Posts Tagged 'Portal'

September 13, 2011

SoftLayer Features and Benefits - Automation

Features and benefits ... They're like husband and wife, horse and carriage, hammer and nails! They are inseparable and will always complement each other. I wanted to jump right into a key "features and benefits" analysis of one of the value propositions of the SoftLayer platform, but before I did, I want to make sure we are all on the same page about the difference between the two.

A feature is something prominent about a person, place or thing. It's usually something that stands out and makes whatever you're talking about stand out — for the purpose of this discussion it will be, at least. It could be something as simple as the new car you're buying having a front windshield or the house you're looking to buy having a garage. Maybe it's something a little more distinct like having your car's air conditioner stay cool and blow for 15 min after the ignition is switched to the ACC position when you turn your engine off while pumping gas. Maybe your house has a tank-less water heater. These examples are indeed real features, but the first two are more or less expected ... The last two make this particular car and this particular house stand out.

So where do the benefits come in? Benefits are features that are useful or profitable to you. With you being the operative word here. Think about it: If a feature does not provide any use to you, why would you care? Let's go back to the car with its unique A/C feature. What if you live in Greenland? Who cares that the A/C will stay on? You may not even care for the feature of having an air conditioner at all! Talk about that feature in Dallas, TX, where it has been over 100 degrees for the last 2 months and counting, and all of a sudden, this feature provides a real benefit!

It's now your cue to ask how all of this relates to hosting or, more specifically, SoftLayer.

{ ... Waiting for you to ask ... }

I am glad you asked! If you haven't noticed, SoftLayer boasts a wide array of features on our website, and I would like to point out some of the benefits that may not be apparent to everyone, starting with automation. You're probably aware that SoftLayer has one of the most robust and full featured automation platforms in the industry.

Automation

Think about the last time your IT director sent an email that went into your junk mail folder ... You happen to see it on Sunday night, and it reads, "Please stand up five test servers for a new project by the Monday morning meeting." You know that the vendors you typically use take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to stand up new servers, so you wouldn't have had a problem if you saw the email a week ago when it was sent — but you didn't. So to avoid getting a smudge on your perfect employee record, you stumble across softlayer.com where automation enables us to deliver your five servers in 2 hours. Talk about a benefit: You still have time to watch a little TV before going to bed ... Five servers, to your exact specifications, all deployed before you could Google the orgin of "rubber baby buggy bumbers." (For those who care, it was a tag line said by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Last Action Hero.)

At the heart of our automation platform lives the dedicated server, and the blood that courses though our network is the API. All that's left is the pretty face (which we call the Customer Portal). Our portal provides a graphical user interface to control every aspect of your account from ordering new servers, IP allocations and hardware reboots to port control, port speed selection and billing matters. If you're more into the behind-the-scenes stuff, then you can use all the same controls from the comfort of your own application via the API. Sounds like a lot of features to me, where are the benefits?

To start, you have options! Who doesn't like options? You get to choose how you want to manage your account and infrastructure. We don't force you into "our" way. Secondly, being able to do most functions yourself enables you to be more efficient. You know what you want, so you can log in and get it. No need to wait two hours for your firewall rule set to update; just log in and change it. You want to add load balancing to your account? Log in and order it! How about SAN replication? ... I think you see where I'm going with this. Our portal and automation bring this control to your computer anywhere in the world! Some of these features even extend to your iPhone and android platform. Now you can update your support tickets while at the park with the kids.

Look for a second installment of our study on SoftLayer Features and Benefits! There are many more features that I want to translate into benefits for you, so in the more familiar words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back"!

-Harold

July 14, 2011

Skinson 1634AR15 Compliance

Skinson's 1634AR15 Competency Controlled Certification of Compliance
New Compliance structure makes a compliance officer's life much easier.

Dallas -- In a world where auditor to auditor reports are out of control and we have a mountain of complex compliances to worry about, one competent compliancy controlled certification of compliance finally comes forth (and not a minute too soon).

"This new groundbreaking idea will change the lives of many competing auditing firms, law firms, accounting firms and so on," says Steve Kinman. "I spend countless hours reading controls for one report and different controls for another report, and the only difference is the verbiage and format."

The new Skinson 1634AR15 Certification combines your SAS70, SSAE16, ROC, VOC, SOC, NIST, SARBOX, PCI, OMB, ACART, CFDA, HIPAA and SAFE HARBOR compliance into a single report using a set framework that automorphs based upon which auditor is touching the report or viewing it in the state of the art Skinson Portal.

"The Skinson portal is mind-blowing," says Val Stinson. "The automorph feature is something straight out of the movies. It knows who is reading and can change the wording on the fly. This keeps auditors from scratching their heads when the words in the report don't match the words their instruction book."

The introductory price for full Skinson 1634AR15 Compliance Certification is $1,000,000 USD. This is all-inclusive and will sufficiently cover all of your compliance needs.

Contact:
Steve Kinman
skinman@softlayer.com

About Skinson
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Skinson is a fictional company that likes to poke fun at the difficult job of compliance in the world. While we find that it can be overwhelming at times, we understand that compliance is a necessary evil. We would like to note that something like we dream about above would be very nice and would save the world a ton of work and cut down on our carbon footprint considerably. If you are in a position of control and can make the above happen please help us!!

On a side note, SoftLayer will do everything we can to help you with any compliance you need. Just ask your local sales team for help, and they will find the right person and get you in contact.

-@skinman454

P.S. The actual reason for this blog post is that we just announced that the control procedures and compliance for our 11 data centers have been verified in a Service Organization Control Report (SOC 1) prepared under the terms of the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 16 (SSAE 16) by independent auditing firm Weaver.

July 1, 2011

PHIL's DC: Fine-Tuning the Idea

When Lance opened the floor for SoftLayer employees to present their ideas for "innovative" approaches to the Internet, I put together a pretty ambitious proposal. As it turns out, the idea wasn't as fully baked as I may have wanted it to be, but I came to the decision to change gears a little and take a different approach.

Completely unrelated to that personal decision to adjust the direction of the project, I had a nice little chat with Lance on the phone. We decided that the world was underready for a revolution and that a more traditional nontraditional approach was in order:

The Internet needs data centers to hold all of your pictures. SoftLayer does a great job at being a data center, but I feel like there's still an opportunity for a revolution in data center design. I have a few ideas about how the world of web hosting can be completely redefined, and with the unique resources Lance has put at my disposal, I'm fairly confident that I'll be able to create a stellar hosting platform with an unbeatable discount price structure. PHIL's DC is the future of web hosting.

- PHIL

June 21, 2011

Ghostin' the Machine - SoftLayer Customer Portal

The hosting business is a really great place to be these days. It may morph rapidly, but some things ring consistently clear. The dedicated server is one of those things. In the brief 10 years or so of my Internet hosting career, the way dedicated servers are delivered to customers and the way they are managed has gone from prop-jet to auto-pilot.

I got started in the dedicated hosting business under Lance Crosby (our current CEO) in October of 2003. At that time we had less than 100 employees, and it may have been less than 50. "Auto-provisioning" consisted of Lance offering pizza and cash bonuses for each white-box PC that we'd 'ghost' with a boot floppy using a networked imaging server (in between our support tasks of answering calls and responding to tickets). We used a popular product made by Norton* in those days to deliver servers as quickly as possible to feed what seemed like an endless demand. As time has gone by, our systems have vastly improved, and true automation is the rule now; Manual intervention, the exception.

Today, SoftLayer has 600+ employees, 80,000+ dedicated servers, 26,000+ customers and is on the verge of launching our international presence. One of the biggest reasons SoftLayer has been so successful is because we offer customers maximum control.

When you need online computing power these days, you have hundreds of choices. Most of your options are still centered on the general idea of the dedicated server, but there are variations depending on what needs are being targeted. Physical dedicated servers are now complimented by Cloud Compute Instances and Virtualized Instances to provide a more flexible platform to tailor to specific use cases. Some providers do better than others at integrating those platforms, and when we began incoporating cloud and dedicated in an integrated environment, our goal was to enable customers to control all aspects of their environment via a single 'pane of glass,' our customer portal.

If you've heard us talk about the features and functionality in the customer portal but have never seen how easy it is to actually navigate the interface, today's your lucky day:

In a nutshell, you get the kind of server control that used to require driving down to the data center, popping on your parka and performing some troubleshooting in the freezing cold cage. You may have been troubleshooting hardware cooling, wiring or other hardware issues, and you'd usually need direct console access to all the different types of servers and devices loaded on your rack.

Thankfully, those days are gone.

Now you can order a dedicated server and have it online in 2-4 hours (or a Cloud Computing Instance which can be online in 15 minutes). You can configure their private network so that they can talk to each other seamlessly; you can add firewalls, load balancing, backup services, monitoring instantly. For maintenance issues, you have the convenience of BIOS-level access via the standard KVM over IP card included in every server so you can see low-level hardware indicators like fan speeds and core temperatures and perform soft IPMI reboots. Firmware upgrades for your hard drive, motherboard, or RAID card that once required the ever-hated floppy disk can now be done with a few button clicks, and speaking of RAID cards, our systems will report back on any change to an ideal status for your disk subsystem. If that weren't enough, you've got monitoring alerts and bandwidth graphs to give you plenty of easy to reference eye-candy.

No more messy wiring, no more beeping UPS units, no more driving, no more parkas.

-Chris

*As a rather humorous aside: My former manager, Tim, got a call one night from one of the newer NOC staff. He was a systems guy, many of the internal systems were under his SysAdmin wing. He was awakened by a tech with broken English who informed him that his name was on the escalation procedures to be called whenever this server went down:

Tim: (groggily) "What is the server name?"
Tech: "G - Host - Me"
Tim: "Huh? Why did you wake me up? ... Why don't you call that hosting company? ... I don't think that's one of my boxes!"
Tech: "No, no sir, so sorry, but your name is on the escalation. Server Label is 'G' ... um 'HOSTME.'"
Tim: "Whaa? — Wait, do you mean Ghost Me?" (GHOSTME was the actual hostname for the Norton imaging server that we used for a while as our 'provisioning' platform)

Laughter ensued and this story was told many times over beers at the High Tech pub.

May 26, 2011

IPv4 Justification Changes in IMS

When IANA ran out of IPv4 blocks in February, the belts tightened yet another notch in the IPv4 world. Regional registries such as ARIN have changed how they are allocating additional IPv4 blocks to ISPs, including performing more stringent reviews to ensure efficient utilization of current allocations and reducing future allocation sizes to more fairly distribute the remaining addresses. In turn, ISPs such as SoftLayer have to more closely monitor how we assign our IPv4 space to ensure efficient utilization by our customers. In order to maximize this limited resource, we have to make changes to the way customers order and receive additional IPv4 IPs.

Being down the line from ARIN, SoftLayer's networking department has to ensure we abide by all updated ARIN policies when we issue IPv4 addresses from our available pool in order to remain eligible to receive additional resource allocations. In addition to policy compliance, we are also focused on IPv4 conservation methods such as those referenced in RFC2050. Accordingly, we've made improvements to the way that we handle IPv4 requests to better streamline the process of collecting and reviewing usage and justification details.

Every SoftLayer server comes with one public IPv4 address, and until recently was assigned 4 additional IPs (/30) statically routed to that server. Our first step of IP conservation took place earlier this year, when we ceased the practice of automatically assigning the 4 additional IPs, and only issued them by customer request.

As we move forward, were trying to be as transparent with our customers about the IPv4 justification process as we can, so we're letting you know that additional justification requirements have been imposed on all ISPs by ARIN, and the best way we can meet those requirements is to have our customers follow the same guidelines. Being SoftLayer, we're doing what we can to automate and streamline the IPv4 justification process where possible, and are therefore implementing changes in the ordering system. Beginning on June 1, you will now be presented with a brief questionnaire whenever requesting additional IPv4 addresses. We must collect the requester's contact details, number of IPs that are expected to be used immediately and within the next year, as well as a brief description of how the IPs will be used. What happens next depends on the information you have provided as well as the current IP usage on your account: either the request is automatically approved and fulfilled, or a ticket is spawned for additional manual review by one of the folks in our networking team.

When a ticket is spawned for our network folks, we will get back to you within one business day, and let you know whether we need additional details from you in order to consider the request. These manual reviews will take additional time, depending on the size and complexity of request, as well as the quality of information provided. Please be prepared that there will be some cases where we will not be able to approve a request, such as when name-based virtualization can be used for IP conservation, or when services such as SEO, email campaigns, or VPN termination are the intended use for the additional IPv4 addresses.

If you're familiar with SoftLayer's previous method of ordering additional IPv4 addresses, you might feel like we're making you jump through hoops. These "hoops" are not intended to make the process arbitrarily more difficult. Rather, they're being put in place specifically to make sure we're in the best position possible to meet customer demands with our current IPv4 allocations, and get additional allocations from ARIN before they are completely depleted.

The ISPs that have no problems giving away IPv4 addresses right now without more stringent review are also going to be the providers that have the hardest time getting additional IPv4 blocks from ARIN, and therefore will have a hard time fulfilling future customer needs. At SoftLayer we are going by the philosophy that the more cautiously we approach IPv4 depletion by justifying our customers' needs for each IPv4 address, the longer our IPv4 pool will last to meet those needs.

This is a good opportunity to mention IPv6 as the long-term solution for IPv4 address depletion. The sooner that the public Internet becomes fully IPv6-enabled, the better off the resource constraint will become. The SoftLayer network is enabled for IPv6, and you may place an order for 18.4 quintillion free IPv6 addresses for your server via our web portal today!

-Dani

February 23, 2011

A Journey into the SoftLayer Billing Portal

Since SoftLayer's merger with The Planet in November, we have been working tirelessly to combine our legacy Orbit and SoftLayer customer portals, and we've got some great news: We're ready to move all of our billing information and functionality onto the SoftLayer platform! The changes are designed to make managing your account quicker and easier. While change isn't always welcome, when you see some of the new features and functionality in the SoftLayer billing portal, we're sure you'll be as excited as we are.

Once your Orbit account's billing information is migrated to the SoftLayer portal, you will receive an email confirmation. As soon as you're ready to start exploring the new system, you can log in at http://manage.softlayer.com with your master username and password. We recommend you use the master username to log in because some users may have access restrictions in the portal, and you need to be logged into a user that has accounting access. Once you are logged in, click on the "Administrative" tab near the top-left of your page. From the drop-down menu, you will choose “Accounting" to bring you to the billing-related section on your account.

Wait ... Instead of just guiding you through the process via text, how about we walk you through a quick tour of the billing portal as a bit of show-and-tell?

In the Accounting section, you can retrieve invoices, check pricing and even see your next monthly invoice. As a legacy Orbit customer, you'll also be happy to hear that when your billing information is moved to the new portal, PayPal is available as a payment method! Among other changes, you'll also note that we have a One-Time Payment option to enable some flexibility in how your account is paid in a given month.

In the new system, you'll also notice that order reconciliation is made much simpler. You can easily view invoices by type, date or status. You can even view invoices within a specified date range and save invoices in interactive PDF or Excel formats. Updates to your user and payment information are much more accessible, too.

Our interactive invoices make it much simpler to review your equipment and the costs on your account. The interactive PDF will give you a summary of all charges broken down by type and then by server. If you click on any one of your servers, you are instantly taken to the full pricing detail of that server by component. If you have any items not listed under a server on your invoice you can use our Associate Billing Orphans section to attach unassociated items to a server.

With these invoices, you can track your costs and equipment clearly to make sure the right gear is getting charged the right amount. You can even use our Show Next Invoice feature to project costs for the following month!

We hope you'll be amazed at all the features you now have at your fingertips! Please give us your feedback so we can be sure all questions are answered!

-Nikki

February 3, 2011

Access Logs: A Look at Egypt's Current Usage

Social unrest can affect our ability to serve our customers. In Egypt, the government recently cut off nearly all access to the Internet, so customers trying to access our servers from Egyptian IP space have been largely unsuccessful. How unsuccessful?

I gathered all the netblocks assigned to Egypt (currently around 5.8 million unique IPv4 IP addresses), and I queried our customer portal access logs and API for records of those IPs. We saw a massive drop on 1/28/2011. This coincides with reports on most major news networks that Egypt’s Internet access had been crippled. Prior to the January 28, the traffic was fairly typical.

Then this happened:

Between January 28 and February 2, about 0.2% of the traffic we normally see from Egypt reached our network. That means 99.8% of traffic was stifled by the network shutdowns.

As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the Egyptian government restored Internet service, and our logs clearly corroborate that report.

-Jason

Categories: 
January 3, 2011

I'm Dreaming of TV Commercials

With GI Partners' investment into SoftLayer last August and the subsequent merger with The Planet in November, I haven't had a spare moment to write a blog. As I write this, it's just before year end 2010, and now that we are the largest privately held pure-play hosting company in the world, I sort of wonder how soon it will be before SoftLayer TV commercials start popping up. Hey, maybe one day we'll do a Super Bowl commercial! We always dream big.

Thus, I thought I'd try my hand at a script for our first commercial:

INT. IT GUY'S DESK

IT GUY is on phone to SERVER SUPPLIER.

IT GUY

We need another 50 servers as fast as you can get them to us – we are out of capacity and the big guns are demanding better email performance and lower latency for incoming orders and customer service traffic. I wish I could have them tomorrow, but…

SERVER SUPPLIER

Yeah, we can't do tomorrow. Let's see, I think I can squeeze them into next week's production run and then expedite shipping. We can probably have them on your dock in 12-14 days.

IT GUY

Oh boy. I don't know if that will be good enough. I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. I have accounting on my case about minimizing lowly utilized machines while sales, marketing, and operations whine about not keeping enough spare capacity to handle business spikes. I can't win.

SERVER SUPPLIER

Ouch. Wish I could get them there faster, but 12 days is our best-case scenario for you.

IT GUY

OK, thanks for trying. Go ahead and get them here as fast as you can.

SERVER SUPPLIER

You wanna order a few more for a cushion?

IT GUY

Not if I don't want the CFO complaining to my boss about me over ordering – again.

SERVER SUPPLIER

I understand. We'll go with the 50 for now.

IT GUY hangs up the call, still stressed out, talks to himself.

IT GUY

Geez. It'll take the full 14 days to get here. Then we have to rack them, cable them, test them, then provision them. It could be a month before they go live in production. I'm doomed.

Another employee – IT GAL – walks up. She has a cheerful, stress-free demeanor.

IT GAL

So, why do you look so 'doomed'?

IT GUY

The business units I support need 50 new servers by yesterday. I'll be lucky to have them online and in production in a month.

IT GAL

What? Why so long?

IT GUY

Well, that's how long it will take them to be built, and shipped, and racked, and cabled, and tested, and provisioned, and...

IT GAL

[Cuts him off.] You should just use SoftLayer.

IT GUY

What? Who's that?

IT GAL

That's who I use in a pinch. Heck, it's who I use most all the time for infrastructure for the groups I support.

IT GUY

How's that?

IT GAL

Here, let me drive.

IT GUY stands up. IT GAL sits down at his workstation. Move to screen shots of customer portal where applicable.

IT GAL

Here's my account at SoftLayer. Notice that I have servers as my foundation combined with cloud computing capacity that I can adjust on the fly and pay for it by the hour. If I need more power, I ramp up the cloud portion and boost my computing power in 5 minutes – not a month. Here, I'll show you. Click here, Click here and voila! I just added another cloud server. It'll be in production in 5 minutes. It's an hourly machine, so I can release it at the end of the day and it will cost me less than $20.

IT GUY

But how do your groups know that the new cloud server is out there for use?

IT GAL

I use SoftLayer's API connections. To them, it looks like any other server that's available on our corporate network.

IT GUY

It's that easy?

IT GAL

Yep.

IT GUY

So how do you comply with our backup plan guidelines and disaster recovery planning?

IT GAL

Easy. The production data lives in SoftLayer's Dallas facility. I back it all up at their Seattle facility, and the data moves over SoftLayer's private network that isn't exposed to the public internet. And all transit on the private network is free and doesn't count against my public internet bandwidth limits.

IT GUY

Speaking of bandwidth, what if one of those servers goes over its limit? Do you get hit with overage charges?

IT GAL

No. SoftLayer offers bandwidth pooling between servers as well as global load balancing. You can add it on the fly too.

IT GUY

Firewalls?

IT GAL

Also on the fly. No downtime at all.

IT GUY

Wow, I never knew a place like this existed. How do I get started? And how does your department pay for it?

IT GAL

You've got a corporate purchasing card, right?

IT GUY

Yeah.

IT GAL

Give them a call, order your servers, and pay with that card. It's a month-to-month contract. Just give 24 hours notice to cancel. Your first setup will take about 4 hours, but you'll be home at dinner tonight with your 50 new servers online. Not a month from now.

IT GUY

Thanks for the info! Boy, that's a relief.

IT GAL

After calling SoftLayer, don't forget to cancel that order of 50 to come here in a month.

IT GUY

That'll be a pleasure.

Screen fades to black. Graphics appear.

SoftLayer. It's That Easy.

-Gary

Categories: 
October 20, 2010

Happiness is a Warm Firmware Update

I thought this was pretty cool. SoftLayer has just launched a firmware upgrade tool to the customer portal. No more waiting for SoftLayer to upgrade your firmware, no more uncontrollable downtime when you don’t want it. The new upgrade tool places upgrade control firmly in the hands of customers, giving them the ability to march to their own drummer.

Simply click the relevant radio button, press update and the upgrade begins. If there is a problem, SoftLayer gets notified and we will replace any failed components to get a customer back on line. Done. How cool is that??

New Account

-@quigleymar

October 18, 2010

Another Day. Another Product.

Today, SoftLayer released an Advanced Monitoring Solution based on Nimsoft's Monitoring software suite. In a nutshell the product will give SoftLayer visibility onto a customer's server at the OS level. In addition to the great product benefit the customers receive, it will add tools to our sales and support staff to troubleshoot, diagnose and systems design.

The core product works through a piece of software that gets installed on a customer server called a robot. The robot in turn allows probes to be run on the server. The different probes collect various data points from the OS and applications. As the probes collect data they pass the information onto some intermediate backend servers, and eventually end up on our brand new HBase data warehouse (HBase is the massively scaled database for large amounts (petabytes) of data). This is the corner piece for the scalability of the offering. So, robot is the main software and the probes are the application watchers that run inside the robot framework.

There are additional features outside of the process mentioned called 'Offbox Monitors' or 'Offbox Probes.' These are probes that live on servers in the SoftLayer data center. The idea behind these is that we are able to let customers have network services they want to monitor from a remote location. An example would be url_reponse, which monitors if a url is active and passing data (along with some other pieces of data people might be interested in like response time).

What it can monitor? The better question might be what can't it monitor? The SoftLayer offer comes in three packages - Basic, Advanced and Premium. Basic is a free package that monitors core hardware (CPU, memory, disk) along with simple process and services. Advanced moves into deeper system monitoring, and Premium adds more application monitoring (like databases, web services etc.). This offering is available for hardware, Monthly CCI's and hourly CCI's - basically for everything we sell. Customers can order the software from all order forms (external, internal, cci, server etc.) as well as add the service post deployment from the advanced monitoring portal page.

The service offering has two distinctive reporting features that we call graphing and alarms. Graphing allows customers to (yep, you guessed it) graph all the data we collect. For example, we can show a graph of CPU usage over time. Alarms are notifications that services are outside of a predetermined range. For example, you could setup an alarm when CPU usage goes above 90%. Alarms can be tracked from the customer portal, or email alerts (SoftLayer calls this list 'Alarm Subscribers') can be setup by the customer.

All the features of the product are accessed via the customer portal, or via SoftLayer's internal portal. Configuration, graphing, and alarm management can all be done from one management page in the customer portal. In near real-time customers can change configurations directly on their server or cloud computing instance (CCI) for the various data points they want graph and alarm. It's pretty slick, and it adds to the SoftLayer secret sauce. We have also added a feature that allows the customer to save configurations on a particular server and “redeploy” them on different servers or future servers they may add. This feature makes it easier to scale and customize for a particular customer's needs.

As time goes on we will continue to add more probes and more features. This is just the beginning - make no mistake it's pretty damn cool.

-@quigleymar

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