Posts Tagged 'Planning'

February 3, 2014

Risk Management: 5 Tips for Managing Risk in the Cloud

Security breaches have made front-page news in recent months. With stories about Target, Neiman Marcus, Yahoo! and GoDaddy in the headlines recently, the importance of good information security practices is becoming harder and harder to ignore — even for smaller businesses. Moving your business into the cloud offers a plethora of benefits; however, those benefits do not come without their challenges. Moving your business into the cloud involves risks such as multi-tenancy, so it's important to be able to properly manage and identify these risks.

1. Know the Security Your Provider Offers
While some SaaS providers may have security baked-in, most IaaS providers (including SoftLayer) leave much of the logical security responsibility of a customer's systems to the customer. For the security measures that an infrastructure provider handles, the provider should be able to deliver documentation attesting these controls. We perform an annual SOC2 audit, so we can attest to the status of our security and availability controls as a service organization. With this information, our customers use controls from our report as part of their own compliance requirements. Knowing a provider's security controls (and seeing proof of that security) allows business owners and Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) to have peace-of-mind that they can properly plan their control activities to better prevent or respond to a breach.

2. Use the Cloud to Distribute and Replicate Your Presence
The incredible scalability and geographical distribution of operating in the cloud can yield some surprising payoff. Experts in the security industry are leveraging the cloud to reduce their patch cycles to days, not weeks or months. Most cloud providers have multiple sites so that you can spread your presence nationally, or even globally. With this kind of infrastructure footprint, businesses can replicate failover systems and accommodate regional demand across multiple facilities with the minimal incremental investment (and with nearly identical security controls).

3. Go Back to the Basics
Configuration management. Asset management. Separation of duties. Strong passwords. Many organizations get so distracted by the big picture of their security measures that they fail to manage these basic rights. Take advantage of any of your provider's tools to assist in the ‘mundane’ tasks that are vitally important to your business's overall security posture. For example, you can use image templates or post-provisioning scripts to deploy a standard baseline configuration to your systems, then track them down to the specific server room. You’ll know what hardware is in your server at all times, and if you're using SoftLayer, you can even drill down to the serial numbers of your hard drives.

4. Have Sound Incident Response Plans
The industry is becoming increasingly cognizant of the fact that it’s not a matter of if, but when a security threat will present itself. Even with exceedingly high levels of baked-in security, most of the recent breaches resulted from a compromised employee. Be prepared to respond to security incidents with confidence. While you may be physically distanced from your systems, you should be able to meet defined Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) for your services.

5. Maintain Constant Contact with Your Cloud Provider
Things happen. No amount of planning can completely halt every incident, whether it be a natural disaster or a determined attacker. Know that your hosting provider has your back when things take an unexpected turn.

With proper planning and good practice, the cloud isn't as risky and frightening as most think. If you're interested in learning a little more about the best practices around security in the cloud, check out the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA). The CSA provides a wealth of knowledge to assist business owners and security professionals alike. Build on the strengths, compensate for the weaknesses, and you and your CISO will be able to sleep at night (and maybe even sneak in a beer after work).

-Matt

April 9, 2012

Scaling SoftLayer

SoftLayer is in the business of helping businesses scale. You need 1,000 cloud computing instances? We'll make sure our system can get them online in 10 minutes. You need to spin up some beefy dedicated servers loaded with dual 8-core Intel Xeon E5-2670 processors and high-capacity SSDs for a new application's I/O-intensive database? We'll get it online anywhere in the world in under four hours. Everywhere you look, you'll see examples of how we help our customers scale, but what you don't hear much about is how our operations team scales our infrastructure to ensure we can accommodate all of our customers' growth.

When we launch a new data center, there's usually a lot of fanfare. When AMS01 and SNG01 came online, we talked about the thousands of servers that are online and ready. We meet huge demand for servers on a daily basis, and that presents us with a challenge: What happens when the inventory of available servers starts dwindling?

Truck Day.

Truck Day not limited to a single day of the year (or even a single day in a given month) ... It's what we call any date our operations team sets for delivery and installation of new hardware. We communicate to all of our teams about the next Truck Day in each location so SLayers from every department can join the operations team in unboxing and preparing servers/racks for installation. The operations team gets more hands to speed up the unloading process, and every employee has an opportunity to get first-hand experience in how our data centers operate.

If you want a refresher course about what happens on a Truck Day, you can reference Sam Fleitman's "Truck Day Operations" blog, and if you want a peek into what it looks like, you can watch Truck Day at SR02.DAL05. I don't mean to make this post all about Truck Day, but Truck Day is instrumental in demonstrating the way SoftLayer scales our own infrastructure.

Let's say we install 1,000 servers to officially launch a new pod. Because each pod has slots for 5,000 servers, we have space/capacity for 3,000-4,000 more servers in the server room, so as soon as more server hardware becomes available, we'll order it and start preparing for our next Truck Day to supplement the pod's inventory. You'd be surprised how quickly 1,000 servers can be ordered, and because it's not very easy to overnight a pallet of servers, we have to take into account lead time and shipping speeds ... To accommodate our customers' growth, we have to stay one step ahead in our own growth.

This morning in a meeting, I saw a pretty phenomenal bullet that got me thinking about this topic:

Truck Day — 4/3 (All Sites): 2,673 Servers

In nine different data center facilities around the world, more than 2,500 servers were delivered, unboxed, racked and brought online. Last week. In one day.

Now I know the operations team wasn't looking for any kind of recognition ... They were just reporting that everything went as planned. Given the fact that an accomplishment like that is "just another day at SoftLayer" for those guys, they definitely deserve recognition for the amazing work they do. We host some of the most popular platforms, games and applications on the Internet, and the DC-Ops team plays a huge role in scaling SoftLayer so our customers can scale themselves.

-@gkdog

March 26, 2012

Planning Your Server Infrastructure = Buying a House

With a little one on the way, I've been spending a good amount of my free time starting to search for a new home for my growing family. While the search continues, I've learned a thing or two about what to look for and what should be done before taking the plunge, and as I've gone through the process, I can't help but notice lot of parallels to what it's like to purchase a new server:

  • It's an Investment

    Just like purchasing a new home, deciding to purchase a server is a huge investment. As you start shopping around, the costs may seem staggering, and while most servers don't cost as much as a small home, your new server will be your business's new home online. When you consider the revenue your site will generate (and the potential cost of not being able to properly support demand), you won't want to skimp on the details. The truth is that like any investment, you can reap great rewards with proper planning and execution.

  • You Have to Know What You Need

    One of the best tips I've incorporated in my home-buying process is the need to differentiate what you want, what you need, and what you can live without. Unless you're royalty, you're likely living on a budget. As cool as it would be to live in a 10-bedroom mansion with an indoor Olympic size pool, there's a lot there that I don't need. That sort of home palace also falls way outside of my personal budget. The same could be said about a business.

    I've heard plenty of stories about companies who slash their IT budgets in order to cut costs, and even the greatest IT departments have to live within their budgets. As you're determining what your next server will be, you need to understand the purpose (and needs) of your workload: Will it be database server? An application server? Will it be an additional web head? Are you using it for mass storage? You need to plan accordingly. I'm sure you'd want a new Xeon E5-2600 server with all of the bells and whistles, but if you don't need that kind of performance, you're likely just going to burn through your budget quicker than you have to. Know your budget, know your needs and purchase your server accordingly.

  • You Should Get to Know the Neighborhood

    I don't intend on purchasing a home in a high-crime area, nor do I plan on moving into a neighborhood with exorbitant HOA dues for services I don't intend to use. Your new server is going to have a "neighborhood" as well when it comes to the network it's connected to, so if you plan on outsourcing your IT infrastructure, you should do the same research.

    You want your critical environments in a safe place, and the easiest way to get them in the right "neighborhood" is to work with a well-established host who's able to accommodate what you're doing. A $20/mo shared hosting account is great for a personal blog site, but it probably wouldn't be a good fit for a busy database server or front-end application servers for an application dependent on advertising for revenue. A mansion worth of furniture doesn't fit very well in a studio apartment.

  • You're Responsible for Maintenance

    Ask any homeowner: Continuous improvements — as well as routine maintenance &mdashl are a requirement. Failure to take care of your property can result in fines and much more costly repairs down the road. Likewise with any server, you have to do your maintenance. Keep your software up to date, practice good security protocols, and continue to monitor for problems. If you don't, you could find yourself at the mercy of malicious activity or worse — catastrophic failure. Which leads me to ...

  • You Need Insurance Against Disaster

    Homeowner's insurance protects you from disaster, and it provides indemnity in the event someone is hurt on your property. Sometimes additional insurance may be required. Many professionals recommend flood insurance to protect from flood damage not covered under a typical homeowner's insurance policy. Ask any systems administrator, and they'll tell you all about server insurance: BACKUPS. ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR DATA!!! The wrong time to figure out that your backups weren't properly maintained is when you need them, more specifically in the event of a hardware failure. It's a fact of life: Hardware can fail. Murphy's Law would suggest it will fail at the worst possible time. Maintain your backups!

I can't claim that this is the guide to buying a server, but seeing the parallels with buying a new home might be a catalyst for you to look at the server-buying process in a different light. You should consider your infrastructure an asset before you simply consider it a cost.

-Matthew

December 23, 2011

Back up Your Life: In the Clouds, On the Go

The value of our cloud options here at SoftLayer have never been more noticeable than during the holiday seasons. Such a hectic time of the year can cause a lot of stress ... Stress that can lead to human error on some of your most important projects, data and memories. Such a loss could result in weeks or even years of valuable time and memories gone.

In the past few months, I've gone through two major data-related incidents that I was prepared for, and I can't imagine what I would have done if I didn't have some kind of backups in place. In one instance, my backups were not very current, so I ended up losing two weeks worth of work and data, but every now and then, you hear horror stories of people losing (or having to pay a lot to restore) all of their data. The saddest part about the data loss is that it's so easily preventable these days with prevalent backup storage platforms. For example, SoftLayer's CloudLayer Storage is a reliable, inexpensive place to keep all of your valuable data so you're not up a creek if you corrupt/lose your local versions somehow (like dropping a camera, issuing an incorrect syntax command or simply putting a thumb-drive though the washer).

That last "theoretical" example was in fact was one of the "incidents" I dealt with recently. A very important USB thumb-drive that I keep with me at all times was lost to the evil water machine! Because the security of the data was very important to me, I made sure to keep the drive encrypted in case of loss or theft, but the frequency of my backup schedule was the crack in my otherwise well thought data security and redundancy plan. A thumb drive is probably one of the best examples of items that need an automatic system or ritual to ensure data concurrency. This is a device we carry on us at all times, so it sees many changes in data. If this data is not properly updated in a central (secure and redundant) location, then all of our other efforts to take care of that data are wasted.

My the problem with my "Angel" (the name of the now-washed USB drive) was related to concurrency rather than security, and looking back at my mistake, I see how "The Cloud" would have served as a platform to better improve the way I was protecting my data with both of those point in mind. And that's why my new backups-in-the-cloud practices let me sleep a little more soundly these days.

If you're venturing out to fight the crowds of last-minute holiday shoppers or if you're just enjoying the sights and sounds of the season, be sure your memories and keepsake digital property are part of a well designed SRCD (secure, redundant and concurrent data) structure. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when setting up your system:

  • Create a frequent back-up schedule
  • Use at least two physically separate devices
  • Follow your back-up schedule strictly
  • Automate everything you can for when you forget to execute on the previous bullet*

*I've used a few different programs (both proprietary and non-proprietary) that allow an automatic back-up to be performed when you plug your "on the go" device into your computer.

I'll keep an eye out for iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps that will allow for automatic transfers to a central location, and I'll put together a fresh blog with some ideas when I find anything interesting and worth your attention.

Have a happy Holidays!

- Jonathan

January 27, 2011

What Does it Cost (Part 3)

Determining the value of "On-Demand"
It's 2011, and as we bookend the tail part of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 in effort to close strong and get a good jump on the year, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. As it turns out, this distracted me, so it's been a while since I cranked out the previous installment of this "What Does it Cost" series.

As a quick refresher, the idea behind this series came from listening to keynote speakers in conferences this past year who harped on the necessity of getting more value for the same (or even less) budget. In What Does it Cost (Part 1), we discussed how opportunity costs are the most overlooked and important part of planning an infrastructure. In What Does it Cost (Part 2), our focus was on how your people relate to your infrastructure.

The goal of this series is to fairly assign a value to what a company like SoftLayer provides relative to the costs of doing it in-house or by using colocation.

Let's start by making sure we know what 'On-Demand' actually means: 'On-Demand' means that you get what you want when you want it and for the time it is needed. No more and no less. It pretty much takes out all opportunity costs. On–Demand is good, it is necessary, and in the future it will be the difference between successful businesses and ones that are destined to fail.

Everyone has heard the term that "time is money." Receiving server and CCI infrastructure without delay when you want them they should be valuable, right? But just how valuable is that delivery? Have you ever wished you could go back in time and change something about your past? I think we all have. If I went back and took a "risk" in the stock market, knowing what I know now, I'd be writing this blog on a platinum-plated computer. But betting on a game you've already watched isn't really risk.

Infrastructure investments are risky. In some cases, their reward will justify their risk, while in other cases, taking a risk-averse On-Demand approach provides the best outcome all around.

It's tough to assign a once-and-for-all value to On-Demand options because it is not only different for every business, but it is also different for the specific scenario that you are provided. An idea is abstract and meaningless unless we can apply it in some kind of practical application, so perhaps the best way I can illustrate the decision between going an On–Demand route is by looking at it through the lens of two scenarios:

  1. Your project your company will grow by a factor of 10 over the next years.
  2. Your company is doing a hardware refresh for an advancement you want to take advantage of.

Growth
If you have to plan these things out ahead of time, it means making commitments and spending upfront capital and time in order to get what you need in order to grow your infrastructure to meet your projections. There is a lot of uncertainty and risk. What happens if the market takes a sudden downturn and your infrastructure needs to also adapt quickly? Everything works out fine as long as the future goes according to plan, but what if the projections we got were wrong?

Even if we grow 50% (which could still be a huge feat), the fact that we planned for 1000% growth could leave us financially crippled. What if the opposite of this scenario happens and your projections underestimate your future needs? This would seem to be less risky, but in reality, not having the tools necessary to provide your services or support your clients can be even more devastating. Never underestimate the cost of not being able to deliver and keep up with demand.

Hardware Refresh
For a hardware refresh, chances are that there is new software available and new ways of doing things to maximize the potential of recent advances in hardware. Generally, I see that companies that lean away from upgrading to "new" and simply keep the status quo. Why? The risk is too high, and time invested by personnel is far too costly. It may not be appealing to take the risk on finding what will make a new solution work when the cost of that investigation is high and the results are uncertain at best.

The problem is that if you stay unaware of changes in technology you'll soon find yourself getting further and further behind. The thought of maintaining the status quo can be as dangerous as quicksand.

Comparing In-House v. Outsourced
OK, now that the scenarios are set, let's look at what would happen when we play out and in-house infrastructure vs. an outsourced On-Demand solution with SoftLayer.

In a data center environment, the decisions you make have a long term impact. Once you make your decision and spend your money to host in-house, you're fully invested in that decision. The only thing that could break from your plan is a catastrophe. The sensible thing to do is to take time to better educate yourself so you can make better decisions. That means businesses will regularly take months (I've even heard of instances taking more than a year) to devise a strategy and months more to execute the implementation of that strategy. As a result, companies try to plan in multi-year cycles (5 years seems fairly typical).

Think about this: What has happened to your business and in your own personal life in the past 3 months? Do you feel confident in predicting exactly what will happen in the next 5 years?

While SoftLayer might not be in a better position to predict what will happen in the next 5 years, we operate an 'adjustable' infrastructure, so we'll be ready for whatever may come. Instead of an upfront capital expenditure, you can pay monthly to get the newest innovations in server hardware, and you can upgrade at any time without penalty. Instead of signing the long term contracts inherent in running your own data center environment (space, power, bandwidth, software, etc.), you can have hour-by-hour terms, month-to-month at the longest.

Running your own facilities means waiting weeks/months for your hardware to arrive so that you can have it racked and put into production. SoftLayer can build you customized dedicated server configurations that can be provisioned in under four hours. Cloud Compute Instances (CCIs) can be added in minutes, and by using templates you can save even more precious work time. You can even go as far as to automate this by utilizing our API-driven customer portal.

Even if the future doesn't go according to plan when you're using an outsourced On-Demand provider, you will have succeeded in eliminating much of your long-term risk. You can make the necessary adjustments to keep your business in the best position, regardless of what happens.

To give this example some teeth I'll tell you about a customer that I recently assisted: Customer X was looking at adding four fairly stacked servers and a SAN Solution to their infrastructure. To manage that infrastructure in-house, they determined that they would need to add two employees. All in all, this was going to cost them $140K in upfront capital for the hardware, and $120K per year on personnel (if they were lucky). This was all before they could see if their current in-house data center environment could support the additional infrastructure.

As it turns out, the data center environment couldn't sustain the power, and they would be forced to re-up on three year-term contracts for more space, power, and bandwidth to move their existing infrastructure to a larger portion of their data center. This project's costs were getting out of control, but they needed to make a change to deal with business growth. The problem with executing this plan is that at the end of the day, the business growth might not be able to justify the cost of expansion.

The worst part of this is that they were "pot committed" (for any readers that play poker) because of the big-money deal on software licensing they had already executed.

SoftLayer helped them by offering different 'on-demand' ways they could get the job done. As it turned out, they were ordering enough hardware to plan 18 months out and they expected further growth on a longer time line. They were not planning around what their hardware needs were today ... which was really about a third of what they were planning to purchase in the short term. We were able to set up dedicated servers, integrate Cloud Compute Instances for short term spikes in CPU needs and work in a storage solution that could be grown as their needs increased. To top this off, we also developed an High Availability (HA) strategy that put pieces in place where they could easily shift their entire operation into a different data center in a different city, should it ever be necessary. This was an added value that they knew they couldn't come close to executing themselves.

The best part of this example is that even after about a year of service and maintaining a consistent growth pattern, they still have not spent what they would have just in paying the additional two employees they would have had to hire. SoftLayer gave them the means to save $140,000 up front and thousands per month ever since. That customer is planning on moving the rest of their infrastructure into our facilities when their current contracts run out ... They've told me every time we've spoken that they want to make this move immediately, but they are still paying for decisions they made years ago.

At least for them there is light at the end of the tunnel, and they will be truly taking control of their infrastructure.

-Doug

November 12, 2010

A Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On

General George S. Patton once said, “A good plan vigorously executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” This statement sums up the SoftLayer philosophy (well some of it anyways) - decisions are made and then quickly executed against – no paralysis by analysis here. Given the speed that the market is moving at, I think this is a good thing.

The events of the past few weeks are great evidence of a market that is moving at a rapid pace with little signs of slowing down.

  • SoftLayer opened our second DC in Dallas at the end of September. In ten days we were pushing 10 GB of traffic. Yesterday we hit 15 GB of sustained traffic.
  • Rackspace announced that they are already hosting 2 million paid users of its hosted email solution.
  • 1 million servers have been announced as registered in Cloudkick.
  • Siemens has revealed that they have 400,000 employees that interact with the HR system for a number of functions including compensation management, performance management ad career development planning via the cloud.
  • The Android version of Angry Birds was downloaded an astonishing 2 million times on its launch day. (Angry Birds publisher, Chillingo was purchased by EA for under $20 million in cash plus other “undisclosed considerations”. I keep thinking that I am in at the wrong end of this business…)
  • The US General Services Administration has announced that its Apps.gov cloud solution is going to add storage, virtualization and hosting to its portfolio. This will impact federal, state, local and tribal governments across the county. This works out to over 19 million employees, spread across thousands of departments (federal, state and local) and tens of thousands of municipalities. (SoftLayer is a part of this with strategic partners, Computer Technologies Consultants, Inc. Check out the PR stuff here.)

My suspicion is that you can pick almost any month over the previous 6 and you would find similar announcements and I suspect that they are going to continue over the next 6 months and beyond as well. The sign post seems pretty clear to me – we are in a rapidly growing market with little signs of a slowdown ahead. I don’t think this is going to be a market for the timid, companies that have a clear vision of what lays ahead and possess the ability to quickly execute against that vision will succeed. The rest will falter and miss the turn ahead. Guess where SoftLayer is going to be?

-@quigleymar

October 15, 2010

How to Stop Worrying and Love the Network

I have recently discussed the network from a couple of perspectives. I have discussed the fact that traffic continues to grow at a furious pace, and the fact that SoftLayer spends a lot of time thinking about and designing our network to keep ahead of this growth. It makes sense to extend the discussion to the customer - what does any of this mean for me?

An increase in traffic means a couple of things. It means that there are more people joining the community - they might be in places that you have not considered yet (like India), but they are there. It is also true that the services and applications that people are using are getting more varied and sophisticated. There is another Facebook or Twitter waiting to happen. It might be in India or China, but it is going to come. Trust me. The business opportunity ahead is immense.

Whether they are consciously doing it or not, customers will work through a decision tree when they are choosing a hosting partner. Key discussions ought to occur that will address what happens in the data center and what happens in the network.

  • In the Data Center - A lot of what happens in the DC is similar across providers. Hosting companies choose from the same hardware vendors, picking from the same basket of processors, memory, storage and security. I am not so sure there is significant differentiation on the hardware side. However, there are significant differentiation points when it comes to implementation. What is the time frame between ordering a service and having the service live? What happens when I need to add another server? What happens when I become the next Twitter?
  • In the Network - I think that network is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. I also think that is gets overlooked. It does not matter how good the DC is managed, or how great your application is, if your customers cannot get access to your stuff, it does not matter how many or whose processors you use or how much RAM you have onboard or what firewalls are in place or what your storage architecture looks like. The only thing that matters is if YOUR customers can use YOUR app. Nothing else, nobody else matters.

We get it - that's why SoftLayer puts terrific effort into architecting our network. It’s why we have 10 carrier partners with 1000 GB of capacity. It’s why our new Dallas facility has bonded 2X1 Gbps links to both our private and public networks. It’s why we are deploying 10 Gbps servers. And its why we are thinking about next year, not just about tomorrow.

We are ready for whatever comes next. The question is: Are you?

-@quigleymar

October 12, 2010

What Does it Cost (Part 1)

The Overview
I normally like to have a little fun in the blogs that I write and maybe even take the occasional jab at our CFO Mike Jones (all kidding aside about pink shirts and what not he is a really great guy). This blog is intended to have more of a educational goal, and since there is a lot to take into consideration I won’t be able to make any pink shirt cracks, and the reason for this is because I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past year or two in which the question that always comes up is “How does SoftLayer compare to colocation and what is the better move for me?” We’ll look into this further throughout the blog series.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Network World IT Roadmaps events in both New York and Atlanta earlier this year. Now what motivated me to put fingers to keyboard here is the perspective I gained from many people that I talked to during and after the conference. I consider myself to be fortunate to attend because it is rare that SLales staff is able to join in on the marketing campaign and work with people more on a face to face basis. Normally SoftLayer Sales member cannot really help our customers if we are not at our desk to take their calls, chats, emails, or tickets. I enjoy attending events like these because it seems that you can learn so much more speaking with someone face to face as opposed to just over a phone call or email.

Since this was not my first go around with the Network World events I was more familiar with the setup and I was able to take more in from the people speaking at the event. There are some common themes that can affect business from the technology side of things, and if you want to have growth you must invest into your own infrastructure and your own technology. If you are a small mom and pop shop that is fine with maintaining the status quo it may not be as vital for you, but then again you wouldn’t be reading this blog post now would you? The themes I saw (broken down into more simple context) were based around some basic principles.

  • A company is a grouping of people working for a common goal. Your people are your most valuable asset and it is important to put them in positions where they can be successful and ultimately you will be successful as well.
  • The Wayne Gretzky quotes of “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”, and following that up with “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” these have a common sense idea that if you are not looking to the future and figure out what is coming next then you will always be trying to catch up. If you are not innovating or growing then ultimately you are dying.
  • How can I get more? We are constantly pressured to do more with less, or at least get more out of what we already have. This is probably the biggest and most frequent question we all get no matter what our business model is and what we try to achieve.

There are, of course, many other themes than the ones I have just listed and more specific ones too. Even though I certainly took much more away these were some of the main takeaways that brought me back to an always evolving answer to the same question that every speaker seemed to dance around - “What does it cost?”

No matter how big you are or how much budget you have in place there will always be different options presented to you on how to build up your infrastructure. I have no doubt that you have asked yourself the question of what will it cost in relation to many things and possibly asked yourself in many different ways. Making comparisons to figure out what is the cost and what will give me the best possible results is the end goal we are trying to reach. But how can we get there? It can be very difficult to compare data centers to each other in an apple to apples fashion. There are simply too many variables to note in making this all come forth full stream. My goal is to try and help us all tackle this broad issue, and hopefully it will lead to more discussion about pros and cons so that it can be easier to determine the best course of action in future planning.

There are a lot of things to consider in the cost of running a data center. It seems like a never ending list of essential things that cost both money and time (which in some cases can be more valuable). In this series of blogs we’ll break specifics parts of a data center down into the basics of several areas that you’d need to consider. Once we get into the basics we’ll want to look back to ask “what does it take to run a data center?” Most often people only look at the most tangible items with the easiest metrics to apply which essentially comes down to the server hardware, power, space, and bandwidth. Sometimes these are the only things that people look at in making this decision.

Depending who you are and what you want to get out of your data center this could be close to what you’d need to consider, but for 99% of the population who has any business with a data center this only covers the basics. As a society convenience plays an ever increasing role in what we look for and in addition to this 99% looking for data center infrastructure crave things like uptime, speed, reliability, and space/opportunity for scalability and expansion. Each of these things are more than just desires, they are verified needs.

So in getting to the meat of what this blog is about I’ll quickly discuss the different things that add to the total cost beyond the obvious things of Hardware, Space, Power, and Bandwidth. I know this is already pretty long for a blog so I am turning this into a short series and I will follow up with addition blogs to go into more depth about each portion and how they can relate to each other. I will work to add insight from other customers who have asked this of themselves before in addition to giving my own experiences on this topic.

Opportunity Costs
I consider the idea of Opportunity Costs to be amongst the highest and least quantifiable aspect in running a data center. This isn’t something that will have its own blog post because of its broad nature, so instead I’ll simply tie the idea of Opportunity Cost into each other blog and how it relates to the overall discussion.

There is often a simple truth to knowing or stating that if we choose option “A” it will negate the value, relevance, and in many cases the existence of any other previously viable options. Nearly all Opportunity Costs relates back to What Does it Cost by determining what is potentially to be either gained or lost with that decision. This idea can be further broken down into risk vs. reward, and a simple business decision in knowing that if you wish to take on less risk, you’ll need to pay more for it or get less in return. The same can be said for intangibles other than risk like convenience, reliability, and speed.

Human Resource costs
Earlier, I mentioned that one of the main topics of discussion that guest speakers emphasized was that Our people are our biggest assets, but at the same time they can also easily be one of our biggest costs. I think that a lot of businesses can agree with this statement, however, the impact from how we develop our infrastructure does not often take our people and associated costs into account. Every business should have a growth model the cost of growth (or your growing pains) is often overlooked in the planning stages. We’ll look at specific situations and take into account amount of people needed running everything yourself and what that will wind up costing from just the HR standpoint.

This can get more into what is the cost of adding one more qualified employee. This is one of the biggest aspects often overlooked, because it not only takes new people you would need to hire, but how it can monopolize time and production you would get otherwise from people you already have on staff.

The value of "On-Demand" and the cost of not having it.
Have you ever heard the phrase “time is money”? What does this mean to you? What can this mean in a data center? Here we’ll focus the conversation on efficiency and the compare certain costs and benefits between different ways about achieving our goals.

We can take a look at standard processes that we may have to go through if we wish to add capacity as well as integrating new solutions with existing ones. Time has a huge value in today’s business world, and we’ll determine how having on demand infrastructure has the ability to positively impact the bottom line immensely. Having necessary tools in a truly on-demand and versatile environment will be a major point of focus in everything moving forward, and it is an important intangible factor that we should not lose sight of.

Cost of Uptime/ Redundancy
Uptime is one of the most common themes near the top of everyone’s list for data center management. We can all agree that uptime is important, but how important is it to us each individually? We will look at scenarios where if a catastrophic event were to happen we should ask ourselves what it would cost not only in terms of monetary value, but also what would that mean long term and on a strategic level.

Downtime will eventually happen in all things, but if you can plan around this to have redundancy or failover then you can alleviate this risk. So we must again ask ourselves “what will this cost?” Simply put Redundancy can and will be expensive. Generally it will cost much more than just the sum of its parts and it is easy to over look certain aspects of where you may have a “single point of failure”. At the same time we should consider what will the cost be for each additional level of redundancy that we incorporate?

Contracts
In this blog we will relate focus heavily on two main ideas: The value of time in making long term decisions and Opportunity Cost. We’ll be able to look at what having long term commitments really cost in ways that include scalability, large capital costs, accounting on physical resources and their benefits as well as limitations. Once we have this established we can also more easily determine how this can affect your decision making and your ongoing ability to do the right thing for your business.

Accounting
Different accounting practices can make a great difference in your bottom line. Carrying on additional debt, taxes, and taking depreciation can have a lot of costs that go beyond the normal operating costs. For this section I’ll warrant the help of some of our experts who have already previously run several scenarios and may be a bit more qualified than I am to speak on such matters.

In the end this study can make it easier to compare and see if SoftLayer is the right solution for you or someone you may know. I can say that SoftLayer will not be the entire solution for some companies compared to doing things yourself, however, we do make sound business sense in about 95% of cases at some capacity if not full capacity.

-Doug

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December 14, 2009

‘Tis the Season to Get Things Done

It’s the holiday season, and that means everyone is getting busier. On top of all the existing responsibilities, millions of people are going shopping for gifts, decorating their houses, and navigating the bad weather. On top of all that, many people take their time off during the holiday season!

With this kind of time crunch, it’s best for your business to lie low until after the new year, right? Not so! With all this buying, selling, and giving going on, there’s a lot of extra retail data to process. Plus, it’s the end of the calendar year, many businesses have to get their finances in order too. ALSO, all these newly purchased electronic devices are soon going to be turned on and hooked up to the Internet, where they will almost surely put a new load on your servers.

Systems and network administrators need to be prepared for this influx of new traffic. Sometimes, this means purchasing new servers. However, it’s inefficient to buy the servers so far in advance when you don’t yet know what you will need. It’s best to wait until you’re sure you will need more servers and how many to order. At another hosting company, that would be a problem. People in our industry take the holidays off, too. Lowering the number of sales people and technicians and raising the number of new server requests would normally result in a disaster.

Luckily, SoftLayer does automatic provisioning. As soon as you order your server, it will be provisioned in two to four hours. Day or night, June 3rd or December 31st, if we have it, you can have control over it in two to four hours.

And therein lies the beauty of the SoftLayer system. You don’t have to wait for US to scale your business. If you need another server, get it. When it’s ready, it will automatically be added to your account’s private network and be available to you. You can even automate your server configuration and setup. Depending on the amount of data you need to transfer to a new server, you can have another server up and running your website less than 5 hours from the time you realized you needed it.

In fact, by using the SoftLayer API (and some clever configuration scripts on your servers) you can do live scaling on your website. Using the API, you can provision new servers exactly like the ones you already have. Once they’re available, a script can mirror the configurations from an existing machine to the new machine. Use the SoftLayer API once more to add the new servers to your load balancer rotation, and you’re in business! All without relying on any humans, even yourself! Treat yourself to some R&R this holiday season, while your website continues to get things done for you.

November 11, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

I just got back in town from Las Vegas, Nevada. That town is filled with stories and you can really love it or hate it, depending on the hour (or if you are like me whether you are arriving into McCarran or departing). I had a great trip this last go around and actually made money on the tables. However, when they say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas they are really talking about your money. Never forget that the house always wins. Always. Even if you win money you’ll wind up spending it on stuff out there and perpetuating your own good time. There isn’t anything wrong with this at all. In fact I plan on coming up on the short side of the stick on both the tables and on simply spending cash when I go out that way.

I think the really interesting thing that happens when you go through “the Vegas experience” is the perceived value of a dollar. You can take it for granted that all of a sudden you are transplanted into this fantasy world that is reminiscent of Pleasure Island from the story of Pinocchio and you’ll find that you have anything and everything you could want to do, eat, drink, or experience right at your fingertips. As this begins to progress the value of a dollar plummets quickly. You start overpaying for things at a whim, tipping bigger, making bolder and even just dumber bets. I did this and I can admit that I doubled down on my 11 when the dealer was showing a 10 in blackjack. It was blind luck that I hit it and won every single time. It’s a bold and stupid bet to make, but when you are playing with house money the money doesn’t matter and it’s almost as if you are trying to give it all back. My game of choice is craps because it gives you the best odds and there is a lot of action. It’s good and bad as it can all come and go in a hurry.

I have only been to Las Vegas a handful of times, but each time there is a point where even for a second you can feel invincible – that you can’t lose. Or, that even if you do lose you won’t even care. The flight home is a completely different story. I call it the hangover flight. You may be literally hung over, but no matter what, you will start to deal with all of the actions that happened on your trip and how you will need to handle them. As soon as you touch down in your own home town things slowly start to become “real” again. Your own home can even feel somewhat foreign for a while, but you’ll quickly come to the realization that you had become a completely different person for a short time.

I have come to the conclusion that there is always risk in everything that we do. Exposing yourself to the tables of Las Vegas may carry more financial risk than your morning commute to work, but in both cases there are still risks. There are also risks that we take in setting and running a business. There are countless ways that you could be putting your business at risk without the right plan in place. From an IT perspective alone, you need to consider things like redundancy, failover, security, backups, growth, and even data loss. Knowing what is going to happen next for your business may be as likely as knowing what is going to come up on the next roll of the dice. If you know this for certain you can press your luck and come up big, but if you are not prepared you could lose everything you have on the table. It is better to be prepared.

I think of SoftLayer as the house, and remember as I said before, the house always wins. The good thing about this is that you are betting with the house. Even with this you need to bet on yourself and back up your own bet. If the bulk of your business is in your data then you need to have backups. If you absolutely need to have High Availability, then look into Clusters and Load Balancing. But remember, that you are betting with the house because SoftLayer gives you the capacity to do all of it and do it all at a very affordable price compared to trying to do it yourself and also do it without long term commitments. Long term commitments bring the most uncertainty in making moves that will positively affect your business. Imagine if a casino told you that you “had” to make 12 consecutive bets regardless of how well (or poorly) you were doing?

Coming home from Las Vegas to SoftLayer has been a very good thing and makes me thankful for where I am and what I have. There aren’t the levels of uncertainty here that are automatic with other datacenters or even other business models. SoftLayer is steady and it is very easy to get what you need here while cutting out the risk that you don’t want to deal with. SoftLayer is as much of a “sure thing” as any bet you can make!

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