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Checking in with IBM’s Cloud After the SoftLayer Acquisition

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 4:35pm
Ben Munson

IBM’s not new to the cloud. The IT giant began accelerating its efforts in 2009. But in the competitive public cloud landscape as it is now, with Amazon on the tips of everyone’s tongue and major carriers like Verizon floating their own clouds, IBM has a new ally in recently acquired SoftLayer.

IBM focuses on more than just public cloud, working behind and outside firewalls to deliver a whole-stack solution incorporating software, infrastructure, applications, services, etc. The company holds the idea that efficiencies gained in the cloud can make IT and overall business better for customers. And with those thoughts in mind, IBM saw a chance to move faster on that strategy by acquiring SoftLayer, which it snapped up for $2 billion last summer.

“[SoftLayer] was already doing things that were in our roadmap,” said Ric Telford, vice president of cloud services at IBM. “But SoftLayer was doing a lot of things we weren’t doing and that really no one in the industry was doing.”

Specifically, Telford said IBM noticed what SoftLayer was doing with bare-metal provisioning. SoftLayer virtualizes machines and lets customers pay as they go, which Telford said there’s a lot of value in, but the company also allows for the provisioning entire servers out of the cloud, allowing for more control and single-tenant situations for optimal performance.

Telford said that option has been good for some of IBM’s enterprise customers looking for a cloud option but unable to use virtual machines because they had not virtualized their workloads. With SoftLayer, those big enterprises can just port it over and Telford said SoftLayer’s infrastructure focus leads well into IBM’s on-going cloud efforts.

“Having a more robust, globally consistent, highly programmable, most open Infrastructure-as-a-Service on the market and having that level of control gives not only our customers but other parts of IBM, that are building on top of SoftLayer, the ability to deliver some really interesting capabilities from the IBM cloud,” Telford said.

Telford thinks the SoftLayer acquisition is working out even better than he imagined, pointing to IBM’s third-quarter numbers that highlighted $1 billion in cloud business, up and down the stack, private and public.

Adding to IBM’s more than 100 SaaS offerings, the SoftLayer acquisition and integration has enabled IBM to more easily move more of its licensed software offerings into the cloud as well. SoftLayer’s cloud capabilities have also showed up in IBM’s recently expanded cloud portfolio like the Social Learning platform, a collaborative and educational solution that has been deployed in health care and that Telford said could move to other verticals as well.

Speaking with InfoWorld, SoftLayer CEO Lance Crosby was also enthusiastic about the growth in reach of the newly teamed SoftLayer and IBM, saying he expects massive cloud expansion from IBM over the next 24 months.

Telford confirmed that there are multiple cloud initiatives that IBM has its eye on including continuing to grow SoftLayer’s customer base of small and medium businesses.

“We’re not doing anything to change or inhibit the way that SoftLayer continues to support its existing customer base,” Telford said.

In addition, IBM will keep introducing SoftLayer to its clients and continue building an ecosystem around SoftLayer so that other software or hosting companies can build on top of SoftLayer.

Looking forward at the cloud space as a whole, Telford pointed to a study IBM recently did, questioning tastemakers about where they see their investments in cloud going and a resounding opinion dealt needing more customization in terms of composable services and APIs from the cloud.

“They’re saying ‘Give me more granular services and let me compose my business processes and applications,’” Telford said. “Taking the cloud concept down to these composable services and then having tooling that allows them to aggregate and create their own business process; that whole concept is really the foundation for what IBM believes is the next big thing in cloud.”

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