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IBM gets real about being a cloud provider

Karen Goulart, Features Writer

Whether you're a current IBM customer or never plan to be one, this week's news that the tech giant purchased SoftLayer Technologies Inc. is big news for CIOs.

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Karen Goulart

Call it a $2 billion reality check. That's the alleged sum IBM will dole out for cloud computing company SoftLayer, and it's a big indicator that IBM plans to be a major player à la Amazon in the public cloud provider game. It's about time, and it's this week's lead Searchlight item.

IBM, of course, has been offering cloud services for years. It has acquired a variety of other companies that are cloud-related. But its primary offering, SmartCloud Enterprise+ is most popular with the types of businesses it already counts as customers -- Fortune500 companies interested in building private clouds.

SoftLayer is a hybrid cloud service aimed at Web-focused small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). But, Forrester analyst James Staten notes in Forbes, it is atypical as hosting companies go, purposely blending hosting and cloud. SoftLayer's flexibility -- for example, customers can set up private clouds on public infrastructure (no sharing of a virtual space) -- is an enticing proposition for both SMBs that can't afford a lot of equipment and cloud-shy enterprises with security concerns.

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For all cloud holdouts, the deal is a wake-up call. If there were still a need to prove that everything is moving toward a cloud-based future (and somehow, for some IT leaders, there is) this deal oughta do it. Consider it a Big Blue flashing signal of what's ahead.

As Gartner analyst Yefim Natis stressed in a recent conversation, the shift to hybrid computing is under way and the big application infrastructure vendors -- like IBM -- are going to start making major strategic moves. In no time at all, computing on premises and computing in the cloud will both be common in just about any business, big or small. Ready or not, CIOs, that's reality.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, features writer.