Posts Tagged 'Technology'

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.
February 16, 2012

Cloudant: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from our featured Technology Partners Marketplace company, Cloudant. Cloudant enables you to build next-generation data-driven applications without having to worry about developing, managing, and scaling your data layer.

Company Website: https://cloudant.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/cloudant

Cloudant: Data Layer for the Big Data Era

The recipe for big data app success: Start small. Iterate fast. Grow to epic proportions.

Unfortunately, most developers' databases come up short when they try to simultaneously "iterate fast" and "grow to epic proportions" — those two steps are most often at odds. I know ... I've been there. In a recent past life, I attacked petabyte-per-second data problems as a particle physicist at the Large Hadron Collider together with my colleagues and Cloudant co-founders, Alan Hoffman and Adam Kocoloski. Here are some lessons we learned the hard way:

  1. Scaling a database yourself is brutally hard (both application level sharding and the master-slave model). It is harder with SQL than it is with NoSQL databases, but either way, the "scale it yourself" approach is loaded with unknowns, complications and operational expense.
  2. Horizontal scaling on commodity hardware is a must. We got very good at this and ended up embedding Apache CouchDB behind a horizontal scaling framework to scale arbitrarily and stay running 24x7 with a minimal operational load.
  3. The data layer must scale. It should be something that applications grow into, not out of.

That last point inspired Alan, Adam and me to co-found Cloudant.

What is Cloudant?
Cloudant is a scalable data layer (as a service) for Big Data apps. Built on CouchDB, JSON, and MapReduce, it lets developers focus on new features instead of the drudgery of growing or migrating databases. The Cloudant Data Layer is already big: It collects, stores, analyzes and distributes application data across a global network of secure, high-performance data centers, delivering low-latency and non-stop data access to users no matter where they're located. You get to focus on your code; we've got data scalability and availability covered for you.

Scaling Your App on Cloudant
Cloudant is designed to support fast app iteration by developers. It's based on the CouchDB NoSQL database where data is encapsulated and transferred as JSON documents. You don't need to design and redesign SQL data models or migrate databases in order to create new app features. You don't need to write object-relational mapping code either. The database resides behind an HTTP layer and provides a rich permission model, so you can access, secure and share your data via a RESTful API.

Your app is a tenant within a multi-tenant data layer that is already big and scalable. You get a URL end point for your data layer, get data in and out of it via HTTP, and we scale and secure it around the globe. Global data distribution and intelligent routing minimizes latency between your users and the data, which can add 100s of milliseconds per request (we've measured!). Additionally, Cloudant has an advanced system for prioritizing requests so that apps aren't affected by 'noisy neighbors' in a multi-tenant system. We also offer a single-tenant data layer to companies who want it — your very own white-labeled data cloud. As your data volume and IO requests rise (or fall), Cloudant scales automatically, and because your data is replicated to multiple locations, it's always available. Start small and grow to epic proportions? Check.

Other Data Management Gymnastics
The Cloudant Data Layer also makes it easy to add advanced functionality to your apps:

  • Replicate data (all of it or sub-sets) to data centers, computers or even mobile devices for local processing (great for analytics) or off-line access (great for mobile users). Re-synching is automatic.
  • Perform advanced analytics with built-in MapReduce and full-text indexing and search.
  • Distribute your code with data — Cloudant can distribute and serve any kind of document, even HTML5 and other browser-based code, which makes it easy to scale your app and move processing from your back-end to the browser.

Why We Run on SoftLayer
Given the nature of our service, people always ask us where we have our infrastructure, and we're quick to tell them we chose SoftLayer because we're fanatical about performance. We measured latencies for different data centers run by other cloud providers, and it's no contest: SoftLayer provides the lowest and most predictable latencies. Data centers that are thousands of miles apart perform almost as if they are on the same local area network. SoftLayer's rapidly expanding global presence allows Cloudant to replicate data globally throughout North America, Europe and Asia (with plans to continue that expansion as quickly as SoftLayer can build new facilities).

The other major draw to SoftLayer was the transparency they provide about our infrastructure. If you run a data layer, IO matters! SoftLayer provisions dedicated hardware for us (rather than just virtual machines), and they actually tell us exactly what hardware we are running on, so we can tweak our systems to get the most bang for our buck.

Get Started with Cloudant for Free
If you're interested to see what the Cloudant Data Layer could do for your app, sign up at cloudant.com to get your FREE global data presence created in an instant.

-Michael Miller, Cloudant

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.
February 1, 2012

Flex Images: Blur the Line Between Cloud and Dedicated

Our customers are not concerned with technology for technology's sake. Information technology should serve a purpose; it should function as an integral means to a desired end. Understandably, our customers are focused, first and foremost, on their application architecture and infrastructure. They want, and need, the freedom and flexibility to design their applications to their specifications.

Many companies leverage the cloud to take advantage of core features that enable robust, agile architectures. Elasticity (ability to quickly increase or decrease compute capacity) and flexibility (choice such as cores, memory and storage) combine to provide solutions that scale to meet the demands of modern applications.

Another widely used feature of cloud computing is image-based provisioning. Rapid provisioning of cloud resources is accomplished, in part, through the use of images. Imaging capability extends beyond the use of base images, allowing users to create customized images that preserve their software installs and configurations. The images persist in an image library, allowing users to launch new cloud instances based their images.

But why should images only be applicable to virtualized cloud resources?

Toward that end, we're excited to introduce SoftLayer Flex Images, a new capability that allows us to capture images of physical and virtual servers, store them all in one library, and rapidly deploy those images on either platform.

SoftLayer Flex Images

Physical servers now share the core features of virtual servers—elasticity and flexibility. With Flex Images, you can move seamlessly between and environments as your needs change.

Let's say you're running into resource limits in a cloud server environment—your data-intensive server is I/O bound—and you want to move the instance to a more powerful dedicated server. Using Flex Images, you can create an image of your cloud server and, extending our I/O bound example, deploy it to a custom dedicated server with SSD drives.

Conversely, a dedicated environment can be quickly replicated on multiple cloud instances if you want the scaling capability of the cloud to meet increased demand. Maybe your web heads run on dedicated servers, but you're starting to see periods of usage that stress your servers. Create a Flex Image from your dedicated server and use it to deploy cloud instances to meet demand.

Flex Image technology blurs the distinctions—and breaks down the walls—between virtual and physical computing environments.

We don't think of Flex Images as new product. Instead—like our network, our portal, our automated platform, and our globe-spanning geographic diversity—Flex Image capability is a free resource for our customers (with the exception of standard nominal costs in storing the Flex Images).

We think Flex Images represents not only great value, but also provides a further example of how SoftLayer innovates continually to bring new capabilities and the highest possible level of customer control to our automated services platform.

To sum up, here are some of the key features and benefits of SoftLayer Flex Images:

  • Universal images that can be used interchangeably on dedicated or cloud systems
  • Unified image library for archiving, managing, sharing, and publishing images
  • Greater flexibility and higher scalability
  • Rapid provisioning of new dedicated and cloud environments
  • Available via SoftLayer's management portal and API

In public beta, Flex Images are available now. We invite you to try them out, and, as always, we want to hear what you think.

-Marc

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