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SoftLayer users may end up on OpenStack following IBM's acquisition

SoftLayer customers may have to make a choice down the road as IBM looks to pump its OpenStack R&D into SoftLayer's CloudStack-based infrastructure.

When IBM integrates SoftLayer into its cloud portfolio, it will port OpenStack underpinnings into the CloudStack-based service, and some doubt the company will continue CloudStack integration long-term.

IBM disclosed Tuesday that it will acquire SoftLayer, a Dallas-based Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider with some 21,000 customers and 13 data centers, in a deal reported  to be worth $2 billion.

We're going to see this a lot in the cloud space.

David Linthicum, senior VP, Cloud Technology Partners

The automated virtual server infrastructure for SoftLayer is built on Citrix CloudPlatform, based on Apache CloudStack, as well as Citrix XenServer and Citrix NetScaler.

IBM, meanwhile, is one of the largest contributors to the OpenStack Foundation and a Platinum sponsor. Its recently released SmartCloud Orchestrator software is built on OpenStack.

The company plans to port all of the OpenStack research and development into SoftLayer's back end, according to Dennis Quan, VP of IBM's SmartCloud Enterprise service.

"We are going to be extending SoftLayer's cloud offerings to include OpenStack," Quan said. "That means not just underlying technology but API compatibility."

The move will be a test of application programming interface (API) flexibility between the two cloud management platforms, industry watchers said.

Though Quan said there's no plan to remove any of the existing cloud capability right now,  some wonder whether IBM will cease SoftLayer's CloudStack integration.

The answer to this question will be crucial for SoftLayer and IBM customers going forward, according to one cloud computing consultant.

"The question is, are they going to leave two environments running behind a common portal? Or are they going to migrate all of the existing users to the new environment?" said John Treadway, senior vice president at the consultancy Cloud Technology Partners in Boston. "[The latter] does carry some risk if they don't have it operationally stable."

Other industry experts predict that CloudStack and OpenStack will coexist for some time as this integration work takes place, but that OpenStack will eventually take over as SoftLayer's cloud provisioning platform.

The key point of conflict between OpenStack and CloudStack is between OpenStack's Nova compute API and CloudStack's Compute Provisioning Engine. CloudStack can otherwise consume most of OpenStack's existing APIs, including Swift for object storage and Keystone for identity management, and SoftLayer already offers a Swift-based storage service.

"If SoftLayer can pull it off where they're both a CloudStack and an OpenStack provider, and it doesn't diminish either one of their values, it would be a great story," said James Staten, an analyst with Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, Mass. "If Citrix just lost one of its biggest customers, then it's going to be a different kind of story -- and there's potential for both those stories here."

IBM cloud acquisitions total $4.5 billion since 2007

SoftLayer is just the latest in a string of acquisitions by big IT vendors that want to get deeper into the cloud computing market. IBM has amassed more than a dozen acquisitions since 2007, which include companies such as  UrbanCode Inc., Cast Iron Systems, Kenexa, Green Hat, DemandTec, and Platform Computing.

To date, most of IBM's acquisitions have focused on offering Software as a Service (SaaS) applications rather than producing offerings at the IaaS level. Until now, IBM has offered two of its own IaaS services: SmartCloud Enterprise and SmartCloud Enterprise Plus.

IBM isn't the only company buying its way into the cloud space. Companies including VMware Inc. have snapped up smaller vendors in the quest to dominate the cloud market; in the last two years, VMware has acquired DynamicOps, Nicira and Digital Fuel; before that, it also amassed most of its Pivotal Initiative IP from acquisitions like SpringSource and GemStone.

Dell, meanwhile, has also been swallowing cloud companies as fast as it can; in the last three years it has acquired Enstratius, Gale Technologies, Quest and Surgient, among others. However, last month Dell discontinued its public cloud efforts.

IT pros should expect the mergers and acquisitions to continue and should pay attention, said David Linthicum,  a senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners.

"We're going to see this a lot in the cloud space, where people are going to sign up with Tier 2 providers -- not necessarily in quality, but in size -- which are going to get bought up by a bigger player that has different religious beliefs," Linthicum said. "And suddenly … they'll have to make a decision as to whether or not to port their stuff off of the technology, which is going to be expensive and risky, or to hang in there with the existing provider and hope for the best."

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter

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