People often compare SoftLayer with Amazon Web Services (AWS).
It’s easy to understand why. We’ve both built scalable infrastructure platforms to provide cloud resources to the same broad range of customers—from individual entrepreneurs to the world’s largest enterprises.
But while the desire to compare is understandable, the comparison itself isn’t quite apt. The SoftLayer platform is fundamentally different from AWS.
In fact, AWS could be run on SoftLayer. SoftLayer couldn’t be run on AWS.
AWS provisions in the public cloud.
In an AWS cloud environment, customers order the computing and storage resources they need, and AWS deploys those resources on demand. The mechanics of that deployment are important to note, though.
AWS has data centers full of physical servers that are integrated with each other in a massive public cloud environment. These servers are managed and maintained by AWS, and they collectively make up the available cloud infrastructure in the facility.
AWS installs a virtualization layer (also known as hypervisor) on these physical servers to tie the individual nodes into the environment’s total capacity. When a customer orders a cloud server from AWS, this virtualization layer finds a node with the requested resources available and provisions a server image with the customer’s desired operating system, applications, etc. The entire process is quick and automated, and each customer has complete control over the resources he or she ordered.
That virtualization layer is serving a purpose, and it may seem insignificant, but it highlights a critical difference in their platform and ours:
AWS automates and provisions at the hypervisor level, while SoftLayer automates and provisions at the data center level.
SoftLayer provisions down to bare metal resources.
SoftLayer platform is designed to give customers complete access and control over the actual infrastructure that they need to build a solution in the cloud. Automated and remote ordering, deployment, and management of the very server, storage, and security hardware resources themselves, are hosted in our data centers so that customers don’t have to build their own facilities or purchase their own hardware to get the reliable, high performance computing they need.
Everything in SoftLayer data centers is transparent, automated, integrated, and built on an open API that customers can access directly. Every server is connected to three distinct physical networks so that public, private, and management network traffic are segmented. And our expert technical support is available for all customers, 24x7.
Notice that the automation and integration of our platform happens at the data center level. We don’t need a virtualization layer to deploy our cloud resources. As a result, we can deploy bare metal servers in the same way AWS deploys public cloud servers (though, admittedly, bare metal servers take more time to deploy than virtual servers in the public cloud). By provisioning down to a lower level in the infrastructure stack, we’re able to offer customers more choice and control in their cloud environments:
In addition to the control customers have over infrastructure resources, with our unique network architecture, their servers aren’t isolated inside the four walls of a single data center. Customers can order one server in Dallas and another in Hong Kong, and those two servers can communicate with each other directly and freely across our private network without interfering with customers’ public network traffic. So with every new data center we build, we geographically expand a unified cloud footprint. No regions. No software-defined virtual networks. No isolation.
SoftLayer vs. AWS
SoftLayer is able to provision bare metal resources to customers. This allows customers free reign over the raw compute power of a specific server configuration. This saves the customer from the 2–3 percent performance hit from the hypervisor, and it prevents “noisy neighbors” from being provisioned alongside a customer’s virtual server. AWS does not provision bare metal resources.
AWS differentiates “availability zones” and “regions” for customers who want to expand their cloud infrastructure into multiple locations. SoftLayer has data centers interconnected on a global private network. Customers can select the specific SoftLayer data center location they want so they can provision servers in the exact location they desire.
When AWS customers move data between their AWS servers, they see “Inter-Region Data Transfer Out” and “Intra-Region Data Transfer” on their bills. If you’re moving data from one SoftLayer facility to another SoftLayer facility (anywhere in the world), that transfer is free and unmetered. And it doesn’t fight your public traffic for bandwidth.
With AWS, customers pay a per-GB charge for bandwidth on every bill. At SoftLayer, all of our products and services include free inbound and outbound bandwidth across our global private network and our out-of-band management network. All customers get 250GB/month on virtual and 500GB/month on bare metal for public outbound bandwidth. And customers can opt for additional public outbound bandwidth with packages on monthly cloud servers including up to 20TB bringing bandwidth costs down to less than $0.075/GB.*
SoftLayer offers a broad range of management, monitoring, and support options to customers at no additional cost. AWS charges for monitoring based on metrics, frequency, and number of alarms per resource. And having access to support requires an additional monthly cost.
Do SoftLayer and AWS both offer Infrastructure as a Service? Yes.
Does that make SoftLayer and AWS the same? No.
*This paragraph was revised on July 28, 2015 to reflect updated pricing. For more information, see the SoftLayer Pricing page.