By David Stephens, Senior Market Development Executive for SoftLayer, Ingram Micro
IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) is proving to be a leading service within the exploding cloud computing market. Gartner, for example, predicts that IaaS will achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 41.3% through 2016, the fastest growing area of public cloud computing the research firm tracks. As would be expected, the market has been flooded in the past few years as established IT giants (e.g. IBM, Microsoft) and startups (e.g. ProfitBricks, CloudSigma) alike have come out with IaaS offerings. Sadly, many cloud service providers (CSPs) and MSPs view all IaaS offerings as merely compute (i.e. CPU), storage, and network resources (e.g. RAM) commodities with no real differentiation from one to the next.
In 2014, research firm IDC dug a little deeper into IaaS and found some significant differentiators that led it to rank IBM SoftLayer as the top performer. Clearly this report wasn’t weighing the most popular IaaS companies or Amazon and Microsoft would have been on the list. What IDC ultimately based its decision on was its audience’s (comprised of 402 cloud buyers) response to the question, “Please select the top 3 vendors that you believe can provide infrastructure as a service (IaaS), for private and/or public, most effectively, whether or not you currently utilize these services from third-party providers.”
Following are two important (and little known) differentiators affirming IDC’s discovery and explaining why this is such a big deal for you and your customers.
Differentiator #1: A Dedicated Physical Server
All IaaS vendors can spin-up virtual public servers in the cloud. Where IBM SoftLayer is different is that it also gives service providers the flexibility to sell dedicated physical servers in its cloud. This is important because it addresses a common fear many end users (especially those concerned about HIPAA or PCI compliance) have with the cloud, which is summed up by the question: “Where is my data?” With most IaaS offerings, the best answer you can give is a vague proximity (e.g. the Northwestern region of the United States). IBM SoftLayer’s bare metal service allows customers to see the actual serial numbers on the CPUs and NIC (network interface controller) cards. If customers only want their data in Dallas, the service provider can guarantee that.
The bare metal server is also a useful differentiator when hosting database applications. For example, most hypervisors consume up to 20% of a server’s resources. By eliminating the hypervisor and using a bare metal server, database applications perform noticeably faster.
Differentiator #2: Triple Network Architecture
Just because a server is moved to the cloud doesn’t mean the rules of architecture planning go out the window. Among other things, the server should be backed up according to the customer’s RPO (recovery point objective) and RTO (recovery time objective) needs. IBM SoftLayer’s triple network architecture provides a distinct architecture planning advantage over many other IaaS offerings. The triple network architecture uses three NIC cards to provide three distinct connectivity channels. The first channel is for management, the second is for a public IP address, and the third can be used to connect to other SoftLayer data centers for backup or failover purposes. By segmenting the network in this manner, the service provider gains better security control. For example, a service provider may opt to turn off the public IP NIC and keep the other channels open for backup and redundancy purposes.
Another benefit of the triple network architecture is better throughput to servers since each channel isn’t hindered by “noisy neighbors.”
The biggest surprise to many service providers is that IBM’s SoftLayer IaaS offering is oftentimes less expensive than Amazon’s EC2 IaaS offering, which is commonly thought to be the “low cost leader.” The cost savings aren’t seen during the initial setup – Amazon actually starts out about 16% less expensive. However, when you factor in support and firewall services, which IBM includes but Amazon does not, and then you take into consideration data transfer costs, which Amazon meters but IBM does not, the cost advantage tips in IBM’s favor. The tipping point in price typically happens when a customer transfers 78 GB of data a month.
Over the past two years I’ve been asked about Amazon’s and Microsoft’s IaaS offerings hundreds of times and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been asked about IBM’s cloud services over that same period. IBM has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to changing the public perception that it’s no longer just a reliable hardware company. As more analysts and service providers look beneath the surface and compare IBM’s IaaS offering to competitive offers, I predict the old adage will be updated to: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM SoftLayer” as they finally see that Big Blue is an IaaS force to be reckoned with.
About the Author
David Stephens is the Senior Market Development Executive for SoftLayer at Ingram Micro. He has 25+ years’ experience in the IT industry and in recent years he has worked for IBM and several IBM Business partners, providing technical, sales and channels support for the IBM brands. David will be presenting “SoftLayer and Ingram Micro Cloud: A Winning Combination for Partners” at Cloud Summit 2015 on Monday, March 9 at 3 pm. You can also follow David on Twitter at @imstphns and @imsoftlayer.