Posts Tagged 'Rack'

November 21, 2011

The SoftLayer Server Challenge - ad:tech Expertise

If you've visited SoftLayer at a large conference this year, you probably came face-to-rack with our Server Challenge. Your task: Reassemble our miniature rack of SuperMicro servers in the fastest time at the conference. To do this, you need to install twenty drive trays in five servers and connect network cables in the correct switches to mirror the server rack setup on our data centers. If you're able to score the best time, you win an iPad 2!

In the sometimes-boring world of collateral and T-shirts at trade shows, the activity around this competition stands in stark contrast. It's been huge hit everywhere we go, so if you haven't had a chance to try your hand at the challenge, I'm sure we'll bring it to several of our 2012 shows. As a way of rewarding those of you who loyally follow our blog, I thought I could give you an advantage by sharing some tips for when you're in front of the Server Challenge rack ... And to give you an idea of how important these tips can be, look at how close the top two times were at ad:tech NYC:

That's right. 17 hundredths of a second between victory and defeat. Now are you ready to take some notes?

SoftLayer Server Challenge

The Start
When you start the challenge, don't look at the timer to see if your time started ... If it doesn't start, we'll stop you. By focusing your attention on the network cables or drive trays (whichever you choose to start with), you can save yourself a half of a second.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Network Cables
You don't have to connect the network cables first, but I have to choose something to complete first, so the network cables won the coin flip. When you're connecting the network cables, it's best to grab all three cables of the same color and try to snap them in together. Plugging in the cables one-by-one requires three times the work.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Hard Drives
When you're tackling the hard drives, the key is to line up the drives and have them installed completely before moving on. My tip for installing the drives is to tilt them in on a sideways angle, not at an upwards angle. If you try and tilt the drives upwards, you'll most likely get the drive tray stuck and have to remove it to try again. If you can do it precisely, picking up two drives at one time has worked well, and our all-time record of around 54 seconds took that approach.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

One last pointer: Lock them in place immediately after installing them. If you leave the latch open, it makes it harder to get neighboring drives installed, and it's such a small incremental effort to close the latch that even if you perfect a "close all the latches" technique at the end, you'd still end up spending more time.

SoftLayer Server Challenge

The Finish
Don't forget to put both hands back on the timer to stop your time. :-)

SoftLayer Server Challenge

Now that you're equipped with some of the best Server Challenge tips and tricks, we want you to start training. In 2012, we expect to see someone complete it in under 50 seconds ... And that person probably will carry the all-time record home – along with a new iPad 2!

Keep an eye on our Event Schedule for upcoming shows, and if there's a conference where you really want to see the Server Challenge, let us know and we'll see if we can set it up.

Good Luck!

-Summer

April 22, 2009

The Tao of the Slayer

In the ever-changing world of IT, there are few times when a technician gets to relax. There are always new issues, new products/services, and long hours of investigation. However, once in awhile you find a moment of Zen in all the commotion: Rack Prep.

Recently, I had assigned myself to Rack Prep to allow my teammates to focus on their other duties. During this time, I was able to complete a large portion of the rack assembly process and release myself from the direct stresses of the IT environment in a busy NOC (network operations center).

The preparation of new racks in the datacenter is an arduous (and sometimes monotonous) task, but gives a technician time to reflect on his accomplishments and direction for his career. There are no distractions, other than the occasional dropped cage nut or screw. This allows the free mind to ponder the inner workings of itself and the body it inhabits.

I thought about the first time I had installed a rack rail. I had only been working in IT for a few months and was assigned to the task due to my lack of knowledge on the other portions of the project. I learned a lot that summer about architecture of hardware, networks, and even business.

I had time to think about how I had arrived at one of the fastest-growing host providers in the world. All the different places I had worked. I remembered the people who shared information – technical or otherwise – which had furthered my ability to solve issues – in servers and myself.

I remembered the managers and supervisors that I looked up to and hope to emulate in my current position in management. I was trying to remember all the wisdom which had been passed to me, leading me to reevaluate my approach and initiatives.

In short, the Rack Prep allowed me to reflect on all the things in my life. I was able to forget the current project while mindlessly pushing in cage nuts and look at my career from a wider perspective. Luckily, I can say that I am proud of how far I have come. Now, I have to install the cables which require much more thought. I better leave the Zen and continue with the task at hand.

.IIIi

February 4, 2008

Nnet Strikes Back

I'm not going to tell you my name for two reasons: First, I don't want a million tickets assigned to me asking if I'm crazy. Second, if I am crazy, I don't want anyone knowing it's me.

I'm not a writer myself, so I asked Shawn to write this up for me. He's a programmer, and more important a Trekkie, so he's likely to understand (and more important, believe) this story. Besides, he's written a few humorous, slightly preposterous posts for this blog, and that's very, very important.

Unlucky as I am, I was the first person to notice something strange going on. I'm a datacenter tech for the company (but I'm not going to tell you WHICH datacenter), and my job... well, I'm the power guy. I make rounds in the datacenter, checking breakers and power panels, keep an eye on voltages in the portal, that kind of thing. No power issues at the datacenter? That's because of me. So, I'm perusing the tickets and keeping an eye on things, like I should.

As I was answering a particularly interesting ticket, I received an IM from a datacenter engineer I hadn't met yet. That's not surprising; we're growing like crazy here, and I don't always get the "Welcome a new employee" email before I find myself working with the guy or gal. I finished my ticket and opened up the IM window. It was from "Nnet," and the contents caused me to leap out of my seat:

"The power strips on the new racks (205, 206, 207) are drawing too much current; it will pop the breakers in 52 minutes, 12 seconds."

I had just CHECKED those racks. I walked down to the server room, muttering about some whippersnapper of a new engineer playing a trick on me. I was going on vacation in a week, and I did NOT want any power issues; I was training another engineer to take the console while I was gone, and if anything happened during testing I would surely be called in. Anyway, I walked into the server room and checked the gauges on the power panel.

And they were drawing almost a full five amps too much. If we had turned on the third rack, the whole aisle would have gone down. That wouldn't have been too bad; no servers were hooked up. This is exactly why we test the power before we put servers in.

I and the rack crew worked for about an hour rewiring the racks, starting from the third rack. Sure enough, about 52 minutes later, rack 205 shut down. Mentally thanking "Nnet" for finding this (and more importantly, not tinkering with it before letting me know!), we got the racks wired more efficiently (they're supposed to be on separate breakers, but the electrician labeled the wires wrong), reset the breakers, and had absolutely no issues for the rest of the day.

I got back and thanked "Nnet" for finding that issue. The next day, I got to thinking about how "Nnet" had saved my vacation (I would have spent all week tracing wires to figure out what had happened), and I wanted to invite him or her to lunch. So I IMmed "Nnet" with an invitation. An hour went by with no response, but it's not too strange to have a datacenter tech away from their desk for a couple hours. So I sent an email to Nnet.

The email bounced back.

-"Mystery Author"
Maybe HR hadn't set up the email yet? So I called them up to see what was up with Nnet's email address.

That's when HR told me that nobody with the last name "Net" had been hired (I thought "Net" was a strange name for a tech, but it's not the strangest last name I've ever heard). I called the networking department to ask how I could receive a company IM from somebody who doesn't work here? They researched it and couldn't find any incoming links through our firewalls or any of the internal logs. Stranger yet, the Jabber server indeed DOES have an account for "Nnet", but the engineer who runs the server swears that he never set that up.

We were discussing this back and forth when one of the developers walked by, overhearing our conversation. He laughed, and when we asked why, he told us that he was reading a book about the human brain, and that the brain is made up of million of millions of neurons all interconnected with each other; that these interconnected neurons work together to create intelligence.

Could that be true? Absolutely not. It's preposterous. Sure, we've got tens of thousands of computers around here, dual cores and quad cores running various operating systems and applications, all connected by an incredibly fast private network...

...could it be?

The engineers are all completely sure that one of the datacenter techs must be playing a joke, and they're currently tracking it down. But I'm not too convinced. "Nnet" knew which power strips were having trouble in a room keycarded to open only for me and a hand full of other techs. And they all swear they didn't send it.

That's when I talked to Shawn. He told me that there's a lot of technically minded people out there who read fantastic science fiction stories and come up with solutions... even knowing that the tech is impossible, they can find a way to solve the problem. So we hatched up this idea to write out a fantastic blog post, an interesting narrative of my predicament.
Then we'd post it to the blog and watch for any discussion on the customer forums. Our customers are really smart, and they like solving problems. Maybe somebody out there has an idea of how we can figure out what's going on around here.

So here's the story. A completely fantastic modern day science fiction story about a sentient datacenter.

Preposterous!

...any ideas?

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