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Public Cloud Options Beyond the Obvious

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted July 17, 2014


We often talk about public cloud infrastructure in our Virtually Speaking space — Amazon's, VMware's, Google's and increasingly Microsoft's. But there are public cloud businesses that are often overlooked — particularly SoftLayer.

SoftLayer's an interesting public cloud company and although you may never have heard of it specifically, you likely have heard of its parent company — none other than IBM. Virtually Speaking

SoftLayer was in the news recently because it slashed its object storage prices by up to 60 percent to — well, to the prices that the other cloud providers are charging. SoftLayer now charges 4 cents per gig per month, putting it bang smack in the middle when compared to Google (2.6 cents), Amazon (3 cents) and Microsoft (5 cents). The company also dropped its virtual server prices by up to 5%.

All the big public cloud providers have been drawn in to a price war this year, and SoftLayer's round of price cuts are its second in six months. The company had already cut its prices back in February, and altogether SoftLayer has cut its bare metal server prices by an average of 22%, virtual servers by 51%, and 86% for RAM upgrades.

Despite this, Fransisco Romero, SoftLayer's COO, denies that other companies' price cuts are forcing SoftLayer's hand. "We don't believe in price wars, because the cloud is not a commodity. There is a significant difference between what you get from one provider to the next," he said.

SoftLayer's Direct Link Direct Connection Service

The company has also introduced a direct connection service similar to Amazon's Direct Connect and Microsoft's ExpressRoute, which SoftLayer is calling Direct Link. Direct Link provides a dedicated VPN connection from one of 18 IBM points of presence (PoPs) around the world located in facilities operated by a roster of partners that includes Equinix, Coresite, Terremark, Pacnet, InterXion, Telx and TelecityGroup.

These Direct Link connections are pretty reasonably priced — $147 per month for a 1Gbps connection, or $997 per month for a 10Gbps one. They enable you to run your own servers in a data center while moving data to and from the cloud (and using their computer resources if you wish) very rapidly.

"Direct Link is a service designed to give users more flexibility in the way they build out their cloud infrastructures," said Matt Chilek, SoftLayer's CTO. "It helps create a VPN to the cloud, whereby customers can send workloads and data directly to one of our global data centers, rather than using the public Internet."

SoftLayer is an unusual cloud provider in that it offers bare metal physical machines in the cloud, which it touts for the most processor-intensive and disk I/O intensive workloads. Like virtualized servers, the company says these can be deployed in real time to any SoftLayer data center.

The company also offers more traditional server virtualization in its cloud, although you have to dig deep into its literature to find out what hypervisor virtualization technology these virtual machines run on. And it turns out that Softlayer actually offers just about everything when it comes to server virtualization: VMware ESX and ESXi, Citrix Xenserver, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix CloudPlatform and Parallels Virtuozzo.

IBM's Commitment to SoftLayer and the Cloud

SoftLayer was acquired by IBM in 2013 for $2 billion, and in January of this year IBM announced plans to commit a further $1.2 billion to expand its cloud footprint and increase its data center count from 24 to 40. At the beginning of this month IBM unveiled the first of these — a new data center in Hong Kong.

When you think about public and hybrid clouds, some companies like Amazon seem to get all the mindshare. But don't forget there are plenty of other options as well, and some with heavyweights like IBM behind them.

It's likely that there will be a high degree of slugging it out and consolidation in the cloud space over the next five years or so, and it's a good bet that when the dust settles it will be companies like IBM that are still standing.


Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

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