Posts Tagged 'Servers'

October 28, 2014

SoftLayer and AWS: What's the Difference?

People often compare SoftLayer with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

It’s easy to understand why. We’ve both built scalable infrastructure platforms to provide cloud resources to the same broad range of customers—from individual entrepreneurs to the world’s largest enterprises.

But while the desire to compare is understandable, the comparison itself isn’t quite apt. The SoftLayer platform is fundamentally different from AWS.

In fact, AWS could be run on SoftLayer. SoftLayer couldn’t be run on AWS.

AWS provisions in the public cloud.

When AWS started letting customers have virtual machines deployed on the infrastructure that AWS had built for their e-commerce business, AWS accelerated the adoption of virtual server hosting within the existing world of Web hosting.

In an AWS cloud environment, customers order the computing and storage resources they need, and AWS deploys those resources on demand. The mechanics of that deployment are important to note, though.

AWS has data centers full of physical servers that are integrated with each other in a massive public cloud environment. These servers are managed and maintained by AWS, and they collectively make up the available cloud infrastructure in the facility.

AWS installs a virtualization layer (also known as hypervisor) on these physical servers to tie the individual nodes into the environment’s total capacity. When a customer orders a cloud server from AWS, this virtualization layer finds a node with the requested resources available and provisions a server image with the customer’s desired operating system, applications, etc. The entire process is quick and automated, and each customer has complete control over the resources he or she ordered.

That virtualization layer is serving a purpose, and it may seem insignificant, but it highlights a critical difference in their platform and ours:

AWS automates and provisions at the hypervisor level, while SoftLayer automates and provisions at the data center level.

SoftLayer provisions down to bare metal resources.

While many have their sights on beating AWS at its own game, SoftLayer plays a different game.

SoftLayer platform is designed to give customers complete access and control over the actual infrastructure that they need to build a solution in the cloud. Automated and remote ordering, deployment, and management of the very server, storage, and security hardware resources themselves, are hosted in our data centers so that customers don’t have to build their own facilities or purchase their own hardware to get the reliable, high performance computing they need.

Everything in SoftLayer data centers is transparent, automated, integrated, and built on an open API that customers can access directly. Every server is connected to three distinct physical networks so that public, private, and management network traffic are segmented. And our expert technical support is available for all customers, 24x7.

Notice that the automation and integration of our platform happens at the data center level. We don’t need a virtualization layer to deploy our cloud resources. As a result, we can deploy bare metal servers in the same way AWS deploys public cloud servers (though, admittedly, bare metal servers take more time to deploy than virtual servers in the public cloud). By provisioning down to a lower level in the infrastructure stack, we’re able to offer customers more choice and control in their cloud environments:

In addition to the control customers have over infrastructure resources, with our unique network architecture, their servers aren’t isolated inside the four walls of a single data center. Customers can order one server in Dallas and another in Hong Kong, and those two servers can communicate with each other directly and freely across our private network without interfering with customers’ public network traffic. So with every new data center we build, we geographically expand a unified cloud footprint. No regions. No software-defined virtual networks. No isolation.

SoftLayer vs. AWS

Parts of our cloud business certainly compete with AWS. When users compare virtual servers between us, they encounter a number of similarities. But this post isn’t about comparing and contrasting offerings in the areas in which we’re similar … it’s about explaining how we’re different:
  • SoftLayer is able to provision bare metal resources to customers. This allows customers free reign over the raw compute power of a specific server configuration. This saves the customer from the 2–3 percent performance hit from the hypervisor, and it prevents “noisy neighbors” from being provisioned alongside a customer’s virtual server. AWS does not provision bare metal resources.

  • AWS differentiates “availability zones” and “regions” for customers who want to expand their cloud infrastructure into multiple locations. SoftLayer has data centers interconnected on a global private network. Customers can select the specific SoftLayer data center location they want so they can provision servers in the exact location they desire.

  • When AWS customers move data between their AWS servers, they see “Inter-Region Data Transfer Out” and “Intra-Region Data Transfer” on their bills. If you’re moving data from one SoftLayer facility to another SoftLayer facility (anywhere in the world), that transfer is free and unmetered. And it doesn’t fight your public traffic for bandwidth.

  • SoftLayer bare metal servers ordered with monthly billing include 20TB/mo of public outbound bandwidth, and virtual servers ordered with monthly billing include 5TB/mo of public outbound bandwidth. With AWS, customers pay a per-GB charge for bandwidth on every bill.

  • SoftLayer offers a broad range of management, monitoring, and support options to customers at no additional cost. AWS charges for monitoring based on metrics, frequency, and number of alarms per resource. And having access to support requires an additional monthly cost.

Do SoftLayer and AWS both offer Infrastructure as a Service? Yes.

Does that make SoftLayer and AWS the same? No.

-@khazard

October 6, 2014

G’day, Melbourne! SoftLayer’s LIVE in Australia.

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of the newest SoftLayer data center in Melbourne, Australia! This facility is our first on the continent (with Sydney planned for later in the year), and it delivers that trademark SoftLayer service to our clients Down Under.

Our Aussie Mates

Over the years, our customer base has grown phenomenally in Australia, and it should come as no surprise that customers in the region have been clamoring for a SoftLayer data center Down Under to bring high performance cloud infrastructure even closer to them. These customers have grown to immense proportions with ahead-of-their-time value propositions and innovative ideas that have turned heads around the world.

A perfect example of that kind of success is HotelsCombined.com, an online travel platform designed to streamline the process of searching for and reserving hotel rooms around the world. Their story is nothing short of brilliant. A startup in 2005, they today serve more than 25 million visitors a month, has more than 20,000 affiliates, and a database of 800,000+ properties worldwide.

HotelsCombined.com partnered with SoftLayer to provision bare metal servers, virtual servers, load balancers, and redundant iSCSI storage around the world to best serve their global customer base. Additionally, they implemented data warehouse and predictive analytics capabilities on SoftLayer for their real-time predictive models and business intelligence tools.

Another great story is that of The Loft Group. I wrote about how they chose our cloud platform to roll out their Digital Learning Platform in a previous blog. They needed performance, analytics, monitoring, and scalability to accommodate their massive growth, and we were able to help.

Benefiting Down Under

Many of you have seen news about IBM’s plans to expand SoftLayer into Australia for a few months now. In fact, at the recent IBM Cloud Pre-Launch event (view the full event on demand here), Lance Crosby shared our vision for the region and the synergy that we are looking to create in the market.

Our expansion into Melbourne means that our customers have even more choice and flexibility when building their cloud infrastructure on our platform. With Australian data residency, many of our customers in Australia with location-sensitive workloads or regulatory/compliance data requirements immediately benefit from the new location. Additionally, with network points of presence in Sydney and Melbourne, users in Australia will see even better network performance when connecting to servers in any SoftLayer data center around the world. Users looking for additional redundancy in APAC have another location for their data, and customers who want to replicate data as though they are in the same rack can do so between Australia and one of our other locations.

Let the Bash Commence

To celebrate this exciting milestone, we have quite a few things lined up for the region. First up, a special promotion for all those who would like to check out the performance of this facility—new customers and our existing loyalists. You can get US$500 off on your first month's order (bare metal, private virtual, public virtual—anything and everything listed in our store!) for the Melbourne data center. More details on the promo, features, and services are available here.

Next up—parties! We have a couple of networking events planned. SoftLayer customers, partners, enthusiasts, and friends are invited to join us in Melbourne on October 9, and Auckland, New Zealand, on October 15 for a fun evening with SLayers and peers. If you’re in the area and want more details, email us at marketingAP@softlayer.com with the following information:

  • Subject: I Would Like to Attend SoftLayer Night: Celebrating Data Centre Go-Live
  • Body: Your Name, contact phone number, city where you would like to attend, and one line about why you would like to attend.

Space is limited, and you don’t have much time to reserve your spot, so let us know as soon as possible.

These are exciting times. I’m extremely eager to see how Australian businesses leverage these new in-country facilities and capabilities. Stay tuned for new stories as we hear from other happy customers.

Cheers.
@namrata_kapur

August 20, 2014

SoftLayer is in Canada, eh?

Last week, we celebrated the official launch of our Toronto (TOR01) data center—the fourth new SoftLayer data center to go live in 2014, and our first in Canada! To catch you up on our progress this year, we unveiled a data center in Hong Kong in June to provide regional redundancy in Asia. In July, we added similar redundancy in Europe with the grand opening of our London data center, and we cut the ribbon on a SoftLayer data center designed specifically for federal workloads in Richardson, TX. The new Toronto location joins our data center pods in Washington, D.C., as our second location in the northeast region of North America.

As you can imagine, our development and operations teams have been working around the clock to get these new facilities built, so they were fortunate to have Tim Hortons in Toronto to keep them going. Fueled by countless double-doubles and Timbits, they officially brought TOR01 online August 11! This data center launch is part of IBM’s massive $1.2 billion commitment to in expanding our global cloud footprint. A countless number of customers have asked us when we were going to open a facility in Canada, so we prioritized Toronto to meet that demand. And because the queue had been building for so long, as soon as the doors were opened, we had a flood of new orders to fulfill. Many of these customers expressed a need for data residency in Canada to handle location-sensitive workloads, and expanding our private network into Canada means in the region will see even better network performance to SoftLayer facilities around the world.

Here are what a few of our customer had to say about the Toronto launch:

Brenda Crainic, CTO and co-founder of Maegan said, “We are very excited to see SoftLayer open a data center in Toronto, as we are now expanding our customer base in Canada. We are looking forward to host all our data in Canada, in addition to their easy-to-use services and great customer service."

Frederic Bastien, CEO at mnubo says, “We are very pleased to have a data center in Canada. Our customers value analytics performance, data residency and privacy, and deployment flexibility—and with SoftLayer we get all that and a lot more! SoftLayer is a great technology partner for our infrastructure needs.”

With our new data center, we’re able to handle Canadian infrastructure needs from A to Zed.

While we’d like to stick around and celebrate with a Molson Canadian or two, our teams are off to the next location to get it online and ready. Where will it be? You won’t have to wait very long to find out.

I’d like to welcome the new Canucks (both employees and customers) to SoftLayer. If you’re interested in getting started with a bare metal or virtual server in Canada, we’re running a limited-time launch promotion that’ll save up to $500 on your first order in Toronto: Order Now!

-John

P.S. I included a few Canadianisms in this post. If you need help deciphering them, check out this link.

July 16, 2014

Vyatta Gateway Appliance vs Vyatta Network OS

I hear this question almost daily: “What’s the difference between the Vyatta Network OS offered by SoftLayer and the SoftLayer Vyatta Gateway Appliance?” The honest answer is, from a software perspective, nothing. However from a deployment perspective, there are a couple fundamental differences.

Vyatta Network OS on the SoftLayer Platform

SoftLayer offers customers the ability to spin up different bare metal or virtual server configurations, and choose either the community or subscription edition of the Vyatta Network operating system. The server is deployed like any other host on the SoftLayer platform with a public and private interface placed in the VLANs selected while ordering. Once online, you can route traffic through the Vyatta Network server by changing the default gateway on your hosts to use the Vyatta Network server IP rather than the default gateway. You have the option to configure ingress and egress ACLs for your bare metal or virtual servers that route through the Vyatta Network server. The Vyatta Network server can also be configured as a VPN end point to terminate Internet Protocol Security (IPSEC), Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE), or OpenSSL VPN connections, and securely connect to the SoftLayer Private Network. Sounds great right?

So, how is a Vyatta Network OS server different from a SoftLayer Vyatta Gateway Appliance?

A True Gateway

While it’s true that the Vyatta Gateway Appliance has the same functionality as a server running the Vyatta Network operating system, one of the primary differences is that the Vyatta Gateway Appliance is delivered as a true gateway. You may be asking yourself what that means. It means that the Vyatta Gateway Appliance is the only entry and exit point for traffic on VLANs you associate with it. When you place an order for the Vyatta Gateway Appliance and select your public and private VLANs, the Vyatta Gateway Appliance comes online with its native VLAN for its public and private interfaces in a transit VLAN. The VLANs you selected are trunked to the gateway appliance’s public and private interfaces via an 802.1q trunk setup on the server’s interface switch ports. These VLANs will show up in the customer portal as associated VLANs for the Vyatta Gateway Appliance.

This configuration allows SoftLayer to create an outside, unprotected interface (in the transit VLAN) and an inside, protected interface (on your bare metal server or virtual server VLAN). As part of the configuration, we set up SoftLayer routers to static route all IP space that belongs to the associated VLANs to the Vyatta Gateway Appliance transit VLAN IP address. The servers you have in a VLAN associated with gateway appliance can no longer use the SoftLayer default gateway to route in and out of the VLAN. All traffic must be filtered through the Gateway Appliance, making it a true gateway.

This differs from a server deployed with the Vyatta Network OS because hosts behind the Vyatta Network OS server can route around it by simply changing their default gateway back to the SoftLayer default gateway.

N-Tier Architecture

Another difference is that the gateway appliance gives customers the option to route multiple public and private VLANs in the same pod (delineated by an FCR/BCR pair) through the device. This allows you to use the gateway appliance to create granular segmentation between different VLANs within your environment, and set up a traditional tiered infrastructure environment with ingress and egress rules between the tiers.

A server running Vyatta Network OS cannot be configured this way. The Vyatta Network OS server is placed in a single public and private VLAN, and there is no option to associate different VLANs with the server.

I hope this helps clear up the confusion around Vyatta on the SoftLayer platform. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about any of SoftLayer’s products or services, the sales and sales engineering teams are happy to help.

-Kelly

July 14, 2014

London Just Got Cloudier—LON02 is LIVE!

Summer at SoftLayer is off to a great start. As of today, customers can order SoftLayer servers in our new London data center! This facility is SoftLayer's second data center in Europe (joining Amsterdam in the region), and it's one of the most anticipated facilities we've ever opened.

London is the second SoftLayer data center to go live this year, following last month's data center launch in Hong Kong. In January, IBM committed to investing $1.2 billion to expand our cloud footprint, and it's been humbling and thrilling at the same time to prepare for all of this growth. And this is just the beginning.

When it comes to the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region (EMEA), SoftLayer's largest customer base is in the U.K. For the last two and a half years I’ve been visiting London quite frequently, and I've met hundreds of customers who are ecstatic to finally have a SoftLayer data center in their own backyard. As such, I'm especially excited about this launch. With this data center launch, they get our global platform with a local address.

The SoftLayer Network

Customers with location-sensitive workloads can have their data reside within the U.K. Customers with infrastructure in Amsterdam can use London to add in-region redundancy to their environments. And businesses that target London's hyper-competitive markets can deliver unbelievable performance to their users. LON02 is fully integrated with the entire SoftLayer platform, so bare metal and virtual servers in the new data center are seamlessly connected to servers in every other SoftLayer data center around the world. As an example of what that means in practice, you can replicate or integrate data between servers in London and Amsterdam data centers with stunning transfer speeds. For free. You can run your databases on bare metal in London, keep backups in Amsterdam, spin up virtual servers in Asia and the U.S. And your end users get consistent, reliable performance—as though the servers were in the same rack. Try beating that!

London is a vibrant, dynamic, and invigorating city. It's consistently voted one of the best places for business in the region. It's considered a springboard for Europe, attracting more foreign investors than any other location in the region. A third of world’s largest companies are headquartered in London, and with our new data center, we're able to serve them even more directly. London is also the biggest tech hub in-region and the biggest incubator for technology startups and entrepreneurs in Europe. These cloud-native organizations have been pushing the frontiers of technology, building their businesses on our Internet-scale platform for years, so we're giving them an even bigger sandbox to play in. My colleagues from Catalyst, our startup program, have established solid partnerships with organizations such as Techstars, Seedcamp and Wayra UK, so (as you can imagine) this news is already making waves in the U.K. startup universe.

For me, London will always be the European capitol of marketing and advertising (and a strong contender for the top spot in the global market). In fact, two thirds of international advertising agencies have their European headquarters in London, and the city boasts the highest density of creative firms of any other city or region in the world. Because digital marketing and advertising use cases are some of the most demanding technological workloads, we're focused on meeting the needs of this market. These customers require speed, performance, and global reach, and we deliver. Can you imagine RTB (real-time-bidding) with network lag? An ad pool for multinationals that is accessible in one region, but not so much in another? A live HD digital broadcast to run on shared, low-I/O machines? Or a 3D graphic rendering based on a purely virtualized environment? Just thinking about those scenarios makes me cringe, and it reinforces my excitement for our new data center in London.

MobFox, a customer who happens to be the largest mobile ad platform in Europe and in the top five globally, shares my enthusiasm. MobFox operates more than 150 billion impressions per month for clients including Nike, Heineken, EA, eBay, BMW, Netflix, Expedia, and McDonalds (as a comparison I was told that Twitter does about 7 billion+ a month). Julian Zehetmayr, the brilliant 23-year-old CEO of MobFox, agreed that London is a key location for businesses operating in digital advertising space and expressed his excitement about the opportunity we’re bringing his company.

I could go on and on about why this news is soooo good. But instead, I'll let you experience it yourself. Order bare metal or virtual servers in London, and save $500 on your first month service.

Celebrate a cloudy summer in London!

-Michalina

April 23, 2014

Security: 10 Tips for Hardening a Linux Server

In light of all the complex and specialized attacks on Internet-facing servers, it’s very important to protect your cloud assets from malicious assailants whose sole purpose is to leach, alter, expose, siphon sensitive data, or even to shut you down. From someone who does a lot of Linux deployments, I like to have handy a Linux template with some extra security policies configured.

Securing your environment starts during the ordering process when you are deploying server resources. Sometimes you want to deploy a quick server without putting it behind an extra hardware firewall layer or deploying it with an APF (Advance Policy Firewall). Here are a couple of security hardening tips I have set on my Linux template to have a solid base level of security when I deploy a Linux system.

Note: The following instructions assume that you are using CentOS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

1. Change the Root Password
Log in to your server and change the root password if you didn’t use a SSH key to gain access to your Linux system.

  • passwd - Make sure it’s strong.
  • Don't intend on using root.

2. Create a New User
The root user is the only user created on a new Linux install. You should add a new user for your own access and use of the server.

  • useradd <username>
  • passwd <username> (Make sure this is a strong password that’s different from your root password.)

3. Change the Password Age Requirements
Change the password age so you’ll be forced to change your password in a given period of time:

  • chage –M 60 –m 7 –w 7 <username>
    • M: Minimum of days required between password changes
    • m: Maximum days the password is valid
    • w: The number of days before password will warn of expiration

4. Disable Root Login
As Lee suggested in the last blog, you should Stop Using Root!

  • When you need super-user permissions, use sudo instead of su. Sudo is more secure than using su: When a user uses sudo to execute root-level commands, all commands are tracked by default in /var/log/secure. Furthermore, users will have to authenticate themselves to run sudo commands for a short period of time.

5. Use Secure Shell (SSH)
rlogin and telnet protocols don’t use an encrypted format, just plain text. I recommend using SSH protocol for remote log in and file transfers. SSH allows you to use encryption technology while communicating with your sever. SSH is still open to many different types of attacks, though. I suggest using the following to lock SSH down a little bit more:

  • Remove the ability to SSH as root:
    1. vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
    2. Find #PermitRootLogin yes and change to PermitRootLogin no.
    3. Run service sshd restart.
  • Change the default SSH 22 port. You can even utilize RSA keys instead of passwords for extra protection.

6. Update Kernel and Software
Ensure your kernel and software patches are up to date. I like to make sure my Linux kernel and software are always up to date because patches are constantly being released with corrected security flaws and exploits. Remember you have access to SoftLayer’s private network for updates and patches, so you don’t have to expose your server to the public network to get updates. Run this with sudo to get updates in RedHat or CentOS: yum update.

7. Strip Your System
Clean your system of unwanted packages. I strip my system to avoid installing unnecessary software to avoid vulnerabilities. This is called “reducing the attack surface.” Packages like NFS, Samba, even the X Windows desktops (i.e., Gnome or KDE) contain vulnerabilities. Here’s how reduce the attack surface:

  • List what is installed: yum list installed
  • List the package name: yum list <package-name>
  • Remove the package: yum remove <package-name>

8. Use Security Extensions
Use a security extension such as SELinux on RHEL or CentOS when you’re able. SELinux provides a flexible Mandatory Access Control (MAC); running a MAC kernel protects the system from malicious or flawed applications that can damage or destroy the system. You’ll have to explore the official Red Hat documentation, which explains SELinux configuration. To check if SELinux is running, run sestatus.

9. Add a Welcome/Warning
Add a welcome or warning display for when users remote into your system. The message can be created using MOTD (message of the day). MOTD’s sole purpose is to display messages on console or SSH session logins. I like for my MOTDs to read “Welcome to <hostname>. All connections are being monitored and recorded.”

  • I recommend vi /etc/motd

10. Monitor Your Logs
Monitor logs whenever you can. Some example logs that you can audit:

  • System boot log: /var/log/boot.log
  • Authentication log: /var/log/secure
  • Log in records file: /var/log/utmp or /var/log/wtmp:
  • Where whole system logs or current activity are available: /var/log/message
  • Authentication logs: /var/log/auth.log
  • Kernel logs: /var/log/kern.log
  • Crond logs (cron job): /var/log/cron.log
  • Mail server logs: /var/log/maillog

You can even move these logs to a bare metal server to prevent intruders from easily modifying them.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when securing your Linux server. While not the most secure system, it gives you breathing room if you have to deploy quick servers for short duration tests, and so on. You can build more security into your server later for longer, more permanent-type servers.

- Darrel Haswell

Darrel Haswell is an advisory SoftLayer Business Partner Solution Architect.

Categories: 
September 30, 2013

The Economics of Cloud Computing: If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

One of the hosts of a popular Sirius XM radio talk show was recently in the market to lease a car, and a few weeks ago, he shared an interesting story. In his research, he came across an offer he came across that seemed "too good to be true": Lease a new Nissan Sentra with no money due at signing on a 24-month lease for $59 per month. The car would as "base" as a base model could be, but a reliable car that can be driven safely from Point A to Point B doesn't need fancy "upgrades" like power windows or an automatic transmission. Is it possible to lease new car for zero down and $59 per month? What's the catch?

After sifting through all of the paperwork, the host admitted the offer was technically legitimate: He could lease a new Nissan Sentra for $0 down and $59 per month for two years. Unfortunately, he also found that "lease" is just about the extent of what he could do with it for $59 per month. The fine print revealed that the yearly mileage allowance was 0 (zero) — he'd pay a significant per-mile rate for every mile he drove the car.

Let's say the mileage on the Sentra was charged at $0.15 per mile and that the car would be driven a very-conservative 5,000 miles per year. At the end of the two-year lease, the 10,000 miles on the car would amount to a $1,500 mileage charge. Breaking that cost out across the 24 months of the lease, the effective monthly payment would be around $121, twice the $59/mo advertised lease price. Even for a car that would be used sparingly, the numbers didn't add up, so the host wound up leasing a nicer car (that included a non-zero mileage allowance) for the same monthly cost.

The "zero-down, $59/mo" Sentra lease would be a fantastic deal for a person who wants the peace of mind of having a car available for emergency situations only, but for drivers who put the national average of 15,000 miles per year, the economic benefit of such a low lease rate is completely nullified by the mileage cost. If you were in the market to lease a new car, would you choose that Sentra deal?

At this point, you might be wondering why this story found its way onto the SoftLayer Blog, and if that's the case, you don't see the connection: Most cloud computing providers sell cloud servers like that car lease.

The "on demand" and "pay for what you use" aspects of cloud computing make it easy for providers to offer cloud servers exclusively as short-term utilities: "Use this cloud server for a couple of days (or hours) and return it to us. We'll just charge you for what you use." From a buyer's perspective, this approach is easy to justify because it limits the possibility of excess capacity — paying for something you're not using. While that structure is effective (and inexpensive) for customers who sporadically spin up virtual server instances and turn them down quickly, for the average customer looking to host a website or application that won't be turned off in a given month, it's a different story.

Instead of discussing the costs in theoretical terms, let's look at a real world example: One of our competitors offers an entry-level Linux cloud server for just over $15 per month (based on a 730-hour month). When you compare that offer to SoftLayer's least expensive monthly virtual server instance (@ $50/mo), you might think, "OMG! SoftLayer is more than three times as expensive!"

But then you remember that you actually want to use your server.

You see, like the "zero down, $59/mo" car lease that doesn't include any mileage, the $15/mo cloud server doesn't include any bandwidth. As soon as you "drive your server off the lot" and start using it, that "fantastic" rate starts becoming less and less fantastic. In this case, outbound bandwidth for this competitor's cloud server starts at $0.12/GB and is applied to the server's first outbound gigabyte (and every subsequent gigabyte in that month). If your server sends 300GB of data outbound every month, you pay $36 in bandwidth charges (for a combined monthly total of $51). If your server uses 1TB of outbound bandwidth in a given month, you end up paying $135 for that "$15/mo" server.

Cloud servers at SoftLayer are designed to be "driven." Every monthly virtual server instance from SoftLayer includes 1TB of outbound bandwidth at no additional cost, so if your cloud server sends 1TB of outbound bandwidth, your total charge for the month is $50. The "$15/mo v. $50/mo" comparison becomes "$135/mo v. $50/mo" when we realize that these cloud servers don't just sit in the garage. This illustration shows how the costs compare between the two offerings with monthly bandwidth usage up to 1.3TB*:

Cloud Cost v Bandwidth

*The graphic extends to 1.3TB to show how SoftLayer's $0.10/GB charge for bandwidth over the initial 1TB allotment compares with the competitor's $0.12/GB charge.

Most cloud hosting providers sell these "zero down, $59/mo car leases" and encourage you to window-shop for the lowest monthly price based on number of cores, RAM and disk space. You find the lowest price and mentally justify the cost-per-GB bandwidth charge you receive at the end of the month because you know that you're getting value from the traffic that used that bandwidth. But you'd be better off getting a more powerful server that includes a bandwidth allotment.

As a buyer, it's important that you make your buying decisions based on your specific use case. Are you going to spin up and spin down instances throughout the month or are you looking for a cloud server that is going to stay online the entire month? From there, you should estimate your bandwidth usage to get an idea of the actual monthly cost you can expect for a given cloud server. If you don't expect to use 300GB of outbound bandwidth in a given month, your usage might be best suited for that competitor's offering. But then again, it's probably worth mentioning that that SoftLayer's base virtual server instance has twice the RAM, more disk space and higher-throughput network connections than the competitor's offering we compared against. Oh yeah, and all those other cloud differentiators.

-@khazard

August 22, 2013

Network Cabling Controversy: Zip Ties v. Hook & Loop Ties

More than 210,000 users have watched a YouTube video of our data center operations team cabling a row of server racks in San Jose. More than 95 percent of the ratings left on the video are positive, and more than 160 comments have been posted in response. To some, those numbers probably seem unbelievable, but to anyone who has ever cabled a data center rack or dealt with a poorly cabled data center rack, the time-lapse video is enthralling, and it seems to have catalyzed a healthy debate: At least a dozen comments on the video question/criticize how we organize and secure the cables on each of our server racks. It's high time we addressed this "zip ties v. hook & loop (Velcro®)" cable bundling controversy.

The most widely recognized standards for network cabling have been published by the Telecommunications Industry Association and Electronics Industries Alliance (TIA/EIA). Unfortunately, those standards don't specify the physical method to secure cables, but it's generally understood that if you tie cables too tight, the cable's geometry will be affected, possibly deforming the copper, modifying the twisted pairs or otherwise physically causing performance degradation. This understanding begs the question of whether zip ties are inherently inferior to hook & loop ties for network cabling applications.

As you might have observed in the "Cabling a Data Center Rack" video, SoftLayer uses nylon zip ties when we bundle and secure the network cables on our data center server racks. The decision to use zip ties rather than hook & loop ties was made during SoftLayer's infancy. Our team had a vision for an automated data center that wouldn't require much server/cable movement after a rack is installed, and zip ties were much stronger and more "permanent" than hook & loop ties. Zip ties allow us to tighten our cable bundles easily so those bundles are more structurally solid (and prettier). In short, zip ties were better for SoftLayer data centers than hook & loop ties.

That conclusion is contrary to the prevailing opinion in the world of networking that zip ties are evil and that hook & loop ties are among only a few acceptable materials for "good" network cabling. We hear audible gasps from some network engineers when they see those little strips of nylon bundling our Ethernet cables. We know exactly what they're thinking: Zip ties negatively impact network performance because they're easily over-tightened, and cables in zip-tied bundles are more difficult to replace. After they pick their jaws up off the floor, we debunk those myths.

The first myth (that zip ties can negatively impact network performance) is entirely valid, but its significance is much greater in theory than it is in practice. While I couldn't track down any scientific experiments that demonstrate the maximum tension a cable tie can exert on a bundle of cables before the traffic through those cables is affected, I have a good amount of empirical evidence to fall back on from SoftLayer data centers. Since 2006, SoftLayer has installed more than 400,000 patch cables in data centers around the world (using zip ties), and we've *never* encountered a fault in a network cable that was the result of a zip tie being over-tightened ... And we're not shy about tightening those ties.

The fact that nylon zip ties are cheaper than most (all?) of the other more "acceptable" options is a fringe benefit. By securing our cable bundles tightly, we keep our server racks clean and uniform:

SoftLayer Cabling

The second myth (that cables in zip-tied bundles are more difficult to replace) is also somewhat flawed when it comes to SoftLayer's use case. Every rack is pre-wired to deliver five Ethernet cables — two public, two private and one out-of-band management — to each "rack U," which provides enough connections to support a full rack of 1U servers. If larger servers are installed in a rack, we won't need all of the network cables wired to the rack, but if those servers are ever replaced with smaller servers, we don't have to re-run network cabling. Network cables aren't exposed to the tension, pressure or environmental changes of being moved around (even when servers are moved), so external forces don't cause much wear. The most common physical "failures" of network cables are typically associated with RJ45 jack crimp issues, and those RJ45 ends are easily replaced.

Let's say a cable does need to be replaced, though. Servers in SoftLayer data centers have redundant public and private network connections, but in this theoretical example, we'll assume network traffic can only travel over one network connection and a data center technician has to physically replace the cable connecting the server to the network switch. With all of those zip ties around those cable bundles, how long do you think it would take to bring that connection back online? (Hint: That's kind of a trick question.) See for yourself:

The answer in practice is "less than one minute" ... The "trick" in that trick question is that the zip ties around the cable bundles are irrelevant when it comes to physically replacing a network connection. Data center technicians use temporary cables to make a direct server-to-switch connection, and they schedule an appropriate time to perform a permanent replacement (which actually involves removing and replacing zip ties). In the video above, we show a temporary cable being installed in about 45 seconds, and we also demonstrate the process of creating, installing and bundling a permanent network cable replacement. Even with all of those villainous zip ties, everything is done in less than 18 minutes.

Many of the comments on YouTube bemoan the idea of having to replace a single cable in one of these zip-tied bundles, but as you can see, the process isn't very laborious, and it doesn't vary significantly from the amount of time it would take to perform the same maintenance with a Velcro®-secured cable bundle.

Zip ties are inferior to hook & loop ties for network cabling? Myth(s): Busted.

-@khazard

P.S. Shout-out to Elijah Fleites at DAL05 for expertly replacing the network cable on an internal server for the purposes of this video!

May 14, 2013

Interop 2013 - SoftLayer + Supermicro Server Challenge II

The SoftLayer team visited Las Vegas for Interop 2013, and attendees from around the world stopped by our booth to take on the infamous Server Challenge II. The challenge was completed more than two hundred and fifty times with an average time of 1:31.34.

The Server Challenge II "Hall of Fame" was particularly competitive at Interop 2013. Only 8 seconds separated our first place finisher from tenth place:

Interop Server Challenge

Jim Chrapowicz recorded the competition-winning time of 58.40 seconds (after a 5-second penalty for not closing one of the latches), edging out the second place time by a razor-thin margin of less than two tenths of a second. For his Server Challenge II heroics, Jim is being rewarded with the MacBook Air grand prize, and everyone who made the top ten list will be receiving $25 iTunes gift cards. Here's video of the winning completion:

Take a look at some of the other action from the show floor:

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

About the Server Challenge II

The Server Challenge II is a race to reassemble a scaled-down version of a SoftLayer server rack. Participants are tasked with repopulating the drive bays of two 2U Supermicro servers and plugging 18 network cables into network switches. The competition provides conference attendees with a fun opportunity to get hands-on with the servers and network gear that fuel SoftLayer's global cloud infrastructure platform. For more information about the Server Challenge II, check out "Server Challenge II: How SoftLayer Saves the World."

About SoftLayer

SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. Spanning 13 data centers in the United States, Asia and Europe and a global footprint of network points of presence, SoftLayer's modular architecture provides unparalleled performance and control, with a full-featured API and sophisticated automation controlling a flexible unified platform that seamlessly spans physical and virtual devices, and a global network for secure, low-latency communications. With 100,000 devices under management, SoftLayer is the largest privately held Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider in the world with a portfolio of leading-edge customers from Web startups to global enterprises. For more information, visit softlayer.com.

About Supermicro

Supermicro, the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and Embedded Systems worldwide. Supermicro is committed to protecting the environment through its "We Keep IT Green" initiative and provides customers with the most energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly solutions available on the market. For more information, visit supermicro.com.

April 23, 2013

Server Challenge II: How SoftLayer Saves the World

SoftLayer made our way to San Francisco for another great year of digital marketing fun at ad:tech. This event is always a blast because it allows us trade show roadies to change up our usual dialogue and talk about SoftLayer in a unique way ... Instead of fielding technical questions about our platform, we get to talk about our cloud hosting solutions from a "big picture" perspective. This year, the bridge between those "big picture" discussions and the hardware and technical side of our business was the Server Challenge II.

This isn't the first time the advertising-focused crowd at ad:tech has seen the Server Challenge, but with the competition's new retro arcade game design, it was much more of a focal point this year than it has been in years past ... And it didn't hurt that we were in an awesome location right at the entrance of the expo floor:

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

Given the fact that most people who stopped at our booth were drawn to us as part of a crowd around the Server Challenge, the first question we heard was subtly different than the "What does SoftLayer do?" question we're used to answering at ad:tech. This year, most of my conversations started with an attendee asking, "What in the world does this game have to do with SoftLayer?" Luckily, the graphic on the front of the Server Challenge with three simple objectives provides a great outline for the competition's relevance to our business:

  1. Load the Data
  2. Connect the Network
  3. Save the World

1. Load the Data

Game Application: Insert all 24 of the drive trays into the drive bays of two Supermicro servers.
SoftLayer Significance: We have more than 100,000 Supermicro servers in our 13 data centers around the world. When you walk into one of our facilities in Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Jose, Amsterdam or Singapore, you'll see racks filled with servers just like the ones in the Server Challenge II, and those servers are loaded up with the hard drives you choose when you order from us.

2. Connect the Network

Game Application: Connect the 18 network cables into the three network switches.
SoftLayer Significance: The three different colors of network cables are the same colors you'll see in our data centers. The red cables carry public network traffic, the blue cables carry private network traffic, and the green cables carry out-of-band management network traffic. This is a huge differentiator for SoftLayer because those three physical networks allow for much greater flexibility for our customers. While the public network is serving public traffic to your websites, games and apps, you could be running an off-site backup of your database over the private network (where you don't incur bandwidth charges), and you can manage your server over SSL, PPTP and IPSEC connections via the out-of-band management network carried by the green cables.

3. Save the World

Game Application: Win a MacBook Air!
SoftLayer Significance: SoftLayer provides the flexible, scalable platform on which you can build your application, run your game or push an advertising campaign. The fact that all of our servers are racked, networked and ready for your order means that we're ready to "Save the World" for you by provisioning on-demand bare metal cloud servers and virtual cloud computing instances.

At least four or five times per show, I hear attendees talking about how the Server Challenge is the most fun game at the conference (even at GDC ... where the entire expo hall is filled with gaming companies). While it draws crowds for being fun, the best part of the competition is that it helps us tell our story and creates memories at the same time. When Server Challenge competitors hear that their companies need a new server, they're going to have a flashback to stepping up to a SoftLayer server rack and learning what makes SoftLayer the best choice as a cloud hosting provider. With the crowds we see at every show, that means we've got a lot of future customers:

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

Thanks to all of the ad:tech attendees who took on the Server Challenge II this year. The show actually had one of the most dramatic conclusions of any we've ever had before! Yuki Matsumoto broke the one-minute mark early on Day 2 of the expo with his first attempt of the day, and John Li managed to squeak by him with a time of 0:58.05 less than five minutes before the show floor closed:

Yuki had one shot at redemption as the last competitor of the show, but he wasn't able to beat John's 58-second completion, so the MacBook Air went to John Li! Keep practicing your server-building skills and come look for SoftLayer (and the Server Challenge) in an expo hall near you!

-Summer

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