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SoftLayer Cloud Business Thriving Inside IBM

A year after it was acquired by IBM, SoftLayer gains SSDs, new data services, and expanded reach as IBM pursues its goal of 40 cloud centers by year's end.
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SoftLayer, a year after IBM acquired and installed it as its cloud services unit, is adding customers at a rate six or seven times as fast as when it was an independent company, says George Kandis, Big Blue's chief strategy officer.

Over the last 12 months, SoftLayer has gained 6,000 new customers. IBM purchased SoftLayer for $2 billion in July 2013. Karidis says SoftLayer's customer base was composed primarily of small and midsized companies, with some verging on becoming much larger companies. The thing they had in common was they did not have big IT departments, but were looking to expand infrastructure rapidly, Kandis told InformationWeek.

Now those customers are finding services in SoftLayer cloud centers alongside some of IBM's largest outsourcing customers -- Fortune 500 companies moving into the cloud, such as Whirlpool, Daimler's Moovel unit, and insurer Generali Group.

Both types of customers have helped dictate the type of service that SoftLayer has become: a combination of virtual servers and bare-metal servers for large databases and legacy applications. SoftLayer was an early provider of bare-metal servers and has expanded the practice since becoming part of IBM.

[Want to learn more about how IBM is expanding platform-as-a-service on SoftLayer? See IBM Bluemix Gets DevOps Muscle.]

IBM has said it will have 40 SoftLayer datacenters by the end of the year. It intends to add 15 datacenters in new locations to SoftLayer's existing 13, and incorporate another 12 of its own as part of the SoftLayer worldwide chain. One opened in London Monday, where the default server will be equipped with solid-state disks, says Karidis. Earlier this quarter, new datacenters opened in Hong Kong and Dallas. By the end of the third quarter, three more will open in Melbourne, Australia; Ashburn, Va.; and Toronto. The centers in Dallas and Washington, D.C., are built to meet Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) and Federal Information Security Management (FISMA) specifications and are designed to work with federal government agencies.

Karidis, who was also chief strategy officer of SoftLayer prior to its acquisition, says SoftLayer intended its datacenters to be linked by high-speed fiber optic lines using the flexible, multi-protocol label switching protocol. It now offers access to its cloud centers over private lines through its Direct Link service. Customers may route workloads to SoftLayer without relying on the Internet, he notes.

The emerging global chain of datacenters means SoftLayer will be able to supply a growing small or midsized company with infrastructure services in parts of the world where it might be reluctant to try to establish a datacenter presence of its own. "In some parts of the world, the infrastructure isn't as robust as they may be used to. We're giving customers an ability to spread out geographically" without building more datacenters, says Karidis.

Likewise, SoftLayer at the one-year mark is expanding the capabilities and IOPS rate of its Elastic Storage on Cloud service. It's also making its Aspera high-speed transfer service available to move large amounts of data into SoftLayer storage or from virtual servers to bare-metal servers. The service handles both structured and unstructured data for high-speed transfers, according to Kandis.

IBM is also concentrating on offering more big-data services via SoftLayer. For example, Watson is available as a general-purpose big-data analytical engine; it's also available now as the more specific Watson Engagement Service. The service running on IBM brand Power8 servers allows a company to process customer data as it's gathered during a customer visit, transforming the way a firm delivers customer service, marketing, and sales, Karidis tells us.

It is also now offering a JumpGate service, which will move data from a proprietary API across a network and through an OpenStack API to reach a different cloud service.

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