Posts Tagged 'Success'

January 28, 2013

Catalyst: In the Startup Sauna and Slush

Slush.fi was a victim of its own success. In November 2012, the website home of Startup Sauna's early-stage startup conference was crippled by an unexpected flood of site traffic, and they had to take immediate action. Should they get a private MySQL instance from their current host to try and accommodate the traffic or should they move their site to the SoftLayer cloud? Spoiler (highlight for clue): You're reading this post on the SoftLayer Blog.

Let me back up for a second and tell you a little about Startup Sauna and Slush. Startup Sauna hosts (among other things) a Helsinki-based seed accelerator program for early-stage startup companies from Northern Europe and Russia. They run two five-week programs every year, with more than one hundred graduated companies to date. In addition to the accelerator program, Startup Sauna also puts on annually the biggest startup conference in Northern europe called Slush. Slush was founded in 2008 with the intent to bring the local startup scene together at least once every year. Now — five years later — Slush brings more international investors and media to the region than any other event out there. This year alone, 3,500 entrepreneurs, investors and partners who converged on Slush to make connections and see the region's most creative and innovative businesses, products and services.

Slush Conference

In October of last year, we met the founders of Startup Sauna, and it was clear that they would be a perfect fit to join Catalyst. We offer their portfolio companies free credits for cloud and dedicated hosting, and we really try get to know the teams and alumni. Because Startup Sauna signed on just before Slush 2012 in November, they didn't want to rock the boat by moving their site to SoftLayer before the conference. Little did we know that they'd end up needing to make the transition during the conference.

When the event started, the Slush website was inundated with traffic. Attendees were checking the agenda and learning about some of the featured startups, and the live stream of the presentation brought record numbers of unique visitors and views. That's all great news ... Until those "record numbers" pushed the site's infrastructure to its limit. Startup Sauna CTO Lari Haataja described what happened:

The number of participants had definitely most impact on our operations. The Slush website was hosted on a standard webhotel (not by SoftLayer), and due to the tremendous traffic we faced some major problems. Everyone was busy during the first morning, and it took until noon before we had time to respond to the messages about our website not responding. Our Google Analytics were on fire, especially when Jolla took the stage to announce their big launch. We were streaming the whole program live, and anyone who wasn't able to attend the conference wanted to be the first to know about what was happening.

The Slush website was hosted on a shared MySQL instance with a limited number of open connections, so when those connections were maxed out (quickly) by site visitors from 134 different countries, database errors abounded. The Startup Sauna team knew that a drastic change was needed to get the site back online and accessible, so they provisioned a SoftLayer cloud server and moved their site to its new home. In less than two hours (much of the time being spent waiting for files to be downloaded and for DNS changes to be recognized), the site was back online and able to accommodate the record volume of traffic.

You've seen a few of these cautionary tales before on the SoftLayer Blog, and that's because these kinds of experiences are all too common. You dream about getting hundreds of thousands of visitors, but when those visitors come, you have to be ready for them. If you have an awesome startup and you want to learn more about the Startup Sauna, swing by Helsinki this week. SoftLayer Chief Strategy Officer George Karidis will be in town, and we plan on taking the Sauna family (and anyone else interested) out for drinks on January 31! Drop me a line in a comment here or over on Twitter, and I'll make sure you get details.

-@EmilyBlitz

Categories: 
July 13, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks

I've been working in the web hosting industry for nearly five years now, and as is the case with many of the professionals of my generation, I grew up side by side with the capital-I Internet. Over those five years, the World Wide Web has evolved significantly, and it's become a need. People need the Internet to communicate, store information, enable societal connectivity and entertain. And they need it 24 hours per day, seven days a week. To affirm that observation, you just need to look at an excerpt from a motion submitted to the Human Rights Council and recently passed by the United Nations General Assembly:

The General Session ... calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries.

After a platform like the Internet revolutionizes the way we see the world, it's culturally impossible to move backward. Its success actually inspires us to look forward for the next world-changing innovation. Even the most non-technical citizen of the Internet has come to expect those kinds of innovations as the Internet and its underlying architecture have matured and seem to be growing like Moore's Law: Getting faster, better, and bigger all the time. The fact that SoftLayer is able to keep up with that growth (and even continue innovating in the process) is one of the things I admire most about the company.

I love that our very business model relies on our ability to enable our customers' success. Just look at how unbelievably successful companies like Tumblr and HostGator have become, and you start to grasp how big of a deal it is that we can help their businesses. We're talking billions of pageviews per month and hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on SoftLayer through our customers. And that's just through two customers. Because we're on the cutting edge, and we provide unparalleled access and functionality, we get to see a lot of the up-and-coming kickstarts that are soon to hit it big, and we get to help them keep up with their own success.

On a personal level, I love that SoftLayer provides opportunities for employees. Almost every department has a career track you can follow as you learn more about the business and get a little more experience, and you're even able to transition into another department if you're drawn to a new passion. I recently move to the misty northwest (Seattle) when given the opportunity by SoftLayer, and after working in the data center, I decided to pursue a role as a systems administrator. It took a lot of hard work, but I made the move. Hard work is recognized, and every opportunity I've taken advantage of has been fulfilled. You probably think I'm biased because I've done well in the organization, and that might be a fair observation, but in reality, the opportunities don't just end with me.

One of my favorite stories to share about SoftLayer is the career path of my best friend, Goran. I knew he was a hard worker, so I referred him to the company a few years ago, and he immediately excelled as an Operations Tech. He proved himself on the Go-Live Crew in Amsterdam by playing a big role in the construction of AMS01, and he was promoted to a management position in that facility. He had been missing Europe for the better part of a decade, SoftLayer gave him a way to go back home while doing what he loves (and what he's good at).

If that Goran's story isn't enough for you, I could tell you about Robert. He started at SoftLayer as a data center tech, and he worked hard to become a systems administrator, then he was named a site manager, then he was promoted to senior operations manager, and now he's the Director of Operations. You'll recognize him as the guy with all of the shirts in Lance's "Earn Your Bars" blog post from December. He took every rung on the ladder hand-over-hand because no challenge could overwhelm him. He sought out what needed to be done without being asked, and he was proactive about make SoftLayer even better.

I could tell you about dozens of others in the company that have the same kinds of success stories because they approached the opportunities SoftLayer provided them with a passion and positive attitude that can't be faked. If being successful in an organization makes you biased, we're all biased. We love this environment. We're presented with opportunities and surrounded by people encouraging us to take advantage of those opportunities, and as a result, we can challenge ourselves and reach our potential. No good idea is ignored, and no hard work goes unrecognized.

I'm struggling to suppress the countless "opportunity" stories I've seen in my tenure at SoftLayer, but I think the three stories above provide a great cross-section of what it looks like to work for SoftLayer. If you like being challenged (and being rewarded for your hard work), you might want to take this opportunity to see which SoftLayer Career could be waiting for you.

When opportunity knocks, let it in.

-Hilary

Categories: 
April 6, 2012

Of Cage Nuts and Customer Service

Sometimes it's the little hardships and annoyances that really mold you. How do you react? Do you manage to work through them, or do you let them eat away at you to the point that you're more paralyzed by them than you are a bigger problem?

As a new hire, I was required to take part in a Truck Day — an experience that helps everyone in the company understand (at a base level) what is involved with the actual products and services we sell. If you've ever had the fortune of working on one, there are certain activities that can leave you feeling weary. For me, that weariness-inducing activity was working with cage nuts.

For those of you unfamiliar with cage nuts, they're small pieces of metal that accommodate screw-in server rails on a rack meant for slide-in server rails. Installing them is one of the most frustrating things ever ... They have two little clips that fit inside the rack, and you have to bend them to get them in. Here's a great illustration of how they work from an Oracle Sun Rack user's guide:

Cage Nuts

I'd installed them before, but never more than eight or so at a time. After Truck Day, I now have nothing but the greatest respect for the amazing people working in the data centers who have to do them in massive volumes. I don't think I've ever received as many tiny cuts on my hand as I did in the few hours I spent installing the relatively small number I managed to complete.

As a Customer Support Administrator (CSA), I spend the majority of my time sitting at a computer, helping customers with their servers and doing my best to resolve issues as they are encountered. Physically installing cage nuts isn't part of my day-to-day responsibilities (until the next Truck Day), but I realized that my job has its own "cage nuts."

A customer wanting to lease a server from us isn't particularly worried about the fact that cage nuts have to be meticulously installed in the rack, and they also aren't paying any mind to the fact I might have worked with a dozen customers in my shift already — And, certainly, they shouldn't. They're paying for a great customer experience and helpful, friendly service, so they don't need to take into account the context of our operations when they're simply asking for us to help them with a server reboot to finish the installation of an OS patch upgrade.

SoftLayer, as a company, has amazed me in that everyone I've met is not only willing to deal with their "cage nuts," but they will also do so without losing the smile from their face (even if there's some good-natured grumbling every now and then). In many of the places I've worked, this sort of task would be met with protest, foot dragging and a tired resignation to doing the work. That simply isn't the case here.

I'm definitely a newbie around here, and I'm still getting a feel for the culture, catching up on the inside jokes, and learning the ins and outs of the company (and the people in it). The one thing that was abundantly clear to me from the very first night, though: SLayers are truly dedicated to what they do, and the resulting work environment is one that fosters and rewards that dedication.

So in my estimation, how have the little annoyances — the cage nuts of our lives — molded SoftLayer and the people who work here? I'd say that not only do we work through them, we do so enthusiastically in the company of friends, proud of the fact that these seemingly small things are part of what has made this all possible.

I hope all of you work in environments that enable you to deal with the small things you see every day without cursing under your breath and feeling stressed. If you don't, maybe you should look into finding a place that does. I hear we're hiring.

-Gregory

March 22, 2012

Building. Business. SoftLayer.

"If you build it, he will come."

I hope I'm not alone as I find myself whispering those words in my head as I read them. If you've seen Field of Dreams*, you know that Kevin Costner mysteriously hears and sees things no one else can see, and he seems like a lunatic when he follows the instructions of his invisible guide. He builds a baseball diamond on his farm land, and famous baseball players like Shoeless Joe Jackson come to play from the afterlife. He took a risk to build something with faith that it would yield results.

It's a lot like the way most visionaries and entrepreneurs take risks to make their marks on the world.

Taking an idea from inception to market is much like building a baseball field in the middle of your farmland. You can factor in all the "knowns" (size, shape, materials, etc.), but in the end, you have to trust that consumers will come. Faith in a product or service drives the concept forward, and second-guessing it or working at it halfheartedly can destroy its slim chance of success. As a company so keenly focused on innovation ourselves, we find that other innovators are drawn to us, and because I've had the unique opportunity to work with many of our extremely successful companies, I thought I'd put together a few simple questions you might ask yourself as you transition from inspiration to action:

  1. Is your idea possible to execute? Will it be easy for the market to understand and adopt?
  2. Are there technologies available to deliver the idea or will you need to build your own?
  3. Are the resources you're using to build the product the best you can leverage?

If you answered, "No," to the first question, you might want to hit the drawing board to come up with a new strategy or approach as you aim to meet the unmet needs of the market. Don't get discouraged at this point ... By spending more time simplifying and clarifying your idea, you're saving an exponentially greater amount of time that you'd waste having to redefine or reposition your product down the road. If you answered, "Yes," move on to Question 2.

Question 2 will start setting a baseline of the amount of effort required to get your idea to a functional state. You might hang on Question 2 for a while as you learn more about available technologies or lay the groundwork for your project, but by doing so, you'll have a more concrete estimate of the timeline you can expect. Once you feel confident and comfortable with the answers to Question 1 and Question 2, the last step you need to take is to Question 3.

Question 3 can be pretty far-reaching — people, technologies and even hardware/software. These are some of the "knowns" that I referenced earlier. Note that "the best you can leverage" is not necessarily going to be "the best available." Startup ideas generally are equipped with startup resources. Cost, expertise and comfort are going to play a huge role in the adoption of resources.

One of the big roadblocks many budding entrepreneurs run into is that they have trouble preparing for success. Build your product with the expectation that it will be successful. Know what you can do to accommodate the spike in demand you'll see when Oprah and Bono give you a shout-out.

SoftLayer has been successful because we did our best to answer with those three questions, and as we continue to grow and succeed, we live and breathe innovation. We'd like to think that we're some of "the crazy ones" Apple referenced in its epic "Think Different" campaign, and we want to empower our customers to be a little crazy themselves.

-Clayton

*If you haven't seen Field of Dreams yet, you should find a way to watch it immediately, if not sooner.

October 11, 2011

Building a True Real-Time Multiplayer Gaming Platform

Some of the most innovative developments on the Internet are coming from online game developers looking to push the boundaries of realism and interactivity. Developing an online gaming platform that can support a wide range of applications, including private chat, avatar chats, turn-based multiplayer games, first-person shooters, and MMORPGs, is no small feat.

Our high speed, global network significantly minimizes reliability, access, latency, lag and bandwidth issues that commonly challenge online gaming. Once users begin to experience issues of latency, reliability, they are gone and likely never to return. Our cloud, dedicated, and managed hosting solutions enable game developers to rapidly test, deploy and manage rich interactive media on a secure platform.

Consider the success of one of our partners — Electrotank Inc. They’ve been able to support as many as 6,500 concurrent users on just ONE server in a realistic simulation of a first-person shooter game, and up to 330,000 concurrent users for a turn-based multiplayer game. Talk about server density.

This is just scratching the surface because we're continuing to build our global footprint to reduce latency for users around the world. This means no awkward pauses, jumping around, but rather a smooth, seamless, interactive online gaming experience. The combined efforts of SoftLayer’s infrastructure and Electrotank’s performant software have produced a high-performance networking platform that delivers a highly scalable, low latency user experience to both gamers and game developers.

Electrotank

You can read more about how Electrotank is leveraging SoftLayer’s unique network platform in today's press release or in the fantastic white paper they published with details about their load testing methodology and results.

We always like to hear our customers opinions so let us know what you think.

-@nday91

May 23, 2011

Behind SoftLayer's Growth

SoftLayer isn't a publicly traded company, but in the interest of transparency, we do our best to share as much information about the business as we can with our customers. Earlier this week, we released our revenue and operations growth for the first quarter of 2011, and while we're happy to reach so many amazing milestones, we can't take any time to rest on our laurels.

It's no secret that we've gotten to where we are today because our 26,000+ customers trust us with their businesses. We can quantify success with revenue numbers and server counts, but at the end of the day, our business will be successful when we provide a platform for our customers to be successful. The growth of our customer base is a testament to the hard work the team has put in behind the scenes, and it also presents an interesting challenge: We need to continue to meet the needs of 26,000+ different businesses in 140+ countries around the world.

Given the amount of hair-pulling you might encounter by something as simple as setting up dinner with a group of friends, it's a pretty daunting task to incorporate thousands of disparate perspectives in our road map as we move forward, but with that challenge comes great opportunity to build SoftLayer into an even better business. Whether the request is for something as straightforward as a hardware product or as complex as geographic expansion into specific international markets, the feedback we get from our customers shapes our internal conversations (and ultimately our long-term plans).

Understanding that need for constant feedback, we're doing our best to listen to what our customers have to say. We're listening to conversations on our forums, watching updates from our customers on various social media platforms, and monitoring our sales and support customer experiences to ensure we're moving in the right direction. Recently, we incorporated a Get Satisfaction widget on our site to give our customers a platform to share their ideas, questions, problems and praises. Additionally, users can vote on existing suggestions to give us a sense of our customer base's priorities.

To all of our customers, thank you for trusting SoftLayer with your business. In response to your past requests, we've opened a new data center in San Jose, christened new pods in Dallas and Washington, D.C., launched our managed hosting service and released servers powered by the latest and greatest Intel Xeon "Sandy Bridge" and "Westmere EX" processors ... And all of those accomplishments have come since we closed the books on the success we shared from Q1.

As we continue to improve our feedback loops, you're going to see even more impressive numbers from SoftLayer, and that success will fuel our ability to continue growing the business to meet more of our customers' requests. Because we officially completed our integration with The Planet in Q1, we're able to shift our focus completely to maintaining and growing the combined business. By the end of the year, you'll see SoftLayer data centers in Europe and Asia, and as new products and technologies are released, you'll see them first from SoftLayer.

What else can we do for you? (And no, that's not a rhetorical question.)

-@gkdog

April 9, 2011

7 Keys to Startup Success

We recently announced a partnership with the Tech Wildcatters Incubator Program, a Dallas-based "microseed" fund and startup accelerator, and we couldn't be happier with the results we've seen thus far. Much of the press coverage of the sponsorship focused on the $1,000/mo of cloud, dedicated or hybrid hosting solutions we offered the program's startup companies, but the most exciting aspect of the relationship thus far has been getting to engage with the participating up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Having been in their seats about six years ago when SoftLayer was born in a living room, the SoftLayer team is especially qualified to give insight about the struggles and successes of running a startup, and that aspect of our partnership is where we hope to provide the most value. Over the past few weeks, we've met with the current Tech Wildcatters participants and seen some of the amazing ideas they have in the works, and we're pumped to see them succeed ... By all accounts, we can't really call SoftLayer a "startup" anymore, but our investment in this community reinvigorates the startup culture we've tried to maintain as the company has grown.

Recently, I had the chance to share a few "Keys to Success" with program participants, and since those thoughts might be interesting for other startups and small business users, I thought I'd share some of the highlights here. There are no "guaranteed win" formulas or "super-secret secrets to success" in business (regardless of what an infomercial at 3am on a Tuesday morning may tell you), but these ideas may help you position your business for success:

1. Hire people smarter than you.
Your goal should be to get people on your team who can handle specific responsibilities better than you can. Just because you're running the business doesn't mean you can't learn from it, and the best people to learn from are brilliant people.

2. Hire a diverse group.
Different people think differently, and different perspectives lead to better conversations and better business decisions. Filling your organization with one kind of employee will lead to a lot of "That's the best decision ever" moments, but whether or not that "best decision ever" decision is good for anyone else is a crap shoot.

3. Founders should put skin in the game.
With all of the startup company trials and tribulations, you want everyone on your team to have a vested interest in the business's success. Clock-punchers and coasters need not apply.

4. Boot-strap the beginning.
Along the lines of the previous recommendation, if you've remortgaged your house or sold your car or maxed out your credit cards on a new business, you're going to care a lot more if it fails. By boot-strapping your initial financing, you become even more accountable for your success.

5. Operate with financial sense, operational sense and common sense.
Balance your business responsibly. If you disregard any of those "senses," your tenure as a small business owner may be relatively short-lived. When it comes to financial sense, I also recommend that you invest in professional accounting support and software to save you a ton of headache and heartache down the road when it's time to go after "real money."

6. CBNO - Challenging But Not Overwhelming
You can always do something more for the business. You and your team should be maximizing your efforts to grow the business but not at the expense of burning out. If you've got "skin in the game," your threshold for what is overwhelming may increase, but you have to understand the need for balance.

7. Have fun and make money.
In that order. If you're not having fun, it doesn't matter how much money you make. Startups are run by passionate people, and the second you lose that passion, you lose a significant piece of what makes your business or idea great.

I touched on about a dozen more points when it comes to how to orient your business to your customers, but I'll save that bit for later.

CBNO

-@lavosby

April 21, 2010

Building the Better Company

If you had the opportunity to listen to SoftLayer’s CEO, Lance Crosby, speak at this year’s Parallels Hosting Summit you definitely were able to obtain a key understanding as to his views on building solid companies in and through the hosting space. Some of the key points from Lance’s notes in regards to building sustainable businesses in the space were:

•Have a solid plan in place and use it as your guideline

•Create Systems that are scalable and metric driven

•Diversify the personnel and surround yourself with people that are experts in their functional areas and are sound characters. Don’t be a leader that thinks he is everything to all groups within the organization.

•Stop and look for mistakes, quickly correct the root problem and learn/adapt from those mistakes and repairs.

Lance’s message in his speech very closely aligns with a recent blog I read, “How to Build Your Own $23 Billion Company ,” which details the chairman of ASUS and his company’s ability to obtain significant market share in a once closed competitive environment, building a company from the ground up and with significant growth plans for the future. Jonney Shih, Chairman of ASUS, lays out his five rules that he believes are the basis for building any company, be it $500,000, $5,000,000 or $23,000,000,000 (as in the case of ASUS). Similarly to lance’s messages he states the following:

1)Sharpen the Sword – Build a plan and stick to it. Don’t jump from place to place. Have a focus and be the best at it that you can.

2)Ride the Right Wave – Seize the market opportunity. As Softlayer was able to seize the on-demand computing/virtualized data center market, ASUS was able to seize their market position in a time that built the foundation for their company to flourish.

3)Choose the right partners – Shih’s message of personnel is fundamental to his long term growth. “You need to really factor in their innate character,” Shih says. “You are going to work together for a lifetime, hopefully, and their character is as important as their technical knowledge.”

4)Recruit the best team leaders at the very beginning – As Lance’s speech mentions, the opportunity to build your company with a baseline of educated, experienced leaders with true functional, front line expertise will shape your organization for years to follow.

5)Drive the right strategy and confront the brutal facts – Not knowing the bad/ugly parts of business can compound these problems into downright disasters. Having people around you that are willing to look at mistakes with the idea to quickly correct these and move on will dramatically propel a company’s opportunity for longevity and growth. Ignoring things that can be addressed can only be negative in the long term.

Here at Softlayer, we have the good fortune to support many of the thriving hosting providers, VAR’s, managed service providers, and other niche based businesses that are gaining in both size and scale in the industry and really helping the hosting industry move from niche to mainstream. Many of these firms have humble roots such as Softlayer or ASUS in the example above. The key to continuing the mass adoption into the mainstream of the hosting space is to ensure that the leaders of the companies driving the growth are fundamentally sound and built on a proper foundation to achieve sustainable growth. SoftLayer’s groundwork has been laid to help support this growth throughout the industry. In our efforts to become the dominate force in the industry we hope that we have the opportunity to support the endeavors of those businesses and who knows, instead of ASUS, we may be talking about your company and how you have become the next $23,000,000,000 business.

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