In another sign of the maturation of the public cloud, more vendors are providing dedicated network connections to meet the needs of a growing enterprise market.
SoftLayer began a broader distribution this week of its Direct Link service, which allows clients to create a dedicated connection between their IT infrastructure and the IBM offshoot's cloud services.
This comes on the heels of Microsoft providing a similar service, called ExpressRoute, for Azure last month and nearly three years after Amazon Web Services (AWS) was first to do so for its cloud customers with Direct Connect
In the rush to have access to anything, anywhere, everyone forgot about the network, according to Andre Kindness, an analyst with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research, Inc. And while that is an acceptable tradeoff for mobility for consumers, it's not acceptable for an enterprise's critical applications.
"Cloud is becoming a strong enough platform that people are putting critical applications out there," Kindness said. "That means they have to have good network connections."
Brad Casemoreanalyst, International Data Corporation
Private connections to the cloud or virtual private network (VPN) connections are becoming minimum expectations, and the SoftLayer move was inevitable as IBM tries to position itself in the hybrid cloud market, according to Brad Casemore, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts..
"It's definitely becoming something that is foundational and expected from enterprise customers," Casemore said. "You'll see all the other players offer variations on this to remain competitive, to offer like for like."
Direct network connections come at a cost, but they allow clients to access the public cloud while bypassing many of the speed and security concerns associated with making that connection over the Internet.
SoftLayer had offered dedicated links to customers on an ad hoc basis. The company broadened distribution after seeing an increased demand as customers collect more data in the cloud and look for latency improvements to move massive amounts of information between the cloud and existing data centers.
"It's definitely a natural evolution of the platform," said Marc Jones, vice president of product innovation for SoftLayer.
Startups and other early adopters were less interested in these types of connections as they looked to grow without significant data center investments. But large enterprises with full-service IT departments are accustomed to dedicated connections and less willing to turn to the Internet for performance, reliability and security, Casemore said.
"They're typically very big businesses with low tolerance for risk and they are looking for a set of services that are commensurate with what they were doing in the past, even though this is something new," Casemore said.
SoftLayer began offering the service the same day it cut pricing for object storage by up to 60%. These moves show that IBM is trying to keep pace with Amazon, Google and Microsoft, which have each made similar price cuts this year.
As the enterprise market gradually moves to the public cloud, these types of services could benefit IBM and Microsoft as they look to chip away at Amazon's market dominance by leveraging traditional client-server computing relationships, Casemore said.
AWS's Direct Link starts at $147 per month for 1 Gbps network connection and $997 per month for 10 Gbps network connection.
IBM's pricing undercuts AWS slightly, and Microsoft's by far. Currently on a discounted rate for its comparable Express Route service, next month Microsoft will charge $600 per month for 1 Gbps and $10,000 for 10 Bbps per month. Amazon uses its Direct Connect service, and prices 1 Gbps at $0.30 per hour and 10 Gbps at $2.25 per hour.
IBM doesn't charge for data transfers, though Amazon and Microsoft do so to varying degrees for outbound data.
This latest step by SoftLayer is emblematic of the maturation of the public cloud, Casemore said.
"There's definitely a maturation that's going on not only in the cloud bout the go-to-market and sales tactics," Casemore said.
And while this is a positive step, cloud maturation is still in its early stages, and enterprises want more, including load balancing and front-end optimization, Kindness said. However, all the added support could negate one of the biggest draws of the public cloud -cost savings.
"The [vendors] strive toward low costs," Kindness said, "but these businesses are figuring out they can make up their money by charging a la carte."
Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.