IBM to fold SoftLayer into Bluemix cloud development platform

IBM will rebrand SoftLayer's datacenters as extensions of its Bluemix PaaS to help it better compete with Amazon, Google, and IBM

IBM to fold SoftLayer into Bluemix cloud development platform
SoftLayer via IDG News Service

IBM has announced with little fanfare that its Bluemix cloud development platform will gradually assimilate all of the SoftLayer portfolio of public cloud services, making them part of the Bluemix brand.

Initial details were announced on the SoftLayer blog over the weekend, with much of the discussion revolving around the implications for existing SoftLayer customers.

But there are also implications for Bluemix, which can now become more competitive with clouds that have had better presence in multiple geographic regions.

Location, location, location

For a public cloud provider, infrastructure is everything, as InfoWorld's Eric Knorr pointed out at the beginning of the year when he surveyed the big four cloud providers: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM.

Of these four, IBM is at the bottom of the list when it comes to datacenter coverage. Bluemix is currently available in only three regions: the United States (Dallas), Europe (London), and the Pacific (Sydney). By contrast, SoftLayer at last count had 19 datacenters, so the implication is that Bluemix will eventually be available in all of those datacenters.

That enhanced coverage ought to help IBM catch up with the competition. Amazon EC2 has 12 regions of coverage: four in the United States, five in the Pacific, two in Europe, and one in South America. Up-and-comer Microsoft Azure boasts 30 regional datacenters, with eight more on the way. Google Cloud Platform currently provides five -- but the size of Google's pre-existing infrastructure worldwide all but guarantees more regions will come online as demand dictates.

One reason why IBM purchased SoftLayer in 2013 was to have access to datacenters in various regions and enable IBM to jump in and begin providing public cloud infrastructure without having to build it from scratch. That sensible strategy is only now starting to bear fruit.

The big blue switch

The first step is for SoftLayer services to be recast as Bluemix services. SoftLayer and Bluemix user accounts will be linked, and the SoftLayer control portal will be merged with the Bluemix dashboard. It also means that services originally provisioned in SoftLayer, like bare-metal or virtual servers, will be offered instead via Bluemix's portal, although the services offered and the pricing tiers seem to be about the same for the time being.

Bluemix customers are more likely to find SoftLayer's offerings useful than the other way around. Most of SoftLayer's offerings have had to do with infrastructure -- virtualized hosting, bare metal, and so on -- while Bluemix's big offerings have been high-end PaaS tools like analytics and machine learning. Customers of the former might not see much need for the latter, but part of IBM's mission with Bluemix is to package its most powerful items to not require dedicated data scientists.

One other aspect of IBM's cloud strategy that will be affected is its long-term plans for hybrid clouds that use Bluemix. This move doesn't change the underlying technical details of how those hybrid clouds will work (Docker plus OpenStack, from the look of it). But with more datacenters available internationally, thanks to SoftLayer, IBM will have to make fewer compromises when creating a hybrid cloud with Bluemix.