Posts Tagged 'Usability'

January 10, 2014

Platform Improvements: VLAN Management

As director of product development, I'm tasked with providing SoftLayer customers greater usability and self-service tools on our platform. Often, that challenge involves finding, testing, and introducing new products, but a significant amount of my attention focuses on internal projects to tweak and improve our existing products and services. To give you an idea of what that kind of "behind the scenes" project looks like, I'll fill you in on a few of the updates we recently rolled out to improve the way customers interact with and manage their Virtual LANs (VLANs).

VLANs play a significant role in SoftLayer's platform. In the most basic sense, VLANs fool servers into thinking they're behind the same network switch. If you have multiple servers in the same data center and behind the same router, you could have them all on the same VLAN, and all traffic between the servers would be handled at the layer-2 network level. For customers with multi-tier applications, zones can be created to isolate specific servers into separate VLANs — database servers, app servers, and Web servers can all be isolated in their own security partitions to meet specific security and/or compliance requirements.

In the past, VLANs were all issued distinct numbers so that we could logically and consistently differentiate them from each other. That utilitarian approach has proven to be functional, but we noticed an opportunity to make the naming and management of VLANs more customer-friendly without losing that functionality. Because many of our customers operate large environments with multiple VLANs, they've had the challenge of remembering which servers live behind which VLAN number, and the process of organizing all of that information was pretty daunting. Imagine an old telephone switchboard with criss-crossing wires connecting several numbered jacks (and not connecting others). This is where our new improvements come in.

Customers now have the ability to name their VLANs, and we've made updates that increase visibility into the resources (servers, firewalls, gateways, and subnets) that reside inside specific VLANs. In practice, that means you can name your VLAN that houses database servers "DB" or label it to pinpoint a specific department inside your organization. When you need to find one of those VLANs, you can easily search for it by name and make changes to it easily.

VLAN List View

VLAN Naming

VLAN Detail Page

VLAN Naming

While these little improvements may seem simple, they make life much easier for IT departments and sysadmins with large, complex environments. If you don't need this kind of functionality, we don't throw it in your face, but if you do need it, we make it clear and easily accessible.

If you ever come across quirks in the portal that you'd like us to address, please let us know. We love making big waves by announcing new products and services, but we get as much (or more) joy from finding subtle ways to streamline and improve the way our customers interact with our platform.

-Bryce

November 1, 2011

SoftLayer on the iPad

Shortly after we began implementing the SoftLayer Mobile application for the iPhone and Android, Apple released the iPad. With our development resources limited, we focused on adding the functionality our customers required to the iPhone application with only a few small features added to support the new device.

As we became more familiar with the iPad, we started seeing a few key areas where SoftLayer Mobile could benefit from the large format iPad user interface. We've been able to incorporate a phenomenal feature set in the SoftLayer Mobile application, and as our desired feature set has become more and more complete, we've gotten a bit of breathing room from our iPhone releases. We used that breathing room to re-visit the iPad and what it could mean for the SoftLayer Mobile customer experience on a tablet. The result of that investigation is the SoftLayer Mobile HD application:

SL HD

As you might expect, SoftLayer Mobile HD shares quite a bit of functionality with its iPhone sibling. The application offers a window into your SoftLayer environment so that you can browse, create and edit support tickets; discover information about computing resources and bandwidth; and keep up-to-date on the latest notifications from our data centers. The iPad application also helps you keep track of financial information by allowing you to browse your account and its invoices. All this functionality benefits from the intuitive interface of the iPad. You have more room to browse, more room to edit, and fewer screens to navigate as you manage and explore your virtual SoftLayer data center.

SL HD

SL HD

Best of all: The application is only in its first release, and already shows great promise! We have plenty of room to grow and tons of ideas about the next features and functions we want to add. If you're iPad-equipped, get the SoftLayer Mobile HD application in the iTunes App Store. When you're navigating through the interface, take note of anything you'd like to see us change or add, and let us know!

-Scott

October 26, 2011

MODX: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from the MODX team. MODX offers an intuitive, feature-rich, open source content management platform that can easily integrate with other applications as the heart of your Customer Experience Management solution.

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

Free your Website with MODX CMS

Just having a website or a blog is no longer a viable online strategy for smart businesses. Today's interconnected world requires engaging customers — from the first impression, to developing leads, educating, selling, empowering customer service and beyond. This key shift in online interaction is known as Customer Experience Management, or CXM.

For businesses to have success with CXM, they need an efficient way to connect all facets of their communications and information together with a modern and consistent look and feel, and without long learning curves or frustrating user experiences. You don't want a Content Management System (CMS) that restricts your ability to meet brand standards, that lives in isolation from your other systems and data, or that fails to fulfil your businesses needs.

MODX is a content management platform that gives you the creative freedom to build custom websites limited only by your imagination. It certainly can play the central role in managing your customer experience.

Freedom from Hassle & Frustration
The most productive tools are those that simply allow you get your work done. To make life easy for content editors MODX uses familiar concepts like a hierarchical tree – similar to the folders and files on your computer. This allows content editors to relate their content to the overall website structure. But, like everything else in MODX, you aren't limited to hierarchical content and can easily employ taxonomy-, list- or category-based structures.

Similarly, editing documents should be easy. With MODX, anyone who can open a web browser and send email has the skillset to create and edit content in MODX. Most tasks are a matter of filling out simple form fields into which content is placed and is accompanied by a sensible MS Word-like editor for your main content. Furthermore, site builders and developers are able to create custom fields for custom content types and custom data allowing non-technical employees to work in an intuitive, tailored environment.

Total Creative Freedom
Your website is one of the most visible parts of your brand and you certainly don't want it limited by your CMS. MODX makes it possible to do anything that's on the modern web now — you don't have to wait for a year or hack the core to launch an HTML5 or mobile optimized site. MODX can do it all now, and even what's coming next. It outputs exactly and only what you or your site builder dictate.

MODX uses a brilliantly simple template engine that allows web designers to work with what they already know, like HTML, CSS and any JavaScript library they chose. MODX can even output things not typically associated with most content management platforms like XML, JSON or even Comma Separated Value (CSV) files that automatically download to your desktop.

Freedom to Extend
MODX provides all the requisite tools for CMS, but it also functions as a fully capable web development platform upon which you can extend functionality, employ custom applications and do just about anything you can dream up. In fact, the "X" in MODX comes from the word "extensible". Whether you want to build a Member-only website, Client Extranet, Resort Booking and Reservations system or private Social Network, you can do it on MODX.

For developers the fully-documented Object Oriented API and xPDO, MODXs database layer, provide all you need to build almost anything with MODX, even extending or overriding its core functionality. Critically, you can do all this using the API and retain a painless upgrade path without hacking the core. The MODX API architecture provides all the flexibility you or your developer might need to make MODX your own without painting your self into a corner.

Freedom from Bottlenecks
Modern web pages are made up of many component parts – site-wide headers and footers, navigation menus, articles, products and more. At some point, all these pieces need to be put together and delivered to the visitor as a single page that users expect to load quickly or they'll leave your site.

To deliver pages fast, top-performing sites use server-side caching to take all those pieces and pre-process them for fast delivery to a browser. The problem with many CMS applications is that they manually rebuild pages every single time someone visits your site. That's fine if you only have a few visitors, but your site can bog down or even fail under moderate traffic. In these circumstances, it would be disastrous if your website is featured on an industry magazine or website, national media or on a popular TV show. Your site could literally grind to a halt, costing you customers, damaging your reputation and ultimately making a bad first impression.

MODX's native page caching delivers your site quickly by default. Additionally, MODX can use high-end caching like memcache to further improve performance under load. To handle millions of pageviews daily, you need robust servers and you need to optimize your environment ... That's where scaling across multiple servers and replication with SoftLayer works perfectly with MODX.

Free Your Legacy Systems
Keeping your data, content and business information in disconnected silos is ineffective and costly. Accessing existing systems, like an Active Directory or Enterprise Content repository, makes huge difference in getting your work done headache-free. You don't have to worry about data duplication across systems, significant extra work to make everything work or synchronization issues. A new website platform should increase your productivity and enable your employees, customers and everyone else surrounding your business to find what they need and to interact efficiently and effectively.

MODX works with the tools and technology that organizations already have in place. It can easily interact with external web services or data feeds and can drive other applications via RESTful web services.

Security and Freedom to Rest Easy
Website Security is a topic that rarely surfaces during the early stages of a web project and often never comes up until your site has been compromised.

A high-quality hosting environment like those from SoftLayer are the foundation of website security. Your web CMS and its add-ons, plugin-ins or modules should not be a liability. MODX is designed with security at its core to protect your valuable website from malicious attacks. Every input is filtered, and every database query using the API eliminates the possibility of SQL injection compromises. Most importantly, the development team rigorously and continuously audits MODX to make sure its up to date and patching any new issues that may arise.

Freedom in the Community
With MODX and the MODX Community you're not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of websites built on MODX and we have a friendly, active and growing community of raving fans over 37,000 strong to whom you can look for assistance, support, education and camaraderie.

In fact, the MODX Community is one of our greatest assets.

They provide mentorship, assistance and help make MODX software better through active reporting of issues and feature requests and contributing improvements for integration by the core team.

If you're not a site builder or developer, but you want your website powered by MODX, one of the best places to start is with a MODX Solution Partner. Our network of 90+ global Solution Partners enables you to get the right-fit expertise for your project and in many cases work locally. Solution Partners are experts at MODX and know how to do things right.

Get Free
There really is a cure for the all too often restrictive, unintuitive and frustrating experience of putting content on the web. Get on the road to content management freedom with MODX. It's easy to start since MODX Revolution itself is free to download and use.

Learn more at http://modx.com/.

-Jay Gilmore, MODX

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
September 20, 2011

SoftLayer.com Website Refresh

Recently, the SoftLayer Marketing team refreshed our corporate website. You may have already seen one of the most obvious changes: an updated homepage.

While minor updates to the look and feel of the site have been made over the last two years (adding solid colors to the main tabs, increasing the use of text inside buttons, etc.), the essential layout of the homepage hasn't changed since December of 2008! We were due for a refresh.

Our updated homepage features a simplified layout with new graphics. Special offers and new products get a large-format banner, which clearly introduces visitors to what we are offering in a way that is more eye-catching than before. Check out the difference between the old-style banners and the new-style banners:

BEFORE
SoftLayer.com Homepage

NOW
SoftLayer.com Homepage

Below the main banner, we replaced the solid red banner shapes with ones that incorporate photos and colorful graphical elements. Here's the new design for our Dedicated Server and CloudLayer Computing banners:

SoftLayer.com Homepage

Our primary navigation layout has also changed. We now highlight our three main product offerings – Dedicated Severs, CloudLayer Computing, and Managed Hosting – with red tabs that contrast with our other grey tabs, as shown below:

SoftLayer.com Homepage

We have also re-organized many of our information pages to make our offerings more clear and to make content easier to find.

The list of changes goes on -- enhanced contact buttons on the right of each page to make it easier for website visitors to get ahold of us, a new approach to links at the top and bottom of every page, and so on.

And while the changes we added in this recent site update add a refreshing look and feel, we are by no means finished. You'll find a lot more going on at www.softlayer.com in the weeks and months to come.

-Brad

Categories: 
May 3, 2011

SoftLayer's Android Client Gets an Extreme Makeover

One of the things you expect when you merge two organizations in the same vertical space is for your talent pool to get deeper. SoftLayer had a seriously talented bunch of developers before the merger - I should know, I consider myself one of them - and as I was promised would be the case, after the merger, we were joined by an equally talented group of engineers from The Planet. Where we had two low-level developers, now we have four. Where we had a dozen guys with .NET experience, now we have twenty. It's better for us employees, and better for our customers too.

What I didn't expect as part of the merger was that our talent pool would get wider. No, I don't mean we now employ an army of body builders and Siamese twins. I mean as result of the merger, we ended up with an entirely new group of folks here unlike any SL previously had on the payroll. This new and exotic breed of folks - new and exotic at least from my perspective - are collectively known as "user experience" engineers.

I admit (and I suspect most software engineers will concur) when I develop something, it becomes my baby. Each software engineer has his or her own method for inciting that spark of genius ... I start out with some ideas on a yellow pad, refine them until I can whip up an actual spec, code some unit tests and wait to see if my baby takes its first step or falls flat on its digital face. Either way, over time with gentle nudging and TLC, eventually an application grows. And like any loving parent I'm certain that my application can do no wrong.

So when I was told a "usability study" would be done on one of my babies by the user experience, team you can imagine what went through my mind. After all, I was there when the first API call succeeded. I was the one who got up in the middle of the night when the application got cranky and decided to throw an unhandled exception. Who the heck are these user interface specialist and what do they know that I don't?

In retrospect, I couldn't have been more wrong. I am a professional coder with more than a decade of experience under my belt. But I'm often more interested in how I can squeeze a few more CPU cycles out of a sub-routine than how much easier it would be for the user if I rearranged the order of the GUI's a little bit. The user interface review I received really got me thinking from a user's perspective and excited about the application in a way I hadn't been since the early days when I banged out those first few lines of code.

Two weeks ago, we released a new, radically different looking Android client. If you are a current user of the application, you've undoubtedly received an OTA update by now, and I hope you are as pleasantly surprised by the result as I am. For those of you with Android phones who have not installed the SoftLayer client, I encourage you to do so. You can get more info by visiting http://www.softlayer.com/resources/mobile-apps/.

Before I let you go, what kind of father would I be if I didn't take out my wallet and bore you to tears with pictures of my children? Without further ado, I present to you the latest and greatest Android Mobile Client:

SL Android App

SL Android App

SL Android App

SL Android App

-William

Categories: 
November 3, 2008

Simplicity

What if I asked you to guess the name of a video game that came out within the last 10 years, and has sold more copies than the Halo series, the Half-Life series AND the Metal Gear series? No, it’s not Guitar Hero or Rock Band, and it’s not Pokemon. It’s not even made by one of the “serious” game development companies. The game that I’m talking about is Bejeweled (published by PopCap), a simple online flash game that has garnered 25 million purchases and more than 350 million free downloads.

The secret to PopCap’s success lies in creating simple, easy to use games that the average person finds fun. They’ve built an entire market segment from the simple beginnings of Bejewled, and now offer more than 50 games for sale, and even more in their free download section with almost a billion downloads between them. The “casual gaming” market is so large that the Nintendo Wii has almost been completely taken over by casual games.

By why has the industry taken off so much? Sure, casual games can be easy to make. I remember whipping up a version of Bejewled in a VBA form that I built as an Excel macro so I could play it in my “business software” class in high school. The real secret is that these games are easy to pick up and play, and in that sense they’re far better than their competition for people who are busy, inexperienced, or just plain tired.

People these days have less and less free time, which means they have less time to learn the function of the right trigger in crouch mode, run mode, driving mode, flying mode, stealth mode, raspberry jam mode, etc. The instructions for Bejeweled (“Swap adjacent gems to align sets of 3 or more”) are almost as simple as the original Pong’s instructions (“Avoid missing ball for high score”).

That’s what we try to do here at SoftLayer. Our portal is specifically designed to be used by people who just don’t have the time or inclination to perform menial repetitive tasks manually. From configuring a load balancer to rebooting your servers to performing notoriously difficult SWIP requests, the portal handles it all for you. Of course, the task we’re trying to help you accomplish is a lot more complex than “avoid missing ball for high score,” but we try our best to make the process as easy as possible. Maybe with the time saved you can come up with a new business segment to send more server orders our way, but I’m betting you’ll be playing Bejewled, or Peggle, or Zuma…

-Daniel

Categories: 
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