Posts Tagged 'Services'

March 24, 2010

Location, Location, Location

South by Southwest (“SXSW”) Interactive wrapped up last week, and one of the recurring themes was how location-based services (LBS) are changing the landscape of social media. When you port social media apps to the mobile phone, a world of LBSs are opened to you.

There are many use cases for LBS, many for social media, and the intersection of the two are even more interesting.

As seen with foursquare and Gowalla, bringing in LBS into a social application that lets you add tips/comments to restaurants, bars, etc. instantly turns it into a quick way to see where the “hot” places are currently in your area. Adding game mechanics (like badges) only makes foursquare even more addictive.

This is the new hotness.

The New Hotness

The intersect between Location-based services and social media.

Is it any surprise that twitter started supporting location-based tweets this week? They’re simply keeping up with the trend. I expect to see location-appropriate contextual ads in applications on mobile phones more now. If you’re walking down 5th street, and you’ve given your application access to GPS information, advertisers would love to be able to tell you to drop by their shop on your way to wherever you’re headed.

ShopSavvy, for instance, could push notifications to customers using that app letting them know where deals are in their proximity.

There are detractors. Plenty of people still want to keep their location private. If you’re an at-risk person (in an abusive relationship, for instance) you should think twice before turning on location-based services. More and more websites/applications these days are starting to set very “open” defaults rather than restrictive defaults. As Danah Boyd recently said, we were once a people who kept information private and decided what to make public. Now we are more and more making data about ourselves public by default, and take more effort to decide what to make private.

Edit: A day after I posted this, I found an article by Kevin Nakao which provides more detail on location-based services. It is a great reader and can be found here.

February 9, 2010

Get with it!

I heard a story over the weekend, and somehow I translated it into a blog about SoftLayer. The story went something like this. “A horse walks into a bar…” Oops, wrong story.

A little background, as you may know it was really cold here last week in Texas terms and a sunny day here is usually not 20 degrees for the high. Now for the story, the person told me that he is not really adept at checking his gas gauge on a regular basis and for certain he would not think far enough ahead to get gas on the last warm day before the cold air hit. So he jumps in his car and takes off down the freeway. About 20 minutes into the drive he notices his low fuel light is on and he can’t remember the last time he filled up or approximately how many miles he has driven. He has run dry on fuel a couple of times in the past and doesn’t want to risk it in the cold weather. He has no choice but to pull into the first station he sees and fill up the tank. As he is filling up he starts to think about how much cheaper the gas is closer to his house and how much extra he will be paying for his lack of attention. He makes a mental note that in 2010 he is going to pay more attention to detail and be a little more on top of things going forward.

Has this ever happened to you? Not just with fuel, but how about in technology? How many times have you “jumped” in to a new provider and not checked the gauges? How many times has your hosting provider run out of fuel on you? How much did that down time cost you? Was it more expensive because you just had to do whatever it took to get back up and running? What if you had planned ahead and had better disaster recovery scenarios in place? Could you have same time, money and effort?

Did you know that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again the same way expecting different results? How can you stay with a failing provider if they are insane? How can you keep using CAPEX for equipment that is obsolete the minute you take it out of the box? How can you keep running your site, application or database without a good backup policy? You still haven’t added that next piece of redundancy, why not? All these bad habits that you continue to carry from year to year have to go! These are no different than eating too much chocolate! That is the habit I am giving up in 2010, what is yours?

Make 2010 different. Give us a call.

November 16, 2009

How Many Recovery Plans Do We Need?

Several of our bloggers have written about backups in The InnerLayer. This morning, I had an experience that makes me wonder how many recovery plans we need.

I walked out of the house to the driveway and saw that my left rear tire was flat. An enormous nail had punctured my tire right in the middle of the tread, and the slow leak deflated the tire overnight. To recover from this disaster, I needed to get my vehicle drivable and get to the Discount Tire location near my house so that they could fix the flat. Below is a log of how the recovery plans worked out.

Recovery Plan #1: Call roadside assistance. While waiting on them to change my tire, logon from home and get some work done before going to Discount Tire. I have leased four different brands of vehicles over the past 10 years, and roadside assistance was always included with the lease. So I call the 800 number and they tell me I don’t have roadside assistance. (Note to self: read the fine print on the next lease.) Result: FAIL

Recovery Plan #2: Inflate tire with can of Fix-a-Flat. I retrieved the can from my garage, followed the instructions, and when I depressed the button to fill the tire, the can was defective and the contents spewed from the top of the can rather than filling the tire. Result: FAIL

Recovery Plan #3: Use foot operated bicycle pump to inflate tire and drive to Discount Tire. I have actually done this successfully before with slow leaks like this one. It is third in priority because it is harder and more tiring than the first two options. So I go to my garage and look at where the pump is stored. It isn’t there. I scour the garage to find it. It is gone. Result: FAIL

Recovery Plan #4: Change out of office clothes into junky clothes, drag out the jack and spare and change the tire myself. This is number four in priority because it is the biggest hassle. I will spare you all the slapstick comedy of a finance guy jacking up a vehicle and changing the tire (finding the special key for the locking lug nuts was an interesting sub-plot to the whole story), so I’ll summarize and say RESULT: Success!

As a side note, I must give props to Discount Tire. Having bought tires there before, I was in their database as a customer and they fixed the flat and installed it on my vehicle for no charge. I recommend them!

All this got me to thinking about not only having backups, but having redundant recovery plans. Sure, you’ve got a recent copy of all your data – that’s great! Now, what’s your plan for restoring that data? If you have an experience like my flat tire recovery this morning, it might be a good idea to think through several ways to recover and restore the data. Our EVault offering will certainly be one good strategy.

October 19, 2009

I have backups…Don’t I?

There is some confusion out there on what’s a good way to back up your data. In this article we will go over several options for good ways to backup and sore your backups along with a few ways that are not recommended.

There is some confusion out there on what’s a good way to back up your data. In this article we will go over several options for good ways to backup and sore your backups along with a few ways that are not recommended.

When it comes to backups storing them off site (off your server or on a secondary drive not running your system) is the best solution with storing them off site being the recommended course.

When raids come into consideration just because the drives are redundant (a lave mirror situation) there are several situations, which can cause a complete raid failure such as the raid controller failing, the array developing a bad stripe. Drive failure on more than one drive(this does happen though rarely) , out of date firmware on the drives and the raid card causing errors. Using a network storage device like our evault or a nas storege is also an excellent way to store backups off system. The last thing to consider is keeping your backups up to date. I suggest making a new back every week at minimum (if you have very active sites or data bases I would recommend a every other day backup or daily backup). It is up to you or your server administrator to keep up with your backups and make sure they are kept up to date. If you have a hardware failure and your backups are well out of date it’s almost like not having them at all.

In closing consider the service you provide and how your data is safe, secure, and recoverable. These things I key to running a successful server and website.

October 7, 2009

GAHAP Revisited. Otherwise titled “Credit Analysts, Statistics, and Common Sense”

From time to time, I have posted about my frustration with GAAP accounting and traditional credit analysis and how it is not friendly to the hosting business model. For a refresher, click here, here, here, here, and here. By GAHAP, I jokingly mean “generally accepted hosting accounting principles.”

Mike Jones came in my office after a frustrating phone call with a credit analyst. They were trying to talk through collateral possibilities. He told me that the credit analyst has a problem because we carry hardly any accounts receivable. The credit analyst wants something that he can collect in case of default. In GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles), accounts receivable is the total amount that you have billed your customers but have not yet collected from them. Common sense hint: the accounts receivable balance won’t pay your bills – they won’t get paid until you collect the cash.

SoftLayer includes this common sense in its business model. Rather than send out invoices and bug people to pay us later, we choose to have our customers pay us in advance of their use of products and services. Many other hosting companies do the same. There are many advantages to this: we save costs that we would incur collecting the cash, we reduce the amount of abusive accounts that would sign up for a few days of malicious activity and never pay us, and it helps facilitate the on-demand billing side of the cloud computing model.
Again, the disadvantage of this practice comes about when trying to educate a set-in-his-ways credit analyst about our business model. Here is the basic gist of a mythical conversation between a credit analyst and a hosting company:

Credit Analyst: “I see you don’t have any accounts receivable to speak of.”

Hosting Company: “I know! Isn’t that great?”

Credit Analyst: “But if you default, what can I collect?”

Hosting Company: “You’d simply continue to bill the customers for their continued business. Because our customer agreement is month-to-month, you just collect for their next month of service over the next 30 days and you’ve essentially done the same as collect receivables. In fact, that is far easier than collecting past due receivables. We’d be happy place the anticipated next month billing to our customers on the balance sheet in an accounts receivable type of account, but GAAP does not allow this.”

Credit Analyst: “Oh my…you don’t have long term contracts? So all of your customers could leave at once? Isn’t that risky?”

Hosting Company: “We have several thousand customers who trust us with mission critical needs. They will not all leave at once. Our statistics show only a very low percentage of customers terminate services each month. Even through the depths of the recession, we had more new customers joining us than we had customers leaving.”

Credit Analyst: “But conceptually, they could all leave at once since they have no contracts.”

Hosting Company: “That is statistically impossible. The odds of that event are so low that it’s immeasurable. As I said, we provide mission critical services to our customers. To think that they will all no longer need these services simultaneously is paranoid. And if they did, would a contract keep them paying us? That’s doubtful. Let me ask you – do you lend to the electric company or the phone company?”

Credit Analyst: “Of course.”

Hosting Company: “Do their customers sign long term contracts?”

Credit Analyst: “Some do for special promotions. But for the most part – no.”

Hosting Company: “So why do you lend to them?”

Credit Analyst: “Why, the customers can’t live without electricity or phones. That’s a no brainer.”

Hosting Company: “It is exactly the same with our business. In this information age economy, our customers cannot live without the hosting services that we provide. You should look at us in a similar way that you look at a utility company.”

Credit Analyst: “But we classify your business as a technology company. Can’t you just have your customers sign contracts?”

Hosting Company: “Well, wouldn’t that conflict with the on-demand, measured billing aspects of cloud computing?”

Credit Analyst: “I guess there’s not much hope of you building up a sizeable accounts receivable balance then.”

Hosting Company: “It really makes no sense for us to do that.”

Credit Analyst: “We may not be able to do business with you. Do you have any real estate?”

Conclusion: Most credit analysts are so wrapped up in GAAP that they’ve forgotten the laws of statistics and many have even lost touch with common sense. Is it any wonder we’ve had a big banking crisis over the past couple of years?

September 23, 2009

Who Are Our Customers?

When talking to a wide variety of outsiders about SoftLayer, one question inevitably comes up. “Who are your customers?” It always takes a bit of explaining – it’s a bit like asking the power company the same question. In the power company’s case, the answer is “anyone who needs electricity.” SoftLayer’s customers run the gamut. There is no one particular industry vertical that dominates our customer base. Pretty much anyone who needs dependable, robust, hosted IT services is our customer, or potential customer.

Now, if we look outside of the silos of industry verticals, there is one type of customer that stands out more than others. That is the entrepreneurial small business. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the engine of economic growth, and thus I need to keep up with what is going on with things that affect small businesses.

So I ran across a study worth passing along via a blog post. It is produced by Kauffman: The Foundation of Entrepreneurship and is entitled “The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation.” It contains some valuable insights into some traits of the majority of our customers. These traits below are taken straight from the report:

Company founders tend to be middle-aged and well-educated, and did better in high school than in college

  • The average and median age of company founders
    in our sample when they started their current
    companies was 40. (This is consistent with our
    previous research, which found the average and
    median age of technology company founders to
    be 39).
  • 95.1 percent of respondents themselves had earned
    bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent had more
    advanced degrees.

These entrepreneurs tend to come from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds, and were better educated and more entrepreneurial than their parents

  • 71.5 percent of respondents came from middle-class
    backgrounds (34.6 percent upper-middle class and
    36.9 percent lower-middle class). Additionally, 21.8
    percent said they came from upper-lower-class
    families (blue-collar workers in some form of
    manual labor).
  • Less than 1 percent came from extremely rich or
    extremely poor backgrounds

Most entrepreneurs are married and have children

  • 69.9 percent of respondents indicated they were
    married when they launched their first business. An
    additional 5.2 percent were divorced, separated, or
    widowed.
  • 59.7 percent of respondents indicated they had at
    least one child when they launched their first
    business, and 43.5 percent had two or more
    children.

Early interest and propensity to start companies

  • Of the 24.5 percent who indicated that they were
    “extremely interested” in becoming entrepreneurs
    during college, 47.1 percent went on to start more
    than two companies (as compared to 32.9 percent
    of the overall sample).
  • The majority of the entrepreneurs in our sample
    were serial entrepreneurs. The average number of
    businesses launched by respondents was
    approximately 2.3; 41.4 percent were starting their
    first businesses.

Motivations for becoming entrepreneurs: building wealth, owning a company, startup culture, and capitalizing on a business idea

  • 74.8 percent of respondents indicated desire to
    build wealth as an important motivation in
    becoming an entrepreneur. This factor was rated as
    important by 82.1 percent of respondents who
    grew up in “lower-upper-class” families.
  • 68.1 percent of respondents indicated that
    capitalizing on a business idea was an important
    motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
  • 66.2 percent said the appeal of a startup culture
    was an important motivation.
  • 60.3 percent said that working for others did not
    appeal to them. Responses to this question were
    relatively evenly distributed in a rough bell curve,
    with 16 percent of respondents citing this as an
    extremely important factor and 16.8 percent of
    respondents citing it as not at all a factor.

Not only do the traits above describe a big chunk of SoftLayer’s customers – they also describe the people of SoftLayer.

If you are an entrepreneurial small business and you need a hosted IT service provider who understands your needs, you will find a likeminded partner in SoftLayer. Many of the small businesses who joined with us two or three years ago aren’t so small anymore, and that’s fine! When our customers succeed, we succeed. We get that.

September 21, 2009

Hardwhere? - Part Deux: Softwhere (as in soft, fluffy clouds)

I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the cloud software we use (okay, maybe a little :),) but I know the gist of it as far as hardware is concerned- redundancy. Entire servers were the last piece of the puzzle needed to complete entire hardware redundancy. In my original article, Hardwhere?, (http://theinnerlayer.softlayer.com/2008/hardwhere/) I talked about using load balancers to spread the load to multiple servers (a service we already had at the time) and eluded to cloud computing.

Now cloud services are a reality.

This is a dream come true for me as the hardware manager. Hardware will always have failures and living in the cloud eliminates customer impact. Words cannot describe what it means to the customer. Never again will a downed server impact service.

Simply put, when you use a SoftLayer CloudLayer Computing Instance, your software is running on one or more servers. If one of these should fail, the load of your software is shifted to another server in the “cloud” seamlessly. We call this HA or High Availability.

If there is a sad part to all of this, it would be that I have spent considerable effort optimizing the hardware department to minimize customer downtime in the even on hardware failures. But I have a rather odd way of looking at my job. I believe the end game of any job I do is complete automation and/or elimination of the task altogether. (Can you say the opposite of job security?) I have a going joke where I say: “Until I have automated and/or proceduralized everything down to perfection with one big red button, there is still work to be done!”

Cloud computing eliminates the customer impact of hardware failures. Bam! Even though this has nothing to do with my hardware department planning, policies and procedures, I have no ego in the matter. If it solves the problem, I don’t care who did the work and was the genius behind it all, as long as it moves us forward with the best products and optimal customer satisfaction!

We have taken the worry out of hosting- no more deciding what RAID is best. No more worrying about how to keep your data available in the event of a hardware failure. CloudLayer does it for you and has all the same service options as a dedicated server and more! One more step to a big red button for the customer!

Now back to working on the DC patrol sharks (they keep eating the techs!) New project- tech redundancy!

September 7, 2009

Local Phone for (Darn Near Almost) Free

I keep my ears perked for businesses that leverage Internet infrastructure – mainly because such businesses are potential customers for SoftLayer. Occasionally, I become a customer of the businesses that I hear about.

I took the plunge with one such company after loosely watching it for a year. In the summer of 2007, a friend of mine moved his home phone service to Ooma. Basically, it is local phone service with no monthly bill. Zip. Nada. $0.00 per month. To top that off, the quality of service is very high.

Now, it’s not totally free phone service because you have to have a high speed internet connection to run it. I suspect that if you are reading this, you do. By the way, I have fiber going to my house, and I have 20 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speed. I can get 50 down and 20 up should I ever need that much bandwidth. If I wanted local phone service from my local phone company, they would provide it through this fiber (not copper) at a price of about $45 per month plus taxes and fees. That means the monthly bill would be about $60 when it’s all said and done.

We yanked our landline when the fiber arrived 4 years ago since each family member at that point had a cell phone. Going all cellular has been pretty much fine except for a few minor hiccups. Sometimes, one of us has been unreachable at the house because of either a dead battery, phone set to silent mode, cellular network congestion, or the fact that the ringer just can’t be heard throughout the whole house, even at full volume. None of these, however, was worth an additional $60 per month to solve.

OK, back to Ooma. My friend has had it for a year with no problem. He loves it. It works perfectly with high quality. On top of that, Ooma is now sold at Costco for one-third lower than what he paid for it. You buy the device for a one-time fee up front and never have a phone bill. After three months (usually), you’ve made your money back in savings.

So a month ago, I bought it. It took 20 minutes to set up, and I’m a finance guy. If you’re a techie, I’ll bet you’re running in 10 minutes or less. It has worked flawlessly since. The sound quality is fantastic. There are more features and add-ons than I can mention here – go browse their website for more. The snarky ad video is worth the 45 seconds to watch it. In short, I highly recommend Ooma.

To keep things balanced, the ONLY advantage I see to a copper line is if there is a power outage and your broadband modem/router is down, the local phone is down. But if your home phone is cordless with a powered base unit, the copper line is down in that case too. And if the aliens from District 9 show up, the copper lines will be flooded too I’ll bet.

Ooma is just another example of how the Internet and its supporting infrastructure is not only here to stay, but to keep growing as traditional telecom infrastructure slowly dies. At SoftLayer, we’re here to make sure our innovation supports businesses that grow by leveraging Internet infrastructure.

May 13, 2009

The Data Center is Full of Surprises

After having been in the IT industry in some form or fashion for the last decade or so, I’ve learned that no matter how well you prepare yourself for disaster, you never seem to be surprised by certain issues that present themselves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the many surprises our friend Mr. Murphy can throw at us. I’m sure many a tech will anecdotally speak of the time where their server borked on them, their backups failed despite numerous backup audits, and they were up the infamous creek (I’m only assuming at least a few readers are nodding right now). Sometimes painful lessons are the best times to learn, but it’s a bad day when it happens on a production server.

Working in the SoftLayer data center, we take incredible measures to protect our customer’s servers. In a sense, we try to keep Mr. Murphy away. From the biggies (like redundant power and MASSIVE cooling units) to the routine (such as the data center walkthroughs, and proactive RAID alerts), we do our best to keep the servers in the data center running smoothly, and free of surprises.

Beyond the punches our friend Mr. Murphy can throw at us now and again, it’s nice to know there are a few good surprises in store for you, too. You might be surprised at the great deals our SLales team can provide. You might also be surprised at not only the amazing features such as the new Cloudlayer™ Storage, but the incredible rate we keep bringing new features to the table. I’ve also seen customer’s surprise when we rescue their server from the brink of disaster, or when we are able to provide a few tweaks to give THEIR business the edge it needs.

Furthermore, our people keep the data center interesting. SoftLayer sees no shortage of antics. There’s John’s fully automatic Nerf gun. There’s also plenty of jokes played at the expense of someone unfortunate enough to leave their workstation unlocked (call it “security training” – favorite backgrounds include the Care Bears and My Little Pony). We also have that one hardware tech who likes to hide around corners or sneak up behind you, and scare the life out of you while you’re focused on the task at hand.

With so many surprises, SoftLayer continues to be a very interesting place to work, and most certainly a place where one would never get bored!

May 8, 2009

Interview with the Printer

SL: Hey, The elevator was acting strangely this morning. I wanted your opinion on a few things.
Printer: *whir*

SL: Excellent, I’m glad to hear your enthusiasm. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how the web hosting industry seems to be weathering the storm of the global economic downturn quite well. It seems regardless of the bank bailouts, failed mortgages, and credit crises, there is still a high demand for social networking applications, online shopping and exchange of information via the many forums available. Furthermore, with the reliability of our redundant links, businesses are finding it more affordable to outsource their IT assets, and host with us.
Printer: PAPER_EMPTY

SL: I Get it. By hosting here, you can also begin the transition to a paperless business. Something to the effect of a tech taking an X-Ray, uploading it to an SL server through the private uplink, and instantly having it available to a doctor thousands of miles away. And that’s just one possibility out of the endless uses for a server here. We have a ton of space available, and by design, we use approximately a square foot per server in our Datacenter… How’s that for space efficiency?
Printer: WARMING_UP

SL: Yea, it gets pretty toasty in there, but luckily we have environmental controls in place to mitigate the heat put out by the thousands of servers in the pods. We also have monitoring in place to notify us of any possible situations. As uptime is vital in the web hosting industry, we have a number of features available both internally and externally. We have 24/7/365 monitoring, automatic reboots, and a highly intuitive customer portal. Not to mention the best technicians in the industry
Printer: *beep*

SL: Now that’s just rude. We have staff from every facet of IT working in our NOC every day of the year. With the highly skilled staff holding years upon years of experience, there are few issues that can’t be solved quickly and efficiently.
Printer: PAPER_JAM

SL: Doubtful. We continue to innovate in efficiency and features. Now you’re acting just like the elevator.
Printer: PC_LOAD_LETTER

SL: Ugh, you’re just as bad as the Elevator. What does that mean, anyway?

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