IBM made waves in the cloud computing market when it acquired SoftLayer for $2 billion in early June. Three months into the integration process, SearchCloudComputing spoke with Dennis Quan, IBM's vice president of SmartCloud Enterprise, to discuss Big Blue's plans for its new Infrastructure as a Service property.
Quan is responsible for the technology platform underlying all of IBM's cloud services. His involvement in cloud computing started in 2007, when his team built IBM's first cloud with Google and the National Science Foundation, and he has held numerous technical leadership positions with IBM over the past 14 years.
Can you give us some detail about how IBM plans to differentiate SoftLayer and SmartCloud in competition with Amazon Web Services?
Dennis Quan: SoftLayer has been strong in what you'd call the 'born on the Web' space. They've got 100,000 servers worldwide and a very powerful portfolio. They offer the standard virtual machine public cloud model that many companies have out there, but I think one of the things that differentiates them from other cloud providers is their ability to offer what we call Bare Metal as a Service. …
When you're able to leverage that bare-metal model, you're able to get a lot more horsepower and a lot more bandwidth out of that machine with much lower latency. There are a number of customers who have switched away from other providers because they have been able to get better performance, lower latency, out of the SoftLayer service, with a mixture of the bare-metal capability as well as the virtual machine model.
A good example of this is a win we had with DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. They were running a robotic simulation workload on Amazon's public cloud, and they moved over to SoftLayer because they found that they couldn't find another provider out there that met their performance goals.
Dennis QuanVP of SmartCloud Infrastructure, IBM
Doesn't Rackspace also offer bare-metal services? How do you compete with them?
Quan: There are other providers out there that offer things close to this type of capability, [what] they'll call dedicated instances, or they might be more traditional hosting providers. What's unique about this is the combination of the bare-metal capability and the cloud model that surrounds it, meaning [that with] the full function and capability of the APIs [application programming interfaces], you're able to programmatically get access to these bare-metal machines, provision them when you need them, deprovision them when you're done, which is in contrast to more traditional hosting models.
When SoftLayer was first acquired, there was talk about how it was actually built using CloudStack, and IBM obviously is very committed to OpenStack. SoftLayer did have an OpenStack Swift implementation, but I wonder how that will shake out for customers.
Quan: SoftLayer actually has three different kinds of cloud offerings. We've talked about the public cloud virtual machine service, which is the thing that people normally associate with public IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service] -- that is based on Xen and actually does not use CloudStack. They use an implementation that they specifically developed to achieve high performance. The second model is the bare-metal capability. The third model is hosted private cloud. CloudStack is one of the more popular offerings that they have in that category, but they also support things like VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V and so forth.
Is there any plan to port any of that to OpenStack or to inject OpenStack into SoftLayer?
Quan: One step is going to be offering that OpenStack hosted private cloud in parallel with the other offerings I just mentioned. And the other thing we're going to be doing is offering an API capability around OpenStack so you're able to get access to SoftLayer's capabilities using the industry-standard OpenStack interfaces. …
There are hundreds of IBM engineers working on OpenStack -- we're one of the top code committers in OpenStack and our research division is busily working on the next generation of cloud, what we call software-defined environments. Over the next six to 12 months we'll see more SoftLayer capabilities leveraging that OpenStack model.
Will IBM continue to support the other implementations that SoftLayer has in place, whether it's Xen, the homegrown stuff or CloudStack?
Quan: We see a very broad market out there. Being able to support that diversity is something we see as an advantage. That being said, we have invested significantly in OpenStack and we believe OpenStack is critical to the open standards aspect of our strategy. The customer set that is out there for portability and wants to avoid lock-in, we believe is going to be extremely interested in OpenStack because it's an open source implementation and has the largest industry backing of any of these projects. So with OpenStack, we see being able to offer public, private, hybrid cloud options both on premises and hosted on SoftLayer.
Quan reveals IBM's plans in the cloud beyond just delivering services through its SoftLayer subsidiary in part two of SearchCloudComputing's Q&A.