IBM SoftLayer: Your cloud home away from home

I just returned home after multi-city travel and a fantastic year-end vacation. It is always nice to be back home, where we feel comfortable being ourselves and have control of our lives. In our homes, we have the freedom to define the environment the way we like it and decorate it with things that have meaning for us: the people, furniture, food, aroma, lighting, sounds and so on. You love your home because it gives you a well-defined space that is stress free with the security and privacy you need. Even if hotels offer many modern-day luxuries, you’d still prefer home because of its comfort, control and flexibility.

IBMSoftLayerSimilarly, the cloud offers many luxuries, but one of the biggest objections to cloud is that people fear losing control and visibility of their infrastructure. If we look closer at these concerns, we can see it is not so much about security as it is about transparency. I’ve been doing some projects with SoftLayer, an IBM company, in the last couple of months, and this post is an attempt to make you feel at home with the SoftLayer cloud offerings.

The cloud you need, the way you need IT        

People look for choice and flexibility of services while building their cloud. SoftLayer provides three different approaches to hosting workloads (details here): (dedicated) bare metal, private (dedicated) cloud, and public, multitenant (shared) cloud environments.

I can choose dedicated bare metal instances with cloud agility as well as CloudLayer Computing Instances with predictable performance.

With SoftLayer, I have the option to run my workloads on a dedicated infrastructure, meaning I have assurance that nobody else is sharing it. With most vendors, you don’t have a choice or don’t even know with whom you are sharing your cloud, but SoftLayer’s dedicated bare metal instances ensure that no one else is accessing my environment.

Variety of options

SoftLayer provides extreme granularity within a compute environment that can be customized based on application requirements. Apart from specifying the amount of CPU, memory and storage, I can also select the data center and add-ons for OS, security and management needs when ordering my servers.

I can also decide whether to take a monthly or an hourly instance. For example, a few of the servers I used for my project were bare metal servers that we ordered on a monthly billing basis, since we knew that we were going to need them for some time. But others for running tools or products needed during only few phases of the project were run on hourly cloud computing instances. We could easily switch between the options to make sure that we were within the budget and at the same time delivering the performance, availability and functionality using our IT infrastructure.

Check out the wide variety of options available through the SoftLayer cloud.

API support

SoftLayer offers an application programming interface, or API, capability (SLAPI) to offer remote programmatic access to its resources. The SLAPI offers broad variety and coverage—over 2,200 calls across 180 services. Using these APIs you can easily automate and streamline almost all the cloud automation requirements and workflows. There is also lot of choice provided for the client libraries for these APIs. They can be implemented in C#, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby and Visual Basic.NET.

With the API we can access the details of the account, order bare metal or cloud computing instances, manage DNS domains, inquire about billing items and more. I tried the python client and it was very easy to get started. I could fetch all the details of my bare metal instances on CloudLayer and order a new instance based on the need. The SoftLayer Developer Network (SLDN) provides all the details on the API as well as articles and links to code to help us get started easily.

With the rich set of APIs, there is no limit to the cloud innovations possible, such as automating all of the DevOps workflows, integrating with third-party solutions, creating custom dashboards and so forth.

Monitoring and technical support

SoftLayer an IBM CompanySoftLayer also provides monitoring that goes beyond simply responding to alerts or errors. They help you avoid problems in the first place by notifying you of any potential issues with your infrastructure. In addition to giving full access to trending data and reports specific to the environment, they provide other recommendations to help you maintain total visibility and control of your environment.

The SoftLayer technical support also sets them apart. Whenever I had any trouble or query, it was easy to get support by raising a ticket against the component, and every time I got immediate help. For instance, I ordered few portable IPs for my servers and had some challenges doing a complex network topology for our setup. I tried the online chat support, which was just awesome. The support personnel helped fix the issue immediately, while collaborating with our team.

SoftLayer mobile

Another cool thing I should mention is SoftLayer’s mobile app. This app keeps you connected and in control of your SoftLayer services and allows you to access the full range of management functions anytime, anywhere. For turning off or restarting a server on a late evening, I did not have to bring up the laptop; I could just click a button on my mobile. With the app, I can view all the performance details of the dedicated servers and cloud computing instances as well as monitor their bandwidth usage. And of course, I can stay updated on the tickets and any maintenance updates while on the go. I used the SoftLayer Mobile on Android, but the same is available for other platforms as well. 

(Related: Three key advantages of using SoftLayer for your cloud deployment)

Security and compliance

Regardless of the services or resources chosen from SoftLayer for a project, it provides a security-rich environment for protecting workloads. We can add more security features like firewalls and antivirus protection based on need through the portal or API.

SoftLayer’s hosting facility is implemented with physical safeguards, and SOC2 Type II reports for the data centers demonstrate that SoftLayer meets the required physical and environmental controls.

There are several fine-grained controls of user entitlements that can be managed easily through the portal and can assign different access to the resources based on the roles of different people in the team.

All the interactions through the API are also secured and need to be authenticated by a customer portal account. Authentication to the API requires the portal user name and API key, a special authentication token reserved for API method calls. SLAPI endpoint servers exist on SoftLayer’s public and private networks. Additional capabilities are provided on the private network API endpoints, which are again accessible only when connected to the virtual private network (VPN).

Again, based on the cloud and workload, we can decide on the additional security controls. There is high degree of operational control over your workloads, and if needed you can implement additional security as per the need. For instance for my WebApp based on my client’s requirement, I could bring in my own additional security—including identity and access controls, threat protection or application log management on top of my workload. I could easily do that on top of the workload running on my dedicated cloud solution. For this, I leveraged the larger IBM security portfolio and could easily weave security into the fabric of SoftLayer cloud. 

Putting it all together

Some people will get a good sleep only if they have their favorite bed sheets or blankets. On SoftLayer, you can bring your comforts with you whether it is the noise machine, pillow or night light. Your workloads and other components can be easily deployed on SoftLayer. The speed and flexibility of SoftLayer coupled with IBM security capabilities provides the advantages and protection needed to move your workloads to cloud with the same or better control and visibility at your own data center.

Nothing beats a nice sleep in your home where you wake up feeling refreshed, restored, rejuvenated and ready to take on the next challenge. Try SoftLayer—your home away from home—today by accessing this link and get a good night’s sleep without worrying about your workload on the cloud.

Still not convinced? If you are going to be at IBM Pulse 2014, please visit the cloud and security demo booths. I’ll be there to demonstrate some of these capabilities in action and hopefully put the rest of your cloud security concerns at rest as well.

(Related: SoftLayer adds excitement to IBM Pulse 2014)

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Sreekanth Iyer

About Sreekanth Iyer

Sreekanth Iyer is a Senior IT Architect in the IBM Security Solutions (CTO) team and focuses on cloud security. He is IBM & Open Group Master Certified and is the chair of the Bangalore Chapter of Open Group Association of Enterprise Architects. He has over 17 years of industry experience and has led several client solutions across multiple industries on Cloud Computing, SOA, and Business Process Management. He maintains a step-by-step guide to cloud blog on IBM developerWorks and has also contributed to multiple publications including the Open Group Guides for Cloud Computing for Business and Maximizing the Value of Cloud for Small-Medium Enterprises. He currently works at the IBM India Software Lab, you can follow him on Twitter @sreek.
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