IBM beefs up cloud worldwide with more data centers

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Remember that data center land grab we keep talking about?  It’s not letting up. This week it’s IBM’s turn (again) to claim data center expansion to fuel its effort to offer cloud services worldwide.

a $1.2 billion investment

The Equinix deal gives IBM’s SoftLayer cloud services more coverage (via Equinix Cloud Exchange) from Amsterdam, Dallas, Paris, Northern California, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Washington D.C. In October, IBM announced a cloud expansion into China in partnership with Tencent.

SoftLayer officeIBM sees more enterprise accounts — many of which already deploy private clouds “behind their four walls” — looking at off-premises clouds, said Angel Diaz, VP of open standards.

“That might be a dedicated zone of a public cloud or a public cloud, but the magic, sweet spot is hybrid, which connects those two worlds [private and public clouds] together,” he added.

IBM will not have that sweet spot to itself. A dozen or more competitors including traditional rival [company]Hewlett-Packard[/company] and sometimes-ally [company]Red Hat[/company] are also gunning for that market. Then there’s [company]VMware[/company] and [company]Microsoft[/company].  And Amazon Web Services, which used to sort of pooh-pooh the need for private cloud, has changed its messaging and introduced products to facilitate hybrid cloud set-up. And all of these vendors are adding data centers and cloud capabilities around the world.

Amazon recently opened a new region in Germany and Microsoft is working in that direction. Germany is a critical battle ground due to the size of that market and its stricter-than-usual rules around keeping citizen data in-country.

For more on the cloud computing competitive landscape, check out this talk from Battery Ventures’ Technology Fellow Adrian Cockcroft from Structure 2014.

This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. PST to reflect that AWS opened a new “region” not a new data center in Germany. 

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David Mytton

This is a key differentiator for Softlayer / IBM as we see them continue to build out.

Historically, Softlayer has been a pseudo managed hosting provider. They run their own public cloud compute and storage products alongside bare metal (which no other public cloud provider offers). But that is where the Softlayer “cloud” stops – they have nowhere near the same range of cloud products as the likes of Amazon, Google or Microsoft instead limiting themselves to the base commodities of networking, storage and compute.

This has not been a bad strategy and they have some very good underlying technology which has meant that rolling out these new data centers all integrated into the same network and management interfaces gives them solid, worldwide footprint. It’s ideal for where you need control over the location of your data, and need to place systems close to customers in specific geographies.

Contrast this with Google’s approach and you can clearly see the differences. Google does not want you to have think about locations, instead giving 3 generic region names (us-central, europe-west, asia-east) and recommending you deploy within their concept of zones. This ties in with their philosophy of “just let us handle it whilst you focus on your application” as seen from the beginning with App Engine. Google will deal with things like migration around failure and placing data in the right location, an approach that works well for many use cases.

However, with the IBM purchase of Softlayer, we are now seeing them start to combine forces to offer many IBM services under a general “IBM Cloud” brand. The integration is not completed but we’re already seeing them really push services like Watson. This is exactly the kind of “cloud” service that Softlayer never offered and really sets them up to compete with Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

The question is does IBM have the engineering capabilities to build out innovative features to compete? It has taken them quite some time to get to where they are now (from the Softlayer acquisition in 2013), during which Google Cloud has rapidly launched a range of new features and functionality. And of course Amazon has not stood still either.

Being able to precisely choose your infrastructure location in the way Softlayer does, and both Azure and Amazon do to a slightly lesser extent (mix of generic regions and specific locations), is something that Google is currently betting against. Ultimately, it boils down to a question of control and how much you want to deal with the underlying infrastructure and whether you want an abstracted platform of services or more control over everything.

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