Posts Tagged 'Server'

May 28, 2009

Hardware Heros

The techs that build the servers here at SoftLayer are known as Server Build Engineers or SBE’s. These guys are on the front line of Operations. They are responsible for building out customer server orders, maintenances, fixing cranky provisions, and many other hardware related tasks.

One might think that a hardware tech is a simple job. Well, not the SBE position at SoftLayer. Not only are they responsible for time sensitive hardware builds and provision troubleshooting, but they work directly with all the other departments. We don’t have bazillion hardware techs like other companies might. We train ours up to be one man hardware machines.

Sometimes a provision might have a weird error that needs to be escalated to development. The SBE will work directly with the dev team to resolve the issue.

Sales might have questions about some hardware they are trying to sell. SBE’s answer the call.

SBE’s even jump in to help CSA’s (Customer Service Administrators) when the ticket load or phones get hectic.

SBE’s do numerous projects, too. From helping with large scale hardware compatibility testing to troubleshooting hardware, they are the jack of all trades at SoftLayer.

We have a pseudo paramilitary way of doing things in the hardware department. It’s all in fun, but we get down and dirty and have a “can do” and “yes sir” attitude. We pride ourselves in being able to tackle any problem. If we are asked to do it, we do it, regardless of whether or not it’s our job, we are too busy, or whatever the obstacle.

Be all you can be? Join the army. Be more than you expect you can be? Join the SoftLayer Hardware Team.

The few, the badass, the SBE’s!

September 17, 2008

I Need Help, STAT!

I am sure everyone can remember the overwhelming feeling of getting their first server. The SoftLayer family recognizes that this can be a very discouraging time, thus we created a group of technical wizards who have the very specific goal of assisting newer clients who are in the process of learning how to use the tools provided by SoftLayer.

Have you ever wished you could copy data to your server without bandwidth concerns, or wondered how to reboot a server that is no longer responding? Ever wonder what the RescueLayer is and who it rescues? What is NAS, iSCSI, a firewall, how do I load balance? What is the CDNLayer and how can it help me? These are just a few of things we can help you better understand. This will allow you the leisure to ponder the ways to make your server more profitable. No more wasting time creating support tickets when you can do it yourself fast and easy. We can show you how. Here is a little more about the team:

What do we do for fun - Our hobbies include Aviation, Camping, Music, and Automotive Engineering. Some like the outdoors, golf, Karate, poker, etc and some spend their off hours with the family and kids. Smarts - The technical abilities in the group range from Automation to Xen and everything in between including disaster recovery, portal and backend database design, server administration, load balancing, hosting in general (the what to do’s and what not to do’s), ASP and PHP development, developing online collaborations sites, MMO gaming, and LAMP stacks to Windows. We try to be as well rounded as we can. The group has years and years of experience in the hosting, internet, ISP, and system administration arena and we are here and ready to help.

We are STAT! The SoftLayer Technical Assurance Team, pleasure to meet you. How can we help?

-John

September 10, 2008

Help! My Server Blocked Me!

Ok, the title of this blog may sound funny but you would be surprised how many phone calls I get about that very subject. Sure it’s not that specific case every time, sometimes it’s a software issue, other times hardware. But in the end not being able to access your server is the worst feeling in the world.

Enter KVM over IP. (Also known as Keyboard-Video-Mouse)

Yes boys and girls, this wonderful feature provided on all mid to high-performance multi-core servers can be your best friend in a time of need. While on a routine support call, a customer of mine stated the server was blocking not only himself but a lot of his customers. I kept a level head and told him it was no problem. He paused for a moment then let me know just how big a deal it was, while he was explaining I promptly used the KVM to login to his server and shutdown the firewall. All of a sudden he stopped talking and said “It’s working!”, “What did you do?” I explained to him how KVM works just as if you were hooking up a console to your server, and can be used even if your public Ethernet cable is unplugged. I went on to show him where it was in his home portal and how all of this was given to him for free. Also I explained the issue had been fixed from my desk without ever having access to either the public or private ports on his server. The customer had never heard of such a feature and was amazed at how easy it was to use.

The beauty of KVM over IP is it removes the one thing many server owners dread, not being able to be in the data center when issues arise with their standard connection methods (RDP, SSH). With KVM over IP we are giving the customer a solution to that problem. Via KVM you can login to the management interface card, which in most cases resides on an entirely different network, and within seconds you will have access to your terminal as if you were standing right there in the datacenter!!! Not only can you connect to your server, you can manually power it on/off and also reboot your server all within the same management screen. Beyond server access you can monitor temperature readings as well as fan speeds in the server. The KVM card is a HUGE tool in any Softlayer customers’ toolbox and one that we in the Operations Team use often.

Here at Softlayer we are always thinking about how to make your business easier to run, whether it be implementing global services such as CDN, or making sure our customers have basic access to their server in the event of a crisis. Since starting my career here at Softlayer and learning of the KVM feature I’ve made it a point to inform the customer of the KVM interface along with all features that are offered to them (and believe me they never stop coming!) so be sure and check our announcements page because you never know what we will come out with next!

-Romeo

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?

February 1, 2008

I Outsourced It

Have you ever wanted to tell your CIO that? His response might be, "you outsourced what?? You respond, "it!" With a perplexed look he asks again, "You outsourced what, it?" Again you respond with, "All of it." His reaction at that point could go either way. In most CIO type heads today, they can't grasp the savings associated with outsourcing and even the ones that DO understand would then have to go to the CEOs office and inform him or her that all of the company's valuable data will now be housed in a safe and secure facility off-site on dedicated servers... or "Hosted IT" even. Stop reading and go tell your CEO that right now. I'll wait...go ahead.

Ok, I see that you are back, are you still employed? We are hiring if you need a new job resumes@softlayer.com

Ok, really, how do you think that conversation would go? I have had that same conversation with ex-bosses and owners of small and medium sized businesses in the past and most of the time they don't go very well. Granted they were a few years ago so hopefully times are changing.

I have been told a few times, "no, I don't want to pay $300 per month for a server we don't own and put my data on it! That is ridiculous, just go buy me a new $3,500 server and we will put it in our local Datacenter, Server Room, Broom Closet, Bathroom, Office Managers office..." well you get my drift.

"But Sir, with this outsourced server we could easily have off-site backups, more processing power, some cool redundancy and it will not annoy everyone in the office with the loud fans and heat generation. And when we have a power outage in the office and everyone goes home for the day, they will be able to work from home because the server will still be online. Oh yeah, and our company website and email will still be functioning as well."

"Are you insane? Those challenges are so easy to overcome. We will simply add a small air conditioner to the broom closet and buy a big UPS system that will keep the server alive in the event of another power outage, and we can hire a service to come by every morning to pick up tapes and deliver them to an offsite bunker. Instead of a single connection to the internet we can buy two and have redundant connections also."

"Sir, I am no accountant, but by the time you pay someone to keep up with the depreciation of a new server, buy and install a small A/C unit and UPS unit, pay for a 2nd internet connection that will sit idle and pay a service to DRIVE here daily I really think the outsourced server would be cheaper. Not to mention in the event of data loss we could get the data restored to the server much quicker than waiting on a service to physically bring it to us." An interesting note here is, I don't care what kind of offsite data bunker you have, the Monster in Cloverfield IS going to destroy it so think multiple copies of data in multiple cities!

"Well I have made my decision; we will not be outsourcing my very valuable data - Hackers might get it, it is more secure here, so leave my office. Before you go could you please try to get my printer working again, and I am getting this annoying pop-up about spyware and it seems that my ITunes files have lost their license and I used to have a folder called Docs on my desktop with everyone's salary in it that is missing and my PDA will not sync...(zzzzzzz) -- OUTSOURCE IT!

-Skinman

October 12, 2007

The True Value of a Hosted Server

Now that I've ranted on a few accounting shortfalls for the hosting industry I'm going to rant once more. I think that the way hosting companies must book the value of their assets per accounting rules shortchanges hosting companies. Some basic rules of finance clearly show the likelihood that significant value is missing on the financial statements.

Let's consider a mythical server that costs the company $10,000 to buy and the company depreciates it evenly over 3 years. After year one, the value on the financials is $6,667. After year two, its book value is $3,333 and finally $0 after three years. Suppose that the company deploys the server for five years. In reality, after three years, the server's true value is certainly above $0, and the hosting company is shortchanged by not being able to reflect this value on its financial statements. Multiply this effect by thousands of deployed servers and you can see that there is significant value in hosting companies that just isn't found on the financial statements.

So how should we reflect the value of a server? I would propose the use of a "capitalization rate" or "cap rate". This is a common method of appraising real estate and the formula is simple: take the projected net cash flow over the next 12 months and divide by the cap rate, and that's the value. So, what would happen if we applied this to a server?

Looking at our mythical $10,000 server above, for simplicity's sake, let's ignore any allocations of the switches, routers, generators, HVAC, etc., needed to operate it. Let's also assume it produces net cash flow of $100 per month and will do so for 60 months. Its 12 month projected net cash flow is $1,200. We would divide this by the cap rate to find its value.

Naturally, the next question is "what do we use for the cap rate?" For a given investment, the cap rate is the lowest return that an investor will accept for the given risk of that investment. In our server's case, the $10,000 investment produces a return of $1,200 per year. How much would an investor need to invest in lower risk alternatives to get the same return? For a risk-free investment of the same 5 year duration such as a 5 year Treasury Note at 4.25%, you would have to invest $28,235.29 to get $1,200 per year in return. If we use 4.25% as the cap rate in our scenario, the value of the server becomes $28,235.29. However, investors in hosting companies generally look for returns far above 4.25% and these returns are not without risk, so this is not the appropriate cap rate. For simplicity's sake, let's assume that the hosting company investor's minimum acceptable rate for the investment is 10%. In other words, if his investment in the hosting company was expected to return less than 10%, the investor has other lower risk options to invest and get a 10% return and he would not invest in the hosting company.

So if we use 10% for the cap rate in our mythical server scenario, the true value of the server is $12,000 ($1,200 / 10% = $12,000). As long as the 12 month projected net cash flow stays above $1,200 then that value holds constant. Check out the graph below to compare the value of this server from both the cap rate perspective and the accounting rules perspective over the five year life.

From month 36 to month 49, there’s a $12,000 difference in value between the two methods. If a hosting company has a thousand servers like this, that’s $12 million in value that isn’t reflected in the company’s financial statements. That’s huge.

-Gary

Categories: 
June 21, 2007

What the Heck is a Server?

I had no idea what I was getting myself into the first time I met Lance Crosby. It was a late winter afternoon, quite some time ago. I walked into a job interview, happy-go-lucky, for a sales position at a web hosting company. I thought, “I would love a sales job!" (or any real job for that matter). We sat and had a normal interview, and everything seemed to be going very well. I was unusually relaxed which was far cry from my normal interviewing skills. Relaxed, that is until it was time for the datacenter tour.

We walked through the dark NOC, past the twenty five to thirty television screens showing everything from The Weather Channel, to CNN, also displaying what appeared to be a bunch of meaningless graphs and digits. As we ventured into the badge-access-only datacenter, my head started to spin. I was shown diesel generators, rows of UPS’, HVAC units, switches, routers, and more servers than I had ever seen in my life (I had seen zero). I remember "playing it cool" and acting like it made some sense to me. I am sure this was very entertaining for Lance.

I was offered the job and that is when the terror set in. I began to realize this was much more than a sales job. I was going to be selling servers, at the same time wondering "what the heck IS a server?" Over the course of the following months I was able to learn about the internal components of a server and all they entail – RAM (makes/models), different HDDs (makes/models/sizes/speeds), port speeds, bandwidth usage, operating systems, control panels, backup solutions, etc. Over the phone, chat, and via email I met with and became familiar with our extremely broad customer base, the different businesses they ran, and their likes and dislikes. I dealt with the good, the bad, and the ugly situations. I even learned to take care of issues myself without badgering Steven to death. I finally knew what I was talking about! Now I absolutely love what I do and cannot imagine being in any other field. This is not to mention the wonderful opportunity of working at a young, successful, and innovative company. Not many server sales representatives have the honor of this experience.

I think this story probably sounds familiar to the majority of the sales team. The web hosting industry is an amazing one. When presented with all of the details and information that are vital in selling servers and keeping customers happy, it can be down right scary. However, once you open yourself up to the information that is being handed to you, it all falls into place. It is especially challenging to take in everything you need to know as a SoftLayer sales representative. We are required to be as technical as we possibly can so that there is as little correspondence with our Support technicians as possible during the initial sales process. It is an ever-changing industry, and we do need to be on our toes. Lance likes to kid and say that I did not even know what a computer was when I first started out. While that might not be entirely true, it is not very far fetched. I would like to think that we have all come a long way.

-Amanda

June 14, 2007

KVM over IP or Sliced Bread?

I’m spoiled. Really, really spoiled. I have a test lab full of servers to play with about thirty paces away from my office. Most of them have KVM over IP on a daughtercard. When I need to jam an OS on a server or manage to lock myself out by screwing up a network config, do you think I stand up and take a short walk? Nope. I fire up the KVM/IP and take care of business from my comfy office chair.

Let’s see how old the audience is. Raise your hand if you ever had to yell into a phone telling a datacenter tech what to type.

“'S' as in Sam, 'H' as in Harry, 'O' as in Oscar, 'W' as in Wally, SPACE, 'D' as in David, 'E' as in Edward, 'V' as in Victor, 'I' as in Isabel, 'C' as in Charlie, 'E' as in Edward, ENTER” (extra credit to whoever can name the OS without using a search engine or reading ahead).

For some of you this is a recent event, but there will come a day when our IT generation can regale the youngsters with stories of “When I first started in IT, we didn’t have this fancy KVM stuff you kids have today…”.

KVM over IP isn’t exactly brand new. It has been around for a few years starting with external devices hanging off the back of the server. But it is becoming much more common to find daughtercards from your favorite motherboard manufacturer with this capability. The motherboard suppliers have already added other server control technologies like IPMI and iAMT to the motherboard. I wonder how long until KVM over IP makes the jump from the optional daughtercard to coming standard on the motherboard? I’ll bet we’ll see it before you can spell VMS.

-@nday91

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