Posts Tagged 'User'

December 2, 2011

Global Network: The Proof is in the Traceroute

You've probably heard a lot about SoftLayer's global expansion into Asia and Europe, and while the idea of geographically diversifying is impressive in itself, one of the most significant implications of our international expansion is what it's done for the SoftLayer Network.

As George explained in "Globalization and Hosting: The World Wide Web is Flat," our strategic objective is to get a network point of presence within 40ms of all of our users and our users' users to provide the best network stability and performance possible anywhere on the planet. The reasoning is simple: The sooner a user gets on on our network, the quicker we can efficiently route them through our points of presence to a server in one of our data centers.

The cynics in the audience are probably yawning and shrugging that idea off as marketing mumbo jumbo, so I thought it would be good to demonstrate how the network expansion immediately and measurably improved our customers' network experience from Asia to the United States. Just look at the traceroutes.

As you're probably aware, a traceroute shows the "hops" or routers along the network path from an origin IP to a destination IP. When we were building out the Singapore data center (before the network points of presence were turned up in Asia), I ran a traceroute from Singapore to SoftLayer.com, and immediately after the launch of the data center, I ran another one:

Pre-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  10.151.60.1 (10.151.60.1)  1.884 ms  1.089 ms  1.569 ms
 2  10.151.50.11 (10.151.50.11)  2.006 ms  1.669 ms  1.753 ms
 3  119.75.13.65 (119.75.13.65)  3.380 ms  3.388 ms  4.344 ms
 4  58.185.229.69 (58.185.229.69)  3.684 ms  3.348 ms  3.919 ms
 5  165.21.255.37 (165.21.255.37)  9.002 ms  3.516 ms  4.228 ms
 6  165.21.12.4 (165.21.12.4)  3.716 ms  3.965 ms  5.663 ms
 7  203.208.190.21 (203.208.190.21)  4.442 ms  4.117 ms  4.967 ms
 8  203.208.153.241 (203.208.153.241)  6.807 ms  55.288 ms  56.211 ms
 9  so-2-0-3-0.laxow-cr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.238)  187.953 ms  188.447 ms  187.809 ms
10  ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  184.143 ms
    ge-4-1-1-0.sngc3-dr1.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.138)  189.510 ms
    ge-4-0-0-0.laxow-dr2.ix.singtel.com (203.208.149.34)  289.039 ms
11  203.208.171.98 (203.208.171.98)  187.645 ms  188.700 ms  187.912 ms
12  te1-6.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (66.109.11.42)  186.482 ms  188.265 ms  187.021 ms
13  ae7.bbr01.cs01.lax01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.166)  188.569 ms  191.100 ms  188.736 ms
14  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  381.645 ms  410.052 ms  420.311 ms
15  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  415.379 ms  415.902 ms  418.339 ms
16  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  417.426 ms  417.301 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  416.692 ms
17  * * *

Post-Launch Traceroute to SoftLayer.com from Singapore

traceroute to softlayer.com (66.228.118.53), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  192.168.206.1 (192.168.206.1)  2.850 ms  1.409 ms  1.206 ms
 2  174.133.118.65-static.reverse.networklayer.com (174.133.118.65)  1.550 ms  1.680 ms  1.394 ms
 3  ae4.dar01.sr03.sng01.networklayer.com (174.133.118.136)  1.812 ms  1.341 ms  1.734 ms
 4  ae9.bbr01.eq01.sng02.networklayer.com (50.97.18.198)  35.550 ms  1.999 ms  2.124 ms
 5  50.97.18.169-static.reverse.softlayer.com (50.97.18.169)  174.726 ms  175.484 ms  175.491 ms
 6  po5.bbr01.eq01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.140)  203.821 ms  203.749 ms  205.803 ms
 7  ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.253)  306.755 ms
    ae0.dar01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (173.192.18.211)  208.669 ms  203.127 ms
 8  po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  203.518 ms
    po2.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.142)  305.534 ms
    po1.slr01.sr01.dal01.networklayer.com (66.228.118.138)  204.150 ms
 9  * * *

I won't dive too deep into what these traceroutes are telling us because that'll need to be an entirely different blog. What I want to draw your attention to are a few key differences between the pre- and post-launch traceroutes:

  • Getting onto SoftLayer's network:. The first reference to "networklayer" in the pre-launch trace is in hop 12 (~187ms). In the post-launch trace, we were on "networklayer" in the second hop (~1.5ms).
  • Number of hops: Pre-launch, our network path took 16 hops to get to SoftLayer.com. Post-launch, it took 8.
  • Response times from the destination: The average response time from SoftLayer.com to Singapore before the launch of our network points of presence in Asia was about 417ms (milliseconds). After the launch, it dropped to an average of about ~250ms.

These traceroutes demonstrate that users in Singapore travel a much better network path to a server in one of our U.S. data centers than they had before we turned up the network in Asia, and that experience isn't limited to users in Singapore ... users throughout Europe and Asia will see fewer hops and better speeds now that the data centers and points of presence on those continents are live. And that's without buying a server in either of those markets or making any changes to how they interact with us.

Managing a worldwide network for a worldwide customer base with thousands of different ISPs and millions of possible routes is not a "set it and forget it" endeavor, so we have a team of engineers in our Network Operations Center that focuses on tweaking and optimizing routes 24x7. Branching out into Europe and Asia introduces a slew of challenges when working with providers on the other side of the globe, but I guess it's true: "If it were easy, everyone would do it."

Innovate or die.

-@toddmitchell

June 21, 2011

Ghostin' the Machine - SoftLayer Customer Portal

The hosting business is a really great place to be these days. It may morph rapidly, but some things ring consistently clear. The dedicated server is one of those things. In the brief 10 years or so of my Internet hosting career, the way dedicated servers are delivered to customers and the way they are managed has gone from prop-jet to auto-pilot.

I got started in the dedicated hosting business under Lance Crosby (our current CEO) in October of 2003. At that time we had less than 100 employees, and it may have been less than 50. "Auto-provisioning" consisted of Lance offering pizza and cash bonuses for each white-box PC that we'd 'ghost' with a boot floppy using a networked imaging server (in between our support tasks of answering calls and responding to tickets). We used a popular product made by Norton* in those days to deliver servers as quickly as possible to feed what seemed like an endless demand. As time has gone by, our systems have vastly improved, and true automation is the rule now; Manual intervention, the exception.

Today, SoftLayer has 600+ employees, 80,000+ dedicated servers, 26,000+ customers and is on the verge of launching our international presence. One of the biggest reasons SoftLayer has been so successful is because we offer customers maximum control.

When you need online computing power these days, you have hundreds of choices. Most of your options are still centered on the general idea of the dedicated server, but there are variations depending on what needs are being targeted. Physical dedicated servers are now complimented by Cloud Compute Instances and Virtualized Instances to provide a more flexible platform to tailor to specific use cases. Some providers do better than others at integrating those platforms, and when we began incoporating cloud and dedicated in an integrated environment, our goal was to enable customers to control all aspects of their environment via a single 'pane of glass,' our customer portal.

If you've heard us talk about the features and functionality in the customer portal but have never seen how easy it is to actually navigate the interface, today's your lucky day:

In a nutshell, you get the kind of server control that used to require driving down to the data center, popping on your parka and performing some troubleshooting in the freezing cold cage. You may have been troubleshooting hardware cooling, wiring or other hardware issues, and you'd usually need direct console access to all the different types of servers and devices loaded on your rack.

Thankfully, those days are gone.

Now you can order a dedicated server and have it online in 2-4 hours (or a Cloud Computing Instance which can be online in 15 minutes). You can configure their private network so that they can talk to each other seamlessly; you can add firewalls, load balancing, backup services, monitoring instantly. For maintenance issues, you have the convenience of BIOS-level access via the standard KVM over IP card included in every server so you can see low-level hardware indicators like fan speeds and core temperatures and perform soft IPMI reboots. Firmware upgrades for your hard drive, motherboard, or RAID card that once required the ever-hated floppy disk can now be done with a few button clicks, and speaking of RAID cards, our systems will report back on any change to an ideal status for your disk subsystem. If that weren't enough, you've got monitoring alerts and bandwidth graphs to give you plenty of easy to reference eye-candy.

No more messy wiring, no more beeping UPS units, no more driving, no more parkas.

-Chris

*As a rather humorous aside: My former manager, Tim, got a call one night from one of the newer NOC staff. He was a systems guy, many of the internal systems were under his SysAdmin wing. He was awakened by a tech with broken English who informed him that his name was on the escalation procedures to be called whenever this server went down:

Tim: (groggily) "What is the server name?"
Tech: "G - Host - Me"
Tim: "Huh? Why did you wake me up? ... Why don't you call that hosting company? ... I don't think that's one of my boxes!"
Tech: "No, no sir, so sorry, but your name is on the escalation. Server Label is 'G' ... um 'HOSTME.'"
Tim: "Whaa? — Wait, do you mean Ghost Me?" (GHOSTME was the actual hostname for the Norton imaging server that we used for a while as our 'provisioning' platform)

Laughter ensued and this story was told many times over beers at the High Tech pub.

July 23, 2007

The User Experience – SoftLayer 101

One of the broadest and most challenging topics in any company is capturing a customer's full attention at all times. In its simplest form, this seems pretty easy. First, you address the market that you are vertically aligned with, such as finance, technology, manufacturing, etc. and then you establish what you want your user experience to be leveraging your knowledge of these markets and dedicated your full resources to marketing to that niche. As the internet changes the traditional marketing principles into this new "never never land" of instant feedback through forums, blogs, RSS feeds, etc. the landscape of the user experience is definitely changing.

So what happens when your markets cross all boundaries, have no verticals and can range from an individual to a fortune 10 company? How do you create an environment that captures a unique experience for the single man consulting shop, while maintaining a completely different, yet equally impressive, environment for a company outsourcing their internal IT infrastructure needs completely to you? Obviously, this is extremely challenging and it’s the position that we sit in daily here at SoftLayer.

The user experience really seems to be a philosophy that has to be adopted from top down in any organization. I found an older article that really seems to capture the essence of the user experience. In the article it talks about companies such as Dell, Amazon, Nordstrom’s, Jet Blue, etc. and it breaks down the user experience into 4 simple categories:

  1. Comfortable
  2. Intuitive
  3. Consistent
  4. Trustworthy

With these 4 categories in mind it has me thinking and challenging the entire SoftLayer team internally to think about how we fit into these. SoftLayer is largely comprised of engineering talent and, to no fault of theirs, they often keep there heads down for hrs/days/weeks at a time and look up time of project completion and forget that there is anything else going. It’s the nature of the business and our engineers and developers are world class, so I tread lightly on my ‘rock the boat’ comments, but it’s definitely a topic of conversation internally as we are constantly focused on enhancing the experience of SoftLayer for our customers.

The SoftLayer team has many stated goals when it comes to cutting edge technologies, changing the landscape of the dedicated hosting market, and really adapting and evolving our products and services to ensure that we meet the needs of all of our customers. Our customers are the driving force for enhancement here and we listen very clearly. We have been fortunate to have built such a tight knit community here which is something that we believe drives a difference between us and others in the marketplace.

As a continuous exercise I would like to reach out to you, the customer, and ask for feedback on items that you think could enhance the 'user experience' here. Much like the cliché about the CEO having an open door policy at work, I want to let everyone know that our doors are open and we want to hear what you have to say. Are we doing a good job in the four characteristics listed above? Do you have ideas/thoughts that you think can be globally impacting to us?

As always, bizdev@softlayer.com is an open line to share thoughts with me directly and the great part about my job is I am cross functional throughout the organization, so my lines goes from the top (Lance) through all of the groups be-it development, operations, sales, finance/accounting, etc. We are here to listen, so speak up!

-Sean

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