Tips And Tricks Posts

July 14, 2015

Preventative Maintenance and Backups

Has your cPanel server ever gone down only to not come back online because the disk failed?

At SoftLayer, data migration is in the hands of our customers. That means you must save your data and move it to a new server. Well, thanks to a lot of slow weekends, I’ve had time to write a bash script that automates the process for you. It’s been tested in a dev environment of my own working with the data center to simulate the dreaded DRS (data retention service) when a drive fails and in a live environment to see what new curveballs could happen. In this three-part series, we’ll discuss how to do server preventative maintenance to prevent a total disaster, how to restore your backed up data (if you have backups), and finally we’ll go over the script itself to fully automate a process to backup, move, and restore all of your cPanel data safely (if the prior two aren’t options for you).

Let’s start off with some preventative maintenance first and work on setting up backups in WHM itself.

First thing you’ll need to do is log into your WHM, and then go to Home >> Backup >> Backup Configuration. You will probably have an information box at the top that says “The legacy backups system is currently disabled;” that’s fine, let it stay disabled. The legacy backup system is going away soon anyway, and the newer system allows for more customization. If you haven’t clicked “Enable” under the Global Settings, now would be the time to do so, so that the rest of the page becomes visible. Now, you should be able to modify the rest of the backup configuration, so let’s start with the type.

In my personal opinion, compressed is the only way to go. Yes, it takes longer, but uses less disk space in the end. Uncompressed uses up too much space, but it’s faster. Incremental is also not a good choice, as it only allows for one backup and it does not allow for users to include additional destinations.

The next section is scheduling and retention, and, personally, I like my backups done daily with a five-day retention plan. Yes it does use up a bit more space, but it’s also the safest because you’ll have backups from literally the day prior in case something happens.

The next section, Files, is where you will pick the users you want to backup along with what type of data you want to include. I prefer to just leave the defaulted settings here in this section and only choose my users that I want to backup instead. It’s your server though, so you’re free to enable/disable the various options as you see fit. I would definitely leave the options for backing up system files checked though as it is highly recommended to keep that option checked.

The next section deals with databases, and again, this one’s up to you. Per Account is your bare minimum option and is still safe regardless. Entire MySQL directory will just blanket backup the entire MySQL directory instead. The last option encompasses the two prior options, which to me is a bit overkill as the Per Account Only option works well enough on its own.

Now let’s start the actual configuration of the backup service. From here, we’ll choose the backup directory as well as a few other options regarding the retention and additional destinations. The best practice here is to have a drive specifically for backups, and not just another partition or a folder, but a completely separate drive. Wherever you want the backups to reside, type that path in the box. I usually have a secondary drive mounted as /backup to put them in so the pre-filled option works fine for me. The option for mounting the drive as needed should be enabled if you have a separate mount point that is not always mounted. As for the additional destination part, that’s up to you if you want to make backups of your backups. This will allow you to keep backups of the backups offsite somewhere else just in case your server decides to divide by zero or some other random issue that causes everything to go down without being recoverable. Clicking the “Create New Destination” option will bring up a new section to fill in all the data relevant to what you chose.

Once you’ve done all of this, simply click “Save Configuration.” Now you’re done!

But let’s say you’re ready to make a full backup right now instead of waiting for it to automatically run. For this, we’ll need to log in to the server via SSH and run a certain command instead. Using whatever SSH tool you prefer, PuTTY for me, connect to your server using the root username and password that you used to log into WHM. From there, we will run one simple command to backup everything - “/usr/local/cpanel/bin/backup --force” ← This will force a full backup of every user that you selected earlier when you configured the backup in WHM.

That’s pretty much it as far as preventative maintenance and backups go. Next time, we’ll go into how to restore all this content to a new drive in case something happens like someone accidentally deleting a database or a file that they really need back.

-Shawn

April 27, 2015

Good Documentation: A How-to Guide

As part of my job in Development Support, I write internal technical documentation for employee use only. My department is also the last line of support before a developer is called in for customer support issues, so we manage a lot of the troubleshooting documentation. Some of the documentation I write and use is designed for internal use for my position, but some of it is troubleshooting documents for other job positions within the company. I have a few guidelines that I use to improve the quality of my documentation. These are by no means definitive, but they’re some helpful tips that I’ve picked up over the years.

Readability

I’m sure everyone has met the frustration of reading a long-winded sentence that should have been three separate sentences. Keeping your sentences as short as possible helps ensure that your advice won’t go in one ear and out the other. If you can write things in a simpler way, you should do so. The goal of your documentation is to make your readers smarter.

Avoid phrasing things in a confusing way. A good example of this is how you employ parentheses. Sometimes it is necessary to use them to convey important beneficial tidbits to your readers. If you write something with parentheses in it, and you can’t read it out loud without it sounding confusing, try to re-word it, or run it by someone else.

Good: It should have "limited connectivity" (the computer icon with the exclamation point) or "active" status (the green checkmark) and NOT "retired" (the red X).
Bad: It should have the icon “limited connectivity” (basically the computer icon with the exclamation point that appears in the list) (you can see the “limited connectivity” text if you hover over it) or “active” (the green checkmark) status and NOT the red “retired” X icon.

Ideally, you should use the same formatting for all of your documentation. At the very least, you should make your formatting consistent within your document. All of our transaction troubleshooting documentation at SoftLayer uses a standardized error formatting that is consistent and easy to read. Sometimes it might be necessary to break the convention if readability is improved. For example: Collapsible menus make it hard to search the entire page using ctrl+F, but very often, it makes things more difficult.

And finally, if people continually have a slew of questions, it’s probably time to revise your documentation and make it clearer. If it’s too complex, break it down into simpler terms. Add more examples to help clarify things so that it makes sense to your end reader.

Simplicity

Use bullet points or numbered lists when listing things instead of a paragraph block. I mention this because good formatting saves man-hours. There’s a difference between one person having to search a document for five minutes, versus 100 people having to search a document for five minutes each. That’s over eight man-hours lost. Bullet points are much faster to skim through when you are looking for something specific in the middle of a page somewhere. Avoid the “TL;DR” effect and don’t send your readers a wall of text.

Avoid superfluous information. If you have extra information beyond what is necessary, it can have an adverse effect on your readers. Your document may be the first your readers have read on your topic, so don’t overload them with too much information.

Don’t create duplicate information. If your documentation source is electronic, keep your documentation from repeating information, and just link to it in a central location. If you have the same information in five different places, you’ll have to update it in five different places if something changes.

Break up longer documents into smaller, logical sections. Organize your information first. Figure out headings and main points. If your page seems too long, try to break it down into smaller sections. For example, you might want to separate a troubleshooting section from the product information section. If your troubleshooting section grows too large, consider moving it to its own page.

Thoroughness

Don’t make assumptions about what the users already know. If it wasn’t covered in your basic training when you were hired, consider adding it to the documentation. This is especially important when you are documenting things for your own job position. Don’t leave out important details just because you can remember them offhand. You’re doing yourself a favor as well. Six months from now, you may need to use your documentation and you may not remember those details.

Bad:SSH to the image server and delete the offending RGX folder.
Good:SSH to the image server (imageserver.mycompany.local), and run ls -al /dev/rgx_files/ | grep blah to find the offending RGX folder and then use rm -rf /dev/rgx_files/<folder> to delete it.

Make sure your documentation covers as much ground as possible. Cover every error and every possible scenario that you can think of. Collaborate with other people to identify any areas you may have missed.

Account for errors. Error messages often give very helpful information. The error might be as straightforward as “Error: You have entered an unsupported character: ‘$.’” Make sure to document the cause and fix for it in detail. If there are unsupported characters, it might be a good idea to provide a list of unsupported characters.

If something is confusing, provide a good example. It’s usually pretty easy to identify the pain points—the things you struggle with are probably going to be difficult for your readers as well. Sometimes things can be explained better in an example than they can in a lengthy paragraph. If you were documenting a command, it might be worthwhile to provide a good example first and then break it down and explain it in detail. Images can also be very helpful in getting your point across. In documenting user interfaces, an image can be a much better choice than words. Draw red boxes or arrows to guide the reader on the procedure.

-Mark

April 24, 2015

Working Well With Your Employees

In the past 17 years I’ve worked in a clean-room laboratory environment as an in-house tech support person managing windows machines around dangerous lasers and chemicals, in the telecommunications industry as a systems analyst and software engineer, and in the hosting industry as a lead developer, software architect, and manager of development. In every case, the following guiding principles have served me well, both as an employee striving to learn more and be a better contributor and as a manager striving to be a worthy employer of rising talent. Whether you are a manager or a startup CEO, this advice will help you cultivate success for you and your employees.

Hire up.
When you’re starting out, you will likely wear many hats out of necessity, but as your company grows, these hats need to be given to others. Hire the best talent you can, and rely on their expertise. Don’t be intimidated by intelligence—embrace it and don’t let your ego stand in the way. Also, be aware that faulty assumptions about someone’s skill set can throw off deadlines and cause support issues down the road. Empowering people increases a sense of ownership and pride in one’s work.

Stay curious.
IBM has reinvented itself over and over. It has done this to keep up with the ever-changing industry with the help of curious employees. Curious people ask more questions, dig deeper, and they find creative solutions to current industry needs. Don’t pour cold water on your employees who want to do things differently. Listen to them with an open mind. Change is sometimes required, and it comes through innovation by curious people.

Integrate and automate everything.
Take a cue from SoftLayer: If you find yourself performing a repetitive task, automate and document it. We’ve focused on automation since day one. Not only do we automate server provisioning, but we’ve also automated our development build processes so that we can achieve repeatable success in code releases. Do your best to automate yourself out of a job and encourage others to live by this mantra. Don’t trade efficiency for job security—those who excel in this should be given more responsibility.

Peace of mind is worth a lot.
Once a coworker and I applied to contract for a job internally because our company was about to spend millions farming it out to a third party. We knew we could do it faster and cheaper, but the company went with the third party instead. Losing that contract taught me that companies are willing to pay handsomely for peace of mind. If you can build a team that is that source of that peace of mind for your company, you will go far.

When things don’t go right.
Sometimes things go off the rails, and there’s nothing you can do about it. People make mistakes. Deadlines are missed. Contracts fall through. In these situations, it’s important to focus on where the process went wrong and put changes in place to keep it from happening again. This is more beneficial to your team than finger pointing. If you can learn from your mistakes, you will create an environment that is agile and successful.

- Jason

March 20, 2015

Startups: Always Be Hiring

In late 2014, I was at a Denver job fair promoting an event I was organizing, NewCo Boulder. All the usual suspects of the Colorado tech community were there; companies ranging in size from 50 to 500 employees. It's a challenge to stand out from the crowd when vying for the best talent in this competitive job market, so the companies had pop-up banners, posters, swag of every kind on the table, and swarms of teams clad in company t-shirts to talk to everyone who walked by.

Nestled amid the dizzying display of logos was MediaNest, a three-person, pre-funding startup in the Catalyst program, at the time they were in the Boomtown Boulder fall 2014 cohort. What the heck was a scrappy startup doing among the top Colorado tech companies? In a word: hiring.

MediaNest was there to hire for three roles: front end developer, back end developer, and sales representative. They were there to double the size of their team ... when they had the money. In the war for talent, they started early and were doing it right.

I've often heard VCs (venture capitalists) and highly successful startup CEOs say the primary roles for a startup CEO are to always keep money in the bank and butts in seats. Both take tremendous time and energy, and they go hand-in-hand. It takes months to close a funding round, and similarly, it takes months to fill roles with the right people. If you're just getting started with hiring once that money is in the bank, you're starting from a deficit, burning capital, and straining resources while you get the recruiting gears going.

The number one resource for startup hiring is personal networks. Start with your friends and acquaintances and let everyone know you're looking to fill specific roles, even as you're out raising the capital to pay them. As the round gets closer to closing, intensify your efforts and expand your reach.

But what happens if you find someone perfect before you’re ready to hire them? Julien Khaleghy, CEO of MediaNest, says, "It's a tricky question. We will tend to be generous on the equity portion and conservative on the salary portion. If a comfortable salary is a requirement for the person, we will lock them for our next round of funding."

MediaNest wasn’t funded when I saw them in Denver, and they weren’t ready to make offers, so why attend a job fair? Khaleghy adds, based on his experience as CEO, "It's actually a good thing to show a letter of intent to hire someone when you are raising money."

At that job fair in Denver, MediaNest, with its simple table and two of the co-founders present, was just as busy that day as the companies with a full complement of staff giving away every piece of imaginable swag. I recommend following their example and getting ahead of the hiring game.

As long as you're successful, you'll never stop hiring. So start today.

-Rich

March 4, 2015

Docker: Containerization for Software

Before modern-day shipping, packing and transporting different shaped boxes and other oddly shaped items from ships to trucks to warehouses was difficult, inefficient, and cumbersome. That was until the modern day shipping container was introduced to the industry. These containers could easily be stacked and organized onto a cargo ship then easily transferred to a truck where it would be sent on to its final destination. Solomon Hykes, Docker founder and CTO, likens the Docker to the modern-day shipping industry’s solution for shipping goods. Docker utilizes containerization for shipping software.

Docker, an open platform for distributed applications used by developers and system administrators, leverages standard Linux container technologies and some git-inspired image management technology. Users can create containers that have everything they need to run an application just like a virtual server but are much lighter to deploy and manage. Each container has all the binaries it needs including library and middleware, configuration, and activation process. The containers can be moved around [like containers on ships] and executed in any Docker-enabled server.

Container images are built and maintained using deltas, which can be used by several other images. Sharing reduces the overall size and allows for easy image storage in Docker registries [like containers on ships]. Any user with access to the registry can download the image and activate it on any server with a couple of commands. Some organizations have development teams that build the images, which are run by their operations teams.

Docker & SoftLayer

The lightweight containers can be used on both virtual servers and bare metal servers, making Docker a nice fit with a SoftLayer offering. You get all the flexibility of a re-imaged server without the downtime. You can create red-black deployments, and mix hourly and monthly servers, both virtual and bare metal.

While many people share images on the public Docker registry, security-minded organizations will want to create a private registry by leveraging SoftLayer object storage. You can create Docker images for a private registry that will store all its information with object storage. Registries are then easy to create and move to new hosts or between data centers.

Creating a Private Docker Registry on SoftLayer

Use the following information to create a private registry that stores data with SoftLayer object storage. [All the commands below were executed on an Ubuntu 14.04 virtual server on SoftLayer.]

Optional setup step: Change Docker backend storage AuFS

Docker has several options for an image storage backend. The default backend is DeviceMapper. The option was not very stable during the test, failing to start and export images. This step may not be necessary in your specific build depending on updates of the operating system or Docker itself. The solution was to move to Another Union File System (AuFS).
  1. Install the following package to enable AuFS:
    apt-get install linux-image-extra-3.13.0-36-generic
  2. Edit /etc/init/docker.conf, and add the following line or argument:
    DOCKER_OPTS="--storage-driver=aufs"
  3. Restart Docker, and check if the backend was changed:
    service docker restart
    docker info

The command should indicate AuFS is being used. The output should look similar to the following:
Containers: 2
Images: 29
Storage Driver: aufs
Root Dir: /var/lib/docker/aufs
Dirs: 33
Execution Driver: native-0.2
Kernel Version: 3.13.0-36-generic
WARNING: No swap limit support

Step 1: Create image repo

  1. Create the directory registry-os in a work directory.
  2. Create a file named Dockerfile in the registry-os directory. It should contain the following code:
    # start from a registry release known to work
    FROM registry:0.7.3
    # get the swift driver for the registry
    RUN pip install docker-registry-driver-swift==0.0.1
    # SoftLayer uses v1 auth and the sample config doesn't have an option
    # for it so inject one
    RUN sed -i '91i\ swift_auth_version: _env:OS_AUTH_VERSION' /docker-registry/config/config_sample.yml
  3. Execute the following command from the directory that contains the registry-os directory to build the registry container:
    docker build -t registry-swift:0.7.3 registry-os

Step 2: Start it with your object storage credential

The credentials and container on the object storage must be provided in order to start the registry image. The standard Docker way of doing this is to pass the credentials as environment variables.

docker run -it -d -e SETTINGS_FLAVOR=swift -e
OS_AUTH_URL='https://dal05.objectstorage.service.network
layer.com/auth/v1.0
' -e OS_AUTH_VERSION=1 -e
OS_USERNAME='' -e
OS_PASSWORD='' -e
OS_CONTAINER='docker' -e GUNICORN_WORKERS=8 -p
127.0.0.1:5000:5000 registry-swift:0.7.3

This example assumes we are storing images in DAL05 on a container called docker. API_USER and API_KEY are the object storage credentials you can obtain from the portal.

Step 3: Push image

An image needs to be pushed to the registry to make sure everything works. The image push involves two steps: tagging an image and pushing it to the registry.
docker tag registry-swift:0.7.3 localhost:5000/registry-swift

docker push localhost:5000/registry-swift


You can ensure that it worked by inspecting the contents of the container in the object storage.

Step 4: Get image

The image can be downloaded once successfully pushed to object storage via the registry by issuing the following command:
docker pull localhost:5000/registry-swift

Images can be downloaded from other servers by replacing localhost with the IP address to the registry server.

Final Considerations

The Docker container can be pushed throughout your infrastructure once you have created your private registry. Failure of the machine that contains the registry can be quickly mitigated by restarting the image on another node. To restart the image, make sure it’s on more than one node in the registry allowing you to leverage the SoftLayer platform and the high durability of object storage.

If you haven’t explored Docker, visit their site, and review the use cases.

-Thomas

February 25, 2015

To Raise Capital You Need a Startup Roadshow

In the world of big finance, before a company IPOs, the CEO along with an investment banker(s) go on a global roadshow to pitch their business to potential investors, including hedge funds, major investment funds, and other portfolio managers. The purpose is simple: Drum up sales of the forthcoming stock issue. In the startup world, there are no big investment banks scheduling meetings. However, there are opportunities to do a roadshow for your startup, which is even more important than the IPO.

There were 275 IPOs in 2014, the largest number since 2000. By contrast, there are around 500,000 new businesses founded in the U.S. each year (not all of which are tech startups), approximately 225,000 angel investors in the U.S., and as of a year ago, there were 874 venture capital firms [read more]. In big finance, a few companies compete for the attention of a small, accessible group of investors. In the startup world, a large number of companies must seek capital from a huge pool of often-hard-to-find, geographically dispersed investors. Because of this, a roadshow is even more important for startups than it is for IPOs.

The SoftLayer Catalyst team works with startups in communities as big as San Francisco’s Silicon Valley to as small as Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The number one thing entrepreneurs outside of the major financing hubs ask about is how to access capital. My response is always the same: Your job isn't to bring more capital to your local community; it's to build a great company. You know where the capital is, so build something worth investing in, and then do a roadshow.

Practice Locally

Thankfully, as the startup world grows & matures, the number of outlets for pitching increases every month. There are opportunities in most cities to stand up and pitch your idea to your peers or investors. Start by getting out in front of your local community as often as possible. In the Boulder/Denver community, there are a few companies that I see pitch all the time, and those companies have fantastic pitches because they are constantly practicing, getting feedback, and refining.

Look for meetups that focus on pitching such as 1 Million Cups and House of Genius, or simply do a search for startup pitch meetup in your city. During startup weeks or similar events, search and sign up for pitch practices and competitions. If your co-working space is like SoftLayer partner Galvanize, they might have a big member pitch competition or a peer-to-peer practice event. Participate in as many local and regional pitch competitions as you can find. As long as the competitions don't take a piece of equity or require a significant payment to participate—either of which should be very carefully evaluated beforehand—sign up, and compete. This constant exposure to your local market will help spread the word about your company, provide feedback on your pitch, and maybe even score some prizes!

For more advice on your pitch, read my previous post, Advice from the Catalyst Team: Pitching Like George Lucas.

Maximizing Your Startup Roadshow

Now that you've refined your pitch and practiced in front of as many local audiences as possible, it's time to start planning your roadshow. Traveling on a limited budget means you must plan a highly focused trip with a specific goal in mind. Maybe you're traveling from New York City to Philadelphia for a competition, or from Portland to San Francisco for an investor meeting; no matter the reason, it's imperative to maximize your trip. A good roadshow involves getting the absolute most out of your travel budget, and this means booking meetings with potential investors or customers.

For example, while attending StartSLC, I visited with a friend from Colorado, Ryan Angilly from Ramen. Angilly traveled to Salt Lake City to participate in the pitch competition, but he made the most out of his trip by filling his calendar with investor meetings throughout the week. Before his trip, he reached out to his contacts in the startup community in Utah and asked for introductions. After following through with the contacts, he met with investors he would have otherwise never met.

Start by either allocating a budget for travel or identifying the most important pitch competitions in your region or industry. Once you have your trip scheduled, immediately start looking for connections within your network. It's far more effective to say, "I'll be in town the 12th to the 14th; what does your schedule look like?" than a non-specific request such as, “When are you available?” Look for connections with ties to your local community as they are more likely to be helpful and make intros on your behalf. And ask around locally about who has ties to your destination. Get your meetings lined up, and get ready for a whirlwind of pitches on your first ever startup roadshow.

I'll leave you with this final point: In 2014, venture capital firms raised nearly $33 billion, a 62 percent increase over 2013 levels. They'll spend the next few years investing that money in startups. The money is out there, and you need to do a roadshow to find it.

-Rich

February 20, 2015

Create and Deliver Marketing or Transactional Emails

The SoftLayer email delivery service is a highly scalable, cloud-based, email relay solution. In partnership with SendGrid, an email as a service provider, SoftLayer customers are able to create and deliver marketing or transactional emails via the customer portal or SendGrid APIs.

The SoftLayer email delivery service isn’t a full corporate email solution. It’s intended as a simplified method for delivering digital marketing (e.g., newsletters and coupons) and transactional content (e.g., order confirmation, shipping notice, and password reset) to customers.

Architecture

Traditionally, email is first sent through an outbound mail server that’s configured and maintained in-house, which is often costly and difficult to maintain.

With the SoftLayer email delivery service, the process is simplified; the only requirement is a connection to the Internet.

Package Comparison

The following table lists the service levels available to SoftLayer customers. The Free and Basic tiers are suitable for smaller applications with lower volume requirements. The Advanced and Enterprise levels are more suitable for larger applications and customers that require enhanced monitoring and other advanced features. Note that marketing emails are only available in the Advanced and Enterprise tiers.

Getting Started

Use the following steps to sign up for the SoftLayer email delivery service.

  1. Log on to the customer portal.
  2. Click Services, Email Delivery.
  3. Click the Order Email Delivery Service link at the top of the page.
  4. Choose your desired package, and fill out the required information. Remember for marketing emails, you must select either the Advanced or Enterprise packages.

Configuring a Marketing Email

Most of your interaction will be through the vendor portal provided by SendGrid. The following steps outline how to compose and deliver a marketing email to a list of subscribers.

  1. From the SoftLayer customer portal, navigate to Services, Email Delivery Service and click Actions, Access Vendor Portal for your desired account.
  2. Once in the SendGrid portal, click the Marketing Email link.

  1. You’ll be taken to the Marketing Email Dashboard. Click the Create a Sender Address button.
  2. Fill in the required information and click Save.
  3. Navigate back to the Marketing Email Dashboard, and click the Create Recipient List button.
  4. Enter a name for the list in the List Name field. Be sure that it’s something meaningful, such as Residential Customers.

  1. You can either Upload a list of contact emails or Add recipients manually. When adding the recipients manually, you’ll be asked verify the addresses that you enter. Click the Save button when done entering addresses.

  1. Navigate back to the Marketing Email Dashboard and click the Create Marketing Email button.
  2. Enter the title of the email in the Marketing Email Title field. Under Pick a Sender Address, select either a list or select recipients for the email. Choose your content type and how to send the email. Split Test my Marketing Email, under Choose how to send your Marketing Email, is an advanced feature that lets you send different recipients different versions of the same email—sending the different versions helps determine which version is most effective.

  1. Select the list of recipients to whom the email is to be sent and click Save.

  1. Next, select the template for the email. Options include Basic, Design, and My Saved Templates.

  1. Enter your email content. Make sure to provide a message subject.
  2. Review your email, and select when you would like it sent—Send Now, based on a Schedule, or Save As Draft. Click Finish when you’re done, or Save & Exit for a draft.

  1. You will then be brought back to the Marketing Email Dashboard where you can monitor the results of your email campaign.

Setting Up a Transactional Email

The following example shows how to integrate your app with SendGrid to send new users a welcome email. This example makes use of the SendGrid template engine, although it’s not required.

  1. From the SendGrid portal, click the Template Engine button.
  2. Click the Create Template button, enter the Template Name, and click Save.

  1. Design and modify your email and click Save when finished.

  1. Your new template should now be Active and ready to be used by the API.
  2. Click the Apps link in the top navigation bar.

  1. Click the Template Engine link on the right side of the screen.

  1. Take note of the ID of the template you just created.

  1. Use the curl utility to test your email via the SendGrid Web API.
  2. Execute the following to send a test email using your new template.


curl -d 'to=&subject="Test
subject"&text="Test Body"&from=&api_user=;api_key=
&x-smtpapi={"filters":{"templates":{"settings":{"enable":1,"template_id":
"6770c11f-97d5-4be9-8811-c86525799ec9"}}}}' https://api.sendgrid.com/api/mail.send.json

For more information on how the SoftLayer email delivery service can help you get back to your core business, check out this blog post.

-Sean

Worldwide Channel Solutions Architect for SoftLayer, an IBM Company

December 10, 2014

Password Managers: One Password To Rule Them All

From banking to social media to gaming, the amount of accounts we have today is growing out of control. Let’s be honest—it’s easy to use the same password or a variation of the same password for all online accounts, but if a hacker can break one of those passwords, they are one step closer to hacking every account.

Who really has the memory to store all those passwords anyway?

That’s where a password manager can help. It controls access by storing (online or locally) every password in an encrypted file that is only accessible by one strong master password.

When a user wants access to their SoftLayer account for example, the password manager will ask for the master password instead of the SoftLayer account password. It automatically populates the username and password fields and logs in.

Password managers are very convenient, but more importantly they enhance security because of the ability to use longer and harder passwords without worrying about forgetting or writing them down on sticky notes posted to a desktop screen.

Do I need a cross-platform password manager?
Today, most people access the same accounts on desktops, tablets, and mobile devices. If that’s you, then yes, you need a cross-platform solution. These Web-based options require yearly subscriptions upwards of $50 for a single user. The convenience of logging in anywhere might be steep, but the additional features might make it worth it. Password managers like Dashlane, LastPass, 1Password, and mSecure offer:

  • Secure storage of bank cards and any identity cards like driver licenses
  • Password generators
  • Keystroke logger protection
  • Automatic backup
  • Multifactor authentication like biometrics or a token
  • Access to pre-determined contacts in case of emergency or death
  • Team password sharing (the team lead controls the master password for a single account like a FedEx account and grants access via the users individual password manager)

Do I need a locally-based password manager?
If you’re not comfortable storing passwords online or you just use your desktop to access accounts, choose a password manager that encrypts and stores passwords on your PC. This option is the least convenient but most secure. All password managers listed above come in the locally-based option for free or at a fraction of the cross-platform price.

User Error
Although much more secure than not using one, password managers do have some downfalls (that stem from user error). Just like any password, you still need to change your master password regularly, never share passwords with anyone, and once installed, a user should update existing passwords with really hard forgettable passwords or use a password generator for each online account.

And always remember to lock your computer or mobile device when not in use. Although password managers make it harder for hackers to virtually access your accounts, they do not protect against someone physically opening the file.

It’s also a good idea to check settings to ensure that when booting or waking up your device, the password manager requires you to re-enter the password.

Pa$$word1 ain’t cutting it.
If you’re not ready to commit to a password manager, think about the consequences the next time you are prompted to update your password. Adding a “1” to the end of your current password isn’t safe or smart.

We’ve all been there, and committing to a password manager in some cases is expensive and setting one up can be time consuming depending on the amount of accounts, so I understand the hesitation. But it’s worth it for that added layer of protection and security.

-JRL

November 12, 2014

HTML5 – Back to Basics with a Strong Foundation Pt. 2

After a small throwback post of my original Tips and Tricks – jQuery Select2 blog for our #T4 series, and posting a CSS Blog about Mastering Multiple Backgrounds, it’s time I came back around and finished the HTML5 – Back to Basics with a Strong Foundation series with Part 2!

I highly recommend reading part one of the series. I outlined many HTML5 techniques that had never been possible with anything but Flash or jQuery before. In this blog I’ll continue with additional techniques that I couldn’t fit into the first blog.

I stand by my previous statement that if we forget what we’ve done and scripted for over two decades with previous versions of HTML and return to the basics with HTML5, we can re-learn a whole new foundation that is sure to make us stronger developers and smarter engineers.

IV. No More Declaring Types!

The sole purpose to develop better scripting and tagging languages is to improve efficiency. I think we can all agree that a smarter language should be able to detect certain attributes and tags automatically . . . well now, HTML5 has taken a huge step toward this.

Now <scripts> and <links> can be FREE of the type attribute!

  • Instead of:
  • <link type=”text/css” rel=”stylesheet” href=”css/stylesheet.css” />

    Or

    <script type=”text/javascript” src=”js/javascript.js”></script>

  • We can now just simply declare:
  • <link rel=”stylesheet” href=”css/stylesheet.css” />

    And

    <script src=”js/javascript.js”></script>

Something so little . . . yet so awesome!

V. SEMANTICS! Well . . . partial semantics anyway!

HTML5 supports some semantic tags—the most popular being the header and footers.

No longer do we have to write:

<div id=”header”>
    <h1>Header Content</h1>
</div>
<div id=”footer”>
    <h1>Footer Content</h1>
</div>

Now, with semantic Headers and Footers, we can simply do:

<header>
    <h1>Header Content</h1>
</header>
<footer>
    <h1>Footer Content</h1>
</footer>

Whoo! That’s an AWESOME change. Of course there could be a LOT more semantic changes, but we all know those will be coming soon! Until then, we can enjoy what we have.

VI. Video Support without Third-Party Plugins

Many browsers are jumping on board with providing support for the <video> tag, which allows native playback of videos. Gone are the days of having to use javascript/jQuery or *shudder* Flash to embed videos into your pages.

Check this out:

<video controls preload>
    <source src="myVideo.ogv" type="video/ogg; codecs='vorbis, theora'" />
    <source src="myVideo.mp4" type="video/mp4; 'codecs='avc1.42E01E, mp4a.40.2'" />
    <p> Your browser is way too old. <a href="myVideo.mp4">Download instead.</a> </p>
</video>

You’ll notice there are TWO <source> tags; this is because browsers like IE and Safari have already started supporting advanced video formats such as mp4. Firefox and Chrome are still in the process, but for now we still need to provide ogv/ogg videos. It’s only a matter of time before all the browsers will support mp4, but this is definitely a huge step forward from third-party plugins!

You should also notice there are two attributes listed in the <video> tag: controls and preload. Controls embed native video playback controls in the video player while preload allows the video to be preloaded, which is GREAT if you have a page just dedicated to viewing the video.

Thanks for tuning in, and let us know what YOUR favorite new features of HTML5 are! And if you’re interested in a gaming series with HTML5, holla at us, and I’ll get on it! I’ve been dying to write a blog series dedicated to teaching HTML5 gaming with the <canvas> tag!

-Cassandra

November 11, 2014

Which storage solution is best for your project?

Before building applications around our network storage, here’s a refresher on what network storage is, how it is used, the different types available, and the best uses for each.

What is network storage? Why would you use it?

Appropriately named, network storage is storage attached to a server over our network; not to be confused with directly attached storage (DAS), which is a hard drive located in the server (or connected with a device like a SCSI or USB cable). Although DAS transfers data to a server faster than network storage due to network latency and system caching, there is still a strong place for network storage.

Many different servers can access network storage, and with some network storage solutions, more than one server can get data from the same shared storage volume simultaneously. This comes in handy if one server dies, because another can pick up a storage device and start where the first left off.

With DAS, planned downtime for server upgrades, potential data loss, and provisioning larger or more servers can slow down productivity. The physical constraints of internal drives and costs associated with servers do not affect network storage.

Because SoftLayer manages the disk space of our network storage products, there’s no need to worry about rebuilding a redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAIDs) or failed disks. If a disk fails, SoftLayer automatically replaces it and rebuilds the RAID—in most cases you would be unaware that the changes occurred.

Select network storage solutions are available with tools for your important data. Schedule snapshots of your data, promote snapshots to full volumes, or reset your data to the snapshot point.

And with network storage, downtime is minimal. Disaster recovery tools available on select storage solutions let you send a command to quickly fail over to a different data center so you can access your data if our network is ever down in a data center.

Types of Network Storage And How They Are Different

Storage Area Network (SAN) or Block Storage

Block storage works like DAS, just remotely—only a single server can access a block storage volume at a time. Using an Internet small computer system interface (iSCSI) protocol over a secure transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) connection, SoftLayer's block storage has excellent features for backup and disaster recovery, and adding snapshot schedules and failover redundancy make it a powerful enterprise solution.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) or File Storage

File storage acts like a remote file system. It has a slim operating system that allows servers to treat it like a remote directory structure. Multiple servers can share files on the same storage simultaneously. Our new consistent performance storage lets you share files quickly and easily using a network file system (NFS) with your choice of performance level and secure connections.

We also have a common Internet file system (CIFS) (Windows), which requires a credential that grants access to any server on our private network. File storage can only be accessed by SoftLayer servers.

Object Storage

Object storage is a standalone storage entity with its own representational state transfer (REST) API that grants applications (not operating systems) access to the files stored there. Located on a public network, servers in any of our data centers can directly access files stored there. Object storage is different in the way those files are stored as well. In object storage there is not a directory structure, but instead metadata tags are used to categorize and search for files. In conjunction with a content delivery network (CDN), you can quickly serve files to your users or to a mobile device in close proximity.

With pay-as-you-go pricing, you don’t have to worry about running out of space. We only charge based on the greatest usage in any given day. That means you can get started right now for free!

Which storage solution is best for your project?

If you are still confused about which network storage option you should build your applications around, take this eight-question quiz to find out if object, file or block storage will work best for you:

-Kevin

Subscribe to tips-and-tricks