Posts Tagged 'Support'

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:


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 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.


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] 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

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

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] 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:


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.


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.


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


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" 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.


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.

November 11, 2011

UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: Passwords

It's been a while since our last UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp ... Are you still with me? Have you kept up with your sysadmin exercises? Are you starting to get comfortable with SSH, bash and your logs? Good. Now I have an important message for you:

Your password isn't good enough.

Yeah, that's a pretty general statement, but it's shocking how many people are perfectly fine with a six- or eight-character password made up of lowercase letters. Your approach to server passwords should be twofold: Stick with it and Be organized.

Remembering a 21-character password like ^@#*!sgsDAtg5t#ghb%!^ may seem daunting, but you really don't have to remember it. For a server, secure passwords are just as vital as any other form of security. You need to get in the habit of documenting every username and password you use and what they apply to. For the sake of everything holy, keep that information in a safe place. Folding it up and shoving it in your socks is not advised (See: blisters).

Want to make your approach to password security even better? Change your passwords every few months, and make sure you and at least one other trusted colleague or friend knows where to find them. You're dealing with sensitive material, but you can never guarantee that you will be available to respond to a server-based emergency. In these cases, your friends and co-workers end up scrambling through bookshelves and computer files to find any trace of useful information.

Having been one of the abovementioned co-workers in this situation, I can attest that it is nearly impossible to convince customer service that you are indeed a representative of the company having no verification information or passwords to provide.

Coming soon: Now you've got some of the basics, what about the not-so-basics? I'll start drafting some slightly more advanced tips for the slightly more advanced administrator. If you have any topics you'd like us to cover, don't hesitate to let us know in a comment below.


October 21, 2011

SoftLayer, The Texas Rangers & The World Series

At the beginning of the baseball season, we gave away tickets for a lucky customer to see a Texas Rangers game, and as a result of that generosity, the Rangers thought it fitting to make it to the World Series. Well ... our little giveaway may not have had anything to do with their success, but we like to think our support helped a little.

Understanding that we have customers and employees who are die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fans, I don't want to turn anyone off with this blog post, but with all of the buzz in the air about the World Series coming back to Arlington this year, I started thinking about the Top 10 Ways SoftLayer is Like the Texas Rangers:

  1. Secret handshakes / fist bumps.
  2. Have a no "I" in "Team" mentality ... In fact, there are no I's in "Texas Rangers" or "SoftLayer."
  3. Teams' leaders (i.e. coach and the CEO) are ... um ... charismatic (to say the least).
  4. Come ready to play on any day that ends in "y."
  5. Strong lineups all the way through.
  6. Texas is home, but both teams do amazing jobs "on the road."
  7. Both have Michaels who like pink.*
  8. Both have Louisville Slugger bats ... The Rangers' bats do great things, while SoftLayer's bats are given to recognize employees that have done great things.
  9. Support is awesome from the customers (fans) to the back office to the team on the field making plays.
  10. Champions of the World, baby!!**

* Apologies to Michael Young, as this statement may not be true as applied to him. Each of my blogs to date has a veiled (or obvious) reference to our CFO, and it was very difficult to think of how to incorporate this reference in a blog dealing with the Texas Rangers, so I may have taken undue liberties for which I apologize.

** The aspirations associated with that last comparison may have strayed me from an unbiased comparison. :-)


October 11, 2011

Working on the SoftLayer Dev Team

This post is somewhat of a continuation of a post I made here a little over three years ago: What It's Like to be a Data Center Technician. My career at SoftLayer has been a great journey. We have gone from four thousand customers at the time of my last post to over twenty five thousand, and it's funny to look back at my previous post where I mentioned how SoftLayer Data Center Technicians can perform the job of three different departments in any given ticket ... Well I managed to find another department where I have to include all of the previous jobs plus one!

Recently I took on a new position on the Development Support team. My job is to make sure our customers' and employees' interaction with development is a good one. As my previous post stated, working at SoftLayer in general can be pretty crazy, and the development team is no exception. We work on and release code frequently to keep up with our customers' and employees' demands, and that is where my team comes in.

We schedule and coordinate all of our portal code updates and perform front-line support for any development issues that can be addressed without the necessity for code changes. Our team will jump on and fix everything from the layout of your portal to why your bandwidth graphs aren't showing.

Our largest project as of late is completely new portal ( for our customers. It is the culmination of everything our customers have requested in their management interface, and we really appreciate the feedback we've gotten in our forums, tickets and when we've met customers in person. If you haven't taken the portal beta for a spin yet, take a few minutes to check it out!

SoftLayer Portal

The transition from exclusively providing customer support to supporting both customers and employees has been phenomenal. I've been able to address a lot of the issues I came across when I was a CSA, and the results have been everything I have expected and more. SoftLayer is a well-oiled machine now, and with our global expansion, solid procedures and execution is absolutely necessary. Our customers expect flawless performance, and we strive to deliver it on a daily basis.

One of the old funny tag lines we used was, "Do it faster, Do it better, Do it in Private," and with our latest developments, we'd be remiss if we didn't add, "Do it Worldwide," in there somewhere. If there's anything I can do to help make your customer experience better from a dev standpoint, please let me know!


October 4, 2011

The Sun Never Sets on SoftLayer

We've always set our sights globally at SoftLayer and this week we've certainly achieved some key milestones. With our data center in Singapore going LIVE, we now have a "digital gateway" for providing our unique cloud, dedicated, and managed hosting solutions to the Asia-Pacific region.

What is even more remarkable is the speed at which we are deploying our new international data centers. In only a few months, all the meticulous planning, logistics and execution were done and customers could place orders. And we're not slowing down. The trajectory path we're on has us expanding faster and farther than we ever thought possible.

Next month we're opening a new data center in Amsterdam, along with network Points of Presence (PoPs) in Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt. Each of these facilities is built and maintained by SoftLayer, and that organic growth is a huge differentiator. We didn't go out and acquire a company to expand our capabilities, and because we're doing the work on the ground, we're able to guarantee the most consistent, best possible service. Every data center - whether it's Singapore or San Jose - is exactly the same. Because of that consistency, our customers don't have to worry about whether the services in the new facilities meet their expectations, and based on the phenomenal provisioning statistics we saw on day one in Singapore, they aren't hesitating to order more.

International Expansion: Currency

Because our global expansion enables us to perform even better for the SoftLayer customers located outside of North America, we wanted to make it easier for those customers to do business with us. As of 8:01 a.m. Central Time today, we support and accept payment in 60+ currencies! This currency support allows our customers to price SoftLayer services in their native currency, and it lets them avoid those pesky exchange fees from their credit card.

Our BYOC (Cloud) and Dedicated Server order forms have been updated with a currency selection on their first page, so once you select a currency, your order form will reload with all pricing displayed in that currency. Existing customers are also able to pay for their existing servers with one-time or recurring payments in our customer portal.

Currencies Supported

ALL - Albanian lek
ARS - Argentine peso
AUD - Australian dollar
BSD - Bahamian dollar
BDT - Bangladeshi taka
BBD - Barbados dollar
BMD - Bermudian dollar
BOB - Boliviano
BZD - Belize dollar
CAD - Canadian dollar
CNY - Chinese Yuan
COP - Colombian peso
CRC - Costa Rican colon
HRK - Croatian Kuna
CZK - Czech koruna
DKK - Danish krone
DOP - Dominican peso
GTQ - Guatemalan quetzal
HNL - Honduran lempira
HKD - Hong Kong dollar
HUF - Hungarian forint
INR - Indian rupee
ILS - Israeli new sheqel
JMD - Jamaican dollar
JPY - Japanese yen
KES - Kenyan shilling
KRW - South Korean won
LBP - Lebanese pound
LVL - Latvian lats
LRD - Liberian dollar
LTL - Lithuanian litas
MOP - Macanese pataca
MYR - Malaysian ringgit
MXN - Mexican peso
MAD - Moroccan dirham
NZD - New Zealand dollar
NOK - Norwegian krone
PKR - Pakistani rupee
PEN - Peruvian Nuevo sol
PHP - Philippine peso
QAR - Qatari rial
RUB - Russian rouble
SAR - Saudi riyal
SGD - Singapore dollar
ZAR - South African rand
SEK - Swedish krona/kronor
CHF - Swiss franc
THB - Thai baht
TTD - Trinidad and Tobago dollar
AED - United Arab Emirates dirham
EGP - Egyptian pound
GBP - Pound sterling
YER - Yemeni rial
TWD - New Taiwan dollar
RON - Romanian new leu
TRY - Turkish lira
XCD - East Caribbean dollar
EUR - Euro
PLN - Polish złoty
BRL - Brazilian real

It's amazing to say that we are truly a global company operating on three continents. Our success and future growth are tied to these new international capabilities. We will move aggressively and open more data centers, so stay tuned. With our global aspirations taking flight, I'm reminded of the saying that, "the sun never sets on the British Empire."

Speaking of flights, I've got to get to the airport ... My flight to Amsterdam is leaving in a few hours.


September 21, 2011

UserVoice: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from UserVoice CEO Richard White. UserVoice offers a complete customer engagement solution that gives businesses a simple process for managing customer feedback and support functions all from a single, easy-to-use environment.

What NOT to Do in Support

The fact that you're reading this blog post means you probably understand social media. You probably also understand why providing great customer service is important, so I'll spare you that as well. What you may not know is that there are much better tools to provide outstanding customer service than the ones you're already using. Here are four big tips for you as you're planning your support channels:

1. Don't build a custom contact form.
Building a custom contact form on your website takes valuable time and resources away from your core business. Instead, sign up and get a widget from UserVoice (or one of our competitors) and in less than 30 seconds you'll have a contact form that supports any number of custom fields you want to add, allows you to append your own customer-specific metadata, supports attachments and, most importantly, will auto-suggest relevant FAQ articles even before the customer submits the form.

2. Don't use shared email for customer support.
It's true that you can take managing customer support via a shared email inbox pretty far. You won't really feel the pain until a couple of issues slip through the digital crack because it wasn't clear who on your team was responsible for following up with the customer. But why go through that? These days you can choose from a number of inexpensive, purpose-built tools, like UserVoice, targeted at companies that want to provide better customer service. Starting at $5/mo you can have a complete support solution that will grow with your business when you are finally ready to add that 2nd or 3rd support rep to your team.

3. Don't waste time gathering feedback on message boards.
Scanning message boards to gather user feedback sounds like a good idea, but it's really painful. Forums are both noisy and insular. Someone posts "I want you to add X" then a few people reply "+1" but then someone else says "I think X is good but only if you do Y to it." Very quickly you don't know what anyone really wants. And you especially don't have an easy way to follow-up with people directly. Worst of all, you're only hearing from a vocal minority. Casual users won't go into your forums and won't wade through 10 pages of +1's to add their voice, they'll just give up.

UserVoice Feedback gives you a better way to harness customer feedback and turn it into something useful. It starts with a simple prompt: How can we make ___insert_your_company___ better? Customers give their feedback and vote up the best ideas. It's easier for customers to get involved and give you feedback, and it's much easier for you to follow-up and keep these important customers in the loop.

4. Don't hide from your customers.
This really should be the first recommendation. The sad fact is, people still don't expect great customer service, and they certainly don't expect you to be ready and willing to listen to their feedback, especially with that small gray "contact" link buried in your footer. Show customers that their experience and their feedback is important, nay, vital to your business. Put a big link at the top of the page, or a widget on the side of it. Something that tells people you're not "business as usual." Show them you really care.

I started UserVoice because I wanted to make doing all of these things simple so that companies could focus on what really matters: building their products and communicating with their customers, not setting up all this stuff. I hope you'll find it as useful as our thousands of existing customers have in getting you back to work. :)

-Richard White, UserVoice

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
September 8, 2011

Boston Startup Scene - WebInnovatorsGroup

We love startups and entrepreneurship communities that help startups become successful. Startups are usually all about innovation and approaching existing problems in a new way ... And if you're familiar with SoftLayer's "Innovate or Die" motto, you know that we're cut from the same cloth. We've partnered with incubators like Tech Wildcatters to provide up-and-coming companies with a year of $1,000/mo hosting credits along with a little SoftLayer expertise sprinkled in for good measure, and we are happy to support community partners like non-profits and user groups where new ideas are born every day.

Given our commitment to the startup community, when we heard that a sponsorship opened up for the September 13 WebInnovatorsGroup quarterly meeting, we jumped on the chance to get involved. WebInno events are fueled by a long-standing community of Internet and mobile entrepreneurs founded by David Beisel, and while I could tell you everything I know about what they're doing in Boston, the best person to hear from is David himself:

Boston + Entrepreneurs + Technology + Beer ... It was a no-brainer for us to be a Gold Sponsor of WebInno31.

Visit to learn more about the WebInno community or head straight to the WebInno31 registration form to reserve your spot at Royal Sonesta Cambridge on Tuesday, September 13, at 6:30pm.


P.S. If you have a startup community or an ongoing event like WebInno that SoftLayer can be involved with, leave a comment on this blog or let us know on Twitter: @SoftLayer

September 7, 2011

3DCart: Tech Partner Spotlight

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

Company Website:
Tech Partners Marketplace:

5 Must-Have Features in a Hosted Ecommerce Provider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Gonzalo Gil, 3DCart

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