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Amazon Web Services may be the cloud computing leader, but it certainly isn't the only game in town.
One of Amazon's reference customers, The Weather Company, has made a high-profile move to go multi-cloud by adding IBM SoftLayer alongside its Amazon Web Services (AWS) deployment, and analysts say it's far from the only company pursuing a multi-cloud management strategy as cloud computing matures.
The Weather Company will migrate some assets from AWS to IBM, though not all, said Bryson Koehler, CTO of The Weather Company, which runs the Weather Channel, Weather.com and other properties related to forecasting and meteorology.
Most of the workloads moving to IBM's cloud are in the company's business-to-business applications; The Weather Company will collaborate with IBM to develop a global Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure.
"We're not switching from AWS to IBM," said Bryson Koehler, CTO of The Weather Company. "We're adding IBM to the portfolio of how we plan on running our cloud-based infrastructure." There are two main reasons the IBM SoftLayer cloud appealed to The Weather Company as it looked to expand, according to Koehler: global locations and the network business model.
IBM SoftLayer has pledged to expand its data center infrastructure to 40 data centers worldwide in 15 countries this year, including in Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East, Koehler said. This will allow The Weather Company to distribute weather data closer to customers. AWS has ten global regions, with none so far in the Middle East.
IBM SoftLayer doesn't charge for data transfer between regions, either. By contrast, AWS charges $0.01 per GB of data transfer between availability zones for many of its services, and $0.02 per GB for traffic between regions. A 20-terabyte free quota on outbound Internet traffic is also available for some of IBM SoftLayer's bare-metal servers when they are rented monthly.
Mindy Cancilaanalyst with Gartner
"Instead of being charged for every little bit of ingress and egress data for external consumption as well as our own data transfers between data centers, IBM has a much simpler approach that enables us to manage massive data flows of IoT data sets between our global environments," Koehler said.
For example, when ingesting a new data set from a smartphone or a vehicle in Asia, The Weather Company can easily and cost-effectively replicate that data to other locations around the world. This eliminates the need to leave the data in Asia because the company doesn't want to pay to migrate it. Leaving the data where it is would force The Weather Company's teams to work with higher latencies and longer network hops to get access.
"The network architecture and the business model IBM has around their networking is really almost custom-built for big data and IoT data sets," Koehler said.
To manage assets at both IBM SoftLayer and AWS, The Weather Company is using its internally developed GRID self-service portal.
"We built our own [portal], because we could not find the right cost-effectiveness or capability to be able to do it through a third party," Koehler said. "We will bring IBM SoftLayer into our GRID technology over the next couple of months so that we can have fully automated access to the global SoftLayer cloud."
Multi-cloud management a growing trend
The Weather Company is among the earliest large-scale multi-cloud deployments, but analysts say this scenario has become increasingly more common as the cloud market matures.
"I have not talked to a single company that is not doing multi-cloud in some form or another," said Carl Brooks, analyst with 451 Research, based in New York.
Typically, customers looking to adopt a multi-cloud management strategy that includes AWS move into dedicated on-premises hardware to save compute costs, but those servers often remain attached to AWS front-end services such as the Elastic Load Balancer, CloudFront CDN and Route 53 DNS, Brooks said.
"At least half of the calls I take are clients that are either actively planning or are already actively deploying a multi-provider strategy," said Mindy Cancila, an analyst with Gartner, Inc. based in Stamford, Conn. "I believe most organizations are going to end up with more than one public cloud provider, whether they realize it yet or not."
The market is just at the cusp of this pattern of adoption, Cancila said.
"I expect to see over the course of this year that many enterprise organizations will follow suit," she said. "AWS has been leading and we're starting to see some of those other providers that have been in competition reach parity in foundational services."