Posts Tagged 'Texas'

November 20, 2012

Community Development: Catalysing European Startups

SoftLayer works hard and plays hard. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Dallas for the first "Global Catalyst Summit"* where the community development teams in Europe, Asia and the United States all came together under one roof to learn, strategize and bond. What that really means is that we all experienced a week of hardcore information flow and brutal fun.

The onboarding process to become a part of the SoftLayer's Community Development (Catalyst) team is pretty rigorous, and traveling to Dallas from Amsterdam for the training made it even more intense. In short order, I learned about the roots of the Catalyst program and why SoftLayer is so interested in investing in helping startups succeed. I got the low-down on the hundreds of companies that are taking advantage of the program right now, and I was inspired by the six incredible people who focus exclusively on the Catalyst program at SoftLayer ... And Big Tex:

SoftLayer Community Development Team and Big Tex

When the whirlwind week of orientation and training came to an end, I came to a solid conclusion: I am working at SoftLayer for a reason. I believe SoftLayer has the most kick-ass global on-demand technology platform out there, and our focus on innovation and automation is reflected in everything we do. On top of that, we give that platform to startups to help springboard their success. I get to work with a community of world-changers. Needless to say, that's an amazing conclusion to come to.

As a member of the Catalyst team in EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), I can provide signficant resources to entrepreneurs who are building awesome new applications and technologies that are making a difference locally, regionally and globally. Anna Bofill Bert and I work out of SoftLayer's Amsterdam office, and we are fully dedicated to helping startup and developer communities in our region.

As a review exercise and a way to educate the audience that may be unfamiliar with Catalyst, I thought I'd bullet out a few of the main ideas:

What is Catalyst?

The SoftLayer Catalyst Startup Program provides:

  • A generous monthly hosting credit toward dedicated, cloud or hybrid compute environments for a FULL YEAR (Ideal for dev-ops/next generation startup compute applications who want high performance from the start).
  • Direct connection to highest level programming team at SoftLayer — Our Innovation Team. Participating companies get help and advice from the people that are writing the book on highly scalable, global infrastructure environments.
  • Connection to the SoftLayer Marketing and PR Team for help getting spreading the word around the world about all the cool stuff participating startups are doing.

We reach startups by listening to them and meeting needs that all of them express. We are telling the SoftLayer story, networking, making friends, drinking too much and travelling like mad. In the course of a month, we went to Lean Start Up Machine in Rotterdam, Structure Europe in Amsterdam, Pioneers Festival in Vienna, HowToWeb in Bucharest and we managed to complete a quick tour of startup communities in Spain.

Like our peers on the US team, we partner with incubators and accelerators to make sure that when startups look for help getting started, they also find SoftLayer. We're already working with partners like Springboard, Seedcamp, GameFounders, Startup Sauna, the INLEA Foundation and Tetuan Valley, and the list of supported communities seems to grow daily. When the portfolio companies in each of these organizations are given access to the Catalyst program, that means SoftLayer's Catalyst customer base is growing pretty phenomenally as well.

What I actually like most about how we help startups is the mentorship and office hours we provide participating companies as well. SoftLayer was founded by ten guys in a living room in 2005, and we've got hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue as of 2012. That success is what the SoftLayer team is excited to share insights about.

Hustling is a major part of startup culture, so it's only fitting that I feel like I had to hustle through this blog to get all of my thoughts down. Given that SoftLayer EMEA is a bit of a startup itself, I'm happy to be practicing what we preach. If you'd like more information about Catalyst or you want to apply, please feel free to hit me up: esampson@softlayer.com

We want to be part of your company's success story.

-@EmilyBlitz

*Note: As an homage to Big Tex after the fire, we referred to our meeting as the "Global Catalyst Summit with Big Tex" at the Texas State Fair. We hope to see you back in action in 2013, Big Tex!

October 21, 2011

SoftLayer, The Texas Rangers & The World Series

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

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

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

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

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

-@badvizsla

July 11, 2011

Texas House Bill 1841: Hosting and Taxes

Okay, so you've read the title and passed out already ... but wait – this is good stuff! Well, maybe not "good," but at least it's relevant. The esteemed governor of Texas with the big Texas hair (and aspirations of taking his big hair out of Texas) recently signed House Bill 1841 (HB1841) into law, and that law is significant to many of SoftLayer's customers.

Last year, the Texas Comptroller's Office amended a regulation and stated that the use of a server in Texas was adequate to establish a nexus, so an e-commerce vendor who used a Texas web host was required to collect sales tax from their customers even if the vendor had no other presence in the state of Texas. This amendment immediately created issues for web hosts with data centers in Texas: Why would customers get servers from a host in Texas and have to worry about this tax obligation, when they could do business with another host outside of Texas and not have this obligation?

Well, the Comptroller's Office started to realize the effect of this regulation and began to backpedal and say that they didn't really mean what they said.

HB1841 puts the Texas hosting industry back where it was before the Comptroller made those changes: The use of a server located in Texas without any other presence is not considered a substantial nexus for collecting sales taxes. HB1841 specifically states that "A person whose only activity in this state is conducted as a user of Internet hosting is not engaged in business in this state." Note: You may be wondering if this bill applies to Amazon in Texas, but HB1841 doesn't cover Amazon because they had a physical presence in Texas (albeit one operating under a different affiliate with a different name), requiring them to pay sales taxes.

Our very own Brenk Johnson was involved in the effort to pass HB1841. He attended a couple of committee hearings, and he'll tell you his mere presence got this out of committee and in front of our governor. He is quoted as saying, "I can sit in a meeting with the best of them."

At the risk of making this blog sound like an Academy Awards reception speech, we would like to thank Jeff Clark and the crew over at TechAmerica for helping to get this bill passed. TechAmerica is a technology advocacy group that we recently joined, and they have a cracker-jack lobby group. Our CFO and I were on the verge of hiring a lobbyist for the 2009 Texas session, but we ended up not doing so. Two years later, we decided to go with this industry group, and the verdict is that TechAmerica has been a great investment ... It was also through this group that Lance became a Cloud Commissioner! We also want to thank our competitors over at RackSpace, especially their General Counsel Alan Schoenbaum, for getting us involved and for leading and spearheading the passage of this bill ... What was good for the goose was good for the gander on this one.

Because we are back to where we were a couple of years ago in the definition of nexus with relationship to hosts with data centers in Texas, this was not really a game-changing bill. It was important to clarify and undo the damage caused by the waffling that occurred in the State's Comptroller's Office, so in that sense this was a good bill for the industry. Next session we're going to aim for the game-changer: Margin taxes!

-@badvizsla

March 22, 2010

Oatmeal is Good for YOU!

Have you seen the commercials for Quaker Oats oatmeal? In recent years they have changed their traditional marketing message to appeal to a specific customer profile. The ads new message is that by eating oatmeal every day for breakfast for 30 days, you will lower your blood cholesterol levels. Pretty slick! Eat our oatmeal and you drop your cholesterol and participate in a healthy lifestyle. Net result, you are healthier, live longer, better quality of life, Yada, Yada, Yada….All this from the simple, inexpensive miracle food… oatmeal. Hey, no need for that expensive prescription medication to control your HDL or LDL, just eat a bowl of oatmeal every day!!

Now, you’re probably asking, what the heck is the point to this blog? Well, glad you asked! I want to share a story with you. This past weekend, I went on a hunting excursion to Central Texas to hunt wild hogs. There are a number of interesting tales to share about the actual hunting, and I’ll post those at a later date! This story takes place in a small town I passed thru (or tried to anyway) on the way to the hunting lease. Flying down Hwy 29, we were passing thru a small, one stop light town named Bertram. Big signs all over town advertise the fact (Proudly) that Bertram is the Oatmeal Capital of Texas. They even have an Oatmeal Festival! My buddy was in a truck ahead of me, and made it thru the light, but I was caught and had to stop. My buddy really wanted to get to the lease and kept truckin’, leaving me to apply a heavy foot to the accelerator (thank God I don’t have a Toyota) to catch up. Next thing you know Jed’s a millionaire, and I have the bubble gum lights going off behind me on the local law enforcement vehicle (their one and only). For those of you not familiar with small town Texas law enforcement, Big Brother Bubba looooves to pull over city slickers from the big city. We represent a steady, easy revenue stream for the local coffers. To contest any citation, you are required to show up in person, usually in the middle of the week, usually late in the day or in the evening. Hence, most people will just pay the fine and go on down the road. I digress, back to my story! Well, Officer Bubba, looking just like Sheriff Buford T Justice from Smoky and the Bandit fame (short stature, big belly hanging over his gun belt, cowboy boots and straw hat) ambles up to the window and goes thru the standard drill. I think he was disappointed because I had pulled over immediately and had license and registration waiting for him! I quickly realized from his demeanor I had zero chance to talk my way out of the ticket, but gave it the old college try of “hey, I’m following my buddy, he made the light and blew ahead, and I’m just trying to catch up so I don’t get lost” explanation, but no good… Oh well! So, after a short wait, Officer Bubba ambles back up to the window and hands me my ticket with a big ol’ friendly country smile, that featured three missing top teeth, one barely hanging on by a slim part of the root, discolored by years of copious Redman, Skoal and or unfiltered cigarette use. Ugh!! But good news for Quaker Oats, I’m sending them an idea for a new ad… you got it... Officer Bubba in the Oatmeal Capital of Texas extolling the virtues of daily consumption of oatmeal to help “preserve” those few precious teeth that small town law enforcement officers are so fond of!!! Whadaya think?

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February 9, 2010

Get with it!

I heard a story over the weekend, and somehow I translated it into a blog about SoftLayer. The story went something like this. “A horse walks into a bar…” Oops, wrong story.

A little background, as you may know it was really cold here last week in Texas terms and a sunny day here is usually not 20 degrees for the high. Now for the story, the person told me that he is not really adept at checking his gas gauge on a regular basis and for certain he would not think far enough ahead to get gas on the last warm day before the cold air hit. So he jumps in his car and takes off down the freeway. About 20 minutes into the drive he notices his low fuel light is on and he can’t remember the last time he filled up or approximately how many miles he has driven. He has run dry on fuel a couple of times in the past and doesn’t want to risk it in the cold weather. He has no choice but to pull into the first station he sees and fill up the tank. As he is filling up he starts to think about how much cheaper the gas is closer to his house and how much extra he will be paying for his lack of attention. He makes a mental note that in 2010 he is going to pay more attention to detail and be a little more on top of things going forward.

Has this ever happened to you? Not just with fuel, but how about in technology? How many times have you “jumped” in to a new provider and not checked the gauges? How many times has your hosting provider run out of fuel on you? How much did that down time cost you? Was it more expensive because you just had to do whatever it took to get back up and running? What if you had planned ahead and had better disaster recovery scenarios in place? Could you have same time, money and effort?

Did you know that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again the same way expecting different results? How can you stay with a failing provider if they are insane? How can you keep using CAPEX for equipment that is obsolete the minute you take it out of the box? How can you keep running your site, application or database without a good backup policy? You still haven’t added that next piece of redundancy, why not? All these bad habits that you continue to carry from year to year have to go! These are no different than eating too much chocolate! That is the habit I am giving up in 2010, what is yours?

Make 2010 different. Give us a call.

March 26, 2009

Use Caution when Outsourcing!

Outsource IT! I have been saying that for years now. But now I say; outsourcer beware!?!?! Really? How do you know if the company you are calling upon to keep your business up and running is safe and sound? Do they have certifications? Are they registered with the Better Business Bureau? Do they have scary fine print in the Terms of Service or User Agreement? Do you actually read those and understand them? How do you find out about all the questions above? Do you go to trade shows? Do you read about companies on the Hosting forum sites? Do you hear it from your friends? There are lots of ways to get that kind of information in today’s social internet jungle. Do you follow the company on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linked-In, or all of the above? Should you? So many questions…

I am going to assume that you think this blog is going to be about how SoftLayer is a reputable, certified PCI compliant and SAS 70 datacenter, with competent and caring employees that can put themselves in the customer’s shoes and understand the frustrations that can go along with outsourcing your datacenter needs. Nah, that would be too easy and not very much fun.

This blog is about mud. Yes, I said mud. I was driving down a county road in Texas recently and we had a bit of rain in the days leading up to my trip. If you aren’t from Texas then you need a quick definition of “County Road”. A county can be paved, gravel or dirt topped and can be a great road or a horrible road, it just depends on the county that it is in, the tax base, and the abilities of the crews hired by the county to maintain them. I was travelling down a very wet gravel top county road, following along on my cell with GPS and Google maps and was about a mile from my destination. In what seemed the blink of an eye the road surface went from wet gravel to dirt and within about 10 feet my truck simply slid off the road into a nice 4 foot ditch filled with rain water. Looks harmless in the picture below doesn’t it?

Mud

It was a nice soft splash landing but my city slicker tires had no chance of getting me out of that ditch even with 4X4 engaged. So when water started coming under the door into the cab of the truck, I knew it was going to be a bad hour or so. It was time to outsource. I called the ranch to see if they had anything that could pull me out but they said that I was in a pretty tough spot and didn’t think they could help. So what would any techie do, I googled mud towing in the closet town. Of course I picked the first place on the list and gave them a call. They said they had a mud recovery truck and they would be out in about 45 minutes. Awesome, just 45 minutes! This was at 4:30PM and it was pretty cold and still raining and the ditch was filling up even further with water. Outsourcer beware, I was expecting a “Mud Recovery Truck!” I had visions of monster trucks dancing in my head. Fail!

Mud

Now I have to say that there weren’t ten forums about mud towing in Navarro county that I could visit, or customer references readily available so I just had to take that leap of faith and trust in the skills of my saviors. And I have to give credit where credit is due, that truck really is a monster! It did things a Transformer would love to be able to do. It got stuck at least 30 times in the 5 hours it took them to get me out of the ditch. Yes, I said 5 hours. Did I mention that monster trucks can do very bad things to city 4X4’s? Thank goodness I have an Echo to drive back and forth to work.

So I don’t want to leave you hanging but my truck is in the shop now and I am still waiting on an estimate. Things I know are wrong; front right A-arm damage from forcibly pulling the truck over a stump in the ditch, alignment issues, check engine light on, cruise control doesn’t work anymore, passenger side back door pushed up about half an inch including damage at bottom from the same stump, muffler caved in and exhaust pipe dragging the ground, front bumper air damn ripped off and metal bumper bent outward, yea you guessed it the pesky stump again and last but not least I need an entire new jack assembly because it is either broken or lost in the mud or both I should say (attempting to jack the truck over the stump).

The moral of this blog, if you have the tools available to research the company you are going to outsource to and they have references be sure to use them. They might save you a $300 mud recovery bill and a $1000 deductible somewhere down the road.

September 28, 2007

Big Tex

If I could be anyone in the world, I would want to be Big Tex. I can't think of anything that says – larger than life – than Big Tex. For those n00bs out there, Big Tex is that iconic Texan that welcomes one and all to the State Fair of Texas every year. His two-story boots, size BIG denim jeans and 100-XL Dickies shirt are far from the norm. As Big Tex stands tall above the crowds at the state fair - he is often used for navigation, bellows out words of wisdom, poses for millions of pictures and captures the attention of everyone young and old. His size, stature, and presence lets everyone know – this isn't your typical cowboy.

It's the "different" part that I like about Big Tex. When we started SoftLayer, I challenged my team to think differently. I wanted to do something that had never been done before. What's the point in being like everyone else? I want SoftLayer to be the Big Tex of hosting. Something so different, so unique, so functional – it will be used by one and all. The challenge lies with creating something that is unlike its predecessors - improving upon the status quo and being innovative enough to spring forward into the future.

To be truly different - one has to rely upon experience, knowledge, education, intestinal fortitude and take a calculated risk. Can you imagine the person who recommended building a 52 foot tall cowboy in 1951 to attract visitors to a relatively small state fair? In contrast, can you imagine visiting the Texas State Fair and not seeing Big Tex? The greatest companies in the world all have one thing in common – they dared to be different. They invested in the uncommon, unknown, and non-existent in an attempt to become the next household name. While Softlayer is still young and far from "Forest Gump" status – we are anything but average. This isn't your typical hosting company.

-@lavosby

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