Posts Tagged 'Technology'

June 6, 2012

Today's Technology "Game Changers": IPv6 and Cloud

"Game Changers" in technology force a decision: Adapt or die. When repeating rifles gained popularity in the late 1800s, a business of manufacturing muzzle-loading or breech-loading rifles would have needed to find a way to produce a repeating rifle or it would have lost most (if not all) of it's business to Winchester. If a fresh-faced independent musician is hitting it big on the coffee shop scene in 2012, she probably won't be selling out arenas any time soon if she refuses to make her music available digitally. Just ask any of the old-timers in the print media industry ... "Game Changers" in technology can be disastrous for an established business in an established industry.

That's pretty intimidating ... Even for tech businesses.

Shifts in technology don't have to be as drastic and obvious as a "printed newspaper v. social news site" comparison for them to be disruptive. Even subtle advances can wind up making or breaking a business. In fact, many of today's biggest and most successful tech companies are scrambling to adapt to two simple "game changers" that seem terribly significant:

  • IPv6
  • "The Cloud"

IPv6

A quick search of the SoftLayer Blog reminds me that Lance first brought up the importance of IPv6 adoption in October 2007:

ARIN has publically announced the need to shift to IPv6 and numerous articles have outlined the D-Day for IPv4 space. Most experts agree, its coming fast and that it will occur sometime in 2010 at the current pace (that's about two years for those counting). IPv6 brings enough IP space for an infinite number of users along with improved security features and several other operational efficiencies that will make it very popular. The problem lies between getting from IPv4 to IPv6.

When IPv4 exhaustion was just a blip on the horizon, many businesses probably thought, "Oh, I'll get around to it when I need to. It's not a problem yet." When IANA exhausted the IPv4 pool, they probably started picking up the phone and calling providers to ask what plans they had in place. When some of the Internet's biggest websites completed a trial transition to IPv6 on World IPv6 Day last year, those businesses started feeling the urgency. With today's World IPv6 Launch, they know something has to be done.

World IPv6 Launch Day

Regardless of how conservative providers get with IPv4 space, the 4,294,967,296 IPv4 addresses in existence will not last much longer. Soon, users will be accessing an IPv6 Internet, and IPv4-only websites will lose their opportunity to reach those users. That's a "game changer."

"The Cloud"

The other "game changer" many tech businesses are struggling with these days is the move toward "the cloud." There are a two interesting perspectives in this transition: 1) The challenge many businesses face when choosing whether to adopt cloud computing, and 2) The challenges for businesses that find themselves severing as an integral (sometimes unintentional) part of "the cloud." You've probably seen hundreds of blog posts and articles about the first, so I'll share a little insight on the second.

When you hear all of the hype about cloud computing and cloud storage offering a hardware-agnostic Utopia of scalable, reliable power, it's easy to forget that the building blocks of a cloud infrastructure will usually come from vendors that provided a traditional hosting resources. When a computing instance is abstracted from a hardware device, it's opens up huge variations in usage. It's possible to have dozens of public cloud instances using a single server's multi-proc, multi-core resources at a given time. If a vendor prices a piece of software on a "per server" basis, how do they define a "server" when their users are in the cloud? It can be argued that a cloud computing instance with a single core of power is a "server," and on the flip-side, it's easy to define a "server" as the hardware object on which many cloud instances may run. I don't know that there's an easy way to answer that question, but what I do know is that applying "what used to work" to "what's happening now" isn't the right answer.

The hardware and software providers in the cloud space who are able to come up with new approaches unencumbered by the urge to continue "the way we've always done it" are going to be the ones that thrive when technology "game changers" emerge, and the providers who dig their heels in the dirt or try to put a square peg into a round hole will get the short end of the "adapt or die" stick.

We've tried to innovate and take a fresh look at every opportunity that has come our way, and we do our best to build relationships with agile companies that we see following suit.

I guess a better way to position the decision at the beginning of this post would be to add a little tweak: "Innovate, adapt or die." How you approach technology "game changers" will define your business's success.

-@gkdog

May 30, 2012

What Does Automation Look Like?

Innovation. Automation. Innovation. Automation. Innovation. Automation. That's been our heartbeat since SoftLayer was born on May 5, 2005. The "Innovation" piece is usually the most visible component of that heartbeat while "Automation" usually hangs out behind the scenes (enabling the "Innovation"). When we launch a new product line like Object Storage, add new functionality to the SoftLayer API, announce a partnership with a service provider like RightScale, or simply receive and rack the latest and greatest server hardware from our vendors, our automated platform allows us to do it quickly and seamlessly. Because our platform is built to do exactly what it's supposed to without any manual intervention, it's easily overlooked.

But what if we wanted to show what automation actually looks like?

It seems like a silly question to ask. If our automated platform is powered by software built by the SoftLayer development team, there's no easy way to show what that automation looks like ... At least not directly. While the bits and bytes aren't easily visible, the operational results of automation are exceptionally photogenic. Let's take a look at a few examples of what automation enables to get an indirect view of what it actually looks like.

Example: A New Server Order

A customer orders a dedicated server. That customer wants a specific hardware configuration with a specific suite of software in a specific data center, and it needs to be delivered within four hours. What does that usually look like from an operations perspective?

SoftLayer Server Rack

If you want to watch those blinking lights for two or three hours, you'll have effectively watched a new server get provisioned at SoftLayer. When an order comes in, the automated provisioning system will find a server matching the order's hardware requirements in the requested data center facility, and the software will be installed before it is handed over to the the customer.

Example: Server Reboot or Operating System Reload

A customer needs to reboot a server or install a new operating system. Whether they want a soft reboot, a hard reboot with a full power cycle or a blank operating system install, the scene in the data center will look eerily familiar:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Gone are the days of server build technicians wheeling a terminal over to every server that needs work done. From thousands of miles away, a customer can remotely "unplug" his or her server via the rack's power strip, initiate a soft reboot or reinstall an operating system. But what if they want even more accessibility?

Example: What's on the Screen?

When remotely rebooting or power cycling a server isn't enough, a customer might want someone in the data center to wheel over to their server in the rack to look at any of the messages that can only be read with a monitor attached. This would generally happen behind the server, but for the sake of this example, we'll just watch the data center technician pass in front of the servers to get to the back:

SoftLayer Server Rack

Yeah, you probably could have seen that one coming.

Because KVM over IP is included on every server, physical carts carrying "keyboard, video and mouse" are few and far between. By automating customers' access to their server and providing as much virtual access as we possibly can, we're able to "get out of the way" of our technical users and only step in to help when that help is needed.

I could go on and on with examples of cloud computing upgrades and downgrades, provisioning a firewall or adding a load balancers, but I'll practice a little restraint. If you want the full effect, you can scroll up and watch the blinking lights a little while longer.

Automation looks like what you don't see. No humanoid robots or needlessly complex machines (that I know of) ... Just a data center humming along with some beautiful flashing server lights.

-Duke

P.S. If you want to be able to remotely bask in the glow of some blinking server lights, bookmark the larger-sized SoftLayer Rack animated gif ... You could even title the bookmark, "Check on the Servers."

May 25, 2012

Tear Down the (Immigration) Wall ... Or at Least Install a Door

A few years ago, I went through a nightmare trying to get to permanent resident status in the United States. My file sat in a box for over a year, was lost, re-submitted and FINALLY rushed through by Ted Kennedy's office. And I was on a "fast track" due to a long record of published research and employment history. I had the means to pay lawyers and the time to repeat the filing and wait for a decision. If I didn't have the means or the time to wait for the process to complete, I don't know where I'd be, but in all likelihood, it wouldn't be here. It's no surprise that immigration reform is high on my list of priorities, and given SoftLayer's involvement in the USCIS Entrepreneurs in Residence program along with Lance's appointment to a Bloomberg committee focused on immigration reform, it's clear I'm not alone.

The bi-partisan Partnership for a New American Economy recently published a very interesting report — Not Coming to America: Why the US is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent — that speaks to a lot of the challenges plaguing the current US immigration policy. Because of those challenges, "the future of America's position as the global magnet for the world's most talented and hardest-working is in jeopardy." Here are a few of the projected economic realities of not reforming immigration laws to keep up with other countries:

SHORTAGE OF WORKERS IN INNOVATION INDUSTRIES: Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math ("STEM" fields) are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, but American students are not entering these innovative fields in sufficient numbers. As a result, by 2018, we face a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers.

SHORTAGE OF YOUNG WORKERS: The US population is aging, baby boomers are retiring en masse, and the growth in the US labor force has slowed to historic lows of less than 1 percent. We cannot continue to produce the GDP growth the nation has come to expect without dramatic increases in productivity or welcoming more working age immigrants.

A STALLED ECONOMY: The US has faced years of stunted economic growth. History shows that new businesses are the biggest drivers of job creation, yet the most recent US Census data show that the number of business startups has hit a record low.

This concern isn't unique to the United States. With a global focus on innovation and technology, countries around the world are actively competing for the best and the brightest. In Canada, a report a few weeks ago spoke to Canada's need to double in size in the next few decades or risk losing relevance and becoming just another resource-rich colony. The nation's response? It's ready to open its doors to more immigrants.

The same applies to the United States ... It just may take longer.

Go back to how this country was built, and apply that to today. The biggest difference: The "skilled trades" we talk about in the most general sense are no longer carpenters like my grandfather but highly educated programmers, engineers and researchers. The idea isn't to replace the programmers, engineers and researchers in the US, rather it's to meet the existing unmet needs for programmers, engineers and researchers.

In all of SoftLayer's efforts to affect change in the US immigration policy, we have to make clear that our goal is not to drop the walls simply to add more permanent residents. It's about lowering many of the current artificial barriers that might prevent the next Fortune 500 founder from starting his or her business in the United States. If you don't think that's a serious concern, I'd point to a pretty surprising stat in the "Not Coming to America" report: "Today, more than 40 percent of America's Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant."

Immigration drives the economy. It's not a drain on the economy. Every country needs more smart people because smart people create new ideas, new ideas become new businesses, and new businesses create new jobs.

Because this is a politically charged issue, it's one I know many people don't necessarily agree with. Along with immigration, we have to look at how the education system can empower young people like my son to become the programmers, engineers and researchers that the US will need, and we have to be intentional about not simply adding permanent residents for the sake of adding permanent residents. If you have any thoughts one way or the other, I'd encourage you to share them with us here in a blog comment or link us to any of the resources you've found interesting in researching and discussing the topic.

-@gkdog

May 9, 2012

Nexmo: Tech Partner Spotlight

This guest blog comes to us from Nexmo, a featured member of the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. Nexmo is the wholesale messaging API that lets you send and receive high volumes of SMS at a global level. In this video we talk to Nexmo CEO Tony Jamous about the benefits of Nexmo, how it came to be and the problem it solves for you.

Cutting out the Middleman with Nexmo

These days, optimizing mobile messaging deliverability comes at a price. Businesses must connect to multiple carriers, operate heavy infrastructure, and build their own data analytics. On top of that, many third-party SMS solutions require contracts, price negotiations and significant up-front costs.

Nexmo was created to eliminate the need for a business to connect to carriers or complex third party protocols through simple, powerful RESTful and SMPP APIs. Our scalable infrastructure allows you to send and receive SMS in high volumes to over 5 billion users around the world. This is a market need that hasn't been addressed, and we approached it with a few ideas in mind. If you were going to replicate the functionality of Nexmo on your own, these are the key areas you'd have to look at:

Direct to Carrier Model

With every hop, the quality of a connection has the potential to degrade, and cost inflates. Adding intermediaries in the chain also impact the granularity of collected data, such as delivery reports and reasons of failure. By reducing the number of hops to the final subscriber you'll see:

  • An improved delivery ratio and lower latency
  • Enhanced security
  • Fewer single points of failure
  • Reduced cost, less fat in the chain

With a closer position to the final carrier, a business can access more "Telco" data like phone status, whether it is ported to another network, or if it's roaming abroad. With that information, you can also make better routing decisions and ultimately see higher delivery ratios.

Get Your own SMS-Enabled Phone Numbers

We've seen in the last two years the emergence of "Over the Top" (OTT) messaging apps such as Google Voice and TextPlus. Those apps provide a virtual phone number to each user, and Nexmo behaves similarly by enabling apps to behave like a "super virtual carrier" without the need for heavy Telco infrastructure. North America is the most mature market with OTT players generating significant SMS traffic, and now these models are going abroad. We pinpointed a unique need in the value chain:

  • Source virtual phone numbers from global carriers
  • Build the business models that protect carriers' interests without eliminating the opportunity for innovative apps
  • Provide the elastic and scalable cloud infrastructure for high volume two-way transactions

Nexmo approached those needs with APIs that enabled app developers to search for available phone numbers, provision new numbers and cancel numbers they weren't using any more. It doesn't take days or weeks to launch in a new market ... Apps can launch in a new market in a matter of hours with minimal upfront investment!

Improve and Track Deliverability

Enterprises and developers have shifted the focus in the buying process. They are looking for more transparency and accountability, so tracking and monitoring hundreds, thousands or even millions of messages can be of utmost importance.

For every SMS sent, the Nexmo API provides a detailed report of delivery. We push this data into the cloud in real time, displayed in two ratios:

  • The Success Ratio: The percentage of message received by the phone. This ratio measures how well traffic is performing.
  • The DLR Ratio: The percentage of messages with a delivery receipt. This ratio tracks infrastructure and route performance.

Follow the Life of a Message from the Cloud

Most B2C services and resellers that send millions of SMS for things like alerts, phone verifications and access codes can get swarmed when it comes to user support. We know that's an intimidating prospect for any business looking to add SMS functionality to their app or platform, so we let our customers follow the life of a message from the cloud and gather more information about it. Some of the information we've found most helpful to track:

  • How fast was the message was delivered?
  • Was the phone available for receiving SMS?
  • Did the user enter the correct phone number?

Keeping an eye on these basic kinds of stats reduces the pain of supporting a large user base and enables your support staff to answer questions quickly because they have a good foundation of information.

Receive Outstanding Support

Building a customer centric culture is a sustainable competitive advantage. It is even more meaningful in a commoditized, price-driven industry like wholesale telecom. If you're going to approach the world of SMS messaging and deliverability, the need for outstanding support is even more urgent because, given the nature of SMS messaging, results are expected immediately.

When we started Nexmo, we knew that, and I'm proud to report that we constantly score over 95% in customer satisfaction, and we've noticed a few tricks that have helped us maintain that level of support:

  • Hire the right people: Empathy and service mindset are more important than technical skills
  • Provide self-help tools and open knowledge bases: Customers appreciate finding solutions by themselves
  • Measure help-desk performance and constantly improve: KPI includes first meaningful reply time, resolution time and satisfaction ratio.

We hope these tips can help you build on your existing support or give you a jumping-off point if you're just getting started.

There is so much more I could tell you about our experience in building Nexmo into the platform it is today, but it's a lot easier for you to just see for yourself. If you're interested in learning more about Nexmo, visit http://nexmo.com, sign up, and be ready to go live with us in a matter of minutes ... And to make it even easier, you can use the free credits we provide to give the platform a test drive.

If you've been intimidated by the daunting task of knocking on the doors of telcos and carriers to get easy-to-use and easy-to-track SMS functionality in your app, Nexmo can save you a lot of headaches.

-Tony Jamous, Nexmo

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.
April 23, 2012

Choosing a Cloud: Which Cloud Chooses You?

It's not easy to choose a cloud hosting provider.

In the first post of this series, we talked about the three key deciding factors every cloud customer has to consider, and we set up a Venn diagram to distinguish the surprisingly broad range of unique priorities customers can have:

Cloud Customer Zones

Because every customer will prioritize a cloud's cost, technology and hosting provider a little differently (for completely valid reasons), we mapped out seven distinct "zones" to differentiate some of the basic market segments, or "personas," of cloud hosting buyers. That post was intended to set the stage for a larger discussion on how customers choose their cloud providers and how cloud providers choose their customers, and we're just scratching the surface. We're tackling a pretty big topic here, so as Bill Cosby famously says, "I told you that story to tell you this one."

As a hosting provider, SoftLayer can't expect to be all things for all people. It's impossible to offer a quad-core hex-proc dedicated server for a price that will appeal to a customer in the market for a $49/mo dedicated server.

To better illustrate SoftLayer's vision in the cloud market, we need to take that generic cost v. technology v. hosting provider diagram and give it the "Three Bars" treatment:

SoftLayer Venn Diagram

We're much more interested in living and breathing the Zone 5 "Technology" space rather than the traditional Zone 2 "Hosting Provider" space. That's why in the past two months, you've seen announcements about our launch of the latest Intel Processors, HPC computing with NVidia GPUs, searchable OpenStack Object Storage, and an innovative "Flex Image" approach to bluring the lines between physical and virtual servers. We choose to pursue the cloud customers who make their buying decisions in Zone 3.

That's a challenging pursuit ... It's expensive to push the envelope in technology, customers primarily interested in technology/performance have demanding needs and expectations, and it's easier to make mistakes when you're breaking new ground. The majority of the hosting industry seems to have an eye on the buyer in Zone 1 because they believe the average hosting customer is only interested in the bottom line ... That hosting is more or less a commodity, so the focus should be on some unverifiable qualitative measure of support or the next big special that'll bring in new orders.

As you may have seen recently, GigaOm posted a lovely article that references several high-profile companies in our 25,000+ customer family. We like to say that SoftLayer builds the platform on which our customers build the future, and that short post speaks volumes about the validity of that statement. Our goal is to provide the most powerful, scalable and seamlessly integrated IT infrastructure for the most innovative companies in the world. Innovate or Die isn't just our company motto ... It's our hope for our customers, as well.

We might miss out on your business if you want a $49/mo dedicated server, but if you're looking to change the world, we've got you covered. :-)

-@khazard

April 20, 2012

Choosing a Cloud: Cost v. Technology v. Hosting Provider

If you had to order a new cloud server right now, how would choose it?

I've worked in the hosting industry for the better part of a decade, and I can safely say that I've either observed or been a part of the buying decision for a few thousand hosting customers — from small business owners getting a website online for the first time to established platforms that are now getting tens of millions of visits every day. While each of those purchasers had different requirements and priorities, I've noticed a few key deciding factors that are consistent in a all of those decisions:

The Hosting Decision

How much will the dedicated server or cloud computing instance cost? What configuration/technology do I need (or want)? Which hosting provider should I trust with my business?

Every website administrator of every site on the Internet has had to answer those three questions, and while they seem pretty straightforward, they end up overlapping, and the buying decision starts to get a little more complicated:

The Hosting Decision

The natural assumption is that everyone will choose a dedicated server or cloud computing instance that falls in the "sweet spot" where the three circles overlap, right? While that makes sense on paper, hosting decisions are not made in a vacuum, so you'll actually see completely valid hosting decisions targeting every spot on that graph.

Why would anyone choose an option that wouldn't fit in the sweet spot?

That's a great question, and it's a tough one to answer in broad strokes. Let's break the chart down into a few distinct zones to look at why a user would choose a server in each area:

The Hosting Decision

Zone 1

Buyers choosing a server in Zone 1 are easiest to understand: Their budget takes priority over everything else. They might want to host with a specific provider or have a certain kind of hardware, but their budget doesn't allow for either. Maybe they don't need their site to use the latest and greatest hardware or have it hosted anywhere in particular. Either way, they choose a cloud solely based on whether it fits their budget. After the initial buying decision, if another server needs to be ordered, they might become a Zone 4 buyer.

Zone 2

Just like Zone 1 buyers, Zone 2 buyers are a pretty simple bunch as well. If you're an IT administrator at a huge enterprise that does all of your hosting in-house, your buying decision is more or less made for you. It doesn't matter how much the solution costs, you have to choose an option in your data center, and while you might like a certain technology, you're going to get what's available. Enterprise users aren't the only people deciding to order a server in Zone 2, though ... It's where you see a lot of loyal customers who have the ability to move to another provider but prefer not to — whether it's because they want their next server to be in the same place as their current servers, they value the capabilities of a specific hosting provider (or they just like the witty, interesting blogs that hosting provider writes).

Zone 3

As with Zone 1 and Zone 2, when a zone doesn't have any overlapping areas, the explanation is pretty easy. In Zone 3, the buying decision is being made with a priority on technology. Buyers in this area don't care what it costs or where it's hosted ... They need the fastest, most powerful, most scalable infrastructure on the market. Similar to Zone 1 buyers, once Zone 3 buyers make their initial buying decision, they might shift to Zone 5 for their next server or cloud instance, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Zone 4

Now we're starting to overlap. In Zone 4, a customer will be loyal to a hosting provider as long as that loyalty doesn't take them out of their budget. This is a relatively common customer ... They'll try to compare options apples-to-apples, and they'll make their decision based on which hosting provider they like/trust most. As we mentioned above, if a Zone 1 buyer is adding another server to their initial server order, they'll likely look to add to their environment in one place to make it easier to manage and to get the best performance between the two servers.

Zone 5

Just like the transitional Zone 1 buyers, when Zone 3 buyers look to build on their environment, they'll probably become Zone 5 buyers. When your initial buying decision is based entirely on technology, it's unusual to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your next buying decision. While there are customers that will reevaluate their environment and choose a Zone 3 option irrespective of where their current infrastructure is hosted, it's less common. Zone 5 users love having he latest and greatest technology, and they value being able to manage it through one provider.

Zone 6

A Zone 6 buyer is usually a Zone 1 buyer that has specific technology needs. With all the options on the table, a Zone 6 buyer will choose the cloud environment that provides the latest technology or best performance for their budget, regardless of the hosting provider. As with Zone 1 and Zone 3 buyers, a Zone 6 buyer will probably become a Zone 7 buyer if they need to order another server.

Zone 7

Zone 7 buyers are in the sweet spot. They know the technology they want, they know the price they want to pay, and they know the host they want to use. They're able to value all three of their priorities equally, and they can choose an environment that meets all of their needs. After Zone 6 buyers order their first server(s), they're going to probably become Zone 7 buyers when it comes time for them to place their next order.

As you probably noticed, a lot of transitioning happens between an initial buying decision and a follow-up buying decision, so let's look at that quickly:

The Hosting Decision

Regardless of how you make your initial buying decision, when it's time for your next server or cloud computing instance, you have a new factor to take into account: You already have a cloud infrastructure at a hosting provider, so when it comes time to grow, you'll probably want to grow in the same place. Why? Moving between providers can be a pain, managing environments between several providers is more difficult, and if your servers have to work together, they're generally doing so across the public Internet, so you're not getting the best performance.

Where does SoftLayer fit in all of this? Well beyond being a hosting provider that buyers are choosing, we have to understand buyers are making their buying decisions, and we have to position our business to appeal to the right people with the right priorities. It's impossible to be all things for all people, so we have to choose where to invest our attention ... I'll leave that post for another day, though.

If you had to choose a zone that best describes how you made (or are currently making) your buying decision, which one would it be?

-@khazard

April 18, 2012

Dome9: Tech Partner Spotlight

This guest blog comes to us from Dave Meizlik, Dome9 VP of marketing and business development. Dome9 is a featured member of the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. With Dome9, you get secure, on-demand access to all your servers by automating and centralizing firewall management and making your servers virtually invisible to hackers.

Three Tips to Securing Your Cloud Servers

By now everyone knows that security is the number one concern among cloud adopters. But lesser known is why and what to do to mitigate some of the security risks ... I hope to shed a little light on those points in this blog post, so let's get to it.

One of the greatest threats to cloud servers is unsecured access. Administrators leave ports (like RDP and SSH) open so they can connect to and manage their machines ... After all, they can't just walk down the hall to gain access to them like with an on-premise network. The trouble with this practice is that it leaves these and other service ports open to attack from hackers who need only guess the credentials or exploit a vulnerability in the application or OS. Many admins don't think about this because for years they've had a hardened perimeter around their data center. In the cloud, however, the perimeter collapses down to each individual server, and so too must your security.

Tip #1: Close Service Ports by Default

Instead of leaving ports — from SSH to phpMyAdmin — open and vulnerable to attack, close them by default and open them only when, for whom, and as long as is needed. You can do this manually — just be careful not to lock yourself out of your server — or you can automate the process with Dome9 for free.

Dome9 provides a patent-pending technology called Secure Access Leasing, which enables you to open a port on your server with just one click from within Dome9 Central, our SaaS management console, or as an extension in your browser. With just one click, you get time-based secure access and the ability to empower a third party (e.g., a developer) with access easily and securely.

When your service ports are closed by default, your server is virtually invisible to hackers because the server will not respond to an attacker's port scans or exploits.

Tip #2: Make Your Security as Elastic as Your Cloud

Another key security challenge to cloud security is management. In a traditional enterprise you have a semi-defined perimeter with a firewall and a strong, front-line defense. In the cloud, however, that perimeter collapses down to the individual server and is therefore multiplied by the number of servers you have in your environment. Thus, the number of perimeters and policies you have to manage increases exponentially, adding complexity and cost. Remember, if you can't manage it, you can't secure it.

As you re-architect your infrastructure, take the opportunity to re-architect your security, keeping in mind that you need to be able to scale instantaneously without adding management overhead. To do so, create group-based policies for similar types of services, with role-based controls for users that need access to your cloud servers.

With Dome9, for example, you can create an unlimited number of security groups — umbrella policies applied to one or more servers and for which you can create user-based self-service access. So, for example, you can set one policy for your web servers and another for your SQL database servers, then you can enable your web developers to self-grant access to the web servers while the DBAs have access to the database servers. Neither, however, may be able to access the others' servers, but you — the super admin — can. Any new servers you add on-the-fly as you scale up your infrastructure are automatically paired with your Dome9 account and attached to the relevant security group, so your security is truly elastic.

Tip #3: Make Security Your Responsibility

The last key security challenge is understanding who's responsible for securing your cloud. It's here that there's a lot of debate and folks get confused. According to a recent Ponemon Institute study, IT pros point fingers equally at the cloud provider and cloud user.

When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. It's best to pick up the reigns and be your best champion. Great cloud and hosted providers like SoftLayer are going to provide an abundance of controls — some their own, and some from great security providers such as Dome9 (shameless, I know) — but how you them is up to you.

I liken this to a car: Whoever made your car built it with safety in mind, adding seat belts and air bags and lots of other safeguards to protect you. But if you go speeding down the freeway at 140 MPH without a seatbelt on, you're asking for trouble. When you apply this concept to the cloud, I think it helps us better define where to draw the lines.

At the end of the day, consider all your options and how you can use the tools available to most effectively secure your cloud servers. It's going to be different for just about everyone, since your needs and use cases are all different. But tools like Dome9 let you self-manage your security at the host layer and allow you to apply security controls for how you use a cloud platform (i.e., helping you be a safe driver).

Security is a huge topic, and I didn't even scratch the surface here, but I hope you've learned a few things about how to secure your cloud servers. If the prospect of scaling out security policies across your infrastructure isn't particularly appealing, I invite you to try out Dome9 (for free) to see how easily you can manage automated cloud security on your SoftLayer server. It's quick, easy, and (it's worth repeating a few times...) free:

  1. Create a Dome9 account at https://secure.dome9.com/Account/Register?code=SoftLayer
  2. Add the Dome9 agent to your SoftLayer server
  3. Configure your policy in Dome9 Central, our SaaS management console

SoftLayer customers that sign up for Dome9 enjoy all the capabilities of Dome9 free for 30 days. After that trial period, you can opt to use either our free Lite Cloud, which provides security for an unlimited number of servers, or our Business Cloud for automated cloud security.

-Dave Meizlik, Dome9

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.
April 17, 2012

High Performance Computing for Everyone

This guest blog was submitted by Sumit Gupta, senior director of NVIDIA's Tesla High Performance Computing business.

The demand for greater levels of computational performance remains insatiable in the high performance computing (HPC) and technical computing industries, as researchers, geophysicists, biochemists, and financial quants continue to seek out and solve the world's most challenging computational problems.

However, access to high-powered HPC systems has been a constant problem. Researchers must compete for supercomputing time at popular open labs like Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee. And, small and medium-size businesses, even large companies, cannot afford to constantly build out larger computing infrastructures for their engineers.

Imagine the new discoveries that could happen if every researcher had access to an HPC system. Imagine how dramatically the quality and durability of products would improve if every engineer could simulate product designs 20, 50 or 100 more times.

This is where NVIDIA and SoftLayer come in. Together, we are bringing accessible and affordable HPC computing to a much broader universe of researchers, engineers and software developers from around the world.

GPUs: Accelerating Research

High-performance NVIDIA Tesla GPUs (graphics processing units) are quickly becoming the go-to solution for HPC users because of their ability to accelerate all types of commercial and scientific applications.

From the Beijing to Silicon Valley — and just about everywhere in between — GPUs are enabling breakthroughs and discoveries in biology, chemistry, genomics, geophysics, data analytics, finance, and many other fields. They are also driving computationally intensive applications, like data mining and numerical analysis, to much higher levels of performance — as much as 100x faster.

The GPU's "secret sauce" is its unique ability to provide power-efficient HPC performance while working in conjunction with a system's CPU. With this "hybrid architecture" approach, each processor is free to do what it does best: GPUs accelerate the parallel research application work, while CPUs process the sequential work.

The result is an often dramatic increase in application performance.

SoftLayer: Affordable, On-demand HPC for the Masses

Now, we're coupling GPUs with easy, real-time access to computing resources that don't break the bank. SoftLayer has created exactly that with a new GPU-accelerated hosted HPC solution. The service uses the same technology that powers some of the world's fastest HPC systems, including dual-processor Intel E5-2600 (Sandy Bridge) based servers with one or two NVIDIA Tesla M2090 GPUs:

NVIDIA Tesla

SoftLayer also offers an on-demand, consumption-based billing model that allows users to access HPC resources when and how they need to. And, because SoftLayer is managing the systems, users can keep their own IT costs in check.

You can get more system details and pricing information here: SoftLayer HPC Servers

I'm thrilled that we are able to bring the value of hybrid HPC computing to larger numbers of users. And, I can't wait to see the amazing engineering and scientific advances they'll achieve.

-Sumit Gupta, NVIDIA - Tesla

February 28, 2012

14 Questions Every Business Should Ask About Backups

Unfortunately, having "book knowledge" (or in this case "blog knowledge") about backups and applying that knowledge faithfully and regularly are not necessarily one and the same. Regardless of how many times you hear it or read it, if you aren't actively protecting your data, YOU SHOULD BE.

Here are a few questions to help you determine whether your data is endangered:

  1. Is your data backed up?
  2. How often is your data backed up?
  3. How often do you test your backups?
  4. Is your data backed up externally from your server?
  5. Are your backups in another data center?
  6. Are your backups in another city?
  7. Are your backups stored with a different provider?
  8. Do you have local backups?
  9. Are your backups backed up?
  10. How many people in your organization know where your backups are and how to restore them?
  11. What's the greatest amount of data you might lose in the event of a server crash before your next backup?
  12. What is the business impact of that data being lost?
  13. If your server were to crash and the hard drives were unrecoverable, how long would it take you to restore all of your data?
  14. What is the business impact of your data being lost or inaccessible for the length of time you answered in the last question?

We can all agree that the idea of backups and data protection is a great one, but when it comes to investing in that idea, some folks change their tune. While each of the above questions has a "good" answer when it comes to keeping your data safe, your business might not need "good" answers to all of them for your data to be backed up sufficiently. You should understand the value of your data to your business and invest in its protection accordingly.

For example, a million-dollar business running on a single server will probably value its backups more highly than a hobbyist with a blog she contributes to once every year and a half. The million-dollar business needs more "good" answers than the hobbyist, so the business should invest more in the protection of its data than the hobbyist.

If you haven't taken time to quantify the business impact of losing your primary data (questions 11-14), sit down with a pencil and paper and take time to thoughtfully answer those questions for your business. Are any of those answers surprising to you? Do they make you want to reevaluate your approach to backups or your investment in protecting your data?

The funny thing about backups is that you don't need them until you NEED them, and when you NEED them, you'll usually want to kick yourself if you don't have them.

Don't end up kicking yourself.

-@khazard

P.S. SoftLayer has a ton of amazing backup solutions but in the interested of making this post accessible and sharable, I won't go crazy linking to them throughout the post. The latest product release that got me thinking about this topic was the SoftLayer Object Storage launch, and if you're concerned about your answers to any of the above questions, object storage may be an economical way to easily get some more "good" answers.

February 24, 2012

Kontagent: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog featuring Kontagent, one of this month's addition to the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. Kontagent's kSuite Analytics Platform is a leading enterprise analytics solution for social and mobile application developers. Its powerful dashboard and data science expertise provide organization-wide insights into how customers interact within applications and how to act on that data. Below the video, you'll see an excerpt from a very interesting interview they facilitated with Gaia Online's CEO with fantastic insight into mobile app metrics.

Important Mobile App Metrics to Track

At Kontagent, we've helped hundreds of social customers win by helping them gain better insights into their users' behaviors. We're always improving our already-powerful, best-in-class analytics platform, and we've been leveraging our knowledge and experience to help many of our social customers make a successful transition into the mobile space, too.

Whether you're in the early stages of developing a mobile application, or you've already launched it and have a substantial user base, looking to social app developers for a history lesson on how to do it right can give you a huge head-start, and greater chance at success.

Gaia Online has "done it right" with Monster Galaxy — a hit on both Facebook and iOS. In the first installment of our Kontagent Konnect Executive Interview Series, we spoke with CEO Mike Sego on how the company is applying many of the lessons it learned in moving social-to-mobile, including:

  • The metrics that are most important to succeeding on mobile
  • How to monetize on the F2P model
  • How to successfully split-test on iOS (yes, it is possible!)
  • Other tactics used to keep players engaged and coming back for more

Q: What are the overarching fundamentals for developers who want to make the social to mobile transition? Do these fundamentals also apply to mobile developers in general?
A: Applying the knowledge you gained on Facebook to developing for mobile is the most effective way we've found to succeed in the mobile space.

When it comes to content, the mechanics are almost identical for what motivates user engagement, retention, and monetization between mobile and social. Appointment mechanics, energy mechanics, leaving players wanting more, designing specific goals that are just out of reach until multiple play sessions, etc.—the user experience is consistent.

When it comes to social and mobile game apps, we have found that free-to-play models are the most successful at attracting users. Beyond that, you should focus on a very tight conversion funnel; once a new user has installed your application, analyze every action she takes through the levels or stages of your app. When you start looking at cohorts of users, if there is a spike in drop-offs, you should start asking yourself, 'What is it about this particular stage that could be turning off users? Did I make the level too difficult? Was it not difficult enough? What are some other incentives I can bake into this particular point of the app to get them to keep going?'

But, as you continue to develop your application, keep in mind that you should develop and release quickly, and test often. The trick is to test, fine-tune and iterate with user data. These insights will help you to improve conversion. Spending a disproportionate amount of time instrumenting and scrutinizing the new user experience will pay dividends down the line. This is true for both social and mobile games.

Q: What are the metrics you pay most attention to?
Just as it was in social, the two biggest levers in mobile are still minimizing customer acquisition costs (CAC), and maximizing lifetime value (LTV). The question boils down to this: How can we acquire as many users as possible, for as little money as possible? And, how can we generate as much revenue as possible from those users? Everything else is an input into those two major metrics because those two metrics are what will ultimately determine if you have a scalable hit or a game that just won't pay for itself.

User retention over a longer period of time
Specifically, look at how many users stick around, and how long they stick around, i.e., Day 1, Day 7 retention. (Day 1 retention alone is too broad for you to fully understand what needs to be improved. That's the reason for testing the new user experience.)

Cost to acquire customers
We look at the organic ratio—the number of users who come to us without us having paid for them. This is different from the way we track virality in social since our data for user source isn't as detailed… continued

The full interview goes on a bit longer, and it has profound responses topics we alluded to earlier in the post. We don't want to over-stay our generous welcome here on the SoftLayer blog, so if social and mobile application development are of interest to you, register here (for free) to learn more from the complete interview.

-Catherine Mylinh, Kontagent

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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