Posts Tagged 'Research'

May 25, 2012

Tear Down the (Immigration) Wall ... Or at Least Install a Door

A few years ago, I went through a nightmare trying to get to permanent resident status in the United States. My file sat in a box for over a year, was lost, re-submitted and FINALLY rushed through by Ted Kennedy's office. And I was on a "fast track" due to a long record of published research and employment history. I had the means to pay lawyers and the time to repeat the filing and wait for a decision. If I didn't have the means or the time to wait for the process to complete, I don't know where I'd be, but in all likelihood, it wouldn't be here. It's no surprise that immigration reform is high on my list of priorities, and given SoftLayer's involvement in the USCIS Entrepreneurs in Residence program along with Lance's appointment to a Bloomberg committee focused on immigration reform, it's clear I'm not alone.

The bi-partisan Partnership for a New American Economy recently published a very interesting report — Not Coming to America: Why the US is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent — that speaks to a lot of the challenges plaguing the current US immigration policy. Because of those challenges, "the future of America's position as the global magnet for the world's most talented and hardest-working is in jeopardy." Here are a few of the projected economic realities of not reforming immigration laws to keep up with other countries:

SHORTAGE OF WORKERS IN INNOVATION INDUSTRIES: Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math ("STEM" fields) are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, but American students are not entering these innovative fields in sufficient numbers. As a result, by 2018, we face a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers.

SHORTAGE OF YOUNG WORKERS: The US population is aging, baby boomers are retiring en masse, and the growth in the US labor force has slowed to historic lows of less than 1 percent. We cannot continue to produce the GDP growth the nation has come to expect without dramatic increases in productivity or welcoming more working age immigrants.

A STALLED ECONOMY: The US has faced years of stunted economic growth. History shows that new businesses are the biggest drivers of job creation, yet the most recent US Census data show that the number of business startups has hit a record low.

This concern isn't unique to the United States. With a global focus on innovation and technology, countries around the world are actively competing for the best and the brightest. In Canada, a report a few weeks ago spoke to Canada's need to double in size in the next few decades or risk losing relevance and becoming just another resource-rich colony. The nation's response? It's ready to open its doors to more immigrants.

The same applies to the United States ... It just may take longer.

Go back to how this country was built, and apply that to today. The biggest difference: The "skilled trades" we talk about in the most general sense are no longer carpenters like my grandfather but highly educated programmers, engineers and researchers. The idea isn't to replace the programmers, engineers and researchers in the US, rather it's to meet the existing unmet needs for programmers, engineers and researchers.

In all of SoftLayer's efforts to affect change in the US immigration policy, we have to make clear that our goal is not to drop the walls simply to add more permanent residents. It's about lowering many of the current artificial barriers that might prevent the next Fortune 500 founder from starting his or her business in the United States. If you don't think that's a serious concern, I'd point to a pretty surprising stat in the "Not Coming to America" report: "Today, more than 40 percent of America's Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant."

Immigration drives the economy. It's not a drain on the economy. Every country needs more smart people because smart people create new ideas, new ideas become new businesses, and new businesses create new jobs.

Because this is a politically charged issue, it's one I know many people don't necessarily agree with. Along with immigration, we have to look at how the education system can empower young people like my son to become the programmers, engineers and researchers that the US will need, and we have to be intentional about not simply adding permanent residents for the sake of adding permanent residents. If you have any thoughts one way or the other, I'd encourage you to share them with us here in a blog comment or link us to any of the resources you've found interesting in researching and discussing the topic.

-@gkdog

April 23, 2012

Choosing a Cloud: Which Cloud Chooses You?

It's not easy to choose a cloud hosting provider.

In the first post of this series, we talked about the three key deciding factors every cloud customer has to consider, and we set up a Venn diagram to distinguish the surprisingly broad range of unique priorities customers can have:

Cloud Customer Zones

Because every customer will prioritize a cloud's cost, technology and hosting provider a little differently (for completely valid reasons), we mapped out seven distinct "zones" to differentiate some of the basic market segments, or "personas," of cloud hosting buyers. That post was intended to set the stage for a larger discussion on how customers choose their cloud providers and how cloud providers choose their customers, and we're just scratching the surface. We're tackling a pretty big topic here, so as Bill Cosby famously says, "I told you that story to tell you this one."

As a hosting provider, SoftLayer can't expect to be all things for all people. It's impossible to offer a quad-core hex-proc dedicated server for a price that will appeal to a customer in the market for a $49/mo dedicated server.

To better illustrate SoftLayer's vision in the cloud market, we need to take that generic cost v. technology v. hosting provider diagram and give it the "Three Bars" treatment:

SoftLayer Venn Diagram

We're much more interested in living and breathing the Zone 5 "Technology" space rather than the traditional Zone 2 "Hosting Provider" space. That's why in the past two months, you've seen announcements about our launch of the latest Intel Processors, HPC computing with NVidia GPUs, searchable OpenStack Object Storage, and an innovative "Flex Image" approach to bluring the lines between physical and virtual servers. We choose to pursue the cloud customers who make their buying decisions in Zone 3.

That's a challenging pursuit ... It's expensive to push the envelope in technology, customers primarily interested in technology/performance have demanding needs and expectations, and it's easier to make mistakes when you're breaking new ground. The majority of the hosting industry seems to have an eye on the buyer in Zone 1 because they believe the average hosting customer is only interested in the bottom line ... That hosting is more or less a commodity, so the focus should be on some unverifiable qualitative measure of support or the next big special that'll bring in new orders.

As you may have seen recently, GigaOm posted a lovely article that references several high-profile companies in our 25,000+ customer family. We like to say that SoftLayer builds the platform on which our customers build the future, and that short post speaks volumes about the validity of that statement. Our goal is to provide the most powerful, scalable and seamlessly integrated IT infrastructure for the most innovative companies in the world. Innovate or Die isn't just our company motto ... It's our hope for our customers, as well.

We might miss out on your business if you want a $49/mo dedicated server, but if you're looking to change the world, we've got you covered. :-)

-@khazard

April 20, 2012

Choosing a Cloud: Cost v. Technology v. Hosting Provider

If you had to order a new cloud server right now, how would choose it?

I've worked in the hosting industry for the better part of a decade, and I can safely say that I've either observed or been a part of the buying decision for a few thousand hosting customers — from small business owners getting a website online for the first time to established platforms that are now getting tens of millions of visits every day. While each of those purchasers had different requirements and priorities, I've noticed a few key deciding factors that are consistent in a all of those decisions:

The Hosting Decision

How much will the dedicated server or cloud computing instance cost? What configuration/technology do I need (or want)? Which hosting provider should I trust with my business?

Every website administrator of every site on the Internet has had to answer those three questions, and while they seem pretty straightforward, they end up overlapping, and the buying decision starts to get a little more complicated:

The Hosting Decision

The natural assumption is that everyone will choose a dedicated server or cloud computing instance that falls in the "sweet spot" where the three circles overlap, right? While that makes sense on paper, hosting decisions are not made in a vacuum, so you'll actually see completely valid hosting decisions targeting every spot on that graph.

Why would anyone choose an option that wouldn't fit in the sweet spot?

That's a great question, and it's a tough one to answer in broad strokes. Let's break the chart down into a few distinct zones to look at why a user would choose a server in each area:

The Hosting Decision

Zone 1

Buyers choosing a server in Zone 1 are easiest to understand: Their budget takes priority over everything else. They might want to host with a specific provider or have a certain kind of hardware, but their budget doesn't allow for either. Maybe they don't need their site to use the latest and greatest hardware or have it hosted anywhere in particular. Either way, they choose a cloud solely based on whether it fits their budget. After the initial buying decision, if another server needs to be ordered, they might become a Zone 4 buyer.

Zone 2

Just like Zone 1 buyers, Zone 2 buyers are a pretty simple bunch as well. If you're an IT administrator at a huge enterprise that does all of your hosting in-house, your buying decision is more or less made for you. It doesn't matter how much the solution costs, you have to choose an option in your data center, and while you might like a certain technology, you're going to get what's available. Enterprise users aren't the only people deciding to order a server in Zone 2, though ... It's where you see a lot of loyal customers who have the ability to move to another provider but prefer not to — whether it's because they want their next server to be in the same place as their current servers, they value the capabilities of a specific hosting provider (or they just like the witty, interesting blogs that hosting provider writes).

Zone 3

As with Zone 1 and Zone 2, when a zone doesn't have any overlapping areas, the explanation is pretty easy. In Zone 3, the buying decision is being made with a priority on technology. Buyers in this area don't care what it costs or where it's hosted ... They need the fastest, most powerful, most scalable infrastructure on the market. Similar to Zone 1 buyers, once Zone 3 buyers make their initial buying decision, they might shift to Zone 5 for their next server or cloud instance, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Zone 4

Now we're starting to overlap. In Zone 4, a customer will be loyal to a hosting provider as long as that loyalty doesn't take them out of their budget. This is a relatively common customer ... They'll try to compare options apples-to-apples, and they'll make their decision based on which hosting provider they like/trust most. As we mentioned above, if a Zone 1 buyer is adding another server to their initial server order, they'll likely look to add to their environment in one place to make it easier to manage and to get the best performance between the two servers.

Zone 5

Just like the transitional Zone 1 buyers, when Zone 3 buyers look to build on their environment, they'll probably become Zone 5 buyers. When your initial buying decision is based entirely on technology, it's unusual to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your next buying decision. While there are customers that will reevaluate their environment and choose a Zone 3 option irrespective of where their current infrastructure is hosted, it's less common. Zone 5 users love having he latest and greatest technology, and they value being able to manage it through one provider.

Zone 6

A Zone 6 buyer is usually a Zone 1 buyer that has specific technology needs. With all the options on the table, a Zone 6 buyer will choose the cloud environment that provides the latest technology or best performance for their budget, regardless of the hosting provider. As with Zone 1 and Zone 3 buyers, a Zone 6 buyer will probably become a Zone 7 buyer if they need to order another server.

Zone 7

Zone 7 buyers are in the sweet spot. They know the technology they want, they know the price they want to pay, and they know the host they want to use. They're able to value all three of their priorities equally, and they can choose an environment that meets all of their needs. After Zone 6 buyers order their first server(s), they're going to probably become Zone 7 buyers when it comes time for them to place their next order.

As you probably noticed, a lot of transitioning happens between an initial buying decision and a follow-up buying decision, so let's look at that quickly:

The Hosting Decision

Regardless of how you make your initial buying decision, when it's time for your next server or cloud computing instance, you have a new factor to take into account: You already have a cloud infrastructure at a hosting provider, so when it comes time to grow, you'll probably want to grow in the same place. Why? Moving between providers can be a pain, managing environments between several providers is more difficult, and if your servers have to work together, they're generally doing so across the public Internet, so you're not getting the best performance.

Where does SoftLayer fit in all of this? Well beyond being a hosting provider that buyers are choosing, we have to understand buyers are making their buying decisions, and we have to position our business to appeal to the right people with the right priorities. It's impossible to be all things for all people, so we have to choose where to invest our attention ... I'll leave that post for another day, though.

If you had to choose a zone that best describes how you made (or are currently making) your buying decision, which one would it be?

-@khazard

December 13, 2011

Do Your Homework!

As far back as I can remember, I hated homework. Homework was cutting into MY time as a kid, then teenager, then young adult ... and since I am still a "young adult," that's where I have to stop my list. One of the unfortunate realizations that I've come to in my "young adult" life is that homework can be a good thing. I know that sounds crazy, so I've come prepared with a couple of examples:

The Growing Small Business Example
You run a small Internet business, and you've been slowly growing over the years until suddenly you get your product/service mix just right and a wave of customers are beating down the door ... or in your case, they're beating down your website. The excitement of the surge in business is quickly replaced by panic, and you find yourself searching for cheap web servers that can be provisioned quickly. You find one that looks legit and you buy a dozen new dedicated servers and some cloud storage.

You alert your customers of the maintenance window and spend the weekend migrating and your now-valuable site to the new infrastructure. On Monday, you get the new site tuned and ready, and you hit the "go" button. Your customers are back, flocking to the site again, and all is golden. As the site gains more traffic over the next couple of weeks, you start to see some network lag and some interesting issues with hardware. You see a thread or two in the social media world about your new shiny site becoming slow and cumbersome, and you look at the network graphs where you notice there are some capacity issues with your provider.

Frustrated, you do a little "homework," and you find out that the cheap service provider you chose has a sketchy history and many complaints about the quality of their network. As a result, you go on a new search for a hosting provider with good reviews, and you have to hang another maintenance sign while you do all the hard work behind the scenes once again. Not doing your homework before making the switch in this case probably cost you a good amount of sleep, some valuable business, and the quality of service you wanted to provide your customers.

The Compliance-Focused Example
I still live, eat, and breathe compliance for SoftLayer, and we had an eye-opening experience when sorting through the many compliance differences. As you probably recall (Skinson 1634AR15), I feel like everyone should agree to an all-inclusive compliance model and stick to just that one, but that feeling hasn't caught on anywhere outside of our office.

In 2011, SoftLayer ramped up some of our compliance efforts and started planning for 2012. With all the differences in how compliance processes for things like FISMA, HIPAA, PCI Level 1 - 4, SSAE16, SOC 1 and SOC2 are measured, it was tough to work on one without affecting another. We were working with a few different vendors, if we flipped "Switch A," Auditor #1 was happy. When we told Auditor #2 that we flipped "Switch A," they hated it so much they almost started crying. It started to become the good ol' "our way is not just the better way, it's the only way" scenario.

So what did we do? Homework! We spent the last six months looking at all the compliances and mapping them against each other. Surprisingly enough, we started noticing a lot of similarities. From there, we started interviewing auditing and compliance firms and finally found one that was ahead of us in the similarity game and already had a matrix of similarities and best practices that affect most (if not all) of the compliances we wanted to focus on.

Not only did a little homework save us a ton of cash in the long run, it saved the small trees and bushes under the offices of our compliance department from the bodies that would inevitably crash down on them when we all scampered away from the chaos and confusion seemingly inherent in pursuing multiple difference compliances at the same time.

The moral of the story: Kiddos, do your homework. It really is good for something, we promise.

-@Skinman454

December 30, 2009

The Newbie

Hi, I am the newbie and just wanted to start off saying thank you to everyone for making me feel so welcome. I have really enjoyed my first week here at SoftLayer. I can honestly say, this is the most exciting and fun job I have had. SoftLayer should win the Best Places to Work in DFW for 2010!

I think the best part about starting right before the holidays is getting to share the holiday cheer with all my new co-workers. As most people know, most companies get busy around the holidays which can cause tension and stress in the workplace. Coming into SoftLayer one of the major things I liked is that no matter how busy we are there is still a sense of peace and calmness; this is a great asset in a workplace.

As most would know, when you first start out at a new company you need to do research to learn about your new company and the industry it is involved in. These first few days I have been reading a bunch of different articles and websites to learn more about what SoftLayer does and to get a feel for the industry. I have to say I am still rather confused. There are so many technical terms and Wikipedia doesn’t pick up on all of them (ha ha). The more research I do, though, the more I pick up on certain things. I still have more to learn but I am eager and excited to learn more about SoftLayer and the industry. Now off to do more research!

December 16, 2009

Buying a New TV?

Going out and looking for a new TV is not what it used to be. Of course, since this was the first time I actually bought a TV instead of just inheriting a used one, I really don’t know what the old way was. But I’ve heard stories, and I expected a fairly easy experience.

I first decided to get myself a new TV after a great month here at SoftLayer. I figured it was high time I rewarded myself with the biggest and best picture money could buy. I went to Best Buy thinking there can’t be that much to look at in TVs. Man was I wrong. I literally spent more than three and a half hours staring at all the TVs they have on display. I even talked with one of the guys that are supposed to “help you,” but all that did was make me more confused. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted, big TV with a crystal clear picture. But after wasting all that time, I left Best Buy confused and empty handed.

I knew there had to be a better way to choose a new TV than staring at the store display until I was cross-eyed. When I got home I started a 2-week research project to find the perfect TV for me. I read all sorts of blogs, forums, and recommendations online. In those 2 weeks I compared all aspects of all the TVs that are available. I found out that there are currently 4 types of TVs on the market: DLP, Plasma, LCD, and LED. I knew DLP wasn’t the way to go, because it is becoming an extinct technology for TVs as LCD and LEDs are the newer types of TVs. Plasmas are also becoming a dying type of technology but every person I talked to and all my research said Plasma TV gives you the best picture hands down. So, naturally I started leaning towards Plasmas. But while there are advantages to Plasmas, there are disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage with a Plasma TV is the risk of “burn-in” on the screen. This is when you leave a still image on the screen for a long time and the plasma burns a ghost image on the screen. This could become annoying if you were to change channels and you still have the score of a game on the top corner. In the newer models this “burn-in” issue is almost completely gone. It still could happen; but, that is if you leave an image on your TV for over 2 hours, and really who does that anyway?

After an exhaustive look at all the reviews, forum, and searches on the best TV, I finally came to a decision. I was going to buy myself a new Plasma TV and that was that. Sunday I got in my car and went back to Best Buy. This time I was prepared so I walked right up to one of the guys and talked with him for the better part of an hour. I asked a few more questions and then decided I was going with the 50” Panasonic Plasma TV. Once I made the purchase and figured the hard part was over, Best Buy Guy, asks me how I was planning to get my new TV home. Our conversation goes a little like this, with him laughing at me the whole time:

Best Buy Guy: So how are you getting this TV to your house?

Me: I was hoping we could put it in the back seat of my car, will that not work?

Best Buy Guy: (with a smirk on his face) We can try, but I doubt it.

Me: Well doesn’t Best Buy deliver?

Best Buy Guy: Yes, we do. It’s free if your purchase is over $1,000.00

Me: (My TV cost me total $1070 with warranty, so I’m thinking no problem, right.) Ok well can I have it delivered then?

Best Buy Guy: Sure, not a problem. It will be about 2 weeks from now.

Me: Are you serious?

Best Buy Guy: Yea, I am.

Me: Well, I was hoping to be watching it today. What else is there?

Best Buy Guy: Well you could call a friend who has a SUV or truck. Or you could go to Lowe’s across the street and rent one of their trucks for $20 for 75 minutes.

Me: Well, let’s try fitting it in the back of my car first.

Best Buy Guy: (With a smirk on his face) Sure.

I move my car to the front of the store and we try to get it in the back but sure enough Best Buy Guy knows what he is talking about and it doesn’t fit. So what is a guy who wants his TV now to do since they won’t deliver it for 2 weeks? I went over to Lowe’s and rented a truck. Cost me $20.80 for the whole 10 min that I used it, but I figured waiting another 2 weeks for my TV was not an option. I drove this big ass truck over to Best Buy and had the guys load my TV in the back. It was about this time I realized I didn’t have any straps or string to hold the TV secure while I drove home. One of the guys who loaded it in the back told me, “If you just don’t gas it hard the TV should be fine.” I just looked at this guy thinking, “Yea that’s really going to work.” I asked them if they have any string. The guy tells they can’t give me any because if they give me string and it breaks, and the TV breaks, then they are liable for the string breaking. Funny how they cover their ass over string; STRING! As I was trying to figure out how I was going to get this TV home with the load boy staring at me, I saw a piece of string that was already tied to the truck. It was a small white string tied in knots to the corner of the truck. I asked the guy to put some slits in the corner of the top of the box so I could use this one piece of string on the corner to keep it from falling. He did and eventually I got my TV to my house, going 15mph the whole way home.

I love my new TV, once I got it home, but I have never been so frustrated tying to buy and move a TV, and I hope I never have to do this again….until either the TV goes out or I decided to buy a bigger one! This was an experience I encourage everyone to try at least once. My advice is to do your research before going to the store, and have a truck or SUV to be able to move it from the store to your home. And be sure to bring your own string!

March 26, 2009

Use Caution when Outsourcing!

Outsource IT! I have been saying that for years now. But now I say; outsourcer beware!?!?! Really? How do you know if the company you are calling upon to keep your business up and running is safe and sound? Do they have certifications? Are they registered with the Better Business Bureau? Do they have scary fine print in the Terms of Service or User Agreement? Do you actually read those and understand them? How do you find out about all the questions above? Do you go to trade shows? Do you read about companies on the Hosting forum sites? Do you hear it from your friends? There are lots of ways to get that kind of information in today’s social internet jungle. Do you follow the company on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linked-In, or all of the above? Should you? So many questions…

I am going to assume that you think this blog is going to be about how SoftLayer is a reputable, certified PCI compliant and SAS 70 datacenter, with competent and caring employees that can put themselves in the customer’s shoes and understand the frustrations that can go along with outsourcing your datacenter needs. Nah, that would be too easy and not very much fun.

This blog is about mud. Yes, I said mud. I was driving down a county road in Texas recently and we had a bit of rain in the days leading up to my trip. If you aren’t from Texas then you need a quick definition of “County Road”. A county can be paved, gravel or dirt topped and can be a great road or a horrible road, it just depends on the county that it is in, the tax base, and the abilities of the crews hired by the county to maintain them. I was travelling down a very wet gravel top county road, following along on my cell with GPS and Google maps and was about a mile from my destination. In what seemed the blink of an eye the road surface went from wet gravel to dirt and within about 10 feet my truck simply slid off the road into a nice 4 foot ditch filled with rain water. Looks harmless in the picture below doesn’t it?

Mud

It was a nice soft splash landing but my city slicker tires had no chance of getting me out of that ditch even with 4X4 engaged. So when water started coming under the door into the cab of the truck, I knew it was going to be a bad hour or so. It was time to outsource. I called the ranch to see if they had anything that could pull me out but they said that I was in a pretty tough spot and didn’t think they could help. So what would any techie do, I googled mud towing in the closet town. Of course I picked the first place on the list and gave them a call. They said they had a mud recovery truck and they would be out in about 45 minutes. Awesome, just 45 minutes! This was at 4:30PM and it was pretty cold and still raining and the ditch was filling up even further with water. Outsourcer beware, I was expecting a “Mud Recovery Truck!” I had visions of monster trucks dancing in my head. Fail!

Mud

Now I have to say that there weren’t ten forums about mud towing in Navarro county that I could visit, or customer references readily available so I just had to take that leap of faith and trust in the skills of my saviors. And I have to give credit where credit is due, that truck really is a monster! It did things a Transformer would love to be able to do. It got stuck at least 30 times in the 5 hours it took them to get me out of the ditch. Yes, I said 5 hours. Did I mention that monster trucks can do very bad things to city 4X4’s? Thank goodness I have an Echo to drive back and forth to work.

So I don’t want to leave you hanging but my truck is in the shop now and I am still waiting on an estimate. Things I know are wrong; front right A-arm damage from forcibly pulling the truck over a stump in the ditch, alignment issues, check engine light on, cruise control doesn’t work anymore, passenger side back door pushed up about half an inch including damage at bottom from the same stump, muffler caved in and exhaust pipe dragging the ground, front bumper air damn ripped off and metal bumper bent outward, yea you guessed it the pesky stump again and last but not least I need an entire new jack assembly because it is either broken or lost in the mud or both I should say (attempting to jack the truck over the stump).

The moral of this blog, if you have the tools available to research the company you are going to outsource to and they have references be sure to use them. They might save you a $300 mud recovery bill and a $1000 deductible somewhere down the road.

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