# Posts Tagged ‘portal’

May 19, 2010

## The Mad Scientist Server Inventory Ordering Formula

By in Funny, SoftLayer, Tips and Tricks

For a while now I’ve been working with Samf to learn the new server order process. SKinman asked if I could make sense of it all and try to write about it. So we started trying to come up with the exact way to represent how one chooses how much of what server needs to be ordered for which datacenter. Ultimately we came up with the following formulas:

Where P is the brain power needed (r for Red Bull, t for teetering on insanity), lambda is the brain wave length, g is the grasp concept factor (r and t again), r is the reasoning factor, sigma is the scattering effect of brain cells exploding on the inner side of the skull and f is the fudge it factor. Once you have your case of Red Bull ready say a small prayer and hit go (your head against the desk!).

Oh wait did I mention none of this really holds water because I quickly learned you have to divide and round by Samf! Rounding has no common line of thought. Sometimes 2 could be rounded up to the nearest 10, 5 or 3. Where as anything 5 and above could be rounded from minus 15 to positive 25 or hell not rounded at all! Ultimately we get to the conclusion that the true answer is “Snowmobile” or “7”. If you know any of us here at SoftLayer that’s the end all be all answer to any unicorn type question.

Maybe I should nickname Samf “Deep Thought” or “DT” for short. Deep Thought was the supercomputer from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that is used to compute the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. For those of you who didn’t read the book much less saw the movie. It takes Deep Thought 7 ½ million years to finally compute the ultimate answer which is “42”. However, know one knows the ultimate question itself. It doesn’t take Samf that long to get to Ultimate Server order answer and we most certainly know the question!

In all seriousness we take pride in using all the information that is stored in our portal and can trust that with those numbers, open communication with all our departments, historical trends and some good ole fashion common sense we can place new server orders without blinking an eye. At times it’s like Bullwinkle trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat and getting a lion instead but you don’t have to be a Mad Scientist (at least yet) to gain a grasp of the process. I will say that it’s been a pleasure learning yet another role here at SoftLayer!

Thanks Samf!

May 6, 2010

One of the defining traits of a good organization is one that listens to its people, and acts on feedback, input, compliments, and concerns. Organizations that trod along thinking everything is ‘just fine’ are doomed for failure. Imagine how you would react if everything you tried to raise up, whether it be new innovations, specific concerns, or just small tweaks fell upon deaf ears. I’m assuming that at some point you’d just give up, sputter out, and lose your motivation to do your best.

One of the great things about SoftLayer is that many ideas come from the trenches. The support team, both SysAdmins and Hardware Engineers, work with our systems daily. We know the ins and outs, and use those to quickly resolve customer concerns, handle requests, and provide the best possible support to ensure that we provide the best customer experience. Knowing our portal so well also allows us to identify shortcomings (yes, even the amazing SoftLayer portal can be improved, believe it or not). When we see an issue, or a possible improvement, we are able to bring those up through our managers to our development team. By doing so, we streamline the process to allow us to perform our jobs more efficiently. It goes without saying that by improving our internal processes, we can reduce customer downtime, and enhance the speed in which we provide upgrades, allowing our customers’ businesses to be more successful.

I have to provide a specific tip of the hat to our development team. They’re consistently bombarded with requests from the NOC, and are working tirelessly to ensure that those requests are fulfilled to the best degree possible. It is not uncommon for a developer to work all day, and then handle specific requests after hours. I wouldn’t be surprised to know that some members of our development team (I’m looking at you, Kelly…) survive on only a few hours of sleep, only to come back in during the daytime to continue crunching code (something I personally have no desire to do), and enriching our administrative, and customer experiences.

When it comes to listening to the people in the trenches, no one is too high up on the totem pole. Our COO and CEO have been known to get plenty of face time in the NOC and the datacenters. It’s not uncommon to get a quick ping from one of the managers to let us know that one of our requests have been escalated to our developers for improvement. It’s nice to look at that little piece of the portal, and know that it’s there because you addressed it. It is my humble opinion that a company is owned not solely by the investors or others with a stake in it, but by those who come in daily to ensure the continuing success of the organization. It is my belief that is what makes SoftLayer so successful – because the staff speaks, and the company listens.

January 12, 2010

By in Executive Blog, Introductions, Social Media, SoftLayer

8/24/2009 1:00PM – Just ordered 3 more servers from SL. Man I love how easy it is to order, and the provisioning time is incredible.

8/24/2009 11:45PM – Got the new servers setup; now I have redundancy for my app. G’nite.

9/04/2009 8:00AM – Suhweet, just passed 50K users for my app. Hitting the pool.

9/21/2009 6:42PM – Oops, app crashed too many users. Recovering now. Thank goodness for monitoring alerts.

9.21/2009 8:13PM – Sorry all, app back up. SL CloudLayer really helped. Their portal makes it all easy.

9/22/2009 3:13AM – Ok stayed up late tonight and added new functionality to the app and added a new app server, geographic load balancing baby!

10/6/2009 2:45PM – Thanks for all the support on the app, keep the new ideas coming. 450K users and growing.

10/31/2009 5:50PM – Happy Halloween! 627K users. Thank you!!

11/14/2009 6:02AM – Getting close 989K users. Party at 1 Million. Just added 2 new front end servers in each DC, adding cloud storage now for Data replication/protection.

11/21/2009 7:31AM– It’s finally here 1 Mil. Party time! Isn’t ad revenue the greatest. The in game pay to play money is fun too. Thanks all!

12/10/2009 4:42PM – Still growing. I was alerted that one server crashed. No users affected. Technology is cool.

12/18/2009 9:16PM– ‘Bout to go silent for the Holidays. Hope you all have good ones. See you at 1.5 million when I return.

12/19/2009 7:00AM – Decided to add a couple more cloud instances for good measure. App is smoking fast.

12/31/2009 10:45PM – Monitoring just hit my phone, at party will check asap.

12/31/2009 11:00PM – Found a netbook at the party. App is crashed. Looking.

12/31/2009 11:07 PM – WT? All servers down, hard down. SL up and friend app good on SL network. Investigating, sorry for outage.

12/31/2009 11:10 PM – Hackers? Not sure all servers affected. Ping only. Had very secure. No problem before.

12/31/2009 11:29PM – Portal password got hacked. Intruders OS reloaded every server with RedHat, turned off all CCI.

1/04/2009 6:00AM – Happy New Year, mine sucked – app back – 5000 daily users. Sad day.

While the above is completely fictional, it could happen to just about anyone. Don’t let it happen to you. No matter how long and how secure you think your password is, there is someone out there who can crack it. It is one thing keeping a server secure and most technical geniuses are very adept at doing just that. With all the time and effort it takes to keep your servers secure, you might find that you have slipped in other areas. SoftLayer is here to help in VIP Style.

The cutting edge SoftLayer portal now has optional Two Factor Authentication support using VeriSign’s Identity Protection. First, what is Two Factor Authentication? It is defined as, “something you know (password) and something you HAVE (pin number of sorts).” Here is how it works:

You buy a physical device in the form of a keychain token or a credit card token; or in the cool age of technology, you can simply get one of the free phone apps that do the same thing for you without the extra piece of equipment to carry. Once you get the device/app you would go to the portal and register the token’s unique ID and attach it to a username on the account. The master user gets this FREE and then if you want other users on your account to have this functionality it is \$3 per user per month. If the master user does turn on this functionality no one else will be allowed into the system without using two factor authentication. Once this is setup, the user will login using their “known” password and then they will also have to enter the “code” (the thing you have) on the token device or phone app to gain access. The code changes on a fast schedule so this is extremely secure. This would have made the New Year’s celebration for the person above much more fun.

One last thing, since we partnered with VeriSign you can use the token device or phone app for different sites that use the VeriSign product. PayPal is one example. Here is a complete list.

Now that you know about it, and now that we offer it, don’t be the guy that doesn’t keep the portal secure and misses out on a Happy New Year!

September 2, 2009

## SSL Comes to SoftLayer

By in Development, Introductions, SoftLayer, Technology

Those who keep a close eye on the menu options in the customer management portal will have noticed that recently there was added an option under Security where you can now order SSL certificates. For those not familiar with SSL, a certificate is used by an application to establish identity and provide encryption services. Naturally you do not have to order your SSL certificates through us. Certificates ordered other places will work just fine on your server here. Certificates ordered here will work fine elsewhere.

So why order your SSL through SoftLayer? To me, its a convenience and security thing. Ordering with us is convenient because you can place and manage the order via the portal just like you manage aspects of your account already. Management includes being able to see when your certificates are going to expire and the ability to renew them. If the certificate file itself is deleted by accident you can get a copy of it e-mailed via the portal. From a security point of view you already have a billing arrangement with us so why give your credit card information to another party?

I can see someone thinking “But is that safe.. what if I leave SoftLayer?” Yes, it is safe. The only information you have to provide to us in doing the ordering is the Certificate Signing Request and some billing verification. Both of these are things that would be provided to any SSL vendor. The private key, which is the core of SSL security, is not kept or handled by SoftLayer. The private key is generated and remains with your administration staff on your server.

Let us chat about the private key for a moment. The private key is meant to be known only by the server applications to which it is assigned on your server. If it is lost, corrupted, deleted, whatever it will require a new certificate. What this all means is that you should only allow people you really trust access to the private key and above all you must keep a good, safe backup of the file. SoftLayer support can perform quite a bit of server voodoo but recreating a lost private key isn’t an option.

I’d invite anyone with a bit of time to experiment with the SSL functionality we offer. You might find something useful for your business.

August 10, 2009

## Backups: It’s Good to Have Them!

By in Tips and Tricks

Man, was this a weekend for me and backups! The first one I needed was for my second advance free fall course at skydive101.com on Friday (My Saturday). I jumped out of the plane a little early and one of my two instructors was not ready and did not jump on my call. Thank god I had a backup. Once my shoot deploys, being this is only my second jump out of a perfectly good airplane, I look up to check my slider and make sure my parachute is deployed and everything is correct I did not see my brake handles, I said some curse words I won’t put in this blog, and then was like it is OK I have a backup. I was still at 4000 ft at this time, still having another 1500 feet to decide if I want to release my main and pull the backup, luckily I found my brake handles pulled down twice and they worked and everything was OK.

So I get home after a day of skydiving and having fun in the sun (it is rather rare in Seattle, though not this summer) and I notice my trusty old Windows XP terminal has multiple errors on it. I do the first thing I always do with my personal Microsoft machines and reboot it. Ouch no operating system found, bad hard drive! Thank god I ghosted that machine 2 weeks ago as I figured the old IDE drives had been on their last legs. Saturday morning comes around, which is a big day for me, as I am hosting a party that night at a local night club. I notice I have a few (8900) email messages on my blackberry, so I decided it is about time to delete some. I tell it to delete, look back at it and 4 minutes later it says APP ERR. PLEASE RESTART. Needless to say, you guessed it. It wouldn’t boot back up and I had to force an OS onto it, and restore from my backup of a month ago, which reminded me that I need to start backup my blackberry more often.

So the moral of the story is, it is always good to have a backup, and we have plenty of backup options for you, so if you don’t have one, I would suggest contacting SLales. I would also suggest everyone trying to skydive at least once in their lifetime.

July 8, 2009

## Encrypted Hot Chocolate

By in Tips and Tricks

Imagine this scene: you’re sitting at a local coffee shop, having a drink and browsing the web. While checking out your favorite news site you see an e-mail come in where someone is commenting on your blog post from that morning. This is odd because while you remember checking blogs, you don’t remember posting one. On investigating you find a blog post that you definitely did not create. As you look around wondering what is going on you should probably take a peek at the guy sitting in the comfy chair with his headphones on running a wireless sniffer to grab passwords out of the air.

How does this happen? The coffee shops I’ve seen all run open wireless access points. This is great for flexibility and serving the most people but if the Access Point is unencrypted it is quite possible to run an application which will listen to the wireless network and record packets. These packets can then be examined by a tool like the Wireshark application. Since the packets are not encrypted then things like username/password combos can be read in clear text from the packet.

Knowing what the problem is, how do we work around it? Since we cannot encrypt the wireless session, we’ll encrypt the data itself. One option would be to do a VPN from your laptop in the coffee shop to a location out in the world. This would channel all of your traffic out through this other system. It’s a good solution but it can be a bit technically complicated if you don’t have one already set up. If you’re really only concerned with encrypting your HTTP traffic you could use the PuTTy application to tunnel traffic via an encrypted session to a Unix server here at SoftLayer by using the OpenSSH ability to act as a SOCKS5 proxy.

When you define your connection in PuTTy you can go down to Connection > SSH > Tunnels and then place a port number, such as 8080, in the Source field. Select “Dynamic” and “Auto” then click the Add button. Connect to your Unix server here at SoftLayer. Next stop is the browser. The way I configure my browser for this is to go into Firefox > Tools > Options > Advanced > Network > Settings (under Connection). Select “Manual proxy configuration” and then in the field labeled SOCKS Host: put “127.0.0.1” and for the port use the port you specified above. Leave the type as “SOCKS v5”. Select OK and then in the URL bar type “about:config” which will let you do advanced configuration. In the filter field type in “network.proxy.socks_remote_dns”. Right click on it and select Toggle. This will mark it true.

Now if you pull up a website which will tell you the IP that you are coming from (such as http://whatismyip.com) you should see it report back the IP address of your server here at SoftLayer. This happens because Firefox has been told to use 127.0.0.1:8080 as its SOCKSv5 proxy and this traffic gets tunneled via the encrypted SSH session to your server at SoftLayer. The server here will do the DNS lookup (due to network.proxy.socks_remote_dns) and then send out the request. The response will be tunneled back to your browser.

You do have to remember to fire up the PuTTY session but this isn’t so hard since if you try and browse without it the browser tries to hit the SOCKSv5 proxy port specified and fails. Beyond that I’ve not run into any troubles using this trick.

And now I think I will head off for some hot chocolate myself.

June 15, 2009

By in Customer Service

Working the System Admin queue in the middle of the night I see lots of different kinds of tickets. One thing that has become clear over the months is that a well formed ticket is a happy ticket and a quickly resolved one. What makes a well-formed ticket? Mostly it is all about information and attention to these few suggestions can do a great deal toward speeding your ticket toward a conclusion.

Category
When you create a ticket you’re asked to choose a category for it, such as “Portal Information Question” or “Reboots and Remote Access”. Selecting the proper category helps us to triage the tickets. If you’re locked out of your server, say due to a firewall configuration, you’d use “Reboots and Remote Access”. We have certain guys who are better at CDNLayer tickets, for example, and they will seek out those kind so if you have a CDN question, you’d be best served by using that category. Avoid using Sales and Accounting tickets for technical issues as those end up first in their respective departments and not in support.

This one is a bit controversial. I’m going to state straight out… I get that some people don’t want us knowing the login information for the server. My personal server at SoftLayer doesn’t have up-to-date login information in the portal. I do this knowing that this could slow things down if I ever had to have one of the guys take a look at it while I’m not at work.

If necessary, we can ask for it in the ticket but that can cost you time that we could otherwise be addressing your issue. If you would like us to log into your server for assistance, please provide us with valid login information in the ticket form. Providing up-to-date login credentials will greatly expedite the troubleshooting process and mitigate any potential downtime, but is not a requirement for us to help with issues you may be facing.

Server Identification
If you have multiple servers with us, please make sure to clearly identify the system involved in the issue. If we have a doubt, we’re going to stop and ask you, which again can cost you time.

Problem Description
This is really the big one. When typing up the problem description in the ticket please provide as much detail as you can. Each sentence of information about the issue can cut out multiple troubleshooting steps which is going to lead to a faster resolution for you.

Example:

• Not-so-good: I cannot access my server!
• Good: I was making adjustments to the Windows 2008 firewall on my server and I denied my home IP of 1.2.3.4 instead of allowing it. Please fix.

The tickets describe the same symptom. I can guarantee though we’re going to have the second customer back into his server quicker because we have good information about the situation and can go straight to the source of the problem.

December 1, 2008

## Customer Education

By in Executive Blog, SoftLayer

With all of that functionality in the portal, one of the challenges we continuously run into is educating new customers on all of the features. Not just educating them on how to use the features – but that the features actually exist in the customer portal. A lot of our customers are either new to On-Demand IT Infrastructure Services (aka the hosting environment) or come from other competitors that only offer a fraction of the features that we are able to provide. For instance, you would be amazed at how many customers open “reboot” tickets. While we respond to tickets quickly, it is actually faster for the customer to click on the “reboot” button in the portal than to click on the “create new ticket” link in the portal and then type out a reboot request.

As ways to address that issue, we created a private customer forum so that customers can share ideas, comments and suggestions with each other. We have also not only created the KnowledgeLayer FAQ database, but we have integrated that directly into the support ticket feature of the portal (when you open a ticket, the FAQ system will automatically recommend related fixes before you even submit the ticket). We also have tutorials directly linked inside the portal and even have all of our API documentation available for review.

So one of the challenges we have at SoftLayer isn’t just creating and deploying the new features and services that keep us out in front of the pack, but educating our customers of their existence and their ease of use. BTW, that’s a great problem to have!

-SamF

November 5, 2008

## Can I Get an Update?

By in Development, Social Media

But, I subject myself to this ever-growing, streaming feed of information in the hopes that I won’t miss anything and that at some point I might learn something useful. At SoftLayer we have streamlined this process through our industry leading customer portal, where monthly, daily, and even real-time reports are filed, sorted and posted to customers’ login accounts. Our portal provides a single interface to manage and monitor customers’ servers and IT infrastructure. If only my life were as simple as having a single, manageable interface, maybe I wouldn’t have already forgotten the password I set up 20 minutes ago.

-James

November 3, 2008

## Simplicity

By in Funny, Technology

What if I asked you to guess the name of a video game that came out within the last 10 years, and has sold more copies than the Halo series, the Half-Life series AND the Metal Gear series? No, it’s not Guitar Hero or Rock Band, and it’s not Pokemon. It’s not even made by one of the “serious” game development companies. The game that I’m talking about is Bejeweled (published by PopCap), a simple online flash game that has garnered 25 million purchases and more than 350 million free downloads.

The secret to PopCap’s success lies in creating simple, easy to use games that the average person finds fun. They’ve built an entire market segment from the simple beginnings of Bejewled, and now offer more than 50 games for sale, and even more in their free download section with almost a billion downloads between them. The “casual gaming” market is so large that the Nintendo Wii has almost been completely taken over by casual games.

By why has the industry taken off so much? Sure, casual games can be easy to make. I remember whipping up a version of Bejewled in a VBA form that I built as an Excel macro so I could play it in my “business software” class in high school. The real secret is that these games are easy to pick up and play, and in that sense they’re far better than their competition for people who are busy, inexperienced, or just plain tired.

People these days have less and less free time, which means they have less time to learn the function of the right trigger in crouch mode, run mode, driving mode, flying mode, stealth mode, raspberry jam mode, etc. The instructions for Bejeweled (“Swap adjacent gems to align sets of 3 or more”) are almost as simple as the original Pong’s instructions (“Avoid missing ball for high score”).

That’s what we try to do here at SoftLayer. Our portal is specifically designed to be used by people who just don’t have the time or inclination to perform menial repetitive tasks manually. From configuring a load balancer to rebooting your servers to performing notoriously difficult SWIP requests, the portal handles it all for you. Of course, the task we’re trying to help you accomplish is a lot more complex than “avoid missing ball for high score,” but we try our best to make the process as easy as possible. Maybe with the time saved you can come up with a new business segment to send more server orders our way, but I’m betting you’ll be playing Bejewled, or Peggle, or Zuma…

-Daniel