Technology Posts

October 20, 2014

Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day

“A national holiday specifically for cleaning! Be still my heart,” said the neat freak.

So, I didn’t really know how to start this blog post because my virtual desktop is pretty clean. I adhere to the school of thought, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Does this make me a neat freak void of any creativity? More on that later.

With that being said, I started with a quick Google search for “de-cluttering your desktop.” I didn’t realize there would be so many articles on the subject. No surprise, Martha Stewart even posted an article about the topic full of words like “tidy,” “unholy mess,” and “. . . makes people cranky.”

Wait.

Come back.

We’re not going to talk about Martha’s how-to guide here. [This is SoftLayer—the only how-to guides posted here are about CSS.] I actually found some pretty cool ideas that I’d like to pass on to our readers in honor of the day.

I came across a tutorial on how to create a wallpaper for your desktop in which you “drop” your desktop icons into appropriate sections. The tutorial used Adobe Photoshop, but if you’re like me, Photoshop-illiterate, you can use PowerPoint (I find it so much easier, albeit limiting). Here’s a screen shot of my desktop.

For our more tech-savvy readers . . . download Fences®. It’s basically the same thing as the DIY version I described above, but it allows you to place your icons into resizable shaded areas on your desktop. Pretty cool!

Most people store files on their desktops because they think it makes it easier to find them, but sooner or later, your desktop gets overrun by these once easy-to-find files. If you want something that will keep your desktop free from any documents, install a launcher program. There are lots to choose from, including LaunchBar, Quicksilver, Launchy, or AutoHotkey. Once installed, the program is activated by a keystroke combination. When it opens, start typing the program, folder name, or file you want open. According to users, it’s faster than locating the icon on your desktop and double-clicking. Many users claim they don’t know how they lived without it for so long.

My last tip is similar to when your mom asks you to clean your room, and all you do is shove everything under your bed. Same thing here. Just hide all those icons.

  1. Right click on your desktop
  2. Select View
  3. Unselect Show your desktop icons

That’s right. Out of sight. Out of mind.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

I don’t know what Albert Einstein was implying when he said that, but I do know personally that a messy desk lowers my productivity. Does this lower my creativity too?

After reviewing a few different studies on whether or not clutter produces creativity or chaos, I have come to the conclusion that if you need to accomplish practical chores like paying bills or replying to emails, you need a clutter-free workspace to focus. If you need to be creative, clutter can distract you and let you think outside of the box.

Personally, I don’t think that a clean slate lowers my creativity because I can’t even begin to work if it is messy. But, some people thrive in chaos. Hey, whatever works.

Happy Cleaning/Cluttering!

-JRL

October 14, 2014

Enterprise Customers See Benefits of Direct Link with GRE Tunnels

We’ve had an overwhelming response to our Direct Link product launch over the past few months and with good reason. Customers can cross connect into the SoftLayer global private network with a direct link in any of our 22 points of presence (POPs) providing fast, secure, and unmetered access to their SoftLayer infrastructure from their remote data center locations.

Many of our enterprise customers who’ve set up a Direct Link want to balance the simplicity of a layer three cross connection with their sophisticated routing and access control list (ACL) requirements. To achieve this balance, many are using GRE tunnels from their on-premises routers to their SoftLayer Vyatta Gateway Appliance.

In previous blogs about Vyatta Gateway Appliance, we’ve described some typical use cases as well as highlighted the differences between the Vyatta OS and the Vyatta Appliance. So we’ll focus specifically on using GRE tunnels here.

What is GRE?
Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) is a protocol for packet encapsulation to facilitate routing other protocols over IP networks (RFC 2784). Customers typically create two endpoints for the tunnel; one on their remote router and the other on their Vyatta Gateway Appliance at SoftLayer.
How does GRE work?
GRE encapsulates a payload, an inner packet that needs to be delivered to a destination network, within an outer IP packet. Between two GRE endpoints all routers will look at the outer IP packet and forward it towards the endpoint where the inner packet is parsed and routed to the ultimate destination.
Why use GRE tunnels?
If a customer has multiple subnets at SoftLayer that need routing to, these would need multiple tunnels to each if they were not encapsulating with GRE. Since GRE encapsulates traffic within an outer packet, customers are able to route other protocols within the tunnel and route multiple subnets without multiple tunnels. A GRE endpoint on Vyatta will parse the packets and route them, eliminating that challenge.

Many of our enterprise customers have complex rules governing what servers and networks can communicate with each other. They typically build ACLs on their routers to enforce those rules. Having a GRE endpoint on a Vyatta Gateway Appliance allows customers to route and manage internal packets based on specific rules so that security models stay intact.

GRE tunnels can allow customers to keep their networking scheme; meaning customers can add IP addresses to their SoftLayer servers and directly access them eliminating any routing problems that could occur.

And, because GRE tunnels can run inside a VPN tunnel, customers can put the GRE inside of an IPSec tunnel to make it more secure.

Learn More on KnowledgeLayer

If you are considering Direct Link to achieve fast and unmetered access with the help of GRE tunnels and Vyatta Gateway Appliance but need more information, the SoftLayer KnowledgeLayer is continually updated with new information and best practices. Be sure to check out the entire section devoted to the Vyatta Gateway Appliance.

- Seth

Categories: 
October 8, 2014

An Insider’s Look at Our Data Centers

I’ve been with Softlayer over four years now. It’s been a journey that has taken me around the world—from Dallas to Singapore to Washington D.C, and back again. Along the way, I’ve met amazingly brilliant people who have helped me sharpen the tools in my ‘data center toolbox’ thus allowing me to enhance the customer experience by aiding and assisting in a complex compute environment.

I like to think of our data centers as masterpieces of elegant design. We currently have 14 of these works of art, with many more on the way. Here’s an insider’s look at the design:

Keeping It Cool
Our POD layouts have a raised floor system. The air conditioning units chill from the front bottom of the servers on the ‘cold rows’ passing through the servers on the ‘warm rows.’ The warm rows have ceiling vents to rapidly clear the warm air from the backs of the servers.

Jackets are recommended for this arctic environment.

Pumping up the POWER
Nothing is as important to us as keeping the lights on. Every data center has a three-tiered approach to keeping your servers and services on. Our first tier being street power. Each rack has two power strips to distribute the load and offer true redundancy for redundant servers and switches with the remote ability to power down an individual port on either power strip.

The second tier is our batter backup for each POD. This offers emergency response for seamless failover when street power is no more.

This leads to the third step in our model, generators. We have generators in place for a sustainable continuity of power until street power has returned. Check out the 2-megawatt diesel generator installation at the DAL05 data center here.

The Ultimate Social Network
Neither power nor cooling matter if you can’t connect to your server, which is where our proprietary networking topography comes to play. Each bare metal server and each virtual server resides in a rack that connects to three switches. Each of those switches connects to an aggregate switch for a row. The aggregate switch connects to a router.

The first switch, our private backend network, allows for SSL and VPN connectivity to manage your server. It also gives you the ability to have server-to-server communication without the bounds of bandwidth overages.

The second switch, our public network, provides pubic Internet access to your device, which is perfect for shopping, gaming, coding, or whatever you want to use it for. With 20TB of bandwidth coming standard for this network, the possibilities are endless.

The third and final switch, management, allows you to connect to the Intelligent Platform Management Interface that provides tools such as KVM/hardware monitoring/and even virtual CDs to install an image of your choosing! The cables to your devices from the switches are color-coded, port-number-to-rack-unit labeled, and masterfully arranged to maximize identification and airflow.

A Soft Place for Hardware
The heart and soul of our business is the computing hardware. We use enterprise grade hardware from the ground up. We offer our smallest offering of 1 core, 1GB RAM, 25GB HDD virtual servers, to one of our largest quad 10-core, 512GB RAM, multi 4TB HDD bare metal servers. With excellent hardware comes excellent options. There is almost always a path to improvement. Meaning, unless you already have the top of the line, you can always add more. Whether it be additional drive, RAM, or even processor.

I hope you enjoyed the view from the inside. If you want to see the data centers up close and personal, I am sorry to say, those are closed to the public. But you can take a virtual tour of some of our data centers via YouTube: AMS01 and DAL05

-Joshua Fox

October 3, 2014

Happy National Techies Day!

Today marks the 15th anniversary of National Techies Day—originally started to encourage students to learn more about a career in technology.

To be honest, we get teary-eyed when we hear young techies say they want to be a computer programmer, engineer, or a web developer when they grow up. Techies define, redefine, and refine the world, and the future techies will push the limits further than we ever imagined. How exciting!

At SoftLayer, National Techies Day has a special place deep in our HeartLayer. If you frequent our blog regularly or follow us on Twitter, you’ve seen us mention “Innovate or Die” once or twice . . . or a hundred times. It’s our motto. And, really when you break it down, National Techies Day celebrates technology and innovation and the people that keep us moving forward; for without innovation, we truly become stagnant.

It’s like our CEO, Lance Crosby said, "We don’t want to build a company to meet customers’ currents needs. We want to build a company to meet the needs our customers don’t even know they have yet.

So this National Techies Day we’d like to thank all the trailblazers who came before us. For all those who were teased and called nerd and geek, we thank you; for now we proudly wear these classifications as badges of honor.

We’d like to thank all the tech CEOs for making it socially acceptable to wear jeans and t-shirts to work every day; I am literally wearing a SoftLayer t-shirt and jeans right now as I type, so thanks.

We’d also like to remind all the non-techies out there to give a big shout-out to your IT department techies for getting you back online when you get the dreaded blue screen or experience other equally terrifying “my PC is acting up” situations. (“Did you try turning it off and on again?”)

And finally, to all the kids out there who know how to operate every technological device at home better than their parents, let us just say, working in technology is totally awesome (!), and we can’t wait to see what great things y’all will come up with in the future.

-JRL

Categories: 
October 2, 2014

SoftLayer Rocks the 2014 cPanel Conference

For the past two days, SoftLayer set up shop at the 2014 cPanel® Conference held in Houston, TX. We mingled. We administered the Server Challenge II (more on that later) . . . And, we talked to Aaron Phillips, chief business officer at cPanel.

Holy cup of coffee; this guy has so much energy! Clad in shorts, a t-shirt, and Adidas Gazelle’s, this CBO was not what I expected, but neither is cPanel for that matter. Reading Phillips’ bio offers a glimpse into the cPanel culture; he pokes fun at the fact he never thought he would be working for a “company started by a 14-year-old genius.”(Maybe that’s why he can get away with the shorts.)

Regardless, you can’t dismiss cPanel’s expertise when it comes to specializing in control panel software. The cPanel software package automates server tasks by providing an accessible interface to help website owners manage their sites.

So Aaron, can you give us a brief overview of what the cPanel conference is all about?

The cPanel Conference is in its ninth year, and we really put this together to network, talk about web hosting, and give our partners a sneak peek at what we’re up to. I attended the event even before I came onboard at cPanel, and each year just gets bigger and better. It’s the conference I look forward to each year.

Oh yeah? Any big announcements this week?

Yep. We have a new update to our system. Our user interface is available in 29 languages. It’s really going to help our global customers and help our partners that have global customers like SoftLayer.

How so?

The quality of translations have improved dramatically. The older system we called LANG often created partial sentences which caused a lot of problems with translations. Our ‘newer model,’ Maketext, is more flexible and feature rich. We’ve also edited our content on the interface making it easier to translate. This also eases translation in languages read from right-to-left.

When do you anticipate a go-live date?

We’re in the beta stage but will be complete soon. Like, any day now.

Speaking of SoftLayer, what does cPanel think of us?

You guys were one of our first customers, and you’re one of our biggest customers. We go way back . . . like EV1 days. We love you guys over at SoftLayer. Enjoy the conference! Gotta run.

[Maybe that’s why he wears the Gazelle’s].

Speaking the Language – 29 Languages

Arabic French Japanese Spanish
Chinese German Korean Swedish
Czech Greek Latin American Spanish Thai
Danish Hebrew Malay Traditional Chinese
Dutch Hungarian Norwegian Turkish
English Iberian Spanish Polish Ukrainian
Filipino Indonesian Portuguese Vietnamese
Finnish Italian Romanian

The Server Challenge II Continues to Kick aaS and Take Names
We don’t like to brag, but we have the best booth setup of all time. Why? Because of the Server Challenge II. We would like to congratulate Mike Levine, Product Manager at OpenSRS (with the high score of 1:00.05) who beat out the hundreds of contenders who participated at the 2014 cPanel Conference.

-JRL

September 18, 2014

The Cloud Doesn't Bite, Part III

Why it's OK to be a server-hugger—a cloud server hugger.

(This is the final post in a three-part series. Read the first and second posts here.)

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

“[The] reason that companies are hesitant to commit all of their IT to the cloud [relates to] keeping control. It's not about jobs, it's about being sure that critical services are available when you need them. Whenever you see ‘in the CLOUD!’, mentally replace it with ‘using someone else's server’—all of a sudden it looks a whole lot less appealing. Yes, you gain some flexibility, but you lose a LOT of control. I like my data to not be in the hands of someone else. If I don't control the actual machine that has my data on it, then I don't control the data.”

You guys are control FREAKS! And rightfully so. But some of us actually don't take that away from you. Believe it or not, we make it easier for you.

In fact, sometimes you even get to manage your own infrastructure—and that means you can do anything an employee can do. You'll probably even get so good at it that you'll wonder why we don't pay you.

But it doesn't stop at mere management. Oh, no, no, no, friends. You can even take it one further and build, manage, and have total control over your very own private cloud of virtual servers. Yes, yours, and yours only. Now announcing you, the shot caller.

The point is, you don't lose control over your data in the cloud. None. 'Cause cloud companies don't play like that.

“The first rule of computer security is physical access, which is impossible with cloud services, which means they are inherently insecure.”

Curious. So since you can't physically touch your money in your bank account, does that mean it's a free-for-all on your savings? Let us know; we'll bring buckets.

“These cloud guys always forget to mention one glaring problem with their model— they're not adding any new software to the picture.”

Ready for us to blow your minds? We're actually adding software all the time; you just don't see it—but you do feel it.

Your friendly Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers out there are doing a lot of development behind the scenes. An internal software update might let us deploy servers 10 minutes faster, for example. You won't see that, but that doesn't mean it's not happening. If you're happy with your servers, then rest assured you're seeing some sweet software in action. Some cloud companies aren't exclusively focused on software (think Salesforce), but that doesn't mean the software is dial-up grade.

“I personally don't trust the cloud. Think about it for a moment. You are putting your data on a server, and you have no clue as to where it is. You have no clue about who else is able to see that data, and you have no clue about who is watching as you access your data and probably no clue if that server is up to date on security patches.”

Just ask. Simply ask all these questions, and you'd have all these answers. Not to be cheeky, but all of this is information you can and do have a right to know before you commit to anything. We're not sure what makes you think you don't, but you do. Your own due diligence on behalf of your data makes that a necessity, not a luxury.

“As long as I'm accountable, I want the hardware and software under my control. That way when something goes wrong and my boss calls and asks 'WTF?', I can give him something more than ’Well I called Amazon and left a message with our account representative.’"

We can't speak for Amazon, but cloud companies often offer multiple ways you can get a hold of a real, live person because we get that you want to talk to us, like, yesterday. Yes, we totally get you. And we want to fix whatever ails you. In the cloud, that is.

But what makes you think we won't know when something goes wrong before you do? (Checkmate.)

“No matter how much marketing jargon you spew at people, ‘the cloud’ is still just a bunch of servers. Stop lying.”

Why yes, yes, it is. Who's lying to you about that? You're right. "They" should stop lying.

The concept of "the cloud" is simply about where the servers are located and how you consume computing, storage, and networking resources. In "the cloud," your servers are accessed remotely via a network connection (often the Internet, for most of the clouds you know and love) as opposed to being locally accessed while housed in a server room or physical location on the company premises. Your premises, as in wherever you are while performing your computing functions. But no one's trying to pull the wool over your eyes with that one.

Think about it this way: If servers at your location are "on the ground," then servers away from your location can be considered "in the cloud." And that's all there is to it.

Did we help? Did we clear the cloudy haze? We certainly hope so.

But this is just the beginning, and our door is always open for you to question, criticize, and wax philosophical with us when it comes to all things cloud. So get at us. You can chat with us live via our homepage, message us or post up on Facebook, or sling a tweet at a SLayer. We've got real, live people manning their stations. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

-Fayza

September 11, 2014

The Cloud Doesn't Bite, Part II

Why it's OK to be a server hugger—a cloud server hugger.

(This is the second post in a three-part series. Read the first post here.)

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

"[With the cloud], someone you don't know manages [your cloud servers], and they can get really unaccountable at times."

Hmm. Sounds like somebody's had a bad experience. (We're sorry to hear that.) But in truth, cloud computing companies are nothing without reputation, integrity, and, well, security upon security upon security measures. Accountability is the name of the game when it comes to you trusting us with your critical information. Research, research, research the company you choose before you hand anything over. If the measures that a potential cloud provider take don't cut the mustard with you, jump ship immediately—your business is way too important! But you're bound to find one that has all the necessary safeguards in place to provide you with plenty of peace of mind.

Oh, and by the way, have we mentioned that some cloud infrastructure providers put the deployment, management, and control in the hands of their customers? Yup. They just hand the reins right over and give you complete access to easy-to-use management tools, so you can automate your cloud solution to fit your unique needs. So there's that.

"The nickel-and-dime billing that adds up awfully damned quickly. Overall, if you're not careful you can rack upwards of $4k/mo just to host a handful of servers with hot backups and a fair amount of data and traffic on them."

You're right. That's why it's important to plan your cloud architecture before you go jumping in. Moving to the cloud isn't something you do with your eyes closed and with a lack of information. Know your company's business needs and find the best solution that fits those needs—every single one of those needs. Be realistic. Assess intelligently. Know your potential provider's add-on costs (if any) ahead of time so that you can anticipate them. Sure, add-ons can pile up if you're caught off-guard. But we know you're too smart for that to be a problem.

Play around with your possibilities before you sign on that dotted line. If you can't, search for a provider who'll let you play before you pay.

"Many cloud services break many privacy laws. The service provider can see/use the data too. Some of us are even bound by law to maintain the integrity of certain classes of information (personal, medical, financial). Yielding physical control to another organization, no matter what their reputation, removes your ability to perform due diligence. How do I know that what I legally have to keep private really is private?"

Sigh. Okay, we hear this fear; we really do, but it's just not true. Not for any reputable cloud solutions provider that wants to stay in business, anyway. We, grown-ups of cloud computing, take the security of your data very, very seriously. There are hackers. There are malicious attacks. There are legal compliance issues. And for those, we have Intrusion Protection Software, firewalls, SSL certificates, and compliance standards, just to name a few. We can handle what you throw at us, and we respect and honor the boundaries of your data.

So let's talk nitty gritty details. You're probably most familiar with the public cloud, or virtual servers. Yes, infrastructure platforms are shared, but that doesn't mean they're pooled—and it certainly doesn't mean universal accessibility. Your virtual server is effectively siloed from the virtual servers of every other client on that public server, and your data is accessible by you and only you. If you think about it like an apartment complex, it makes a lot of sense. The building itself is multi-tenant, but only you have the key to the contents of your individual unit.

On the other hand, bare metal servers are mansions. You're the only one taking up residence on that dedicated server. That big bad house is yours, and the shiny key belongs to you, and you only. (Check you out, Mr. Big Stuff.) You have complete and utter control of this server, and you can log, monitor, and sic the dogs on any and all activity occurring on it. Bare metal servers do share racks and other network gear with other bare metal servers, but you actually need that equipment to ensure complete isolation for your traffic and access. If we use the real estate analogy again and bare metal servers are mansions, then anything shared between bare metal servers are access roads in gated communities and exist only to make sure the mailman, newspaper delivery boy, and milkman can deliver the essential items you need to function. But no one's coming through that front door without your say so.

We cloud folk love our clients, and we love housing and protecting their data—not sneaking peeks at it and farming it out. Your security means as much to us as it means to you. And those who don't need access don't have it. Plain and simple.

"I don't want [my data] examined, copied, or accidentally Googled."

You don't say? Neither do we.

"What happens to my systems when all of your CxOs decide that they need more yachts so they jack up the pricing?"

They stay put, silly. No one takes systems on the boat while yachting. Besides, we don't do yachts here at SoftLayer—we prefer helicopters.

Stay tuned for the last post in this series, where we discuss your inner control freak, invisible software, and real, live people.

-Fayza

September 9, 2014

Building a Secure Cloud-based Solution: Part I

When you begin a household project, you must first understand what you will need to complete the task. Before you begin, you check your basement or garage to make sure you have the tools to do the work. Building a secure cloud-based solution requires similar planning. You’re in luck—SoftLayer has all the tools needed, including a rapidly maturing set of security products and services to help you build, deploy, and manage your cloud solution. Over the next couple of months, we will take a look at how businesses leverage cloud technologies to deliver new value to their employees and customers, and we’ll discuss how SoftLayer provides the tools necessary to deliver your solutions securely.

Hurricane plan of action: Water: Check. Food: Check. Cloud: Check?

Let’s set the scene here: A hurricane is set to make landfall on the United States’ Gulf Coast, and the IT team at an insurance company must elastically scale its new claim application to accommodate the customers and field agents who will need it in the storm’s aftermath. The team needs to fulfill short-term computing needs and long-term hosting of additional images from the claims application, thereby creating a hybrid cloud environment. The insurance company’s IT staff meet to discuss their security requirements, and together, they identify several high-level needs:

  1. Provide secure connectivity, authentication, access control, and audit capabilities for IT administrators and users.

    SoftLayer provides VPNs, multifactor authentication, audit control logs, API keys, and fine-grained access control. This allows insurance agents to securely access claim forms and supporting documentation and connect to the application via https, using the wide range of SSL certificates (Symantec, Geotrust, and more). Plus, agents can authenticate using identity and access management solutions such as IWS Go Cloud ID and IBM Security Access Manager.
  2. Ensure that stringent data security measures are enforced.

    Data cannot be shifted across borders, and data at rest or in use must be encrypted. SoftLayer leaves data where customers place it, and will never transfer customers’ data. IBM Cloud Marketplace partners like Vormetric offer encryption solutions to ensure sensitive data-at-rest is not stored in clear text, and that customers maintain complete control of the encryption keys. Additionally, the IT team in our example would have the ability to encrypt all sensitive PHI data in database using data-in-use solutions from Eperi.
  3. Ensure multi-layered security for network zone segmentation.

    Users and administrators in the confidential area of insurance need confidence that their network is securely partitioned. SoftLayer native and vendor solutions such as SoftLayer VLANs, Vyatta Gateway, Fortigate firewall, and Citrix Netscaler allow administrators to securely partition a network, creating segmentation according to organizational needs, and providing the routing and filtering needed to isolate users, workloads, and domains.
  4. Enforce host security using anti-virus software, host intrusion prevention systems, and other solutions.

    The IT team can apply best-of-breed third-party solutions, such as Nessus Vulnerability Scanner, McAfee Antivirus, and McAfee Host Intrusion Protection. These capabilities give administrators the means to ensure that infrastructure is protected from malware and other host attacks, enhancing both system availability and performance.
  5. Define and enforce security policies for the hybrid cloud environment, and audit any policy changes.

    Administrators can manage overall policies for the combined public-private environment using IBM solutions like QRadar, Hosted Security Event and Log Management Service, and xForce Threat Analysis Service. Admins can use solutions from vendors like CloudPassage, Sumo Logic, and ObserveIT to automatically define policies around firewall rules, file integrity, security configuration, and access control, and to audit adherence to such policies.

The insurance company’s IT department already knew from SoftLayer’s reputation that it is one of the highest performing cloud infrastructures available, with a wide range of integrated and automated cloud computing options, all through a private network and advanced management system, but now it knows from experience that SoftLayer offers the security solutions needed to get the job done.

When business needs spike and companies need additional capacity, SoftLayer delivers quickly and securely. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will talk secure development and test activities.

- Rick Hamilton, IBM Cloud Offering Evangelist

September 3, 2014

The Cloud Doesn’t Bite, Part I

Why it's OK to be a server hugger—a cloud server hugger.

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

"I'm worried about cloud services going down or disappearing, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it."

Let's just get one thing straight here: we're human, and the devices and infrastructures and networks we create are fallible. They're intelligent and groundbreaking and mind-boggling, but they are—like us—susceptible to bad things and prone to error at any given time.

But it's not the end of the world if or when it happens. Your cloud service provider has solutions. And so do you.

First, be smart about who you choose to work with. The larger, more reputable a company you select, the less likely you are to experience outages or outright disappearances. It's the nature of the beast—the big guys aren't going out of business any time soon. And if the worst should happen, they're not going down without a fight for your precious data.

Most outages end up being mere temporary blips that generally don’t last long. It'd take a major disaster (think hurricane or zombie apocalypse) to take any cloud-based platform out for more than a few hours. Which, of course, sounds like a long time, but we're talking worst case scenario here. And in the event of a zombie apocalypse, you probably have bigger fish to fry anyway.

But the buck doesn't stop there. Moving data to the cloud doesn't mean you get to kick up your heels, and set cruise control. (You don't really want that anyway, and you know it.) Be proactive. Know your service-level agreements, and make sure your system structures are built in a way that you're not losing out when it comes to outages and downtime. Know your provider's plan for redundancy. Know what monitoring systems are in place. Identify which applications and data are critical and should be treated differently in the event of a worst case scenario. Have a plan in the event of doomsday. You wouldn't go head first into sharknado season without a strategy for what to do if disaster hits, right? Why would the (unlikely) downfall of your data be any different?

Remember when we backed things up to external hard drives; before we'd ever heard of that network in the sky (a quaint concept, we know)? Well, we think it would behoove you to have a backup of what's essential to you and your business.

In fact, being realistic about technology these days is paramount. We can't prevent failure because we know better. According to Microsoft's chief reliability strategist, David Bills, "It's about designing resilient services in which inevitable failures have a minimal effect on service availability and functionality."

In any event, don't panic. You think you're freaking out about the cloud going down? Chances are, your provider is one step ahead of you already.

"Most of the time you don't find out about the cloud host's deficiencies until far too late." "One cloud company I had a personal Linux server with got hit with a DOS attack, and their response was to ignore their customer service email and phone for almost a week while trying to clean it up.”

Uh. Call us crazy, but we're guessing that company's no longer around—just a hunch.

We cloud infrastructure providers don't exactly pride ourselves on hoarding your data and then being completely inaccessible to you. Do your research on potential providers. Find out how easy it is (or difficult as the case may be) to get a hold of your customer service team. Make sure your potential provider's customer support meets your business needs. Make sure there's extra expertise available to you if you need personal attention or a little TLC. Make sure those response times are to your liking. Make sure those methods of contact are diverse enough and align with the way you do work.

We know you don't want to need us, but when you do need us, we are here for you.

"Of course, you have to either provide backup yourself, or routinely hard-verify the cloud provider's backup scheme. And you'd better have a backup-backup offsite recovery contract for when the cloud provider announces it can't really recover (e.g. Hurricane Sandy). And a super-backup-backup plan in case the cloud provider disappears with no forwarding address or has all its servers confiscated by DHS."

Hey, you don't have to have any of these things if your data's not that important to you. But if you'd have backups of your local servers, why wouldn't you have backups of anything you put in the cloud?

We thought so.

Nota bene: Sounds like you might want to take up some of this beef with Hurricane Sandy.

Stay tuned for part two where we tackle accountability, security, and buying ourselves new yachts.

- Fayza

August 28, 2014

Dude, how do I get into the cloud?

I know you may think that’s just a catchy title to get you to read my blog, but it’s not. I’ve actually had someone ask me that at a party. In fact, that’s the first thing anyone asks me when they find out I work for SoftLayer. The funny thing is, everyone is already in the cloud—they just don’t realize it! To make my point, I pick up their smart phone and tell them they already are in the cloud, and walk away. That, of course, sparks more conversation and the opportunity to educate my friends and family on the magic and mystery that is the cloud. But truthfully, it really is a very simple concept:

  • On demand
  • Compute
  • Consumption-based billing

That’s it. At its core. But if you want more detail, check out this document: NIST.

And, just to shed light on the backend of what the cloud is, well, it’s nothing but servers. I know, you were expecting something more exciting—maybe unicorns and fairy dust. But it’s not. We house the servers. We care for them daily. We store them and protect them. All from our data center.

What makes SoftLayer stand out from others in the cloud space is that we offer more than one-size-fits-all servers. We offer both public and private virtual servers like other cloud providers, but we also offer highly customizable and high performance bare metal, servers. And as with any good infrastructure, we offer all the ancillary services such as load balancing, firewalls, attached storage, DNS, etc…

There’s no magic involved here. We’ve simply taken your infrastructure and removed your capex and headache. You’re welcome.

So when you hear “The Cloud,” don’t be mystified, and don’t feel inadequate. Now you too can be the cloud genius at your next party. When they talk cloud, just say things like, “Oh yeah, it’s totally on demand computing that bills based on consumption.” Chicks dig that, trust me.

-Cheeku

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