SoftLayer and AWS: What's the Difference?

October 28, 2014

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.

When AWS started letting customers have virtual machines deployed on the infrastructure that AWS had built for their e-commerce business, AWS accelerated the adoption of virtual server hosting within the existing world of Web hosting.

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.

While many have their sights on beating AWS at its own game, SoftLayer plays a different game.

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

Parts of our cloud business certainly compete with AWS. When users compare virtual servers between us, they encounter a number of similarities. But this post isn’t about comparing and contrasting offerings in the areas in which we’re similar … it’s about explaining how we’re different:
  • 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.

-@khazard

Comments

 

 

November 6th, 2014 at 9:42pm

Great - but I think it would be even more compelling if SL numbers were given in GB, not TB.

For example: SL bare metal servers ... include 20,000GB/mo of public outbound bandwidth... AWS, customers pay a per-GB charge for bandwidth on every bill.

November 7th, 2014 at 2:56pm

You're probably right that it would be more compelling to show the numbers in GB, Jon ... but it might also feel a little too salesy. The goal was to stay relatively neutral while pointing out the fundamental differences in the platforms as plainly as possible.

Thanks for your comment!

December 26th, 2014 at 8:58pm

Do you have any information whether AWS supports the private cloud?
AWS can support the Hybrid Cloud. It means it also supports the Private Cloud.
I need to have your advice. Thanks in advance.

 

January 6th, 2015 at 9:54pm

Hmmm. I have to destroy my instances on Softlayer for billing to cease ?

gcloud minimum charge is 10m. Granted they have capacity issues.
AWS minimum is 1 hour.
Softlayer is 1 hour, but effectively up to 4 hours as there is a setup cost.

Even with a hypervisor, I am looking at 36 threads at 2.9Ghz on AWS vs. 16 threads at 2GHz on Softlayer.

I can still live with dropped SOAP, services in Beta, flaky API's, and keypairs that fluctuate just for those threads and the ability to turn it off like a tap.

The gcloud api's, especially gsutil from cli, are excellent.

January 7th, 2015 at 6:12pm

It's great to hear that you've found cloud providers that meet your needs, Matthew! As I mentioned at the outset of the final "SoftLayer vs. AWS" section, this post doesn't address the similar offerings. We'd be happy to put you in touch with someone on our team to learn more about our cloud offering if you'd like... Just hit us up at social@softlayer.com.

That being said, I'm happy to chat about our virtual server offering.

Our hourly virtual servers are intended to be pretty binary, yes. You spin it up when you need it, you use it for as long as you need it, and you spin it down when you don't need it. If your virtual server's resources could be paused and unpaused when you wanted billing to stop and restart, any time that the instance is paused is time when those resources can't be used by any other customers, so when customers need those resources, we'd be deploying new nodes (rather than provisioning them on nodes that are already online but that aren't being used/paid for). To streamline the process of recovering hourly instances more quickly, many customers choose to create custom images that can be provisioned quickly onto a new instance. There's a per-GB/month cost to store those images in our image library, but that cost is often less than the hourly cost of keeping a virtual server running.

Where are you seeing a setup cost for a SoftLayer virtual server?

The "2.0GHz Cores" reference was a guarantee that was made long before most other virtual server providers offered any transparency into the hardware behind their cloud infrastructures. On our site, we reference that the minimum processor speed in our virtual server infrastructure hardware nodes is 2.0GHz, but the newer hardware nodes we roll out have faster processor speeds ... Because our virtual server environment still has nodes with 2.0GHz speeds, we haven't changed that reference.

We haven't seen much demand for increasing the number of cores available on a virtual server at this point ... Customers who need that much power often turn to bare metal (where we can provision a server with 40 hypervisor-free cores) or they break their workload out across multiple virtual servers. As we see more and more business cases for higher core counts in virtual servers, we'll probably start bumping that configuration option up.

Thanks for commenting!

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Comments

 

 

November 6th, 2014 at 9:42pm

Great - but I think it would be even more compelling if SL numbers were given in GB, not TB.

For example: SL bare metal servers ... include 20,000GB/mo of public outbound bandwidth... AWS, customers pay a per-GB charge for bandwidth on every bill.

November 7th, 2014 at 2:56pm

You're probably right that it would be more compelling to show the numbers in GB, Jon ... but it might also feel a little too salesy. The goal was to stay relatively neutral while pointing out the fundamental differences in the platforms as plainly as possible.

Thanks for your comment!

December 26th, 2014 at 8:58pm

Do you have any information whether AWS supports the private cloud?
AWS can support the Hybrid Cloud. It means it also supports the Private Cloud.
I need to have your advice. Thanks in advance.

 

January 6th, 2015 at 9:54pm

Hmmm. I have to destroy my instances on Softlayer for billing to cease ?

gcloud minimum charge is 10m. Granted they have capacity issues.
AWS minimum is 1 hour.
Softlayer is 1 hour, but effectively up to 4 hours as there is a setup cost.

Even with a hypervisor, I am looking at 36 threads at 2.9Ghz on AWS vs. 16 threads at 2GHz on Softlayer.

I can still live with dropped SOAP, services in Beta, flaky API's, and keypairs that fluctuate just for those threads and the ability to turn it off like a tap.

The gcloud api's, especially gsutil from cli, are excellent.

January 7th, 2015 at 6:12pm

It's great to hear that you've found cloud providers that meet your needs, Matthew! As I mentioned at the outset of the final "SoftLayer vs. AWS" section, this post doesn't address the similar offerings. We'd be happy to put you in touch with someone on our team to learn more about our cloud offering if you'd like... Just hit us up at social@softlayer.com.

That being said, I'm happy to chat about our virtual server offering.

Our hourly virtual servers are intended to be pretty binary, yes. You spin it up when you need it, you use it for as long as you need it, and you spin it down when you don't need it. If your virtual server's resources could be paused and unpaused when you wanted billing to stop and restart, any time that the instance is paused is time when those resources can't be used by any other customers, so when customers need those resources, we'd be deploying new nodes (rather than provisioning them on nodes that are already online but that aren't being used/paid for). To streamline the process of recovering hourly instances more quickly, many customers choose to create custom images that can be provisioned quickly onto a new instance. There's a per-GB/month cost to store those images in our image library, but that cost is often less than the hourly cost of keeping a virtual server running.

Where are you seeing a setup cost for a SoftLayer virtual server?

The "2.0GHz Cores" reference was a guarantee that was made long before most other virtual server providers offered any transparency into the hardware behind their cloud infrastructures. On our site, we reference that the minimum processor speed in our virtual server infrastructure hardware nodes is 2.0GHz, but the newer hardware nodes we roll out have faster processor speeds ... Because our virtual server environment still has nodes with 2.0GHz speeds, we haven't changed that reference.

We haven't seen much demand for increasing the number of cores available on a virtual server at this point ... Customers who need that much power often turn to bare metal (where we can provision a server with 40 hypervisor-free cores) or they break their workload out across multiple virtual servers. As we see more and more business cases for higher core counts in virtual servers, we'll probably start bumping that configuration option up.

Thanks for commenting!

Leave a Reply

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