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IBM SoftLayer looks to put Watson and Power in the cloud as it celebrates gaming success

16 Jan 2014
Cloud computing

SoftLayer, now an IBM company, is celebrating its success in attracting customers needing high performance to its cloud computing platform, including developers of online games. Meanwhile, the firm will deploy cloud services based on IBM Power systems this year, including the Watson platform for business intelligence and analytics.

IBM bought SoftLayer in June last year for an undisclosed sum in order to bolster its existing cloud portfolio, creating a new cloud services division that includes SoftLayer and IBM SmartCloud.

Today, the firm is talking up its success since the acquisition by revealing that its infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud platform is playing host to games developers Multiplay and Kuuluu, which use it to serve up online games such as Minecraft and Battlefield 4 in Multiplay's case, and LP Recharge from Kuuluu.

Multiplay alone is serving over 100,000 concurrent gamers playing every night, with the requirement to spin up additional resources as needed to meet peaks in demand.

SoftLayer is able to do this because of its scale, and also because it operates its own cloud platform that enables customers to provision bare metal servers as well as virtual machine instances, according to the firm's founder and chief executive Lance Crosby.

"We're all about performance. We're always the provider with the latest and greatest hardware, and we're also hyper focused on network performance and latency. We like to say that if you can make this [gaming] crowd happy, you can make anybody happy," he told V3.

SoftLayer has 13 data centres worldwide, operating about 120,000 physical nodes and millions of virtual machines at any given moment. This makes the organisation one of the big four cloud operators worldwide, alongside Google, Amazon and Windows Azure, Crosby said, adding that he sees Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its closest competitor.

The performance aspect is partly due to the fact that SoftLayer's Infrastructure Management System (IMS) is not driven by virtualisation, although virtual machines are one of the services available on top of it.

"We wrote our own system so we can deliver bare metal servers and virtual servers, and from a virtualisation standpoint we can offer VMware, Citrix, Parallels, Hyper-V, OpenStack, Eucalyptus, Red Hat. You name it, we offer it," Crosby said.

In fact, SoftLayer offers three types of compute node: bare metal servers, private clouds and public clouds, with the first two being single tenancy while public cloud is obviously multi-tenancy. Bare metal and private cloud together account for about 90 percent of the firm's business, according to Crosby.

"What we have found is that customers that really like performance, such as the gaming companies, they almost always want to run on bare metal, because you take a hit of 30, 40 or 50 percent if you are running virtualised, and we can provision a bare metal server with whatever they want in minutes, " he explained.

Using bare metal servers to rapidly deploy cloud infrastructure is an approach that is gaining ground among other cloud providers, with UK-based Bigstep launching its Full Metal Cloud last year, while Rackspace has introduced Performance Cloud Servers, allowing customers to access entire physical servers.

Meanwhile, SoftLayer is also set to be the platform from which IBM will deliver Watson as a cloud service, targeting business intelligence (BI) and analytics applications, especially where large volumes of data are involved.

"Watson started out as artificial intelligence (AI) on a supercomputer and has now morphed into a business intelligence and analytical big data solution. We're going to deploy Watson globally across the entire platform in 2014 with the goal of turning that into a service so customers will be able to use Watson technology to do business analytics against their big data sources," Crosby said.

This will involve the deployment of cloud infrastructure based on IBM's Power Systems, which Watson has been developed to run on, but Crosby said SoftLayer is also building out Power Systems infrastructure for customers to access as an on-demand IaaS platform.

"The Power line offers much greater performance than x86 servers," he said.

The move follows on from IBM's announcement last year that is investing $1bn in Linux and open-source technologies on Power Systems, including an expansion of its Power Systems development cloud.

For Watson, typical use cases are expected to be in retail, where customers will be able to do real-time analysis of point-of-sale transactions to find out the hot products of the moment, and in the financial sector where banks are more likely to do regular batch analysis of huge data sets of all the transactions that have taken place the previous day or week.

IBM will deliver further detail regarding its Watson plans at its Pulse 2014 cloud conference in Las Vegas at the end of February, Crosby said.

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Daniel Robinson

Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.

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