Introduction to Virtual Servers

Overview

Virtual Server Instances (VSIs) are scalable virtual servers purchased with dedicated cores and memory allocations. They are a great option for customers looking for compute resources that can be added in minutes with access to features like image templates. The hypervisor is fully managed by SoftLayer and configuration functionality is exposed via both the Control Portal and the API.  Virtual Servers are deployed to the same VLANs as physical servers allowing customers to spread workloads across VSI and bare metal servers and maintain interoperability. Virtual Servers are fully customizable at the time of order with options to scale up or in place as the customer compute needs grow.

Customers choose from hourly or monthly billing, private (single tenancy) or public (multi tenancy), and high performance local disks or enterprise SAN storage.  Read more about Virtual Servers below. If you’re looking for details on Private Clouds, with full access to the hypervisor and additional flexibility, refer to the Private Clouds topic for more information.

 

Key Features

Seamless Integration

SoftLayer Virtual Servers are deployed to the same pod and network as SoftLayer bare metal servers and network appliances.  This gives customers the flexibility to utilize the best technology for each workload.  Customers commonly deploy multiple virtual servers behind a load balancer to serve web traffic.  These servers can have direct layer 2 private network access to bare metal database servers and other more intensive workloads.

Fully Customizable

Customers can build-to-suit any virtual machine with a number of options.  There are no "pre-defined" package requirements, so each server can be tuned to the workload it supports.  See below for a full breakdown of available options.

Rapid Provisioning

Virtual Servers are provisioned in as few as five minutes, giving you minimal wait time between order and provisioning.

Remote Management

Like all of our services and solutions, you have the ability to manage your Virtual Servers remotely. View and manage all of your device details using our Customer Portal or API.  You can also interact with the server through the provided KVM functionality or log into the server with full administrative control via the public or private interfaces.

Ease of Scalability

After your Virtual Server is provisioned, you can quickly and easily scale your instance up or down and add or remove additional instances on demand.  You can take an image template of the server once it is configured and tuned and then spin up additional Virtual Machines based on that "golden image."

 

Virtual Server Options

SoftLayer provides the user with options when ordering a Virtual Server, with each option offering clients different capabilities. Refer to the details below for more information on our current Virtual Server options.

Location

Customers have the option of selecting the specific data center that they wish to deploy to.  For new deployments, SoftLayer will automatically identify the best POD based on availability and create the appropriate public and private VLANs.  For additions to existing environments, customers can select the specific pod, VLAN, and subnet that is required for their design.

Public / Private Node

Customers select either public or private VSIs during the order process.  Public nodes reside on a hypervisor that is shared with other clients.  However, the processors and memory are dedicated to the virtual server so server performance is extremely reliable and the risk from "noisy neighbors" is minimal. SoftLayer also frequently offers higher processor and RAM options for public nodes.

Private node virtual machines are commonly utilized for security or compliance purposes.  Private nodes are deployed to a single-tenant hypervisor with additional private nodes deployed to the same hypervisor until processors and/or RAM are unavailable.  When capacity on the hypervisor is reached, additional Virtual Machines will automatically be deployed to a new hypervisor.  It is possible to utilize SAN storage (multi-tenant) with private node Virtual Machines, which customers should be aware of for compliance purposes.

Processors / RAM

SoftLayer presents processor options as cores, which follow the standards for virtual server deployments.  Each physical core on the server is hyper-threaded and presented as two vCPUs (or cores).  SoftLayer offers 2.0GHz or better per core with up to 56 cores available on a single virtual machine.

RAM is extremely straight-forward.  SoftLayer fully dedicates the selected RAM to your Virtual Machine with up to 242GB on a single virtual machine.

Note that Private and Public nodes have slightly different configuration maximums and very high allocations of either cores or memory limit the available options.

Operating System

Customers select the Operating System to be deployed to the server.  This includes a number of free options such as CentOS and Ubuntu as well as paid options like Windows Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  It is important to note that Windows requires a 100GB primary disk.

For existing customers, you can also deploy based on an Image Template through the control portal by navigating to Devices -> Manage -> Images and then selecting "Order Virtual Server" from the "Actions" menu.  This automatically selects the appropriate OS for the order.  Alternatively, customers can order based on a standard image and then reload to an image template at any time.

Storage

Customers have the option for SAN or Local storage for each Virtual Server and can supplement that storage with other storage products as needed.  SAN and local storage are both exposed to the Virtual Server as local disks.  Any changes to disks (attach, detach, migrate, etc.) require a reboot of the virtual server.  An entire VSI can be migrated to SAN or to Local at any time using the Control Portal. Changes to storage configurations must stay within the disk quota and size maximums for that storage type.

Local Storage

Local storage is built on disks that are local to the Virtual Server host.  This provides improved disk read/write performance and with Private VSI's can solve many compliance challenges.  The disks are built into a RAID configuration for redundancy and disk replacement and health monitoring are fully managed by SoftLayer.  In newer data centers, this storage is all-SSD to provide the best performance.  Local storage Virtual Servers are limited to two disks.  The primary disk can be 25GB or 100GB and the secondary disk can be up to 300GB.

SAN Storage

SAN storage is built on SoftLayer's SAN infrastructure rather than the local host storage.  This provides greater resiliency in the event of a host failure and can also support much larger volumes.  In the event of a host failure, VSIs using SAN-based storage will be automatically migrated to other hosts and restarted.  The primary disk can be 25GB or 100GB and customers can add up to 4 additional volumes, each up to 2TB.

Portable Storage

All secondary disks are attached as Portable Storage.  They can be detached at any time to allow them to be moved to other Virtual Servers.  Detaching a Local disk will automatically migrate it to a SAN volume.  They can be reattached to another server at any time so long as the change does not exceed the disk quota or the maximum volume size limit of the target Virtual Server.  The disk will be converted to the storage type of the target server.

LVM Limitations

LVM is not a supported as a bootable partitioning scheme. With proper OS support and configuration, secondary VSI disks can be used for LVM partitions, however LVM is not a supported filesystem for Image Templates or Flex Images.

Supplemental Storage

Virtual Machines are fully compatible with File and Block SAN storage as well as Object Storage.  These storage types are recommended for cluster drives, shared file storage, archival, large storage requirements, or specific performance requirements.

Hourly / Monthly

Customers can select hourly or monthly billing for a Virtual Server.  The primary difference, other than cost, is that hourly servers do not have an included bandwidth allocation.  At the end of a billing period, the calculation of the number of hours each machine was active on the account is performed. At this point, bandwidth usage is also calculated and charged. A “running total” is available on the Virtual Server view page with a link to a details page, showing each line item, number of hours, and running charges per item.

Bandwidth

SoftLayer includes 250GB with monthly virtual servers that have a public uplink.  Customers can purchase larger allocations at a reduced cost compared to the overage rate.

Port Speed

Customers select the uplink speed for the virtual server up to 1Gbps.  These virtual uplinks are backed by redundant physical uplinks to the SoftLayer public and private networks.  The public and private speed is always the same at the time of order with the option to upgrade or downgrade a link if needed.

Software

Customers select the software required, which is installed by SoftLayer during the provisioning process.  SoftLayer provides support for any software deployed during the provisioning process, but customers can also install their own software after the server is deployed.

Firewalls

Customers should consider their firewall options prior to deployment.  As part of the order process, customers can select a device-specific hardware or software firewall to provide protection.  Alternatively, customers can deploy dedicated firewall appliances to the environment and deploy the virtual server to a protected VLAN.  Note that a virtual server cannot be protected by two firewall appliances on the same interface (see http://knowledgelayer.softlayer.com/topic/firewall for more information).

Monitoring

Customers can select from a variety of monitoring options for the virtual server.  This includes the standard monitoring, which monitors via Ping and TCP service response and has optional responses in the event of failures. Customers can also add Advanced Monitoring which utilizes the Nimsoft software agent to provide a larger feature set for monitoring of the virtual server and installed software.

Backup

During the order process, customers can add Evault backups.  Customers can also choose to purchase an R1soft license for their existing R1soft backup environment or utilize a third party backup solution.

Post-Provisioning Scripts

Post-provisioning scripts can be associated with any Virtual Machine order.  This executes a customer-developed script after other provisioning tasks are completed.  This is commonly utilized to apply a customer-specific configuration to a server and to aid in automation of a customer's scaling strategy.

 

Interact with your Virtual Server

Now that you're a bit more familiar with how Virtual Servers work, take a few moments to familiarize yourself with them in the Customer Portal. Get started by accessing the Device List. We've given a quick walk-through of that below.

Access the Device List

Our Customer Portal allows users to manage both physical and virtual servers through the Device List.

  1. Access the Customer Portal using your unique credentails.
  2. Select Device List from the Devices drop down list.

     

The Device List

The Device List is the central location for device management associated with your SoftLayer customer account. Upon accessing the Device List, Bare Metal Servers are indicated with the Device Type of Server, while Virtual Servers have a device type of Virtual. Many interactions available for both devices are similar; however, each type of device will also have a handful of device-specific interactions. The Device List also displays the location of your device, the device name, and when the device was first provisioned by default. Use the Settings Cog to update the Device List to your desired view.


 

From this screen, actions are taken on any device by clicking the Actions drop down list. As mentioned before, some interactions are device-specific, so the actions available for Virtual Servers may differ from what is available for Bare Metal Servers, and vice versa. Additionally, some Virtual Servers may have additional options available based on how they were provisioned. The screenshot below displays interactions available for a single Virtual Server that was in our Device List. It is important to note that Flex Images are only available on certain operating systems, and if your device has already been migrated to SAN, the option to migrate to local storage will be present.


 

Device Snapshot

Click on the arrow to the left of any device to expand it into its Snapshot View. The device's Snapshot View provides a quick view of device details, including root username and password, bandwidth usage and recent tickets, and also allows for limited interactions without accessing the device further. Click on any link within the Snapshot View to be automatically directed to the Device View.


Device View

Click on any device name within the Device List to gain access to your device through the Device View. Within the Device View, you have the ability to view and manage the information on any of the tabs present. Available interactions may vary between Virtual Servers based on how they have been configured and will also vary between Virtual Servers and Bare Metal Servers. The image below displays the Device View for a sample Virtual Servers.