound bandwidth included
  • Ability to share an IP address across multiple machines (excellent for high availability solutions)

-Dave Jilk, Standing Cloud

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.
March 24, 2011

3 Bars | 3 Questions: SoftLayer Channel Sales

In this week's "3 Bars | 3 Questions" episode, I was nominated by Tom Blair to talk about SoftLayer's Channel Sales team and the competitive advantages our three partner programs (strategic, referral and reseller) have over our competition.

As you'll see in the video, we actually covered seven or eight questions, but the basic framework for the chat were these three:

  1. How does SoftLayer define the channel?
  2. What's happening in the SoftLayer channel program?
  3. How does SoftLayer's referral program differ from the programs offered by competitors?

Because we had quite a bit of ground to cover, the video goes about 15 minutes, but I hope it's entertaining and informative throughout. Be sure to stick around through the end of the video to hear the best analogy I can think of for SoftLayer's program.

To learn more about the new referral partner program I mention, email referral@softlayer.com, and we can fill you in.

Since we recently announced an awesome partnership with TechWildcatters, I'm looking forward to hearing what SoftLayer VP of Community Development Paul Ford has to say about what else is coming up. Paul, enjoy the hot seat!

-Drew

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