Posts Tagged 'Support'

May 22, 2012

Real Men Wear Pink ... In Their Hair

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a Dallas-based charitable foundation that raises millions of dollars for breast cancer education, research, treatment and awareness every year, and given SoftLayer's commitment to charitable giving, it was a no-brainer for us to get involved. Events in cities around the country are hosted throughout the year, the most recognizable being the Race for the Cure and the 3-Day for the Cure 60-mile walk. One of the Dallas area teams participating in this year's 3-Day for the Cure walk in November is Pink Soles in Motion, and SoftLayer is a proud sponsor of their efforts.

Pink Soles in Motion

Over the past six years this team has raised approximately $700,000 for the Susan G. Komen foundation, and for the past two years, they've been the top fundraising team in the Dallas/Fort Worth area! One of the many fundraising events the team puts on every year is a BBQ Cook-off, and when we were given the opportunity to sponsor the event, we jumped on it ... If there's one thing the SoftLayer team loves as much as hosting, it's barbeque.

On June 2, we'll be loading up the infamous 3 Bars BBQ grills with the SoftLayer crew's legendary BBQ and selling it to help raise money for Pink Soles in Motion. I have to tell you, if you haven't tried 3 Bars BBQ yet, you don't want to miss your chance.

Beyond the event sponsorship and our BBQ team's participation, we wanted to go a little further, so we pledged to raise an additional $5,000 with the help of our SLayers and SoftLayer fanatics to help Pink Soles in Motion get back to the top fundraising spot in DFW. While the cause is certainly worth a tax-deductible donation by itself, we came up with a unique idea to inspire contributions: If we reach our $5,000 fundraising goal, a few of your favorite SoftLayer employees will dye their hair pink. And we don't mean temporary spray-in dye. They will get a professionally dyed pink hairdo.

Anyone can wear a pink shirt ... We're making our SLayers step it up a notch.

SoftLayer Challenge

As we started organizing this little fundraiser, we told a few of our friends at Technology Support about the goal (and the incentive), and they immediately jumped on board to help sweeten the deal even more ... They'll match every dollar we raise in support of Pink Soles in Motion and the Susan G. Komen foundation. We also heard that they're looking forward to taking as many pictures as possible of our pink-haired employees.

If you want to see a few SoftLayer employees with pink hair, DONATE and help us reach our goal! Every little bit counts, and donations are tax deductible, so give generously to help Susan G. Komen for the Cure in their quest to eradicate breast cancer.

Oh, and if you're in the DFW area and would like to see the 'results' in person, bring your appetite (and your camera) out to Harley-Davidson of North Texas at 1845 N. I-35E in Carrollton.

-Natalie

Categories: 
May 18, 2012

The Weekly Breakdown - Behind the Scenes at SoftLayer

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned scholar in the field of psychology, said, "In large organizations the dilution of information as it passes up and down the hierarchy, and horizontally across departments, can undermine the effort to focus on common goals." That's one of the biggest reasons SoftLayer shares a weekly internal newsletter with SLayers in all departments and in all locations. Keeping coworkers informed of corporate activities (and "common goals") may not be very high on everyone's to-do list, but it's certainly at the top of mine ... literally. As Marketing Coordinator, I'm responsible for sending out a weekly update to ALL SoftLayer staff.

If you have a growing or geographically diverse team, rallying the troops around a shared message is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. If you're not sure where to start with your own internal newsletter, I'd be happy to dissect what goes into our "Weekly Breakdown" as an example you might build from.

SoftLayer Weekly Breakdown

The Weekly Breakdown kicks off with employee birthdays. We want to make sure all 700+ SLayers know when one of their coworkers is getting a year "better," and every month, huge birthday cakes are brought to every office to recognize the SLayers celebrating their birthdays. We haven't written a SoftLayer version of a cheesy-restaurant rendition of the classic "Happy Birthday" song, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK

John Doe 05/17
Jane Smith 05/17
Bill Scurvy 05/18
Kermit the Frog 05/18
Miss Piggy 05/19

In addition to employee birthdays, we'll also call out important days (like SoftLayer's birthday: May 5!) in the birthday section.

The next section in the Breakdown is similar to the "Birthdays" section, but it's a little more relevant to our business: "Anniversaries This Month." When you're hired at SoftLayer, you basically get a SoftLayer birthday, and we want to recognize how long you've been a SLayer:

ANNIVERSARIES THIS MONTH

10 Years!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Doe

8 Years!!!!!!!!

  • Jane Smith
  • Bill Scurvy

5 Years!!!!!

  • Kermit the Frog

1 Year!

  • Miss Piggy

After we recognize the SoftLayer anniversaries, we have a section devoted to keeping employees informed of various activities going on at SoftLayer. That might be a recent press release, an update on holidays or an upcoming company event. This section is the go-to place for employees to know what's new with SoftLayer.

SL SPOTLIGHT

Did you know that SoftLayer employees can get a discount on dedicated servers and CCIs? Talk to any of our sales reps to get started. You will receive a [secret] discount off any dedicated server or a [secret] discount off any CCI!

The next few sections list available SL Job Openings, New Hires from the previous week, and Organizational Changes. Given that SoftLayer is still growing like crazy, we want to make sure all of our employees see the available positions in the organization so they can share with their network of friends or so they can see any opportunities they feel might better suit their talents and passions. It's always nice to know who is helping SoftLayer grow (new employees) and how they are growing with SoftLayer, whether vertically or horizontally (organizational changes).

The next two sections are dedicated to employees "personal" lives: Classifieds and Fundraising Events. These sections let employees list anything they are selling or giving away along with any fundraising activities or events that they, their kids, their neighbor or their dog are involved in. We've had classified items like car wheels, stereos and animal adoptions, and you can bet that employees were voraciously reading the "Fundraising" section when Girl Scout Cookie orders were being taken.

We wrap up the Weekly Breakdown with my favorite section: SoftLayer Praise. There are so many reasons why the section gives me joy. It's amazing how many wonderful comments our customers have about SoftLayer on a weekly basis, and it's a "pat on the back" for teams that may not interact directly with customers on a daily basis. Sharing all of the praise is great for morale, and those little compliments here and there go a long way to making our team continue working hard ... even if just to hear those comments again and again! Here are some of my favorite comments from the past few weeks:

SL Praise

As our business expands we look forward to working with SoftLayer on our projects for many years to come.

My server was down and did not want to come back online without an FSCK. Called support and got a real person on the phone within seconds who was knowledgeable - excellent! He was unable to get the FSCK to run so escalated it. Server Was back online within 10-15 minutes of calling. Thank you. Keep up the great service.

We have been a Customer since 2004 (since the days of servermatrix) and would like to thank you for the wonderful support that we have received over the years. Thank you for an outstanding customer experience!

Great customer services. On numerous occasions was pleasantly surprised.

You people are great!!! I am very Happy with your service. Since 1 year I never face a single server down issue.

Softlayer is the best hosting company I know of, which is why we are hosting with you. You are doing a great job.

I Love SL!

I definitely refer all my colleagues to SoftLayer. Service and quality are amazing!

@SoftLayer always has the coolest stuff at trade shows. I have a shirt from them that is cool enough for me to wear in public!!

SoftLayer it's been wonderful. We been having softlayer rocket battles ... #SENDREINFORCEMENTS

Those kinds of comments can put a smile on any SLayers face! :-)

If you have any wonderful comments to say about SoftLayer or an individual employee, don't be scared to tell us ... Your comment might just be featured in our next "Weekly Breakdown." Comment on this blog, use SoftLayer's "Get Satisfaction" page, tweet @SoftLayer or post to our Facebook page. We love to hearing from you and working hard to remain the "best hosting company [you] know of!"

As you can see, the Weekly Breakdown covers a lot of SoftLayer goodness in a given week. It takes a little work to keep a 700-SLayer organization on the same page, but that work pays off exponentially when the team is able to share accomplishments, praise and goals. I'd highly recommend you trying your own weekly internal newsletter ... Now leave us some SL praise!

-Natalie

April 3, 2012

Tips and Tricks - How to Use SFTP

Too often, new customers can get overwhelmed by a small administrative task on a Linux server. One of the more common questions I see in technical support is when a drive partition runs out of space. The website appears offline, and on of my coworkers advises you to just free-up some space. "Just?! Where can I find files that are deletable without affecting my website?"

Don't worry ... it's really quit simple. If you can use FTP (File Transfer Protocol), you can handle this bit of server management. Depending on the exact problem, we might instruct you to free up space by removing files in one of the following directories:

  • /var/log
  • /usr/local/cpanel
  • /usr/local/apache/logs
  • /usr/local/apache/domlogs

The reason these directories are usually overlooked is because they are not accessible by normal FTP users — users who only upload website content. When you upload website content to the server via FTP, the FTP user is limited to the directory structure for that website. Directories starting with "/var" and "/usr" cannot be accessed by these non-root users (The "root" user can access anything). And while root is a powerful user, for the sake of security, it is not normally allowed to log in over FTP because FTP is not secure ... That's where SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) comes in.

Most FTP clients support SFTP, so you don't have to learn a new environment to securely access any file on the server. Every FTP client is different, but I'll illustrate with FileZilla because it's free and available on Mac, Windows and Linux. If you don't already have an FTP client, I highly recommend FileZilla. Because there are a few ways to use FileZilla to get an SFTP connection, I can share different options for you to try:

Quick Connect

The Quick Connect bar is the quickest way to connect to your server. Start FileZilla and look immediately under the toolbar for the Quick Connect bar:

SFTP Tutorial

Enter the hostname (IP address or domain name), “root” in the Username field, the root password in the Password field, and “22″ in the port field. Remember, port 22 is for SFTP, the same as SSH. Click the Quickconnect button to connect.

Using the Site Manager

The Site Manager lets you save your login details. Start FileZilla and you'll see the following:

SFTP Tutorial

To open the Site Manager, click the left-most icon in tool bar or go to File >> Site Manager in the menu.

SFTP Tutorial

Enter an IP address or domain name for your server in the Host field, and select "SFTP" as your protocol. You'll enter the root user's login information, and you're ready to connect by clicking the "Connect" button or you can click the "OK" button to save and close the dialog box.

If you just saved your settings and the Site Manager is not open, click the Site Manager icon again. From there, you can select the site under the "Select Entry" box, and you just have to click "Connect" to initiate the SFTP connection with your saved settings.

If you see a pop-up that warns of an "Unknown host key," clicking the "Always trust this host, add this key to the cache" option will prevent this interruption from showing in the future. Once you click "OK" to complete the connection, your FileZilla screen should look like this:

SFTP Tutorial

Notice the "Remote site" section on the middle right of the FileZilla screen:

SFTP Tutorial

This area in FileZilla is the directory and file listing of the server. Navigate the server's file structure here, and click "/" to access the top of the folder structure. You should see the "/usr" and "/var" directories, and you can explore the filesystem to delete the files technical support recommended to create space!

Message Log

If you have a problem connecting to your server by FTP or SFTP, the open area below the Quickconnect bar is the Message Log. If you can copy and paste this text into a ticket, you'll help technical support troubleshoot your connection problems. Below is an example log of a successful FTP session:

Status: Connecting to server.example.com...
Response:   fzSftp started
Command:    open "root@server.example.com" 22
Command:    Trust new Hostkey: Once
Command:    Pass: **********
Status: Connected to server.example.com
Status: Retrieving directory listing...
Command:    pwd
Response:   Current directory is: "/root"
Command:    ls
Status: Listing directory /root
Status: Calculating timezone offset of server...
Command:    mtime ".lesshst"
Response:   1326387703
Status: Timezone offsets: Server: -21600 seconds. Local: -21600 seconds. Difference: 0 seconds.
Status: Directory listing successful

And here's an example of a failed connection:

Status: Resolving address of example.com
Status: Connecting to 192.0.43.10:21...
Error:  Connection timed out
Error:  Could not connect to server
Status: Waiting to retry...
Status: Resolving address of example.com
Status: Connecting to 192.0.43.10:21...
Error:  Connection attempt interrupted by user

If you have any questions, leave them in a comment below. Enjoy your new-found SFTP powers!

-Lyndell

March 1, 2012

MassChallenge = Massive Opportunity

What would you do if your business received $50,000-$100,000 with no strings attached and no equity given up? Spend it to market to new customers? Invest in your infrastructure to scale your application? Use it lease office space that doesn't sit above a bowling alley? Buy all of your employees puppies? It's a dilemma that every startup on the planet would love to face, and with the launch of this year's MassChallenge Startup Accelerator and Competition, that "dilemma" won't just be theoretical.

MassChallenge

If you haven't heard of MassChallenge before, here's the quick rundown: MassChallenge is the largest startup accelerator and competition in the world, and the first to support high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs with no strings attached. Participants are invited to a three-month accelerator program with world-class mentorship and training, free office space, access to funding, media and more. 15-20 startups are selected as winners of $50,000-$100,000, totaling $1.1M in cash awards. $4M+ in-kind support is provided (including some hosting goodness from SoftLayer). It's open to all: Any startup can enter, from anywhere, in any industry. No equity is taken. No restrictions apply.

Every entrant, not just the winners, will receive access to workshops, mentors, executives, other team members and sources of funding. Experts from the Massachusetts tech ecosystem will identify the highest potential startups, which will receive cash prizes and will qualify for privileged access to funding sources from across Massachusetts.

Why is MassChallenge important to SoftLayer? Well SoftLayer Loves Startups, and as an expression of that love, SoftLayer's Catalyst Program — our technology entrepreneur mentorship initiative will provide $25,000 cash to MassChallenge in addition to $1,000 per month of credit for qualifying participants to use on the SoftLayer platform (servers, cloud instances, storage, etc.) for one full year ... Which is reason enough to participate, right?

We're no strangers to the startup scene, and the reception we've received from organizations like MassChallenge, TechStars Cloud and Beta have only reinforced our commitment to communities created to foster entrepreneurship and innovation. I can't count the number of killer startups I've met in the past month (much less the past year), and I'm blown away by the portfolio of startup companies already in the Catalyst Program ... That's not a reason to be satisfied, though. We're not resting on our laurels; we're speeding up.

What does it mean for you as an entrepreneur? Easy: You need to sign up immediately, if not sooner. The deadline for applications for the 2012 competition is April 11, and if you apply before March 15, you'll be eligible for a $100 discount on the application fee. Visit masschallenge.org to learn more and get the ball rolling.

-@PaulFord

February 23, 2012

How to Get the Best Customer Service (Anywhere)

Shelves of books have been written about providing great customer support, but I haven't seen many written about how to get great customer support. Lance wrote a quick guide called "The 8 Keys to Successful Tickets" in May 2007, but because there have been over 730 blog posts between that post and this post, I thought I might take a shot at the topic again without stealing too many of his ideas. When you work with a service-based company, you're probably going to interact with customer support representatives regularly. During these interactions, your experience will not be defined by your question or the issue you have. Instead, it will be defined by how you present your issue.

It can be extremely frustrating when a server goes down or a script isn't working the way it should. When something like this happens, my gut reaction is to get upset and throw my keyboard. I've also noticed that when I am angry, I have a difficult time trying to explain my problem to technical support. I know I'm not alone in that regard, so I tried to pinpoint the most important points to remember when contacting customer support. While some of the explanations below are more SoftLayer-specific, each of the tips below can be used in any situation where you need customer support.

  • Remember there's a human on the other end. It doesn't matter where the customer support representative is; they're human, and their responsibility is to help you. I don't have any empirical data, but human nature tells me it's easier to be nice to someone who is nice to you. Once you realize there's a person on the other end of the phone trying to do his/her job, it's a little easier to thank them in advance for their help. It may seem insignificant, but if you thank me in advance for my help, I'll subconsciously work harder in an effort to deserve that gratitude.
  • Don't assume your request will be ignored. I'm surprised by the number of people who start or end their e-mail with, "No one will probably see this, but ..." or "Not that anyone cares, but ..." Don't assume that you'll be ignored. That assumption just creates overarching negative tone; it isn't a "reverse psychology" play. The support process can be defined by the expectations you set for it, so get started on the right foot and expect that your questions will be answered and issues will be resolved.
  • Don't start with a threat. "If you don't do this, I'm going to report this to my bank and other authorities," or "If you don't respond within 25 seconds, you'll be hearing from my lawyer." It's not uncommon to hear things like this in the first message in a ticket. It's much easier to help someone who seems easy to help. Invoking lawyers does not make your ticket seem easy to address. :-)
  • Provide useful, descriptive and relevant information. This tip can be tough since it's hard to understand what information is "relevant," but think about it before you send a support request. If you are having trouble logging in, then "I can't log in. Any ideas?" is not quite as clear as "Whenever I try to log in, the login screen just reloads without an error message. I know my username and password are correct. Any ideas? Thanks." That extra information will help considerably and will reduce the number of back-and-forth e-mails between you and the support representative.
  • Don't write overly detailed, wordy support requests. The longer your e-mail, the more difficult it is to read, diagnose and to respond. A representative has to read the entire ticket to find what's meaningful and figure out exactly what's wrong. Since they're trying to help you, you want to reduce their burden. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. So, be clear, concise and brief. If you've got a couple different issues for support to look at, break them out into individual tickets. Different issues may need to be addressed by different departments, so multiple issues in a single ticket can lead to delays in responding to specific issues in the ticket.
  • More Tickets ≠ More Support. The flip-side of the above recommendation is that you shouldn't create multiple support tickets for a single issue. While it seems like you're drawing more attention to the issue and creating a sense of urgency, you're really slowing down the support process. Support representatives might be addressing the same issue in parallel or information might be lost between tickets, elongating the time to resolution.
  • Escalate your tickets smartly. If you think a ticket should be handled differently or if you would like a supervisor to look into a specific issue, you should always feel free to request escalation to a manager or a supervisor. The best way to make that request is to update your open ticket, initiate a live chat or place a call into the technical support phone line. If you aren't satisfied with your support experience, then we aren't either, so we want to hear from you.

As you can see, the prescription is not too complicated: Prepare yourself to receive the best support and help us provide the best support, and you're much more likely to receive it.

-@khazard

January 27, 2012

Deciphering SoftLayer Acronyms

As a bit of an introduction, I began my career as a GSP and hosted LAMP sites with WHM for SMBs ... NBD. If you're not fluent in "Tech Geek Acronym," that sentence may as well be written in Greek. If I were to de-acronym it, I'd say, "I began my career as a Game Service Provider" and hosted Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP sites with Web Host Managed for Small- and Medium-sized Businesses ... no big deal." For many, the humble acronym is a cornerstone of what it means to be a true techie. Stringing together dozens of three-letter abbreviations (TLAs) to compose semi-coherent sentences would seem to demonstrate your mastery of technology ... The problem is that if the reader of that sentence doesn't have the context you have, it's not very easy to easily get up to speed.

Every profession has their collection of acronyms. The little expressions serve as a verbal and written short hand for people who toil daily with the topics of their trade. I'm proud to confess that I've been using these minute medleys of letters for over twelve years. Given that I work on the Internet, I've been exposed to hundreds of acronyms in the fields of technology, business and management, and in my experience, I've had to break through several acronym "barriers" to get in the know. Because I happen to interact with customers every day as the manager of SoftLayer's technical support department, I've encountered a few "Can you tell means?" responses, so I thought I'd write a quick blog post to clarify some of the common acronyms you may see in the SoftLayer vernacular.

Within support we have our CSTs (customer support technicians) and CSAs (customer support admins) who, with the help of SBTs (server build technicians), manage our massive fleet of servers. SBTs are the hands and eyes of our data centers, working closely with the hardware to ensure your server is online and operating in peak condition. The CSTs and CSAs are focused on the software and services that power your websites and applications.

Beyond employee title acronyms, you'll probably see a collection of terms that describe the products and services that we manage. In support, we receive questions about accessing servers or CCIs (cloud computing instances) using KVM (Keyboard, Video and Mouse) or IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) through our VPN (Virtual Private Network). Once connected to our back-end network through a SSL (Secure Socket Layer), PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunnel Protocol) or IPSEC (Internet Protocol Security) VPN, you have access to services such as DNS (Domain Name Service), NAS (Network Attached Storage) or iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface). Finally, while discussing our network, I often refer to http://www.softlayer.com/diagrams/pod-network-diagram/dal05 to show the difference between a VER (VPN Edge Router) and a BCS (Back-end Customer Switch).

If you run across an acronym you don't understand in a ticket, please let us know so we can share its full meaning ... By using these shortened terms, our team can provider faster service (and you can read their responses quicker). I know that seeing all the bold TLAs above may seem a little off-putting initially, but as you have a chance to read them in the context of some of the other acronyms you already know, I hope you have an "Aha!" moment ... Like finding the Rosetta Stone or the Code of Hammurabi. Given the quick glance at the terms above, if you want to learn more about one of the TLAs in particular, leave a comment below, and we'll respond in another comment with details.

CBNO

-Chris

December 22, 2011

Serving and Supporting - Outside the Data Center

On Tuesday, Summer posted "Giving: Better Than Receiving," a blog about all of the organizations SoftLayer has supported in 2011, and I'm one of the lucky SLayers on the new Charity Committee. We recently began this initiative to oversee charitable donations at SoftLayer and (more importantly) to encourage all employees to step-up and make a DIFFERENCE. Whether by volunteering or financially supporting a local charity, the idea is that we all participate in our community and try and help in some way.

One of the best examples of an organization that does amazing things for communities and people who deserve a little extra love is the TV show, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." I've always loved the show, and I'm only quasi-embarrassed that I've shed a tear or two when the crowd shouts, "Move that bus!" and the homeowners see their brand new home. If you aren't familiar with the show, the EM:HE team finds deserving families who, for one reason or another, need a new home, and over the course of one week, the EM:HE crew and a slew of local volunteers set to work to rebuild or remodel the home.

You can imagine the amount of supplies, coordination and man-hours that go into building a new home or completely remodeling it in just one week. That's where the community and local businesses get involved: Supplies are donated by companies, and the work force is made up of show employees, people from the sponsoring companies, and an average of 2,500 volunteers every episode.

With that generous involvement, the challenge becomes coordinating the massive amount of work, people and projects to get everything done in a short period of time. That's where the Internet comes in. How can the show maintain an online presence for vendors, sponsors and fans of the show? Each of them plays an important part in the show's success, so they need to be kept "in the know" with the most up-to-date information. And that's where we come in.

This philanthropic show definitely meets the requirements of SoftLayer's Charity Committee, and when the show was nominated as a prospective organization to support, we immediately set plans in motion to figure out how we could help support the show and the deserving families getting new homes.

We've donated $25,000 in free hosting services this season to support the show's online presence. We'll be providing a place for vendors who donate to gain some visibility and a place for fans to watch videos and keep up with the show ... And that's no small task: The site receives about 6.8 million monthly impressions.

As Summer mentioned in her post, this is just one of the many ways we're reaching out to support organizations that are doing great work. Let us know what charities matter the most to you, and we'll get them on our radar. We're always looking for ways to get involved, and the first step is learning about who's doing this kind of amazing work for such a great cause.

-@skinman454

December 15, 2011

Fighting SPAM and Abuse on a Global Network

For better or worse, one of the most engaging posts on the SoftLayer Blog is "We are a No-Spam Network," written by Jacob Linscott in June 2007. When it was posted, it celebrated a completely clear Spamhaus listing page – quite an accomplishment for a large hosting provider (for reasons I'll illustrate below). Since the post was published, it has become a hotbed of conversation about any and all abuse-related issues. Google "SoftLayer SPAM," and you'll see the post show up as the second result, so a lot of Internet passers-by will come across the post and use the comment section as a platform to share abuse-related concerns they have for us.

That engagement is a double-edge sword: It's good because we hear the concerns people have. It's bad because the post was meant to be a celebration of the continuous work that the abuse department does, and uninitiated visitors seem to consider it a unilateral claim that we've beaten spam once and for all. In the course of responding to comments on that post, I shared an analogy to convey what it's like to run abuse for a large hosting provider:

Scenario

Let's say you're the security manager for a huge mall. This mall has 100,000 stores with people walking in and out 24x7x365. In this scenario, there are "good guys" and "bad guys" who walk into and out of the mall, and every person looks exactly the same. Some of those people are store owners while others are customers of those stores. As the security manager for the mall, you want to maintain the safest, most well-maintained mall in the world, so when you find bad guys walking in and out of your mall, you do everything you can to kick them out and keep them out. Sometimes those bad guys are store owners who attract and send the wrong crowd; sometimes they are bad guy customers of a good guy store owner.

How would you manage your mall? It's not possible to differentiate whether a store owner will be a good guy or a bad guy when they're applying to lease space in your mall, so you can't "keep the bad guys out" in that regard. You can't have a security team of 100,000 people monitoring what's happening in those 100,000 stores, much less have someone individually check the millions of visitors streaming in and out of the stores. What's a security manager to do?

If you look at how Las Vegas casinos address that concern, it's clear that your best bet is to install security cameras and have a team monitoring them all the time. You might not be able to watch everything at the same time, but you can document what's happening around your mall and respond if you notice something unusual (or if someone calls in to report that they've seen bad guys coming from a store in your mall).

That's the position we're in.

SoftLayer Abuse Team

SoftLayer's network is the mall, the stores are servers, the store owners are our customers (who are often responsible for several "stores"), and the good guys and bad guys are traffic into and out of the network. We try to differentiate good guys and bad guys, but even if we know that all good guys have purple eyes and all bad guys have neon green eyes, it's still difficult to look 26,000+ store owners in the eye every day as they're walking into and out of the mall.

We staff a team of people intent on clearing the bad guys from our mall, and we know that even though good guy store owners may inadvertently host their own bad guy customers, they want to remove those customers from their store as well, so they appreciate us helping them pinpoint those customers so they can be removed.

We keep an eye on our security cameras and get our security guards to the stores where bad guys are reported as quickly as possible. If no one reports that the people coming out of store #73,403 are all bad guys, it's hard for us to know that they aren't good guys ... Which is why we encourage anyone and everyone to report abuse-related concerns to abuse@softlayer.com so we can mobilize our security force.

As Edmund Burke once said, "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Or more colloquially, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Given that illustration, the abuse team deserves a LOT of credit for the work they do behind the scenes. They are constantly investigating reports and working with customers to get remove any and all content that violate SoftLayer's MSA, and too often, that can be a thankless job. Fighting abuse is an ongoing process, and while the nature of the beast might suggest the overall war will never be won, we're always getting faster and stronger, so the individual battles are easier and easier to win.

-@khazard

December 8, 2011

UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: bash - Keyboard Shortcuts

On the support team, we're jumping in and out of shells constantly. At any time during my work day, I'll see at least four instances of PuTTY in my task bar, so one thing I learned quickly was that efficiency and accuracy in accessing ultimately make life easier for our customers and for us as well. Spending too much time rewriting paths, commands, VI navigation, and history cycling can really bring you to a crawl. So now that you have had some time to study bash and practice a little, I thought I'd share some of the keyboard shortcuts that help us work as effectively and as expediently as we do. I won't be able to cover all of the shortcuts, but these are the ones I use most:

Tab

[Tab] is one of the first keyboard shortcuts that most people learn, and it's ever-so-convenient. Let's say you just downloaded pckg54andahalf-5.2.17-v54-2-x86-686-Debian.tar.gz, but a quick listing of the directory shows you ALSO downloaded 5.1.11, 4.8.6 and 1.2.3 at some point in the past. What was that file name again? Fret not. You know you downloaded 5.2.something, so you just start with, say, pckg, and hit [Tab]. This autocompletes everything that it can match to a unique file name, so if there are no other files that start with "pckg," it will populate the whole file name (and this can occur at any point in a command).

In this case, we've got four different files that are similar:
pckg54andahalf-5.2.17-v54-2-x86-686-Debian.tar.gz pckg54andahalf-5.1.11-v54-2-x86-686-Debian.tar.gz
pckg54andahalf-4.8.6-v54-2-x86-686-Debian.tar.gz
pckg54andahalf-1.2.3-v54-2-x86-686-Debian.tar.gz

So typing "pckg" and hitting [Tab] brings up:
pckg54andahalf-

NOW, what you could do, knowing what files are there already, is type "5.2" and hit [Tab] again to fill out the rest. However, if you didn't know what the potential matches were, you could double-tap [Tab]. This displays all matching file names with that string.

Another fun fact: This trick also works in Windows. ;)

CTRL+R

[CTRL+R] is a very underrated shortcut in my humble opinion. When you've been working in the shell for untold hours parsing logs, moving files and editing configs, your bash history can get pretty immense. Often you'll come across a situation where you want to reproduce a command or series of commands that were run regarding a specific file or circumstance. You could type "history" and pore through the commands line by line, but I propose something more efficient: a reverse search.

Example: I've just hopped on my system and discovered that my SVN server isn't doing what it's supposed to. I want to take a look at any SVN related commands that were executed from bash, so I can make sure there were no errors. I'd simply hit [CTRL+R], which would pull up the following prompt:

(reverse-i-search)`':

Typing "s" at this point would immediately return the first command with the letter "s" in it in the history ... Keep in mind that's not just starting with s, it's containing an s. Finishing that out to "svn" brings up any command executed with those letters in that order. Pressing [CTRL+R] again at this point will cycle through the commands one by one.

In the search, I find the command that was run incorrectly ... There was a typo in it. I can edit the command within the search prompt before hitting enter and committing it to the command prompt. Pretty handy, right? This can quickly become one of your most used shortcuts.

CTRL+W & CTRL+Y

This pair of shortcuts is the one I find myself using the most. [CTRL+W] will basically take the word before your cursor and "cut" it, just like you would with [CTRL+X] in Windows if you highlighted a word. A "word" doesn't really describe what it cuts in bash, though ... It uses whitespace as a delimiter, so if you have an ultra long file path that you'll probably be using multiple times down the road, you can [CTRL+W] that sucker and keep it stowed away.

Example: I'm typing nano /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf (Related: The redundancy of this path always irked me just a little).
Before hitting [ENTER] I tap [CTRL+W], which chops that path right back out and stores it to memory. Because I want to run that command right now as well, I hit [CTRL+Y] to paste it back into the line. When I'm done with that and I'm out referencing other logs or doing work on other files and need to come back to it, I can simply type "nano " and hit [CTRL+Y] to go right back into that file.

CTRL+C

For the sake of covering most of my bases, I want to make sure that [CTRL+C] is covered. Not only is it useful, but it's absolutely essential for standard shell usage. This little shortcut performs the most invaluable act of killing whatever process you were running at that point. This can go for most anything, aside from the programs that have their own interfaces and kill commands (vi, nano, etc). If you start something, there's a pretty good chance you're going to want to stop it eventually.

I should be clear that this will terminate a process unless that process is otherwise instructed to trap [CTRL+C] and perform a different function. If you're compiling something or running a database command, generally you won't want to use this shortcut unless you know what you're doing. But, when it comes to everyday usage such as running a "top" and then quitting, it's essential.

Repeating a Command

There are four simple ways you can easily repeat a command with a keyboard shortcut, so I thought I'd run through them here before wrapping up:

  1. The [UP] arrow will display the previously executed command.
  2. [CTRL+P] will do the exact same thing as the [UP] arrow.
  3. Typing "!!" and hitting [Enter] will execute the previous command. Note that this actually runs it. The previous two options only display the command, giving you the option to hit [ENTER].
  4. Typing "!-1" will do the same thing as "!!", though I want to point out how it does this: When you type "history", you see a numbered list of commands executed in the past -1 being the most recent. What "!-1" does is instructs the shell to execute (!) the first item on the history (-1). This same concept can be applied for any command in the history at all ... This can be useful for scripting.

Start Practicing

What it really comes down to is finding what works for you and what suits your work style. There are a number of other shortcuts that are definitely worthwhile to take a look at. There are plenty of cheat sheets on the internet available to print out while you're learning, and I'd highly recommend checking them out. Trust me on this: You'll never regret honing your mastery of bash shortcuts, particularly once you've seen the lightning speed at which you start flying through the command line. The tedium goes away, and the shell becomes a much more friendly, dare I say inviting, place to be.

Quick reference for these shortcuts:

  • [TAB] - Autocomplete to furthest point in a unique matching file name or path.
  • [CTRL+R] - Reverse search through your bash history
  • [CTRL+W] - Cut one "word" back, or until whitespace encountered.
  • [CTRL+Y] - Paste a previously cut string
  • [CTRL+P] - Display previously run command
  • [UP] - Display previously run command

-Ryan

December 5, 2011

Quick Tip: Copy and Paste from the DOS Prompt

Having worked in SoftLayer's technical support department for a few years now, I can tell you that the more information you provide us, the faster we can get you to a resolution. If you can show us exactly the problem you're seeing with details from when you see it, it's much easier for us to troubleshoot, so I wanted to post a quick blog on the heels of Todd's "Global Network: The Proof is in the Traceroute" post to help you get information to us much more easily.

Document Format
Many people consider a Microsoft Word document the lowest common denominator when it comes to formatting an attachment or file while others prefer plain text for everything. I always advocate the use of plain text. Plain text is universally accessible, it doesn't require a third-party application to view, it doesn't add funky encoding, and it uses monospaced fonts that format the text like you'd see in a command prompt if you were sharing troubleshooting results from ping and traceroute commands. It's quite unnecessary to take a screen capture of a ping or traceroute when you run it, and it's doubly unnecessary to paste that screen capture into a Microsoft Word document.

Copying Your Ping/Traceroute
The problem many Windows users run into is that it's not very clear how to copy text from the command prompt ... The familiar keyboard shortcuts for copying (CTRL+C) and pasting (CTRL+V) don't work from the DOS Prompt, so the screen capture route is usually the easiest to execute. There is an easy way to copy, though.

Microsoft documented the instructions you need, and I wanted to share them with SoftLayer customers here:

  1. Open the command prompt. If you're unsure how to do this, open the Start Menu, click Run, enter "cmd" (without the quotes) and click OK.
  2. Execute your command. Use "tracert softlayer.com" to follow along with this test.
  3. Right-click the title bar of the command prompt window, point to Edit, and then click Mark.
  4. Click the beginning of the text you want to copy.
  5. Press and hold down the SHIFT key, and then click the end of the text you want to copy (or you can click and drag the cursor to select the text).
  6. Right-click the title bar, point to Edit, and then click Copy.

Now the text is in the clipboard. You can paste it anywhere, including the body of a ticket. To preserve layout, I usually paste the text in Notepad and attach that file to the ticket. If you don't want to go through the hassle of opening Notepad, just paste the results into the comment field below.

If you enjoy reading quick tips like this one that can make life easier, be sure to check out KnowledgeLayer.

-Lyndell

Bonus tip: If you want to submit your traceroute in a comment on this blog without losing the mono-spaced formatting, surround the pasted content with the <code> and </code> tags.

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