Posts Tagged 'Software'

November 1, 2013

Paving the Way for the DevOps Revolution

The traditional approach to software development has been very linear: Your development team codes a release and sends it over to a team of quality engineers to be tested. When everything looks good, the code gets passed over to IT operations to be released into production. Each of these teams operates within its own silo and makes changes independent of the other groups, and at any point in the process, it's possible a release can get kicked back to the starting line. With the meteoric rise of agile development — a development philosophy geared toward iterative and incremental code releases — that old waterfall-type development approach is being abandoned in favor of a DevOps approach.

DevOps — a fully integrated development and operations approach — streamlines the software development process in an agile development environment by consolidating development, testing and release responsibilities into one cohesive team. This way, ideas, features and other developments can be released very quickly and iteratively to respond to changing and growing market needs, avoiding the delays of long, drawn-out and timed dev releases.

To help you visualize the difference between the traditional approach and the DevOps approach, take a look at these two pictures:

Traditional Waterfall Development
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

DevOps
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle to adopt the DevOps approach because they simply update their org chart by merging their traditional teams, but their development philosophy doesn't change at the same time. As a result, I've encountered a lot of companies who have been jaded by previous attempts to move to a DevOps model, and I'm not alone. There is a significant need in the marketplace for some good old fashioned DevOps expertise.

A couple months ago, my friend Raj Bhargava pinged me with a phenomenal idea to put on a DevOps "un-conference" in Boulder, Colorado, to address the obvious need he's observed for DevOps education and best practices. Raj is a serial, multiple-exit entrepreneur from Boulder, and he is the co-founder and CEO of a DevOps-focused startup there called JumpCloud. When he asked if I would like to co-chair the event and have SoftLayer as a headline sponsor alongside JumpCloud, the answer was a quick and easy "Yes!"

Sure, there have been other DevOps-related conferences around the world, but ours was designed to be different from the outset. As strange as it may sound, half of the conference intentionally occurred outside of the conference: One of our highest priorities was to strike up conversations between the participants before, during and after the event. If we're putting on a conference to encourage a collaborative development approach, it would be counterproductive for us to use a top-down, linear approach to engaging the attendees, right?

I'm happy to report that this inaugural attempt of our untested concept was an amazing success. We kept the event private for our first run at the concept, but the event was bursting at the seams with brilliant developers and tech influencers. Brad Feld and our friends from the Foundry Group invited all of their portfolio CEO's and CTO's. David Cohen, co-founder of Techstars and head honcho at Bullet Time Ventures did the same. JumpCloud and SoftLayer helped round out the attendee list with a few of our most innovative partners as well as a few of technologists from within our own organizations. It was an incredible mix of super-smart tech pros, business leaders and VC's from all over the world.

With such a diverse group of attendees, the conversations at the event were engaging, energizing and profound. We discussed everything from how startups should incorporate automation into their business plans at the outset to how the practice of DevOps evolves as companies scale quickly. At the end of the day, we brought all of those theoretical discussions back down to the ground by sharing case studies of real companies that have had unbelievable success in incorporating DevOps into their businesses. I had the honor of wrapping up the event as moderator of a panel with Jon Prall from Sendgrid, Scott Engstrom from Gnip and Richard Miller of Mocavo, and I couldn't have been happier with the response.

I'd like to send a big thanks to everyone who participated, especially our cosponsors — JumpCloud, VictorOps, Authentic8, DH Capital, SendGrid, Cooley, Pivot Desk, SVP and Pantheon.

I'm looking forward to opening this up to the world next year!

-@PaulFord

August 1, 2012

SoftLayer + Open Source + OSCON

While a handful of SoftLayer employees made their way to Boston for HostingCon, another ragtag group of SLayers journeyed to Portland to attend OSCON &mdash: the Open Source CONvention. OSCON attracts 2,500+ passionate members of the open source community, so the conference sessions and expo hall are filled with the most creative and innovative people on the Web. That's where we want to be.

Over the past few years, we've built a great reputation at OSCON as not only a great hosting provider, but also as the operator of one of the best booths on the expo hall floor. As usual, the switchballs were crowd pleasers, and we sponsored the show's Massage Booth, so we had great traffic through our booth all conference. When attendees left our booth, they were considerably more relaxed, they had the coolest swag at the show, and they had a better understanding of where SoftLayer fits in the open source space.

In addition to the conversations on the expo hall floor, we got to share a little expertise in a conference session. Senior Software Architect Harold Hannon presented an engaging educational session about how we implemented elasticsearch, Apache-based code that allows for scalable search for all kinds of documents in near real-time. At the moment, SoftLayer uses elasticsearch internally for hardware and ticketing, and we hope to extend this feature-rich scalable searching to our customers in an upcoming release of the customer portal. Because SoftLayer has built a great reputation for executing scalability well, Harold ended up presenting to a packed house (which you can see in the last few pictures of the slide show above).

SoftLayer's significant investment in open source platforms like OpenStack Swift Object Storage and CloudStack-based Private Clouds wound up being a big topic of discussion throughout the conference. Harold's elasticsearch presentation was a great conversation bridge to talk about the incredible search-and-retrieve functionality we implemented in our Object Storage service, and we were able to share and demonstrate how that functionality helps our customers manage large quantities of static data in cloud environments in an automated way.

The open source community has matured significantly over the past few years, and it's exciting to see that evolution. We aren't just talking about the incredibly popular open source operating systems like CentOS, Debian, Fedora, FreeBSD and Ubuntu that customers can get on a dedicated or cloud server ... We're talking about game-changing, innovative platforms that are redefining how the Internet works.

We want to thank the OSCON team for another phenomenal show, and if you attended the show but didn't get a switchball from us, I'm sure you'll have another chance at OSCON 2013. If you don't think you can wait that long, come find us at one of our other upcoming events!

-Summer

Categories: 
January 11, 2012

blue dog NETWORK: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from blue dog NETWORK about Hosted Sharepoint. blue dog NETWORK customers are realizing the results that every business wants from their information technology: intelligence, simplicity, and security. They get peace of mind and the agility to add or subtract users or services with just a click 24/7 at a cost savings of 30-50% over current IT services. blue dog NETWORK makes IT an operating expense, and from a financial and business management perspective, the implications are powerful.

EMPOWER your organization with Hosted SharePoint

SharePoint is the next generation of mobility and collaboration. Having access to a calendar or mailbox is one thing, empowering your organization to have all the content, communication, process management and flexibility needed to rapidly respond to business or customer needs is a goldmine ... One that is a simple click away.

Managing documents, calendars and inter-office information can be difficult. Documents get lost, version control is virtually non-existent and daily business functions that can be easily managed often get out of control. The capabilities of SharePoint 2010 work together to help your company quickly respond to changing business needs on an organizational rather than user level.

Using SharePoint 2010, your people can share ideas and expertise, create custom solutions for specific needs, and find the right business information to make better decisions without the requirement of costly technical expertise. SharePoint 2010 helps save time and effort, and focus on higher business priorities.

At blue dog NETWORK, we've found that our least technical clients quickly and with ease adopted Sharepoint as a mainstay for their diverse organizations. It really is the next generation of collaboration that has finally matured enough and is presented in a web interface whose simplicity meets end users' needs without training and learning curves. The two biggest Sharepoint benefits for them: An incredible productivity experience and the flexibility (and visibility) to respond to business needs.

Delivering the Best Productivity Experience
SharePoint 2010 helps your people be more productive. It offers a familiar Microsoft Office experience so your team can quickly and easily access the business information they need to get their jobs done. With blue dog NETWORK, this is available on any device with Internet connectivity (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphones, etc.) on Windows, Mac, Linux and Unix operating systems.

Rapidly Responding to Business Needs
SharePoint 2010 gives you out-of-the-box applications and a platform for customized solutions. You can use the features of SharePoint 2010 just as they are or quickly create secure and easy-to-use solutions for specific business needs. Because all of your information is consolidated in Sharepoint, you also have a one-stop place to track the progress of your projects, and if there are any problems, you'll see them quickly (so you can respond quickly).

Given the success many of our customers have seen with Sharepoint, I could go on and on about the business benefits of the platform. If you want to learn more, check out the details on our listing in the Tech Partners Marketplace. If you want to see a demo of Sharepoint 2010, visit our blue dog NETWORK Sharepoint feature and click "view demo" toward the bottom of the page on the right-hand side.

As Kevin and I talked about in the video interview above, blue dog NETWORK does a lot more than Hosted Sharepoint ... We offer all flavors of hosting for the end users, MSP and ISVs with White Labeling for resale. Given the demand for Sharepoint, we wanted to use this space to share a little of our expertise and experience with that platform.

Woof!

-Dana Viznea, blue dog NETWORK

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
Categories: 
October 10, 2011

A Manifesto: Cloud, Dedicated and Hosting Computing

We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the IT industry. It is forever changing the way technology is delivered and consumed. The pay-as-you-go model for everything you need in IT is shattering the old computing paradigms, from software licensing models and hardware refresh cycles to budgeting operating costs. This change is bringing about more control and transparency to users while accelerating the commoditization of IT by making it easily available through a new model.

This new model comes in three major "flavors": Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. We incorporate and enable all three by offering a unified, fully automated platform to enable greater customer control over their IT environments. The key tenants of this emerging model for SoftLayer are innovation, empowerment, automation and integration. Here's how we deliver against these four key tenants.

Innovation: We want to lead the industry by offering best of breed and proprietary cloud, dedicated, and managed hosting solutions, based on our own intellectual property. Currently, we have more than 252,000 hours invested and 2.6 million lines of code developed around these solutions. Customers can take charge of every aspect of their IT operations (servers, storage, networking & services) through our fully automated platform. Our Customer Portal and fully featured APIs give customer more control by providing direct access to more than 100 back-end systems and activities — every aspect of IT operations can be managed.

Empowerment: We turn IT operations into a predictable fixed cost. Customers can stay focused on achieving their business goals, not managing IT infrastructure. We offer expert planning and support from a certified, 24/7 support staff. Customers can deploy and scale when they want with one-day and on-demand automated provisioning. They can keep it as long (or short) as needed, with monthly contracts. In addition, customers can choose what they want to manage and what they don't, with the ability to have hybrid IT self-managed and managed environments. This speaks to the flexibility of our platform!

Automation: This is an area that makes SoftLayer stand out from the pack. We automate deployment and management of all services, accelerating provisioning time, streamlining administrative tasks, and making it all on-demand, every day and night. With automation that mitigates the risk for human error, comprehensive security practices and options, and a 24/7 team of certified engineers, we provide greater stability, a 100% Uptime Guarantee, and around the clock support for any issues or service.

Integration: This is the final ingredient to making it ALL work. We seamlessly integrate hardware, software, and networking into a unified service, all conveniently controlled through our easy-to-use Customer Portal and robust APIs. We provide full information, full-time through our Customer Portal and APIs, for every service we provide; there is no data about a system that we keep from our customers, from usage statistics to network performance and beyond. We have complete transparency.

These four key tenets are what set us apart. When SoftLayer started back in 2005, the team's goal was not to be Go Daddy on steroids. We set our sights on being the de facto platform for mainstream businesses to run all their IT operations. This means the complete gamut of applications and workloads with no compromise of performance, security, reliability and access. We are entering into a new IT era, where "connected everything" is the norm. It reminds me of the old phrase "the network is the computer" from Sun Microsystems' slogan. We have the foundation in place, which will make for an unforgettable journey. Let us know what you think.

-@gkdog

September 14, 2011

FaxLogic: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from FaxLogic CEO Eric Lenington. The unique FaxLogic service combines the best of analog fax, Internet fax, and fax servers to create a highly reliable, secure and scalable collaborative environment.

Why the (Right) Cloud is the Best Place for Your Documents

Every business produces and consumes documents — this includes both paper and digital, both those created internally and those received from customers and business partners — all needing to be sorted and organized and most needing to be safely stored and easily retrieved (and ultimately, securely disposed of when they are no longer needed). The vast majority of companies find themselves trying to do this today in highly fragmented ways and usually with radically different approaches for paper documents than with digital ones. Often different departments, or even different groups within a department, develop their own way to deal with "their" documents, a way that "works for them."

Digital documents are usually stored on in-house servers, on "shares" with folder structures that may only make sense to the person that originally built it — not to the person trying to find something in it. And few companies can say that they don't have reams of paper files stored in file rooms or in "personal" file cabinets. FaxLogic helps our customers solve this problem by seamlessly integrating their paper and digital worlds.

We do this by supporting their existing network of fax machines, scanners and multi-function printers (the "gateways" to the digital world for paper documents) and by incorporating key features of current technologies that we are all familiar with – like email and search engines – into the realm of organizing, archiving, retrieving and sharing documents. FaxLogic is a cloud-based service, running on a cloud-based infrastructure, and it uses "the cloud" to safely and securely store our customer's documents (whether paper or digital). This was no accident, and that is what I will focus on in this article, trying to "demystify" the cloud a bit, and discuss why it's the best place for your documents.

What is "the Cloud" and What Value does it Bring?
Wikipedia, one of my favorite sources for good information, defines "cloud computing" like this:

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).

As I said earlier, FaxLogic is a cloud-based service; we are the "application" (document management) that is delivered to the "client" (our customer's web browser). And we run on a cloud-based infrastructure, using providers like SoftLayer to manage the hardware layer that our application runs on and the networking layer that we use to deliver our service to our customers. Leveraging that "best of breed" infrastructure is a huge win for us, letting us focus where we add value – our application – while leaving the "plumbing" to others. Of course, a choice like that isn't made lightly.

From Wikipedia's definition, the term "shared resources" is the key. By leveraging cloud-based infrastructure and platform resources, we are able to use a small portion of a much larger and more robust environment than we could economically build ourselves. But the big kicker is that even though we are using only a small portion of that environment, we get to take advantage of the whole architecture and all its capabilities, just as if we were the only application running on it.

The "80% Rule"
An anecdotal number that's been thrown around a lot, the "80% rule" says that 80% of all businesses fail within some short time period after a major catastrophe, like a fire, flood or earthquake. But this isn't just an anecdote, numbers in the 60-90% range are real and well-documented. A study conducted by the insurance giant Chubb in 2008 put the likelihood of business failure after a fire at 70%. According to FEMA, of businesses without a disaster recovery plan already in place, 80% of those affected by hurricane Andrew in 1992 were out of business within three years. I won't bore you with a long list of depressing statistics, a quick Google search will turn up many more. The point is that data loss, whether caused by natural disaster, human error, or malicious activity, is, more often than not, very difficult to overcome.

Paper files stored in file cabinets, and even digital files stored on backed-up in-house servers, are vulnerable. Ask yourself what you would do tomorrow if even half of the documents critical to your business were destroyed tonight.

The FaxLogic Cloud Solution
Now, I don't want to suggest for one second that FaxLogic is the single solution for surviving such an event or that our platform should be thought of as a comprehensive disaster recovery solution. It is neither. But it is a critical part of the solution. When it comes to disaster recovery, Ben Franklin's "ounce of prevention" couldn't be more relevant. And as it applies to your business documents, that ounce is to get those documents out of harms way in the first place. This is where the cloud comes in.

Companies like SoftLayer provide cloud storage as a service – a highly scalable, secure environment to safely store files of virtually any kind. The architecture that such services are built on and the layers of redundancy they incorporate are beyond the reach of most small and many medium sized companies, but through the magic of cloud computing, we only need a small portion of that shared resource, while still getting to take advantage of the whole thing. The bottom line is that a well-designed cloud storage service will be hundreds or even thousands of times more reliable and durable than anything most businesses could economically build themselves, not to mention more secure.

FaxLogic takes our small portion of that shared resource, and through our application, makes it even more reliable and durable, by doing things like ensuring broad geographic distribution of multiple copies of each file, so there is no single point of failure even in the face of a major regional disaster.

Beyond the Worst Case Scenario
Secure, reliable cloud-based storage is just the basic building block that our application makes useful. Just the fact that your business documents are safer in the cloud isn't the whole story, nor is it the whole value proposition of the cloud. Beyond the worst case scenario, storing your documents in the cloud brings real and tangible benefits to your day-to-day activities. We make it easy to capture both paper and digital documents and store them in the cloud, organize and easily find your documents when you need them, collaborate and share documents while controlling who has access to confidential information, and manage everything from a simple browser-based interface.

Think about how much easier day-to-day activity would be with capabilities like being able to access a shared document library from any Internet-enabled device, instantly find a faxed copy of a purchase order from six months ago by knowing only the name of the sender, or easily pull up a client's latest work order revision without having to figure out who's desk the client's folder is on. We use the cloud to make this possible. By getting your documents out of their hiding places (stacks of paper on people's desks, file cabinets down the hall, or even "shares" on local servers) that information is more freely accessible to those who need it.

Take Action
Businesses of all sizes can and are benefiting today from a wide range of cloud-based services, most of which weren't even available five years ago. The underlying value proposition they all have in common is that they give each customer access to a small piece of a large "shared resource," one that generally wouldn't be economically feasible to build and support in-house. And each customer can take advantage of the scale and capabilities of the whole resource. When it comes to capturing, storing, organizing, retrieving and sharing documents, the cloud's value proposition offers a clear advantage over any on-site approach.

FaxLogic has built a best-in-class cloud-based application on top of best-in-class cloud-based infrastructure and platform services, giving our customers a multiple of that value proposition. By letting our customers leverage their existing equipment and without requiring radical changes to their existing business processes, we make it easy to start taking advantage of the benefits of cloud storage for all of their paper and digital documents.

-Eric Lenington, FaxLogic

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
September 7, 2011

3DCart: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from 3DCart Co-founder and CEO Gonazlo Gil. 3DCart is a technology partner with a robust eCommerce platform hosting thousands of merchants all over the world ... And it's clear they have an enduring drive for innovation and value.

Company Website: http://www.3DCart.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/3dcart

5 Must-Have Features in a Hosted Ecommerce Provider

In 1997, the concept that would eventually become 3DCart came into existence. I developed 3DCart with the idea of putting every single ecommerce tool and resource at the fingertips of web entrepreneurs so anyone with a computer could start their own online store. Today, we're still going strong, and we pride ourselves on launching new ecommerce features before the competition has a chance.

The market for shopping carts has exploded over the past decade. If you're considering the ecommerce business, choosing a shopping cart can get overwhelming. Because not all ecommerce software solutions are created equal, we've put together a list of five must-have features for aspiring entrepreneurs to consider when choosing a hosted ecommerce provider.

1. PCI Compliance to Protect Customer Information
You hear about it on the web, on the television, in the magazines: cyber-theft. Recent instances of online fraud (like the hack of Playstation's network) have caused online shoppers to stiffen up when it comes to sharing financial information. For your sake and the sake of your customers, it's important to put the minds of shoppers at ease as soon as they discover your brand.

Born from new rules created by the Payment Card Industry, PCI compliance standards are stringent guidelines for ensuring your online store is up to code in terms of security. The last thing you need as an online storeowner is responsibility for losing sensitive personal data to fraudsters. Beyond general culpability, you run the risk of losing trust in your brand, which could sink your business entirely.

The process for reaching PCI compliance is vigorous and expensive. That's why most ecommerce software providers undergo PCI compliance measures on their own — so online stores can offer security to their customers. It offers a little more peace of mind on both sides of the business relationship and ensures your transactions go through smoothly.

2. 24/7 Phone Support for Peace of Mind
You've worked with software companies before, so the possibility of 24/7 phone support might seem like a laughable service. True: not many software companies are in the business of employing an onshore support staff to have the phones manned all hours of the day. But that doesn't mean they aren't out there.

Not too long ago, 3DCart noticed a chance to further differentiate our company from the competition to offer 24/7/365 phone support for free to all of our customers. The idea behind the value-add was that your direct support lifeline shouldn't end just because business hours are over. It's been an extremely successful service for us, as well as for our customers.

Think about it: an online store doesn't close when the lights go out — especially if you do international business. The ability to connect after hours with a support team in the most extreme cases (downtime, bugs, etc.) is a huge factor and one that many customers cite as a reason for choosing our company.

3. Scalability/Adaptability to Handle Growth
The most successful online stores will inevitably have to scale up their ecommerce offering. Therefore, scalability becomes a huge criterion for finding the right hosted ecommerce provider.

But the ability to scale hosting volume as the business grows organically isn't the only important factor. If your store runs a promotion or gets a mention in a high-profile publication, it'll need to handle heavy traffic spikes. After all, you wouldn't want your store to crash right as it peaks in popularity.

A lot of hosted ecommerce solutions advertise scalability—but how do you know that they're telling the truth? A good way to find proof is to run through the company's case studies, usually hosted somewhere on the site. You're bound to come across one that demonstrates a specific instance of on-demand scaling. If that's not enough, contact the subject of the study directly for confirmation.

Customizability falls under this category as well. The more dynamic the shopping cart, the more control you have over your brand. Simple ways to manage your content are important and should be easy to manipulate with an intuitive CMS.

4. Comprehensive Feature Set for All-In-One Functionality
If you have a good business plan and know what you're going to sell, you probably already have a good idea of what features are going to be most crucial to your business. But that doesn't mean you won't need other features — some of which you might not grasp the importance.

Below are a few features that make the ecommerce experience a much more efficient, connected experience:

  • Autoresponders
    Setting and forgetting autoresponders is a great way to add some automation to your marketing plan. If you sell perishable goods for instance, you can set an automatic email to send to the customer when the lifespan of the product is up. It greatly increases the chances that they'll replace the item through your store.
  • Customer Relationship Manager
    Since you're hosting all of your data in the cloud, a built-in CRM platform is an important part of collecting analytics on customer behavior. You probably won't need all the functionality of Salesforce; a built-in CRM that has a lot of the same functionality automatically collects the data you need through your online store.
  • Great Marketing Tools
    Outside the box marketing tools like "Daily Deals," "Group Deals" and "Name Your Price" features greatly enhance conversion rates and make the selling process even more effective.
  • More Ways to Pay
    If you offer more payment portal integrations than your typical shopping cart, you give customers the option to pay using a comfortable, familiar process that increases the likelihood they'll make a purchase. Popular options include PayPal, Amazon Payments, Google Checkout and Authorize.net.
  • Partner Integrations
    To make a store more efficient, some shopping carts offer integrations with shipping resources (FedEx, UPS), fulfillment services and tax software. A direct data feed reduces manual administration and helps your store stay as efficient as possible, saving you time and money. You might even get discounts for services booked through your ecommerce provider.

5. Low Fees for a Lower Overhead
The pricing for hosted shopping carts usually revolves around bandwidth and feature sets, but there's a pitfall that some online store owners don't notice until it's too late: per-sale fees. There are some hosted shopping cart software platforms on the market that charge a percentage of every sale.

Another cost that new online storeowners run into is a setup fee. It's usually unnecessary and a way for the vendor to collect extra revenue. Pricing should revolve around hosting costs, feature sets and extra services like storefront design, period. Remember to check for hidden fees if you're evaluating an ecommerce software solution.

3DCart's Foundation
The five criteria listed above form the foundation of 3DCart software. Over the years, we've found that our customers have some of the most influential voices in the ecommerce industry. We've built a community on those voices that plays a huge role in defining how we do business.

If you're looking to break into the online retail industry and want a proprietary shopping cart that offers you the insights you need to keep your business growing smoothly, give us a shot for free.

-Gonzalo Gil, 3DCart

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
August 17, 2011

SendGrid: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Tim Falls of SendGrid, a technology partner that provides cloud-based email infrastructure for reliable delivery, scalability, real-time analytics and flexible APIs for customers who want to focus on driving their own growth and profitability.

Company Website: http://sendgrid.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/sendgrid

Understanding the Value of [Email] Infrastructure Services

The Fall of DIY ... As We Know It
Today more than ever before, businesses depend on third party services to operate efficiently and achieve their objectives. As a business leader, you have countless web applications and software as service solutions at your fingertips, which collectively address just about any problem or demand imaginable. Examples include cloud-based file storage, cloud and dedicated web hosting, recurring billing applications, online HR management portals, APIs for telephony and geo-data, and managed email infrastructure and delivery services. Startups and established corporations alike can utilize these tools quickly and simply with a credit card and a few clicks on a trackpad.

So, what does this mean, and why is it worth recognizing and appreciating? Well, it means that your life is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. And if you fail to recognize the opportunities and advantages that these resources offer, your competitors will soon leave you in their proverbial dust ... if they haven't already.

The gist:

  • You don't have to do everything yourself anymore ... So don't!
  • Be the best at what you do, and rely on other experts to help with everything outside of your realm.

The Email Puzzle
Let's face it. Email sucks. Not email in and of itself - obviously, it is an essential part of our lives and is arguably one of the most transformative communication tools in human history. But, from a business standpoint, the implementation and maintenance of an effective and efficient email system is truly a nightmare. If there is one thing that web developers across the world can agree upon, it may be this: Successfully integrating email into a web application just ain't fun!

To better understand the challenges developers face when integrating email into their web applications, let's look at an example (fresh from my imagination). Through this discussion, we'll uncover the clear advantages of working with a partner in email infrastructure and delivery.

Let's say you're building PitLovabull.com -- a social, online community for dog owners. Sound lame? Well, it's not ... because it's "different." As the clever name indicates, it's specifically for pit bull owners and advocates. Community members interact with each other and your company in a number of ways: Forum discussions, photo sharing, commenting, direct messages, the "give a dog a bone" button (think "like") and buying cool doggy stuff. Each of these features involves email notifications ... "Sporty's owner just responded to your forum post on Healthy Dog Diets." "Barney's owner just tagged your puppy Stella in a photo." "Thanks for purchasing a new collar for Boss! We'll notify you by email when your package has shipped!"

After six months of grassroots marketing, tens of thousands of passionate pit bull owners have joined your community, and your email volume has grown from 800/week to 8,000/day (that's almost 250k/month!). As a budding bootstrapped startup, you cut costs wherever you can, and you choose to manage your own email servers. You quickly find out that server costs grow substantially as you send more mail, customers are complaining that they aren't receiving their email notifications, and your support team is stretched thin dealing with confused and frustrated customers. The end result: Poor deliverability is directly (and negatively) affecting revenue! What's more: You have no insight into what is happening to your emails - Are they being delivered? Opened? Are links within them being clicked? Have you been blacklisted by an ISP?

Upon deep reflection, you realize that your developers are spending more time on email than they spend building awesome features for the community! Plus, you find yourself, the CEO/Founder of the company, researching mundane crap like ISP rate limits, Sender Policy Framework, DKIM, and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 — a few of the less-than-interesting aspects of email that must be understood in order to achieve optimal deliverability of your notifications and newsletters.

Luckily, you just hired Joey, a fresh, young hacker who's active in the developer ecosystem and always on top of the latest technologies. While exploring PitLovabull's web hosting control panel on your SoftLayer servers, he discovers a better alternative: The Softlayer Email Delivery Service &ndahs; a hosted and managed email infrastructure that's already built for you! Joey signs up with a credit card for $150/month (which covers a full 250k emails/month), changes a few settings on your web application, and within minutes all of your email is being relayed through SendGrid.

May All Your Email Dreams Come True
A few months go by ... Email is in your customers' inboxes. Deliverability is being tracked and displayed on your web dashboard, along with open and click rates, blocks, bounces, spam reports and unsubscribes. Customer Support receives fewer emails, calls, and IM chat requests. Engineering is busy implementing a backlog of feature requests (not doing email stuff). Sales are gradually increasing and overall customer satisfaction is higher than ever.

Empowering Developers
But wait, it gets better! After researching SendGrid's APIs, you recognize the potential for extreme customization, in the form of internal and external features. Internally, the SMTP API allows you to assign a "category" to each of your emails (password reminders, purchase confirmations, etc.) and in turn collect unique statistics for each category. Externally, the Parse API allows you to receive incoming emails to your web app. In a single day, Joey codes up a new feature, and now any community member can email a picture of their pup to post@pitlovabulls.com, include a caption in the subject line, and the picture and caption are automagically posted to that user's profile!

The New Meaning of Do-It-Yourself
We all know it's difficult to trust a third party to handle the critical elements of any operation. With the help of proven SaaS models that employ advanced technology, cloud-based infrastructures and dedicated experts, companies can now feel more comfortable moving into a modern mode of doing-it-themselves: Pay a nominal monthly fee to a service that handles email (or recurring billing, or telephony), and let the service do the dirty work and liberate the brains of your brilliant developers so they can focus on innovating with the tools available to them.

I hope this story helps entrepreneurs and business leaders think smarter as they build their dream. The lessons illustrated in the context of email apply across the board. We're in a fascinating time, where building an internet business has never required less capital and has never allowed for the laser focus that is afforded to companies today. Open your toolbox, work smart, and build something that people love!

-Tim Falls, SendGrid

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
October 19, 2010

Sunshine on a Cloudy Afternoon

A lot of time has been spent talking about the advantages of the cloud. I thought it might be instructive to explore some of the pros and cons from the point of view of a software company.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. It goes without saying that not all software companies (or products for that matter) are the same. There is a significant difference between developing and supporting a complex HR package and a word processor.
  2. The cloud will be viewed differently depending where a company is in its life cycle. Consider traditional software companies life Microsoft and SAP versus companies like Salesforce.com or Workday that have started life as SaaS providers.

Pros
Recurring Revenue / Cost Models - A business model based upon monthly recurring revenue has some significant advantages over the traditional license, implementation and maintain model that many vendors use. The predictability of the model makes it easier forecast revenues and costs, thus making enterprise planning easier.

Expanding the Customer Base - A recurring revenue model is also beneficial for a customer because they do not have to worry about significant upfront costs. In effect the cloud helps to expand the customer audience by potentially making a solution affordable across a broader base.

Scalability - The cloud provides that ability to scale up (or down) dependent on customer demand. This means that a vendor only pays for what it uses. Compare this to a model when Company X is dependent on forecasts to drive server / firewall / storage purchases. The end result is often stranded capital. Certainly these dollars are better put to use trying to find new customers and serve existing ones?

Infrastructure - If your cloud provider is good at what they do (like SoftLayer is!); infrastructure inside the DC (servers, memory, storage) and outside the DC (primarily network) will evolve as the market does. Company X will benefit from innovation without paying for it.

Cons
Pre-existing Business Models - Some software companies will simply be cloud-averse. While the cloud may make sense from a development and testing perspective, it may make less sense from a business model perspective. If the company’s revenue model is based on a traditional license, implementation and maintenance model, a shift to the cloud introduces challenges as pricing models and revenue recognition models (i.e. a move to recurring monthly charges) are likely to change. This is not insignificant and if the market isn’t screaming for a change, then change will not come.

Application Customization - A move to the cloud will mean that significant customization on a customer by customer basis makes less sense. It is more cost effective to service multiple customers on a single platform versus multiple customers on individual platforms, particularly if the traditional license, implementation and maintenance model disappears. At the end of the discussion, many customers may need significant customization. Of course this is dependent upon the solution being sold.

A key consideration with the challenges outlined above is that they are mostly at customer touch points. Use of the cloud still makes sense when the consideration is internalized - development and testing environments will still find a useful home in the clouds.

What do you think?

-Sean

Categories: 
October 18, 2010

Another Day. Another Product.

Today, SoftLayer released an Advanced Monitoring Solution based on Nimsoft's Monitoring software suite. In a nutshell the product will give SoftLayer visibility onto a customer's server at the OS level. In addition to the great product benefit the customers receive, it will add tools to our sales and support staff to troubleshoot, diagnose and systems design.

The core product works through a piece of software that gets installed on a customer server called a robot. The robot in turn allows probes to be run on the server. The different probes collect various data points from the OS and applications. As the probes collect data they pass the information onto some intermediate backend servers, and eventually end up on our brand new HBase data warehouse (HBase is the massively scaled database for large amounts (petabytes) of data). This is the corner piece for the scalability of the offering. So, robot is the main software and the probes are the application watchers that run inside the robot framework.

There are additional features outside of the process mentioned called 'Offbox Monitors' or 'Offbox Probes.' These are probes that live on servers in the SoftLayer data center. The idea behind these is that we are able to let customers have network services they want to monitor from a remote location. An example would be url_reponse, which monitors if a url is active and passing data (along with some other pieces of data people might be interested in like response time).

What it can monitor? The better question might be what can't it monitor? The SoftLayer offer comes in three packages - Basic, Advanced and Premium. Basic is a free package that monitors core hardware (CPU, memory, disk) along with simple process and services. Advanced moves into deeper system monitoring, and Premium adds more application monitoring (like databases, web services etc.). This offering is available for hardware, Monthly CCI's and hourly CCI's - basically for everything we sell. Customers can order the software from all order forms (external, internal, cci, server etc.) as well as add the service post deployment from the advanced monitoring portal page.

The service offering has two distinctive reporting features that we call graphing and alarms. Graphing allows customers to (yep, you guessed it) graph all the data we collect. For example, we can show a graph of CPU usage over time. Alarms are notifications that services are outside of a predetermined range. For example, you could setup an alarm when CPU usage goes above 90%. Alarms can be tracked from the customer portal, or email alerts (SoftLayer calls this list 'Alarm Subscribers') can be setup by the customer.

All the features of the product are accessed via the customer portal, or via SoftLayer's internal portal. Configuration, graphing, and alarm management can all be done from one management page in the customer portal. In near real-time customers can change configurations directly on their server or cloud computing instance (CCI) for the various data points they want graph and alarm. It's pretty slick, and it adds to the SoftLayer secret sauce. We have also added a feature that allows the customer to save configurations on a particular server and “redeploy” them on different servers or future servers they may add. This feature makes it easier to scale and customize for a particular customer's needs.

As time goes on we will continue to add more probes and more features. This is just the beginning - make no mistake it's pretty damn cool.

-@quigleymar

September 10, 2010

Who is Your IT Guy?

In any environment where the need for quick transfer and access of information is required, an “IT guy” is a must. Most people have a bit of a preconceived notion as to what a tech should look like. Most think of large glasses, pocket protectors, and a social anxiety that is idiosyncratic to that particular group. Fans of Saturday Night Live will recall Nick Burns, the condescending technician who fixed the computers in his little corner of TV Land.

SNL IT Guy Nick Burns

While popular culture seems to think that the standard IT Guy fits the above criteria, allow me to be the first to dispel that rumor. For living proof, I submit to you, the SoftLayer NOC.

The technicians here are more exceptions to this seemingly universally accepted rule of what an IT Technician should be. While we possess a large wealth of knowledge, our technicians are all but condescending. To those who don’t know, we’re here to teach you. Being a server administrator has it’s challenges, but our technicians can be your eyes and ears in the datacenter, and instead of replying with “was that so hard?!”, we’ll provide as much information and assistance as we can to get you back on your feet. Our technicians are not just the geeky typecasts that one would expect. Our techs come from all walks of life. Some are self taught, some were taught in a university, while others learned their skills in the Military. Our hobbies run the gamut, including the piloting of aircraft, gaming, sports, outdoor activities, and music – Heck, we even have some former rock stars in our ranks.

Just remember, don’t be afraid to ping your IT Guy for information. A lot of us like to share some of the ninja tricks, war stories, and other anecdotes about our times in battle with hardware, software, and everything in between. Not only do we like to share our technical knowledge, but our individual stories, interests, and fun facts as well. Remember: IT guys are people too!

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