Posts Tagged 'Phone'

September 28, 2011

A Whole New World: SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

As SLayers, our goal is always to bring creativity in every aspect of work we do at SoftLayer. It was not too long ago when the Interface Development team was presented with a new and exciting challenge: To develop a Windows Phone 7 Series app. Like me, many questioned whether we should tap into the market of Windows Phone OS ... What was the scope of this OS? What is the future of Windows Phone OS smartphones? The business relationship that NOKIA and Microsoft signed to produce smartphones with Windows Phone 7 OS will provide consumers with a new interface and unique features, so smartphone users are paying attention ... And we are too.

The SoftLayer Mobile world had already made huge strides with iPhone and Android based apps, so our work was cut out for us as we entered the Windows Phone 7 world. We put together a small, energetic and skilled group of SLayers who wanted to make SoftLayer proud, and I am proud to be a member of that team!

Our focus was to design and develop an application that would not only provide the portal functionality on mobile phone but also incorporate the awesome features of Windows Phone 7. Keeping all that in consideration, the choice of using an enterprise quality framework was essential. After a lot of research, we put our finger on the Microsoft's Patterns and Practices-backed Prism Framework for Windows Phone 7. The Prism Framework is a well-known and recognized name among Silverlight and Windows Presentation Framework developers, and since Windows Phone 7 is built upon the Silverlight and XNA Framework, our choice was clearly justified.

After selecting the framework, we wanted to make the whole asynchronous experience smooth while talking to SoftLayer's mobile API. That' where we met the cool kid on the block: Reactive Extensions for .NET (also known as Rx). The Rx is a library used to compose asynchronous and event-based programs. The learning curve was pretty intense for the team, but we operate under the mantra of CBNO (Challenging-But-Not-Overwhelming), so it was learning we knew would bear fruits.

The team's plan was to create an app that had the most frequently used features from the portal. The features to be showcased in the first release were to be basic but at the same time essential. The features we pinpointed were ticket management, hardware management, bandwidth and account management. Bringing these features to the phone posed a challenge, though ... How do we add a little more spice to what cold be a rather plain and basic app?

Windows Phone 7 controls came to our rescue and we utilized the Pivot and Panorama controls to design the Ticket Lists and Ticket Details. The pivot control works like a tabbed-style control that is viewable by sliding left or right. This lets us put the ticket-based-categories in a single view so users don't have to navigate back-and-forth to see different types of tickets. It also provides context-menu style navigation by holding onto the ticket item, giving an option to view or edit ticket with one tap. Here is a screen shot of pivot control in use to view tickets by categories and device list:

Win7 Phone Screen

Another achievement was made by using the panorama control. The control works like a long page with different relevant sections of similar content. This control was used to show a snap shot of a ticket, and the view displays basic ticket details, updates, attachments and any hardware attached to a ticket. This makes editing a ticket as easy as a tap! This is a screenshot of panorama control in use to view ticket detail:

Win7 Phone Screen

The device list view will help people see the dedicated and virtual devices in a pivot control giving a visual distinction. The list can be searched by tapping on the filter icon at the application bar. The filtering is search-as-you-type style and can be turned off by tapping the icon again. This screenshot shows the device list with a filtering option:

Win7 Phone Screen

To perform further hardware operations like pinging, rebooting and power cycling the server, you can use the hardware detail view as well. The bandwidth view may not be as flashy, but it's a very useful representation of a server's bandwidth information. Charting is not available with this release but will be available in the upcoming releases.

If you own a Windows Phone 7 device, go ahead and download "SoftLayer Mobile" and send us the feedback on what features you would like to see next and most importantly whether you love this app or not. We have and will always strive for excellence, and we know there's always room to improve!


September 7, 2009

Local Phone for (Darn Near Almost) Free

I keep my ears perked for businesses that leverage Internet infrastructure – mainly because such businesses are potential customers for SoftLayer. Occasionally, I become a customer of the businesses that I hear about.

I took the plunge with one such company after loosely watching it for a year. In the summer of 2007, a friend of mine moved his home phone service to Ooma. Basically, it is local phone service with no monthly bill. Zip. Nada. $0.00 per month. To top that off, the quality of service is very high.

Now, it’s not totally free phone service because you have to have a high speed internet connection to run it. I suspect that if you are reading this, you do. By the way, I have fiber going to my house, and I have 20 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speed. I can get 50 down and 20 up should I ever need that much bandwidth. If I wanted local phone service from my local phone company, they would provide it through this fiber (not copper) at a price of about $45 per month plus taxes and fees. That means the monthly bill would be about $60 when it’s all said and done.

We yanked our landline when the fiber arrived 4 years ago since each family member at that point had a cell phone. Going all cellular has been pretty much fine except for a few minor hiccups. Sometimes, one of us has been unreachable at the house because of either a dead battery, phone set to silent mode, cellular network congestion, or the fact that the ringer just can’t be heard throughout the whole house, even at full volume. None of these, however, was worth an additional $60 per month to solve.

OK, back to Ooma. My friend has had it for a year with no problem. He loves it. It works perfectly with high quality. On top of that, Ooma is now sold at Costco for one-third lower than what he paid for it. You buy the device for a one-time fee up front and never have a phone bill. After three months (usually), you’ve made your money back in savings.

So a month ago, I bought it. It took 20 minutes to set up, and I’m a finance guy. If you’re a techie, I’ll bet you’re running in 10 minutes or less. It has worked flawlessly since. The sound quality is fantastic. There are more features and add-ons than I can mention here – go browse their website for more. The snarky ad video is worth the 45 seconds to watch it. In short, I highly recommend Ooma.

To keep things balanced, the ONLY advantage I see to a copper line is if there is a power outage and your broadband modem/router is down, the local phone is down. But if your home phone is cordless with a powered base unit, the copper line is down in that case too. And if the aliens from District 9 show up, the copper lines will be flooded too I’ll bet.

Ooma is just another example of how the Internet and its supporting infrastructure is not only here to stay, but to keep growing as traditional telecom infrastructure slowly dies. At SoftLayer, we’re here to make sure our innovation supports businesses that grow by leveraging Internet infrastructure.

August 30, 2008

Telephone Support

What can be more aggravating then paying for a service that does not work? The other night I got home after a long day and go to check my email. It doesn’t take long before I realize I am unable to connect to my mail server. In a few moments, I realize my internet service is down. So like any person would in this situation, I call my ISP to see what is going on. I promptly receive a message that the DSL department is closed and I am given their working hours and am told to call back then, alternately I can email them and they will respond as quickly as they can. At this point I am floored; an ISP that does not have 24/7 phone support. As my email is down, it’s not like I can just send off an email to them which I assume wouldn’t be answered anyway until the next day. What choice do I have, I wait until the next day.

Upon calling the next day, I am greeted with a wonderful message telling me all technicians are currently assisting other customers and that my call will be answered when someone is available. After 30 minutes on hold, I finally get to talk to a live person. I go through the steps to prove I am the owner of the account and to my surprise I am told I am being transferred to someone who can help me and am immediately dumped into another call queue. So I am thinking ok, they have someone who just verifies the user and passes them to a tech. When the tech answers, I yet again go through all verification on my account (what was the purpose of the first person I talked to?). I explain that my internet connection isn’t working and explain to him the steps I have taken such as rebooting the DSL modem and router. I am told that I need to reboot the router, rather than explain I have already done this I do it again. I them again do the same to the modem even though again I have already done this.

Things go downhill from this point. I am then asked what OS I am running, not really sure what this has to do with my router not having an internet connection but I answer without thinking and tell the tech Linux. This promptly results in the tech telling me my OS is not support and that’s the problem, I need to run Windows or a Mac to use their service. I attempt to explain to the tech that it’s not an OS issue; the router doesn’t have an internet connection. This resulted in a stone wall, the tech just repeated that the OS I was using does not work with their system. I tried to explain to him that I have been using Linux on their system for over a year now. After arguing this with me for over 10 minutes, I ask to be escalated to a level 2 technician. After sitting on hold for another 10 minutes, the phone start to ring and I am dumped into another call queue.

At this point, I feel I am justifiably upset. Another tech answers and yet again I verify all information on my account. I am again asked to reboot the router and modem. Based on the way they are asking, I can tell the tech is simply reading from a script. I interrupt the tech and tell him that I have already gone through this with the last tech and while I realize it’s not his fault, I need to speak with his supervisor. I am put on hold again, just as I think I am going to be dumped into yet another call queue; a new voice picks up telling me that he is the supervisor on duty. I explain the entire situation to the person. He apologies for the inconvenience and I am forwarded directly to a level 3 technician. After only 2 minutes on the phone with the level 3 technician I am informed that there is an outage in my area and that they expect it to be corrected shortly.

When I finally got off the phone, I realized that I had spent over 2 hours on the phone and spoken to 5 different people just to be told there was a network outage. This is when I think to our own SoftLayer support system and just couldn’t imagine support running any other way. Sitting in a call queue is so incredibly frustrating, especially when your end up talking to someone who doesn’t actually know anything other than to read a script and hope something in their checklist fixes your issue. Here at SoftLayer, we have no call queues to get stuck in. When a technician answers the phone, you have just that a technician who will actually take the time to work on an issue with you to get it corrected. There is nothing more satisfying then calling into a support department, having your call answered immediately by a person who can actually help you. I am honored to be a part of this incredible support team that strives to make the customers life as easy as possible. Now if only other companies could follow this path making telephone support something you can count on rather than something you dread having to use.


August 25, 2008

Do You Know Where Your Nameserver Is?

Today we are getting back to the basics. Really simple stuff like how content gets served up on the internet. I'm going to keep things at a fairly high level, so don't flame me if I oversimplify things. I was trying to explain this to my Mom recently (Hi Mom!) and that inspired me to write this blog.

The first thing that has to happen is for the viewer to make a request by typing in a site name or clicking on a link in a web browser. That request usually has a text-based name as part of the request (like ""). Each name has a domain ("") and each domain has an authoritative nameserver to translate the name into a numerical address. That numerical address is used by the internet infrastructure to make sure the request gets to the right place. Phone numbers work the same way, so just think of an IP address (and domain name) serving the same purpose as a traditional phone number which defines the location of the “owner” of the number (at least in the landline world) based on country, region, and city.

If the nameserver for a name is slow or down, then the request will be delayed, or even worse, fail because the nameserver was not available to translate the name into an address. And if the translation fails, the viewer will not get the content he or she requested.

So, if you are running a website, you want your nameservers to be highly available and service the request as quickly as possible. Here is where I get to brag about SoftLayer a little. We provide nameserver service to our customers. Our customers can use our web portal or a sophisticated programming interface (the SoftLayer API) to manage the numerical addresses for their names. We have located nameservers at several locations and we keep the data synchronized between the sites. Our nameservers themselves have the same addresses using a technology called anycast (

What all this means is that our customers get to have their name to number translation hosted at multiple sites. This results in faster translation times and in the case of a disaster at one site, the other nameservers will still be working.

In other words, SoftLayer has very cool nameservers.


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