Posts Tagged 'Updates'

October 3, 2013

Improving Communications for Customer-Affecting Events

Service disruptions are never a good thing. Though SoftLayer invests extensively in design, equipment, and personnel training to reduce the risk of disruptions to our customers, in the technology world there are times where scheduled events or unplanned incidents are inevitable. During those times, we understand that restoring service is top priority, and almost as important is communicating to customers regarding the cause of the incident and the current status of our work to resolve it.

To date we've used a combination of tickets, emails, forum posts, portal "yellow" notifications, as well as RSS and Twitter feeds to provide status updates during service-affecting events. Many of these methods require customers to "come and get it," so we've been working on a more targeted, proactive approach to disseminating information.

I'm excited to report that our Development and Operations teams have collaborated on new functionality in the SoftLayer portal that will improve the way we share information with customers about unplanned infrastructure troubles or upcoming planned maintenances. With our new Event Communications toolset, we're able to pinpoint the accounts affected by an event and update users who opt-in to receive notifications about how these events may impact their services.

Notifications

As the development work is finalized, we plan to roll out a few phases of improvements. The first phase of implementation, which is ready today, enables email alerts for unplanned incidents, and any portal user account can opt-in to receive them. These emails provide details about the impact and current status of an unplanned incident in progress (UIP). In this phase, notifications can be sent for devices such as physical servers, CCIs and shared SLB VIPs, and we will be adding additional services over time.

In future phases of this project, we plan to include:

  • A new "Event" section of the Customer Portal which will allow customers to browse upcoming scheduled maintenances or current/recent unplanned incidents which may impact their services. In the past, we generated tickets for scheduled maintenances, so separating these event notifications will improve customer visibility.
  • Enhanced visibility for events in our mobile apps (phone/tablet).
  • Updates to affected services for a given event as customers add / change services.
  • Notification of newly added or newly updated events that have not been read by the user (similar email "inbox" functionality) in the portal.
  • Identification of any related current or recent events as a customer begins to open a ticket in the portal.
  • Reminders of upcoming scheduled maintenances along with progress updates to the event notification throughout the maintenance in some cases.
  • Improved ability to correlate specific incidents to customer service troubles.
  • Dissemination of RFO (reason-for-outage) statements to customers following a post-incident review of an unplanned service disruption.

Since we respect our customers' inboxes, these notifications will only be sent to user accounts that have opted in. If you'd like to receive them, simply log into the Customer Portal and navigate to "Notification Subscriptions" under the "Administration" menu (direct link). From that page, individual users can control event subscriptions, and portal logins that have administrative control over multiple users on the account can control the opt-in for themselves and their downstream users. For a more detailed walkthrough of the opt-in process, visit the KnowledgeLayer: "Update Subscription Settings for the Event Management System"

The Network Operations Center has already begun using this customer notification toolset for customer-affecting events, so we recommend that you opt-in as soon as possible to benefit from this new functionality.

-Dani

August 15, 2012

Managing Support Tickets: Email Subscriptions

This week, the development team rolled out some behind-the-scenes support functionality that I think a lot of our customers will want to take advantage of, so I put together this quick blog post to spread the word about it. With the new release, the support department is able to create "Ticket Email Subscriptions" for different ticket groups on every customer account. As a customer, you might not be jumping up and down with joy after reading that one-sentence description, but after you hear a little more about the functionality, if you're not clapping, I hope you'll at least give us a thumbs-up.

To understand the utility of the new ticket email subscription functionality, let's look at how normal tickets work in the SoftLayer portal without email subscriptions:

User Creates Ticket

  1. User A creates a ticket.
  2. User A becomes the owner of that ticket.
  3. When SoftLayer responds to the ticket, an email notification is sent to User A to let him/her know that the ticket has been updated.

SoftLayer Creates Ticket

  1. SoftLayer team creates a ticket on a customer's account.
  2. The primary customer contact on the account is notified of the new ticket.
  3. Customer logs into the portal and responds to ticket.
  4. Customer gets notifications of updates (as described above).

There's nothing wrong with the existing support notification process, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to make the process better. What if User A creates an urgent ticket on his/her way out the door to go on vacation? User B and User C aren't notified when an update is posted on User A's ticket, so the other users aren't able to get to the ticket and respond as quickly as they would have if they received the notification. What if the primary customer contact on the account isn't the best person to receive a monitoring alert? The administrator who will investigate the monitoring alert has to see the new ticket on the account or hear about it from the primary contact (who got the notification).

Ticket email subscriptions allow for customers to set contact addresses to be notified when a ticket is created, edited or moved in a particular ticket group. Here are the ticket groups differentiated in our initial release:

  • Billing - Any ticket in our Billing department
  • Maintenance - Scheduled maintenance notifications for specific servers
  • Network Protection - DDoS mitigation and Null Routes
  • Monitoring - Host Down Alerts
  • CST, SysAdmin and Hardware - Any ticket in our support and data center departments
  • Managed Services - Tickets that relate to any managed services
  • Network Maintenance - Scheduled network maintenance

You'll notice that Abuse isn't included in this list, and the only reason it's omitted is because you've always been able to designate a contact on your account for abuse-related tickets ... Ticket subscriptions extend that functionality to other ticket groups.

Because only one email address can be "subscribed" to notifications in each ticket group, we recommend that customers use their own distribution lists as the email contacts. With a DL as the contact, you can enable multiple users in your organization to receive notifications, and you can add and remove users from each distribution list on your end quickly and easily.

When User A creates a ticket with the data center and goes on vacation, as soon as SoftLayer responds to the ticket, User A will be notified (as usual), and the supportsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will get notified as well. When a network maintenance is ticket is created by SoftLayer, the netmaintsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will be notified.

Ticket email subscriptions are additive to the current update notification structure, and they are optional. If you want to set up ticket email subscriptions on your account, create a ticket for the support department and provide us with the email addresses you'd like to subscribe to each of the ticket groups.

We hope this tool helps provide an even better customer experience for you ... If you don't mind, I'm going to head back to the lab to work with the dev team to cook up more ways to add flexibility and improvements into the customer experience.

-Chris

June 29, 2012

We're Shipping Up to Boston - HostingCon 2012

It's that time of year again ... HostingCon is upon us, and we're faced with an interesting challenge: Go even bigger and badder in Boston than we did at HostingCon 2011 in San Diego. And that's a tall order.

Given the fact that we've already sponsored and participated in dozens of conferences around the world this year, you might be surprised to learn that we've still got a surprises in our bag of tricks. Without giving too much away, I thought I'd share a few of the SoftLayer-specific highlights you make note of if you're planning your HostingCon itinerary.

Conference Sessions

Want some hosting insight from the executive management team of one of the largest privately held hosting providers in the world? You might want to add these sessions to your calendar:

Partnerships Done Right
Lance Crosby, CEO
9:00am – Monday, July 16
Management Track

As more "non-traditional" hosters (telcos, cable companies & VARs) enter the cloud services market finding the right partner is a must. The opportunity is huge but this isn’t a situation where a rising tide will float all boats. Lance Crosby, CEO of SoftLayer will explain how, in order to be successful, you’ll need to understand the following: 1) Building for Internet Scale, 2) Think platform first, and 3) How to automate. The session will include discussion of how SoftLayer leverages partners to drive business growth.

Build vs Buy: Operations & Billing Automation
Nathan Day, Chief Scientist (+ Panel)
9:00am – Tuesday, July 17
Technology Track

The finance, operations and administrative back office of a hosting company can be a complex animal. Some hosts have dedicated software development teams to build in-house solutions, others opt to buy as much as they can from 3rd party vendors. Hear three different approaches to tackling the problem, and learn how your product line can determine the optimal mix of open source, home grown and off-the-shelf solutions.

Finding Your Story: Branding and Positioning in the Hosting Industry
Simon West, CMO
2:00pm – Tuesday, July 17
Sales & Marketing Track

In a crowded marketplace it's critical to establish a clear position and identity in the minds of your customers and prospects. SoftLayer CMO Simon West will discuss best practices for defining and articulating your brand position, illustrating with specific examples drawn from his experience in building some of the industry's most notable brands.

Build, Launch, Sell: Strategies for Launching a Product in the Hosting Business
George Karidis, CSO (+ Panel)
3:00pm – Tuesday, July 17
Management Track

Introducing value-added services around basic hosting can be the strategy that turns a hosting business into a winning venture for the host, and a truly valuable service for the customer. In this interactive session, a panel of product management experts from the hosting business will cover best practices for building (or integrating), launching and selling a new product to your customers, helping you to develop processes, procedures and strategies for seeing a new product launch through from start to finish.

The SoftLayer Booth: #413

When you step into the expo hall at the John B. Hynes Convention Center, you're going to see SoftLayer. In our 20' x 30' space at booth 413, we'll have a few of your favorite SLayers available to answer any and all of your questions about what's new and what's next for SoftLayer ... And to pass out some always-popular SoftLayer swag.

SoftLayer Booth

By popular demand, the Server Challenge will be making its return to HostingCon, and if last year is any indication, the competition will be fierce. The pride of besting all HostingCon attendees in reassembling a server rack is arguably as valuable as the New iPad the winner receives. Though your pride doesn't have a Retina Display.

Host Me All Night Long

Following the phenomenal success of "Geeks Gone Wild" last year (headlined by The Dan Band), we knew we had our work cut out for us when it came to planning a party for HostingCon in Boston. We've teamed up with cPanel and comcure to put together "Host Me All Night Long" at Royale Boston on Monday, July 16.

Host Me All Night Long

One of my favorite comedians, Ralphie May, is going hit the stage at 8pm, and you won't want to miss a second of his set. Following Ralphie, Yellow Brick Road is bringing their award-winning Classic Rock tribute skills from Las Vegas to keep the night going. Given the name of the party, you shouldn't be surprised when a little AC/DC "You Shook Me All Night Long" is played.

Like last year, the attendance is strictly limited, and when the number of tickets available at http://hostingconparty.com/ reaches zero, you're out of luck. Even if you're our best customer ever, you need a ticket to get in the door, so register while you can! If you show a little extra SoftLayer love on Twitter or Facebook, send me a link to it (khazard@softlayer.com), and I might be able to hook you up with a VIP code to get you priority access and into the VIP section at the venue.

Like the Dropkick Murphys, we're "shipping up to Boston," and we hope to see you there!

-@khazard

June 21, 2012

New Swag, New Booth, New Product Announcement: SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East 2012

When a SLayers pack their bags and heads to the 'Big Apple,' we go BIG. Our most recent trip to NYC for Cloud Expo East proved that statement over and over again. When I heard I'd be one of the employees representing SoftLayer at the Javits Convention Center, I did a little dance ... Cloud Expo is one of my favorite conferences, and New York City is one of my favorite cities, so I had a lot to be excited about.

Cloud Expo East and Cloud Expo West are two of the biggest shows SoftLayer sponsors every year. Attendees come from various industries — from digital marketing agencies to software as a service providers to hosting resellers — with their own needs and questions about what's happening "in the cloud." Because our Cloud Expo presences usually get a ton of traffic, we decided to unveil our brand new 20' by 20' booth in New York:

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

For the last few months, we've been sketching, editing and tweaking our vision of the booth. Naturally, our new "Build the Future" branding was present, and you could see the simple "Our Platform. Your Vision." statement from wherever you were. By the time the design was finalized, we were on pins and needles in anticipation, waiting for the booth leap off the paper. We weren't disappointed, and conference attendees weren't either.

In addition to the hundreds of conversations we had with attendees about SoftLayer's cloud computing capabilities, it was pretty amazing to me that so many people commented on our booth design. Many attendees noticed that our booth gets bigger and bigger every year, and the fact that our booth towered over most of the other booths in the area made that a pretty easy observation. As attendees were moving down the escalators into the exhibition hall, they were greeted by the SoftLayer. Because the booth was designed with an open-concept in mind, we never felt too claustrophobic ... Even when a flood of people would come hunting for the new SoftLayer flexi-frisbees we were giving out after they heard Duke or Marc present.

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

Despite the "openness" of the booth design, many attendees were able to gather what SoftLayer is all about from the graphic side panels ... and the Server Challenge:

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

That's right. The infamous Server Challenge continued to draw crowds and spark conversations in the new booth. And it was the perfect "finishing touch" to put the new conference presence over the top. While some attendees were hesitant to step up to try their hands at the competition, others were eager to accept the challenge. And as usual, the leader board was impossibly close:

  1. Dejian Fang - 0:59.08
  2. Corjan Bast - 0:59.59
  3. Logan Best - 1:00.49
  4. Jeffrey Abatayo - 1:01.00
  5. Bryan Wong - 1:01.84

The top time of 59.08 seconds was a mere 2.76 seconds faster than the fifth place time!

When conference attendees weren't watching the Server Challenge craziness or ducking to avoid an errant SoftLayer frisbee, we had a few more "oohs" and "ahhs" to share. In the new booth design, we incorporated four iMacs, one in each corner. If an attendee had a question about our portal, our pricing or our API, we could fire up a browser and use the SoftLayer-sponsored conference wifi to take them where they needed to go. If no one was using the computers, the screens would show a flashy video that included some interesting SoftLayer facts and a look at a SoftLayer Truck Day.

SoftLayer at Cloud Expo East

Off the expo floor, SoftLayer CTO Duke Skarda and Vice President of Product Innovation Marc Jones announced our new product, Private Clouds. No big deal. If you didn't see that announcement or you want to learn more, Nathan Day (SoftLayer's Chief Scientist) posted a fantastic blog coinciding with SoftLayer's private clouds release, and Duke followed up with an in depth look at how and why we chose to build private clouds the way we did.

Sad that you missed your chance to see the new 20' x 20' booth in person? Don't cry... If you're in the Silicon Valley for Cloud Expo West (November 5-8), we won't be hard to spot.

-Natalie

Categories: 
May 2, 2012

Social Media and the SoftLayer Server Challenge

I've been working at SoftLayer for almost ten months now, in my relatively short tenure, I've written hundreds (if not thousands) of tweets covering a broad range of topics and events ... As a Social Media Coordinator, it's an integral part of my job. Given what I've learned about hosting in the past year, I'm constantly surprised by how second-nature this intimidatingly technical industry has become. I guess that's what happens when you're immersed in a technology-focused company like SoftLayer.

Beyond sharing technical news and content about what's happening in the world of cloud computing, I'm also responsible for keeping our customers in the loop about all of our trade shows, conferences and events. If you've been to a technology trade show in the past year, you probably saw SoftLayer. We sponsor, attend or exhibit at more than sixty events every year, and it feels like I have been to them all. I know the ins and outs of every event on our schedule well before it begins, regardless of whether that event's down the street or in an exotic location like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam or London (Interesting fact: In the past week, we had events in all of those locations).

Social media is one of the ways our customers and followers can keep a pulse on SoftLayer's activity and growth. We travel the world to share how we help customers Build the Future, and as a part of the social media team, I get to help introduce that conversation. Let's use Internet World as an example.

Last week, a group of SLayers traveled to London to attend Internet World. To prepare for Internet World, I tried to schedule and share as much relevant content about SoftLayer with the #iwexpo audience to generate awareness and drive traffic to our booth. At larger shows like Internet World, we typically have a conference session or speaking engagement, and on the expo hall floor, you'll usually see a crowd like this one milling around our booth:

Internet World 2012

The Server Challenge generates its own social media — from word-of-mouth "you've gotta try this" conversations at the show to the typical "social media" channels like Twitter and Facebook. The gamifiction of rebuilding a miniature SoftLayer server rack is one of those interesting, entertaining and innovative ideas that seems to be unique to the mad scientists at SoftLayer. Invariably, the competition "ain't over 'til the fat lady sings," and at Internet World, we had the most dramatic competition conclusion ever ... But we'll get back to that in a minute.

From a social media perspective, the folks who stop by SoftLayer's booth want to watch the leader board as the show progresses. The expo hall may be open for several days, so it might be tough to keep an eye on the Server Challenge leader board ... Attendees then trust us to keep them informed via social media. Every day, we post the latest times to beat, and when we look at our analytics, it's wild to see the number of people clicking through to see the current top ten times. It doesn't seem like much, but a few hundred people at Internet World wanted to know what this table looked like throughout the whole show:

Internet World 2012

The top two times you see on the final leader board caused the late-show dramatics. Joseph Waite clocked a fantastic 1:03.68 to secure the top spot on the board in the middle of Day 3 at the show, and Rob McEwen stepped up to the challenge for his Day 3 attempts about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled close of the expo hall. With about 25 onlookers, Rob stopped the clock on his second attempt with a time of 1:02.14 ... Good enough for first place.

The problem: One of the drive trays was not installed all the way.

Because we want to make sure the winner has everything installed correctly in the fastest time, we had to add 5 seconds to his time for the mistake, and we gave him one more chance to complete the challenge to be fair to him. Unfortunately, the final attempt didn't beat Joseph's 1:03.68, so the new iPad was destined for Joseph. While Rob was a little bummed, he understood the reasoning for the decision, and he committed to stopping by our booth next year to win his iPad outright.

I was a few thousand miles away from all of this activity, but I felt like a major part of it given my social media involvement in tracking and sharing the latest updates. The best part of my job is when I get to interact with our customers, whether it be face to face or virtually. I want the messages you see on @SoftLayer and facebook.com/SoftLayer to be entertaining, interesting and helpful. We want you to feel connected to what's happening at SoftLayer and what we're all about.

Speaking of giving you insight into "what we're all about," I can't wrap up this blog about Internet World without sharing a little "insider" information about the SLayers at the booth: They're pretty competitive. They ran their own internal Server Challenge:

Internet World 2012

And if anyone is curious about the fastest time we've ever had in the Server Challenge, you can see it right there at the top of the list. Though to be fair, Kevin's probably done it a few thousand times.

-Rachel

September 24, 2011

The NEW New Facebook Layout

There are so many different types of Social Networks nowadays: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Channels, the faded MySpace and recently popular Google+. They all have different features but are essentially used for the same purpose. Facebook is the largest player in the market, and every time it makes a change, the world collectively gasps ... And a lot of people start yelling.

When Facebook launched back in 2004, it was designed with college kids in mind. I remember when you HAD to have a college email address to set up a Facebook account – the good ole days. A year or two later, Facebook created a separate section for high school students, and not too long after that, anyone on the planet could get a Facebook account, and the growing/changing audience necessitated changes in the platform.

Facebook is a great way to find old friends and catch up, and it's also an easier way to update everyone all at once what you are doing. I found out my best friend was engaged on Facebook ... That's right. I found out by Facebook before I got a phone call. Facebook is like a drug - it's addictive. Some people live there all day.

If you work for an IT company, you know that technology is constantly changing. To keep up with evolutions in technology and perceived needs of the growing user base, Facebook will update its platform every few months. If you have a Facebook account, you've probably noticed that they released a new layout this week. You've probably also noticed all of your friends' status changes complaining about how they hate the way it looks, how "It's too hard to use." Those friends hated the old "new Facebook," and somewhere down the road, they've learned to love and/or depend on that "new Facebook" which is now in the "old Facebook" category. It's pretty annoying right?

Here's my advice for the change-averse:

  1. If Facebook didn't change, it would get stagnant and someone else would introduce something better ... The same way Facebook supplanted MySpace. DEAL WITH IT.
  2. If you don't like the changes Facebook makes, DELETE your account and move to a new Social Network like Twitter or try out Google+.
  3. Instead of complaining how hard the new Facebook is to use, take the time to READ the instructions they have provided for you ... From a desktop you are able to mouse over a section and it will tell you what it means and how to use it.
  4. Last but not least – whining is for babies and last time I checked you were in your 20's, 30's, 40's, and up - so suck it up!

Whew! Now that felt good ... :-)

- Natalie

Categories: 
March 7, 2011

March Madness - Customer Experience Style

If you are a SoftLayer customer you probably noticed a maintenance window early Sunday morning. If you aren't a SoftLayer customer, (you should be, and) you may have even noticed on quite a few social media outlets that we were trying to provide real-time updates about the maintenance progress, and our customers were doing so as well.

SoftLayer customers were given two internal tickets notifying them if they were to be affected, and when those tickets were created, the ticket system would have then sent an email to the admin user on that account. Additionally, our portal notification system was updated to show details about the window, and we created new threads in our customer forums to provide regular, centralized updates. We went as far as taking a few calls and meetings with customers to talk about their concerns with the maintenance timing and length because we know that any downtime is bad downtime in the world of hosting.

Saturday night, we had extra support on staff online, and our social media ninja was awake and letting the world know step by step what we were doing with real time status alerts. We wanted to be extremely transparent during the entire process. This was not a maintenance we could avoid, and we tried to roll as many different things that needed work into this maintenance without making a roll back impossible.

The maintenance itself went well, and as planned, most items that were taken down were back online well before the window ended. We ran into a few snags in bringing all of the CloudLayer CCIs back online, but even with those delays for a few customers, the work was completed by the time we committed to.

Now for the customer experience aspect. From reading various tweets from our customers, it seems like we should/could have done a few things even better: Been more proactive, sent standard email, attempted phone calls, etc.

While some of these options may be considered, not all are feasible. If you are one of the customers that tweeted, has blogged, is planning on tweeting, is planning on blogging or believes we're being anything less than genuine and transparent on our social media platforms, I want to hear from you.

Please comment on this blog, tweet me @skinman454, email me skinman@softlayer.com, call me at 214.442.0592, come by our office and visit.

Whatever it takes, just contact me. I can't put myself in your shoes and feel your pain on things like this unless we have a chance to talk about it. I look forward to our conversation.

-Skinman

January 11, 2011

Jurassic Park, Uptime, And You!

Some of you may remember in the movie Jurassic Park where the park founder's granddaughter Lex, played by Ariana Richards, sits down at a computer terminal, gasps, and says "This is Unix. I know this!" That particular film moment has always resonated with me as a victory for realistic depiction of computer systems - the interface used in the movie is called fsn and was an actual Unix file manager - in an industry rife with horrific exaggerations; Swordfish, anyone? I'm sure there's an unwritten story as to how she (or her brother if you follow the book) gained her skills at a computer system that in 1993 was almost exclusively relegated to universities. However, I digress.

Shortly before that scene was another scene and catchphrase that should resound with familiarity to system administrators around the world. In the face of marauding dinosaurs and computer sabotage, the character John Arnold, played by Samuel L. Jackson, must sacrifice what I'm sure was an absurd amount of uptime by killing the power and rebooting the mainframe. Would the system come back up? Would everything load up as needed to get the park's systems back online? John's mantra was simple: "Hold on to your butts!"

Every day as a Systems Administrator I'm faced with a comparable (though far less exhilarating) situation. Linux is an extremely stable operating system, and I have logged into systems that have been online for quite literally years. Eventually, though, kernel updates or stray mounts necessitate a reboot. Will the server's filesystems need a check on reboot? Will the server even come back up? When a server's been online for that long, the only way to know is to "throw the switch" and cross your fingers.

One way to have a better idea of how your system will behave during reboots in a production environment is to take the time to update your kernel once a month or so and perform a reboot to make sure the update sticks. This allows routine file system checks to take place as necessary and keeps your system abreast of the latest kernel updates. It also familiarizes you with how long the process takes, what sort of caveats you may run into, and reduces the overall surface area of your server to outside attackers.

In the last year, I have seen at least two exploits that can give an attacker root access to a server running an outdated kernel using common toolkits that can attack commonly deployed Content Management Systems with trivial effort. Compromising an unprivileged user account gives an attacker even more leverage against unpatched systems. Google CVE-2009-2695 and CVE-2010-3081 if you don't believe me.

If you run a production system or even a backend system that is exposed to the big, bad Internet, it is absolutely essential to make sure that your kernel, software, and security measures are up to date. Today's Slashdot article is tomorrow's exploit.

What lesson can we learn from the unfortunate folks at Jurassic Park? Don't assume your server is safe and don't wait until there are velociraptors roaming your halls looking for a snack to perform proper maintenance on your system.

-Adam

October 28, 2009

Meet Virus Jack

I am Jack’s Vundo Virus. I cause Jack’s computer to have popup. I also disable Windows Automatic Updates, task manager, registry editor, and msconfig so Jack cannot boot to safe mode. I use Jack’s Norton AntiVirus to help spread my infection. I make Jack’s google searches to redirect to rogue antispyware sites. Jack got me by not keeping his system up to date. Now there are programs out there designed to remove me but the best way is for Jack to reformat. Let’s hope he has backups. Morale of this story is keep your computers up to date with the latest OS updates, AntiVirus definitions and program updates.

Subscribe to updates