Posts Tagged 'Supermicro'

May 14, 2013

Interop 2013 - SoftLayer + Supermicro Server Challenge II

The SoftLayer team visited Las Vegas for Interop 2013, and attendees from around the world stopped by our booth to take on the infamous Server Challenge II. The challenge was completed more than two hundred and fifty times with an average time of 1:31.34.

The Server Challenge II "Hall of Fame" was particularly competitive at Interop 2013. Only 8 seconds separated our first place finisher from tenth place:

Interop Server Challenge

Jim Chrapowicz recorded the competition-winning time of 58.40 seconds (after a 5-second penalty for not closing one of the latches), edging out the second place time by a razor-thin margin of less than two tenths of a second. For his Server Challenge II heroics, Jim is being rewarded with the MacBook Air grand prize, and everyone who made the top ten list will be receiving $25 iTunes gift cards. Here's video of the winning completion:

Take a look at some of the other action from the show floor:

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

Interop Server Challenge

About the Server Challenge II

The Server Challenge II is a race to reassemble a scaled-down version of a SoftLayer server rack. Participants are tasked with repopulating the drive bays of two 2U Supermicro servers and plugging 18 network cables into network switches. The competition provides conference attendees with a fun opportunity to get hands-on with the servers and network gear that fuel SoftLayer's global cloud infrastructure platform. For more information about the Server Challenge II, check out "Server Challenge II: How SoftLayer Saves the World."

About SoftLayer

SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. Spanning 13 data centers in the United States, Asia and Europe and a global footprint of network points of presence, SoftLayer's modular architecture provides unparalleled performance and control, with a full-featured API and sophisticated automation controlling a flexible unified platform that seamlessly spans physical and virtual devices, and a global network for secure, low-latency communications. With 100,000 devices under management, SoftLayer is the largest privately held Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider in the world with a portfolio of leading-edge customers from Web startups to global enterprises. For more information, visit softlayer.com.

About Supermicro

Supermicro, the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and Embedded Systems worldwide. Supermicro is committed to protecting the environment through its "We Keep IT Green" initiative and provides customers with the most energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly solutions available on the market. For more information, visit supermicro.com.

April 23, 2013

Server Challenge II: How SoftLayer Saves the World

SoftLayer made our way to San Francisco for another great year of digital marketing fun at ad:tech. This event is always a blast because it allows us trade show roadies to change up our usual dialogue and talk about SoftLayer in a unique way ... Instead of fielding technical questions about our platform, we get to talk about our cloud hosting solutions from a "big picture" perspective. This year, the bridge between those "big picture" discussions and the hardware and technical side of our business was the Server Challenge II.

This isn't the first time the advertising-focused crowd at ad:tech has seen the Server Challenge, but with the competition's new retro arcade game design, it was much more of a focal point this year than it has been in years past ... And it didn't hurt that we were in an awesome location right at the entrance of the expo floor:

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

Given the fact that most people who stopped at our booth were drawn to us as part of a crowd around the Server Challenge, the first question we heard was subtly different than the "What does SoftLayer do?" question we're used to answering at ad:tech. This year, most of my conversations started with an attendee asking, "What in the world does this game have to do with SoftLayer?" Luckily, the graphic on the front of the Server Challenge with three simple objectives provides a great outline for the competition's relevance to our business:

  1. Load the Data
  2. Connect the Network
  3. Save the World

1. Load the Data

Game Application: Insert all 24 of the drive trays into the drive bays of two Supermicro servers.
SoftLayer Significance: We have more than 100,000 Supermicro servers in our 13 data centers around the world. When you walk into one of our facilities in Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Jose, Amsterdam or Singapore, you'll see racks filled with servers just like the ones in the Server Challenge II, and those servers are loaded up with the hard drives you choose when you order from us.

2. Connect the Network

Game Application: Connect the 18 network cables into the three network switches.
SoftLayer Significance: The three different colors of network cables are the same colors you'll see in our data centers. The red cables carry public network traffic, the blue cables carry private network traffic, and the green cables carry out-of-band management network traffic. This is a huge differentiator for SoftLayer because those three physical networks allow for much greater flexibility for our customers. While the public network is serving public traffic to your websites, games and apps, you could be running an off-site backup of your database over the private network (where you don't incur bandwidth charges), and you can manage your server over SSL, PPTP and IPSEC connections via the out-of-band management network carried by the green cables.

3. Save the World

Game Application: Win a MacBook Air!
SoftLayer Significance: SoftLayer provides the flexible, scalable platform on which you can build your application, run your game or push an advertising campaign. The fact that all of our servers are racked, networked and ready for your order means that we're ready to "Save the World" for you by provisioning on-demand bare metal cloud servers and virtual cloud computing instances.

At least four or five times per show, I hear attendees talking about how the Server Challenge is the most fun game at the conference (even at GDC ... where the entire expo hall is filled with gaming companies). While it draws crowds for being fun, the best part of the competition is that it helps us tell our story and creates memories at the same time. When Server Challenge competitors hear that their companies need a new server, they're going to have a flashback to stepping up to a SoftLayer server rack and learning what makes SoftLayer the best choice as a cloud hosting provider. With the crowds we see at every show, that means we've got a lot of future customers:

Server Challenge II - ad:tech

Thanks to all of the ad:tech attendees who took on the Server Challenge II this year. The show actually had one of the most dramatic conclusions of any we've ever had before! Yuki Matsumoto broke the one-minute mark early on Day 2 of the expo with his first attempt of the day, and John Li managed to squeak by him with a time of 0:58.05 less than five minutes before the show floor closed:

Yuki had one shot at redemption as the last competitor of the show, but he wasn't able to beat John's 58-second completion, so the MacBook Air went to John Li! Keep practicing your server-building skills and come look for SoftLayer (and the Server Challenge) in an expo hall near you!

-Summer

March 8, 2013

Server Challenge II: Strata Conference 2013

If you want to find the Server Challenge II on an exhibit hall floor, just look for a crowd in one of the aisles and listen for cheers. When SoftLayer partnered with Supermicro to build a retro upgrade for our original Server Challenge, we knew the results would be phenomenal, and we haven't been disappointed. Other booths are chatting with one or two attendees while we've got the attention of 20+ as we explain what the Server Challenge II is all about and how it relates to what we do.

Strata Conference

About a dozen Strata Conference attendees asked where the Server Challenge II would show up next, and upon hearing that we'd have it at SXSW next week, one (semi-jokingly) begged us to let him rent the unit so he could practice beforehand. It almost seems like the competition is getting a cult following. And we love it.

Beyond the simple fact that the Server Challenge II affords us to talk about SoftLayer's differentiators as a cloud infrastructure provider, the competition actually brings flocks of attendees to our booth at the *end* of a show when other booths are already starting to packing up to go home. At Strata, the top four times were set in the last two hours of the show, and the very last attempt (which started right when the lights were flashing to signal the end of the show) was less than five seconds for taking the top spot.

In the end, Jonathan Heyne Galli bested the competition to take home bragging rights and a MacBook Air with a speedy time of 1:04.45. To showcase the winning attempt in a unique way, I grabbed my phone and fired up Vine:

If you have twelve more seconds to watch two other attempts, the Second Place and Third Place attempts were also captured with Vine.

In the midst of all of this competition, I've been blown away at the sportsmanship between competitors. I know how cheesy that sounds given the fact that we're talking about a game with a server rack in an expo hall, but it's true. Carson, the third place finisher, actually beat Jonathan's 1:04.45 toward the end of the show, but one of the drive tray arms wasn't clipped closed when he stopped the timer. We explained that we couldn't give him the top spot but that we could wipe that score and give him one more chance to replicate the result (with no errors), and he was quick to agree. He wouldn't want someone else to win with an "incomplete" build if he were in first place, so he didn't want to win that way.

Here was the final leader board from Strata 2013:

Strata Leader Board

Given the floods of traffic to our booth wherever the Server Challenge II turns up, it's only a matter of time until someone makes a documentary on the Server Challenge like The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. I can see it now ... The Server Sultan: Get in Line to Bring Servers Online.

-@khazard

November 19, 2012

How It's Made (and Won): The Server Challenge II

Every year, we attend more than fifty trade shows and conferences around the world. We want to spread the word about SoftLayer and connect with each conference's technical audience (also known as future SoftLayer customers). That goal is pretty straightforward on paper, but when it comes to executing on it, we're faced with the same challenge as all of our fellow exhibitors: How do we get our target audience to the our booth?

Walk down any aisle of an expo hall, and you'll see collateral and swag beckoning to attendees like a candy bar at the grocery store register. Some exhibitors rely on Twitter to monitor an event's hashtag and swoop in at every opportunity to reach the show's influential attendees. Other exhibitors might send out emails to their clients and prospects in the area to invite them to the show. We see value in each of those approaches, but what we found to be most effective was to bring a SoftLayer data center to our booth ... or at least a piece of one.

The Server Challenge has come a long way over the years. Its meager beginnings involved installing RAM and hard drive cables in a tower server. Shortly thereafter, a rack-mount server replaced the tower server, but you were still tasked with "inside the server" challenges. As we started looking for ways to tell the bigger SoftLayer story with the Server Challenge, we moved to miniature server rack, and the competition really started to pick up steam. This year, we made it our goal to take the Server Challenge to the next level, and when Supermicro stepped in to sponsor the next iteration of the the competition, we started thinking BIG.

Why use a miniature version of a SoftLayer rack when we could use a full-size version? Why have a standalone screen when rack-mount monitors can make the display part of the unit? Why rely on speakers behind the booth to pump "Eye of the Tiger" while attendees are competing when we could easily build those into the next version of the challenge? What was initially intended to be a "tweak" of the first Server Challenge became a complete overhaul ... Hence the new "Server Challenge II" moniker.

Harkening back to the 8-bit glory days of Pac Man and Space Invaders, the Server Challenge II uses a full-size 42U server rack with vintage arcade-style branding, a built-in timer and speakers that blast esoteric video game music. The bread and butter of the challenge is the actual server hardware, though ... Supermicro provided two new 2U servers to replace the previous version's five 1U servers, and we installed the same Cisco (public and private networks) and SMC (out-of-band management network) switches you see in SoftLayer's pods.

Server Challenge II

We had two instances of the original Server Challenge (one in the US, one in Amsterdam), so in order for the Server Challenge II to be bigger and better, we had to increase that total to five — one instance in Europe, one in Asia and three in the United States. Things might get a little crazier logistically, but as a potential conference attendee, it means you're even more likely to encounter the Server Challenge II if you attend any events with us.

The Server Challenge II's Internal Debut

The first instance of the Server Challenge II made its debut at GDC Online in Austin, and we immediately knew we had a hit. By the time the rack got back to our office, we had to get it ready for its next destination (Cloud Expo West), but before we sent it on its way, we gave it an official internal debut ... and raised some money for the American Heart Association in the process.

Server Challenge II at SoftLayer

SLayers at the SoftLayer HQ in Dallas could pay $3 for one attempt or $5 for two attempts to reach the top of the Server Challenge II leader board. Needless to say, it was competitive. If you click on the image above, you'll notice that our fearless leader, Lance Crosby, stopped by and gave tips to (and/or heckled) a few participants. Unsurprisingly, one of our very talented Server Build Technicians — Ellijah Fleites — took home a MacBook Air and bragging rights as SoftLayer champion with a record time of 1:03.79 ... But records are made to be broken.

In Two Places at Once

Immediately after the AHA fundraiser, we crated up the rack and sent it along to Cloud Expo West in Santa Clara. A few days later, we put the finishing touches on the second Server Challenge II rack, and because we got it done quickly, we were able to get it shipped to the other side of the country for ad:tech NYC. We would finally have the competition running in two places at the exact same time!

We weren't disappointed.

On both coasts, the retro style of the Server Challenge II lured some fantastic competitors (excellent!), and started a lot of great conversations (even better!). Here are the final leader boards from the shows:

Server Challenge II
Server Challenge II

You probably notice that the times in the ad:tech leader board are a little higher than the times in the Cloud Expo leader board, and our team figured out why that was in the middle of the second day of the conference ... The way we bound the network cables differed slightly between the two instances, and we were using different switches to time the competition (one that required only one hand to activate/deactivate, the other requiring both hands). In order to have an "apples-to-apples" comparison between all of our shows, we're going to make sure everything is consistent with all of the instances, and we plan on keeping a running list of fastest overall challenge times ... and maybe even a "World Championship" one day.

Given the early success of the Server Challenge II, you can bet that it's not going anywhere any time soon. If we have multiple shows running the challenge at one time, we might even fire up a video chat where you can compete against an attendee at a completely different conference ... so be prepared.

In the next year, we'll have all five of the Server Challenge II instances in rotation across three continents, and with the popularity of the competition growing by leaps and bounds after every show, we hope by next holiday season, a home version of the Server Challenge II is at the top of every wish list on the planet. :-)

For now, though, I'll just leave you with a glimpse at the action from Cloud Expo West (click for more pictures from the show):

Cloud Expo West

-Raleigh

October 9, 2012

Server Challenge II - The Retro Upgrade of a Fan Favorite

Wakka wakka wakka wakka. All your base are belong to us. I'm sorry Mario, but our princess is in another castle. It's dangerous to go alone. Do a barrel roll.

If you can place any of those quotes from the video games of yore, you'll probably love the Server Challenge II. Taking cues from classic arcade games, we've teamed up with Supermicro to build a worthy sequel to our original Server Challenge:

Server Challenge II

If you come across Server Challenge II at a conference, your task is clear. You step up to the full-sized server rack and perform three simple tasks:

  1. Load the data.
  2. Connect the network.
  3. Save the world.

You've got two attempts per day to install twenty-four drive trays into two 2U Supermicro servers and plug eighteen network cables into their correct switches. Get all of that done in the fastest time at the conference, and you walk away with a brand new Macbook Air. During booth setup at GDC Online, we shot a quick video of what that looks like:

The new challenge is sure to garner a lot of attention, and we're excited to see the competition heat up as the show progresses. Beyond being a fun game, the Server Challenge II is also a great visual for what SoftLayer does. When you get to touch servers in a server hosting company's booth, you're probably going to remember us the next time you need to order a new server. You also get to see the Cisco and Supermicro switches that you'd see in all of our thirteen data centers around the world ... It's a tech geek's dream come true.

In honor of the launch of Server Challenge II, we're going to offer some "live" coverage of the competition at GDC Online this week. If you want to watch the Server Challenge II GDC Online 2012 remotely via "challenge-cast," bookmark this blog post and refresh frequently. We'll update the leader board every hour or two so that you can keep track of how the times are progressing throughout the show:

Server Challenge II Leader Board - GDC Online 2012

Game on.

**UPDATE** GDC Online has officially wrapped, and after some last-minute heroics, Derek Manns grabbed the top spot (and the MacBook Air) for his Server Challenge II efforts! If you've been watching the leader board throughout the conference, you saw the top attendee time fall from 1:59.30 all the way down to 1:09.48. We hope you've enjoyed the "challenge-cast" ... Keep an eye on SoftLayer's event schedule to prepare for your next chance to take on the Server Challenge II.

-@khazard

October 27, 2011

SoftLayer Features and Benefits - Data Centers

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

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

Data Center Window

What makes a SoftLayer DC so different and unique?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Harold

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