IBM SoftLayer: Data center as a service (DCaaS)

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IBM SoftLayer has been recommended by various stakeholders as an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider. It can certainly be viewed as such. It provides a lot of automation tools out of the box, as well as the ability for customers to bring their own automation tools to integrate with the SoftLayer application programming interface (API). However, for many large enterprise clients, having an IaaS does not help solve their data center needs. Many of these clients have performance, management and security requirements which prevent them from moving into a “black box” environment where they have no insight or control over how such attributes are managed.

In my opinion (and as many experts have mentioned in other blog posts on SoftLayer topics), the primary differentiator of SoftLayer is its ability to support bare metal servers. With the combination of networking infrastructure provided by SoftLayer and bare metal server offerings, any enterprise can now move away from its existing data center into a SoftLayer data center.

SoftLayer data center

In the previous diagrams, you can see the physical foundation of your data center. Within the logical boundaries of public and private networks at SoftLayer, you can set up your own networking infrastructure where you can deploy your N-tier application. The following list includes several of your options at each level (for a complete list of options, visit or discuss your requirements with an IBM sales representative):

1. Gateway: As shown in the diagram, a Vyatta Gateway Network Appliance (GNA) can be used to define the boundaries of your systems. Depending on your security requirements, you may be able to provision either a public and private GNA (as depicted in the diagram above) or a private only GNA (imagine the previous diagram without the public connectivity).

2. Load balancer: SoftLayer provides multiple options for the load balancer. However, the best option that will work in this scenario as offered by SoftLayer is Citrix NetScaler VPX.

3. Web: If your current infrastructure has your web servers (presentation tier) deployed in virtual machines (VMs), you can do the same with SoftLayer. You can choose public virtual servers (if you find the performance in the multitenant environment satisfies your needs) or private virtual servers (for dedicated virtual server performance). Alternatively you may also get bare metal servers.

4. Application: As with the web servers, if you are currently virtualizing your app, business logic or middle tier, you may continue to do so with SoftLayer, or alternatively deploy bare metal servers as per your performance requirements.

5. Database: If you are currently using bare metal servers due to high throughput requirements, you have the option of deploying your databases in bare metal servers at SoftLayer as well. In fact, as long as you’re currently using x86 servers, you would find SoftLayer provides you with similar options.

In this article, I have only discussed a few of the number of available ways you can design your infrastructure at SoftLayer. The bare minimum of foundational infrastructure that you will need to provision yourself at SoftLayer, in order to set up your data center, is the Vyatta GNA and a few virtual local area networks (VLANs) per your requirements. Once you have this, you can start building out the rest of your infrastructure. There are many additional requirements that a typical large enterprise data center can have and here’s how SoftLayer solutions can still work for you:

1. Backup: You have two options offered by SoftLayer. There is a per-server backup option called EVault. Additionally you can have a centralized backup solution (Continuous Data Protection or CDP solution) using Idera Server Backup – Enterprise.

2. Disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity: The availability of multiple data centers means the solution here is a no-brainer. You can readily duplicate your deployment model across all the SoftLayer data centers.  You can have intra-data center synchronization of your data over the high-speed private network connectivity. 

3. Security: SoftLayer readily offers virtual private network (VPN) connectivity for your users, who can be grouped by having access to very specific functionalities in the customer portal, within your servers or even within specific groups of servers as per your requirements. Additionally, SoftLayer supports two-factor authentication for enhanced security to your infrastructure.

As you can see, out-of-the-box SoftLayer can provide the entire foundational infrastructure that you may need in order to migrate your existing data center into a SoftLayer data center. In the next post in this series, I will explore why and how migrating to a SoftLayer data center can be beneficial to your enterprise. I hope this article expanded your understanding of SoftLayer offerings and will help in your consideration of SoftLayer as your data center as a service provider of choice.

Follow me on twitter @rahatm or comment below to continue the discussion.

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