IBM's SoftLayer Takes Flight: Should Partners Prepare For Cloud Turbulence?

SoftLayer And SmartCloud: A Study In Contrasts

There is no argument that SoftLayer ups IBM's cloud game. IBM partners told CRN that SmartCloud Enterprise operated like an IBM relic that was high-touch, high-cost, and couldn't compete with the nimbler and more affordable Amazon Web Services.

SoftLayer's automation platform, on the other hand, enables businesses to marry speed and simplicity and attracts the kind of young companies IBM wants -- game makers, Database-as-a-Service companies and born-in-the cloud app makers.

"IBM needs to be high-speed, low-drag. That's what the market wants. SmartCloud just didn't deliver on that front. But before I get too excited about SoftLayer, partners need to know where IBM is headed with the platform. We want to add value but don't want to get burned down the road when SoftLayer rolls out similar services," said Champion Solutions' Pyle.

Pyle and other partners say the IBM's SoftLayer puzzle is coming together, but they still feel like they are missing a majority of the pieces.

One IBM partner, who did not want to be named, said IBM was in the midst of revamping its channel program to absorb SoftLayer and deal with other shifting channel dynamics such as the sale of its x86 server business.

Midmarket IBM partner Tom Hughes, director of alliances for Technology Solutions Group of Ciber, a Greenwood Village, Colo.-based IBM partner, said IBM's cloud investment will have an uncertain impact on his business. "It all depends on how closely SoftLayer and these data centers fit into IBM's current cloud offerings. As an IBM partner I haven't yet seen the benefits of the SoftLayer acquisition. I'm going to have to reserve judgment until IBM does a better job in communicating what those benefits will be," he said.

For its part, SoftLayer has been given room to run within IBM and operate almost as a separate company. For nearly two years the division will function autonomously before being fully integrated into IBM, said Lance Crosby, CEO of SoftLayer.

Lance said IBM will be launching more than 100 products in 2014 including e-commerce and marketing tools along with dozens of infrastructure services such as its supercomputer Watson’s big data platform that will run on SoftLayer’s cloud.

Bill Gleich, president of Jeskell Systems, a Laurel, Md.-based IBM partner, said SoftLayer brings IBM real ammunition against Amazon Web Services. "IBM is known for its enterprise-grade reliability, security and enterprise services. SoftLayer is renowned for its ease of doing business and top-notch automation platform. Bringing the two together will allow us to deliver web-scale solutions with enterprise touch," he said.

As for the IBM partner opportunity with SmartCloud? "The cloud spend in government is expected to grow double digits this year. I'd like to capture my share of that spend," Gleich said.