Posts Tagged 'Servers'

March 21, 2012

Server Challenge = Global Domination?

The Server Challenge has become an all-out attraction. What started out as a little game we brought to SxSW last year has evolved into a competition attendees anxiously await. In the past month, we've had two phenomenal Server Challenge competitions — one at the Technology for Marketing and Advertising (TFM&A) conference in London and the other at Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco — and it's only getting bigger.

At TFM&A, we had a steady stream of competitors step up to the Server Challenge installation that lives in Europe. Quite a few of them were lured to our booth after trying their hands at the challenge during its European debut at Cloud Expo Europe in January. The winning time at TFM&A of 1:10.08 was recorded by Gary Barclay in the midst of some fierce competition.

SoftLayer Server Challenge - TFM&A

To give you a unique look at what it's like to experience the Server Challenge, we set up a time-lapse camera with a bird's eye view over the timer, and we pulled out a few of our favorite "Start!" shots:

Back in North America as things were humming along in London, our second Server Challenge box was making its way to San Francisco. We were able to share the Server Challenge with the GDC community last year at GDC Online in Austin, and we learned that there is nothing better than bringing a game to a conference full of gamers. I guess you could call it a match made in game developer heaven because we broke the record of number of server challenge participants for a single conference! Not only did we have a ton of participants, we had a huge number that returned day after day to keep pushing the record time lower and lower. All of this attention definitely left the booth staffers pretty exhausted, but we felt kinda like "the cool kids" all week.

On the last day of the conference, I talked to a few of the repeat participants who spent a lot of time at our booth, and I asked them a few questions about the Server Challenge. The first question I asked was, "Why do you like the Server Challenge?" and the responses were extremely interesting. Many said they liked the game so much because it was so interactive while others were drawn to the game because it gave them a way to win an iPad with skill rather than having to be "lucky" in a drawing. Because you don't have to know anything about server assembly to be good at it, it was universal, and it was quite a spectacle when dozens of people crowded around to get their own strategy and prepare for their turns.

I captured a few of their responses on video:

Given the crowd around the booth, you could assume the competition would be close, and you'd be absolutely correct. EJ Fernald won with a time of 1:06.06, beating the second place time by 0.15 seconds ... Yes, 15 hundredths of a second.

Congrats, Gary and EJ!! We hope you enjoy your new iPads!

If you want to be the next lucky winner of an iPad, check out our blog post with tips on how to be the fastest and start practicing ... if you happen to have a few retired servers lying around somewhere. If you're a SoftLayer customer, you can use the ones you replaced with all of your new SoftLayer servers!

-Summer

February 10, 2012

Amsterdam Data Center (AMS01): Does it Measure Up?

SoftLayer data centers are designed in a "pod" concept: Every facility in every location is laid out similarly, and you'll find the same network and server hardware connected to the same network. The idea behind it is that this design makes it easier for us to build out new locations quickly, we can have identical operational processes and procedures in each facility, and customers can expect the exact same hosting experience regardless of data center location. When you've got several data centers in one state, that uniformity is easy to execute. When you open facilities on opposite sides of the country, it seems a little more difficult. Open a facility in another country (and introduce the challenge of getting all of that uniformity across an ocean), and you're looking at a pretty daunting task.

Last month, I hopped on a plane from Houston to London to attend Cloud Expo Europe. Because I was more or less "in the neighborhood" of our newest data center in Amsterdam, I was able to take a short flight to The Netherlands to do some investigatory journalism ... err ... "to visit the AMS01 team."

Is AMS01 worthy of the SoftLayer name? ... How does it differ from our US facilities? ... Why is everything written in Dutch at the Amsterdam airport?

The answers to my hard-hitting questions were pretty clear: SoftLayer's Amsterdam facility is absolutely deserving of the SoftLayer name ... The only noticeable differences between AMS01 and DAL05 are the cities they're located in ... Everything's written in Dutch because the airport happens to be in The Netherlands, and people speak Dutch in The Netherlands (that last question didn't get incorporated into the video, but I thought you might be curious).

Nearly every aspect of the data center mirrors what you see in WDC, SEA, HOU, SJC and DAL. The only differences I really noticed were what the PDUs looked like, what kind of power adapter was used on the crash carts, and what language was used on the AMS facility's floor map. One of the most interesting observations: All of the servers and power strips on the racks used US power plugs ... This characteristic was particularly impressive to me because every gadget I brought with me seemed to need its own power converter to recharge.

When you see us talking about the facilities being "the same," that's not a loosely used general term ... We could pull a server from its rack in DAL05, buckle it into an airplane seat for a 10-hour flight, bring it to AMS01 (via any of the unique modes of Amsterdam transportation you saw at the beginning of the video), and slide it into a rack in Amsterdam where we could simply plug it in. It'd be back online and accessible over the public and private networks as though nothing changed ... Though with Flex Images making it so easy to replicate cloud and dedicated instances in any facility, you'll just have to take our word for it when it comes to the whole "send a server over to another data center on a plane" thing.

While I was visiting AMS01, Jonathan Wisler took a few minutes out of his day to give a full tour of the data center's server room, and we've got video and pictures to share with more shots of our beautiful servers in their European home. If there's anything in particular you want to see from AMS01, let us know, and we'll do our best to share it!

-@khazard

P.S. Shout out to the SLayers in the Amsterdam office who offered their linguistic expertise to add a little flair to the start of the video ... From the four employees who happened to be in the office when I was asking for help, we had six fluent-language contributions: English, Italian, French, Dutch, Polish and German!

**UPDATE** After posting this video, I learned that the "US" server power plugs I referred to are actually a worldwide computer standard called C13 (male) and C14 (female).

December 9, 2011

Earn Your Bars

In less than six years, SoftLayer has grown pretty drastically. We started as a small company with ten people crammed into a living room, brainstorming how to build one innovative data center in Dallas. Now we have more than six hundred employees managing thirteen data centers on three different continents. It's insane to see how far we've come when you read those two sentences, and as I think back, I remember the sacrifices employees have made to help our business get where it is today.

In the early days, we were taking out loans and tapping our bank accounts to buy servers. When customers started asking for more features and functionality in the portal, developers coded non-stop to make it happen. A lot of those sacrifices aren't very obvious from the outside, but we wouldn't be where we are today without them. One of the biggest sacrifices SLayers make is when we need to build new data centers to accommodate customer demand ... A "Go Live Crew" of employees moves away from their friends and family to those facilities to make sure the new SoftLayer data center meets our high expectations.

In the military, a soldier will "earn his/her stripes" by doing something that shows that he or she deserves a particular rank or position. The more stripes on the sleeve of your uniform, the higher your rank. As you've probably gathered from pictures and videos around the office, SoftLayer employees don't wear uniforms, but SLayers love to wear SoftLayer swag, and this "mechanic" shirt has been one of the most popular sellers in our company store:

Earn Your Bars Shirts

We wanted to recognize the employees that have given weeks (and sometimes months) of their time to join a Go Live Crew for a data center build-out, so we took that popular shirt and added a little flair. Following the "earn your stripes" idea, these employees have "earned their bars" for each data center they help build.

Earn Your Bars Shirts

Every employee who was on a Go Live Crew in Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Jose, Singapore or Amsterdam will get shirts with location-specific graphics to recognize their contribution, and their most recent shirt will have the "bars" you see in the picture above.

As a bit of added recognition, here are the shirt recipients for each data center location:

Earn Your Bars Shirts
Seattle Go Live Crew
John E., Edmund G., Robert G., Joe H., Brad L., Charles P., Joshua R., William S., Zane W.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
Washington, D.C. Go Live Crew
Troy D., John E., Reed F., Edmund G., Robert G., Brad L., Charles P., Joshua R., Zane W.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
San Jose Go Live Crew
Kalin D., John E., Chris F., Hector F., Edmund G., Robert G., Tim L., Russ M., Edward R., Brent R., Brandon S., Joshua Z.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
Singapore Go Live Crew
Chris F., Joshua F.. Ryan G., Robert G., Hao H., Tim L., Russ M., Todd M., Kyle S., Eric V.
Earn Your Bars Shirts
Amsterdam Go Live Crew
Raul A., Brian C., Elijah F., Hector F., Edmund G., Robert G., Sydney M., Stephen M., Michael P., Goran P., Mark Q., Edward R., Jason R., Brandon S., Sopheara S., Joshua Z.

And if you happened to compare the names between all five teams, you'll notice that Robert Guerra was on every crew. You know what that means?

Earn Your Bars Shirts

He has a brand new wardrobe.

CBNO.

-@lavosby

November 21, 2011

The SoftLayer Server Challenge - ad:tech Expertise

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

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

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

SoftLayer Server Challenge

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

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

Good Luck!

-Summer

November 18, 2011

Four Years of SLaying in Seattle

How are we already in mid-November? Did 2011 just fly by us or what? As we approach 2012, I will be celebrating my fourth anniversary with SoftLayer in our Seattle data center. Seattle was SoftLayer's first data center outside of the Dallas area when it opened four years ago, and since then, I've seen the launch of Washington D.C., the Dallas HQ + DAL05, San Jose, Singapore and Amsterdam ... while adding a few data centers in Houston and Dallas after the merger with The Planet last year. We've gone from ~15,000 servers when I started to around 100,000 servers in 13 data centers with 16 network PoPs on three different continents around the world. It's safe to say we've grown.

In the four years since our Seattle facility launched, over 60% of our original team – the folks our Dallas team trained – are still here. Being part of such a huge team and watching the SoftLayer roll out data centers around the world is exciting, and seeing our customers grow with us is even better. In the midst of all of that growth, our team is always trying to figure out new technologies and techniques to share with customers to help them meet their ever-evolving needs. The goal: Give our customers total control.

One great example of this focus was our recent launch of QuantaStor Storage Servers. We teamed up with industry leader OS Nexus to bring our customers a production-ready mass storage appliance with a combined SAN and NAS storage system built into the Ubuntu Server and provides a number of system features such as snapshots, compression, remote replication and thin provisioning. A customer could use this in a number of environments from virtualized systems to video production to web and application servers, or as a backup based server. If you're looking for a mass storage system, I highly recommend it.

If we've grown this much in my first four years, I can only imagine what the business will look like four years from now. A SoftLayer data center on every corner? Maybe we can get PHIL to figure out how we can put a SoftLayer pod in the space normally occupied by a coffee shop ... making sure to keep as much coffee as possible, obviously.

-Bill

November 8, 2011

PHIL's DC: SoftLayer Data Center Tour

When I was chosen by Lance to manage a "special project," I knew I had my work cut out for me. My mission is to redefine how data centers are built, so before I get too far in the creation of my data center facility, I thought it would be a good idea to get a quick refresher about how SoftLayer builds and runs its data centers:

You can disregard the references to Lance "requiring" me to go on the tour ... and the formality of Jon having to sign a note that said I successfully completed the tour. The references to those were just for dramatic effect since Lance and I are pretty much eye-to-eye about everything that needs to happen for PHIL's DC to succeed, and we both thought it would be good to have signed documentation that I went on a tour.

As I mentioned at the end of the tour, I didn't find the tour to be a complete waste of time because I was able to observe some of the biggest hurdles in building and maintaining a data center. Is redundancy really necessary ... or is it just redundant? What the heck did Jon say in the UPS room? How fast does a person have to run on a single treadmill for that treadmill to power 40,000 servers?

While I try to source my own "PHIL's DC" rack identifiers, my adoring public can take time to go through this video with a fine-toothed comb to suggest any potential data center innovations that you think I may have overlooked. I already have the most innovative and efficient data center designed in my head, but I'll consider crediting you if you share an idea ... even if (and by if, I mean "when") I've already thought of it.

I've got a hot lead on some slightly used hardware, so the next time you see me, the PHIL's DC inventory area should be fully stocked and ready for my own truck day.

-PHIL

November 7, 2011

Global Expansion: Amsterdam is LIVE!

At times, the meticulous planning, logistics and execution around the SoftLayer Amsterdam data center launch has felt like a clandestine military operation. Today, the wait is over! We're finally ready to go "LIVE" with our new state-of-the-art facility, along with network Points of Presence (PoPs) in Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt.

Having a European presence not only gives us proximity to customers but a foothold into the entire continent to help drive more innovation and deliver a better end-user experience. Currently more than 50 percent of our business is done outside North America, so our continued expansion into international markets is so vital to long-term growth.

Amsterdam is our "digital gateway" into Europe, extending our capabilities so customers can deploy, scale and manage their Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions based on SoftLayer's private network. Here's a quick glimpse into what the new data center offers:

  • Capacity for more than 16,000 servers
  • Redundant network infrastructure
  • Fully-automated platform
  • Unique pod design concept

And here's an actual glimpse into the data center (taken last week as we were putting the final touches on the racks ... as you can see by the unbound cables at the backs of the server and the reference labels in the front):

SoftLayer Amsterdam

SoftLayer Amsterdam

SoftLayer Amsterdam

We now have 13 data centers and 16 PoPs worldwide. Each data center functions independently, with distinct and redundant resources, while still being fully integrated into SoftLayer's existing facilities. The end result for our customers is maximum accessibility, security, and control.

Our goal for Europe is to deliver the BEST cloud, dedicated, and managed hosting solutions on the continent ... just like we do in North America and Asia. Ten months of painstaking research, work and preparation are done, and now our customers will get to reap the rewards.

What are you waiting for? Get your first server in Amsterdam! To celebrate the launch of the new facility, we're offering our Triple Double special on servers provisioned in AMS01 for a limited time: Free double bandwidth, double RAM and double HDD!

Now it's time to send our clandestine military operation's "Go Live Crew" to an undisclosed location to start preparing for our next strategic infiltration ...

-@quigleymar

November 3, 2011

Global Expansion: Floating Like a Butterfly

Growing up, one of my heroes was Mohammad Ali. While I admired his athletic ability, with my scrappy build I was never going to be a boxer. What I liked the most about Ali was that he said whatever he wanted and backed up his words with action. That is what distinguished Ali from the others.

I'm sure you've been to job fairs and read companies' websites where they talk about how their company encourages teamwork, employee empowerment and innovation ... It's usually right next to a picture of someone skydiving or kite boarding, right? Well I've been with SoftLayer for about a month now, and as you saw from my 3 Bars 3 Questions interview, I spent my first two weeks on the job in Dallas.

I can tell you without hesitation (and with no need for a kite boarding picture) that when you walk around the office in Dallas, you can feel a buzz in the hallways ... An energy that only comes from from people who are passionate and work well together. When I made the trek back to Amsterdam, I knew the environment and culture our team in Europe would need to foster to earn our three bars.

Last week, we had our first Truck Day in the new Amsterdam data center, and it was a perfect opportunity to show off the SoftLayer spirit and work ethic to our newest AMS01 SLayers with the help of the Go Live Crew:

As soon as two large truckloads of servers were delivered, the team jumped into action. We unpacked, sorted, scanned and racked the servers in record time, and it was actually a lot fun. When I walked into the data center the next day, it felt like Christmas: new toys, flashing lights and Barbara Striesand.

It's safe to say that SoftLayer is the Mohammed Ali of hosting. We make bold statements and can back up them up!

If you're interested in joining the SoftLayer team in Amsterdam, we're hiring for several different positions right now, and we'd love to have you join us. When talking to prospective employees in interviews, I always tell the SoftLayer story with Ali-like pride, and moving forward, Truck Day is going to be a perfect example to share. Where else are you going to find a company culture where everyone in the company (even the CEO) celebrates the company's continued growth by helping to unpack and sort hardware?

Based on the conversations I've had since Truck Day, I can tell if they are right for the team simply by their reaction to that story. If you're ready to roll up your sleeves to help out your teammates and have fun doing it, call me.

-@jpwisler

October 27, 2011

SoftLayer Features and Benefits - Data Centers

When we last talked, I broke down the differences between features and benefits. To recap: a feature is something prominent about a person, place or thing, while a benefit is a feature that is useful to you. In that blog, I discussed our customer portal and the automation within, so with this next installment, let's move into my favorite place: the data center ... Our pride and joy!

If you have not had a chance to visit a SoftLayer data center, you're missing out. The number one response I get when I begin a tour through any of our facilities is, "I have been through several data centers before, and they're pretty boring," or my favorite, "We don't have to go in, they all look the same." Then they get a glimpse at the SoftLayer facility through the window in our lobby:

Data Center Window

What makes a SoftLayer DC so different and unique?

We deploy data centers in a pod concept. A pod, or server room, is a designed to be an identical installation of balanced power, cooling and redundant best-in-class equipment in under 10,000 square feet. It will support just about 5,000 dedicated servers, and each pod is built to the same specifications as every other pod. We use the same hardware vendor for servers, the majority of our internal network is powered by Cisco gear and edge equipment is now powered by Juniper. Even the paint on the walls matches up from pod to pod, city to city and now country to country. That's standardization!

That all sounds great, but what does that mean for you? How do all these things benefit you as the end user?

First of all, setting standards improves our efficiency in support and operations. We can pluck any of our technicians in DAL05 and drop him into SJC01, and he'll feel right at home despite the outside world looking a bit different. No facility quirks, no learning curve. In fact, the Go Live Crews in Singapore and Amsterdam are all experienced SoftLayer technicians from our US facilities, so they help us make sure all of the details are exactly alike.

Beyond the support aspect, having data centers in multiple cities around the world is a benefit within itself: You have the option to host your solution as close or as far away from you as you wish. Taking that a step further, disaster recovery becomes much easier with our unique network-within-a-network topology.

The third biggest benefit customers get from SoftLayer's data centers is the quality of the server chassis. Because we standardize our SuperMicro chassis in every facility, we're able to troubleshoot and resolve issues faster when a customer contacts us. Let's say the mainboard is having a problem, and your Linux server is in kernel panic. Instead of taking time to try and fix the part, I can hot-swap all the drives into an identical chassis and use the portal to automatically move all of your IP addresses and network configurations to a new location in the DC. The server boots right up and is back in service with minimal downtime.

Try to do that with "similar" hardware (not "identical"), and see where that gets you.

The last obvious customer benefit we'll talk about here is the data center's internal network performance. Powered by Cisco internal switches and Juniper routers on the edge, we can provide unmatched bandwidth capacity to our data centers as well as low latency links between servers. In one rack on the data center floor, you can see 80Gbps of bandwidth. Our automated, high-speed network allows us to provision a server anywhere in a pod and an additional server anywhere else in the same pod, and they will perform as if they are sitting right next to each other. That means you don't need to reserve space in the same rack for a server that you think you'll need in the future, so when your business grows, your infrastructure can grow seamlessly with you.

In the last installment of this little "SoftLayer Features and Benefits" series, we'll talk about the global network and learn why no one in the industry can match it.

-Harold

October 25, 2011

Global Expansion: Amsterdam Ready to Launch

Where has the time gone? We still have confetti in our hair from the party celebrating the Singapore data center going online, and all of a sudden, we're announcing that SoftLayer servers are available in Amsterdam for presale.

If you saw the epic "SoftLayer is Coming to Town", you may have noticed a clip of the Go Live Crew (GLC) team members in Amsterdam at around the 1:05 mark:

GLC Amsterdam

With pallets of wrapped equipment and a few racks constructed in the background, it's pretty clear that as of October 1, the data center was a long way from calling itself a SoftLayer Pod. A few short weeks ago, I shared an update on the progress of our first European facility, and now we're less than two weeks away from the first customer servers being provisioned in Amsterdam!

Mark your calendar: November 7 - The date your first SoftLayer server in Amsterdam will go live.

In addition to customer servers being provisioned when the data center officially opens its doors, our network points of presence throughout Europe will be humming along nicely. That means if you're a SoftLayer customer in Europe, you should see some fantastic improvements in your network paths and speeds to servers in the United States (and Singapore) since you'll be able to hop onto our network sooner and ride with SoftLayer across the Atlantic.

Amsterdam Server Special
To coincide with the launch of our Singapore facility, we brought back the Triple Double server special to reward early adopters, and we're doing the same thing for customers in Amsterdam. Order a server in AMS with promo code TRIPLE, and you can double your RAM, bandwidth and HDD space for FREE.

The guys on the GLC in Amsterdam have worked tirelessly to ensure that everything is perfect (fueled by daily "Da Bobby G" sandwiches), and we're all ecstatic for customers to start taking advantage of the latest addition to the stellar SoftLayer infrastructure.

What are you waiting for? Shouldn't you be clicking through to pre-order your Amsterdam server right now?

-@quigleymar

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