Summary:

IBM has big plans following its acquisition of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider SoftLayer, and while the roadmap isn’t clear, the deal could yield benefits for current SoftLayer customers.

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Customers of cloud provider SoftLayer have mixed impressions of what could lie ahead following IBM’s acquisition of the company. Some of SoftLayer’s 21,000 customers only see good things resulting from the deal and the planned Cloud Services division alongside the IBM SmartCloud, hoping for the continuation of many deployment options, strong performance and good support. Others are not so sure.

It would be in IBM’s best interest to keep things simple and consistent for existing customers — it could make IBM look like it cares — but it’s hard to say if that will happen down the line. Complications could stem from the integration of SoftLayer into IBM. Asking users to migrate workloads could pose lots of problems — or the shift could mean little more than administrative tweaks.

David Mytton, CEO of SoftLayer customer Server Density and one of our Cloud Trailblazers for GigaOM’s Structure Conference later this month, wonders how things will turn out in the long term.

I’d hope they’re planning to use the Softlayer infrastructure to offer/host their own cloud services and in that case, we probably wouldn’t see any change. But given that SL will exist under the Cloud Services Division rather than an entirely separate entity (e.g. Tumblr or Youtube) and it’s not just being run within IBM but being combined with their existing SmartCloud into a global platform, that suggests changes might be afoot.

If Mytton doesn’t like the direction IBM chooses to go in, that’s all right — his company pays by the month and could relocate to another cloud provider.

Derek Schoettle, CEO of Cloudant, a SoftLayer (and Rackspace, Joyent and Amazon Web Services) customer, is more bullish on the deal. He thinks that migration “is going to be smooth sailing” and that good things are in store for SoftLayer customers, from support to services. Indeed, it looks like IBM’s backing of SoftLayer will give current SoftLayer customers access to a larger ecosystem of services and partners to work with, including IBM Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) programs.

Now that IBM is taking greater steps to provide rich cloud services, more enterprises will be more inclined to jump on board, Schoettle said. It’s important for IBM to do this, with enterprises going more toward cloud computing, particularly onto Amazon Web Services. And Google’s ramping up can’t be good news, either. Competitive pressure is real, Schoettle said. “They (IBM) want to become a dominant player, because I don’t think they believe in third. They want to be first or second.” That won’t be easy, however.

The statement IBM issued announcing the deal notes that SoftLayer in recent months has taken on many gaming companies “migrating from commodity cloud platforms because of problems with cost, latency, availability and raw performance.” Surely IBM wouldn’t want to disappoint those customers by rolling out new prices or changing performance characteristics, but no one can say whether this will happen when SoftLayer gets moved into IBM’s Cloud Services division.

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