Posts Tagged 'Software'

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!

June 8, 2010

Core Construction

While constructing a storage building with a friend of mine I came to several realizations the first and less important was I really didn’t know what I was doing and was glad my friend was there. The next and most important thing was that the further into the construction we got the more I noticed from looking at the structure of the building from top to bottom there was a definite change in the need for structural support. I know what you are thinking at this point well duh, but for some reason when you actually step back and look at the framed structure the way that each layer depends on the previous is even more pronounced. A perfect example of this concept can be seen in every human and most animals of the world for as you peel back layers you eventually end up at a core that is the skeletal structure.

Something to ponder on when considering the layout of your IT infrastructure is the software is only as good as the under lying server and the server is only as good as the under lying network which is intern only as good as the power that feeds it and so for and so on. This is the core reason that here at SoftLayer we strive to provide the best we can from the ground up to help ensure our clients that they have the tools and foundation to compete in the world of online services.

January 18, 2010

Maintnenance FTW

I am a bit of an automotive enthusiast, so when I'm not working, I do spend a fair amount of time browsing automotive websites. I, like many people in the hosting industry, crave information. I like hearing about new design directions, emerging technologies, and past stories about others' experiences with their vehicles. While browsing, I came across some images of the guts of a BMW that had gone in excess of 60 thousand miles without an engine oil change. Needless to say, the internals were slathered with a gummy sludge and the engine was ruined.

Many technologies we use these days have become so common place and are operationally intuitive enough that we are often able to figure them out and use them without ever having to crack open an owner’s manual. I bring this up because, many technologies in the hosting industry follow suit. There are a number of developers who create software that is designed to make it easy to host websites. They are marketed as the only solution you ever need and, in some cases, imply that all you need to know is how to use a web browser to successfully host websites, not only for oneself but a plethora of other clients too! The servers run themselves, and you only need to spend a few minutes setting your clients up! It's like free money!

Unfortunately, as the owner of the previously mentioned BMW found out, this is not the case. There are a lot more things going on behind the scenes than just seats and a steering wheel, as are the same with servers. On occasion, we receive support tickets that just say "the site stopped working." In an attempt to gather more information, we will often ask the client a wide range of questions that help us find the problem faster and come up with the best possible solution. However, sometimes the answer from the customer is, "I haven't touched or logged into the server in days/ months/ (hopefully not) years." The more relevant metaphor for this is, "I haven't changed my BMW's oil in years!" Servers are like any other complex machine. They require constant maintenance. This includes: updating anti-virus definitions, monitoring bandwidth usage for anomalous spikes, rotating logs out if they are getting too large (provided some other rotation scheme is not already in place), keeping an eye on disk space usage, and creating a disaster recovery plan and backups. So take some time, get to know your server, and familiarize yourself with good preventative maintenance techniques. Your server, your clients, and your BMW (if applicable) will love you for it.

January 11, 2010

Stop Using Internet Explorer 6!

Let me start by saying this… I hate Internet Explorer 6 (IE6). I really do.

Internet Explorer 6 was born on August 27, 2001. The browser was released in conjunction (well, a little after) with Windows XP as a major upgrade from Internet Explorer 5.5. From those humble beginnings in 2001, IE6 has continued to stay alive mostly because of the continued support/use of Windows XP and web-based applications built specifically for IE6.

Here are a few reasons IE6 is a big pile of junk:

  • Numerous security issues.
  • The inability to support CSS version 2 fully.
  • No support for alpha transparency in PNG images.
  • Quirks Mode, which emulates IE5.5.
  • No tabbed browsing.
  • It’s OLD!

So what makes a good browser!?

  • Full CSS 2+ support.
  • HTML/JavaScript W3C standards compliancy.
  • HTML/JavaScript performance improvements.
  • All new browsers utilize tabbed browsing.
  • Some new browsers (such as Google Chrome) have “Task Managers” that can allow you to destroy certain tabs that may have become unresponsive by a web site.
  • Support for HTML 5.

If you’re still using IE 6, consider upgrading to a new browser such as Mozilla FireFox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, or a newer version of Microsoft Internet Explorer. You’ll make yourself and web developers around the world so happy!

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October 28, 2009

Meet Virus Jack

I am Jack’s Vundo Virus. I cause Jack’s computer to have popup. I also disable Windows Automatic Updates, task manager, registry editor, and msconfig so Jack cannot boot to safe mode. I use Jack’s Norton AntiVirus to help spread my infection. I make Jack’s google searches to redirect to rogue antispyware sites. Jack got me by not keeping his system up to date. Now there are programs out there designed to remove me but the best way is for Jack to reformat. Let’s hope he has backups. Morale of this story is keep your computers up to date with the latest OS updates, AntiVirus definitions and program updates.

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.

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!

July 15, 2009

Subjecting Subjectivity To Math

I recently read an article about an endeavor that is currently being undertaken to develop a “Speech Analysis Algorithm Crafted to Detect and Help Dissatisfied Customers”. In short, a team of engineers are hoping to create software that will recognize when a caller is becoming stressed and immediately phone a manager to alert them of a developing situation. Wow! It is rare that you would see math and science applied to something that is so subjective. After all, math is used to quantify and measure things all based on a known or a baseline. In this particular effort, I would surmise that the team of engineer’s most difficult task will be to determine how to establish a unique baseline for each unique call and caller. Once upon a time as a student of Electrical Engineering, I took on my share of convolution integrals and that’s a path that I do not care to venture down again. I’ve also taken on my share of convoluted customer calls in a past life and witnessed our frontline assisting customers in complex situations here at SoftLayer.

Until there is such an application that can detect and address a conversation that may be heading in the wrong direction, we have to rely on good ole’ training and experience. With each call and query, the baseline is reset. I’d even go further to say that with each exchange; the baseline is reset as our Customer Service Agents seek information to get to the root of the issue. It’s not hard to imagine the frustration that can build in a back-and-forth conversation as two people look to come to a solution or an amiable conclusion just as it is understandable that sometimes, a customer may simply need to vent. How do you calculate and anticipate those scenarios?

I wish much success to the team involved in the customer service speech analysis program. And programmatically speaking, I see many CASE, SWITCH, FOR, WHILE, BREAK, CONTINUE, IF, ELSE, ELSE IF, NEXT statements in your future. Good Luck!

July 1, 2009

Pre-configuration and Upgrades

I recently bought a new computer for my wife. Being a developer, and a former hardware engineering student, I opted the buy the parts and assemble the machine ourselves. Actually assembling a computer these days doesn't take too long, it's the software that really gets you. Windows security updates, driver packs, incompatibilities, inconsistencies, broken websites, and just plain bad code plagued me for most of the night. The video card, in particular, has a “known issue” where it just “uh-oh” turns off the monitor when Windows starts. The issue was first reported in March of 2006, and has yet to be fixed.

This is why SoftLayer always tests and verifies the configurations we offer. We don't make the end user discover on their own that Debian doesn't work on Nehalems, we install it first to be sure. This is also why our order forms prevent customers from ordering pre-installed software that are incompatible with any of the rest of the order. We want to make sure that customers avoid the frustration of ordering things only to find out later that they don't work together.

The problem with desktop computers, especially for people who are particular about their configurations, is that you cannot buy a pre-configured machine where all the parts are exactly what you want. We attempted to get a computer from Dell, and HP, but neither company would even display all the specifications we were interested in, nevermind actually having the parts we desired. Usually pre-built systems skimp on important things like the motherboard or the power supply, giving you very little room to upgrade.

At SoftLayer, we don't cut corners on our systems, and we ensure that each customer can upgrade as high as they possibly can. Each machine type can support more RAM and hard drives than the default level, and we normally have spare machines handy at all levels so that once you outgrow the expansion capabilities of your current box, you can move to a new system type. If you're thinking of getting a dedicated server, but you're worried about the cost, visit the SoftLayer Outlet Store and start small. We have single-core Pentium Ds in the outlet store, and you can upgrade from there until you're running a 24-core Xeon system.

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