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ThePlanet merger with Softlayer – A positive impact for the web hosting industry?

Bigger, Better, Badder. This is the punchline of the new Softlayer which has completed the merger ThePlanet with itself after months of planning and action. Anyone who is an active web hosting provider in India or abroad must have heard news of  ThePlanet merging with Softlayer which in our industry is equivalent to two 800 pound gorillas joining forces and becoming a single 1600 pound giant! Both ThePlanet and Softlayer are rated amongst the top 10 datacenter providers globally and together they will probably be just behind Rackspace in terms of the servers hosted on their network.

What comes as a bigger surprise is that inspite Softlayer being smaller than ThePlanet in terms of the number of servers hosted and revenues generated, they are taking over ThePlanet as the VC firm GI Partners, which has had a controlling stake in both these companies prior to their merger, recognises the advanced networking, support and automation capabilities which has made Softlayer amongst the fastest growing datacenter providers globally. Our association with Softlayer has been from the middle of 2006 from the time they had a single datacenter in Dallas, hosting about a  thousand servers on their network. Having being a client of  ThePlanet for a couple of years prior to working with SL, things started going downhill in terms of support and network outages after their COO, Lance Crosby pulled out and started Softlayer alongwith a bunch of colleagues from his previous organisation.  We had reviewed other providers including SoftLayer and I am glad we ultimately decided to go with Softlayer and have continued to use them as our exclusive provider of virtual datacenter services. In my view, following are the key aspects which sets Softlayer apart from the rest of the crowd:
  • Network Uptime: Inspite of them growing rapidly into multiple datacenters with growing complexity of managing a large interconnected network, they have being able to deliver top notch network performance and uptime. For a web hosting provider, this is a primary requirement.
  • Proactive Support: Their support team has been consistent and extremely proactive in resolving issues, which most datacenter providers would shirk responsibility from. Needless to say, Softlayer continues to impress with their responsiveness and willingness to resolve support issues.
  • Automation: Before Softlayer, most providers would take 24-48 hrs to make your server come online. They redefined the industry by delivering dedicated servers within 4 hours or less. This helped hosting providers in delivering servers on demand to their client without having to maintain any inventory at their end.
  • Range of Services: In the last couple of years, the hosting industry has been overloaded with new technologies and innovations, which include Virtualisation, Cloud Hosting, CDN Services, Grid Computing, iSCSI Storage to name a few. Softlayer has been on top of most such innovations and has attempted to provide this as an on demand service to its clients with a low usage cost.
While Softlayer may have had been successful in the past, it does not in anyway guarantee its future success, especially after  its merger with ThePlanet. The Planet has a different approach to datacenter servces, was more focussed on providing collocation services and it might be difficult to make them follow the Softlayer way of doing things. Also, I am sure there would be some erosion of clients from the old Planet as Softlayer would not be offering colocation services and would prefer their model of virtual datacenter services which might not suit all clients of ThePlanet. While it could be anybody’s guess in whether the merged entity can dominate the datacenter hosting industry or get overtaken by another ‘Softlayer’ in the making, I do hope that they are able to offer services which would make outsourced server hosting a no-brainer for SME’s in India, who prefer to host their web and application servers within their premises for reasons of ‘sharing their internet access cost’ and ‘physical access to their servers’ but incurring substantial infrastructure and maintenance costs in the process. [ratings]
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